Innovations in mobile gadgets have had a revolutionary effect on the way people work, communicate, navigate, and entertain themselves. No surprise there. The downside of living in the future is that we wind up with a number of gadgets to keep track of everywhere we go. A backpack or shoulder bag is almost a necessity for the connected person on the go. All those gadgets have also greatly improved the experience of air travel. Games, ebooks, videos, and music are all readily available on a plane, but the rise of portable electronic functionality has paralleled the increase of inconvenience in the air travel at the security line and the check-in counter.
SCOTTEVEST takes solid aim at both of these problem areas and scores a big hit with their new jacket/vest combination, the Transformer. A light windbreaker with removable sleeves and more hidden pockets and zippers than one would ever imagine, this one article of clothing can do the work of an entire bag in many cases, and it does so while obscuring the bulk of all the technological wizardry concealed within.
SCOTTEVEST Transformer: the Features
SCOTTEVEST has been making clothing to help manage the proliferation of gadgets in our lives for years, but this really elevates the process to new heights. Available in Ash (light grey), Blaze (red), and Coal (black) for $160, it isn’t cheap, but given the number of features built into the jacket, that is a pretty reasonable price. Here are some of the highlights.
Mapping the pockets
In earlier jackets you could find a map to the various pockets printed on the lining of the jacket or vest. Now, most of the pockets actually have a small nylon tag with an icon showing the intended use for it. Starting on the right side, you will see along the inside of the vest
- A sleeve that will fit a pen, pencil, or stylus quite nicely right along the primary jacket zipper up around collarbone level
- A pocket for your MP3 player with a velcro pad at the top and a zipper along the side if you need extra room to get it in. This uses SCOTTEVEST’s clear touch fabric (although it feels suspiciously like vinyl), which will allow you to see and interact with your screen or clickwheel with the phone still securely inside the pocket. There is an opening that looks like a buttonhole inside the pocket, which I believe is part of the Personal Area Network (PAN) routing. This pocket is marked with an icon tab that looks a bit like an iPod Classic.
- A zippered pocket whose tab indicates it is for glasses (sun or prescription or possibly the nerd chic lensless ones the kids are wearing these days). Inside this pocket is a microfiber cloth for cleaning the lenses which is tethered to the lining with a nylon cord. The cloth is also printed with the full map of the Transformer’s features. There is a PAN routing buttonhole here, so you could use this for something other than a pair of glasses.
- Another zippered pocket for a camera and related accessories. Inside the pocket is a Velcro-closure compartment for a memory card. The entire pocket is separated into two sections by another Velcro strip.
On the inside of the left side of the vest, there is a similar set of features.
- Another pencil sleeve alongside the inside of the zipper mirroring the right side version
- Another pocket with the clear touch fabric, again mirroring the right side. This one has an icon tab with a cell phone on it, but you could certainly put one on either side, possibly accommodating a smartphone in each Clear Touch Pocket as some people carry for personal and business use.
- A gargantuan zippered pocket that can accommodate an iPad or similar tablet. Inside this is a Velcro closure sleeve that could hold something like USB thumb drive or AA battery. Again the PAN buttonhole makes an appearance.
- A pocket to hold travel documents like boarding passes, letter-folded itinerary printouts, and a passport.
- A Velcro closure pocket to hold a photo ID, but sized properly for business cards or credit cards as well.
- Another zippered pocket just inside the main zipper that will easily stow the sleeves until they are needed.
The outside of the jacket has the pockets one would expect in any jacket for handwarming or glove storage, but even those have hidden coolness inside.
- On the right side Handwarmer Pocket, we have
- An elastic loop to hold a water bottle securely in place with minimal sloshing
- A small Velcro pocket at the bottom for coin storage
- A tether with a clip on the end for storing your keys, designed with enough spring to allow use of the keys without ever having to unclip them.
- Yet another PAN access port
- On the left side Handwarmer Pocket, we have
- A huge pocket with an inner zipper that can segregate about half of the pocket from easy access, leaving the outer section of the pocket feeling normal sized and empty of anything but your hand
- One more PAN buttonhole
- Another Velcro coin pocket deep beyond the inner zipper
The Personal Area Network
This is a patented feature from Technology Enabled Clothing. Starting at either of the smartphone pockets, a series of elastic loops and split plastic cylindrical clips provide routing for the headphone wires of the gadgets nestled within. Continuing up around the inside of the collar is a fleece flap that folds over and secures the wire with three Velcro pads to hold the flap down and a snap elastic loop at the center of the collar, presumably to anchor the wire more securely in place. Right by the exit of each collar is a slit in the jacket similar to the pen holder sleeve that SCOTTEVEST calls the Earbud Basket. The exposed earpieces can be slid into these for protection and concealment. That is the Quick Release PAN system. The more permanent routing utilizes the buttonhole network described above.
