Tag Archive for photography equipment

Still trying to use the Gnarbox as a professional tool

In short: no. But here’s the long story.

I’ve written about the Gnarbox Kickstarter campaign as a backer. It was the first time for me to support such a campaign. I don’t want to delve into all the drama (really the word “drama” is the appropriate noun to use), but after continual delays, broken promises, and constantly updated delivery schedules, it was delivered 14 months late, and instead of 4Gb RAM, we got 2Gb. I got it as a travel back up storage device. The chief problem I have with it is that there is no security installed other than your wifi access password. I don’t even know if the connection is encrypted. However, most people won’t need that review, but what they will need is this review.

Using the Gnarbox for the first time in a cafe in Nagoya Japan.

The main selling point of the Gnarbox is the in-field back, editing, and preparation for immediate posting to social networks. There have been some big name vloggers like Peter Mckinnon and Lok Cheung who have “reviewed” the Gnarbox, and have said wonderful things about it. They are vloggers, they make a portion of their income from YouTube videos, so they have their vested interests. I’ve now seen them in a whole other light, and now I do not trust these promoted “reviews”, and probably will always be skeptical and untrusting of such “reviewers”. Their reviews say essentially the same thing, but both are from the video maker’s point of view.

Both McKinnon and Lok tout the Gnarbox for all the key sales points the Gnarbox company have carefully crafted. However, some serious short comings slip through. The Gnarbox was tested mostly in the winter in the snow resorts in California. Which means, serious issues like the super hot top surface is missed in the field trials, and perhaps the significance is overlooked in the design studio. How hot does it get? Literally: untouchable.

Battery life is also an issue. The Gnarbox tauts a 4-6 hour battery, but it seems mine will struggle to make it to 3 hours. The image below shows both my iPad Mini and Gnarbox battery levels, but both started equally at 100% (though my iPad was taken off charge 8 hours earlier, but not used until this test). As you can see, the iPad used not only wifi, but also had to power the large, energy hungry, touch screen, and be monitoring updates for messages, Twitter, Instagram, and other apps. At the same time, the Gnarbox only had to power the processor and wifi. The iPad used only 6% of it’s total battery capacity, whilst the Gnarbox chewed through 31%. I’ll let you judge the in-field practicality of this.

 

Both my iPad and Gnarbox started with 100% battery, and in the same period of time the battery remaining are quite different.

Both my iPad and Gnarbox started with 100% battery, and in the same period of time the battery remaining are quite different.

 

The other key point is the ability to edit raw files in the field without a laptop, just use your smartphone instead. I’ll admit that I use my iPad Mini instead, as I’d rather see the details, or rather, as much as I can. I’m editing full sized 24mb Sony Alpha files from a Sony a99, which are billboard sized images if printed fully. However, there’s no way to zoom in to see the details. Secondly, if it’s for posting to social media, then why is there no means to save smaler low-resolution versions of the images. There’s no means to add meta data like captions, titles, keywords, copyright info, etc. In fact, against EU laws, the metadata created in camera, is stripped from the exported image. Yes, it is illegal in the EU to strip metadata from digital files.

Comparing preview and editing views of the Gnarbox app. The lower images are unedited previews, whilst the upper images are also unedited, but moved to the editing module of the Gnarbox app. As you a red tint / hue is added to the image prior to editing.

 

However, here is the biggest concern and worry. Here is what makes the Gnarbox useless for the job the makers intended. It cannot successfully edit files; it especially cannot be used for portraits even if they’re intended for social media publishing. The raw file looks nice out of the camera in the preview module. However, the astute photographer knows that a photo always needs some tweaks. Typically I add a little contrast, vibrance, a touch of saturation, and some nudges on the tone curve. Also, I do colour calibration where possible with a Spyder Colour Checker 24. Enter the Edit module and immediately the image goes from nice to a weird red tint or hue. The skin colour changes badly, and something terrible happens to the gamma channels. I never needed to do anything about gamma, and so I know very little about it. However, as you can see, the transition from the skin tones to highlights is simply appalling. Consequently, photos require work on especially the colour temperature first, then tint, then whites, midpoint, and then blacks. However, it seems no amount of work can ever rescue the poor transition from the poor skin colourisation to highlights. Additionally, I don’t know of any means to perform colour calibration with the Gnarbox app. It seems the Gnarbox app cannot handle these key points at all.

