Blog Archive

Rescape-2

13th Lab has launched a Kickstarter for their upcoming Rescape accessory for first-person shooters on iPhone. This rifle-esque accessory is built for quasi-ARG applications: the game uses the gyroscope and camera attachment, and the software can map out real world areas to be turned into game levels. As well, the software can be implemented into existing games – the prototype allowed players to play with a prototype of Quake at their GDC booth. The 3D printed prototype lacks the planned d-pad on the controller and the Kickstarter is looking for $150,000 at a $129 buy-in for the prototype and SDK access for developers with the demo Office Defender game.

Those out there who are familiar with Apple’s movements around this time of year will know that we’re just a few days out from Apple’s annual one-day only Black Friday shopping event. Set to kick-off this Friday, November 29, the day will mark one of the only times in the year that Apple offers significant discounts on its many hardware products – both online and through its physical retail stores.

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 15.44.31While specifics on what hardware we might expect to be discounted come this Friday are still a little sketchy, we can take a quick look at the company’s Black Friday events held in previous years for clues as to what type of discounts shoppers should expect to see emerge towards the end of this week.

Last year for example, we saw the firm drop its iPad with Retina Display by a cool $41. Meanwhile, the iPod touch 4th Generation was slashed by $21, the iPad 2 saw an average drop of $31, and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display was available for $101 less than its usual retail price.

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[image credit: MacRumors]

As significant as some of the above discounts may sound though, Apple is almost always beaten in its online holiday discounts by third-party vendors. One of those third-party vendors is Target, who will be offering shoppers a free $75 gift card with any purchase of Apple’s iPad mini ($279), and the chance to bag themselves a free $100 gift card with the purchase of any iPad, (including the iPad 2 – which starts at $399), when doors finally open this Thursday. The retailer will also be offering $30 gift cards for those who purchase the iPhone 5S (staring at $180) with a 2 year contract.

target_black_friday_ipadsRetailer Walmart will be running a similar promotion, seeing all shoppers receive a free $75 gift card with the purchase of either an iPhone 5C ($45, with a 2 year contract) or iPhone 5S ($189, with a 2 year contract). Meanwhile, if you opt to buy Apple’s original iPad mini (without “Retina” display), you could even grab yourself a free $100 gift card.

The last of the biggest retailers – Best Buy – will be offering Apple’s iPhone 5C for the lowest upfront cost we’ve been able to find at just $48 (a $51.99 savings). The firm will also be slashing the cost of Apple’s just-launched 16 GB iPad Air to $450, providing a super-neat saving of $50.

Other smaller retailers, such as RadioShack, will open their doors at 8AM. The purchase of Apple’s iPhone 5S, (starting at $200 with a 2 year contract), will see you receive a free $50 gift card, while opting for the iPhone 5C – (starting at $50 with a 2 year contract) – will also see you receive a free $50 gift card. Pick up an Apple TV for $100 on your way and you’ll get a free $20 gift card. Plus, those looking for some extra in-store credit to spend on even more Black Friday deals will probably appreciate the chance to bag a $10 RadioShack gift card with the purchase of any $50 iTunes Card. Those looking for some added protection to add to their iOS devices might also be pleased to hear that RadioShack will be offering 30% off all Zagg Screen Protectors, and a further 10% off all Otterbox cases.

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 16.18.17Sam’s Club will be opening its doors for black Friday super-early, this year. 7 AM to be exact. If you get down there quick though, you might just be able to bag yourself a few $100 iTunes Cards for $79.88 each.

The lowest prices for iOS devices available for Black Friday 2013 are listed below.


Continue reading Don’t Miss Apple’s One-Day Shopping Event – This Friday, November 29 »

We’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of the new Sony QX line of lens-style cameras: those super high quality lens systems that attach to the back of an iPhone and communicate with the phone via a Sony app. We had a few minutes to go hands-on with the QX-100 high-end lens yesterday, and here’s what we saw. More on the QX cameras.

While not in the perfect setting, we did a few side-by-side tests with the QX-100 ($499) lens against the stock camera in the iPhone 5S. Here are the sample shots and a few notes for each. These images are not modified other than whatever the individual cameras do by default and for size/cropping for use here.

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This first shot is a bit of a torture shot for any camera. Bright colors, bright sun, dark shadows, natural and artificial light all in one. In this one both cameras do a good job, but the nod goes to the Sony QX-100 for better representation of the colors in both the light and dark areas. Also a better job of keeping the highlights from blowing out and the darks from disappearing.

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In this shot, both cameras do a great job. While the Sony has a richer color saturation – perhaps too saturated – both are quite good. One plus for the Sony: notice that the background is blurred nicely vs the flatter image from the iPhone.

In all, the real let down was the software. And the good thing about that is that it can be updated. Hopefully it will be. Image size is also an issue. The iPhone 5s takes images natively at 8MP while the Sony QX-100 was only sending 1.5MP images to the camera. It is capable, with an micro-SD card installed, to take up to 20MP images, but I was unable to test that.

The price is another thing to think of. The QX-100 is $500. While saving a couple hundred over the same featured RX-100 camera, it might be worth the extra just to be able to use the camera by itself. Without further testing I can’t really be sure if the camera is worth the $500 over the camera built into the iPhone. We hope to have a full review for you later this year as the lenses become more readily available.

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Developer: IK Multimedia

Price: $4.99 for Amplitube, $99.99 for iRig HD
Version Reviewed: 3.0.2

iPad Integration Rating: ★★★★☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★★½
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

IK Multimedia just keeps getting better, improving its products with each iteration. When I reviewed the iRig and Amplitube Fender a couple of years back, I found them both to be outstanding pieces of consumer-level tech to connect a guitar to an iOS device.

The iRig HD, then, continues that tradition as a solid, well-built and improved hardware solution for connecting a guitar to any iOS device, or even a Mac. It comes with three cables to connect with – Lightning, 30-Pin, and USB – covering all the bases. It’s also a 24-bit analog to digital conversion unit that’s around the size of a small cigar, easily fitting into your pocket or gig bag.

What’s different about the iRig HD is the way it eschews a headphone jack, letting your iOS device run the sound. This is a great, streamlined way of connecting stuff that just makes sense. I plugged my guitar into the large 1/4-inch jack on one side of the iRig HD, then connected the Lightning cable to the iRig HD on one end and the iPad mini on the other end. Just like that, I was set.

DSC04898The sound quality is great; even better than the original iRig, which now retails for $40. There’s a little bit of latency when playing notes through to the Amplitube Studio app, but even that is adjustable in the settings.

Amplitube Studio, then, is another great step forward. Not only is it Audiobus capable, allowing you to use all of the presets and pedal/amp combinations you choose, it also has a new multi-tracking system available as an in-app purchase for $26.99. It’s no Garageband, but for those looking to do all their recording and editing in a guitar-centric app, it seems a solid multi-tracking digital audio workstation for a great price.


The base app provides a great line up of pedal effects and amplifier models, with several outstanding effects pre-sets. When purchasing the iRig HD and connecting it to an iPad with Amplitube Studio on it, musicians will get a few more of each as well.

The interface is easy to use; with pedals, amps, and mics looking just like their real-world counterparts. One actual valid use of skeuomorphic design. Players can use the several preset effects chains, modify them, or create their own from scratch. Every amplifier model has full access to its front panels, just like a real amplifier, giving knob-twiddling guitar geeks truly infinite control of their sound.

IMG_0222The only niggling issue I have with the iRig HD is the lack of any professional output solution. I like that IK Multimedia has moved the sound processing to the iPad, but to use this kind of set up on stage requires another purchase. Even with a pedalboard, there’s still the question of sound output. Thankfully, with the 24-bit sound here, it’s a fairly easy fix to get the iPad out to a PA system with a simple 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch adapter.

Bottom line: the iRig HD is a great higher-end analog to digital converter with great sound throughput, allowing anyone to connect a guitar or other line-level musical instrument to their iOS or Mac OS X device. Amplitube Studio continues to evolve the Amplitube brand forward, providing a host of pedal- and amp-based effects for the beginner as well as more experienced guitar players.

$13.99
$19.99
iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad
Released: 2010-07-22 :: Category: Music

I have very fond memories of seeing the sights of the world through a View-Master, with its fancy stereoscopic imagery. In a way, that’s the sort of thing that Poppy is set to offer, with the added bonus of users being able to create and share their own 3D videos, rather than be constricted to pieces of cardboard acting as film.

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It’s the brainchild of Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry. Both previously have a solid background in software, with Ethan having co-founded Urbanspoon, and Joe establishing Snapvine and MediaPiston, but this is their first step into physical products.

“I’ve always been interested in products that let people express themselves and be creative,” explained Ethan. “At the same time, I love how the Viewmaster lets you lose yourself in another world. Poppy really came out of a desire to let people capture and share their own experiences in that same immersive way.”

It’s certainly proven to be a wise idea, given that Poppy hit its Kickstarter goal of $40,000 in less than 9 hours. As Ethan told us, “The success on Kickstarter has definitely exceeded our expectations. We’re thrilled that there will be thousands of people with a Poppy. [We] can’t wait to see how they use it.”

