Aipower wearbuds™ review

Aipower wearbuds™ review

This review focuses on an innovative product from Aipower called wearbuds™.  I was provided a pair for an independent review by Aipower.

Background

Several features of the wearbuds™ create a niche market over the plethora of wireless earphones available to the consumer, including that the earbuds are transported and charged in an Apple-like watch (on steroids).  Originally introduced through Kickstarter, they are also now available through Amazon.

The wearbuds™ come well packaged.  Here is what comes in the box:

I

Included is the multi-function fitness watch, right and left Bluetooth earbuds, a USB charging cable and the Quick Start Guide.  It is fairly easy to set up following the Quick Start Guide.

Here are the specifications as provided by Aipower:

Earbuds

  • Qualcomm QCC3026 Bluetooth chipset
  • Speaker 10Hz-40KHz, 100dB at 1KHz
  • Microphone 100Hz-10kHz; 38dB
  • Water resistance IPX6 (can survive strong water jets projected by a 12.5mm nozzle at any angle)
  • Operating range 50ft/15m

Watch

  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • Processor ARM Cortex M4
  • Touch display 80×160; 0.96 inch; 65k colors; TFT
  • Sensors: 7 axis accelerometer (including barometer); heart rate sensor; vibration motor
  • Water resistance IPX5

There is a free Aipower wearbuds™ app that you’ll want to download to your phone (Android or IOS).  You need the app to initially set up the time for the watch, and the app will allow you limited customizing of the display in several color output options, as well as time in 12 or 24 hours format, along with the day, month and date format.   Actually, you don’t set the time, once you pair it with your phone, it synchs with the phone time.  You can also set the display to ‘wake’ on movement.  Here are the primary watch screens:

You’ll find that the earbuds are very lightweight, approximately 3.6 grams, and comfortable in your ears.

In this image you can see the earbuds extending out (red arrows) of the watch body after you push in on each one to release

And the wearbuds™ now outside of the watch body.

When you press to release the earbud, it automatically goes into pairing mode with your phone (after the original pairing) or any other Bluetooth device (again, after the original pairing with the respective device) such as a laptop.  You can use either or both wearbuds™ (operates in monaural if you only use one at a time).

Review

While the watch with the wearbuds™ still in the watch body, is very light and reasonably comfortable to wear all day, it takes some getting use to its bulkiness.  It sits up about ¾ of an inch off of your wrist.

I like the auto-awakening of the clock face with movement of your wrist/arm.  I would prefer an option to have it auto-rotate between information screens, rather than your having to swipe the face to change to another screen.

It is extremely convenient to have the ear buds right there on your wrist for when you want to use them, as well as the fact that the watch serves as the charger for each of the ear buds when they are reinserted.

I found that the overall fit and finish was very good.  Once in a while, the left earbud would not easily come out of the watch after you had pushed to release it. Tolerance on release mechanism not quite right.  I also found the watch band (very similar to Apple’s) was a bit too long for my smaller wrist, however, it was extremely comfortable once you got it hooked on.

The Bluetooth link up was OK until linked separately with a laptop and the Android phone.  Then it became buggy, in essence not connecting at times.  The phone App would say the Wearbuds™ were disconnected when in fact they were playing music from the phone.  Even though I had set Wearbuds™ to allow push notifications for messages or emails, that never seemed to work.  However, incoming call notifications worked well along with answering incoming calls.

The call quality was very good and individuals on the other end of the call, said they could hear me clearly and with little to no background noise.

The audio quality of the Wearbuds™ for music listening was very good, with clean definition of highs and lows.  They seem to have moderate passive ambient sound muting.  They were quite comfortable for extended use.  For example, listening/watching two movies in a row on my laptop.  The Wearbuds™ battery life easily handled that, and then could be recharged by inserting back into the watch.

You control the Wearbuds™ by ‘swiping’ across the smooth ear bud surface to increase, decrease volume, pause, answer and hang-up calls.  The action is not exacting and sometimes you get it wrong.

The very high gloss of the watch face quickly showed smudges from touching the face to change the display, take a heart rate reading, etc.

There were some problems in addition to the bugginess of the Bluetooth connection (when previously paired with multiple devices) and the failure of push notifications.  The heart rate monitor and the sleep monitor (only in conjunction with the phone app), seemed very erratic and inaccurate.

A bigger software issue was the way the Wearbuds™ app interacted with two of my cars via Bluetooth.  While driving, without the Wearbuds™ watch and also with out the ear buds in, if a call came through or I made a call, my car would connect the call but then it would immediately hang-up.  After having this happen multiple times, in two different OEM (GM and BMW) cars, I found that it was the Wearbuds™ app on my phone that was causing the disconnect.  After deleting the app from my phone, the calls could be made or came through properly (as they did prior to loading the app).

Interim Conclusion

Aipower wearbuds™ are a clever way to transport, charge and have available very comfortable ear buds, which function well for both music and receiving/talking on phone calls.

However, software issues reduce the value of the watch as a fitness tool at this time.

I plan on doing a comparison between Bluetooth enabled ear buds in the near future- stay tuned.

Rolling art versus fixed art.

One of the shoots I enjoy doing is finding things that are ‘right before our eyes’ but we don’t always take the time to notice.  Wall art, murals, sculptures and street art seem to fall into that category.

I set out looking for wall art and murals in what is considered Old Las Vegas.  Included in the following unique creative images, is the iconic American Sports Car, the Stingray for a juxtaposition- rolling art vs fixed art.

Hope you enjoy.

True only in the ‘winter’ here, during the summer, the process is much faster.
Summarizes both the mural and the car.
Do you think they want a Stingray?
Indeed.
Shapely

double entendre 
Fast and fierce.

Interview with Mike Brewer of Wheeler Dealers

While at Barrett-Jackson’s 2016 Car Collector Auction in Las Vegas, Nevada, I had the great pleasure of spending some time with Mike Brewer, who car enthusiasts worldwide know from his and Edd China’s highly entertaining, Wheeler Dealers fame.


brewer-2-of-7
The following is a transcript of my recorded interview as Mike and I were walking across the vast Mandalay Bay convention center, filled with every imaginable type of transportation. Having just walked past an older Corvette, I took it as an opportunity to segue into Mike’s impressions of the new Corvette Stingray.

JD: You haven’t gone into any detail [on your show] on the C7, the new one. I know you prefer old cars.
Mike: Yeah, actually I like the C7. I like the new one. I had a little ride and drive in one of those C7s, when they first came out, and I think it’s the, well undoubtedly, it’s the best Corvette they’ve ever made.
JD: Certainly agree with you.
Mike: … And it’s the closest I think for the first time, American engineers got anywhere close to a European engineer in terms of mainly it’s styling, but in terms of the feel, because the car does feel very European on the road. You know like the Ferrari does feel, say a C6 Corvette feels very different from a Ferrari 355-
JD: Right.
Mike: …Which feels much more connected, and that was half of the problem, you didn’t feel connected to the car, but with the C7, it feels like you’re putting on a leather glove. It really does feel like you are connected to the car.
JD: It is the total package.
Mike: Yeah.