Below are different images processed differently. As you can see, the best thing is to import the image direct from the Gnarbox onto your device, and then edit with the Adobe PhotoShop Express app.

Image copied off Gnarbox onto iPad Mini.

Image copied off Gnarbox onto iPad Mini.

Image edited on the Gnarbox app. Note the problems with the transitions from skin tones to highlights.

Image edited on the Gnarbox app. Note the problems with the transitions from skin tones to highlights.

It is possible to just copy images direct from the Gnarbox onto your device, via "Share".

It is possible to just copy images direct from the Gnarbox onto your device, via “Share”.

Image processed with Adobe PhotoShop Express on iPad Mini.

Image processed with Adobe PhotoShop Express on iPad Mini.

 

This is the final selected image processed through Adobe LightRoom on a real computer. The colours below are actually truer to real life.


I tried to share the images with the model via Gnarbox. As we were walking back to the train station, she downloaded the Gnarbox app on to her Android phone, I gave her the password to access my Gnarbox, and she did so successfully. However, the connection kept dropping. She gave up and I shared a handful of images by another means.

 

The Toshiba Wifi SD Card is a good subsitute for in the field work; however, there would be no backup options.

Which should you get? Toshiba offers a wifi capable SD card. The wifi SD card works when you leave the camera on (to supply electricity), connect your smartphone to it (via wifi), then download the photos you want onto your device. After that, edit with a purpose made app like Adobe PhotoShop Express. Of course, this only works with jpegs, but you will get better results. Consequently, I strongly recommend that you download images direct onto your device (from either your wifi SD card, or Gnarbox) and edit outside of the Gnarbox app.

Some people will want to know about video editing with the device. I’ll admit this skill is something I’m weak on. I’ve tried it, but I couldn’t do it. Perhaps I need better training, or the app is problematic; I don’t know. I’ll stick to VSDC on my laptop for now. However, TJ Davidson, a famous vlogger, has done his review of the Gnarbox from a vloggers perspective. His conclusion is about the same as mine: negative and saying the Gnarbox is problematic. I really appreciate his skepticism and honesty; however, I can’t help but feel that he didn’t learn more of how to use the Gnarbox first.

The Gnarbox is meant to be an in-field device that lets you do things without a laptop. It costs about USD$300. However, there’s the $100 Raspberry Pi, and now this tiny Ockel computer too, for USD$200. If I had to choose again, I’d look at how I could have a small touch screen on the Ockel.

Should you invest in the Gnarbox? I don’t know. What do you need it for? Will I use mine again in the future? I’ve already invested in it, so… some times. It probably will never be a part of my workflow: either full file or for social media. I think it will always be as I intended it be, as an in-field backup device.

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Using the #Gnarbox for the first time

Women at the Arimatsu festival posing next to a banner that says "Arimatsu" in Japanese script.

The Gnarbox was a Kickstarter project, and it is an in-field storage and back up device. It also lets you edit and post pictures without a laptop, and do it away from your office. I pitched in on Kickstarter paying USD$149, and it now retails at $299. It has a capacity of 128Gb, and a claimed battery life of 4 to 6 hours (a wide error of margin) with 4,000mha capacity. It can connect to your smarthphone or Android or iOS tablet via wifi and the Gnarbox app.

 

Sony a99 with Sony 70-300mm G lens, Gnarbox, iPad Mini 4 with Gnarbox app in index view.

