Author Archives: Melinda

Writer. Photographer. Lover of travel. Believer that all who wander are not lost. #Mizzou grad living in Wichita, Kansas.

Road trips: what’s in my Verizon bag

I had a series of road trips earlier this year and now that fall is here (festivals, college football, weddings), I’m ready to hit the road again. I wanted to share some products I recently tried out courtesy of the folks at Verizon.

Mophie Loves You

Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo

This little 2-inch by 4-inch device went in my bag nearly every time I left the vehicle, especially at events like Bonnaroo where I was taking lots of photos and video and my iPhone battery was quick to drain.

What I like most about it: you can charge two devices simultaneously, it has a special high-output battery that allows for ultra fast charging and it had 4 LED charge status indicators to let me know how much juice was left.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 4

On my 10-day trip to Tennessee, I was attending a music festival and researching a destination for a magazine article. I didn’t want to take my laptop but I wanted to have something with more screen space than my iPhone 5s. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 was a great alternative: more convenient to tote around and allowed me to check and write emails comfortably. It was lightweight, the screen was beautifully sharp and the battery lasted forever. The tablet also came to the rescue more than once when we needed to use it as a mobile hotspot.

Galaxy Tab and Delphi Connect

Delphi Connect with 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot

Maybe I’m a little too giddy about this but I don’t usually travel with a hotspot. I was pretty amped about having Wi-Fi connectivity for the duration of the driving portion of our trips. It worked great as a hotspot but I was never able to try out its full functionality. The first vehicle we drove was not compatible with the features that turn the Delphi Connect into a voice for your vehicle – letting you know more about its diagnostics, location and past trips. I love the idea of using this device to find your car in a big parking area (uh, how about a festival with about 80,000 people) and tracking your driving statistics. We thought we’d try it out with our second vehicle on another road trip, but unfortunately that vehicle had an OBD port that would not accept the device without an extension cable. I didn’t realize this in time to order one.

For any of you who followed along on our #Schummer14 30-day road trip that covered 4,500 miles – trust me when I tell you these devices would have come in handy. Even for the weekend road trip, you’ll want to consider a few of these.

Disclaimer: Verizon provided loaners of each product for purposes of this review. Views of the products are my own. You can find more reviews of Verizon products and accessories on Instagram and Twitter by following the hashtag #vzreview.

Posted in Reviews

Verizon’s Google Nexus 6 review: It takes two

If you’re not an ’80s child, you might not get my headline reference to Rob Base’s It Takes Two song. In this case, I’m referring to hands – it takes two hands to operate Verizon’s Google Nexus 6, which was a downside for me. I’m sure I’d get used to it eventually but I’m pretty happy being able to one-hand my iPhone 5s and snap a quick photo.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I judge phones mostly by what they can do for me in the camera department. I also own a DSLR and several point-and-shoot cameras but I want to be able to rely on my phone for great photos, too, because I’m not always able to carry a dedicated camera. I want images I can share with friends and family on social media and use for work purposes, too, which means they need to be high enough quality to be printable at least as large as 4-inches by 6-inches.

I loved the vividness of the “pixel-rich, 6-inch Quad HD display” on the Nexus 6. The phone features a 13-megapixel camera with HDR+ and optical image stabilization as well as a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. There was something on the camera called photo sphere and to be honest I wasn’t able to figure it out but here’s a link to that tip and five other Nexus secret features you might not know about.

I used the camera while on a research trip in Rochester, New York, and the nearby Finger Lakes area, so I got lots of chances to shoot some beautiful outdoor subjects. I’ve included unedited samples of similar views taken with Nexus 6 and with my iPhone 5s.

Here are some samples.

Taken with Nexus 6

Taken with Nexus 6 (unedited)

Taken with iPhone 5s

Taken with iPhone 5s (unedited)

Taken with Nexus 6 (unedited)

Taken with Nexus 6 (unedited)

Taken with iPhone 5s (unedited)

Taken with iPhone 5s (unedited)

Taken with Nexus 6 (unedited)

Taken with Nexus 6 (unedited)

Taken with iPhone 5s (unedited)

Taken with iPhone 5s (unedited)

Taken with Nexus 6 (unedited)

Taken with Nexus 6 (unedited)

Taken with iPhone 5s (unedited)

Taken with iPhone 5s (unedited)

Interested in a more technical review of Verizon’s Nexus 6? Check out Aaron’s review.

