Saturday, April 18, 2015

Quick Hits: The SO Close Edition

NOTE: This post contains my only political statement ever.  I have never and will never tread these poisonous waters again.  The political discourse in this country has never been more fallow or base.   

Prometheus EKO

Prometheus, as a brand, is basically to EDC gear what Terrence Malick is to films.  He doesn't make a lot of stuff, but the stuff he makes is totally awesome (fuck you...Tree of Life was genius).  The EKO is definitely good, but, in my mind it falls short in one crucial aspect.  That's not to say its a bad tool, its not, but it is not quite the revelation that Jason's other stuff was.  Here is the Kickstarter page, where the EKO goes for $50 (early bird and second chance were less at $40 and $45 respectively).

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The package is quite nice, coming in a small piece of 1/8th inch plywood.  The EKO is intended to ride on your keychain, but in the plywood piece, I found it did well in my wallet.  The EKO has three tools--a "cutting edge", a cap lifter, and a hex bit hole.  All work well, with the caveat that the cutting edge is really just a long snag edge.  It is great at dicing up boxes and opening packages but it can't slice paper or make feathersticks.  If you accept that limitation, it is a very good design and I had fun chopping down boxes for recycling.  Some folks might object to the inclusion of a purposely dull blade, but they miss the point.  This is not a knife replacement, this is a keychain multitool and an exposed edge wouldn't work well there.  The cap lifter works but it is a bit odd in how it does so, but once I got it, it popped bottles open with a few pulls.  Not ideal, but not wretched.  The size is just right too, matching a real key's dimensions.    

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The main problem I have with the EKO is a simple one--it lacks a pry edge.  There are a number of ways to integrate one on the current design.  I am not sure if I want one because every other OPMT has one, but the reality is--we have been conditioned to expect it.  I have also found that of the OPMTs I like, the pry edge is the second most used implement after the cap lifter.  There are two other things that keep the EKO from the upper echelon of scores--its material and its price.  Titanium is a great material, I love it, I really do.  But, with an edge, even one that is purposely not sharpened, titanium is lacking.  It just can't hold up over time.  More importantly, even if I wanted to sharpen it, I couldn't.  Bummer.  I'd prefer this tool in stainless steel.  It might be heavier, but given its overall size, it would be that burdensome (many keys on your keychain are made of brass after all) and it would then allow you to sharpen the edge as you see fit.  I rarely mention price, but here, three tools for $50, is really striking.  That's a lot of money for what you are getting.  The Shard, an all time great OPMT is under $10.  TT PockeTTools makes a lot of stuff in this price range with more implements.  The price is not a deal breaker, I bought a RUT after all, but it is striking.

And if you are curious, you can pledge on KS with no risk--the project, like all of Jason's stuff, is already funded. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20 (1 off for Materials for an unnecessary and actually detrimental use of titanium (prevents sharpening of the edge and raises cost); 1 off for Tool Selection for the missing pry edge; and 1 off for Tool Performance for an awkward cap lifter)

Malkoff MDC

Its a question that people love to ask--would you rather come close to greatness and fail or live a life of relative success without ever truly trying for the spectacular?  Would you rather be Tom Petty, consistently cranking out very good albums or a director like Richard Kelly (who wrote and directed the amazing Donnie Darko and the...um...less amazing Southland Tales)?

Gene Malkoff, long famous for his drop in emitters for Surefires, is a great light maker.  The MDC, found here, is his first run at a true everyday carry light comes perilously close to perfection at a budget price of $99.  But, in the end, one small thing, one little detail sends the design careening towards silly.  So...damn...close.

The pocket clip here is a design abortion.  It is horrendously bad.  Not only does it ding everything it comes in contact with, it is TOO deep seating to easily retrieve the light and borks any possibility that the light could tailstand.  This is grounding-into-a-triple-play-with-the-bases-loaded-and-no-one-out bad.