Sony a99 with Sony 70-300mm G lens, Gnarbox, iPad Mini 4 with Gnarbox app in index view. (photo taken on iPhone)

The Gnarbox arrived and it sat doing nothing for about two weeks. It was already obsolete by the time I received it. It was originally meant to be delivered in March 2016, but finally came in May 2017. My previous blog posts describe the ordeal of waiting for the Gnarbox, the constant new promises, and missed delivery deadlines. There were constant complaints by Kickstarter backers near the end of 2016 and early 2017. For me, by the time it arrived it was already replaced by a Toshiba wifi memory card. Also consider that most new cameras now include wifi connection to your smartphone, too. Anyway, I paid for it (back in July 2015), and it’s finally just arrived. On Sunday just gone, I went shooting at Arimatsu. They are known for their cloths and tie-dying industry; no, not hippy tie-dying, but the kimono type, as you’ll see below. So, I thought it would be a great chance to do a real life test of the Gnarbox.

 

A kimono on display blowing in the midday breeze at Arimatsu.

A kimono on display blowing in the midday breeze at Arimatsu. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

 

To prepare this blog post, I’m using the WordPress app, the Gnarbox with my iPad Mini 4, the Gnarbox app, and an ice-cold Chocolista from my favourite cafe in Japan. Firstly, the wifi connection doesn’t show in the top bar of the iPad, and so I thought it wasn’t connected. After five minutes of trying different things, I thought I’d just try the viewer. Lo and behold, it was connected. It was showing 40% battery. Then I realised it didn’t automatically import the +300 photos from my SD card. It took a slow 5 minutes or so to do the job. In the meantime, it was sucking the battery dry.

 

From left to right. Sony A99 camera with Sony 70-300mm G lens. Gnarbox first generation (128Gb capacity). Apple iPad Mini 4. Tully's Chocolista Tall size.

From left to right. Sony A99 camera with Sony 70-300mm G lens. Gnarbox first generation (128Gb capacity). Apple iPad Mini 4. Tully’s Chocolista Tall size.

 

Additionally, the top surface of the Gnarbox was getting too hot to touch. A point of no concern for their snow-based “real world” testers. It seemed like they really did most of their testing in the Californian winter alps (just check their Instagram feed). I mention this, as I’ve not seen any other sample images and videos from the Gnarbox Instagram account. Previous blog posts describe how I was blocked by Gnarbox after complaining about yet another missed delivery date, and the social media censorship that coincided with the start of the prestigious CES exhibition. They obviously wanted to hide their missed deliveries and angry customers.

 

Editing view of the Gnarbox app. It's simple compared to the Adobe PhotoShop Express app, but it can do raw files.

Editing view of the Gnarbox app. It’s simple compared to the Adobe PhotoShop Express app, but it can do raw files.

A young lady in a kimono at the Arimatsu festival.

A young lady in a kimono at the Arimatsu festival. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

There are good points and bad points. Mixed in with this are the two facets of the Gnarbox, the box and the app. The box itself is heavy, but feels quite sturdy and rugged. The data connections including card slots are protected with environment proof flaps. In the app, the thumbnail display didn’t complete loading, and so I sat there waiting using up valuable battery life. I eventually found the refresh button; a problem I probably won’t have again. The main concern I noticed right away with the app was the skin tones; the gamma levels seemed off. Also, it doesn’t seem to be able to manage the transition from highlights to normal very well. I’m certain this isn’t a lens or sensor issue. Admittedly, no one wants to shoot in the midday sun, which of course contributes to the problem, but the point of editing software is to reduce this issue, which it failed. However, I do love the “punch” slider. I’m not exactly sure what it does, but I do like the outcome. It is probably like the vibrance slider in Lightroom. It does manage recovering details from dark areas wonderfully. The app seems good, but lacks a range of features when compared to the older and more mature Adobe Photoshop Express. However, the Gnarbox app can manage full resolution images, in raw format and video.

 

Two men sitting in the shade in front of a store at the Arimatsu festival.

Two men sitting in front of a store at the Arimatsu kimono and cloth festival. The man on the right is wearing a summer kimono known as a yukata. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

Other issues aren’t major ones. My camera was set to raw + jpg, as it is the only way for the Toshiba wifi card to work and connect with my phone. However, Gnarbox can work with raw files, no jpgs needed. However, the index view doesn’t indicate which is raw and which is jpg. Furthermore, as nice and neat as it looks, the cropped images make it hard to choose which photo is worth editing at a glance. You have to tap on one, check, then flick through and find out which you want the hard way.