Sketches of the Design's Evolution

Sketches of the Design’s Evolution

The excitement is understandable, too. Poppy is set to be an inexpensive solution for those who love the look of technology such as the Oculus Rift, but not the price. Currently, for Kickstarter backers, Poppy only costs $49 with the full retail price set to be a respectable $69.

Despite that low price, Poppy looks like it’s going to offer a lot of functionality. A matter of placing one’s iPhone inside the device, the Poppy’s mirrors capture two stereographic images with the iPhone’s camera, before combining them into a single 3D video. It’s clever stuff, indeed.

Besides the photographic potential, users will be able to take in 3D imagery, such as the 3D videos available on YouTube, with future possibilities in the realm of augmented reality and in the use of other 3D applications. Indeed, numerous game developers have expressed an interest in the technology, so there’s the hope that Poppy could be used as part of a virtual reality world game in the future.

whitepoppy

Currently, there’s still a little time to order the Poppy at the Kickstarter promotional price of $49 plus shipping, but for those who miss out on the offer (the campaign ends on Friday), Ethan told us that a pre-order system should be up after it ends. Bear in mind though, the price will be higher at $69 and Kickstarter backers will be shipped to first. The current plan is that Poppys will be shipped to backers around November/December time, with pre-orders to be shipped after that time.

Learn more about the project at the campaign page, and we’ll be sure to keep an eye on the Poppy’s progress in the future.

Developer: Logitech
Price: $99.99
Device Reviewed With: iPad 3, iPad mini, Mac mini, Apple TV

Usability Rating: ★★★★½
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★★½
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★½
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Logitech EasySwitch Keyboard

Alright, so I have to clarify: when I reviewed the K810 Bluetooth keyboard from Logitech this past December, I called it the best keyboard I’d ever used.

Today, I have to revise that conclusion, as the Logitech K811 Bluetooth keyboard is now, hands-down, my favorite keyboard, Bluetooth or otherwise.

This model has the same delightful feel as the K810, and really, it’s the same device with one telling difference: the Command key. While I used the K9810 fairly often, and still do if I’m connecting to a Windows device, the K811′s Mac-flavored keyboard layout is stunningly familiar, and enables me to stop fussing about with remembering what Windows-style button I need to press when I need a Command key (the Windows key) or an Option key (the Alt key, of course).

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The Logitech Illuminated Easy Switch Keyboard for Apple devices is super easy to use and pair. I’ve got it connected to my Apple TV (go firmware updates!), my iPad mini, and my Mac mini (itself attached to my HDTV in my living room). The F1, F2, and F3 keys are switcher keys, meaning that in order to use one of the paired devices, I simply press the F key that corresponds to the device I want to use. I write with my iPad mini and my Mac mini running at the same time. When I need to chat with co-workers via Skype on the iPad mini, I hit the F3 key. When I want to type on the Mac mini (like I am right now), I hit the F1 key. When I’m bored with it all and want to relax with a little bit of Netflix, I hit the F2 key and the keyboard seamlessly switches to the Apple TV. It’s all wonderfully easy.

Pairing to any device is as simple as pressing the Connect button, which is recessed on the bottom of the keyboard, and then pressing the F key I’d like to pair a device to. I’ve never had to drop into Bluetooth preferences on any of the Apple devices I’ve paired the keyboard to, and it remembers its own settings even when I turn the K811 off with the rather lovely side toggle on/off switch. This switch is a life saver, too, keeping me from accidentally turning on iTunes, for example, or powering up an iPad when it’s in my messenger bag.

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 11.11.43 AM

The look of the keyboard is very Apple through and through, with black keys, white letters, and a silvery background. The illumination is bright but not blinding, letting me see the keys in all sorts of lighting conditions. The keyboard charges with a micro USB cable, something I happen to have a billion of, and seems to not need a charge that often, even with continuous, heavy use.

I’d recommend the Logitech Easy Switch Illuminated Bluetooth K811 keyboard to anyone who wants a comfortable, ergonomic typing device that instantly switches from one Apple device to another. At $99.00, it’s a bit pricey, but completely worth it.

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One thing is for sure, the big iOS 7 reveal is going to cause some friction. Users are going to love or hate the new look. It’s very different, very different indeed.

Every single pixel of iOS7 has changed. It’s the flat design that we have been hearing so much of, but with lots of points of flair thrown in too. It could be described as all of these: bright, square, flat, layered, colorful. It seems to borrow inspiration from Windows Phone, with Sir Jonathan Ive’s take on what it should have been. If you haven’t seen it already, here’s an example of what the flat design of iOS 7 looks like:

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iOS 7 has included many of the features people have been clamoring for while ignoring a few others. Apple, as always, needs to innovate without compromise. This means add features without compromising the user experience. Not just the experience of the expert users, but of all users. Everyone should be able to use iOS without confusion. Here are a few of the key updates:

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New Look

 

The new look of iOS simplifies and removes what is known as skeuomorphism, or making digital things look like real live items. Think the leather in calendar or the felt in Game Center. The flat design simplifies will helping users get the info they need. During the presentation, Craig Federighi repeatedly noted the lack of wood, felt, and stitching in the new iOS. He is obviously not a fan of the old look. Apple has much more on the new design of iOS 7 in their iOS 7 Design page.

iOS 7 includes some much needed features like quick access to radio on/off buttons, multiple page folders, and new gestures to make navigation faster. It also includes an updated multitasking tray that shows what apps are open along with what the current screen looks like for that app.

 

Air Drop

 

Air Drop is the feature in iOS that allows sharing between multiple iOS and OS X devices. It allows quick and easy sharing of items like images, movies, etc. Pulling up the share sheet will show a new option for Air Drop that allows you to pick from users nearby to share the item with.

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iCloud Updates

 

iCloud updates were a necessary item to check off the list for iOS 7, and Apple did some good updates to iCloud features this time around. For one thing, iOS will securely share your keychain (passwords, credit card info, etc.) between your devices including OS X devices. This will hopefully lead to users with stronger passwords as the need to remember this is no longer needed.

iCloud Photostreams now allow sharing of videos as well as allowing multiple users to add items to a Photostream (finally!).

 

Anti-Theft

 

A few months ago we posted a (decidedly pretentious) open letter to Apple about theft. While I don’t think our letter was the reason that Apple finally did something about the issue of stollen iOS devices, it would be awesome to think it did.

Under iOS 7, Apple iOS devices will now require the iCloud user login to activate a wiped device once it has been activated with that account. This means that if a thief tries to wipe the phone, or if a user wipes a phone due to it being lost, before it can be re-activated, whomever has it MUST login with the original iCloud login, or it won’t activate. Fantastic, thanks Apple!

 

App Store

 

App Store updates were minimal, but of obvious interest for readers of this site, so we’ll include them here. The only real new feature mentioned, besides the new iOS7 look, is a new Apps Near Me feature. This feature shows the apps that are popular near the current location.

Another feature that will be interesting to see how it’s implemented is age-appropriate apps. The Kids section now has a curated age-range section for apps for kids of a certain age.

In addition, iOS 7 will automatically update the apps, when updates are available, if the user wishes.

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Gaming!

 

One big feature, an no other real mention of gaming at the keynote, in spite of this being E3 week.

We heard rumors at GDC that Apple was asking developers about their interest in game controllers. Now we know what has come of that. iOS 7 will have support for Game Controllers that are specifically made for iPhone/iOS. It will be interesting to see what this really means now that it’s been made official. We’ve already seen the (now dead) Gameloft Controller that was officially supported by iOS.

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Multitasking for All

 

Apple has updated the multitasking for apps to include all apps, with some restrictions. This multitasking allows the app to update in the background, but not run constantly. Which would, of course, ruin battery life. But iOS 7 should allow intelligent multitasking to let apps update at certain intervals and when the timing is right like when the phone has a good signal. It is also designed to group the updates — so when the power consumption spikes for the background updates, multiple can be done at once to keep the battery impact to a minimum.

Apple really needed to deliver the updates for iOS 7. While we don’t know all of the details yet – like what SDK changes have been made, we do know that the interface has been greatly improved. We’ll have more in the coming days and can expect more new features to surface.

iOS 7 will be compatible with iPhone 4 and later, iPod Touch 5th gen and later, and iPad 2, iPad mini and later.

All in all, I think it’s a significant update, well done, thoughtful, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. It will be out in the fall for iPhone, iPads, and iPod touches.

Developer: I-MEGO
Price: $129.99
Device Reviewed With: iPhone 5, iPad mini, iPad 3

Usability Rating: ★★★★½
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★☆
Sound Quality Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Pros
+ Incredibly comfortable
+ Great sound isolation
+ Brilliant clarity

Cons
- A bit ostentatious looking
- In-line mic needs volume/skip ability

Headphones are a funny thing. One listener’s sweet spot is another’s bass-heavy muddiness. The I-MEGO Throne headphones come in two flavors: Gold (bass heavy) and Poison (balanced clarity). I am reviewing the second model, which is a pretty purple linen underneath a silver-toned grille on each over-ear cup.

