Product Reviews

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

Olympus EP1 PEN, Low Light Shooting Test

Over the weekend I did a little experimenting with the EP1 with a low light shooting test. All the shots were set at ISO 300, and shot using natural light coming from just the blue LED’s on the Christmas tree. The camera was set at 1/80th of a second with an aperture of f4.5 for the light and ornament shots, and 1/8th of a second at f4.5 for the overhead shots of the ceiling. The results are a bit on the noisy side, but over all I’m impressed that the sluggish auto focus could actually grab anything in these conditions. I’m also rather impressed with the amount of detail in some of the areas highlighted by the LED’s. I cropped these to 1024 by 768 from the original 4032 by 2272 pixel size to manage the upload to the blog. I’ll try to get the full-sized images out on my Flickr photostream later today.

Why I love Mini USA. The Schwag Box Arrived,

Today when I looked in the mailbox I was happy to see a large, heavy brown cardboard box from Mini USA. This is why I love the Mini brand, they go above and beyond the call of  duty when it comes to building and maintaining brand loyalty. They do it by sending you schwag. Well designed and thought out schwag at that. While the materials that are used in the free stuff is not always outstanding, the writing, graphic execution, and overall experience is. This is the third package I have received from  them in the last month and a half, and the contents of each has been specifically designed to enhance your ownership experience and develop a unique sense comradery with fellow Mini owners. The images below Illustrate how they connect the car, to the brand, to the ownership experience. Each item is designed to be used with the car, from the stickers that spell out fridge like motoring poetry for you car windows, to the log book, secret message decoder. All of it is designed to extend and build your brand loyalty to Mini. All of this helps to develop the word of mouth evangelism that Mini owners preach to non Mini owners.For less than 10 bucks worth of goods that get sent to each new car buyer, they get thousands of free advertisements that come straight from the customer’s mouth. That is brand smart thinking. I can’t think of another car company that does anything like this, for a mid-level automobile.

PaperStone Counter Tops

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I just finished waxing out and buffing down the PaperStone counters in the house. PaperStone for those of you that aren’t familiar with it, is the same stuff that lab counters are made of. 

Our PaperStone counters truly are beautiful the heavy-duty solid surface known for its performance has a deep black luster when it has been waxed out, its warm to the touch, and it has a contemporary appearance. More importantly its environmental sustainable. It is made from post-consumer recycled paper and a proprietary, petroleum-free resin. It is the only solid surface material certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, Smartwood and the Rainforest Alliance. According to the USGBC ( US Green Building Council ), specifying the use of PaperStone can earn you up to five LEED points.

PaperStone isn’t just an attractive counter material that is produced in a socially responsible manner, This stuff is  also strong and tough. the counters have a  steel-like strength in span. The look has a stone-like beauty and it can be worked like fine hardwoods. Our counters have a fine bevel edge that finished the lip around all of the exposed adges. I have to say that I have seen PaperStone counters worked in some amazing ways though, where the edges have been routed into amazing shapes and finishes.

About every 90 days you are supposed to treat the surface with PaperStone Finish, a natural substance that is applied with clean dry cloths after the wax like material has been softened in warm water. The PaperStone Finish is rubbed on in a thin layer, working the surface in a circular motion. Once the entire surface is covered you let it stand for 20 minutes and then buff it out with a clean dry cloth. I have to say, that I am really thinking about putting a buffing attachment on my drill and using it. I have a ton of counter space and rubbing it down by hand is not only time consuming, it’s hard too. The only issue I have is that after treating the surface, you are not supposed to use the counter for 12 hours. This allows the PaperStone Finish to harden up and the luster to deepen as the material continues to soak into the surface.

The Paperstone finish is heat resistant, but unlike surfaces like Silestone, it will mark if an extremely hot object is left sitting on it. The surface can be sanded and re-treated though. Another issue that I have found is, that like a wood surface, it moisture gets under an object that is sitting on the surface, and it is left for an extended period of time, it will leave a lightened mark on the counter. This is easily removed though by hitting the counters with a new treatment of PaperStone Finish.

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A Double Review. Zappos & PUMA’s Furio V Ferrari Driving Shoe.

This is a double product/store review. First it is about Zappos, where I bought a new pair of driving shoes. No not the slip on driving moccasins that you wear when you need to go business casual. Driving shoes like the kind that supports the back of your foot and increases roll between the pedals when you are really driving your car.  So first lets talk about Zappos.com.

zappos_logoI spend a lot of time researching products online before I buy them, and in many cases that research turns into an online sale. 90 percent of the time it’s free shipping and no tax that sells me on an online store purchase. I am satisfied with waiting a few days if it saves me some cash in the long run.  I have been using Zappos since the first month that they went live on the internet. I had read a couple of online articles about the company and how they were poised to become the Amazon of shoes and apparel.

JUst incase you didn’t know it by now Zappos sells shoes, but their website proclaims that they’re a “service company that just happens to sell shoes”. That term by its very nature, can be a bit hard to believe. Many websites claim  to have spectacular service and few actually live up to the claim. Zappos follows through on it.