 

The index view in the Gnarbox app.

The index view of the Gnarbox app. Using square cropped previews is nice, but which one will you want to edit? Which are raw and which are jpg?

 

Different tie-dye cloths on display at the Arimatsu festival.

Different tie-dye cloths on display at the Arimatsu festival. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

 

I don’t do much video editing, and so I probably struggle to use this feature. Which may explain why I couldn’t figure out how to stitch two separate videos together (if it is indeed possible). It is said that the Gnarbox comes with some basic music that can be overlaid into your in-field created video, and you can add more sound tracks to the box yourself. The video colour editing function didn’t work. The error message said something about a firmware update is needed first, something not possible while working on the fly.

The Gnarbox battery went from 40% to 9% within 45mins, which hints that the claimed 4-6 hours might not be possible on this particular unit. It was at about 50% when I opened the box minutes after receiving it from the mail man. There were issues regarding battery life reported online; I hope mine isn’t one of the affected ones. Some buyers have had to return theirs and get a replacement. The Gnarbox took some hours to charge, it was charged overnight, and so I’ll now have the opportunity to test the full battery life in the future.

 

Women demonstrating creating feature patterns that are unique to Arimatsu.

Women demonstrating creating feature patterns that are unique to Arimatsu. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

Do you really need a Gnarbox? For day trips, it’s probably not needed. Just use a $50 wifi SD card and the Adobe PhotoShop Express app (set your camera to raw + jpg). For extended trips, as a backup device in case you lose your memory cards, for some people it’s good to have. For immediate social sharing it’s a must have (if you can’t or don’t want to use a wifi SD card). For an overseas jaunt, it’s perhaps quite under capacity at a mere 128Gb. An hour or so of shooting at Arimatsu created 198 photos taken at raw & jpg, which created a 5.92Gb folder. Plus two short videos at 100mb (1:09min) and 35mb (0:24min). I usually take about 300 plus photos at an event and more video. So, I typically walk away using about 12Gb of storage space on memory cards. Consequently, for a trip away, I think the last few photos won’t be transferred onto the Gnarbox. For videographers and vloggers, you might want to wait and see if Gnarbox creates a second generation product with more capacity. Of course, this is my own take on things on its first outing, and as based on my needs and uses. You may see advantage in it, or not. Overall, I will use it, but not as often as I might have 22 months ago. Would I buy one now? No. I’ve never lost a memory card, and my next camera will probably have wifi built in anyway. I have to say this once more, the Gnarbox app does a great job of recovering details in the dark areas, and the punch/vibrance slider is awesome.

Women at the Arimatsu festival posing next to a banner that says "Arimatsu" in Japanese script.

Women at the Arimatsu festival posing next to a banner that says “Arimatsu” in Japanese script.

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#Gnarbox Well, this is awkward

To summarise, in July 2015 I got all excited when I discovered the Kickstarter project Gnarbox. It was due to arrive in March 2016 (Gnarbox). There were in fact multiple delays, multiple promises of delivery, and multiple broken promises and missed delivery deadlines. Fourteen months after it was first due to arrive… it arrived. However, trust had diminished increasingly as each promised delivery came and went. Additionally, there were problems when they claimed to be delivering in late March 2017; people got shipping notices but still nothing arrived by late April. More trust was lost. Consequently, I cancelled my order. However, this is the series of events:

29th April 2017: Request made to cancel order, and receive refund by Kickstarter messenger. Picture 1 below.

Gnarbox interaction 20th May

Gnarbox interaction 20th May

4th May 2017: Delivery / shipment notice delivered by email.

6th May 2017: Gnarbox acknowledges cancel request via Kickstarter messenger.

19th May 2017: Gnarbox arrives! (shortly before 7pm), and I had to pay ¥900 for duties.

Gnarbox arrives.

Gnarbox arrives.

20th May 2017: I contact Gnarbox to ask what now.

22nd May 2017: Gnarbox gives a convoluted response, which hints at no desire to actually communicate, and is laced with assumption that I’d keep it anyway.