JD: Thinking of all the cars that you’ve had a chance to acquire, I’m sure there’s still a list of ones that you haven’t yet…
Mike: There’s many.
JD: What are the couple that are next on your list, the one’s reflecting your highest desires?
Mike: That’s a good question. On my highest desirable list. Actually, I’ve actually almost achieved most of my dreams of in terms of inside the Corvette world. I’ve got a, I’ve just got a wonderful C3 Corvette, it’s a ’67 Mako Shark, it was the, it’s not the Stingray, it was the ’68 in red. Beautiful car, convertible. I bought that car in, I do believe in Texas, and we did a lovely restoration job on it and we took it to the lake bed and drove it. Phenomenal. That was a great car, but in terms of my dreams, and what I’d like to do, the list is endless honestly I’ve got so many. Yeah, the list is endless, I’ve got so many cars that I haven’t got to yet.brewer-4-of-7

One of the cars that we still haven’t done and I can’t believe it for a Brit, is a Rolls Royce Corniche convertible.
JD: I was fortunate enough to own a 1975 RR Corniche drop head coupe Mediterranean Blue with Blue top and Magnolia hides.
Mike: You’ve had a better car collection than me!
JD: I was the second owner. It was probably the prettiest car line-wise, classic lines that I’ve ever owned. Incredible build, I loved the car. Drove it 11 years.
Mike: Wonderful. Yeah, I mean, you know there’s so many cars I haven’t gotten to yet, and walking around here at Barrett-Jackson, you know I get that feeling that I can see so many cars that sometimes cars pass me by, I don’t notice them, until I see them again, and you know, all of a sudden the world has gone mad for these pickup trucks, you know, C10 pickup trucks, and we haven’t done one of those yet on Wheeler Dealers and that’s a nice thing I’d like to venture into, but also older cars you know. If you was to ask me what is my most desirable dream car that I’d ever like to get my hands on is undoubtedly going to be a late ’20s Bentley blower. That would be it as my dream, but that in a realistic world, you know, one of those today is half a million dollars, and that’d be for just a shed.
JD: Right.
Mike: … So it’s going to be difficult to ever achieve that dream. It’s out there, you know, one day.
JD: When you source the parts.
Mike: Yes.
JD: In the US versus the UK.
Mike: Yeah.
JD: Do you rely more on your networking here or you still use the Internet a lot like we see you doing on the show?
Mike: I spend my life on the internet. You will see that during the course of the day when I get a break here, we’re making 8 hours of live television here today at Barrett-Jackson and then when I get a break in between filming, from these people around, and when I get a break in between filming, I am sitting on the Internet, and you’ll be surprised what I’m looking for. You know I could be looking for hubcaps for a Messerschmitt or I could be looking at the, you know, the gear shifter for a Citroen Maserati. You know, I could be looking for all kinds of stuff that’s currently going on in my world out there.

Now I’m just immersed in what’s going on and in terms of car restoration, and where I need to find those parts, but the Internet is my most valuable resource, just like everybody else in the world, really.
JD: Okay. You’re over here about 6 months out of the year.
Mike: It’s about 9 months now.
JD: 9 months now?
Mike: Yeah, 9 months of the year. Yeah, we’re based down in California.
JD: Right, that I knew. I guess it was 2 years ago when you were on the Velocity Live show over at SEMA, where you were talking that you just purchased that location.
JD: From the whole process, from the acquisition to the restoring to the selling, which part excites you the most?brewer-6-of-7
Mike: It’s most definitely the test drive at the end. It’s the achievement that you know, that sense of achievement that you’ve done what you set out to do, because you know, cars can be tricky. Some cars come into the workshop with me and they offer themselves up, they say, “Restore me, I want to be restored, here I am”, you know, and they undo easy, the nuts and bolts come off, the fenders, the hood, the bonnet, the engine pulls apart easy.
Yet other cars, they come into the workshop and they put boxing gloves on. They’re a little bit like Mike Tyson, and they want to go 10 rounds with you, and they’re not easy. They don’t want to be restored, they want to die. When we beat those cars into submission, and we give them a new coat of paint, some new lipstick, and we put them out there on the road and we test drive them. That sense of achievement brings a tear to my eye, and that’s why I do this show, I love it.
JD: That’s the enthusiasm that we see as viewers when you and Edd are out afterwards, before you actually sell it.
Mike: Yeah, I mean I just love, you know, we just love restoring cars and a lot of people don’t know this, but when the cameras are cut, not so much for Edd, but for me, when the cameras are cut, what do I do in my spare time? Restore cars. My own cars.
JD: [We walk past a Mark 2 Jaguar]
Mike: Mark 2 Jaguar? Love to talk about that.
JD: Isn’t that a beauty?
Mike: It’s a beauty, but it’s not a good color. It’s not a good original color combination. Nobody ever done that, but it would work, it’d be a nice car, it’s a Jaguar.

JD: You had that in Rolls and Bentley, those color combinations.
Mike: Yeah, but not in Jaguar.
JD: Right.
Mike: They never did that two-tone Jaguar. That’s somebody’s interpretation of what a British car should look like, and these chrome accents here that they put on the hood.
JD: Right.
Mike: They’re not correct either, you know, they just put those on because it’s had it’s Hollywood face lift hasn’t it? It’s a British car that’s been to Hollywood.
JD: Right. Do I have a couple more minutes?
Mike: Yeah, yeah you can go for it.
JD: Thanks. You did a great job in Afghanistan.
Mike: Thank you, much appreciated. It’s my proudest achievement I think.
JD: It was very well recognized.
Mike: Thank you.
JD: Is there something similar you have planned down the line?
Mike: I’d really like to not go back into military programming. Having the two documentaries and nearly died several times. You know, I’ve got a wonderful wife, an amazing daughter and it was something that I wanted to do as a passion inside me and I wrote and produced that series, but I’ve done it, and I’m proud of what I’ve done. I have put a spotlight for a moment on what goes on in the real theater of war, and I felt it and you know, it’s my biggest achievement I’ve ever done in my life and long may it just stay there. You know, I can look back at it and show my grandkids and say “This is what I did”, but yeah, I don’t want to go back there again, it’s a scary place, and you know, the service men and women all across the world, British, American, whoever they are, you know, I salute them. I can’t tell you just what they go through because it’s horrible.
JD: I appreciate that, thank you very much.
Time for one more question?
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
JD: Okay. Autonomous cars.
Mike: Yeah.
JD: Thoughts.
Mike: My thoughts on autonomous cars, okay. You know, I think, I’ve worked harder than anybody else I know, and the thought of getting in a car at the end of the day, pressing a button then it taking me home, fills me with joy. Fills me with joy, but the thought of actually doing it sends shivers down my spine. I’m never going to do that. I want to hold that steering wheel. I want to feel the pedals under my feet. I want to feel the road surface. I’m not going to trust a computer to get me home. You know, I can’t trust myself to get me home, let alone a computer, and I live in a world where you know, well we all do, you know, you’re in, if you’re on your cellphone, and we’ve got computers at home and cellphones. I’m forever rebooting mine and trying to get the thing to work, and so I don’t know if I want to be cruising down the freeways at 70 miles an hour with a computer that needs rebooting at some point.
JD: Exactly.
Mike: No, I think I’ll be, I think I’ll let it go for a few years and see how people get on with it, and see what happens before I ever decide to go and do such a thing, but no. I think there is a future for it. I think there is a market for it, and I can understand why you’ve got the likes of Google and Amazon and other companies chasing after this Utopian world that we’re all going to be driving around in these wonderful self-driving cars, but I think it’s a long way off. I do believe there’s been accidents already with cars that have been automated. No for me, I want to hold the steering wheel.
JD: Thank you Mike, I tremendously appreciate your time.
Mike: It’s an absolute pleasure sir, it’s always, I’m honored to talk to people.
JD: Nicky would you take one picture of us with my camera?
Nicky: Absolutely!
brewer-7-of-7JD: Thank you so much.
Mike: Well, Jeff it’s been a real pleasure to meet you sir. You have a great day here today at Barrett-Jackson, I’m sure-
JD: I will.
Mike: … You’ll get lots of content. There’s tons of cars and it’s going to be exciting.


