Second Impressions: The Tesla Model 3

Last week, Don, my brother-in-law picked up his metallic deep-blue  Tesla Model 3 from one the company’s showrooms –they sell their cars direct and not through a dealership–  in Fremont, California.

A year ago, he had to put up a US$ 1,000 deposit for the promised US$35, 000 Model 3 unit that, during that time, had just gotten off Tesla’s designers drawing boards and into production mode.

The Tesla Model 3  was supposed to catapult the fledgling company into the mainstream car market.

All their previous models, the Roadster, the Model S  as well as the Model X (an SUV – sports utility vehicle) are relatively expensive that only a few middle-income American consumers could to afford it.

Tesla had been in the forefront in the rebirth of the all-electric vehicle boom that had seen the release of competing models from the big Japanese and European car makers  -notably Nissan (the ‘Leaf‘) and BMW (the i3 – with the latest release, a 2-cylinder ‘range extender’ engine is now just optional )- as well as from the top 2 American car firms — General Motors (the Chevy ‘Bolt‘) and Ford (coming up with its ‘CUV‘).

The Model 3’s simple interior and almost bare dashboard is both a boon and a bane,

As it turned out, Tesla’s promised consumer-friendly price tag of US$35,000 for the Model 3 ‘base model’ ballooned to almost US$57,000 after the company failed in its promise to offer one with the ‘standard batteries‘ during the consumer rollout.

Eager to drive home with his Model 3, Don was literally compelled to buy a more expensive unit with long-range (up to 310 miles) batteries + premium exterior with rear-wheel drive.  His choice of color, deep blue metallic (extra $1500), alloy sports wheels (extra $1500) set him back another $3,000 plus all the taxes and fees.

The price would have gone even so much higher had he opted for one with an all-wheel drive (extra $6,000 for the ‘basic’ all-wheel drive and extra $15,000 for the ‘performance’ all-wheel drive) & enhanced Autopilot (extra $5,000).

After all the extras, a fully loaded, top-of-the-line Model 3 goes for about $75,500 before all the taxes and fees –and that’s not a price for the average consumer.  For all that money, you could buy four (4)  brand-new (latest model) Toyota Corollas and still have a few thousands left in your pocket.

Charging the car at home via a dedicated 240V outlet.

So for the US$57K price he shelled out -before Federal & State tax incentives- Don’s Model 3 car should, at least, be impressive.  It is but not without some drawbacks.

Most electric cars have impressive torques and the rear-wheel drive Model 3 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.1 seconds.  The car’s handling was also impressive as the 19″ wheels were big enough to mitigate some road imperfections.

You can’t say enough praise for all the tech goodies inside and outside the car with its gaggle of radars, sensors, cameras, software updates for the touchscreen control panel as well as the very impressive all-glass roof.   All of the Model 3’s glass parts including the windows were made by Saint-Gobain Sekurit which traces its roots all the way back to 1665 in France as the Royal Glass Works.

The Model 3’s all-glass, UV protective roof is very impressive. Those 2 micro LED pin lights provide just enough illumination for the passengers at the back

And, as this is an all-electric vehicle, you tend to rely less on the brakes to slow down the car —just release your foot on the accelerator and you accomplish two things: 1). slows the car down to halt and 2). you charge the batteries (regenerative braking).

Let’s get to the things that I didn’t like about the Model 3:

Firstly, the door handles.  Opening a door is a two-handed affair.  What???? You have the push the recessed handle with one hand and grab the handle’s end once it pops out with your other hand – just to open a door.

If you’re quick, you can grab open Tesla’s Model 3 with one hand. For most others, opening a door is a two-handed affair.

Second, there is no manual override just to open the glovebox compartment.  To open it, you to have to turn on the touchscreen tablet (which acts as the sole instrument panel and controls everything inside the car) and push the ‘open glovebox‘ button.  Too cool but also too dumb.  If a thief would really like to take something important from they will simply use a screwdriver and force it open.

Third, and as mentioned above, the car relied too much on the 15″ touchscreen tablet located right smack in the center of the dashboard.  I honestly believe that Tesla did it to cut cost in guise of the ‘cool factor’.

Truly functional or just for the 'cool factor'???
This 15″ touchscreen tablet is the only instrument panel inside the Tesla Model 3.

This is specially too distracting when driving around the city as you have to deal with all the functionalities of the car on a touchscreen panel.  As if driving and texting is not bad enough.