Disclaimer: Verizon provided me a three-week loaner of this product for purposes of this review. Views of the product are my own. You can find more reviews of Verizon products and accessories on Instagram and Twitter by following the hashtag #vzreview.

Posted in Reviews

Hands-down and hands-free: my pick of Verizon Bluetooth headphones

Verizon's LG Tone Infinim headset

Verizon’s LG Tone Infinim headset

I’ve been in the market for a pair of high-end headphones to use to listen to music as well as to conduct hands-free telephone interviews. Verizon Midwest provided me with two different Bluetooth options to try out for several weeks each: Tracks Air by Motorola X SOL REPUBLIC and the LG Tone Infinim headset.

These were two completely different styles but I wasn’t sure which I would prefer until I tried them out. The Tracks Air is an over-ear headphone while the LG Tone Infinim headset sits around your neck.

Tracks Air by Motorola X SOL REPUBLIC

Verizon’s Tracks Air by Motorola X SOL REPUBLIC

While music sounded great on the Tracks Air, telephone conversations didn’t sound as good. Those on the other end of the line said I sounded fine, but the over-the-ear design made me feel like I was talking in a small enclosure. My own voice echoed in my head. My husband used the headset to mow one day and that same design was a plus when it came to canceling the noise of the mower.

LG Tone Infinim headset

Verizon’s LG Tone Infinim headset

Hands-down, though, the LG Tone Infinim was my favorite of the two because of the versatility of listening to music and making phone calls. I have small eardrums yet the earbuds fit well. I loved that the cords for each earbud were retractable since I always seem to get headphone cords tangled within minutes. And, surprisingly, the headset was so light that I actually forgot it was sitting on my neck (it weighs less than 2 ounces).

Disclaimer: Verizon provided three-week loaners of each headset for purposes of this review. Views of the products are my own. You can find more reviews of Verizon products and accessories on Instagram and Twitter by following the hashtag #vzreview.


Posted in Randomness, Work

Droid Turbo Review: a phone to finally bring my husband up to speed

Motorola Droid Turbo from Verizon showing my Instagram photo, next to my iPhone 5s. #vzreview

Motorola Droid Turbo from Verizon showing my Instagram photo, next to my iPhone 5s. #vzreview

Verizon Midwest provided me with a Motorola Droid Turbo to try out for three weeks. I’m an iPhone user and enjoyed checking out the 21 megapixel camera and the screen that made my iPhone 5s look tiny. But the real impact happened with my husband, Lee. By the end of week one, he went to our local Verizon store and replaced the phone he’d been using for less than two years. It was a HUGE step for him because it is his first phone without a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. But as soon as he saw the capabilities of buying the latest and greatest phone, he was a believer.

I’ll let him tell you in his words:

The last time I bought a phone was a Motorola Droid 4 and the main purchase point was that I could still have a keyboard that would slide out so it would be easy for me to type. In fact, they had to order it from another store because they didn’t sell many of them and it was close to if not discontinued. I knew I needed a new phone because I was having technical issues with such a dated phone. It was awesome that I would get a chance to test drive a new Motorola Droid Turbo. What I learned right away was that the screen was large enough that it was similar to typing on a keypad. I had no problems typing emails or texting on the Droid Turbo.

As technology changed, the Droid 4 had trouble keeping up with the amount of memory that was required for apps, text messages, pictures, music, etc. I found myself continually having to monitor my memory usage and only had the most basic apps on my phone. I needed to make sure that the minimal photos I took were offloaded to the cloud and erased from the phone or I would have continual system crashes or frozen screens. So when I started using the Droid Turbo it was awesome to be able to load every app that I wanted and also not worry about how many pictures or music downloads I kept on my phone. Even after loading every app, downloading all my music and keeping my photos on my phone I still have over 77% free storage. No longer do I need to worry about my phone freezing as I’m using it for navigation or any other vital functions.

