Product Reviews

Product reviews, about things I have, well actually used.

Review: 2011 Honda CR-Z

I’m going to be up front here, I am not a Honda guy. I have nothing against Honda cars or the brand. They make excellent vehicles, and have a solid reputation. It’s just that I have always been kind of take it or leave it when it comes to their cars. They have had some exceptions. I liked the Element when it first came out, it was a great design departure from the SUV look of the time. The new Civic Hatchback has a sporty look to it and power to match, and while very similar to the Toyota Prius, the Insight edges it out on overall styling. One car Honda made that I always loved though was the original CRX from the early 1980’s. The car was well designed, sporty, a blast to drive, and an affordable sport coupe.

Today I took the new 2011 CRZ out for a test drive. It was a nice way to spend about 45 on a Saturday afternoon seeing what all the buzz was about for the hybrid sport coupe. Let me tell you straight out, this car was a blast to drive.

The CR-Z is based on the Honda Insight, which isn’t what I would consider a promising start as far as sportiness is concerned. I assures you the CRZ isn’t just a copy and paste job transplanting the Insight drive train into a different styled body: the CRZ wheelbase is 4.5 inches shorter than the Insight, and the car itself is shorter by some 8 inches. The CRZ is also considerably wider and lower than any other Honda sedan or coupe on the market right now.

The CR-Z is very much a take it or leave it affair, like most of Honda’s recent designs, and yes like all production cars, when compared to the concept the front end looks somewhat toned down.

That’s not what this is about though, when you look at the CR-Z you get the distinct feeling that Honda’s design team had a very clear image of the CRZ they wanted from the outset: this car simply looks like nothing else on the road. From the raked rear window inspired by the original CR-X, to the pointy rear lights, flares and bulges distributed in key areas this car stands out.

The first thing I noticed when I sat down in the driver’s seat was how close I was to the ground. You sit very low in here. Sport car low. Ladies I am advising you to avoid wearing skirts, or at least take caution when entering and exiting the car. Because of the scaled down size, passengers will feel very snug. I am 6 foot 4 and the passenger’s seat, even when it was all the way back was a tight fit for me. It wasn’t bad but you won’t be getting things out of the glove box if I am sitting there. Larger people might feel a bit claustrophobic in the CRZ if they are more used to the expanses of their oversized Suburban, or the SUV. Storage spaces are scarce, and there is no rear seat. Yes folks this is a true two-seater from Honda. There are storage bays directly behind the front seats though that provide room for smaller object like a laptop, that you might want to keep out sight from prying eyes. The trunk isn’t especially large – it measures 8.2 cubic feet in size with the seats all the way back, and the loading deck sits high due to the hybrid batteries and full-size spare wheel sitting underneath it.

The instrument panel is designed with the ultimate control freak, and instrument nut in mind. Directly behind the steering wheel sits the tach and speedometer in an isolated tunnel that directs your vision straight to the bright LED readout. To the left and right of it is a digital readout of battery charge meter, power assist, fuel gauge, a fuel consumption indicator, a gear shift indicator along with the usual array of warning lights and standard gauges. Like with the Insight, the tach will light up in blue shades if you’re killing the planet and lights up in green if the animals and plants of planet earth are happy with the way your driving. And like the Insight the central display will also grow flowers over time if you keep it up. There are tons of switches, buttons and selection modes which to some could be a bit overwhelming, especially at night when this thing is lit up like the cockpit of a 747 jumbo jet. The layout was good though with everything well within reach, and placement set up for ease of use. Unfortunately, the flashy interior doesn’t manage to conceal the mediocre quality that the CRZ shares with the Insight, and while all of the surfaces feel like they’ll put up with daily wear, they seem a little too cheap for a car of this breed and styling.

The car I drove was the CVT automatic, but the CRZ is available with a 6 speed manual transmission, if you want to get even more sport performance out of this car. The automatic features paddle shifters on the steering column though, so you still have the option to get the car into the next gear when you want it to. Given the option I would probably go for the manual. Everything i have read about it says it is a quick shift delight with a fluid buttery clutch, and besides this is a sport coupe. That means manual drive if you have the option. When combined with a 1.5 four cylinder unit lifted from the Fit, Honda’s IMA hybrid system generates a modest 124 horsepower on a weight figure of 2,568 pounds – not that far off from mother Insight, and all in all, not a very convincing figure.