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The rest of the light is phenomenal.  Its plenty bright, its got a legit low, its solidly built and the head is fully potted.  The UI comes in two flavors, high first or low first, and I got the WRONG one (my fault, I hit the wrong radial button), but overall the MDC does so much so well that the light is still worth considering despite the bullshit clip.  Hell, just take the clip off.  That's an awesome light.  

Its not small but it is not lardy either, with extra bulk for extra bulk's sake.  Here it is next to a Zippo.

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In many ways the MDC is an ideal EDC light, except for one glaring issue.  Ugh.  It kills me for something to be this close, yet so far away.

Overall score: 18 out of 20 (1 off for Design because of the wretched placement of the clip; and 1 off for Hands Free because this thing can't tailstand)

AG Russell Acies2 

AG Russell is, without question, the most underrated folding knife designer of the past 20 years.  If you randomly purchase a knife from his site, chances are very good that it will not just be a good knife, but a favorite of yours.  Until I got the Acies2 the streak of good knives ran three long.  But alas, the Acies2 is a Sebenza built by committee and it was a committee that knew buzzwords and tech but not the essence of what makes the Sebenza special.  This is a knife built with great materials that has great specs but is lacking in crucial ways. You can find the Acies2 here.  It was part of the Sebenzalternatives Shootout, found here (it came in second). 

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Let's start with the good.  The steel is awesome.  You know my love for ZDP-189 by now and I think it is still one of the top four choices for an EDC blade (M4, M390 and S35VN being the other three).  Similarly you know my love for efficient handles and blades.  The Acies2 positively crams in blade, not just length but height as well.  This is a long wide blade in a short knife.  Prestidigitation required.  And then there is the excellent grind.  The dished high hollow grind is excellent and the cutting bevel was something of a miracle.  A major hat tip to AG Russell on that front.

But this is where the train goes off the rails:

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No, no, no.  This thumb stud is wretched.  I know some folks like it, but they don't write this blog (Scurvy...you really should write for this blog or start your own...for now, the comments work).  As for me, I hate it.  I hate it both conceptually and as implemented.  Conceptually, it fails because it violates one of the primary heuristics of good design--it dictates how it is supposed to be used instead of allowing the user to decide.  There is one and only one way to approach and use this thumb stud.  All other methods-coin flips and slow rolls--will be punished with skin splitting agony.  And as implemented I just can't see it.  It is too close to the handle and too sharply cut to be effective.  I am not sure if it has to do with the fact that this is a Kershaw stud that was originally on knives with assists, but whatever the reason, I hate this thumb stud more than any other I have tried.  It is a major problem with the knife.  The other problem is more of a cosmetic issue, but it is a "car that was keyed the entire length of my driver side" level cosmetic issue.

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The clip is large, thick, protruding, and ugly.  Surprisingly because of how it is positioned its not a screaming hot spot, but it is just brutally ugly.

Like the MDC, there is so much potential here, but again, these two products prove how challenging it is to make a good piece of gear.  Even the greats, like AG Russell, can't win them all.     

Overall score: 17 out of 20 (2 off Deployment for the worst thumb stud ever; 1 off Retention Method for a pretty ugly clip)

Osprey Flare 24/7

What do you want in a general use backpack?  For me, the Pygmy Falcon II is pretty darn close to perfect--tough, riding the organizational balance between the Sarlaac Pit-like hyperorganized computer bags of the world that seem to eat more stuff than they store and the Dora the Explorer bullshit that was the Topo Designs Daypack (not the lowest scored item, but the only thing I have reviewed that I truly hated with a bile-filled passion).  Despite owning and loving a classic I still want to try new stuff and that's why I bought the Osprey Flare (purchased with my own money). Here is the product page.

Normally I have a hard time trying out bags, as I work using a briefcase, but this pack went with me to the hospital when my second son was born and then suited up yet again for our trip back to the hospital 4 days later when he needed emergency treatment.  I lived out of this bag for 5 days and in the end, it turned out to be quite nice.  