Fourth, for the steep price tag on any premium variants of the Tesla Model 3, real leather seats should be standard.  As it is, the ‘premium interior’ model could only boast of a faux leather in black.

Lastly, except for topping-off the windshield washer fluid, there’s nothing a Tesla Model 3 owner who’s keen on maintaining the car himself can do much.  Most of the other end-user replaceable parts & fluids are either hidden underneath the car’s chassis –where the engine sits in your typical internal combustion vehicle is now a front luggage compartment-  or, not that easily accessible.

This means that if ever the car needs even the most simple maintenance, you may have to take it back to a Tesla dealership.  Bottom line: costlier upkeep. 

There are other minor flaws that needs to mentioned but the ones mentioned above are too glaring enough to be ignored.

After all, Tesla’s mass production model cars -starting with the 2012 Model S- had only been around for just a few years.  Improvements should come in their next iterations of those models.

That is, if -with their massive debt and government subsidies in the form of tax incentives- they remain viable and, most importantly, profitable, as a company in the coming years.

Fun Little Drone: Ryze Tello Adventures

Old habits die hard and R/C flying is one of them.

Since I caught the aerial remote-control bug during my almost 4-year stint in Saudi Arabia in the early 80s, I had really never forgotten this sometimes expensive hobby.  They say that in the heart of hearts of adventurous people lie the extreme desire to fly like birds.

R/C flying had come a long way since the days of gas-powered COX engines and radio controllers with telescopic antennas –with small banners attached to them that denoted the radio frequencies.

In today’s world dominated by computers, software, cell phones and other Internet-connected devices, it comes as no surprise that the hobby of R/C flying had also evolved to take advantage of them.

Today, you no longer need a dedicated controller to operate an R/C device –a smartphone and the appropriate app will do it for you.  Changing crystals (to change radio frequency transmission) inside the transmitters are so passé –almost all new R/C these days have Wi-Fi built-in (mostly, at 2.4 GHz) and utilize that same wireless frequency to connect to the smartphone.   Bluetooth is also built-in for pairing with a dedicated remote controller for easier flying.

Just attach a smartphone (with the Tello app) to the controller and you're all set!
A Wi-Fi extender (shown here attached to a battery pack) and a Bluetooth controller for extra fun.

More sophisticated but expensive models incorporate a GPS, 1080p or 4K cameras propped on small but high-end gimbals as well as a gaggle of extras for easy maneuvering even at long-range distances.  Not to mention longer flight times as well as apps with sophisticated features.

Currently, a Chinese company called DJI dominates the aerial R/C market and had relegated the term ‘R/C’ into something more futuristic — ‘drone‘.

The drone market had literally exploded in the last six or so years after amateur and professional photographers alike had made them an essential part of their toolkits to take visually-stunning aerial photos and video footages.

Unedited photo taken with the DJI-Ryze Tello at 15 meters up in the air.

DJI not only makes a variety of off-the-shelf hobbyist drones that caters to everyone’s budget but also custom-made ones depending on the application — be it in military, science, agriculture, engineering, and of course, the movie industry.

To capture the lowest end of the hobbyist drone market, DJI partnered with Intel and Shenzhen, China-based Ryze Tech and brought out the Ryze Tello.

You could dress-up the Ryze Tello with skins to make your unit stand-out!!
The fun-to-fly Ryze Tello drone (shown here with a packet of some unique ‘skins’)

It’s a vision positioning system-equipped US$99 toy-hobbyist drone with a programmable Intel processor as well as a 5-megapixel 720p camera (at 30 fps) -not sure though, if some Hasselblad technologies were incorporated after DJI bought into the Swedish camera company in 2015- as well as some other tech goodies packed in 80 grams -battery included- of good-quality plastic and miniature circuit boards.

It’s basically a very, very small home computer with a nice webcam that flies.

What makes this little toy drone so fun is that it won’t hurt your pocketbook so much if ever you crash or lose it.  But, it’s so stable to fly that the only way you can lose or damage it is to fly it in very windy conditions.

In actual use, the Ryze Tello flies for a good 10 minutes -specs say 13 mins.- on a full charge with a range of about 100 meters.  But hacks like using a US$10 Wi-Fi repeater or range extender improves not only the range but also the video quality transmission.

Also, software hacks like TALS (free) and Altitude Limit for Tello (US$ 0.99) – but both are available only for iOS devices– can extend the 10 meter height limit of this little drone to 10x or 100 meters.  Be careful though as the vision positioning system of the drone gets compromised at over 10 meters.