The CRZ feels quick off the line.This is in part do to the small size, and lowness of the car. In reality the CRZ took almost 10 seconds to go from 0 to 60, not that impressive when you think about it. Very impressive when you think about the fact that this is a hybrid car. None the less Porsche and Audi don’t have to worry about anything just yet. The power boost you do get comes from the electric assist motor which really felt like a turbo. If you are rolling and you mash down on the gas, the CRZ gets up and moves. I had no issues with it on the freeway or zipping through city traffic. One nice feature that Honda was smart enough to include was Sport mode. When this is selected, the CRZ has even more power, and you can visibly see it. When I hit the sport button the RPM on the tach moved to a higher idle position, and the response time of the car quickened. In Sport mode, where the electric spinner provides more torque to the front wheels and throttle response is sharpened. The CR-Z’s engine is a short breather compared to traditional Honda performance motors – redlining at around 6,500 rpm – but there’s been a lot of effort to make it sound the part, so there is a considerable amount of not unpleasant engine noise entering the cabin in higher RPMs.

This car is fun to drive but it isn’t all wine and roses here. The CRZ is simply under geared, and it runs out of breath with a lack of midrange power to label it a real sport coupe. This is a real shame because I want the CRZ to do more. I realize this car doesn’t handle like it’s forbearer the CRX. It shouldn’t the CR-X was a different car for a different generation, and expecting the 2010 car to have the 1990 driving dynamics is like expecting to get built-in GPS and navigation in an entry-level Hyundai Excel. In the end though, the truth is that when you get the CRZ up to speed, it can bring a naughty smile on your face.

The CRZ steering lacked feel, it was fairly accurate and well-weighted, and thanks to the low ride height and relatively short suspension travel, body roll was also relatively modest when cornering and moving through traffic. The CR-Z responded well to my steering inputs, and felt agile and capable in the corners. Gather enough speed and leave the throttle, and you’ll even manage to induce some old school back slips. Unfortunately, CR-Z doesn’t manage to shake off the braking syndromes associated with hybrids. (hybrids using breaking energy to  transfer power to the electric motor to improve start up in economy mode) Thanks to its variable-pressure pedal, there’s not enough feel from the pedal hampering performance braking. In the model I drove the driver’s and passenger’s seats also don’t provide side bolstering for key areas such as the torso and shoulders. I need to check and see if a sport seat upgrade is available for the CRZ.

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These are all small gripes compared to the major design flaw. The CR-Z’s biggest problem is that there is not enough straight-line performance to let you easily discover its positive characteristics, and you can really feel the chassis aching for more power.

So the CR-Z is not really a sporty car. So is it a good hybrid? After an intensive driving session, I averaged about 25 mpg. While this isn’t really what I would call good hybrid performance,  you have to bare in mind I was engaged in some pedal-to-the-metal driving along some curvy roads in Sport mode, so the CR-Z shouldn’t have much problems hitting the 31/37 city/highway EPA cycle if you can hold off the child in you begging to have some fun. 31/37 mpg isn’t to shabby for a pretentious sporty coupe, but then again not really ground breaking as far as hybrids or diesels are concerned. When you’re into economy, you can switch to Eco or Normal modes. Both make the car feel more sluggish thanks to a blunter pedal response and less assistance from the electric motor. Frankly you’d be hard pressed to switch back into one of these modes after driving in Sport.

The CR-Z’s livability is a curious mix of good and bad. On one hand, the ride is impressive both in town and on the freeway. It’s also easy to drive thanks to the smooth CVT transmission, something about it makes you feel like you’re going around 15 mph slower than you actually are. Is the Honda CR-Z a sporty coupe? Not really. Is it an exceptionally good hybrid? Not really. After driving Honda’s newest hybrid Honda’s only real sporty car in its current lineup, I came away with more questions than answers and criticism about this car. Don’t get me wrong. This thing was fun to drive, and the price point was right. You get a lot of bang for your buck here, and if I were in the market for a new car in the low 20 thousand dollar range, I would consider buying the CRZ. With that said, I have to admit, this is a first generation car, and even though it is built around a proven drive train it tends to fall between the lines.