And off Mike went, continuing on his hectic pace surrounded by a Velocity camera crew to his next filming event. The impression of the man lingered in spite of the ‘energizer bunny’ style- so genuinely interested in and knowledgeable about all things automotive, so easy to interact with and personable. A real pleasure indeed!

Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 2280 2TB SSD: Fast and small

Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 2280 2TB SSD

Background

The following is a review of the Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 2280 2TB SSD.  I was supplied the Kingston KC 2500 by Kingston Technology Company Inc. for an independent long-term review.

NVMe M.2 solid state drives are the latest iteration of solid-state drives (SSDs).  They differ in several ways from SSDs you possibly have in your computer or laptop.  Instead of being similar in shape and size to a small cell phone (standard SATA SSD), the NVMe M.2 looks more like a memory stick.  They are designed to be significantly faster than regular SATA hard drives as well as faster than SSDs.  To fully realize their speed, however, your motherboard needs to be a newer model that has native M.2 module slots built in.  These M.2 modules have direct lanes to the CPU, unlike going through typical expansion slots first.  It is possible to use the NVMe M.2 in either internal adaptor cards, or externally through a USB 3.1 C or Thunderbolt™ connection[1], but again, the resulting speeds will be less than you can achieve with a native M.2 module slot on your motherboard.

For this preliminary review, I look at the Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 2280 2TB SSD technical specifications, run software benchmarking, and conduct ‘real world’ tests, to evaluate its performance.  For the tests, the KC 2500 was directly inserted into a native PCIe M.2 module slot on the motherboard.

Unpacking: What is enclosed



Here is the KC 2500 being inserted in one of the motherboards native M.2 module slots (right below another NVMe M.2 model by Samsung.

In this image, the Kingston KC2500 is enclosed in the MSI FROZR heat dissipater.

Manufacture’s Published Specs and list price

“Kingston’s KC2500 NVMe PCIe SSD delivers powerful performance using the latest Gen 3.0 x 4 controller and 96-layer 3D TLC NAND. With read/write speeds up to 3,500/2,900MB/s1, KC2500 delivers outstanding endurance and improves the workflow in desktop, workstations, and high-performance computing (HPC) systems. The compact M.2 design gives greater flexibility, increasing storage but also saving space.

Available in capacities from 250GB–2TB2 to meet your system’s needs. KC2500 is a self-encrypting drive that supports end-to-end data protection using XTS-AES 256 bit Hardware-based encryption and allows the usage of independent software vendors with TCG Opal 2.0 security management solutions such as Symantec™, McAfee™, WinMagic® and others. KC2500 also has built-in Microsoft eDrive support, a security storage specification for use with BitLocker.”[2]

Cost: Around US$400.00 for 2TB.  5-year OEM warranty.

How the testing was done

  • The NVMe M.2 were tested in the following system using native PCIe M.2 module slots on the motherboard
    • OS: Intel Core i9-9900K Coffee Lake 8-Core, 16-Thread, 3.6 GHz (5.0 GHz Turbo) LGA 1151 (300 Series) 95W with Noctua NH-D15S 140mm SSO2 D-Type Premium CPU Cooler
    • EVGA GeForce RTX 2060 KO GAMING Video Card
    • Motherboard: MSI MEG Z390 ACE LGA1151
    • Memory: CORSAIR Vengeance LPX 64GB (4 x 16GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3200 (PC4 25600)
    • Power supply: EVGA SuperNOVA 650 G5, 80 Plus Gold 650W

Software speed tests

Three different software programs were run to establish benchmarks.  The first was the UserBenchmark™, the second Samsung Magician™, and the third the ATTO™.  In the tests, Sequential testing replicates reading/writing video and music files, while Random replicates reading from multiple locations like starting up a computer, or where data is stored in available spaces on an existing drive.  Deep queue replicates typical server activities.  The Kingston KC2500 was compared to a Samsung 970 Pro NVMe M.2 SSD 1TB drive, both inserted in native PCIe M.2 module slots on the motherboard.

UserBenchmark results


In looking at the UserBenchmark results, the Samsung is faster than the Kingston on most of the sequential tests, while the Kingston is faster than the Samsung on the random tests.  The Samsung is faster on two of the three Deep queue tests.

Samsung Magician results

On the Samsung Magician tests results, the Samsung is faster on the Sequential Read but the Kingston is faster on the Sequential Write.  The Kingston is faster on both the Random Read and Write than the Samsung.

ATTO (Attotech 4.01.0f1) results

Samsung 970 PRO NVMe M.2 SSD results

Kingston’s KC2500 NVMe M.2 SSD results

The ATTO benchmark measures the maximum speeds at which data can be transferred to and from a disk.  The ATTO testing starts with 512B of I/O data and increases by doubling each test, up to 64MB.  The performance difference between the Samsung and the Kingston transfer rate somewhat flips back and forth, with the Kingston writing at a higher speed up to about 16KB, while the Samsung reads faster up to 16KB.  Then from 16KB to 256KB I/O they are about even in performance.  From 256KB up to the 64MB, the Kingston is consistently faster in writing the data, with little difference between the Kingston and Samsung in reading the data in that range.

‘Real world’ tests

For a representation of typical (non-gaming) end user outcomes, two tests of writing files to the respective drives, were conducted.  The first comprised of 30.1GB collection of 1448 files that included a mix of text (Word and WordPerfect documents), PDFs, images, and MP4 video files.  The second comprised of 75.8GB collection of 1450 files that included a mix of text (Word and WordPerfect documents), PDFs, images, and MP4 video files.  All the respective test files were stored on a Samsung 970 PRO NVMe M.2 SSD 1TB drive plugged into one of the motherboard native M.2 module slots.

As with the benchmarking software, comparisons were run the Samsung and the Kingston drives.  Additionally, a comparison was run with a standard 3.5 inch hard drive, the WD Blue 4 TB SATA 6gb/s  3.5″ WD40EXRZ.