I prefer headphones that I can plug into my iPhone, use as a microphone, listen to music, and–of course–game with. To this end, the I-MEGO Throne Poison headset is ideal. These are by far the most comfortable headphones I’ve worn to date, with a soft, leather over-the-head band that never hurts, even after a couple of hours of use. Ditto the soft leather, sound-isolating ear cups, which only become uncomfortable after a long gaming session due to my upper ear piercings.

The clarity of the sound on these babies is something to experience. I dislike overly-bassy headphone like Beats as they tend to overpower the rest of the sound in the mid and high frequencies. Too high-frequency, however, leads to a tinny sound, and overly mid-range response makes things sound muddy. The I-MEGO Throne Poison headphones have an excellent, across-the-board clear sound, which makes all sorts of music delightful to listen to, including, acoustic, jazz, pop, and rock.

I was surprised by the excellent sound isolation properties of the headphones, as well. I took them on a plane recently, and figured I’d have to crank up the sound as I do with most other over-the-ear styles I’ve used. Not so, at all. I even left them on during the flight without music or games on, just to decrease the ambient noise of the jet engines. The music I listened to, Steve Martin’s banjo-tastic album, Rare Bird Alert, came through loud and clear, without having to crank up the iPhone volume beyond my usual loudness preference. These are fantastic headphones.

The only quibble I have is that the in-line mic only has one button, which lets me start and stop music playback, and answer and hand up the phone. There’s no way to use it to control volume or skip songs, like the Apple Earpods do. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but it would make an already great set of headphones even better. I also wish they came in a less “look at me” style, like a less ostentation solid black, or even white.

Bottom line, the I-MEGO Throne Poison headset is now my favorite set of phones to wear, in all sorts of settings where sound isolation and amazing clarity of sound is required. They’re well worth the price tag, and compete with much more expensive units that have a far less delightful audio response.

Developer: Supertooth
Price: $199.00
Device Reviewed With: iPhone 5, iPad mini, iPad 3

Usability Rating: ★★★★½
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★½
Sound Quality Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Pros
+ Dual Stereo Speakers
+ Loud!
+ Long battery life
+ Great audio cues for connecting

Cons
- A bit muddy on the low end
- Needs a single carrying bag

The Supertooth Disco Twin is a pair of great-sounding, rechargeable, stylish bluetooth speakers that connect to an iPhone or iPad with ease, allowing for full stereo sound. Each speaker alone is a fine mid-sized wireless speaker with a long battery life, but put two of them together and you have a portable sound powerhouse.

The Disco Twin speaker set is basically a pair of Disco II speakers, each weighing in at 16 watts of sound. Together, the pump out a stunning 32 watts of room-filling sound. It’s rare that you’ll find me turning a portable speaker down because it’s too loud, but these babies had me dialing it back on occasion.

The sound spectrum here is fairly good, with a solid if muffled bass response and decent mids and high range response. Audiophiles shouldn’t use portable Bluetooth speakers in the first place, but these do a fairly good job of sounding like more than a simple portable speaker, especially when separated and in full stereo.

Connecting these bad boys is a simple process, and there are great audio cues from each speaker to denote the on, off, and full stereo states. The left speaker is the master when connecting both, and when powered on, it says, “Left,” and then the right speaker says, “Right,” in a pleasant female voice. The speakers also say, “hello,” and “goodbye” when powering them on or off. It’s a nice touch.

The speakers come with a cloth bag for each separate unit, as well as a AC wall wart to charge the internal batteries. The battery life is relatively long when fully charged; I was able to listen to a full afternoon of music without draining them at a medium volume. The manufacturer promises 3 to 4 hours at high volume, and up to 10 on medium, and I’ve seen nothing to discount that.

The Disco Twin Bluetooth speakers are a delight to use separately or in concert as a full stereo portable speaker system, and they provide a decent sound quality and great volume for the price. I highly recommend them for those music lovers who want a bit more from a portable speaker.

Developer: iKit
Price: $79.99 (When available)
Device Reviewed With: iPhone 5,

Usability Rating: ★★★★☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★☆
Integration with iPhone Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Pros
+ Super light and slim
+ Extra battery life on the go
+ Keeps all iPhone 5 ports accessible

Cons
- Not quite a full extra charge
- Occasional disconnects

The iKit NuCharge is entering its final week of promotion on the Kickstarter website, and it’s already garnered twice the amount of its original funding goal. There’s a good reason for this, of course. The NuCharge is a well designed, light, slim battery case that can offer almost a full extra charge of the iPhone 5 battery case for a reasonable price.

Our review unit came with the battery module, a brushed aluminum face piece, and a slim clear plastic case that fits snugly on the iPHone 5, and to which the other pieces snap onto te back of. The Li-Ion Polymer battery pack is surprisingly light and thin, adding a small amount of thickness to the iPhone when snapped into place. The brushed aluminum face plate is attractive enough to use when the battery module is either charging or when I didn’t want the little bit of extra bulk. The battery pack is easily removed, though the aluminum face plate takes a bit of effort to slide off when attached.

The NuCharge has a fairly flimsy kickstand on the back, which works to hold the iPhone 5 in a landscape orientation. It’s functional, but doesn’t feel as solidly constructed as the rest of the unit. The battery module is charged at the bottom of the unit via an included micro USB cord.

Other battery cases I’ve used offer a pass-through charging system, which the NuCharge does not. It will not charge the iPhone while the battery pack itself is connected. This isn’t a deal-breaker, as the iPhone 5 lightning connector is accessible at the same time, allowing for a dual charge scenario.

Once the battery case is fully charged, it’s a simple matter of removing the recessed Lightning cable from the back of the battery unit and connecting it to the iPhone’s own Lightning port. The rubberized connector cable feels solid and rugged, ensuring regular use for a while to come. The NuCharge was able to bring my iPhone up from 10% or so up to 94% several times over many days, which is a respectable amount considering the low weight and profile of the entire unit.

The one issue that cropped up during a few of my charging tests was an odd disconnect of the charging system. I’d have the Lightning cable connected to the bottom of the unit. The cables felt solidly plugged in, but the unit didn’t charge the iPhone until I either re-plugged the cable in or fiddled with the charging button. It didn’t happen every time, but enough to be a concern. This was a pre-release unit, however, so here’s hoping the retail version won’t have this issue.

Ultimately, the combination of solid features make the NuCharge a fantastic bit of kit, giving iPhone 5 owners that extra full battery of charge for a competitive price. While it’d be great to have just a bit more charge in the module, the weight and slim profile more than make up for it.

Developer: Killer Concepts
Price: $99.99
Device Reviewed With: iPhone 5, iPad mini

Usability Rating: ★★★½☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★☆
Sound Quality Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Pros
+ Innovative design
+ Louder than similar speakers
+ Charges Devices via USB

Cons
- Sounds a bit tinny
- Too easy to drain the battery

The RockSteady XS is a portable, micro Bluetooth speaker designed for use with any audio source that supports the Bluetooth 3.0 protocol, including iPads, iPhones, and other mobile or computing devices. It also includes a audio port for a line in, and a full-sized USB port for audio in and device charging, as well. There are a host of buttons on the front of the unit, which can be used to play, pause, forward, or reverse playback with many audio apps, like Pandora, Music, or Rdio.

The design of this mini speaker is interesting, in that the main speakers face out the two sides of the unit, one on each end of the rectangular casing. There are also holes in the top of the speaker, as well. Overall, this gives the RockSteady XS a distinct advantage over other speakers I’ve tried, with a 100db loudness that belies the diminutive size of the device. There’s a good deal of volume that can be applied before things get distorted, as well. The sound itself is fairly well-balanced, with a tendency for a brittle, tinny sound without some EQ from the sound source, especially at higher volumes.

The speaker itself is made of aluminum, making it both tough and light. There’s a removable battery on the bottom, and you can purchase more from Killer Concepts, making this a great option for someone who needs longer than one battery’s worth of life. In my use of the RockSteady XS, I found the battery life to be similar to that of the other devices I’ve used with an afternoon’s worth of listening at loud volume, on average.

My one big issue with the RockSteady XS is the battery on/off toggle. When I forgot to turn the unit off, which happened more than I’d like to admit, the battery continued to drain while the speaker sat on my desk, or in my bag. There really ought to be an auto-off feature to prevent typical user error like this, though it is nice to be able to definitively know if you’ve turned the speaker off, as well.

Bottom line, the RockSteady XS is a loud micro Bluetooth speaker with an innovative, rugged design that should meet the needs of many a listening environment, from outdoor picnics to dorm parties or hotel rooms. The great utility of the device is a bit offset by the sometimes tinny sound quality and the easily-forgotten toggle switch, but is still a great value considering the removable battery, the 100db sound volume, and the ability to charge a device from the back of the unit.