So who is this car for? This car is for someone who is consciences about the environment and is looking for a fun car to drive, something sporty and flashy, but isn’t a driving enthusiast. In other words, someone who wants a peppy gas sipper, and isn’t looking to burn up winding country roads on a Saturday afternoon. If you are looking for a green performance car, save your pennies and buy a Tesla.

The good thing is, Honda has already announced a more powerful version of the CRZ due out in Japan later this year and in North America and Europe in 2012. In addition, since this is a first generation car, Honda will surly improve upon the technology and overall underpinnings of this car with each new release.

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The Ona Union Street Camera Bag. Sturdy, Rugged, Good Looks.

For Christmas I received a wonderful new camera bag from Ona. I had posted about this earlier, and talked about how excited I was that someone actually made a bag that didn’t look like a typical camera bag. Well, after owning the Ona Union Street Bag for 72 hours, I have just one thing to say.

Wow!

This is what I am talking about. Not only does the bag look absolutely stunning in person, it is well designed, thought out, and made of superb materials. The Union Street Bag that I got is “Ranger Tan” Waxwear canvas that is rugged and weathered looking with an antique look that is stylish as all hell. The leather straps, and metal hardware are sturdy, and well made. The interior features two padded compartments. One which is large enough to hold a 15 inch laptop, or an iPad which is what I have in mine, and then a larger compartment for your camera gear. The large compartment features standard felt covered foam dividers that can be repositioned to hold your precious cameras and lenses in place and allow for easy retrieval, when needed.

This case is perfect for a day trip, vacation, or any travel that doesn’t require extensive amounts of gear.  I have my Olympus Ep1, 2 additional lenses, flash, spare battery, Pansonic Lumix, and spare batteries all tucked into the main compartment with my iPad secured right behind them. In the zip pocket on the front of the bag, I was able to get the iPhone in, extra HDSC cards, my camera connection kit, a note pad, and a couple of pens. In other words there is plenty of room for basic shooting needs. Although the gear I have loaded is smaller, the interior of this bag is spacious enough for a full-sized DSLR, lenses and attachments.

The bag is light weight and feels great on your shoulder. My only wish is that the strap was about 10 inches longer in total. When it is fully extended, it is still just a bit to short for my 6 foot 4 inch frame.

Using this bag will be the ultimate test, but for now I am really satisfied with the look and feel of it, and I think it has tons of potential. Over the next few months I’ll be using it on a daily basis, and when I have more feedback, I’ll post another review/update.

After One Year of Use, The Final Worx Cordless Lawn Mower Review.

It has been almost 0ne year since I bought the 19 inch Worx Cordless Electric 24 volt lawn mower. Since last August I have mowed the lawn at least 50 times, and I think I have a fairly solid grasp of this mowers positives and negatives. After one year of use, with at least 2 more months of mowing to go, I am posting an updated review based on my personal experience with this product.

I want to say that this mower is a great piece of lawn equipment. The battery has never failed to last for an entire mow cycle, and I have a huge yard. If you keep the underside clean of collected clippings it does the job, and doesn’t run out of  juice. Now with that said, I am going to be upfront here and tell you straight out, this is not a mower for large yards, or yards with hills and here is why.

This thing is heavy, and it is not available as a self-propelled mower. The mower weighs in at a whopping  87 pounds, which is mostly due to the weight of the battery. I’m telling you, pushing this thing is a workout, especially up a moderate to steep incline.

Another thing that makes it less ideal for a large yard is the 19 inch cut width of the blade. I know this is going to sound trivial, but the extra 5 inches you get with a 24 inch mower makes a huge difference, especially when you are cutting dense grass areas and having to overlap the cuts in order to get the grass that is knocked down by the wheels rolling over it.

This mower does a great job, it cuts well, and has enough power to do the job. It cuts clean and never runs out of battery power. I mow almost 10,000 square feet of lawn, and I have never had the battery die on me before I was done cutting.