‘Real world’ writing time results:

Samsung 970 Pro NVMe M.2 SSD

30.1GB 00:18.64 seconds

75.8GB 00:43.40 seconds

Kingston’s KC2500 NVMe M.2 SSD

30.1GB 00:17.95 seconds

75.8GB 00:43.31 seconds

WD Blue SATA hard drive

30.1GB   03:17.01 minutes:seconds

75.8GB   08:49.85 minutes:seconds

The Kingston was marginally faster than the Samsung with both the 30.1GB and 75.8GB writes, but not a practical significant difference.  However, both the Kingston and the Samsung were much quicker, by almost three minutes in writing the 30.1GBs, and by eight minutes in writing the 75.8GBs when compared to the WD Blue SATA hard drive.

Preliminary Conclusions

The Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 2280 2TB SSD is a well designed NVMe M.2 drive that delivers on its promise of fast read and write times across all three benchmarking tests and the ‘real world/real data’ tests.  Overall it had slightly better performance outcomes than the Samsung 970 Pro it was directly compared with, though from an end user perspective, the difference between the two probably won’t be apparent.

The Kingston KC2500 comes with a 5-year warranty, and some on-board software as well as a link to download and activate Acronis® True Image HD Software.  This is particularly useful if you plan on replacing your existing hard drive which houses your OS, since it will automatically copy and transfer everything you need to change out the hard drive with the Kingston KC2500.  It is a self-encrypting drive that supports end-to-end data protection using XTS-AES 256 bit hardware-based encryption of your data.

The Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 is well worth considering especially in cases where you read and write large files such as in editing, building, and rendering a movie comprised of a mix of photographic images and shorter videos.

Overall rating:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is flame.gif

Super Hot! 5 out of a possible 5

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards,

   Jeff

Jeff Daum, Ph.D, PPA

Photojournalist, Technology & Product Analyst

Website: www.DaumPhotography.com

Blog: https://insight.daumphotography.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jwdphotog/

Muck Rack: https://muckrack.com/dr-jeff-daum


[1] For example, see my review of the OWC Envoy Pro Ex external drive https://insight.daumphotography.com/2020/10/04/owc-envoy-pro-ex-with-usb-c-2tb-ssd-m-2-drive-ultra-portable-and-fast/

[2] Kingston website https://www.kingston.com/unitedstates/us/ssd/kc2500-nvme-pcie-ssd

OWC Envoy Pro EX with USB-C 2TB SSD M.2 drive: ultra portable and fast

Background

As a professional photographer I do a lot of work on-site and ‘in the field.’ One of challenges is backing up the day’s images.  Anything that can speed up this backup transfer while ensuring the integrity of the images, is always welcome. 

That is the impetus this review.  I was supplied the OWC Envoy Pro EX with USB-C 2TB SSD M.2 drive by Other World Computing (OEM and distributer of external hard drive cases, SSDs and enterprise storage solutions), for an independent long-term evaluation.

The OWC Envoy Pro EX seemed very promising. It is small, and because it is based on an SSD M.2 drive, should be quite fast.

Unpacking: What is enclosed

The OWC Envoy Pro EX with USB-C 2TB SSD M.2 drive (SKU OWCENVPROC2N20) arrived in a 5.75×3.75×2 inches box.  Within the box was:

  • Quick Start Guide
  • Information sheet on OWC Drive formatting utility
  • USB Type-C cable
  • with USB-C 2TB SSD M.2 drive installed
  • If the OWC Envoy Pro EX was purchased as an enclosure without any NVMe M.2 SSD, it is supplied with screws to secure the enclosure, and one drive mounting screw, along with two rubber feet (that are used to cover the case mounting screws).

Specifications

Actual dimensions of the Envoy Pro EX:

  • 4.53×2.55×0.5 inches (11.51×6.48×1.27 centimeters)
  • 5.6 ounces (0.1588 kilograms) with the 2TB SSD M.2 (NVMe PCIe 2280 SSD M-Keyed) drive installed

Dust and water resistance rating:

  • IP67

Unit is powered by the USB-C cable connection

Interface: USB 3.1 Gen 2 (Type-C)/ Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface

Operating System Requirements:

  • macOS 10.12 or later
  • Windows 10 or later
  • Linux, Chrome Android, and other OS that support USB 3.1 Gen 2

Warranty:

  • 3-year OWC Limited Warranty if ordered with SSD
  • 1-year OWC Limited Warranty if only ordering the case

Cost: US$399.00

Initial Set-up

The unit was connected via the supplied USB Type-C cable to a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port on my PC.  I am running Windows 10 Pro with a MSI MEG Z390 motherboard, Intel Core i9-9900K Coffee Lake 8-Core processor and 64GB DDR4 memory.  The Envoy Pro Ex was immediately recognized along with showing the preloaded software, mentioned in the Drive Guide Formatting sheet included with the unit.

Unfortunately, while the drive contents opened in Explorer properly, and the formatting utility exe file was there, it would not initialize.  After several attempts, I followed OWC alternative formatting suggestion- use Windows Disk Management to format.

Windows Disk Management properly formatted the drive, and everything checked out. The newly formatted disk showed as 200 MB Healthy (EFI System Partition) and 1788.30 GB NTFS Healthy (Basic Data Partition).

The next thing I did was to run benchmarking software.  For this I used Samsung’s Magician software (I have several Samsung 970 PRO NVMe M.2 SSD drives on the motherboard).

Benchmarking results:

Sequential (MB/s)                              Random (IOPS)

Read  971 Write 991             Read 55175  Write 52490

Comparison to Seagate 2TB external 3.5 HDD

Sequential (MB/s)             Random (IOPS) not run

Read 157 Write 151              n.a.

As can be seen, the OWC Envoy Pro EX about six times faster in sequential reading and writing to the disk as compared to the Seagate 2TB 3.5 HDD.

These results seem to be consistent with published data.  For example, A typical 7200 RPM HDD will deliver a read/write speed of 80-160MB/s. On the other hand, a typical SSD will deliver read/write speed of between 200 MB/s to 550 MB/s.[1]

Initial Field Test

After benchmarking, the next step was to see how the OWC Envoy Pro EX did with real data.

I used a LG Gram laptop Z990 with an 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 processor and DDR4 dual-channel memory, M.2 2280 SSD,  16GB DDR4, Windows 10, and connected to its USB-C 3.1 Thunderbolt™ 3 port with the OWC supplied cable (a USB-C, gen 2 but not a Thunderbolt™ 3 cable).

The first transfer was of 21.2GB (1,414 items including videos, images, pdfs and text files) to the OWC Envoy Pro EX.  The transfer took 01:34.51 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos, and pdfs was instantaneous.   The case showed a thermal increase of 4⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer)

For comparison, the identical 21.2GBs was sent using the same laptop to a SDXC card (in the SD port of the laptop) and the transfer took 06:26.08 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos, and pdfs was nearly instantaneous loading.

