Terrapin Leather Case for iPhone SE [Review]

Terrapin Leather Case for iPhone SEYou don’t need me to remind you how much I love my gadgets; if you’ve been reading Geek-Speak for any length of time you’ll know that already! You may also know that I like my gadgets “naked”, without a cover or case. I think the design of technology these days has progressed to the point where gadgets look good on their own, not as if they’re there purely to fulfil a function.

When you drop a “naked” device, though, things can go really wrong really quickly. No cover means no protection and, since I’m not made of money, I can’t really afford to keep breaking things just because I don’t want to spoil the way they look.

Because I still want my gadgets to look good, I spend quite a bit of time choosing covers and cases, so when I was contacted by the people at Terrapin Accessories to see if I would like to review one of their cases, I spent quite a while looking through the range before deciding on the one I’d like to try. I finally settled on a leather wallet case for my iPhone 5S (which, I have to say, I’m very pleased is the same size as the more recent iPhone SE!)
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Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SE [review]

I’m usually very careful with my mobile devices but, even so, I’ve been known to drop them. Before too long, they start to look a little scratched and scuffed. Unfortunately, I have managed to damage a phone and a laptop by dropping… and boy was I annoyed at myself both times!

In my day to day life as an IT Consultant, I don’t need to worry too much about my phone being in a harsh environment. If I drop it, it’s usually only a fall from the desk to my office floor. But what if you need extra protection for your phone? I was given the opportunity to try out an Otterbox Defender case, which claims to offer superior protection.

Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SEThe first thing that comes to mind when I look at the Otterbox Defender is that it’s chunky. I usually prefer my cases to be quite slim, but I recognise that comes at the expense of ruggedness. The Defender is large, mostly because that gives it room to add extra protection. So what kind of protection are we talking about here?

The main body of the Defender is a two-part polycarbonate shell. This rigid shell offers good protection against scratches and drops, forming a barrier between your precious phone and the outside world. The shell has an integrated plastic screen protector which, again, just forms another barrier between your screen and harm’s way.

Around the polycarbonate shell is a rubber “bumper”. This does two things:

  • Firstly, it helps to keep the main shell closed. There are catches on the shell that would keep it closed without the bumper, but the bumper just holds the whole thing together and makes sure there’s no way the case can be accidentally opened.
  • Secondly, because the bumper is softer than the shell (although it has to be said, it’s not exactly bouncy) it provides a little extra shock absorption in the case of your phone slipping out of your hand.

Another layer of protection comes from a thin layer of neoprene inside the back of the shell case. Again, this provides some shock absorption if you happen to drop your phone on its back. Remember the key to surviving a drop is to absorb the energy from the fall, which is why it’s not enough just to have a strong but rigid case (that would just transfer the energy to the phone). Squidgy materials like rubber and neoprene will absorb the energy rather than transfer it, and enhance the survivability of the device within.

So far so good. It’s worth mentioning that there are several openings in the protection, albeit all ones that are necessary for the good operating of the phone. There’s a cutout on the screen protector so that you can use the iPhone SE/5/5S thumb scanner, another for the front-facing camera and earpiece, one on the back for the rear-facing camera and flash, and two on the bottom for the microphone and speaker. There’s also a window on the rear so you can see the Apple logo, but this is covered with the same kind of material as the main screen protector. All of these openings are recessed, so unless you happen to be very unlucky and hit a stone, you’re still well protected.

The rubber bumper has flaps that cover the side switch, headphone port, and charging/data port. These all seem to be quite snug fits, so they should do a good job of keeping dust and dirt out. I don’t know what it is, but my pockets seem to be really dusty, and so far none of that has made its way past the flaps.

Having said all that, there are a couple of things I don’t like, or that I found fiddly.

  • The first was getting the thing open in the first place! The instructions said to remove the bumper so that I could then open the polycarbonate shell, but I found it really hard to do so! I think it was just because the case was new and the rubber was quite stiff (it’s easier to remove it again now) but I was starting to wonder whether I was actually reading the instructions correctly for a while.
  • I’m not too keen on plastic screen protectors. I find they never sit completely flush with the screen so, when you tap, you can kind of feel the screen protector moving. I also find you eventually get dust behind them, so have to keep cleaning them out. It’s not a huge gripe, and perhaps it’s just personal preference, but I much prefer glass screen protectors.
  • Thirdly, the size. And I know this one is just personal preference. As I mentioned earlier, I like my devices to be slim but the Otterbox Defender certainly isn’t that. I just mention it here again to be clear… this is not a small case, but if you’re looking for superior protection you might need to sacrifice a slimline look to get it.