The handle system is one of the best I have ever used. It is ergonomically designed to reduce fatigue, and believe me you can feel the difference.

It has Mulch, SIde Discharge, and Bag options. I have used all 3, but almost always mulch. There is no performance degradation when this mower is used in much mode, and the blade does an excellent job of mulching the grass it cuts.

Another plus is, that the handle collapses for easy storage, so if you have limited space, this mower folds up into about 4 cubic feet.

I got the mower because I wanted to do something more positive for the environment, and the idea of running a gas mower just didn’t cut it (no pun intended). So at the end of the day I am happy with the Worx mower, I just wish it weighed less and was self-propelled.

At the end of the day, this is an excellent choice if you have a smaller yard that is fairly flat, or if you want to get a serious workout when mowing. On a scale of 1 to 5 I give it a 4 for performance and durability. My only real gripe is the weight, and unfortunately that is a result of current battery technology, not the Worx design team.

WordPress For the iPad

So I downloaded and installed WordPress for the new iPad. This is sort of a test post since I’m evaluating a couple of things. I’m curious about how easy this is to use with the iPad’s bigger virtual keyboard, and I’m curious about how good this app is on the iPad. The phone version gave me mixed results, and since the iPad is an experiment in laptop replacement this app could see some heavy use in the next year.

First off, typing is a pain in the ass. It’s doable, but slow. This isn’t WordPresses fault, it is the iPad virtual keypad. It’s just big enough that typing fast is not easy to do, so I think this means I’ll be buying a bluetooth keyboard to go with the iPad. iOS’s auto-correct type feature and realtime spell check is actually a real plus on this device, and helps with the somewhat awkward virtual keyboard.

The WordPress app seems solid, and the larger screen of the iPad helps in composing and seeing what you are doing. The app is a stripped down version of what you get on your desktop, in a browser, but that seems OK. I probably won’t use this as a daily blog editor, but it will work just fine when I am traveling, or away from my iMac.

Working with images is a pain. There is no WYSIWYG going on here. You select your photos and WordPress will insert them at the bottom of the post. Even in preview mode you don’t get to see them. And there is no way to resize, insert inline, position them, or dynamically resize them once they have been chosen. (the images below are test inserts, and have no relation to this post, except to point out how sucky image handling is)

One other thing that is rather limiting, is the lack of styles. You can’t select a piece of type and change the color, or style. This isn’t a deal breaker, but it would be a nice thing for WordPress to add in the future. I don’t use this in every post, but it comes in handy when you want to highlight a quote, or divide your posts into sections.

Wasara Paper Goods. Elegant Green Design.

A few months ago, my friend Regina gave me a set of Wasara paper coffee cups as part of a birthday gift. I hate to say it but I have never used them. As a matter of fact, I put them in the cupboard and forgot they were there until today when I was looking for something else and found them. The fact that I haven’t used them, is a shame, because they were designed to be used now, in the present moment, and unlike traditional cups and other dinnerwares, they are disposable and their purpose is temporary.

Wasara believes that the experience of an object is determined by the form, texture, the way something fits in your hand, the ease of use, the way an object makes you smile. They also believe that this kind of experience shouldn’t be relegated to expensive dinnerware and can be applied to something as simple as a paper plate.

The plates, cups and bowls, have a sensuous organic feel to them. They are not only pleasant to look at but the feel great in your hand. Rigid and light, they don’t feel like traditional paper plates, there is a specific sense of elegance to the simple shapes and forms that heightens the experience of using them. Wasara uses a Japanese design principle known as “Shakkei”, which aims to integrate the landscape as seen through a window, and transformed into part of the interior. This represents the spirit of living in harmony with nature.

The underlying spirit of Wasara products is the legacy of aesthetic values that stems from Japan’s time-honored traditions of craft and skill in design and manufacturing. In addition Wasara feels it is important to create objects in an Earth conscious way, so as to have as little impact on the environment as possible. Because of this all Wasara products are produced with 100% renewable tree-free materials, using bamboo, and bagasse (a by-product of the sugar cane industry). By replacing wood pulp with these rapidly renewable non wood materials, Wasara is creating a well designed green product.

The New Dining Chairs Have Arrived.