Verizon Droid Turbo box #vzreview

Verizon Droid Turbo box #vzreview

The Droid Turbo has allowed me to use my phone more as a replacement for my laptop – I know many of you knew this already but it took the Droid Turbo to get me there. Its Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core processor has made it a lot easier to purchase tickets, book hotels and do on-demand research as I travel to different states. Being able to quickly access TripAdvisor or Yelp is extremely important when traveling in new cities.

Another improvement is the battery life. The Droid 4 would usually last about half a day with regular use and with heavy use (like running navigation) I would have to be continually charging it during the day. Not extremely convenient if you aren’t at a charging station. The Droid Turbo battery has the largest battery of any smartphone and comes with a Turbo Charger that loads the phone with eight additional hours in just 15 minutes.

Since I have more room for pictures it’s nice that the Droid Turbo camera is easy to use with a one touch picture taking ability. The camera takes amazing photos and video. With my old phones, I never posted photos on Instagram or Twitter but with the Droid Turbo it’s easy to edit photos and post them. Also a great option for moving photos is the Droid Zap, which allows quick transfer of photos between Droid phones that are within are certain distance of each other. No longer do you have to text or email every single photo.

Disclaimer: Verizon provided a three-week Droid Turbo loaner for purposes of this review. Views of the product are my own (and Lee’s). He was under no obligation to buy a Droid Turbo, he just really liked it that much. You can find more reviews of Verizon products and accessories on Instagram and Twitter by following the hashtag #vzreview.

Verizon Droid Turbo next to my iPhone 5s

Motorola Droid Turbo from Verizon next to my iPhone 5s.

Posted in Lee, Photography

Extreme travel: Riding Verrückt, the world’s tallest water slide

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “I think I see something menacing out there,” said Ken, one of the travel writers on our Extreme Kansas City press trip, as our van turned into the drive at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kan. A 79-year-old writer from Tennessee, Ken had been fairly quiet on the first two days of the trip so his quip surprised us and the understated delivery of his words made us laugh.

For those of us preparing to ride Verrückt, ours was a nervous laugh. “Something menacing” looked downright threatening as I walked toward the wooden tower jutting into the otherwise flat landscape. The ride is twice as high as Kansas City code officials normally allow structures. This whole area had been farmland before it was developed a decade ago into Village West, a shopping, dining and entertainment district that is now Kansas’ No. 1 tourism destination.

We were there at 9:45 to go down the slide before the gates opened to the public at 10 a.m. Our guide, Layne, walked us past the line of hundreds waiting to get into the park. They weren’t there to get the first tube for the lazy river; they were there early to ensure they got to go down the world’s tallest water slide that opened in mid-July. As Layne took us through the gate that would be opening in just a few minutes he said, “Excuse me, coming through with some reporters.” A man shouted from the crowd: “Those look like your friends.”

Schlitterbahn is a family-owned and operated company started in New Braunfels, Texas, which has a German heritage, thus the name that translates to “slippery road.” Verrückt means “insane” in German.

Surprisingly, there were no waivers to sign. Instead, a ride staffer read aloud a warning about all that could happen to us on the ride, including “mental damage,” and we had to verbally acknowledge that we understood the risks. We then stood on a scale to determine if our group of three riders fell within the 400 and 550 pound range. We did, so we were given wrist bands and a handwritten No. 1 to represent the first raft of the day.

We were then sent up the tower’s 264 spiral stairway built from recycled railroad tankers. When you reach the top you are higher than Niagara Falls or the Statue of Liberty, and there’s a great view of Kansas Speedway and the Village West development to the west and the Kansas City skyline to the east. It’s hard to appreciate the view, though, when you’re thinking about your options for getting down.

The staff calls a Code 528 (264 steps up + 264 steps down) if a rider chickens out and chooses to walk. Our group decided to follow-through and were asked to step once more on a scale. Both scales we stepped on do not show a weight, just a red or green light.