Reply from Gnarbox 22nd May 2017

Reply from Gnarbox 22nd May 2017

23rd May 2017: PetaPixel does a story on this device, claiming they started delivering in November 2016. In fact, the first deliveries were to their friends in February or early March 2017.

28th May 2017: I still haven’t used it. There literally is dust on the box, which had only been opened once. I’ve been using my iPhone or the Toshiba wifi card instead.

A 32Gb Toshiba wifi card is available for about 5,000 yen or USD$50.

A 32Gb Toshiba wifi card is available for about 5,000 yen or USD$50.

 

Will I use my Gnarbox? Why did I get it? For one main reason, and one lesser one. For in-field back up, and perhaps for direct to social media posting. Now, I’ll probably use it very little as memory cards are very reliable, and I’ve never lost one (yet). It’s already obsolete; 128Gb capacity is not very much, and now very small for videographers. Additionally, I was never really into social media until recently, but the quality of my new iPhone is really good and perfect for shoot-direct to social media. Finally, I now have a wifi SD card which does the job lighter, cheaper, and easier, and my next camera will probably have wifi built in. That leaves the elephant in the room remains; the Gnarbox photo & video processing. I mainly use Adobe PhotoShop Express on both my iPhone and iPad, which is a more mature product than the Gnarbox editor. Consequently, in 2017 the Gnarbox is a waste. If it were invented ten years ago, then absolutely it would have been used to death.

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Oh no! My #GnarBox shipping notice!

On Sunday I gave up. All the comments on a kickStarter were saying that only Americans and Germans were getting their Gnarboxes. There were some comments on technical issues including batteries not recharging, failed updates turning devices to bricks, and some SD card slots not working (it’s essential for them to be functional). The device is now totally 14months overdue, and despite delivery notices, weeks later, devices were not arriving still. So I gave up and requested my money back on Saturday.

On Sunday, I bought a cheap ¥5,000 ($50) wifi capable memory card, which does half of the job of the Gnarbox. The other half of the job the Gnarbox does is backs up memory cards, which I’ve never lost or had damaged.

Toshiba FlashAir wifi capable memory card

Toshiba FlashAir wifi capable memory card

Then today (Thursday) I get this notice, which means, they either didn’t look for my request or ignored it.

Gnarbox Delivery Notice

Gnarbox Delivery Notice

So, what should I do? Return it or keep it? I’ll probably keep it, as an in-field backup device. I’ll see how it goes. It wasn’t a huge outlay of money. Unfortunately, Gnarbox decided to use USPS as their courier, which means poor tracking. I have no idea where the package is, nor its estimated delivery date. It could arrive next week, six weeks, or lost in customs.

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I’ve given up on the #Gnarbox

The Gnarbox is now 14 months overdue. That is, one year and two months late. I’m in awe and wonder at how they can pay their employees for a year, and not be making money for over a year either. I don’t know their financial situation, but I bet it’s dicey.

The Gnarbox page on Kickstarter.

The Gnarbox page on Kickstarter.

There were many promises of delivery, and many missed delivery deadlines. I have to go back through my previous blog posts to count them (seven or eight, depends on how you count the most recent promises). The last communication from the Gnarbox company was the 8th of April, and they promised imminent delivery, and since then they’ve ignored their backer community. There have been backers saying that they’d just received their delivery notification. Weeks later, the same people are saying they’ve got their delivery notification, but nothing has arrived as yet. One backer, Gabriel Legault said in the comments section that he had phoned Gnarbox, and was told the problem is with USPS (an American delivery company). This begs the question, why doesn’t a delivery company deliver? I can order from iHerb, an American company, and within seven days of pushing the “Order Now” button, the box had arrived, and I’m already eating my goodies. Why are Gnarbox backers waiting for over a month? I can only assume that one of several possibilities. Please note that this is pure speculation, and is done so in the absence of communication from the Gnarbox company.

