Review: Swiss+Tech mini multi-tool keyring

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I’m a huge fan of the Leatherman range of tools, utilizing a Leatherman Wave on a regular basis, but quite often, they’re almost too useful.

On my Wave, I have a can opener, 2 multi-bit screwdrivers, a wood-saw, a 3-in-1 file, 2 knife options, a ruler…the list goes on! All the extra stuff fitted to the fancy pair of pliers means that overall, they’re bulky, heavy and, for quick jobs; a little excessive. Whether you’re wearing it in a poser-pouch on your belt, carrying it your pocket or stuffing it into your kit-bag, it’s all weight and space, even with the smaller, Skeletool range.

Ohio-based keyring innovators, Swiss+Tech offer a variety of lightweight solutions, from 4-in-1 screwdrivers to bizarre, secret keys, but the one I’m testing out is their mid-ranged, 9-in-1 Micro-Plus keyring.

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It’s about the size of a standard keyfob when folded away, and cleverly uses the aperture of the pliers, and some magic, origami trickery to latch itself onto your keyring. When unfolded, it provides a choice of four, sturdy, screwdrivers (#1+, #2+, #1-, #2-), pliers, wire cutters/strippers, sheet shears, and an imperial rule; smartly disguised as a grip. The keyring has been beautifully cast, polished and coated and feels like a good quality tool that you’d expect from a top-end toolmaker, so much so, that it comes with a lifetime warranty, something typically reserved for the likes of Snap-On tools.

I’ve tested everything on it except the sheet shears, which I can’t see being used on anything thicker than aluminium tape. Everything else on the tool did what it was made to do, although I’d have to be really desperate to use the wire stripper/cutter tools on it, as they weren’t fully up for the job.

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The whole thing comes in a tidy stuff-tin and is available in a range of different finishes from around $9.99. They also have a less fiddly, 6-in-1 Micro-Tech and a more fiddly, 19-in-1 Micro-Max, if you’d like to branch out.

Gadgets I’m Stoked for in 2014

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2014! The year of opportunities! Well…let’s not go that far, but there’s some cool stuff in the pipline. Here’s four of my favorites:

Razer Nabu

When people started talking about “smartwatches” and the like in 2013, mainly due to the new notoriety of the crowdfunded Pebble, I doubted their success; putting them down as something that’s been tried and left by the wayside before. However, that all changed when I saw the Razer Nabu. The Nabu has some awesome, practical social applications, or at-least the potential for them.

Razer are currently encouraging developers to design apps and hardware for the dual-screen smartband, which already has functions for gaming, sporting and social media connectivity. The idea is to streamline all of your different life aspects into a single, wearable user interface. Whether you want to synchronize your Nabu to arrange online warfare with your clan buddies, monitor your exercise and activity, or merely interact with other Nabu users, the potential is there.

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Hoverboards!

Well, no sadly. The internet has been alive this week with rumors of Back to the Future inspired, Mattell hoverboards, but nobody can really work out why. Replicas have circulated before, but never with an advertisement campaign on the back of them. It’s already been proven to be a hoax (shocking!), but was there ever a motive behind it? My only thought is that, with a year to go before Back to the Future meets its date of singularity, on Wednesday, October 21st, 2015. This date has been hugely anticipated by movie fans, and will undoubtedly herald the arrival of some awesome collactables; from self-tying Nike sneakers, to hoverboards, almanacs and collectors blu-rays, it’s an opportunity that can’t be missed. Even though none of this stuff will come out in 2014, hopefully we’ll get some sneaky peeks.

Oculus Rift VR

I was lucky enough to get a couple of rounds in on the HD version of the Oculus Rift in September, at Eurogamer. I sat down, expecting a gimmick, and after a 15 minute dogfight on War Thunder, stood up a changed man. Oculus have a very real product in the making. It’s not just a quirky way to view your games, like the long-forgotten, Nintendo Virtual Boy; it genuinely changes the entire way you game. It may not be suitable for every game, but in aeronautical fps games like War Thunder and World of Warplanes, the ability to keep both hands on the controls while viewing all around the canopy makes for some intense dogfights; rather than having to fiddle around with camera angles and thumbsticks, which should be reserved for flight controls and aiming, you’re fully engaged, and can even track your enemies after they’ve flown overhead. Total, seamless engagement.