This is a truly pleasant surprise. The removable sleeves are held in place by twelve magnets at the interface with the vest. As demonstrated on their website, they can be removed or installed without ever removing the jacket. When coupled with the mesh and venting for airflow through the vest, this increases the range of suitable weather and temperatures for wearing this jacket.
Transformer: How does it perform?
Some of the features were tested in the quiet confines of my condo or office, but many got their first look in a real world situation: a fourteen and a half hour flight to Korea followed immediately by a four hour car ride out to a factory town. With little advance research or prep, I wanted to use the jacket’s design cues and icon tags to guide me in its use.
Those Clear Touch Fabric pockets do allow the user to read the screen though the film, but it does need to be fairly flat and close to the screen to read with any clarity. Also, swiping and gestures need to have a reasonably taut window to make this work well. Since the primary needs would be to access the controls for music playback or to dial a number, this interface should be good enough to handle that.
Using the PAN
My experience trying to route the wires was a little challenging. If all you want to do is listen, then it is a simple matter to center the earbud fork in the cable at the center of the collar, allowing the earpieces to hang out just enough for easy placement and wearing. If, however, you are using a smartphone and need the inline microphone, you will probably be experimenting for a bit before you find a routing length that gives you the length you need where you need it. Once the routing is complete, this is a pretty slick way to keep your earbuds handy and protected all the time without having to worry about coiling them back up for storage or the dreaded tangle so commonly experienced when removing hastily stowed headphones from a bag or pocket.
The Documents Pocket
This was the biggest surprise for me of the entire jacket… even more than the magnetic removable sleeves. When I travel, I always have a backpack and a small dufflebag as carryons. Neither of these has any easily accessible place where I can put my boarding pass and passport without getting them wrinkled or bent. Imagine my delight when I found a zippered pocket that was exactly long enough to accept my boarding pass in the sleeve provided by the airline lengthwise in pristine condition with no difficulty. Unlike my cargo pants pocket, it wasn’t always trying to cuff the top of the boarding pass, and unlike my backpack, I never had to remove it and dig to find the documents. Easily accessed with my right hand, the zipper opens with a simple pull as you hold the jacket open and taut. Everything comes in and out without catching or grabbing on the edge of the pocket. For those who don’t travel much, this may seem like a trivial feature, but finding this feature was actually one of the coolest “aha” moments of the whole trip.
The Camera Pocket
I’m not quite sure what the two Velcro-separated compartments are meant for, but the pocket does hold the camera well in there. A small point-and-shoot like my Nikon Coolpix S4000 slides into the smaller compartment and rides there without slinging around. I didn’t need the SD card pocket as I never come close to maxing out the memory in the 8GB card I use, so I had no need to exchange a backup memory card. A little experimentation reveals that the larger compartment could hold the camera sync cable and maybe a sufficiently small tripod.
The Sunglass Pocket
I really like certain aspects of this. The tethered microfiber map means I no longer need to carry around my Oakley pouch to clean my lenses. The location is high enough on the torso that I don’t have to worry about accidentally crushing my glasses if I lean up against a counter at the wrong angle. On the other hand, the location is also right by my rib cage, and the thin rigid parts of the glasses can jab a little uncomfortably. It could be that the glasses ride horizontally in the pocket. If they were oriented vertically, they might not be as likely to poke, but the smartphone pocket is in the way of that positioning.
The Pad Pocket
I was pretty skeptical about this. My Kindle Fire is a little heavy to simply hide in a pocket and forget it. There was plenty of room for it in either portrait or landscape orientation. When the jacket is zipped up, you can definitely feel this adding some bulk to the jacket, and when carrying the jacket in your hand, it feels pretty heavy. When you are wearing it, though, something about the placement relative to the suspension points on your body makes it reasonably unnoticeable. There is still a mass there that can get swinging if you try to run, and when sitting in a chair with armrests, the tablet will need to be arranged in such a way that it doesn’t get crushed or jab you in the side. Still, the option to carry something this large so easily without a separate bag is a pretty big accomplishment for a light jacket.