  1. The delivery notice is a delay tactic. The Gnarbox company may not be able to pay for delivery. Perhaps they need to sell Gnarboxes to new customers until they can get money to pay for delivery. This fits the story that USPS would be waiting for payment before delivery can commence. Or else the imminent delivery notice is a rouse to bide time until money is available to pay for postage.
  2. The delivery notice is a delay tactic. Perhaps there’s some other technical issue they cannot fix yet, and the delivery notices are a rouse to bide time until they really can deliver. That is to say, there are no boxes/parcels as USPS yet.
  3. They have started deliveries, but so far, only people in the US have received theirs. They are only delivering to backers in legal jurisdictions that can harangue the Gnarbox company into court, and hoping that they can get away with not delivering to others. This fits the story that someone in Germany has theirs held up in customs, but Singapore, Japan, New Zealand, and others are yet to be told anything. That is, they are aware that they have legal obligations, and accept the fact that these cannot be met, but are doing what they can to reduce the hurt to themselves.
  4. Some other reason that I haven’t thought of and unaware of.

Since July 2015, when I first backed this project three things have happened. Firstly, the size of the Gnarbox device (128Gb) is no longer a realistic size for me as a travel photographer. Honestly, it was just under the size I expected for such a device when I first ordered, and now with my new Sony a99 (purchased in Jan 2016), it became that less capable. Secondly, security of internet capable devices has come to the fore. With webcams being used to spy on people (including children’s toys, and Samsung TVs); Gnarbox has said nothing about device security. Journalists have been demanding encryption and password access to recording equipment on their new devices. Thirdly, and significantly, my next camera is probably going to have wifi built in. That means, I can connect to the camera directly (without needing the Gnarbox as a middle man), and edit and share photos and videos direct from my iPhone or iPad. I’m currently seriously ditching my Sony/Minolta system to go to the Canon M6. The Canon M6 is small, light, and has all the features I need, without the weight and the bulk my current system suffers. There are many other advantages to going to the M6, but that’s for another blog post.

Canon M6 with wifi and other connectivity options.

Canon M6 with wifi and other connectivity options.

Therefore, I had to reconsider my investment. The main issues are the lack of security, my next camera this year will have wifi built in, and the Gnarbox has a limited storage capacity, which makes it already mostly obsolete even before I get it. Furthermore, because I do not believe they can deliver from their lack of communication and possible capital issues. Consequently, on 29th April 2017 I sent them a personal message through Kickstarter requesting a refund. Below is the polite request I had made.

Request to cancel and refund.

Request to cancel and refund.

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Update on @gnarbox and Kickstarter

Way back in July 2015 I heard about Gnarbox and their concept (Kickstarter page). As a travel photographer, it was exactly what I needed. Well, I wasn’t so needing the in-field photo or video editing and immediate social media posting, but the main draw card for me was the quick and simple SD card backup ability. It was only to be 128Gb (barely enough for a trip, but something was better than nothing), but it was supremely portable, and it hit the sweet spot at US$149. If it were much higher than that, I would have balked. I hummed and huhhed at the $149, but considered the project to be back-able. The recommended retail price was to be nearly USD$250, so a discount drew me in, assuming I probably wouldn’t regret getting it. As of 28th Jan 2017, it’s listed at USD$299 on B&H, and as “Coming soon” (B&H).

There are some downsides with the device. Firstly, it is only 128Gb, and so it will be barely enough. Secondly, all technology items at the moment have a useful life of three to five year before obsolescence. The Gnarbox is so far ten months late in delivery, and new cameras include wifi to smartphones, and new smarphones are now able to take amazing photos, reducing the need for a dedicated picture/video device. Thirdly, there is no password or encryption protection, or any kind of security, which makes journalism and cross-border travel risky for some. Fourthly, there is still very little to no independent assessment as to it’s in-field / real world use. How long is the battery life? How long until the batteries deteriorate and need replacing? How practical is it to carry an adapter for people using CF cards? Finally, does it still fit into my workflow?

The Gnarbox page on Kickstarter.

The Gnarbox page on Kickstarter.

All investments carry risk, “will the creator deliver?”, “Will it be as promised?”, among other concerns. It was my first project to back on Kickstarter, and it was exactly the tool I needed. The device was due to be delivered in March 2016, which means it was intended to be a quick and easy development. Importantly, however, was the detailed information the creators provided on Kickstarter. I was impressed, and especially compared to other Kickstarter pages/projects, these guys seemed to have a clear idea of what needed to be done. So, I threw my hat (and money) into the ring.