Despite those gripes, I think this is a good choice for people who need an extra layer of protection on their devices. It won’t save your phone from being dropped off a skyscraper or run over by a truck, but it will help to save you from those awful, “slipped out of my pocket” moments (yes, that’s how I broke my last iPhone!)

The Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SE is available from Mobile Fun, priced £29.99 at the time of writing.

Note: The Defender also comes with a belt clip/kickstand. I honestly can’t abide wearing a mobile phone on my belt, so I haven’t used it. If you do want to wear your phone on your belt, you have the option to do so with this case.

5C or 5S? That is the question (for me)

Before we get going, I want to apologise for the lack of posts lately. Life has a knack of getting in the way of blogging occasionally, and I’m sorry for that.

The last post we had on the site was about the potential for Apple adding a new colour to their iPhone range… the ‘champagne’ iPhone 5S. It turned out that was true (good work Will), although the true colour explosion was reserved for the bright and cheery iPhone 5C.

iPhone 5C vs 5SI now find myself in a bit of a quandary though. My phone contract is up for renewal in about a month’s time, and that usually means also getting a new handset. I want to stick with the iPhone, but now there are two new models to choose from I have to do a bit of comparing. Part of me wants the most powerful model available (that would be the 5S then) but the 5C is slightly cheaper and would most likely suit me just fine. I find myself comparing features to try and make my mind up!

Camera

I still remember when I used to say ‘If I wanted a camera, I would buy a camera’. I was unconvinced of the need to have cameras on mobile phones when they were first introduced, but I now see it as an important feature. I discounted the value in having a decent camera with you at all times – something I can’t really imagine being without now. So how do the cameras on the 5C and 5S compare?

On the 5C, the camera is an 8 megapixel affair with a maximum aperture of f/2.4. If you’re unfamiliar with photography terminology, the f/ number represents how large the hole will be that light passes through before hitting the camera’s sensor. A larger number represents a smaller aperture, so a smaller hole for light to pass through. That means there’s less light and can affect performance in low light situations. So if we compare with the 5S’ maximum aperture of f/2.2, we see that the 5S has a slightly larger maximum aperture (remember, smaller number = larger aperture). So the 5S will be slightly better in low light.

The sensor in the 5S is also 8 megapixels, but the pixels are larger. I’m not too clear on why that’s helpful, but apparently it is.

The flashes differ between models too, with the 5C having the standard LED flash and the 5S having a True Tone Flash. The True Tone Flash is actually two LEDs that fire with different colour hues, somehow avoiding the washed-out look that we are used to with mobile phone flashes.

The other differences between the models are that the 5S includes auto image stabilisation (useful if you have shaky hands), burst mode and, in video mode, slo-mo.

So the 5S wins out from a features point of view, as you would expect, but the 5C is by no means a slouch in the photography department.

Battery Life

If one model is going to offer a much better battery life than the other, that’s going to heavily influence my decision. As it turns out though, according to Apple’s specs at least, both the 5C and 5S boast the same battery performance characteristics. They both offer up to 10 hours talk time on 3G, a standby time of 250 hours, 8-10 hours Internet use, 10 hours video playback and 40 hours audio… nothing to separate them here then.

Speed

The 5S uses Apple’s A7 processor, with 64 bit architecture and an additional M7 motion coprocessor. Let’s not get into too many details, but suffice to say this is the latest incarnation of Apple’s processor. The coprocessor takes over some of the work that the CPU (Central Processing Unit) would normally handle, freeing it up to do other things. The 5C, on the other hand, doesn’t have the coprocessor and uses the A6 chip, so we can expect it to be a little slower at processing tasks.

But is there really much difference in speed between the two? Benchmarks suggest that the 5S is much faster, but that it’s not very noticeable in real-world tests. So, again, while I would like to know I have the best on offer, the 5C wouldn’t be a bad option either.