Next I transferred 72.2GB (8,972 items including videos, images, pdfs and text files) to the OWC Envoy Pro EX.  Transfer took 06:22.20 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos, and pdfs was instantaneous.   The case showed a thermal increase of 8.5⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer)

Since my laptop supports Thunderbolt™ 3, I reran the transfer of 21.2GB  (1,414 items including videos, images, pdfs and text files) to the OWC Envoy Pro EX, but this time using a Thunderbolt™ 3 cable instead of the OWC supplied USB Type-C cable.  The transfer took 01:21:16 minutes to complete.   The case showed a thermal increase of 2⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer)

Next I reran the transfer of 72.2GB (8,972 items including videos, images, pdfs and text files) to the OWC Envoy Pro EX using the Thunderbolt™ 3 cable.  Transfer took 06:23.04 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos and pdfs was instantaneous.   The case showed a thermal increase of 5.5⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer).

Prior to having the OWC Envoy Pro EX drive, I always backed up my daily images and videos each day through the laptop to the embedded SDXC card. Hence, my last ‘real world’ comparison was taking the 21.2GB of photos and videos and sending it from my Nikon’s XQD card directly to the OWC Envoy Pro EX through the laptop Thunderbolt™, versus through the laptop to an embedded SDXC card.  It took 01:46:25 minutes to the OWC unit and 06:27.02 minutes, respectively. 

Preliminary Conclusions

  • Very nicely constructed (I have found this true with other types of OWC external drive cases).  A solid feeling, well machined anodized aluminum case with rounded corners.  Only one opening, the USB-C slot at one end, and the blue LED light at the other.  The blue LED light glows steady when powered, and blinks as the drive is being accessed.  Light weight and ultra-portable.
  • The IP67 rating means that it is “Dust Tight No ingress of dust; complete protection against contact” and “Immersion up to 1m. Ingress of water in harmful quantity shall not be possible when the enclosure is immersed in water under defined conditions of pressure and time (up to 1 m of submersion).” [2]
  • Extremely easy to connect and use.  Considerably faster with real data than the prior method I used, namely, loading the backup data to the SDXC card in my laptop.
  • The Thunderbolt™ 3 cable vs the OWC supplied cable (a USB-C) did not seem to make enough of a difference as tested, to justify buying a Thunderbolt™ 3 cable, if you don’t already own one.

In summary, the OWC Envoy Pro EX offers the perfect solution for those who need a highly portable external drive that is rugged, dust and waterproof under normal field conditions, and relatively fast for writing and accessing data.  A nice bonus is the fact that you do not need a separate power supply.

Rating: Five out of a possible five

Please let me know if you have any questions about this unit.

Best regards,

   Jeff

Jeff Daum, Ph.D, PPA

Photojournalist, Technology & Product Analyst

Website: www.DaumPhotography.com

Blog: https://insight.daumphotography.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jwdphotog/

Muck Rack: https://muckrack.com/dr-jeff-daum


[1] TekHattan Blog © 2019

[2] DSM&T bulletin re International standard IEC 60529

A brief visit with a Silverback and his family

by Jeff Daum, Photojournalist, PPA

For many, the concept of a Gorilla conjures up King Kong.  While they can be quite intimidating based on their typical size- 200 pounds for the females, and 400 pounds for the males, this short video shares their more ‘domestic’ side.

It was shot in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.  Somewhat aptly named, because to catch a glimpse of the Mountain Gorilla, you need a permit, a guide and the willingness to slog up the mountain which is at times akin to a rainforest.   There are no paths.  The Impenetrable Forest floor is typically slippery, often thorn laden, with lots of roots to trip you up. Everyone falls at least a few times- the trick is to not get hurt when you do.  Your guide leads you up to where the Gorilla family was last seen.  Along the way, lower branches and nettles are cut away with a machete.  The trek can be anywhere from a couple to four hours up the mountain before you hear, then come across the Gorillas.

In this video, you will initially see the adult male Mountain Gorilla, called a Silverback because of the silver/white hair down part of his back, relaxing in the grass near his family.  Next is the mother cuddling one of the young gorillas.  A sibling is seen foraging nearby.  Mom then goes off for a snack.

Two of the young brothers (?) take this as an opportunity to get into a brief scrap and then appear to be conspiring.  The Silverback then rejoins the family, where the mother is laying down with the young gorillas playing around and on her.

Finally, all pack off with one of the young gorillas hitching a ride on the mother’s back, while everyone follows the Silverback off.

Hope you enjoy the excursion.

For more images of Mountain Gorillas, please visit https://www.daumphotography.com/Nature-Images/Gorillas

Product Review: Blackvue DR900S-2CH Field Test

A part of this review, the Blackvue DR900S-2CH was compared to my long term benchmark dashcam, the Papago GoSafe 30G.  Additionally, I will focus (pun intended 😊 ) on the performance of the Blackvue DR900S-2CH.

The Blackvue is permanently mounted in my BMW X3, while the Papago was placed along side it, using its suction cup mount.  For those interested in the installation of the Blackvue, please see the detailed write-up at https://insight.daumphotography.com/2020/02/19/blackvue-dr900s-2ch-dash-cameras-install/

Here is a brief comparison of the respective unit’s specifications (from the manufacturer’s web sites):

The Papago GoSafe 30G comes equipped with GPS, and, supports up to 128GB for more than 20 hours of recording before footage loops over. With a 2.7” display screen to view your videos, this dash cam has the capability to record full HD 1080P 60FPS high resolution videos with an 140° wide view angle. The GoSafe 30G also comes loaded with 3 recording modes (video, parking, and monitor mode), and Papago’s exclusive driver assist features including stop sign recognition, headlight reminder, and driver fatigue alarm.”

The DR900S-2CH has an ultra-wide 162-degree front camera and wide 139-degree rear camera angle. The front 8-megapixel sensor produces spectacular 4K Ultra HD footage, letting you read license plates from farther away.  With H.265/HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), the video files stay small so you can record for as long as a standard Full HD dashcam.  DR900S-2CH also features dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi for super fast file transfer to your phone.

  • There are some basic differences you can see from the two manufacturers descriptions:
    • The Papago has a display screen, while the Blackvue does not.  However, you can easily access the images from the Blackvue using your smart phone.  Both, of course, have removable MicroSD cards for viewing on your computer or laptop.
    • The Blackvue includes a second recording camera, for capturing rear traffic images.
    • The Blackvue front camera has a wider lens capture at 162 degrees as compared to Papago’s 140 degrees.

Field Side-by-Side Comparison

For most dashcam users, the primary purpose is to document traffic as you are driving.  Dashcams have become popular as a means of providing evidence in the event of road rage and/or an accident.  Ideally the dashcam will capture clear, time and gps marked images, both during daytime and nighttime driving.

Let’s see how the Blackvue and Papago did.  In general, both dashcams did fine during the daytime recordings.  Both document the time, speed and gps. You can see at the bottom of each of the following images, the time, speed, and in Papago’s case, the GPS coordinates.  Blackvue also captures GPS coordinates, but rather than display them on the image, they are imbedded in the image data and actually show where the vehicle is on Google Maps, when viewed with their app.