When it comes to the actual metamorphosis from jacket to vest and back, things work pretty well. Just as shown in the video, it is exceptionally easy to remove the sleeves from the jacket without taking it off. Fold them up and tuck them away in the storage pocket, and you are ready to go. This is a little bulky in that pocket, especially if you are also packing a tablet device, but given what you were just able to do, that is a minor inconvenience.
Putting the sleeves back on is a little tough. You can easily get the arms in place where they should be, but getting all the magnets to line up exactly where they should be is a challenge. There is a kind of weird Iron Man-autodressing-armor-type feeling as the magnets that do seat almost magically grab onto their partners with a satisfying click. All twelve may not hit, and some might grab the wrong one, but I suspect that with practice, installation can become nearly as easy as removal.
When they are on, it does feel just like a normal jacket. When I first received the review unit, I didn’t know about this feature… I didn’t even know it was called the Transformer… so I had already worn it a while before I realized the sleeves came off. That is some clean integration.
Transformer: How Does It Look?
I loaded up the Transformer to show what it could hold and how much it would show. In these photos, the jacket is holding everything shown in the earlier images except for my point-and-shoot. It was busy taking the pictures.
Overall, you aren’t going to fool anyone into thinking you aren’t carrying all that gear, but it does the best job I have seen at unobtrusively distributing all the contents without compromising access or for the most part, comfort. Any more concealment might require harnessing a dimensional rift inside the pockets.
SCOTTEVEST Transformer: The Travel Experience
As previously mentioned, the first trial of this jacket was on my trip to South Korea. I wanted to see if I could put all the gadgets I could reasonably expect to use on the flight in the Transformer and keep it on in my seat. Unfortunately, June in Texas and in Seoul do not feature weather conducive to jacket wearing. The sleeves were off (and in my bag as I saw zero probability that I would be needing them for warmth), and I was relying on the mesh vented lining to help keep me cool. The air conditioning in the airport and at the beginning of the flight were sufficient to maintain comfort with the vest on.
The first big improvement in the travel experience (after my giddy reaction the the document pocket) happened at the security checkpoint. Rather than having to empty all my gadgets out of my pockets, I was able to simply place the jacket on the conveyor belt (learn about how it works from companies like California Industrial Rubber Co.) and proceed through to the other side. A small inconvenience avoided, but with so many hassles assaulting you when trying to fly, any relief is appreciated.
A bit of serendipity hit then as I was unexpectedly moved to an exit row. On a 777, this means I got all the legroom I wanted, but I had no underseat stowage area for my carryons. All had to go up in the overhead. With the Transformer, I had my iPhone, standard and high end earbuds, pen and pencil, bottle of water, and Kindle Fire right there with me in the seat. I had to maneuver the tablet a bit to miss the seatbelt and not get pinched on the armrest, but everything fit and accompanied me on my way. Unfortunately, inflight temperatures vary greatly on a flight that long, and it did get too hot to keep the vest on, but its case was made… with no ready access to my backpack or even a seatback pocket in front of me, I still had all the gear I needed to keep me busy and entertained there in my immediate location.
Upon returning home, I found an unexpected issue with the Transformer. A possible scare with bedbugs in the hotel had me washing every single article of clothing I brought back with me as soon as I returned home. A word of warning to all potential users of the SCOTTEVEST Transformer: all those pockets make if VERY easy to miss something in them before it goes in the wash. In my case it was just my used boarding passes and baggage claim tags, but had it been something electronic, it could have been a very expensive washing.
SCOTTEVEST Transformer: Final Thoughts
The Transformer addresses some real needs of the traveling geek. The ability to carry so much on your person without needing an additional bag or looking like the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man is quite liberating. The careful thought put into specific device placement and accessibility elevate this above the standard fishing vest or other heavily pocketed article of clothing. Not everyone will need this… some get by with fewer gadgets on their person and never have a concern about it. For those who want access to their toys more of the time, this could be a real boon. In addition the ease of removal of those sleeves increases the number of scenarios in which this would work.
TSA guidelines in the Post-9/11 era complicate getting through security, and the growing cost of baggage fees drive more people to carry more things with them on the plane. Space and in-flight accessibility take big hits as more bags are crammed into the cabin, and for the truly unlucky, their carryon may have to be checked because there is simply no room left for it. Some airports actually weigh your carryons as well as your checked bags. In those cases, the Transformer could actually save you time going through security and money if it eliminates or lightens a bag from your complement of luggage. That is no small feat.