That Fingerprint Sensor

I can’t deny it – I think the fingerprint sensor is cool. I like the idea. I’m not convinced of the necessity of it though, or that it offers the ultimate in security. It’s a nice-to-have in my mind as I’ve done just fine without it on any of my other phones. Don’t get me wrong, I want it, but I don’t need it.

Edit: Thanks to Ian for reminding me in the comments that a German hacker group claim to have already broken the security on the fingerprint scanner – it looks like passwords are going to be around for a while longer!

Price

Sadly, this is often what it all comes down to. There are so many deals out there, but I’m going to use my mobile carrier’s tariffs as a guide. They’re offering a tariff at £41 per month and, with that, you pay £49 up front for the 5C and £99 for the 5S. The 5S is obviously more expensive, but if you think of this over the length of your two year contract, it’s not a huge difference. See, although the 5C was initially touted as the ‘affordable’ option, I don’t think it is. It’s still an expensive phone, just slightly less expensive than the 5S. For the want of an extra £50 up front, wouldn’t it make sense to get the most powerful phone available?

Conclusion

In the end, I don’t think there’s much between these two phones. The specs are pretty similar, the prices are very close… the main difference I can think of is that, with the 5S, you would be future-proofing yourself for a while. The 5C, while it looks funky and is slightly cheaper, is really just an iPhone 5 with small updates. If I were to buy a new iPhone today, I think it would be the 5S. I just don’t see a reason to get a 5C instead.

What do you think? Have I been fair in my comparison or have I missed something huge that makes the 5C a more sensible option? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

By the way, while we’re thinking about iPhone 5Cs, Mobile Fun are running a competition to win one! Aah, now that there’s the possibility of one for free, you’re leaning back towards the 5C? Well, jump in and enter – you’ve got ’till Monday!

Champagne iPhone 5S on the way?

Three cases purported to be iPhone 5Ss in black, grey and champagne.This is a guest post by Will Judd.

Since the dawn of time*, the iPhone has come in two colours: black and white. This year, it looks like that trend is finally set to be broken with the release of both the colourful iPhone 5C and the flagship iPhone 5S.

Surprisingly, it’s not just the iPhone 5C that will be offered in new colours, reminiscent of Apple’s iPod lineup. The iPhone 5S will also be offered in a couple of new colours, if recent rumours are to be believed.

The first rumour is that the phone will be available in a new gold colour. Earlier rumours pointed towards a rather eye-catching full gold colouring, but as the potential announcement date of September 10th has grown near it seems that a more mature champagne colour seems more likely. Regardless, swag-bound personages are likely to welcome the new option, although makers of gold iPhone 5 cases and respray operations will likely resent the loss in business.

Sim trays in multiple coloursOur second rumour is more recent, stating that the iPhone 5S will also come in a graphite colour between the traditional white and black. The evidence for this seems a bit thinner, with only hearsay and a grey coloured sim tray being posited as proof the colour option. Regardless, if Apple are set to unveil a new colour then a second isn’t really too unbelievable.

Either way, the first time we’ll really know for sure will be when  Apple have their iPhone event. A lot of rumours have pinned this on September 10th, but with no press invitation as of yet that date can’t be relied upon. Typically invitations are sent out with a week’s notice, so we’d expect to hear about it by next week, on September 3rd.

What do you make of the new iPhone colours – would you buy one? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading the article and have a great day!

*a slight exaggeration

solBAT II Solar Powered Battery Pack [Review]

I’m what I like to think of as a ‘reluctant environmentalist’. I get the idea of saving energy, but my primary driver is to reduce the amount of money I pay out. Sure, I’m interested in saving the planet too, but it’s the monthly bill rather than the polar ice caps that make me wander round the house turning off the lights in empty rooms!

The thing is, life is so saturated with technology these days, and all of those pieces of technology need to get their power from somewhere. My smartphone isn’t too smart when the battery runs out. So what if I were able to charge my devices using a readily available power source that doesn’t have any ongoing costs? I’m talking about the sun, of course, and the guys at Mobile Fun were kind enough to send me a solBAT II solar phone charger to try out.

solBAT II solar phone chargerFirst impressions were good – the solBAT II comes with a window mount for, er, mounting it on your window, and a carabiner for attaching it to a bag or rucksack while you’re out and about. I’ve tried it in both situations and found that having it on a bag makes it charge more quickly (I guess it gets more direct sunlight?), but it really spends most of its time on my office window. That’s no biggie, since the office gets direct sunlight all morning, but I thought it might be useful to know.