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The Steambox

The Steambox is often met with scoffs from the pc gamer community, much like any other console, but personally, I think it could change the face of competitive gaming. A sole, standardized pc would make LAN events run so much smoother, the attention it would give Steam would draw more developers to it, and force the likes of XBLA and PSN to get more competitive with their download titles, and it would bumpstart the impending revolution of pure, media-less gaming. The concept of diskless games consoles have left shudders in gamers’ spines for over a decade now, (anyone remember the Phantom? …no? …just me?) but, by comparison, the Steambox has been seen as a logical step. Had the Xbox One gone ahead with its diskless design, it would have fallen immediately in the face of the PS4, but for some reason, the Steam Machines aren’t upsetting gamers in the same way; even though they have the exact same plan. Steam is still seen as the cool, indie, underdog, despite its success, and right now, they really have a chance to strike, while the iron is hot.

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Mental Dominance – Alpha Brain nootropics (review)

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Alpha Brain by Onnit Labs touts itself as being the ultimate, fully balanced brain-boosting pill, promising enhanced focus, increased mental agility, improved memory and, strangely, a lucid sleep state, allowing you to think, even while you sleep.

Bold statements, but seeing that they’re backed by professional poker players, Superbowl champions, mixed martial artists and, most importantly, pro-gamers, I had to give them a try.

The pills themselves are a little pricey, averaging at a dollar a pill in the US and almost double that here in the UK, with a recommended dosage of 1 or 2 a day.

The idea behind nootropics is to take on nutrients that can get through the blood-brain barrier and feed your brain with additional supplies. In theory, this should allow your brain to handle greater loads, or handle the same loads better. There are a lot of supplements available on the market, but they often require a tonne of research, trial and improvement with customized mixing, and a labyrinth of Latin words to get your head around.

What Onnit are offering is essentially a pre-mixed supplement, no balancing and studying required. You just take it, and go about your business. The fact that it’s one-size-fits-all means that it’s not going to be as effective as others on the market, but it is a lot easier, and what you’re really paying for, is the convenience.

Looking at the ingredients, the first thing I notice is the absence of Piracetam, or any racetam. The racetam family are some of the most popular and proven nootropics on the market, and one that I personally trust, so to see it replaced with a lot of brandilized, unknown, untested chemicals made me skeptical.

The main two selling points of Alpha Brain are Alpha GPC and AC-11, which are typically associated with the likes of Alzheimers treatment, and DNA repair, and for that reason, are often tied in with memory-improving supplements. AC-11 is sold in virtually anything as a miracle-cure, and isn’t something I believe in. The only reason I mention it, is because they write it boldly on the bottle, as though it’s something important.

Most studies found on AC-11, and on Alpha Brain in general are private studies, often seemingly sponsored, and with little to no backing (not to mention; no FDA approval of their claims). If you find a medical survey anywhere on them, typically, it takes one google of the labs name, and you’ll find they benefit from promoting its ingredients.

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After trialing an entire bottle, I can’t be sure of exactly how effective they were but I did notice a few things.

  • Improved focus in the mornings
  • Reduced lethargy and drowsiness
  • Reduced mental fogginess – more driven
  • Faster wake-up times

I took one a day for a month, each morning with a cup of coffee and a decent breakfast. I mixed it up a little, later in the month, experimenting with dosages and how they were taken.

  • Taking them on an empty stomach had a side effect of nausea within the hour.
  • Taking them before bed (as recommended for the “lucid dream state” effect) had no impact at all. At no point in the month did I feel any difference in dream quality.
  • Taking 2 in the morning provided noticeable improvements.
  • Taking 2 spread across the day seemed to make no difference.

At the end of the month, I also found that I noticed not taking them, which is the main thing telling me that they aren’t just snake oil. However, they also felt weaker by the end of the month, making me think that by the second month, if I continued, I’d need to double my dosage, taking me up to around £60 a month in the UK, unless I bulk-bought. For the price that they are, I’d say they aren’t worth it; or there are, at least, better options. For the sake of mere convenience, you might as well mix it, save yourself money and get better results.

A standard multivitamin, a good night’s sleep and a coffee won’t be quite as good, but good enough for most.

Tested to Death – Origami Mighty Wallets! (Review)

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Mighty Wallets by the awesomely named Dynomighty Design are a smart, elegant solution to keeping all of your stuff in one place, in a cool, unique and low-profile bundle in your pocket.

The wallets are made from Tyvek; a material known well in building and industrial trades, due to its versatility and durability. Used in camping equipment and haz-mat suits, Tyvek is tough, waterproof, fireproof and tear resistant, not to mention as thin as paper. The people of Dynomighty saw this revolutionary material, and instead of changing the world with low-cost housing, lightweight space solutions or earning a place on the next NASA program, they did the right thing; and made a pretty fly wallet out of it.