Accessories for the Tello are also inexpensive like the US$29 GameSir T1d Bluetooth controller and about US$ 15 to $25 for a 3 to 4  battery-charging hub.  Extra original batteries -made by FullyMax– are about US$19.

These prices might be even lower if you get the Ryze Tello in ‘bundle deals‘.  I once saw a DJI stall inside a very popular shopping mall in downtown San Francisco selling the Ryze Tello with an extra battery for as low as US$ 89.

These Tello accessories, a power bank and your smartphone are all you need to master flying this fun drone!
Inexpensive Ryze Tello accessories: GameSir T1d Bluetooth controller, Wi-Fi extender (beside silver packet), extra original battery and Tello battery charging hub

All in all, for about US$ 200, you can truly enjoy the thrills of R/C flying -or, shall I say, drone flying- without the nasty additional expenses associated with the learning experience alone.

Once you had mastered -it’s so easy-flying this tiny toy drone or, simply has grown tired of it but truly enjoys aerial photography, then, you could upgrade to a DJI Spark…and then to a Mavic Air or Pro.



Diamond Multimedia Rio 500: The Trouble With Goodbye is Hello

Sorting out my tech stuff in the attic for spring cleaning, I was surprised to discover a cache of old MP3 players.  Among them were five (5) Rio 500s made by Diamond Multimedia in the late 1990s.  They all came complete with odd-looking (smaller than a standard 5-pin Mini B) USB cables together with some old batteries.

Why I had 5 of them I had totally forgotten. Excitedly, I put on a fresh Duracell AA battery into one of them and slid the switch on. The unit’s small, rectangular (1.5″ x 0.57″) screen glowed a warm blue hue and the first track in the playlist appeared.  This thing still works!

The unit has 64MB of memory built-in and a SmartMedia card slot for more songs
The Diamond Rio 500 MP3 Player and its unusual USB cable

The Diamond Rio 500 Digital Audio Player was one of the early MP3 players that tried vainly to simplify the intricate and sometimes confusing domain of digital music transfer and rights management until iTunes hit the jackpot in 2001.

Released in 1999 for about US$270, the sleek 3.5″ x 2.75″ x 0.6″ gizmo (just slightly thicker than a deck of playing cards) came with 64MB of memory built-in, a SmartMedia card slot for expansion, a minimalistic design, RioPort Audio Manager software and, most importantly, a USB interface.

Today, there are still a slew of digital audio players that eschew iTunes yet are still so easy to use because of the USB cable plus the fact that computer OSes had become so much betterjust drag and drop your audio files!

So, the Rio 500 has a USB interface and I have the original USB cable, so transferring a few MP3s using the latest versions of Windows, Mac OS, Linux or even Chrome should be easy, right?

The trouble with goodbye is hello. Or, should that be, “hello again”?

The trouble with trying to use old technologies using modern tools are the accompanying hassles that comes naturally with them.

No, the Rio 500 won’t simply come up as just another USB device after I connected the unique USB cable on any one of my latest computers.

It only worked -transferred a few more MP3s- after I was able to get hold of an ancient Dell Latitude (with an ancient Pentium 233 MMX CPU) laptop -luckily, with a solitary USB port-  that operated under Windows ME (Millennium Edition).

Fortunately, the laptop has a single USB port for the unusual cable
An ancient Dell Latitude CPi (with a Pentium MMX processor) laptop running Windows ME

And, thanks to a software called RIOsitude (v3.12) that was provided by the open-source community, I was able to transfer a few MP3s to the vintage player via USB.  Back in 1999, an MP3 player holding about 20 songs (at 128 Kbps bit rate) in its internal memory was really good enough.

RIOsitude 3.12 delivered the goodies to the Rio 500 MP# player!
The Open Source community delivered once more to make this MP3 player usable; the player runs on one (1) AA battery!

Today, most portable gadgets are designed for ‘planned obsolescence‘ and that is why it’s always nice and fun to rediscover technologies of yesteryears.

While my 6th-generation iPod nano -released 2010-had been out of service for almost 3 years now after the tiny built-in lithium ion battery inside gave up & trying to open it up required the skill set of a world-class surgeon, this 20 year old music player still works.

As long as you have the right tools, there’s a good chance that those gadgets that were made 20-30 years ago- or, even older- would still be operational today.

Besides, what MP3 or high-resolution audio player today uses an AA battery as its power source?