So, does it do the job? Well, sort of. It certainly works, and seems capable of adding several hours worth of charge to my iPhone, but the solar panels do take a very long time to charge the solBAT II up. We’re talking days when attached to my window, which means it’s not a viable option to use the solBAT as my phone’s only power source. It is, however, useful when you’re out and about and realise your phone is about to die… I’ve had the solBAT take my iPhone from 13% battery back up to just shy of 40% which, for me, takes it back out of the panic zone!

It’s worth noting that the solBAT also has the option to charge via USB. While the solar panel can take days, the USB cable will take the solBAT up to full capacity in just a few hours. In that case, it becomes a spare battery. Handy again for emergencies.

And that’s the key, really: the solBAT II is a great emergency charger. It does what it says on the box and, if you charge with solar, that’s free energy. But it’s not viable as your phone’s primary charger, which means I won’t be getting rid of my mains iPhone charger just yet.

The solBAT II solar battery pack is available on Mobile Fun for £23.95 (at time of writing).

Apps for Downtime and Productivity: Make Your Smartphone Smarter

This is a guest post by Lauren Schmidt. Lauren loves to blog, play golf and sing in the rain.

Woman on smartphoneFor several years I stuck with my itty-bitty phone whose functions were limited to making calls, sending texts and waking me up in the morning. Why would I want to spend a few hard-earned Benjamins on a smartphone? Well, I drunk the Kool-aid and now I’m never more than a few feet away from my phone. Here are some apps that get used on a daily, or near-daily, basis:

Flipboard

Flipboard helps me keep tabs on social media; it integrates my Facebook and Twitter streams with the RSS feeds of my favorite blogs and news sources. Instead of looking at the boring interface of Google reader, I just open Flipboard and see pics and headlines of the latest posts, tweets and status updates in a magazine. Just tap the picture to read the rest of the post and share it with others. Set up is really easy and, best of all, it’s a free app.

Instapaper

During the week, I never have enough time to read even a fraction of what catches my eye so I use Instapaper to save and read the article later. Instapaper lets me save articles so I don’t spend precious minutes searching for them later. The one-time $4.99 cost is comparable to what I’d spend on just one issue of my favorite magazine. Besides archiving up to 500 articles, I can share them with others via email, Twitter and Tumblr through the app.

Break

To relieve the day’s stresses, sit down and open up funny pics on Break.com’s app to get a few good laughs. The ever-increasing collection of pics are cracking me up have created such an addiction, I have to limit myself to 15 minutes a day! The app is available for iOS, Android and tablet devices and best of all, it’s free!

Evernote

My organization management tool since my husband first introduced it to me as a desktop application a few years ago. Evernote is a virtual file cabinet that can be installed, and synced, on all of your digital devices for easy access to your documents no matter where you are. I keep notebooks, as the files are called, for each member of my family, my business, recipes, my never ending to-do list and projects. I use the basic service which is free, but the premium service allows you to store a larger amount of data and have changes of documents saved.

Mint

Whether you’re trying to dig out of debt or just want to stick to your budget, the folks at Mint have you covered with this handy app that integrates your bank accounts so you can keep better tabs on your money. I like the user interface — it lets me track my spending with a few taps. Say goodbye to racking up $30 overdraft fees for a $3 coffee!

Shop Savvy

You know that feeling you get when you see the same dress you bought last week at a different store, but for $30 less? That may very well be a thing of the past if you employ Shop Savvy on a regular basis. You simply input the item that you’re planning to purchase and it will compare both brick and mortar the virtual shops to find the lowest price. And if that wasn’t good enough, shopsavvy.com states it will give you the closest location so you can decide if the cheapest price is worth it, even if it requires a half-hour drive or let you purchase the item via the app if you’re making an online purchase.

OverTo You

Do you use any of the apps we detailed here? Or do you have suggestions for other apps that should have made the list? We’d love to hear your thoughts – please do share them in the comments and tell us what you think.