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Due to it’s paper-like properties, they can be printed on, and Mighty Wallets are therefore available in a tonne of cool colors, patterns and graphics. Furthermore, you can send them your own pictures and they proudly origami you up a custom one. Further-furthermore, they are currently hosting an “Artist Collective” campaign, where artists can submit their own designs, which the public then vote on. Successful artists will even get a 15% cut on any of their wallets sold, plus the benefit of knowing that people everywhere are walking around with a piece of their art in their pocket.

I’m now onto my second Mighty Wallet, after finally deciding my previous one had reached its end. Admittedly, it’s still alive. Functionally, it works as well as it ever has, but the pictures have all but bleached away and the corners have gotten threadbare. It’s taken 4 years to get there, but I’ve finally managed to almost beat the damn thing.

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My first one looked like it had been folded out of an airplane’s safety card, and my new one, thanks to LootCrate, rocks a bat-symbol on the outside and a kick-ass Batman with Benday-dot effects on the inside.

The wallets are cleverly folded together, with two note pockets on the top, two multiple-card slots on the inside, and, due to the origami, a long sleeve down the middle with two incidental secret pockets on the inside. (Shhh! I don’t think they’re deliberate!)

Style-wise; I think they’re great, and will spark conversation when seen. I must admit, however, that on a couple of occasions, with my older, lighter one, cashiers asked if I’d made it myself.

Due to it’s lightweight design, the two separate note pockets and the ability to fit a boarding card down the center sleeve (tried and tested), they make an ideal travel wallet and due to their paper-like design, they’re also quite concealable once they’ve aged a bit; at a glance, to the unknowing, it’s merely a folded leaflet or map.

The biggest downside is that there’s no coin/stuff pocket for change, trinkets or Nintendo DS games. Also, its slippy surface means that the cards can sometimes slide out and go everywhere.

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With a suit, it’s a bit of a trade-off. On one hand, the slim design means that it fits in a suit undetected, something most wallets struggle with. However, when it comes to taking it out of your pocket, unless it’s brand-new and still has crisp edges, it can look a little informal.

Designs range from comics and maps, to airmail and wallpaper, there’s a huge amount to choose from. If you think you’ve got what it takes, you can submit your designs at https://www.dynomighty.com/create/

Gamer Tech: Grip-iT

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Fans of First Person Shooters, such as the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, needn’t look far before stumbling across third party peripherals touted as “pro-gaming” tech, that’ll take you to the next level. From custom controllers, to gaming glasses, to focus enhancing drinks and drugs, the possibilities, as far as eSports goes, are endless.

One particular peripheral that sprouts up, time and again, is the Kontrol Freek; special adapters for your thumbsticks that elevate your grip, increasing the stick’s overall throw and allowing for pin-point accuracy.

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They’re widely considered a middle-ground when wanting to improve your controllers performance. Some third party controllers, such as the MadCatz PrecisionAIM and the Razer Onza come readily equipped with customizable stick sensitivity and throw, but at the cost of going third party, negating some headsets and, of course, at the financial cost of $60-$120 out of your own pocket for the pleasure. At $10.99, the Kontroll Freek seemed like a solid answer, but many manufacturers disagreed, and overnight, it seems, several other companies came out with thumbstick adapters of their own.

One downfall of the Kontrol Freek is their difference in height; they tower above your controller, almost doubling the height of your stick and for some games and play-styles, it’s just too much.

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Waiting to take over on the stick-peripherals throne are Grip-iT, an American-based company who have designed a cheaper, grippyer, lower-profile option.

The Grip-iT is a sticky, rubber sleeve that covers the top of your thumbsticks, elevating your grip by a few millimeters and providing a little extra friction.

At $4.99 for 4, the Grip-iT costs considerably less than a pair of Kontrol Freeks, but their design is much less complex too, as is their quality. Of the four I received, one had a small hole in it; presumably an air bubble from the injection molding process, but they all held together well and could be stretched over a wide variety of different stick sizes; something the Kontroll Freeks can’t always do. Mine have been tested on Microsoft, AfterGlow and MadCatz controllers, fitting all of them snugly. Additionally, the underside of the sleeve didn’t catch on the molding, which, admittedly, I expected them to. Well played, Grip-iT.

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Grip-iT are one-size-fits-all in design and work with official PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers.

If you’re unsure of whether stick augmentation is for you, at $4.99 for 4, these are a good, low-risk starting point. They grip well and can survive a pretty serious beating. The extra few millimeters allow for more accurate movement in sports and FPS games and take no time at all to get used to.