For all the following images, they are not retouched or corrected, but appear exactly as recorded.  In each case the Blackvue image is the first of the two images. 

This first set shows the wider coverage of the Blackvue vs the Papago:

The Papago has a slightly more saturated image but is also a slight bit less sharp. 

Here are the same images, enlarged about 30%:

Here is are comparative shots from video on the highway:

Again, the Papago has more color saturation while the Blackvue is a bit sharper.  This is more easily seen in the approximately 30 percent enlargements:

Now let’s look at night shots:

Here the Blackvue does a bit better job with low (nighttime) lighting: the image is sharper and for example, you can see the traffic signals are red, but only appear as lights in the Papago.

And another set of night shots:

Finally, here is a shot that shows the advantage of Blackvue’s slightly wider lens coverage.  You can see in the Blackvue image a car just off the left fender, but you can not see it in the Papago shot. This additional coverage could be useful for example, if your vehicle was sideswiped.

Here is an example of the video capture from the Blackvue front and back cameras:

You’ll note that the images are rock solid from both front and back cameras.

This is what the Blackvue SD Card Viewer looks like on a PC.  It contains a lot of information, including the time, GPS coordinates, actual location on Google Maps, speed, and if selected, using picture-in-a-picture, simultaneous front and back videos.  It allows you to capture and save a snapshot from the video at any time.

And here is the Viewer optioned as just the full image, without the surround of information:

Summary:

As noted at the start, both the Blackvue and the Papago provide solid documentation of what is occurring in front of the vehicle.  It was nice to see that the software of both manufacturers captured the same GPS coordinates and indicate the same vehicle speed across various settings and at low through highway speeds.

When considering all factors, the Blackvue  DR900S-2CH emerges as the best, if you put cost aside.  While both Blackvue and Papago do a number of the same things, including most importantly, automated recording every time you start driving, Blackvue has the edge in image quality.  It offers excellent front and back cameras, high quality video including HD recording, and ease of use with its free smart phone app and PC viewer.

That said, for some the price difference will be a deciding factor.  The Blackvue currently can be found selling at around US$420, while the Papago is at around US$160.

A few minor Blackvue nitpicks:

  • Blackvue prefers (recommends) that you only use their own branded microSD card. During parts of the half year I have been using this unit, instead of the Blackvue microSD card, I used a very well respected 128 gb professional level card, designed specifically for handling the frequent record events typical of security cameras.  I did not experience any recording problems, however, the Blackvue unit would randomly announce a restart.  The non-Blackvue card was formatted using Blackvue’s own software app.  This minor issue is known by Blackvue, as well as being documented by a number of users.
  • Blackvue does have a Parking setting, for use when your vehicle is not running.  However, it requires a source of power to keep running beyond its stored capacitor.  One option is to directly power the unit off your vehicle’s battery using a circuit that is continuously ‘live.’  This is problematic over an extended period because it could cause your battery to be drained to the point where it will not start your vehicle. 

Another option is Blackvue’s Power Magic Pro.  It goes between a continuously live circuit and the unit, and is designed to shut off the Blackvue at a preset voltage level of your vehicle battery, for example, 12.5 volts.  However it does not work with the sophisticated and sensitive power draw software of the BMW (as well as possibly similar systems by other OEMs, designed to preserve the battery and ensure sufficient starting power), nullifying its use as a means to power the unit in “Parking Mode.”  Basically, it causes the system to throw several electrical related codes.

A third option is to purchase Blackvue’s Power Magic Battery Pack or Power Magic Ultra Battery.  The first is a rechargeable accessory plug driven system that provides about 12 hours of record time.  The Ultra unit is a high capacity rechargeable unit that provides about 24 hours of record time, and can be piggy-backed to increase the total record time while parked.  However, these are not ideal options for long term parking situations (like when you leave your vehicle parked for a week or more).  The accessory plug unit has too brief a recording time to be of value, while the Ultra is a very expensive option- over US$300 per pack.

In conclusion, after six months of use, the Blackvue  DR900S-2CH has proven to be a highly reliable unit, providing excellent video documentation.  It has been unaffected by the extreme temperatures here in the desert.  The smart phone app and PC microSD card Viewer are very well thought through, highly functional and easy to use.  It just needs a better parking record option.

Nature at your doorstep

This morning a feathered friend came to keep an eye on things.

His presence seemed to upset the other birds. I watched him in awe and when I realized he wasn’t going anywhere I went and grabbed one of my cameras.

Though perched about twenty feet above me in one of our Date Palms, with the aid of my camera lens, I realized what may have been upsetting the other birds that frequent our trees.

Clearly, one doesn’t always have to travel far to see some magnificent examples of nature’s beauty.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, and look forward to your comments.

Cheers!

Product Review: Phyn Plus Smart water assistant + shutoff

Summary Rating:  Half Full Bucket- not ready for prime time. UPDATED: Based on more than a year of actual use: Can not recommend purchasing the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant do to a total lack of customer support and a software system that is increasingly making errors.

This review is based on a one-year use of the Phyn Plus Smart water assistant + shutoff system.  According to the manufacture “Phyn Plus uses patented, high-definition pressure wave analysis to alert you the second a leak is detected, mitigate costly damage through automatic water shutoff and teach you about your water use.”[1]

A little over a year ago, our water authority had put out a brochure describing several whole house water leak detectors, and the logic for installing one.  Based on my research on the related technology used by the proffered leak detection units, I chose the Phyn.

Specifically, “Phyn Plus is the only connected water monitor to offer an ultrasonic flow sensor, exclusively built by Badger Meter, with no moving parts, ensuring accuracy and durability over the long haul. Other water monitors use turbine flow sensors with rotating discs that are less accurate, and often degrade over time or can get stuck by debris or buildup.[2]

My primary interest in the unit was two-fold: avoid an expensive water leak and resultant property damage, and monitor water usage and issues while not home.

Installation and start-up:

I decided to go with a Phyn certified installer because I was going to need to have some re-piping done to take full advantage of the Phyn unit, and, using their certified installer extended the warranty by one year.

When my home was built in 2005, the feed from the city water pipe where it entered the house, was split with one part going to a pressure reduction valve (PRV) and then on to the house, and the other side of the split bypassing the PRV and going to the inground watering system.  Phyn requires that any water it monitors must first go through the PRV, so I had to have the inground rerouted to follow the PRV.

Here you can see the original piping, where the house water (“A”) goes through the PRV and the inground water (“B”) bypasses it.

Here is the revised piping, where all the water from the city pipe goes first through the PRV, flows (“1”) to a tee, feeding the house (“2”) and the inground (“3”).  The original pipe to the inground from the city feed was cut and capped (circle “4”).

At the time of the re-piping I had the plumber replace the original PRV with a beefier industrial version.

Once the installation was completed, the Phyn unit was plugged in and linked to the WiFi.  Using the free app from Phyn, it walks you through the set up which includes describing type and number of appliances using water in you home.  Next it monitors water use, but does not automatically shut off the water until after the learning/training period has elapsed.

