iPad

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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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: 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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Review: Eye-Fi Pro | X2

Posted on Sep 19, 2011 in iPad, Mac, Photography, Reviews

What’s the most annoying part of digital photography? That’s right, fiddling around with the memory card or USB cable to copy your photos to your computer.

Well the Eye-Fi cards promise to have a better solution for copying photos: these cards can transfer your digital snaps wirelessly. Yep – despite being the same size as a normal SD card, an Eye-Fi card can connect to your computer over a wifi network. Let’s take a closer look at the Eye-Fi Pro | X2 – their latest and greatest.

Getting started

You need to download special Eye-Fi software for the initial setup. You connect your Eye-Fi card to the supplied USB adapter and configure it to connect to your existing wireless network, or you can either have it create its own ad-hoc network for when you’re on the move.

Then, just pop the card into your camera and away you go.

How to use the Eye-Fi card

The Eye-Fi card works just like any other fast SD card. Pop it in your camera, take pictures (RAW or JPEG or both) and movies – that’s it.

Once your camera has been on a few seconds, the Eye-Fi card will power up its wireless feature and look for your existing network. Once connected, the special Eye-Fi software on your computer will copy the photos over the air onto your PC or Mac.

If you haven’t got a wireless network nearby, the card can alternatively create its own wireless network. You connect to this network (named something like “Eye-Fi 132456”) and then the copying magic starts.

Performance

Despite having pretty impressive wireless performance, it will take a bit longer to copy the huge files produced by today’s modern cameras over wifi than it would over a USB card reader. However, you can optionally choose to only copy your JPEG images, leaving your RAW copies on the card ready to by copied over USB later.

The software is an Adobe Air app, so it isn’t the best Mac app I’ve ever seen, but overall it isn’t too bad. Once you have your card configured, you won’t need to use it too much anyway. Kudos to Eye-Fi for having a cross-platform solution for us Mac users that works.

Other handy tricks

Geotagging

Certain Eye-Fi cards can also make use of the wireless chip inside to geo-tag your photos. They do this by looking at nearby wifi networks. These are later matched by the Eye-Fi software to a database that knows the geographical location of tonnes of wifi networks around the world and uses that to give your photos a rough geographical location.
It’s not perfect, but it’s usually good enough to help you figure out which side of town you took a particular photo.

Endless Memory

Need to take a ton of pictures? No problem! If you’re on a wifi network, your Eye-Fi card will shove pics over to your computer and free up storage for new pictures, which means you’ll never run out of storage. This is only useful for certain scenarios, but if you need to take a lot of pictures and don’t want to have to switch cards it might come in useful.

Picture uploads

I didn’t test this feature, but Eye-Fi also offers an online storage and sync option, that allows you to share pictures with friends or between devices.

iPad app

One other great feature is the fact that you can use the Eye-Fi card with the free companion iPad app, allowing you to use your iPad as a giant photo preview screen: snap a shot, wait 2 seconds and it shows up on the iPad. I used this feature to turn my iPad and a camera with an Eye-Fi card into a rudimentary homemade wedding photo booth.

Conclusion

If you just need to grab a few photos quickly, the Eye-Fi a great solution. I could see it being particularly useful in scenarios where you’re frequently taking a small number of shots and need to quickly preview them on a larger screen.

The geo-tagging feature is also quite nice and a good alternative to using geo-tagged iPhone pictures as a reference.

The Eye-Fi Pro | X2 does exactly what it claims. The wireless performance is pretty good and it can be a huge timesaver if you often need to preview your pictures in between shots.

Recommended

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Review: Waterfield Cargo bag

Posted on Sep 4, 2011 in iPad, Mac, Reviews

I’ve been on the lookout for a new laptop bag for a while. I was recently given a new MacBook Air for work and as my old bag was starting to fall apart and I often cycle to work, I needed something a bit more rugged than most typical commuter bags.

Waterfield bags are designed to be very tough (not surprising as the company was founded by a former bicycle messenger), so I was keen to take a closer look at the Waterfield Cargo bag.

 

Features

The Waterfield Cargo looks like fairly typical messenger-style bag at first. It has a shoulder strap, front flap and a buckle. But there are ton of nifty design touches that make the bag very practical in everyday use:

  • The top zip makes it easy to get stuff from the main compartment without lifting up the main flap
  • The interior fabric is a bright colour, that makes it easy to find things inside
  • The back pocket is great for your iPad or a folder with papers

Design

This bag looks pretty good, but the design isn’t the main reason you’d buy this bag. It’s a very functional design and it’s“tidy” enough to take into any office, without looking too corporate.

You can also customise the look quite a bit by choosing various trim and colour options.

Quality and Durability

Waterfield state that the bag was inspired by ruggedized bike messenger accessories and it certainly feels every bit as durable as its heritage. The nylon fabric is extremely tough and feels much more durable than the fabrics used on similar products from other well-known manufacturer’s bags I’ve owned.

This is how much I can easily fit in the Waterfield Cargo:

 

Contents of my bag

As I mentioned at the outset, I plan on commuting by bike quite a bit with this bag, so I want something that can be strapped to the back of a bike rack and withstand a bit of wear and tear. So far, the Waterfield Cargo has been more than up to the challenge: Despite being bumped around on the back of a bike for several weeks, kicked around on the floor of the subway and dragged halfway across Malaysia on my honeymoon, it still looks like new. Any dirt or muck you get on the bag easily brushes off, and all the seams and zips are rock solid.

Bonus Round

There’s a lot to like about this bag, but here are a few extra tidbits I particularly like:

  • The strap can easily being adjusted just by lifting an adjustment flap at the side, but it doesn’t accidently lift or slip
  • Underneath the front flap are two slim pockets that are almost hidden – perfect for storing your passport or other valuables somewhere hard to access while travelling.
  • The interior pockets don’t get in your way, so you can use the space inside the bag to the fullest.
  • If you do need extra compartments, the Sleevecase accessory is perfect for documents and laptops (it has two compartments, perfect for a MacBook and iPad), while the Cablepouch is great for all your accessories and cables:

 

Conclusion

At $189, the Waterfield Cargo is certainly one of the more expensive laptop bags out there. But this Waterfield bag, which was handmade in San Francisco, is extremely well made with high-quality materials used throughout, so I’d argue that the price is more than justified. If you’ve got a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air you’re carrying around, it’s worth investing in a good bag to protect it.

Unlike other messenger bags that I’ve owned, that have all started to fall apart at the seams after a few months of owning them, this bag feels as though it will give me a good few years of use.

The attention to detail and everyday practicality is very obvious — someone really thought about every aspect of this bag while designing it – and it is very versatile, equally useful as a travel bag for longer journeys or as a daily bag for the office.

Overall, highly recommended.

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