Even though we’d just met, the three of us had wanted to ride together because neither me or Kathleen wanted to be in front and Tina actually wanted to be in front. We knew that we would be placed in the raft lightest in front to heaviest in back. Just by looking at each other we were certain Tina would get the seat she wanted. I ate a muffin AND a scone for breakfast just in case I needed a couple pounds to make my way to at least the middle seat ;-)

Since we didn’t actually know each others’ weight and the ride staff was insistent we ride in the correct order, I blurted out my weight and we were all able to take our spots in the raft. I ended up in the middle seat, which turned out to be the driest spot!

Once seated in the rubber raft that is on a conveyor belt, I was instructed to pull two velcro straps across myself. Just to be safe, I asked one of the ride staff to make sure I was strapped in correctly. I wanted to be strapped in as tight as possible! At this point, my breathing was getting pretty quick. I was trying to think of ways to stall us from going…asking questions. I don’t recall all that was said to us but what I do remember is: hold onto the rope or handles that line the inside of the raft and do not put your arms up or outside the raft at any time. Seriously, someone is going to do that?!? I was white-knuckling the “oh-shit” handles as soon as I saw them in the raft.

Kathleen, seated behind me, said exactly what I was thinking: “Shit. Shit. Shit. Why do I do this?”

As I was sitting in the raft 168 feet and 7 inches above the ground, all I could see in front of us was sky. No ride structure, no water … just sky and netting. That meant this ride was going straight down. This was the mental damage portion of the ride.

“Shit. Shit. Shit. Why do I do this?”

A gate swung open and our raft moved forward, slowly at first and then there was a push and suddenly our entire raft tilted down. It felt like being at the edge of a building and being pushed over the side. The screaming started immediately and I was determined to keep my eyes open even though the instinct was to shut them. At some point, water was spraying in my face but I tried to keep at least one eye open.The front and back passengers got wet but not completely soaked. My hair got a little wet on one side and my feet and legs got wet when stepping into the pool of water at the end of the ride to get out.

What did I see? Nothing that I can remember! The entire ride is over in 18 seconds and travels the distance of two football fields. That’s a lot of blur.

Here’s what Schlitterbahn officials tell me I did:

  • that very first terrifying part was a free-fall of 17 stories in 4 seconds. We were traveling at a 60-degree angle and at about 50 miles per hour.
  • the raft hit a 22-degree dip and slowed down before blaster jets propelled us up a 55-foot hill that is considered the world’s largest uphill water slide. What goes up must come down, so there was then a 5-story plummet to end the ride.

Before I traveled from Wichita to Kansas City to ride Verrückt, I had several people shake their heads when I told them what I was doing. Someone swore there was no netting on the ride. Several told me about video they’d watched of rafts launching in one direction and riders being tossed in another direction on the hill portion of the ride. Many told me they would pee themselves if they went on the ride. All of this was fueled by the fact that the ride opening had been postponed from Memorial Day to mid-July.

(1) There is netting.

(2) That video was during development of the ride and before $1 million in design revisions were incorporated. Schlitterbahn likes to say the ride is “safe dangerous.”

(3) I did not pee myself.

After I had stopped screaming and the ride had stopped, my first reaction was: I would totally ride Verrückt again!

So are you ready to do it??? If so, you have only this weekend to get your scream on. The park closes after Labor Day and reopens in May 2015.

Verruckt Schlitterbahn water slide

<photo> Our group on the initial drop. This is about where your brain and vocal cords sync up and the screaming starts.

Verruckt Schlitterbahn water slide

<photo> Our group nearing the base of the drop; the raft plummets 17 stories in 4 seconds on this part of the ride.

Verruckt Schlitterbahn water slide

<photo> Our group blasting down the 5-story hill, which is considered the tallest uphill water slide.

Verruckt Schlitterbahn water slide

<photo> This photo is courtesy of Schlitterbahn because we were not allowed to take our cameras with us on the ride. I wanted you to see what it was like on the most terrifying part of the ride…right before you free-fall.


Disclosure: I was invited to ride Verrückt as part of a press trip; however, all opinions are my own. Schlitterbahn did not tell me to tell you I didn’t pee my pants. I really didn’t pee my pants.

Posted in travel