The training was pretty straight forward.  The system virtually, instantly shows when water is being used, for example, turning on a sink faucet or flushing a toilet.  After the learning period is complete, through the app, it will show you lots of useful information including current water pressure, water events by category (sink, shower, outside faucet, etc.) along with total water usage by day.  When you open the app, it shows you the current water temperature, current pressure, and flow (if any) in gpm.  If water is being used, it will show a flowing stream representation behind the information.  From that screen you can run a plumbing check, see water use by date, by event, etc.

You can also use the app to turn off all the water, electronically through the Phyn unit.

Actual Day to Day Use:

The information can tell you pretty accurately how much water each of your appliances uses, for example, when you shower, flush a toilet, run the washing machine, etc.

For the first couple of months, the unit seemed to work pretty well, with a few hic-ups.  Several times it shut the water off while one of us was showering, because it thought it was a leak.  These were pretty much eliminated after continue (re)training or correcting the apps query or mis-categorization.

During this period, I also found Customer Service/Technical Support to be responsive, though not necessarily problem resolving.  For example, there appears to be an issue I can only describe as a software problem, where the AI they use doesn’t seem to be able to learn atypical water use.  Specifically, we have an auto-fill system on my pool that uses a float valve similar to a toilet valve, and when the water drops below a preset level, opens the valve to allow water replacement.  During low or no wind days, this tends to be recognized by Phyn’s AI algorithm and doesn’t cause any issues.  But on windy days, the pool water surface undulates causing the float to bob and erratically open and close the valve.   Phyn’s AI algorithm almost never recognizes this and as a result, labels it a leak.

I contacted and explained this to Customer Service/Technical Support several times before they finally understood the issue.  They told me the system would need more time to learn it.  It is now a year, and it still hasn’t learned it.

Another problem that started recently, is the system has forgotten event characteristics it previously knew.  For example, we have a whole house water conditioning system that does a reverse flush every fourteen days, in two steps, one hour apart.  By design, this reverse flush occurs during the late-night early morning hours.  Originally Phyn once trained on this, had no issues with it.  However, during the past few months, it only tends to get one of the two steps properly recognized, and either turns off the water to the house during the second step or mis-labels it as an amazingly long shower, for example.  No changes were done to the whole house water conditioning system which might explain Phyn’s lack of ability to remember what it previously knew.

Similar issues have been occurring with the inground watering system.  It runs on a specified schedule for a fixed amount of time.  Originally Phyn learned and recognized it.  Over the past few months, it now frequently gets ‘confused’ and combines the inground event with other water usage events in the house.  This results either in mis-categorization, warning messages from the app, or large amounts of water usage un-classified.  Again, there have been no changes done to the inground system which might explain Phyn’s lack of ability to remember what it previously knew.

Each of these issues have been provided in detail to Customer Service/Technical Support along with supporting screen shots of the data.  Unfortunately for the past several months, even though I have documentation showing the emails were received and opened at Phyn (both to specific individuals I sent them to, as well as Phyn’s CEO), no one at Phyn has had the courtesy to get back to me. 

This is inexcusable.   I would have expected them to want to take advantage of the specific data of these anomalies and improve their AI algorithm.  Clearly there are other customers who might be interested in their leak detection system who also have pools, whole house water conditioner systems, and inground watering equipment.

In Summary

The concept is excellent.  The quality of the Phyn Plus unit build appears top notch.  The unfortunate short fall is that the unit has failed to learn unchanging water usage after a year in service, and that Customer Service/Technical Support is nonchalant and non-responsive about it.  Because of this, it is extremely hard to have any confidence the unit will in fact detect a true leak and perform properly, if and when that occurs.

Note: If Phyn does get back to me and resolve these issues, I will update this review and rating appropriately.  Until that point, caveat emptor for anyone considering a purchase of the Phyn Plus unit.

Update: July 2020 Unfortunately no one at Phyn has responded to my customer service requests (sent both on their web site and by email directly to them). The software has been updated a number of times, yet the same issues continue. There are definitely ‘learning’ issues that are not corrected even after repeated use of their app to change a mis-categorization to reflect the correct source of water use.

Further, I completed an honest product review (much like this write-up) of the Phyn Plus unit on their own web site, using their form, as a verified purchaser of the unit, and they acknowledged receiving the review, but did not publish the review. Clearly an attempt to mislead individuals who look at their published reviews.

Update: October 2020 Still no response from customer support, technical support or anyone at Phyn since providing back in May 2020 extensive documentation of issues. Up through the present, I have repeatedly contacted Phyn through their website support, sent in numerous examples (including screen shots from app data) of serious software issues, contacted through their app and over the phone. I have been told several times when I successfully connect with a ‘live’ representative, that my concerns were being escalated. No response, no improvement resulting from software revisions (actually, has gotten worse).

As a result of this article, I have received several contacts from other purchasers of the Phyn Plus unit, who also have experienced similar problems including the lack of any customer support.

It is unfortunate that Phyn management believe this is the way to treat customers, rather than to try and resolve the real field documented issues with their product, and ultimately improve it.


[1] Manufacturer’s website https://www.phyn.com/plus-smart-water-assistant/ May 30, 2020

[2] Manufacturer’s website op. cit.

Indelible Memorials

As Memorial Day approaches, my thoughts go beyond to the impact of memorials on each of us.

What each individual experiences when visiting a memorial is undoubtedly unique based on their knowledge of events, their back ground and where they are in their life journey


These three memorials I have chosen to include here, deeply moved me well beyond my ability to translate into words. Each representing horrific pain and destruction, a butterfly effect on humankind changing the zeitgeist.

Berlin Holocaust Memorial

Normandy France

9/11 Memorial

But the searing question is, for how long will they and the events that led up to it, be remembered and continue to shape humankind?

Gorilla & Chimpanzee Trekking: Up close and personal

Join me as we explore our ‘close’ relatives the gorillas, with 98 percent, and chimpanzees who share approximately 99 percent of our DNA.[1] 

Part of our motivation to travel, is to see flora, fauna and experience civilizations that are different from our own, and unfortunately, might not be around in the future for a variety of reasons.  Hence the impetus for doing another safari.  Having done several African safaris in the past (Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa), this was one that would provide an opportunity to see the endangered Mountain Gorillas.

We typically do back to back trips to maximize what we can explore while in a distant part of the world.  This trip was no different- we spent the first couple of weeks on a Tauck small group tour of Botswana, South Africa and Zambia.  We traveled with our friends, whom we originally met on another African trip years before.

The wildlife, plants and culture we experienced in Botswana, South Africa and Zambia covered the full emotional spectrum from amazing beauty, to brute raw power, to abject poverty.  Here is a mini-sample:

However, that part of our trip is for another story.

The second part of the trip and the focus here, took place in Uganda.  It was a private tour we arranged with our friends, through Abercrombie & Kent.

The planning for the trip took place about a year and half in advance, to ensure that we could get the required permit to see the gorillas when we wanted to visit (September).  Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the government body responsible for tourism in Uganda, limits the number of permits issued per day.  A separate permit is needed for the chimpanzee trek.  For each of us, the Gorilla permit cost US$1350, for two days access.  It is also nonrefundable (unless you are sick or show up sick, in which case they will not let you go on the trek). Importantly, the cost of the permit contributes to the preservation of the Gorillas.