Just remember that they won’t make you any better at noscope 360 headshots…you’ve got to do that bit yourself.

On Tour – Replica World War II era travel clock by Kit Bag

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I recently came across the company, Kit Bag in a local, “shabby chic” style shop that’s typically known for selling overpriced, cookie-cutter pieces of hipster nonsense; moustaches for your egg cups, glasses for your cats…you know the place.

However, after a rummage, I found a stack of sale items, all by a brand called Kit Bag, and was instantly a fan.

Kit Bag do a bunch of different items, representing the old-fashioned; from military webbing-style flight bags, to Field Notes-esque journals and beyond. Often, without meaning to, they ring of Rocketeer and Dieselpunk and the whole collection was refreshing to see on the high street. Typically, this kind of stuff needs to be bought, second-hand from a musty Army surplus store, often worn or damaged.

I left with a big pile of green and blue faux militaria, but my favorite curio of the bunch was this little travel clock.

The clock comes in a nice, sturdy, stenciled box, and depending on where you get it, is priced between £6 and £10 (mine was 50% off, at £4.99). It’d make an ideal gift for someone and has a lovely, seldom-seen style of the diesel-driven, George V era.

The quality of it, however, isn’t great. Although it’s nice to look at, the clock inside is just the usual, cheap, nylon clock-kit you find behind most cheap kitchen clocks, and the alarm is irritatingly modern, giving out a high-pitched electronic beep that clashes with its appearance. It makes up for this noise, however, with another; as it ticks as solidly as a grandfather clock. This is an upside for me, the more mechanical, the better, but wouldn’t be best suited for light sleepers.

The clock stands on a solid, spring-steel circlip, that’s adjustable and holds its position and the whole unit is encased in a heavyweight, durable, polished die-cast body.

Besides the electronics, it’s a great time-piece to have in your own kitbag, wherever you go.

Review – The Parker 5TH

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Back when I was in school, a big thing we’d do is swap all of our school gear, particularly pens, and every so often, you’d be lucky enough to get your hands on the coveted Parker pen. A pen once owned by one of the smarter, posher kids, or often, a Parker made up of components from other, broken Parkers.

Even as a kid, I understood the gravity and allure behind the Parker pen, and as I’ve grown up, and found myself in a career that requires a biro wielder on the shop floor, and a Mont Blanc twirler in the consultation suite, but still, there’s always been a special place in my inside pocket for a Parker.

The new, Parker 5TH celebrates some of that heritage by offering a modern, fibre-tipped pen in a classic, fountain-like sheath, offering “smooth, clean and reliable writing” but with all the fancy trimmings of an older, somewhat messier pen.

As an engineer, fountain and cartridge pens are completely useless to me; I’m typically writing on something that’s either carbon-copied or photocopied, so a ballpoint is vital, and for technical drawings, the option of a fibre-tip is always preferable, so it’s nice to see a pen this good-looking, but one that’s also practical.

The Parker 5TH isn’t cheap though, screaming all the way up into the $200 echelons, with refills (medium and fine-tipped) weighing in at $8 each.

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The 5TH also comes in a range of bodies, including rubber, lacquer, metal and chrome all with different weights and feels; many these days turning towards rubber and lacquer due to their lightweight feel, and the fact that they’re warm to the touch.

Personally, I’ve opted for a big heavy cast one, which is reassuringly weighty. Admittedly, this is knocking it back a few points as a technical pen, but it’s something that I personally like. When writing, it’s rather tail heavy as a metal pen, which may deter those using it to draw, but again, it enhances the feel, and means it buries comfortably into the nook of your hand as you write.

The quality of the fine-tips themselves is that which you’d expect from a Parker; very clean, crisp and immediate, however, I personally find, as a heavy writer, that the medium tips are a little too soft and flex under pressure. With a heavy pen, I’d like it to feel a little more durable at the business end.

Looks-wise, I love it, and find myself reaching into my pocket more and more, just to play with it. The fake fountain nib looks elegant and modern and the intricate, fluted cartridges themselves are a masterpiece unto their own.

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Verdict

An extremely expensive, extremely flashy pen. For people wanting a pen for nice, technical drawings, it’s a little excessive, and possibly impractical, when compared with others. As a showy keepsake, however, it’s fantastic, and something you’ll always want to carry around with you.

Although it’s certainly for me, I think it may have failed to hit its target for the wider market; although the 5TH set out to combine form and function in perfect harmony, it definitely still tips the scale more towards the former and should probably be bought as a want, not a need. 6/10