4 Last-minute gift ideas

Posted on Dec 16, 2012 in Hints, iPad, iPhone, Opinions, Reviews

Last-minute gift recommendations

Still haven’t found that perfect gift? Here are a few last-minute ideas for new products that I’ve had a chance to give or receive this year.

1) Sony Xperia tipo – low-end Android 4.0 smartphone: €100

While I’m not really an Android fan, I do understand that not everyone is willing to spend close to €650 on a smartphone. If you have a family member still using a feature-phone, the Sony tipo is a decent, affordable Android phone for a first-time smartphone owner. If you’re in Europe, you can use this SIM-unlocked phone with any cheapo provider.

Sony xperia tipo

Sony tipo at Amazon.de

Sony tipo at Amazon.com

2) tizi beat bag bluetooth speaker: €79

(Full disclaimer: this is an equinux product, so I’m completely biased.)

We researched a lot of bluetooth speakers while developing tizi beat bag, and I can honestly say that I’ve yet to hear one that offers more bang for your buck.

Nice and loud, very nicely balanced sound, bass reflex-chamber for some moderate (but not exaggerated) oomph, replaceable li-ion battery for ~10h listening on-the-go, bluetooth support for all your smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc, aux-in jack for anything that doesn’t have bluetooth…

If you already own our tizi TV receiver, you’ll also be glad to hear that it uses the same tizi battery, so you can easily swap.

And it has a snazzy handle, so it’s ideal for grabbing to use in the kitchen, out on your balcony, at your next garden party…

tizi beat bag at Amazon.de

3) Fender Squier USB & iOS Stratocaster: €199

I saw the Fender when it hit the Mac sites a few weeks ago, but wasn’t able to find much information about it. My amazing boss heard me raving about it and decided to get one for our office instrument collection.

It looks like any regular full-sized Squier strat, except that it has an additional back plastic panel on the back and a mini-USB and headphone port at the bottom of the guitar. In the box you’ll find a regular USB cable and a 30-pin cable for iOS devices.

And it’s amazing: plug it into your iPad, fire up Garageband and start jamming away. The guitar plays really nicely and the flexibility that the iPad offers you is great.

You’ll need a lightning adapter to use it with the latest generation of iOS devices, but it works fine.

Squier USB strat

Available exclusively from Apple’s online store.

4) Gordy’s Cameras straps: ~€15-25

Ideal for any camera and photography enthusiast, Gordy makes incredibly durable and robust leather cameras straps. They are all hand-made and look and feel much more substantial than the stock straps that come with most cameras. Plus you don’t feel like such a tourist with one of Gordy’s excellent wrist-straps. There is a wide selection depending on personal preference and camera model, so you may want to do this one as a voucher and let your giftee choose the colour and exact model.

gordy's camera straps

Gordy’s camera straps

That’s all folks! Granted, not the longest list you’ll find on the interwebs this time of year, just a few personal recommendations for products I’ve enjoyed.

Happy Holidays!

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Distraction-free reading: a Kindle Paperwhite review

Posted on Nov 24, 2012 in iPad, Reviews

The iPad is perfect for media and has become my favourite way to read blogs, news and articles I’ve saved to Instapaper. I do have an issue with reading full books on it though – I have read quite a few, but usually on holiday, in situations where I haven’t had an internet connection.

Whenever I try to read a book at home or in a café here in Munich, Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity have an endless stream of short, easily accessible content that keeps me from long-form reading.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve read about a dozen novels and other books on my iPad using the Kindle app – and it’s perfectly fine. It’s the amount of other content that is available on the iPad that is the problem.

Is it worth reading?

Reading things I’ve come across online often feels more valuable: I follow a bunch of clever people, and the articles and posts they recommend are often work-related, or contain useful information that I tend to prioritize over traditional books. It feels more productive and efficient to consume online “knowledge”, rather than novels or non-fiction books.