After just 3 weeks of waiting for the Herman Miller sale to start, and the chairs to be shipped, our Eames Molded Chairs with Eiffel Tower bases arrived this afternoon. I wish I had ordered two more. These look stunning at the dining room table, but I have to say I wish I had two more. Unfortunately for now, they are going to have to wait. Ultimately this post is a product review, or I should say a first impressions review since I haven’t the chairs long enough to give a detailed product review. So here it is, first impressions of the new chairs.

They look stunning. The chrome base of complex interlocking geometry supporting the high density plastic seat. The intensity in the color of the red chairs is just outstanding. The photos did not do it justice. The color is a deep red-orange that is just so saturated. The seats are comfortable with good back support, and the light texture in the plastic helps keep you from sliding. One noticeable improvement over the original fiberglass chairs from the late 40’s through the 1960’s is the weight.  The new chairs feel so light, and in fact weigh in at just around 5 pounds thanks to the Injection-molded batch-dyed polypropylene; and chrome-plated steel base. I have to say I am really happy with the way they look with the table, and rest of the home. These chairs are a perfect match in color and style for our place. The only question now is, do I get green or sparrow gray for the next two.

Eye-Fi SD Cards For Your Digital Camera

If you are the kind of person that likes to share your digital photos and you don’t have an Eye-Fi card yet, you are missing out.  I bought one a couple months back, and I love it.

The Eye-Fi card is a wireless memory card. It looks and stores media just like a regular SD/SDHC card, and it fits into any camera that supports the SD format. On top of that, the Eye-Fi card has built-in Wi-Fi that uses your wireless network to effortlessly transfer photos and videos via  WiFi to your computer. The card allows up to 32 networks which can be added to the system, so you are not bound to using just your home network.

Set up of the card is simple. During the quick set-up, I was asked to customize where I wanted my photos sent. Then the Eye-Fi software allowed me to choose not only my computer, but gave me more than 25 photo sharing sites that I can send to as well. (Flickr,Fotoki, Facebook, Twitter, MobileMe, YouTube, Webshots, Snapfish, Picasa, Typepad, DotPhoto, Costco, PhotoBucket, Ritz, Walmart, Kodak, Walgreens etc.) Allowing me to instantly upload images to social networking sites or order prints through partners that print hard copies. During set up, you can customize not just where media is being sent, but how you want it organized. You can preset album names, tags, descriptions, and even privacy preferences on certain sharing sites.

The card I am using is the Eye-Fi Pro which allows me to hit any open Wifi Hot spot like McDonalds, or Starbucks for instance, and it allows me to set up Wifi networks for places that I go to on a frequent basis that have free WiFi which is great. It also has RAW support and an 8 gig capacity which is a must. at 150 bucks the cost is a bit more, but I think it is worth it. The entry-level cards don’t have hot spot access which sort of limits the card functionality. It’s not that hard to plug your camera in and download the photos if you are at home.

One thing I have been playing with and plan to use on the Trip to France this spring is the Geotagging feature. When used with iPhoto, it sorts the images into locations where they were shot. So if you are wanting to put together a travel log with your photos, it organizes them for you. Photos imported into iPhoto can be made into a photobook, and since they’re automatically geotagged, inserting a map of your trip is just one click away.
My only real gripe witht he card right now is limited camera compatibility. While Eye-Fi is making headway and adding new cameras all the time, This card doesn’t work with my Lumix, or EP1 so I am having to use it with an older Canon point and shoot that is not my favorite camera to work with. Hopefully as this product gains traction in the market, Eye-Fi will get all camera brands on the compatibilty list.

At CES Eye-Fi announced  new Eye-Fi software, available for download to all Eye-Fi users at the end of January, features improvements on existing popular Eye-Fi software functionality as well as brand new sharing capabilities. By popular demand: viewing photo & video uploads by date with a nifty calendar and viewing uploaded items in large format. New & improved: republishing items to different sharing sites (eg upload to Flickr, then to Facebook); creating a batch from multiple sources (eg a few Eye-Fi’s items, your photo library, any folder on your hard drive…). The website has little info about the software now, so I’ll be curious in a couple of weeks to see the full feature set.