Not all projects have smooth sailing, and not all best laid plans go off without a hitch; bumps are expected. In February 2016 the Gnarbox team announced that a deal with a processing chip manufacturer fell threw, and so they had to rejig their development to a new supplier, which meant that delivery was pushed back to September 2016. So far, I was not concerned, and considered it a necessary move.

September 2016 came and went without a word on delivery, which was the first red flag for me. The August update did not mention any problem with delivery deadlines, as shown below.

Gnarbox project update in August 2016.

Gnarbox project update in August 2016.

Then in September they promised to start deliveries on the 19th Sept. The screenshot below shows that even the packaging had been designed and completed.

 

Gnarbox was apparently ready for delivery in September 2016.

Gnarbox was apparently ready for delivery in September 2016.

Then in October they stated that they were to do FCC and CE certifications. This meant that they had not gone into production, and were officially not certified for sale or distribution in at least the US nor Europe. Then 27th October they claimed that they will start to deliver in November. That means that they missed their official delivery dates for March and September 2016, and promised a third date: November 2016. A Kickstarter update on November 19 said that there had been problems getting FCC and CE approvals, but things were going well. It also noted that US backers, and US-based pre-orders get the first three rounds of deliveries, and the rest of the world (including me, who invested into the project before US-based pre-order people) get mine in the fourth and final round of deliveries. At this point, of the original 2,988 backers, there were already discontent, and backers were making requests for refunds.

The 10th of December 2016 update in hindsight is very troubling. It focused on the positive in the development. It told what had been achieved – only what had been achieved. It failed to acknowledge that the third delivery promise had been missed, and it did not mention anything about their financial situation as backers were requesting their refunds. It also failed to slate a new delivery date. As the community discussion shows on Kickstarter, there were howls of anger at the lack of information; information that backers actually want. The discontent is understandable and justified.

Gnarbox on Instagram, and community comments about delivery promises.

Gnarbox on Instagram, and community comments about delivery promises.

Instagram is an important platform for promoting the Gnarbox. The Gnarbox team regularly posted photos and videos as the latest samples from in-field testing from the prototypes. Interestingly, all such Instagram posts include the Gnarbox watermark. However, it is not known if watermarking is possible on their editing software, or if the image was processed on a real computer back at home or studio. On Instagram, there were many backers leaving comments on Gnarbox official sample photos and videos like “Nice photo, would be nice to get my Gnarbox”, or simply “When do I get mine?”. All such comments were plain and civil, including mine. However, I was blocked by them, and it was a shock. To me it was a hostile move by Gnarbox; you should never disrespect the people who give you money, and yet I was treated like a common internet troll. I’m sure this will also count as a blackmark against me in the Instagram system. Also consider that they had missed three delivery deadlines, and there is community discontent, and trust was/is fading.

Gnarbox's notice of blocking me just days before the CES tradeshow, message via Instagram app.

Gnarbox’s notice of blocking me just days before the CES tradeshow, message via Instagram app.

At the time I was confused and shocked. I had never been treated like this. Then I saw that Lok and Kaiman Wong were about to attend the 2017 CES trade show, and so it made sense. Gnarbox, who were to attend CES, were doing badly, and so they had to censor their social media reputation in the hope that they can draw in more money. However, there were still the howls of rage from the backers wanting updates or refunds, what had happened to the promises of a March, September, and then a November 2016 deliveries?

Gnarbox January 2017 delivery promise.

Gnarbox January 2017 delivery promise.

Then strangely Gnarbox posted their “Jan 4th update” on January 6th 2017, claiming that they had missed only two delivery deadlines, but would deliver in January 2017. Which deadline doesn’t count? The March, September, or November one? Instantly, there were backers saying that deliveries from China are notoriously slow, and this is an important point, as their printed circuit boards are produced there. Also note that 27th January marks the start of the Chinese New Year, when everyone goes on holiday there. Furthermore, there seems to be a rush by backers to get refunds while they can. I don’t know anything about their financial position, nor of their actual production schedule at this point. Gnarbox, since September has been teasing us with “deliveries will be soon” promises, and teasing us with frequent Instagram posts of supposed samples made in the field with their prototypes. These two factors have changed the mood from excitement to insult; here is a product you have invested in, but you cannot have.