Reading books = relaxing

While short nuggets of information from the web are enjoyable and entertaining, I don’t relax the way I do when I’m reading a good novel. “Switching off” after a stressy day is important, but I have to make an effort to mentally switch off when using an iPad. I stopped reading on the iPad in bed and went back to dead-tree books for a few months and I found myself more relaxed as a result.

First Paperwhite impressions

Amazon’s latest e-ink reader is very nice: the hardware feels good, but not quite as nice as Apple’s products. The single on/off button is easy to find and the surface is nice and grippy, but not too rubbery.

Since I tend to read a lot on holidays and we’re so close to Austria and Italy, I splurged and got the model with free international 3G, so that’s what I’m basing this on.

The Paperwhite is light enough to be comfortable to hold for long periods of time, and the e-ink screen is as nice as Amazon promises. The backlight (the omission of which always stopped me from buying earlier Kindle models) is easy on the eyes and you barely notice the slight unevenness while reading.

The light definitely impacts battery life though: whilst older e-ink Kindles measure their battery life in weeks, the Paperwhite’s battery will be noticeably drained after an evening or two of reading with the backlight on. It’s hardly an issue though – Amazon claims you’ll get around 20 hours, which is still more than enough.

Ergonomics

I do occasionally still struggle with the best way to hold it while lying down: it rests quite comfortably in one hand against my thumb, but page turns can be a little bit awkward in that position. Every now and then I swipe fractionally too high and open the menu (which is activated by touching the very top of the screen) accidentally instead. A physical page turn button along the side where you hold the device would be much better.

Responsiveness

The e-ink screen feels much more responsive than those found on earlier Kindles I had played with – nothing like a real tablet of course, but fast enough to not be annoying. I had no trouble typing, highlighting passages or browsing the store – all of which felt extremely inconvenient on non-touch Kindles.

Final thoughts

If you’re a casual reader, the Kindle Paperwhite may not be for you: it’s perfect reading for long-form content and nothing else. If my only issue with the iPad for reading was that it is too large and heavy, I would get an iPad mini.

But the total lack of other features, content and distractions is what I’m enjoying most about the Kindle. I can relax and read, without skipping back to twitter, Instapaper articles or other content. Material that is designed to be digested over the course of a few hours or even days, not a minutes.

It feels quite superfluous to have both an iPad and a Kindle, but it’s already helping me read more, so I’m happy.

Recommended.

Start reading more – get your Kindle Paperwhite at Amazon.

Or read more anywhere – get a Kindle Paperwhite 3G.

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Review: Simplism Flip Note Case for iPhone 5

Posted on Oct 22, 2012 in iPhone, Reviews

With all the reports of the iPhone 5 being more prone to scratches than its predecessors, a lot of people are looking for good cases. I’ve tried a few plastic-shell style cases, but none of them have been particularly great. In fact, a lot of them seem to be based on rumored specs, rather than the actual dimensions (they refer to ‘new iPhone 2012’ rather than ’iPhone 5’).

In contrast to other cases, the Simplism Flip Note style for iPhone 5 is a wallet-style case designed to fit your iPhone 5 perfectly. It has a plastic mould to hold your phone, a slim leather cover, and two pockets to store credit or business cards. The case is available in red, beige, tan and black.

Fit and finish

This case is really well made – the materials all feel great and it fits the new iPhone extremely precisely. There’s no overlap or gap along the edges, unlike some of the other cases I’ve seen so far.

The peach wood finish on the front adds a bit of tasteful trim to the elegant leather design and bears the stylish Simplism logo.

Usability

I usually prefer shell-style cases on my iPhones, so I was a bit hesitant to make the switch to a flip case. The iPhone is something you take out and use all the time, so any extra steps could potentially be a hassle. I had tried a pouch-style case on my iPhone 4, where you could pull the iPhone out, but quickly gave up on it since it proved to be quite annoying to pull your iPhone out every time.

So how did the Simplism Flip Note fare?
The flip turns out to be quite convenient in everyday use. Your iPhone is really protected from bumps and scratches, but you can easily flip open the cover to use it with one hand.