As the saying goes, getting there is half the fun (or, was the saying that it will be twice as convoluted as a straight line from point A to point B?). 

We started in Entebbe and drove for about an hour to our hotel Lake Victoria Serena Resort & Spa, to overnight, before we continued to Bwindi.  To get there, we flew from Entebbe to Bwindi on a 75-minute flight, followed by an hour and one-half drive to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and our camp, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, within the National Park.  Our “tent” was a canvas covered free standing unit that included an en suite bathroom and very comfortable bed.  Not exactly roughing it, but I digress…  Meals and libations were provided in a central lodge.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to about 600 mountain gorillas (about half the last surviving population).  Also, it has 360 species of birds, 200 species of butterfly and 324 different tree species within its rainforest.[2]

We spent the first day exploring the area and nearby community.  We were very impressed by Ride 4 A Woman www.ride4awoman.org that provides support, skill training, a safe haven, and access to micro loans to start small businesses for women.

Similarly, we visited Bwindi Community Hospital www.bwindihospital.com founded in 2003 by US missionaries.  It was moving to see the heartfelt support the hospital has for the surrounding community and the pygmy population, teaching hygiene and providing basic health services.  This has resulted in significant improvements in childbirth and wellness.

 

Soon we were preparing for our first trek to see the Silverback (a.k.a. Mountain) gorillas, and find out if the exercising we had been doing (for example, I wore my hiking boots on my elliptical trainer for several months prior) had been sufficient.  Clothing-wise this meant comfortable hiking boots (ones with soles that can provide necessary traction on the slippery rainforest floor), long pants, gaiters, and long sleeve shirt, rain jacket, gloves (you grab the nearest tree or bush, which typically has thorns, to prevent falling), hat, and backpack with a day’s supply of water and food, toilet paper, and DEET insect repellent.

You start at the guides’ meeting place, where you are assigned your local guide, can hire a porter (very helpful), and the Gorilla family (there are about 11) you will be seeking out. Our family was the Rushegura Gorilla family group. Before our arrival, the guides have been up in the forest tracking each of the respective families, to get a reasonable idea where they might be that day.  They also go over what to can expect, how to ‘behave,’ etc.  Then you head out for what could be as little as a couple of hour trek to upwards of four hours (one way), to find your Gorilla family. 

Your guide does not follow any real trails.  He uses a machete to clear some of the dense brush and you do your best to follow him.  When you head out, you are going up the mountain and it may vary between sun, dense shade, rain, mud, slimy logs or branches, and for good measure, a creek or two.   A sturdy walking stick is essential to help maintain your footing.  The guide is also very helpful to get you through the more difficult passages.  Almost certainly you will slip and fall at least a couple of times.  I kept the lens caps on my lenses until we stopped for a break, or had spotted something worth capturing.

Left to right: myself, our porter, my wife, our guide, our friends wife and husband flanked by porters.

Speaking of which, my equipment included a Nikon D810 camera body with a Nikkor 24-120 zoom f/4G ED VR AF-S lens, and a Nikon D850 camera body with a Nikkor 300 mm f/4E  PF ED AF-S lens, both attached to a BlackRapid Breathe Double Camera Harness with safety straps.  I chose this two-camera set up because I did not want to be changing any lens in the rainforest, and the BlackRapid harness permitted me to have both of my hands free when I was not shooting a picture.  The harness also keeps the weight of the cameras and lenses off your neck and spread comfortably across your shoulders.

Words fail to describe the awe, excitement, and relief you feel all at once when you finally come upon the Silverbacks.  The first day was about a three-hour trek (one way), while the second day was only about an hour and one-half, when we came upon the Rushegura family.

We were fortunate to find them, including the dominant Silverback male, a mother, and siblings going about their life pretty much ignoring our presence.  I attribute this incredible opportunity to observe the natural routine of the Mountain Gorillas, to the excellent job of the UWA and guides, ensuring that only a limited number of very small groups of individuals are allowed to trek into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest at any one time.   We did not see any other groups once we started up the mountain each day.

We watched, the gorilla family forage for leaves, tubulars and berries or fruit (gorillas are herbivorous).  The younger gorillas appeared to be playing on the vines, running and tumbling with one another.  The father typically kept his distance, but a watchful eye on the group.  Their actions and movements for the most part were gentle, belying their size and powerful upper body.

However, few times while we were watching them, a dominant male would run up and challenge us.  We had been forewarned by our guide, but it was still initially very scary.  They are very fast and literally run up to within a few feet of you, screaming, and then stop, standing, facing you.  We were told to appear nonthreatening (do not raise an arm, motion, etc.), and remain still.  After a few seemingly very long moments, the gorilla would then simply turn and go back to the group.

Each day, once we found the family, we observed for about an hour.

We then left the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for Queen Elizabeth National Park, approximately three-hours drive, over crude roads.  We stayed at Ishasha Wilderness Camp.  The Queen Elizabeth Park had a mind-boggling cross section of wild life. We got to observe tree climbing lions, elephant herds, hippos, and more.

Next, we left there for Kibale National Park, about a four hour plus drive.  We stayed at the Kyaninga Lodge. This was the base location for our chimpanzee trek.

IMAGES Group E

The chimpanzees are smaller than the Mountain Gorillas.  They were, in a word, far more frenetic than the gorillas. The interactions were often more chaotic between chimpanzees, turning from sparing to a quick fight.  Unlike gorillas, chimpanzees are omnivorous[3], though we only observed them eating vegetation.  The groups were often larger in number than the Mountain Gorilla family we observed.

All too soon our expedition was over.  We returned by land cruiser to Entebbe, a five or so hour drive, to fly back home.  Bodies a little sore, but phenomenal memories and even a picture or two…


[1] Scientific American Tiny Genetic Differences between Humans and Other Primates Pervade the Genome, Kate Wong, September 1, 2014

[2] Data provided by Abercrombie & Kent

[3] Difference Between Gorilla and Chimpanzee,differencesbetween.com, July 27, 2011  Naveen

A Visual Taste of Italy: Lombardy & Tuscany Regions

Perspectives of a globe trotting photojournalist part 2

As with part 1, Highlights of St Petersburg, https://insight.daumphotography.com/2016/11/17/highlights-of-st-petersburg-russia/ this is another response to the challenge of providing a mini-tour of one of my trips.

This is an al dente tour (that is, hopefully not too short nor too long to adequately provide a ‘just-right’ taste) of the Italian regions of Tuscany (central Italy) and Lombardy (northern Italy).  It begins at the Ligurian Sea west of Pisa, continues up to the magnificent mansion on Isola Bella, north of Milan.  Then onto Milan and the Duomo. Next some countryside and wine tasting. Followed by Pisa.  Back to the coast for Cinque Terre, some more wine tasting and the countryside around Peccioli.

I hope you enjoy!  Looking forward to your comments.  Ciao!