Dropcam HD Review

Developer: Dropcam
Price: $149
Device Reviewed With: iPhone 5, iPad mini

Usability Rating: ★★★★½
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★★☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★½
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Pros
+ Attractive, well-designed camera
+ Excellent picture quality
+ Easy to setup

Cons
- Yearly service plan to use all features
- WiFi range could be much better
- Slow support

Dropcam is a small wifi enabled camera that can be used as a home security camera, baby monitor, or just to watch a dog sleep while away from home. As long as it’s in range of a wifi router, the image can be viewed from anywhere.

I was introduced to the Dropcam at CES this year. It’s an attractive package, both the hardware and the app. With the service plan it also includes some really interesting features not generally found on app-enabled web cams.

The hardware part of the Dropcam consists of a small camera shaped a bit like a 1/2 size hockey puck. The camera has a mini USB connection to allow the device to get power and to connect it to a computer for setup. The base that the camera fits into is very sturdy and fairly easy to mount. Though neither the camera fitting into the base nor the base fitting into the wall mount instill much confidence in their security.

Setting up the camera is easy and inventive. When plugged into a USB port, the camera looks as though it is a USB drive and has the software application needed to configure it right on board. Setup was quick and almost painless. I’ve found the first major restriction of the Dropcam is that it have a relatively short wifi range. The setup software requires that the wifi connection be extra strong to complete the programming. Once programmed, the wifi connection range seems to be a bit more forgiving. But it still seems to fail to connect where other devices wifi devices I have connect without issue. Contacting Dropcam support was of little help with a two week wait for reply.

Once the hardware is ready, the Universal iOS Dropcam app is needed to view the camera. Once signed into a Dropcam account, connected cameras will pop right up. The camera can be viewed them from there or further configured as needed. It must be noted that the picture quality of the Dropcam is the best I have seen in the half a dozen or so wifi cameras I’ve tested. It’s advertised at 720p and it not only looks sharp, but the color and contrast are very good as well. The camera also allows viewers to listen in to what is happening near the camera and even talk back via the app.

The iPad app is far and away easier to use over the iPhone version. The iPhone version of the software could use an update to bring it closer in features and ease of use to the iPad app.

The basic Dropcam service, which is free, allows connection to Dropcams over the Internet — wifi or cellular connection — from anywhere. Dropcam can also send push or email notifications of the configurable motion alerts.

A Plus plan ($9.95/month) gives one of the best features of the Dropcam, cloud-based DVR of video from the camera for up 7 days. This gives the ability to rewind what the Dropcam saw, view motion events, or view a specific time in the past 7 days. A Pro plan ($29.95/month) extends the DVR feature to 30 days recording. Both paid plans offer a discount for multiple cameras on one account, but extra charges do apply.

The app on both the iPhone and iPad does need a few obvious features. For instance, there’s no pinch to zoom on the camera image. Instead, the zoom region must be chosen from one of 5 zones to zoom in on in the Settings app, and it’s static from that point. Also, the camera must be connected to view the cloud based stored video with the DVR feature: an odd omission there.

Small issues aside, the Dropcam is the best app-enabled network camera I have yet tested. The software issues in particular I expect to be resolved over time. The monthly fee is a bit steep, but considering what it’s actually doing, understandable.

Overall, the picture quality and the great app make the Dropcam a great network camera, even without the fairly expensive DVR service.

FREE!
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2010-01-20 :: Category: Utilities

The iPad’s form has been seducing digital artists and those who love to doodle since its launch. It’s also the ideal size for taking hand-written notes. There are dozens of apps that create rich drawing or writing environments, but until recently input devices have been limited. Fingers just won’t do when precision is needed so artists and copious note takers usually rely on capacitive styluses which simulate the feeling of a pen, but are limited by the touchscreen interface. They aren’t sensitive to pressure, they offer no control over line thickness, and holding one comfortably tends to leave palm marks on the virtual page. Ten One Design offers one solution with their Bluetooth 4.0 Pogo Connect stylus. It doesn’t get everything right, but it’s a solid start in a promising direction.

At 5.1″ (130mm) with a price tag of $80, the Pogo Connect sports a stylish silver barrel with a rubber tip at one end and decorative cap at the other. There is a single button on the side and a LED light. It uses one AAA battery and because it’s Bluetooth 4.0 that battery will last a long time. A little wider than a regular stylus, the pen lacks heft, but it fits comfortably in the hand and has good balance. The tip is the same thick dark rubber that one finds on traditional styluses and is magnetic for easy replacement. Ten One promises new tip designs in the future.

Pogo Connect doesn’t pair with the iPad in the usual way a Bluetooth device would. To assist in getting everything set up correctly, users can download the free Pogo Connect app to link the stylus and then each of the 19 compatible apps – up from the original 13 – goes its own way. Some apps like Procreate just find the pen, while others like Noteshelf require users to poke around in the settings. It’s easy.

Because the stylus uses Bluetooth 4.0 it is only compatible with 3rd and 4th gen iPads and the iPad mini. Ten One offers iPad 2 owners a less-than-elegant work-around: there is a Pogo Bridge app that connects to the iPhone 4S or 5 and then sends the signal to the iPad 2, but at present only one app – Procreate – has incorporated the feature.

One of the more glaring flaws when I first tested the Connect back in December was that it didn’t prevent palm marks, but recent updates have improved that functionality. How well it works seems to depend more upon the app than the stylus.

And what about pressure sensitivity? That’s the key selling point, but it’s very hit or miss. Some apps respond to pressure by varying line thickness, others opacity, and none respond to a light touch despite claims that the proprietary Crescendo Sensor technology requires “0 grams of activation force.” That said, the Connect outperforms captive models. It’s not transformative, but with the right app and practice, sketching feels more holistic.

There are a couple of neat features worth mentioning: the Pogo Connect app has a pen locator, the button on the stylus works as an undo command, and the LED light indicates the active ink color. Still, while somewhat more intuitive than capitative models, the Pogo Connect needs a lot of tweaking before it warrants the hefty price tag, much less turns the iPad into a device that can compete with a dedicated graphics tablet.

A full list of compatible apps can be found here on the Ten One Design site.

FREE!
iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad
Released: 2012-10-02 :: Category: Productivity

FREE!
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2012-09-01 :: Category: Utilities

Bluetooth is a fantastic technology. It lets me connect my iPhone or iPad to a ton of different devices, including speakers, keyboards, other computers, headphones, and mice without wires. The latest version, 4.0, draws very little power and features an increased signal range of up to 100 feet.

148Apps received three different portable Bluetooth speakers recently, and we decided to put them all through their paces, to better understand which ones might be better for specific uses. We’ll be looking at the Braven 600, the CubeEdge, the Disco 2, and the Logitech Boombox (which we also reviewed here).

Braven 600


This little monster is a powerful portable speaker that retails for $149.99. It comes in two colors, red and gray, and has features like a long battery life, a USB port to charge your iPhone on the go, and a nice little bag to carry it around in so as to avoid scratches on the metal case. Like most small speakers, the bass response is limited, but resonant enough for most uses. The highs are crisp without being brittle, and the mid-tones are warm without muddiness. The volume ceiling is low, as you might expect for a tiny speaker, but can reasonably fill a smaller room at higher volume.

I was able to use the Braven 600 for hours on end without the need for a battery charge; upwards of six hours during one testing session. It comes with a little square wall plug and a micro USB cable to charge it up with. I connected my iPhone to the speaker’s USB port when the Braven had a full charge; it brought my iPhone up to about half full. While you won’t be able to use the Braven as a full juice box, having that little bit of safety is a good thing. Pairing the device with my iPhone, iPad, and Mac was super simple; a press and hold on the phone icon button sets the Braven 600 to pairing mode and the iPhone or Mac did the rest. The speaker phone functionality is equally as easy to use, and never seemed to need any re-pairing, unlike many other accessories I’ve tried.

Overall, the Braven 600 is a great mini portable speaker with all the trimmings, and is well worth the asking price.

Supertooth Disco


Here’s a speaker that’s much larger and more powerful than the other two in this roundup, delivering 28 watts of power and a bass boost feature that will please fans of the boom. With a larger profile than the Braven or the CubeEdge, the Supertooth Disco can reach much higher volumes, and boasts a spectacular stereo separation when doing so. The design of the unit makes it stand out on any shelf, with a large, offset analog knob for volume, and audio option and media control buttons around the knob in a circle.

The battery life topped out at about three hours of continuous use at a medium to low volume setting, which isn’t horrible, but does limit where you could take the speaker. It comes with a neoprene case that has cutouts in it to allow you to use the speaker inside, making it just a bit more spray and sand resistant, perhaps. The plug is a standard wall-wart affair with a round, non-usb charging plug. Pairing the Supertooth Disco is a breeze, though having to turn it off and then on again to pair with a second device feels kludgy.

At $99.00, the Supertooth Disco is a fantastic small speaker in the same class as the Logitech Boom Box we reviewed a while back. It’s non an ultra portable like the other two here, but it does have great stereo sound and the ability to pump up the volume for larger spaces.

Cubedge Edge.Sound


This is the ultra portable speaker with the least amount of features, and that’s by design. The $149.99 speaker features three buttons along the top for up and down volume and pairing, plus an on/off toggle on the back. That’s it. It’s charged by a wall plug and micro USB cable, comes in a cute little carrying bag, and has a cool looking design with the upper right front corner looking like it’s been sliced off. This corner lights up blue while in operation, and red when pairing or charging. The sound profile is a bit light, though it’s hard to tell much of a difference between this and the Braven; they’re both similar size and quality.