The back cover actually bends in the middle in order to act as a stand (more on that later), which also makes it comfortable to hold the iPhone with both hands whilst typing. Your right hand can hold the iPhone between the plastic shell and leather flap for easy typing.

It’s a little bit unwieldy when you hold it up to your head for phone calls, but since I tend to use the headset that’s not really much of an issue for me personally.

It’s worth noting that the flip opens to the right rather then to the left. That takes a few moments to get used to, since most books tend to open the other way, but after the first few tries it feels quite natural.
Update: Simplism have clarified that the case opens to the right so you can access the iPhone buttons on the left — makes sense!

Other features

As mentioned above, the back of the Flip Note can fold over, allowing you to use the case as a convenient stand. This works quite well in practise and is useful for FaceTime, watching movies or TV shows (as seen here with our tizi+ digital TV receiver for iPhone and iPad).

The Flip Note also comes with a handy cable clip.

Conclusion

This is the a great case for the iPhone 5 and one of the first truly elegant cases that complement the new design. It offers easy access to all ports, protects your new iPhone perfectly and is practical in everyday use as well.

I’ve found it great when going out as I can store my bank cards and a few notes in the case with my iPhone and don’t need a bulky wallet.

Overall: Recommended

Shop for Simplism Flip Note for iPhone 5 on Amazon.

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Lightning wirecutters

Posted on Oct 5, 2012 in iPhone, Opinions

“Snips by Flickr user Sarae

When iOS 5 introduced wireless syncing, many people stopped connecting their iOS devices to their PCs and Macs altogether. But the dock connector and 30-pin accessories have meant that docking solutions have remained very popular for other accessories such as speaker docks, car connectors and other accessories.

Products like tizi and tizi+ started a trend of wi-fi based accessories and Apple’s continuing improvements to AirPlay and the slowly growing number of AirPlay devices have increased that trend. However the additional cost and slightly unfamiliar setup have meant that simple docking accessories have still been far more popular overall.

However the new lightning connector seems set to introduce a tectonic shift in favour of wireless accessories and audio devices: most users will be unwilling to invest in 30-pin accessories that are now seen as “legacy” or “outdated” technology (despite Apple’s insistence that they will support both connector technologies for some time).
At the same time, there will be many households that have 30-pin AND lightning-based devices (e.g. a new iPad and iPhone 5), so switching to lightning connector-only devices isn’t an option either.

Already the number of bluetooth-based AD2P-compatible devices seems to be increasing and manufacturers with wi-fi or bluetooth-based accessories and know-how will have an advantage for the foreseeable future. Newer standards like AirPlay and Bluetooth 4.0 will make these new accessories easier and more efficient to use, which should improve ease of adoption.

The lightning connector will push consumers towards wireless accessory standards. I for one welcome our new wireless future: the ubiquitousness of accessories like tizi+ on my home wireless network is far more convenient than conventional 30-pin accessories, so let’s hope we can cut some more wires in the next few years.

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Content creation apps: Make your users look good

Posted on Apr 7, 2012 in iPad, Opinions

The latest star on the App Store is Paper, a drawing and sketching app that has been getting lots of praise recently.

Apart from the lovely UI and hipsterific moleskine imagery, I was wondering how this particular app had managed to garner so much more attention than other similar apps. Penultimate and others offer similar features (and have done well), but didn’t get the same amount of buzz.

I think the secret is that the default pen that is preselected in Paper makes a typical user’s horrible tablet ‘strokes’ look stylish and slick. Try it! Scribble a note in one of the other drawing apps and then write the same note in Paper: in most apps my notes look like my handwriting – horrible. In Paper my notes actually look fairly decent and even have a vague hint of calligraphy.

Penultimate:

Paper:

Writing in Penultimate is certainly not terrible, and you could even argue it’s slightly more legible, but Paper’s default presentation feels more “artsy” in a good way. Paper also has a few other tricks up its sleeve (free to get started, innovative ‘undo’ gesture and customizable moleskine-esque notebooks) that probably contributed to its success, but the results you can achieve with the free drawing tools are certainly a good way to hook users in.