Must new tech always LOOK new?

iPhone 4S... or is it the iPhone 4?I remember when the iPhone 4S came out… I was online, watching the live blogs and tweets from Apple’s now traditional event, and the news was that the new iPhone was… well… the same as the previous one. Oh yes, it had new insides and features but, to any casual observer, it was the same at the iPhone 4.

I was disappointed.

The thing is, I’m not quite sure why I was disappointed. I mean, what was I expecting? The previous design worked well, and it’s the insides that really make a difference anyway. But, still, I was disappointed.

By the time Apple announced the iPhone 5, I had learned my lesson. “It’s not going to look radically different” I told myself. And I was right – the iPhone 5 is more of a refinement than a revolution. It’s a different size, yes, and has a redesigned chassis, but you immediately recognise it as an iPhone when you see it. Wired wrote recently about how the iPhone 5 is simultaneously amazing and boring. It’s a further step along the evolution of technology, and can do things we couldn’t even dream about five or ten years ago but, at the same time, it’s not radical. Thing is, as I’ve said before, when the majority of the real-estate on smartphones these days is taken up with a screen, what can you do?

It’s not just the iPhone that “suffers” from the problem of evolution rather than revolution. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is tipped to be more of an improvement on current successes than a radical rethink.

And, you know what? I think that’s the way to go. If you have a good design to start with, why throw it out every year? Why not take that design and tweak it, along the lines of the Constant Improvement pioneered by Heinrich Nordhoff, who worked on the Volkswagen Beetle?

I know why… it’s because as well as wanting the latest features, gadgeteers want everyone else to know they have the latest features. And to do that, you need something that’s instantly recognisable as being the “new thing”. If it looks exactly the same as the last time, nobody will know how cutting edge you are. Yes, I fall into that mindset sometimes but, on the whole, I would rather have improvements on the inside: better camera, updated software, faster processor, and put less emphasis on fancy new designs that add nothing to the usability of the product.

How about you? Am I mad, or am I on to something here?

First reviews of iPhone 5 released

This is a guest post by William Judd

iPhone5With the release of the new iPhone comes the corresponding release of reviews from across the industry. Overall, the iPhone 5 has scored highly with critics across the board, who cite the improved hardware design, taller screen and faster performance as excellent reasons to upgrade. The feared lower battery life due to the larger screen and LTE seem not to have materialised, as Engadget reports that the phone lasts just as long or longer than the previous iPhone 4S even when using LTE.

Joshua Topolsky of The Verge calls it “the best iPhone yet”, but notes that the whole phone feels very safe, and that while that will appeal to the majority of the population, Apple seems to have lost its disruptive influence that it had when it debuted the first few versions of its iPhone.

iOS 6 has had a much rockier time of things, with many outlets reporting the widespread issues users have reported with the new home-grown Maps app. The new app dispenses with Google’s maps data for a home-grown solution, and in many cases the coverage is much worse than what came before, with missing details, a lack of integration with common navigation tasks and occasionally straight up wrong information.

Elsewhere, iOS is seen as a slight step forward but nothing too exciting, with the new Passbook app being well organised but lacking NFC support or use-cases for some people and not much really changing. Twitter and Facebook are now more nicely integrated into the OS, as are sharing options, but these still pale in comparison to what is possible on other platforms, noticeably Android.

Overall? It’s definitely worth an upgrade if you’ve got the cash, but the iPhone 5 isn’t the shake-up that some of us hoped it would be – unless you’re talking about the new connector demanding new iPhone 5 accessories. Hopefully with the expected release of the iPad Mini later this year we’ll see Apple really show us that it’s still capable of true innovation.

What’s new in IOS 6?

This is a guest post by William Judd

IOS 6 LogoLast week at the yearly WorldWide Developers Conference, Apple announced the latest version of their mobile operating system: iOS 6. The new version of the OS brings several new features to the table, notably ones that existed on Android for some time. As such, the update represents Apple’s continuing closing of the feature gap between iOS and Android, whilst maintaining the high level of usability that has been their trademark across all sections of their business. Let’s have a look at precisely what was announced.