At this point, it’s 28th January 2017 and no update from Gnarbox since the 6th Jan. It is 10 months past their original delivery date, and they’ve missed three delivery dates, and it’s almost certain that I will not receive my Gnarbox in the remaining three days of this month. That means that they will have missed four delivery dates, and have a string of broken promises to their investors. Finally, I need to consider if the device will ever be delivered, why I’m last on the delivery schedule (being non-US based, and outside their legal jurisdiction), and if there is any money left should I request a refund. The Gnarbox company will have committed to producing at least 3,300 devices, and the more they can sell at full price rather than at backer discount, the better. Consequently, refunds in fact, can be helpful to them; should I help or await my delivery? Decisions, decisions.

Watch this space, I may post updates below.

UPDATE, 31st Jan 2017: Gnarbox has posted an update. In short, no delivery. It is interesting to see that this update lacks any photos and no videos. Some of their previous updates included a video of the founder, looking a little nervous and shaky, giving a statement on their progress. This time we’re reduced to a short statement, three days after it was promised.

What is telling is that despite the promise to deliver this month, they did not say it directly, but they admit to not having even the first item produced to do quality control testing. It is interesting that they are avoiding stating what happened with the PCBs and the planned production, and that this message arrives on the final day of the month. They also fail to provide a timeline and details of the stage they are at in the manufacturing process. Do they have the PCBs? Do they have the SD, micro SD, USB port components? Do they have the cases? Do they have the rubber doors for the cases? Do they have instruction manuals printed? What has happened with the software development that they explicitly and detailed in previous updates?

It is also interesting that three days ago they asked in what form the community would like their customer support, and that question was answered with silence. Finally, and disturbingly, the Gnarbox team said that future communications will be taken off of Kickstarter and done via their email address; that is, away from a publicly viewable record.

Update 8th Feb 2017: Two things happened. Firstly, on the 4th Feb Gnarbox sent out an email to confirm delivery addresses. This was on the same day as they announced this in the comments section, “@all – First article inspection is complete and a pass. Shipping confirmation sent out.”, meaning they made their first Gnarbox, tested it, and it didn’t fail. This is unusual to me, as they successfully made exactly one successful item (no announcement on how many failed), and suddenly they are asking for delivery information. To me, you’d only ask for address information if delivery is imminent. People like me are way down the list for delivery, and they are hoping that I will still be at this address when they finally get around to sending mine out. Some backers have said that they might not be reachable in March or April. Let’s face it, Gnarbox have missed their March, September, November, and January deadlines. It’s likely mine will arrive in March, making it a full 12 months late.

Secondly, one of the backers shared this video by former DigitalRev wideo guy and presenter Lok, on the comments forum on Kickstarter. For me it’s infuriating, as this happy, positive promotional video was recorded just days after Gnarbox went through their Instagram posts and deleted all the late-delivery comments and blocked concerned backers/investors like me in their social media censorship.

It seems the delivery address email did it’s job in keeping the natives content, as it has so far stopped people from making more announcements of wanting their money back. Further, this video is the first real evidence I’ve seen that the product is real, and becoming real; albeit, 12 months later. Thanks Lok.

UPDATE 5th March 2017: Still not received my Gnarbox. My suspicion that they sent out the address confirmation three weeks ago may have been a stalling tactic seems true. In fact, nobody has seen or heard anything from the Gnarbox folks since the 16th February, and this is a moment when they claimed that people would have already started to receive their Gnarboxes. The backers’ comments on Kickstarter are basically calling for updates and confirmations that the company hasn’t done a runner. I think this is a moment where Gnarbox has seriously hurt their own reputation, as it will be hard to trust their claims in the future, especially because of this three week period of radio silence.

Also note that this month commemorates one year since they missed their first promise of delivery.

Update 16th March 2017: This is so significant that it needs its own blog post. See here.

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