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Osprey makes a positively staggering range of packs and the Flare is from their general use line.  Their heritage as a technical pack maker shows and their roots as a company based on custom bags made by one dude also shows.  Even their general use stuff is very unique.

The Flare is a light bag, without bulky, overbuilt fabrics.  It is also extremely comfortable, both in hand and on the back, even when fully loaded.  The grab handle is truly grand as are the shoulder straps.  I would note that the waist and sternum straps are very thin, feeling like dental floss across your torso.  Inside, the bag has a sleeve for a laptop that is not removeable (boo), but it is thin and works well as extra padding.  The interior is covered in neon yellow to make sure you don't lose anything.  The middle pocket is very organized with lots of slots and places to stash stuff.  The outside pocket is a mesh number that you can easily access without undoing the buckle.  There are two water bottle pockets in the normal location and both are made of stretchy fabric that doesn't lock the bottle in place.  The zippers are excellent and have yet to mismatch.  There are two lash points on the rear of the bag which function very well and are thankful reprieve from the overtly tacticool MOLLE found on a lot of bags. 

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The balance between hyperorganized and minimal is hard one to hit and I feel like the Flare 24/7 comes down too close to the hyperoganized side.  Its not as bad as many of the bags out there, but it is a bit too busy for me.  Compared to the PFII or the Bihn Synapse, it seems like someone went pocketastic at the design computer.  That said, its not as bad as Tumi bags that have a million pockets 999,999 of which are so specifically designed that they only hold one thing (no more "chord pouches" please).  This is clearly the bag's biggest weakness.  The other issue I had was with the lack of a waterproof bottom.  The more I look at bags, the more I think this is a requirement.  You put your bag down all over the place and a piece of rubber or plastic on the bottom makes such a difference.  You can just wipe your bag clean and roll on.  Here, you can't.

This isn't a stinker by any means, but it is clearly a step below the Synapse and the PFII.  Very good but not great.

Overall score: 17 out of 20 (1 off of Materials for a thin overall build and lack of a water resistant bottom; 1 off Organization for being a bit TOO pocketastic; 1 off Straps and Belts for floss-thin front straps)

19 comments:

  1. What would you want me to write about?

    An Ode to the stepped thumbstud?

    I'm sorry that AG Russel and Kershaw have a hard time dealing with them on cheaper knives but properly executed, they cannot be beat. Lots of people have issues 'coin-flipping' a knife open because they don't know the angle. The stepped stud shows you EXACTLY which way it's supposed to go.

    One day, you'll get to handle a Michael Raymond knife an understand how perfect they can be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Scurvy you can write anything gear-related you want and I'll be happy to publish it.

      As for the thumb studs, I'd prefer a design that lets me choose how to use it instead of deciding for me. If you get a chance, Donald Norman's book The Design of Everyday Things has a great explanation of this and is worth a read.

      These thumb studs both stink in practice and are a design sin.

      Delete
  2. One constructive criticism, if you talk about a part it would be awesome to have a picture of it. Example the ugly clip on the acres 2. And maybe a few additional specs on these quick reviews, lumen and emitter on the light. Otherwise awesome as usual.
    J

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the feedback. Picture added. As for specs, I have, for a long time, felt that listing them is a waste of time. I include links to the product pages so that you can see the specs. If the specs on the page don't match what I get I will list them (as I did in the James Chapter Knife review). If they do, I don't bother. Its like when someone reads them to me on a YouTube video. It just about kills me every time.

      Delete
  3. Nice article. All the gotchas in the products are fails for me. To me they are not so much SO CLOSE as deal breakers. Thanks for the head's up as I will not be looking at ANY of these products any time soon. I'm saving my money till much better comes along.

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  4. i threw up in my mouth a little when i saw that clip...

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  5. I just Kickstartered the EKO the other day. I already own/like/use the Gerber Shard and use the mini-pry bar all the time. I'm starting to get buyer's remorse :-(

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