I had trouble keeping the Edge.Sound charged between uses, though that could purely be user error. Pairing is super simple, but it did require a couple of re-pairings between testing sessions. It’s super light and rugged; it feels like it could take a little bit of abuse without any problem at all. The casing is textured rubberized plastic around all sides but the front, which has a silvery metal mesh grid for the sound to come out of. The speaker phone function works as advertised, with callers saying I sounded just fine when using it.

Roundup!

So, in the final call, I’m happy to recommend all three of these small and ultra mini portable bluetooth speakers. When comparing the Edge.Sound to the Braven 600, the difference in sound is negligible; the rugged design of the Edge.Sound is as valid a reason to pick it up as is the extra charging port on the Braven 600. WHich you prefer will be a matter of taste and choice. If I had to choose, I’d go with the Braven 600.

The Supertooth Disco, on the other hand, is my new favorite mid-sized portable bluetooth speaker, with amazing stereo sound, high volume capability, and a variety of attractively placed on-device buttons to let you run your music without having to pull out your iPhone or iPad.

Whichever speaker you choose, however, you won’t be disappointed. These types of speakers are popular for a reason, as they allow you to have better sound out in the wild than your portable devices can produce on their own for a fairly attractive price.

IK Multimedia already offers a plethora of great products for iOS device-owning musicians. Now, the firm has extended that selection with the introduction of five new accessories as part of the iKlip range.

In each case, the new iKlip models provide ways in which to mount and position the iPad or iPad mini, thereby enabling users to operate devices hands-free as well as set up the perfect viewing angle towards a microphone stand, tabletop or anything else of use in the studio. It’s the kind of solution that’s ideal for presentations as well as music studio work, or just around the home.


The iKlip 2 offers such a solution for iPad users, enabling them to attach any type of iPad (from the 2nd generation and later) to a microphone stand securely, as well as be able to adjust the device to just the right viewing angle. For iPad mini users, there’s the iKlip 2 for iPad mini, offering the same potential.


Tabletop stands are also available in separate iPad and iPad Mini versions, with the iKlip Stand making things much simpler. It’s the ideal stand for connecting the iPad above the desktop so that it’s easy to position equipment, such as a musical keyboard or mixer underneath, but it can also be used in the home. Too small an office desk to fit all the devices easily? Use the iKlip Stand to solve such a problem and revel in the extra space!


The iKlip Studio offers a similar solution but is specifically designed for use on flat surfaces, and aimed at those apps that require “energetic tapping and beat making”, tying in nicely with the many DJ based apps already out there. Non-slip rubber grip feet, as well as adjustable viewing angles keep the iPad safe and secure, plus it folds flat, lending itself perfectly to easy storage.

The iKlip 2 for iPad and iKlip 2 for iPad mini will be priced at $39.99 or €29.99 excluding tax, while the iKlip Stand for iPad and iKlip Stand for iPad mini will be $59.99/€49.99. The iKlip Studio for iPad mini is priced at $29.99/€24.99.

We’re big fans of IK Multimedia’s accessories and I suspect these new iKlips will be quite the hit when they ship during the first quarter of 2013.

iWALK Link 1700i Review

Manufacturer: iWALK
Price: $49.99
Device Reviewed With: iPhone 5, iPod touch 4

Usability Rating: Rating: ★★★½☆
iOS Integration Rating: Rating: ★★★☆☆
Hardware Design Rating: Rating: ★★★½☆
Reuse Value Rating: Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

So iWALK came out with a useful little external battery pack recently, the iWALK Link 1700i. It claims to offer just about a full phone charge in an adapter that could fit on a keychain. It’s more convenient than lugging around a separate power brick with USB cable, or using one of those bulky Mophie cases. For iPhone 4S and earlier owners, it promises to be an extremely useful device. Just one problem: it’s got the “old” 30-pin dock connector, not Lightning. So, iPhone 5 owners are out of the loop with the Link1700i, right?

Well, not necessarily. Apple does make a 30-pin-to-Lightning adapter, which provides charging and audio support to the iPhone 5. Which means that the Link 1700i may just be useful for iPhone 5 owners just yet.

Using it with the adapter on the iPhone 5 gives it one big advantage: it’s actually more comfortable to use it in portrait versus on a 30-pin device, as the Lightning adapter provides enough space to grip the phone and do things like typing and scrolling with the Link 1700i safely out of the way. Landscape is a different story, as the i-Walk already provides a bit of an uncomfortable barrier; it’s ludicrously bigger on the iPhone 5. I’d suggest not playing games while charging with this thing, though I could hold it in a way where my thumb was not reaching over the battery. Still, I don’t recommend it.

While the box claims that it has 1700 mAh battery capacity power, in practical circumstances, I could rely on it to recharge about 3/5 of my battery, particularly with it being used occasionally in that time. Part of the problem could be the connection: I noticed that the iPhone would act as if the Link 1700i was being occasionally disconnected and reconnected when unlocking the screen, or even just periodically while it was in my pocket. I haven’t noticed this when using the adapter otherwise, and haven’t seen it in testing on my iPod touch 4th gen either. Using it with the dock adapter does leave some space for headphones, but it’s a tight fit, and would likely cause damaged headphone connectors.

The Link 1700i comes with two lids by default: one with a slot for the loop to be put on a keychain and one without. As well, it comes with the micro-USB cable to recharge it, the port being conveniently located on the side of the battery.

While it’s hard to measure the device’s actual effectiveness because it’s working in a roundabout way on the iPhone 5, it is far from an ideal solution. However, this is in part thanks to Apple: by using a new proprietary connector and then only selectively licensing it and not giving it to peripheral manufacturers before its unveiling, those looking for a convenient external battery are forced to turn to less-than-ideal options. Have an iPhone 4S or earlier? This seems like a perfectly fine solution. iPhone 5? Be prepared to deal with the imperfections thanks to Apple.

Developer: Logitech
Price: $99.99
Device Reviewed With: iPhone 5, iPad mini

Usability Rating: ★★★★½
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★★½
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★☆
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

When I received the Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810, I was excited. HEre was a keyboard that I could use with my iPad and iPhone, as well as my Macbook, on the go. I end up hanging out in quite a few places where I need to write, and a fuller sized keybaord makes that possible with the iPad mini I seem to be carrying around, as well. I’ve taken my Apple wireless bluetooth keyboard around with me, so wanted to see how this K810 illuminated model would do in comparison.

As a typing platform, the K810 shines. Pun intended. It’s solidly built, feels well-engineered and produced, and is a delight to type on. the keys are spaced far enough apart that it feels comfy to use in any configuration; even on my lap (which is how I’m typing this review right now: iPad mini on the arm of my recliner, Logitech keyboard in my lap). The battery is rechargeable, another leg-up on the Apple keyboard, via a micro USB port on the left hand side of the unit. The power toggle switch is on the right side of the unit on the vertical face. It’s a solid-feeling toggle, too; very well put together.

Where the keyboard really blasts past my previous favorite Apple bluetooth keyboard is in the three-device switching ability. ONce the keyboard is initially paired to one device, it can then be paired with up to two more at the same time. Switching between devices is then handled via the F1, F2, F3 keys. I was able to pair the Logitech Illuminated Keyboard to my iPad, my iPhone, and my MacBook Air all at once; pressing the corresponding F key allowed me to type first on the iPad, then the MacBook Air, then the iPhone in a text message, then back to the iPad. It’s no muss, no fuss configuration and wow is it useful.

The illumination is a nice extra, even in low light. It doesn’t seem to affect the battery life too much, as I’ve only charged this bad boy once in a two week period. I’d say it has aa much if not more battery life than the Apple keyboard, though I didn’t measure the specific times each needed a recharge or new batteries (in the Apple keyboard’s case).

My only niggling issue is the Windows-centric labeling on the bottom row–Alt for Option, Windows symbol instead of an Apple Command key symbol. If Logitech makes a version of the K810 with Apple symbols on it, then it would be my perfect keyboard. THey do, however, make something similar for the Mac, called the Easy Switch keyboard, but I was not sent that unit to review.

For now, the Logitech Illuminated Bluetooth Keyboard K810 is still my go-to keyboard for all applications: writing on the iPad, using my MacBook Air with an external monitor and mouse, and for answering text messages on my iPhone wile working on the computer at the desk, or using the iPad in my armchair. My accuracy and speed is not affected at all, especially since I’m used to using the smaller format of the Apple wireless keyboard.

Developer: SteelSeries
Price: $79.99
Device Reviewed With: new iPad, iPhone 5, iPad mini

Usability Rating: ★★★★½
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★★☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★½
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

The SteelSeries Free mobile wireless controller is a wonder of miniature design and quality. It’s solidly built, feels good in the hand, and controls a wild variety of games on iOS, Android, Mac and PC. This review focuses on iOS gaming, but I also tested out the controller with Mac & PC computers, finding it easy to connect and use with a variety of games.