The ten-year old company, founded in 1999, sells an immensely wide variety of shoes and now apparel. Their website is easy to navigate, and when searching for shoes you can see customer reviews of each shoe, along with the percentage of customers who felt that the shoe was true to their size, true to their width and that the shoe had good arch support.

The reality is that most people are uncomfortable buying shoes online. This happens for a number of reasons. Because of things like the fit of a shoe is a very personal thing. Because styling doesn’t always hold true to the online image, or because there is a perception that returns, or customer service is going to be a hassle.

I often range from a size 12 to 13 when buying shoes, it depends on the brand.So I almost never know if the shoe I’m going to get from an online store will fit perfectly or not. That’s where the Zappos return and shipping policy comes in. It is flawless. Each shoe ships with a pre-printed return label. If the shoe isn’t what you expected or it doesn’t fit put it back in the box, slap the label on it and call the UPS 800 number for a pick up. If for some reason you have lost the label, call the Zappos 800 number, or go online to print a new one. I have purchased allot of shoes from Zappos, and I have returned at least 5 pairs. I have never had any trouble. The customer service is simply amazing.

In terms of the site, navigation, and shopping cart process, Zappos is comparable to other ecommerce websites . One stand out feature though is their “Larger Image and Alternate views” which are fantastic.  You get a real sense for what you are purchasing.  However, what truly sets them apart is their massive selection and service.

As for the selection – it’s so extensive it can almost be overwhelming.  You can find everything from high-end brands to everyday options.   Also try their search functionality – you can find specific items very easily (try automotive racing shoe,  with heel support, etc). And on top of this is an excellent filtering engine that lets you refine your search by size, width, color, materials etc.

Where the genius of Zappos really begins is when you place an order.  First of all, it arrives within 2 days (though lately it has been arriving the next day at no extra charge).   So if you need something for the weekend and it’s Wednesday – you are going to have your product in hand by Friday.   Second, you don’t get charged some crazy fee for the rush delivery.  In fact, you don’t get charged at all.  Free shipping, and free returns always.

One of the challenges of buying shoes online is of course, fit.  So once again that’s why Zappo’s super easy return policy is so helpful.  I bought two pairs of dress loafers winter which often are hard to get the right fit. One worked, but the other didn’t.  The return was not a problem. I had accidentally tossed the return label, so there were literally 3 steps I had to follow

1. Go to Zappos.com and print out a return slip and put it in the box.
2. Print out the pre-paid return label and place it on the exterior of the return box.
3. Take the box and drop it off at UPS/USPS, or call UPS for a pick up.

No charge, no hassle.  It really couldn’t be easier.

Lastly, there is their telephone customer service.  It really has to be mentioned it because  it is so extraordinary.  As easy as their online service is, sometimes you just need to talk to a live person.  At Zappos, there is no aggravating automated system, or long annoying wait time.  You can talk to a live person within one menu selection and about 5 seconds. Seriously! More over they are courteous and knowledgeable.  I love it. One of my most hated things is automated phone services that eventually end up having you talk to someone in a call center on the other side of the world.

As a business, Zappos places a lot of emphasis on their customer service and it really shows.  There tag line says it all. “Powered by Service.Be Passionate and Determined.”

Now for the new driving shoes I got.

PUMAOriginally I was going to get another pair of Piloti Avus, but when I hit the Zappos site they didn’t have them, so I did a quick search on automotive racing shoes, then narrowed the results by size and started sorting through the selections. After digging around, I settled in on a couple of different brands but ultimately settled on the new PUMA Furio V Ferrari for a couple of reasons. Fist off while it is a true performance driving shoe, it can be worn every day without any discomfort. Second, it looks cool. I know not the smartest factor when looking for a shoe with a specific need. None the less, as a designer the way something looks is going to effect my purchase.

M StrapThe shoe itself features the  Furio M Strap, and a co-molded rubber heel that allows for perfect roll and range of motion required while driving. The molded rubber heal wraps around the back of your foot creating a stable brace that allows you to move quickly between the accelerator and the brake with limited impedance. The exterior is full leather, and the interior is flame resistant, photo(17)(although I seriously doubt I’ll be driving in any conditions where this might be needed). The asymmetrical forefoot pad follows the natural outline of the foot ensuring maximum contact and pedal feel. Something that I find very important, since the pedals in the MINI are a bit on the small size and I have some big old feet.

The shoe does not lace but instead uses PUMA’s alternative strap closure for full  customization, comfort and fit all with a contemporary  look that is stylish yet not overpowering. The strap itself is finished with a TPU pull which is mixed with rich textures and functional form.

photo(12)The shoe features a low-profile outer sole which is a re-invented interpretation of PUMA UNI construction that is used in a number of their driving shoes This construction type  offers performance benefits while driving, and it helps to lower the weight of the shoe. This model weighs in at 10.9 ounces.

The shoe does run a bit narrow, and the fit is quite snug. The shoe was designed this way on purpose. It helps you to feel the pedal against your foot while driving. And I have to say that the heel brace might put some people off, since it really grips the back of your foot. My suggestion is this, if you want them buy them. If they don’t fit or they feel funny to you, send them back using Zappos super simple return policy.