It’s the same principle you’ll find in Apple’s iLife and iWork apps: there are alternatives out there that give you more freedom to express your own creativity and style, but in the hands of untrained users, the results are disappointing. But it’s easy to create a slick trailer in iMovie or a nice presentation with Keynote, without having to go through a steep learning curve.

So if your app is designed for content creation, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that even untrained users can achieve great looking results on their first go.

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Review: TinTac Hoxton messenger bag

Posted on Nov 13, 2011 in Reviews

Inspired by cockney rhyming slang (TinTac = sack = bag) and the Hoxton area in London, the TinTac Hoxton is designed as an everyday commuter or casual bag. The Hoxton is a casual messenger-style bag that is big enough to carry a 13″ MacBook, but is probably best suited for iPad users.

Design

The bag is made of soft but sturdy canvas and has a very comfortable nylon shoulder strap. The 3 internal compartments and 2 pockets offer plenty of places to pack things and thanks to the bright interior colours, you’ll be able to find your things later as well. The Hoxton is available in beige, grey, green and brown with matching interior fabric colours.

Yay!

The bag is fairly simple – in a good way. There aren’t thousands of internal compartments with subdivisions to get stuff lost in, it’s just a well though out bag for everyday use.

It’s nice and light, so it’s comfortable to wear for long periods of time. It’s also not too bulky and fits easily underneath the seats on a plane or on your lap if you’re on public transport.

A magnet keeps the bag shut and two front slip pockets with headphone cable flaps allow you to get at your music player or phone without digging around inside the bag.

I was afraid the light beige colour option I picked would get dirty easily, but after several weeks of being dragged to Brussels, Hamburg and all around Munich, it still looks great.

Meh…

The overall quality feels very good, however I did notice the zipper on the back compartement came apart once or twice. But since it’s an internal zipper, it’s not a real worry.

Conclusion

I really like this bag. It’s a bit too small for most notebook computers, but in a pinch I can fit my MacBook Air in it. But it’s perfect for an iPad, camera and the other bits and bobs I usally lug around.

It’s more of a “lifestyle” bag than a computer bag, but for those of you that have embraced the iPad way of computing, the TinTac Hoxton is highly recommended.

At £40 / €47 / $60, it’s great value for money and I could see this bag being a popular gift this holiday season.

TinTac Hoxton website

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Review: Simplism Flip Note Leather

Posted on Nov 8, 2011 in iPad, Reviews

Simplism, a Japanese company whose products I stumbled across while on holiday in Malaysia, make really nice leather covers and cases for iPads, iPhones and iPods.

I recently had the opportunity to review the Simplism Leather Flip note case for iPad.

Build

The case is made from real leather and feels extremely well made. It’s a perfect fit for the iPad 2 as well as the new iPad. The materials feel think and sturdy enough to protect your iPad from bumps in a bag or even big drops.

Everyday usefulness

Your iPad is held in place by a simple velcro strip that keeps it from sliding out, making it easy to quickly remove your iPad if you need to. The flip cover supports sleep on/off like Apple’s smart cover, so as soon as you open the case your iPad will wake and you can start working. On the inside of the Flip Note you’ll find several pockets for credit cards, business cards or notes, making the Flip very useful for meetings and trips.

Cameras and controls

Both cameras can be used while your iPad is inside the Flip and you can also access the side lock and volume controls as well. The 30-pin dock connector can also be used to charge your iPad in case, however certain larger accessories may have trouble connecting.

Stand

The flip cover can be bent in the middle, which allows you to prop your iPad up for typing. You can also use this feature to stand your iPad upright for watching TV and movies. The smart cover is slightly more flexible in this regard, but the Flip Note works really well for typing.

Conclusion

The Simplism Leather Flip Note Case is an excellent iPad case that will protect your iPad and has room to stash away a few business essentials as well. The build quality is fantastic and even after a few months of use everything still looks great.

Overall it is highly recommended. Available through these retailers.

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