Pairing the SteelSeries Free is a simple matter of tapping into the Bluetooth settings on an iOS device, holding down a couple of buttons on the controller, and waiting a few seconds. That’s it. No pairing number emulation, no weirdness, it just works. As soon as the controller is paired, popping into any one of the almost 100 compatible games will get players rocking arcade games with a separate controller. The SteelSeries Free uses Bluetooth keyboard emulation, similarly to the ION iCade system, so iCade games are also compatible here.

The tiny little controller feels good even in my big hands, with its dual sticks, four face buttons (plus start and back buttons), two shoulder buttons, and a d-pad for all sorts of game control needs. SteelSeries has extensive experience in the pro-gaming scene, and it shows here with a quality vident from the first touch. There’s even a cute little bag to keep the controller in, away from potentially scratching things deep in a bag or pocket.

The only niggles I have here are not even SteelSeries’ fault. One, I’d love to see a controller that can do more than emulate the iCade. While it works fantastically for arcade and platform games, I’d like to see better support for dual-stick shooter type control schemes that really need two analog sticks. The other problem is that since the SteelSeries Free uses Bluetooth keyboard emulation, the iOS keyboard doesn’t pop up when the device is paired with the controller. Again, it’s a systemic issue, rather than one with the controller, but with such a tiny controller, it’s easy to forget that there won’t be a keyboard to use until the external game pad is disconnected.

Overall, the SteelSeries Free mobile wireless controller is delightful to use, with a solidly built and fantastically designed controller that is extremely portable and easy to use with a wide variety of gaming devices. While it would be nice to have support for games on iOS that require more than iCade-style Bluetooth keyboard emulation, what’s here is as close to mobile gaming perfection as is possible in today’s iOS world.

Developer: Sensu Brush
Price: $39.99
Device Reviewed With: new iPad, iPhone 5

Usability Rating: ★★★★½
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★★☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★½
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

The Sensu Portable Artist Brush And Stylus is a revelation for digital artists, iPad enthusiasts, and anyone who wants the portable convenience of a paintbrush that’s also a stylus. The paintbrush hairs are synthetic and infused with conductive properties, and were originally created for the cosmetic industry to help fine powders release from make-up brushes when they contacted skin. There’s a luxurious feel to the Sensu brush; it connects with the touchscreen devices I tested it with with a deliciously tactile sensation. It can be used with any painting or drawing app on the iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, making this a versatile tool.

The build of the Sensu Brush And Stylus impresses with its solidity and careful craftsmanship. When the metal cap is closed over the brush hairs, I’m reminded of my treasured Bullet-style space pen. The rubberized hard stylus nib is exposed when the cap covers the brush end, and this cap can be reversed to fit over the stylus end, as well, making the Sensu look and feel like a traditional artist’s brush. The website warns users to use care when replacing the cap over the brush end; this is a warning to heed. The metal cap could certainly bend one or more of the brush hairs, as the tolerance for fit is precise.

The rubber stylus nib is smooth, non-stick, and is made to last. I was able to draw, tap buttons, swipe, and type with little effort. It doesn’t stick or stutter on the screen, and feels as at home on the small iPhone 5 screen as it does on the iPad 3. The brush end is delightful, feeling as familiar as an actual paint brush. At times, the smaller size–for portability’s sake–can challenge an artist. My painter friend liked having the rubber nib and the brush available for use at the same time, but felt that the shortness of the cap-less Sensu Brush and Stylus felt awkward. Perhaps a second, longer and less portable model will be created in the future.

Overall, the Sensu Portable Artist Brush And Stylus is a triumph of form and function, letting digital artists create works of art on the touchscreen of an iPad or other device using a familiarly formed paintbrush tool. At $39.99, the brush/stylus tool won’t break the bank, and is a fine addition to any digital artist’s toolbox.

iRig Keys Review

Developer: IK Multimedia
Price: $99.99
Device Reviewed With: new iPad, iPhone 5

Usability Rating: ★★★★☆
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★★☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★☆
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

IK Multimedia might be trying to take over the music peripheral world. The company has a wide range of apps, instruments, and support items that could, in theory, be used to build a band entirely out of iOS instruments. The latest offering from this prolific manufacturer is titled iRig Keys, a super portable iOS keyboard with 37 velocity-sensitive keys, modulation and pitch wheels, low power consumption, and core MIDI compliance. The iRig is aimed at the portable musician, the composer on the go, the backpack virtuoso, and as such, it succeeds brilliantly.

The manufacturer offers the free version of iGrand Piano or SampleTank, both IK Multimedia, as the apps to use with the iRig Keys, but this unit will work with any MIDI app on the iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. It comes with an included USB cable to plug into a Mac or PC as well, opening up the use of any core MIDI compliant app on a laptop. I was able to make the keyboard work with iGrand, SampleTank, and GarageBand. The setup was as simple as plugging in the keyboard via the 30-pin dock connector and firing up any one of the keyboard apps on my iPad 3. I didn’t notice a significant battery drain while using the iRig Keys unit, either.

The small size of the iRig Keys is the killer feature, of course, as it can easily fit into a backpack or even just carried by hand. It’s small, light, and the controls and keyboard keys all feel well-made. The keys are indeed velocity sensitive, and the handy data send/volume knob feels solidly attached. The octave up/down buttons don’t feel chintzy at all, and the two expression wheels don’t wobble when used. All in all, the iRig Keys shows a superior build quality that should help it hold up over time as it moves from place to place, in and out of backpacks and shoulder bags.

For on-the-go composition, song recording, or piano practice, iRig Keys works well for an attractive price. The unit is powered by the included iOS or USB cables, but does not draw excessive amounts of power to drain the iPad or iPhone attached to it. The keys are easy to play, feel solid enough for mobile use, and will allow musicians at any level to create and record music as inspiration strikes.

Slingbox 500 and Sling Player Review

There has been a very exciting rush by TV show producers to get their content onto mobile devices. But it hasn’t been without a good number of issues. First, the content is split amongst dozens of different apps. Next, the shows have seriously stupid usage rights. Sometimes you can only watch shows weeks after first aired. Some shows expire after a few weeks only to appear again many months later. Trying to keep it straight and figure out where any show is can be annoying.

What about your DVR? I have been a long term fan of TiVo. I bought the first box they made and have upgraded multiple times over these past ten plus years. The problem with TiVo is that they have been very slow to adapt to new technologies like streaming content to mobile devices. Until recently you just couldn’t do it without special PC software and a hours of processing time. While TiVo has released a new streaming device, it only works locally unless you remember to download your shows first. Better, but still not good.

Sometimes I just wished I had access to everything on my DVR while on the go. Well, that’s where Sling comes in. A wholly owned subsidiary of Echostar, Sling has been making devices to give you access to your recorded and live content while on the go for years. They do this by having their box sit between your cable box or DVR and your TV. You connect the output of your cable box to the Slingbox and the output of the Slingbox to your TV. While this process can be a bit tedious with many of the included cables to connect, the included instructions are clear and easy.

We’ve taken a look at the Slingbox and player before but a lot has changed since then. For one, the latest Slingboxes support full 1080p HD streaming, assuming you have a good enough connection. They have also been updated to support the iPhone 5 screen for widescreen 16:9 viewing. And at some point after our previous review was posted, support was added to allow streaming over cell networks.

The iPad and iPhone versions of the app both do a good job allowing you to stream from a Slingbox. The iPad version is much easier to use due to the larger screen size, allowing for more controls on the screen. While the iPhone interface isn’t horrible, it could use a rethink.

Overall, the Slingbox 500 was easy to setup, if not super quick. Once it was installed it worked well. Connecting to it from remote was quick and worked well. Changing or selecting a recorded show to watch can be a bit tedious, though, with a 3-4 second delay for each remote key press. Once the streaming started, very few hiccups were noticed.

Is the Slingbox 500 the ideal way to get your content on the go? No. But it is, by far, the best very option right now to give you access to that content on the go. And let’s be honest, it’s likely to be the best option for some time. Access to content will get much stricter before it gets more convenient.

The Slingbox 500 is available online or at Best Buy now for $299.99.

$14.99
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2009-05-13 :: Category: Entertainment

$14.99
iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad
Released: 2010-11-24 :: Category: Entertainment

iPad Mini Review

Developer: Apple
Price: $329 for 16G WiFi
Device Reviewed: iPad mini 16G Black

Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★★
Usability Rating: ★★★★½
Graphics/Display Rating: ★★★★☆
Battery Life Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

When I first heard of the iPad mini, I was fairly underwhelmed with its technical specifications, of course, with its A5 processor (same as an iPad 2, now two generations “old”) and its non-retina display (163 pixels per inch? Huh?).

I was underwhelmed by the price, as well. $329 for an underpowered, low-resolution mini tablet in a market that supports $199 as the standard point of entry?