Maps

Perhaps the biggest single update was to the Maps application. Instead of using Google’s Maps app on iOS, Apple is moving to their own solution, based on mapping data from OpenStreetMap. The maps are displayed using vectors instead of rasterised images, meaning each element is infinitely scaleable and should be a bit more bandwith-efficient as well. This should make it brilliant to use the iPad as an accessory for navigation, as the high resolution screen and new graphics should work perfectly together.

There are other changes in the mapping app. Apple has introduced turn-by-turn navigation into the app, a feature that Android has had for three years. There are also crowd-source navigation data via TomTom and 3D map viewing. However, Google Street View has been removed for obvious reasons.

PassBook

PassBook is a new app for iOS. It’s a mobile wallet that stores your merchant loyalty cards, boarding passes and tickets. It’s clever too, automatically updating the ticket with relevant information (like the gate number for a flight) and issuing alerts if you are close to a shop that you have gift card money to spend at. Should be brilliant, but a bit annoying if you’ve constantly got reminders going in your iPad headphones!

Siri

The world’s favourite virtual assistant has been upgraded again, with a whole bunch of new interests. You can now ask Siri questions about sports (including stats and results), nearby restaurants (using data from Yelp and with reservations by OpenTable), and films (including trailers and Rotten Tomatoes ratings and reviews). You can also ask Siri to open apps for you, a feature that many were surprised wasn’t available at launch.

Facebook Integration

Apple were rumoured to be including Facebook integration in an earlier version of iOS, but it never materialised and we got Twitter instead. This time around, Facebook is getting the full treatment, including pulling information from your Facebook friends into your phone contacts and making sharing to Facebook a lot easier.

Conclusion

So those are the big changes coming in iOS 6. There are a host of other tweaks, changes and additions that you can read about elsewhere – Apple’s official iOS 6 page is a great place to start. Thanks for reading and be sure to let me know what you think of the new OS in the comments below!

Five weird iPhone cases

This is a guest post by William Judd.

Today we’ll be looking at five of the weirdest iPhone 4S cases I’ve ever seen – including some which are a bit creepy, some that look a bit appetizing, and others that just don’t make any sense. Let’s get right into it!

5. Retro Phone Case
Retro handset iPhone caseIt’s quite common for those who prefer older styles tend to choose a phone case that reflects this – perhaps a wooden case, or maybe a nice handmade iPhone 4S leather case. These are good choices because they use classic designs to wrap a modern invention, but there are also tackier solutions – cases that look like cameras or cassettes. These are a bit suspect, but at least they’re well made. Finally, we have this retro phone case: a traditional handset glued to the back of an iPhone case. That’s just weird.

4. Breakfast Food Cases
Breakfast food iPhone casesFrom a badly designed weird case to a rather nicely constructed one, we have these breakfast food cases from Japan. There’s a choice of noodles, hash browns, rice or – my favourite – bacon and eggs. Each case is distressingly realistically well made and could easily pass for what they’re imitating if they were face down resting on your desk.

3. Giant Ear Case
Giant ear iPhone caseFood cases are cool, but I’ve heard of something better: this case that’ll really give you an earful. This lobe-ly case is just a giant silicone ear that’s quite amusing to bring out in public. Thanks to the massive size of the case, this should make your iPhone a lot harder to lose – and I guess that’s a good thing? Of all the cases on the list, this is the one I’d actually love to have.

2. Chocolate Bar Case
Chocolate bar iPhone caseThis is the only one on this list that I’ve actually seen in real life – as my girlfriend has it. She picked it up in Japan, where cute (and sometimes weird) phone cases are definitely the norm. Unlike some the other items on this list, the chocolate bar case looks quite realistic; something that came back to bite me when I noticed it early one morning. I can safely report that it does not taste like chocolate.

1. Creepy Hand Case
Creepy hand iPhone caseOur ‘winner’ this time is this creepy hand case from a Japanese manufacturer (indeed, the same firm behind the breakfast food cases earlier). Available in your choice of little kid or woman varieties, both cases feature a disembodied hand that affixes to the rear of the case. This means you can hold hands while on the phone, or even use it to hold pencils. It’s weird as hell, and for that reason it takes home the top spot.

Conclusion
And there we have it – five of the weirdest iPhone cases I’ve ever seen. Would you actually use any of these, or are they just too weird? Let me know in the comments down below!