Then I got it into my hands. The feel of the thing, the warmth of the design, and the fact that this is an iPad, through and through, has changed my mind about the iPad mini. I love the way it sits in my hand, I love the cute little smart cover, I dig the fact that I can sit and read comics for an hour or so without really remembering that I’m using a piece of technology. I can download any number of apps that I already own to it, and run them in this new size and format. Simply put, the iPad mini fills a (small) spot in my gadget bag that I hadn’t been able to previously.

Let’s put it in perspective. I have a Macbook Air 11-inch laptop, an iPhone 5, and an iPad 3 in between. I use each device quite a bit, depending on the situation. The iPad, specifically, has become my laptop at home, unless I’m working. It’s fantastic to check news via Flipboard, social networks with Facebook and Twitter, and look through email. I play games on it quite a bit, of course, as the iPhone is just on the small side for me when I want to immerse myself into a game like Order and Chaos, thrill to the retina display on something like Infinity Blade II, or see the screen in better detail in Fieldrunners 2 HD. As a device I never thought I needed, the iPad has quickly found a place in my daily life.

And now, so has the iPad mini. In just a few short days, I find myself grabbing it when moving from room to room more often than I do my iPhone. I can do all of the social networking, game playing, streaming music, voice chatting, and email checking that I previously did on the iPhone around the house, only now I use the iPad mini so as to not deplete my iPhone 5’s battery, leaving it free to be available for phone calls and texts from non-iOS using friends.

This is a delicious device. It begs to be touched, used, played with. Here’s why.

Case Design
The design of this thing is pure Apple. The black version of the iPad mini has the look and feel of the iPhone 5 in terms of the slate aluminum chassis on the back case. The smoothly rounded edges feel good in the hand, and the metal feels good to the touch, grippy, even. There’s not a sharp edge on the iPad mini, which invites it into the hand, welcomes human touch.

The shape of the screen itself is luxurious, allowing an immersive experience that I’ve never felt with other smaller tablets. The length to width ratio feels just right in portrait or landscape mode—it makes typing with two thumbs viable in portrait mode and a more cramped touch typing available in landscape. Games look and feel GOOD on the iPad mini, perhaps due only to the fact that I’m used to them in this ratio.

The weight, or lack thereof, of the iPad mini is mind boggling. I’m hard pressed to tell whether it’s any heavier than my iPhone 5 when holding one in each hand and doing the “pretend scales” thing. It’s light and airy, yet satisfyingly tactile. This is a device that I can hold in my hands for the hours that a good novel or immersive gaming experience calls for. My only nitpick here is the smaller matte area on the sides of the screen when holding the iPad mini in portrait view. Adding a smart case helps, but it’s still awkward to hold on the side of the screen without activating something on the screen at the same time. Rotating the iPad mini to landscape is a decent stopgap, as the matte area on the “top” and “bottom” of the iPad is thick enough to keep my fat thumbs off of the touch screen.

Camera Performance
The camera is pretty good. It takes great photos in good lighting conditions, and decent ones in low light. Facetime and Skype video chats are well served by the front facing camera, though still images and videos suffer a bit in quality when viewed on other, higher resolution devices. For quick snapshots that can be connected to your Photostream, then, the iPad mini’s camera is great. Though, please, don’t take too many photos in public with your iPad mini. It’s only marginally cooler than taking them with a full sized iPad tablet. If you need high-quality, high-resolution pictures, use a real camera, ok?


Continue reading iPad Mini Review »

While not as interesting as the other new iOS controller we talked about earlier, the Duo Gamer, the Duo Pinball controller is a pretty cool device, but perhaps with a very small audience.

The Duo Pinball is well made, solid, and the buttons and spring launcher both feel of pretty good quality. The device uses AA batteries, an AC adpater would have been nice for the price. The iPad attachement is a bit fiddly, but solid once you get everything lined up properly.

Actually playing the games, works well. The controls are responsive and the addition of the spring launcher is fantastic.

The real problem with this device is that it only works with Pinball HD Collection. While a great pinball app, it’s still too restrictive to have a $60 controller for, except for the most die-hard pinball fans.

The Duo Pinball controller will be available soon from Apple.com, Traget, and Amazon. But I’m guessing most readers will wait for it to go on sale.

iRig Pre Review

Developer: IK Multimedia
Price: $39.99
Device Reviewed With: new iPad, iPhone 5

Usability Rating: ★★★★☆
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★★☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

IK Multimedia’s iRig Pre does the two things it’s made for very well. It connects any professional quality microphone using an XLR connection to your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, and it provides pre-amplification to the microphone signal with phantom power to boot. It’s small enough to drop into a gig bag, just a bit bigger than a 9 volt battery, which is included so as to not waste that precious iPhone or iPad’s battery. It connects to an iOS device via a 16 inch 1/8 inch cord right to the headphone jack.

The iRig Pre allows any mic with an industry standard XLR plug to connect to an iPhone or iPad. It can be used with any app that requires a microphone, including GarageBand and iRig’s own VocaLive and iRig Recorder. It has a gain control dial, +48 V of phantom power, an on/off switch, and a headphone jack to monitor the signal while recording. The battery life is touted at 30 hours with dynamic microphones and 10 hours with condenser mics with their own phantom power. My own dynamic mic testing showed no drain on my iPad battery power when using it, and the included battery is still going strong after several hours of use.

The only problem here is similar to one I pointed out when the iRig guitar connector came out: there’s no easy, un-adapted way to take the sound from the iOS device to a mixing board, PA, or amplifier. The guitarist in me rejoiced when the iRig Stompbox released, since that allowed me to use my iPhone as a multi-effects guitar processor with a stage-ready interface. The iRig Pre isn’t stage ready without a kludgy 1/8 to 1/4 adapter and then another long cable. If IK Multimedia can come out with a stompbox with the iRig Pre inside, that will be a must have device.

Even without that easy live-music functionality, though, the iRig Pre still makes a lot of sense for professional or hobbyist musicians who use their iPad or iPhone to record vocals in a variety of apps. If singers have a need to connect a real microphone and/or a preamp to their iOS device for a decent price, they can’t go wrong with the iRig Pre.

Sure we’ve seen other good controllers for iOS like the iCade. But the Duo Gamer is the first controller approved and supported by Apple. Let that sink in. The first controller officially approved and supported by Apple.

It’s the first game controller that doesn’t need to pretend like it’s a keyboard; it can be a controller. Core gamer nirvana? Slow down those dual analog stick loving thumbs for a second and take a look at this beast.

It’s true, it’s a real controller for iOS, but there are some downsides. Well, one really big one. You see, to meet Apple’s guidelines for a fully supported external device, the device can only work with a single developer’s apps. In this case, that means that this controller will only fully work with Gameloft games. It is not, and can never be (under current rules) a universal controller. It is yet to be seen if other developers may be able to unofficially support it. But even if so, without rule changes by Apple, it will only be supported by Gameloft games.

But back to the good stuff. This is a dual analog controller, and it is for Gameloft, the presumed leader in first person shooters on iOS. And if any genre needs strong controller support, it’s FPS.

To use the controller, it first needs to be connected to your device. To do so, you connect the controller via Bluetooth. A simple and quick connection. It works with any iOS device that supports Bluetooth. A recent iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad should work fine.

Once the Duo Gamer is conected, if you don’t have any supported games installed, a dialog pops up and takes you to the App Store with a list of supported games. That’s what official Apple support gives you. A special window on the App Store just for your device. Huge.

I put the controller through it’s paces. And while it may not be the most comfortable controller to hold, a little thick, heavy, and blocky for long sessions, it is the best I’ve tried for iOS. Perhaps the official support makes it a bit more responsive than others, not sure. I’m not completely sure of the technology being used, and the companies involved have been expectedly quiet on it.

The Duo Gamer has dual analog joysticks, a 4-way gamepad, and six buttons (ABXY on the front and two shoulder buttons). That makes it fairly functional for the games we tried. And with the greater hardware support–meaning it doesn’t have to play tricks and act like a keyboard–it functions much more smoothly. With other controllers we would occasionally lose a button click or joystick movement–likely a key press event being missed. This hasn’t happened with the Duo Gamer controller. Impressive.

After spending a lot of time in NOVA 3, one of the three games currently supported (of a promised six or more), seemed like a dream compared to the touch system, which was already one of the best for a first person shooter on iOS. It’s how a game like this was meant to be played. Targetting was a breeze. Movement seemed much more natural. I flew through the already familiar levels, the dual analog sticks giving me new found precise control. It’s like a breath of fresh air. Though the button mapping could be better, it is hopefully fixable in an update to NOVA 3.

Asphalt 7 was likewise a great treat. Really being able to use fine control, the car steering alone is almost worth the $80 cost of the controller. Order and Chaos benefits as well, but perhaps the least of the three.

The Duo Gamer controller will be available in a couple days via the Apple online store and Amazon. The downside is it will set you back $80. Perhaps a bit steep when you consider that’s more than the cost of all of the games it supports combined. But, if you are a core gamer, looking for an experience on iOS like you are used to on consoles, it’s easier to justify.

We can only hope that this controller will be a huge success and we see Apple loosen the rules around external devices a bit. A universal controller would really be a huge boost to the core gaming segment on iOS. But for now, we at least have this controller for the developer making some of the best FPS games on the App Store. It’s a step in the right direction.

As I’m sure everyone on the planet knows, the iPhone 5 comes out this week. If you are a heavy iPhone user you no doubt have some sort of a battery like our favorite, the Mophie for your iPhone. With the iPhone 5 release and the new Lightning connector, these old devices won’t work. And Mophie and others don’t yet have Lightning and iPhone 5 compatible devices available. We’ve found a solution, and have also found a great deal for you.

New Trent makes some of our favorite external batteries for recharging all kinds of USB connected devices. The IMP 120D is a massive 12,000mAh at about 1 1/2 the size of a deck of cards. That’s enough to recharge the iPhone 5 multiple times. It is a USB charger — meaning that you plug in a USB cable into the battery and then connect that to your device to charge it. So it works with a wide variety of devices. We’ve used our with iPhones, iPads, other phones, even digital cameras.

We got an email about a special deal from New Trent and Amazon.com, if you buy the New Trent IMP 120D, and use coupon code 3IMIRROR on Amazon, you get a second, slimmer 6,000mAh battery ($40 value) for free. Here’s how to do it:

Add the IMP 120D to your Amazon cart from this link: New Trent IMP 120D

Add the iMirror, 6,000mAh battery to your Amazon cart: New Trent iMirror

Go to your cart on Amazon and enter promo code: 3IMIRROR and the price of the iMirror will be discounted to $0! One note – we have no idea how long this deal will last. If this looks good to you, buy it quickly.

Now when you get the batteries, just plug in the Lightning USB cable you got with your iPhone 5 and you are all set to recharge on the go.

iRig Stomp Review

Developer: IK Multimedia
Price: $59.99
Device Reviewed With: new iPad, iPhone 4

Usability Rating: ★★★★☆
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★★☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★½
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

One of the biggest issues I had with the original iRig guitar connector itself was its non-standard design. It works really well when playing a guitar through it to the iPhone or iPad and then listening with headphones, but there was no easy way to connect it to an amp without adapters and such. Adding the pedal setups in Amplitube Fender, for example, seems like a great way to expand the sounds available for my guitar, but if I can’t use it on stage easily, it’s not going to get used.

Enter the iRig Stomp, an actual stomp-box-sized peripheral that allows a standard guitar connect via a standard cable through to an amplifier in a standard guitarist’s stage setup. The iRig Stomp looks and acts a lot like any other standard guitar pedal, and thus has more of a chance to be included at gigs.

The solidity of the box is commendable, from the sturdy metal construction of the box itself to the solid-feeling clicker button and large input gain level knob. The device looks and feels as indestructible as my other guitar pedals, and doesn’t look out of place on my pedalboard.

To connect the iRig Stomp, it’s a simple matter of plugging in a guitar via a cable to the right side of the stomp box, and then out from the left side to an amp via the L/Mono jack, or to a stereo mixer via the R and L jacks. There’s a 1/8 inch headphone jack on the top, for private practice sessions, and a second, similar sized jack to connect the iRig Stomp to the iPhone or iPad with a compatible app, like Amplitube. The clicker button on the bottom of the pedal is a bypass switch which will let your guitar play through to the amp without the app guitar sounds. I sort of wish the button was configurable to a pedal “on/off” setting like most standard guitar pedals, but that functionality is contained within the app itself.

Overall, the iRig Stomp is a fantastic piece of guitar gear, ready to integrate with any professional or hobbyist guitar pedal setup. It’s comparatively priced to other boxes at $59.99, and allows players to control a ton of guitar-centric apps available on the App Store today.

Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio Review

Developer: Logitech
Price: $129.99
Device Reviewed With: New iPad

Usability Rating: ★★★½☆
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★★☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★½
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

The new Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio is, without a doubt, my favorite iPad keyboard to date. It’s well-made, easy to type on, fairly protective, and – check it out – uses light energy! OK, the review is done. Move along.

Just kidding. Needless to say, my week with this iPad keyboard has been instructive, and while the Solar Keyboard Folio isn’t the “perfect” keyboard case for the iPad, it has a couple of features that sets it above the rest.

First up, there’s the solar power thing. Look, charging my keyboard with a mini USB cable is a serious hassle. It doesn’t charge my iPad (why not?), and it’s yet another device I need to make sure it powered up before I leave the house for serious writing. I already have to charge up an iPhone, an iPad and a laptop (sometimes), why do I want to have to plug in a keyboard? I don’t, that’s why. Keeping the Solar Keyboard Folio charged is a simple matter of setting it down in some decent light, indoor or outdoor, and letting it soak up the magic photons. That’s it! I haven’t had to consciously think about charging this thing since the day I got it. This is seriously brilliant.

Secondly, there’s the two viewing angles. The iPad is held in a solid protective grippy section, and snaps in fairly well. This holder has two little pegs on either sides of the bottom corners that fit into the bottom keyboard section, at a typing angle, and – omgyay – a viewing angle, as in the picture at the top of this review. I know of no other keyboard case that allows both of these angles, and it transforms the way I use my iPad with the keyboard. While other iPad keyboards force the typing angle, making things unwieldy when I want to just use the touchscreen. the Solar Keyboard Folio has found just the right mix of flexibility here. As long as I’m happy with landscape orientation, of course.

Which is one of two downsides of this product. There isn’t a way to use the keyboard with the iPad in portrait mode, making longer documents less usable. I’d like to be able to use the iPad in either orientation, depending on the task at hand, but the Solar Keyboard Folio just isn’t designed with that possibility.

The other issue here is the awkwardness of using an iPad in a folio-style case with a keyboard attached. It’s possible to flip the keyboard around to the rear of the iPad and hold it for touchscreen use, but it’s not comfy. I ended up pulling it out of the folio to use when I didn’t want the keyboard, which sort of defeats the purpose of an always-on folio, right?

Bottom line, though, this is the iPad keyboard to beat right now. The keys are solid and responsive. Typing on this thing is a joy, though as with any iPad-sized keyboard, the smaller size takes a bit of getting used to.



iPhone gaming and mobile phone gaming in general are poised to take over the entire handheld gaming market but there is still one big thing holding them back. Touch controls can be great but they are no replacement for responsive, dedicated, physical buttons. Plenty of hardware manufacturers have tried to fix this problem with varying degrees of a success and now a new challenger, Bladepad, is trying to enter the fight.

Bladepad is a slim, protective case that adds a directional pad, two analog sticks, four shoulder buttons, and four face buttons to an iPhone all with full back-lighting. Like a PSPgo or Xperia Play, players can slide the buttons back underneath phone when they are not needed or just easily remove the case entirely. The case and phone can be simultaneously charged over USB and “the battery life is competitive with both the Nintendo 3DS and Sony PS Vita.” Bladepad, LLC says that the product will work with any iOS device using Bluetooth 4.0 including the iPhone 4S, the new iPad, and presumably whatever new iPhone comes out this fall.

However, the project is still in need of funding. Those interested should check out the Bladepad Kickstarter page where one can pre-order at reduced prices along with shirts and other prizes. Bladepad is currently slated for release this holiday season for $99.

Mophie Juice Pack Pro Review

Developer: mophie
Price: $129.95
Device Reviewed With: iPhone 4

Usability Rating: ★★★☆☆
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★½☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★½☆
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

The Mophie Juice Pack PRO is a big, rubberized, super protective case that provides military-grade sand and dust protection, light splash and rain protection, and impact protection in a huge, can-barely-fit-in-a-pocket case that includes its own belt clip.

I’ve long been a fan of the Mophie line of products, enjoying their minimalist design and higher-end battery charge capabilities in an integrated case. The Juice Pack Pro also promises 150 percent extra battery charge, but what that number refers to is not clear, as I got about as much extra charge from the Juice Pack PRO during my testing as I do from my original Juice Pack Plus. Both need to be recharged after about one to one and a half full iPhone 4 battery charges with regular usage.

The Juice Pack Pro does seem pretty sturdy, though. The ports are covered with heavy duty rubber, which also acts as a shock or drop protector. The included belt clip is sturdy, and the encased iPhone snaps into it solidly, without a worry that it’ll drop out in the out of doors. The entire case snaps around the iPhone 4 or 4S like an Otterbox, a competing rugged case that does not include a battery pack. With a case this rugged, though, I kind of expect much more water-proofing, a lack that mophie actually has to point out in the included manual. If they have to point it out, it’s an obvious lack.

I took the case camping with me and it did very well, though I would love to have had an extra iPhone charge for my last day. Some lint and dirt did get under the top screen protector plastic, therefore getting stuck between it and the iPhone screen proper. In addition, the extra plastic film takes some getting used to and did hamper easy selection of icons at times.

Ultimately, whether a purchase is warranted will come down to preference. If there’s a need for a rugged, solidly built iPhone case that includes a battery pack, the Mophie Juice Pack Pro is the way to go. The case is too big for everyday use, however, and the battery pack doesn’t provide any more life than the $30 less expensive Juice Pack Plus (these names are confusing!). The case is extremely difficult to take off and on, so once the iPhone is in, it’s staying there.

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