Switcheasy Vulcan

January 29, 2010

After I picked up the iSkin Solo FX for my wife’s iPhone 3GS, I absolutely loved the material along with the fit and feel. I really thought it COULD be the case, that would replace my long time use of the Speck Candyshell. Stopping me was the color, and the multi circle designs on the back. It’s not at all my style, and looked for a solid black version. They didn’t have the Solo FX in black, but I was thrilled to see they had a regular iSkin Solo in solid black. I ordered 2 of them, I was so excited to see it. When it arrived, I was underwhelmed by the fit. It’s a slightly different feel then the FX, and the case just does’t sit on the phone the way the FX does. Disappointed, I began looking for alternatives, and saw some comparisons to the Switcheasy Vulcan, and placed my order to try it out.

I’ve owned a few Switcheasy cases on the past. I had an original black Capsule Rebel, and I loved the design, but it suffered from the dreaded sagging bottom. I then picked up the Capsule Neo on it’s launch day, and after the install, it became my favorite case for awhile.
Switcheasy produces quality, and some of the very best cases on the market, and most people who use them, know this as well. The Vulcan is no different.
The material is something they call “Hydro Polymer.” It’s very similar to the material on the iSkin Solo. It’s not a hardshell, and not a silicone rubber, but something somewhere in-between. In my opinion, it’s superior to both of those, for great scratch protection, and impact protection. This material is soft, flexible, yet still enough to hold it’s shape. It’s smooth, and slick feeling, and can slide in and out of your pocket easily, but has enough tack where it will stay in your hand. It won’t collect dust, but it IS a fingerprint magnet. The entire chrome bezel is covered, and it creates a very nicer lay on the table design.
Putting the case on is simple, and does require a bit of massaging to line up the camera hole perfectly, and the bottom mic and speaker openings. It’s only takes a second or two, to fit the case dead on.
Switcheasy always gives you a lot of extras as well. In the box, you get a screen shield, microfiber, and the greatest thing in the box, 2 dock covers, and 2 headphone port plugs. They also come in the color of your case, so for me, it’s the smoke colored pieces.
The Vulcan has a slight design on the back, which is subtle, and adds just enough flair to the case. The shape reminds me of the logo from Star Trek, and I’m sure this is why the case is called the Vulcan.
The case adds very little bulk to the phone. It’s close to the iSkin Solo in thickness, but the fit and finish of the Vulcan is superior. The only 2 issues I found with the case, was when putting in the dock connector plug, the lip on the bottom would raise up. This was an instant disappointment, BUT I solved with with a very easy solution, you can see in the video review. The second issue, are the lines along the sides of the phone from the molding process. They feel a bit sharp in your hand, but it’s not a deal breaker for me. At only $19.99 on the Switcheasy site, this to me is a fantastic buy, and highly recommend it.

iSkin Solo FX

January 18, 2010

Today I picked up a new case for my wife’s iPhone. My wife is BRUTAL on cases. It’s not that she drops the phone, or is rough with it. I honestly don’t know how the hell she does it. In the past 6 months, she’s gone through 2 Speck Candy shells, by breaking the bottom plastic piece that goes across the dock port and lower bezel, and 2 Speck See-Thru cases, where the rubber rim that surrounds the bezel has come up from the case.

My wife is sort of… clumsy, so I want the best protection I can give her phone, and yet she wants a “cute” looking case. I HATE silicone cases. They stretch, never fit quite right, attract dust and link, and when dirt particles get under the skin, it will scratch the hell out of the phone. Not a good choice for the Mrs.

I picked up the iSkin Solo FX from the Apple Store today in Blue. This could possibly be the best case for my wife. First, she loved the blue color of the candy shell. The blue on the Solo FX is damn close. She wanted a “cute” case. This has a girlie design, with little circles in it. Bingo. It’s not hard shell, so she can’t crack it, and it’s NOT silicone, so it will retain its form.

This case is a soft, pliable polymer of some sort, too hard to be silicone, too much like plastic to be a rubber… It’s actually a very cool case. If this came in solid black, I might actually use this instead of my Candyshell.

It comes with a mirror screen protector, and some iSkin stickers if you so dare to show off your allegiance to the iSkin Army.

This is well made, and nice looking, and after if goes through the stress test that is my wife, I’ll let you know how it holds up.


ZaggSPARQ Battery Back up

January 14, 2010

The people over at Zagg were kind enough  send me out for review, the ZaggSPARQ. This is a battery backup unit, used to change your USB powered devices. What makes this review unique for me, it’s also the first time I did a video review of a product. I tried to stay away from Video for thaw past year running this blog, and I decided to cave. I will attempt to do both written and video for the rest of my reviews, as I want to reach the most people possible. On to the review…

When traveling on a 10 hour flight to Europe, it’s crucial I have mu iPod, and iPhone with me. The problem is, the battery won’t last the entire trip. I have always carried battery backups with me, and they always meant extra cables. Zagg has come out with a battery back up unit, that solves a few issues I have with my other models.

First, and most importantly, this unit is 6000 mAh. That’s a HUGE amount of power. This will give you 4 FULL charges from a dead iPhone. Simple amazing, and for that alone I’m excited to travel with this. The second feature, is the built in plug, so there’s no need to carry another cord to charge the unit. The addition of the EU adapter for use in central Europe 220 outlets is brilliant, and since I’m between US and Europe all the time, this is a welcome surprise.

The weight of the unit is about 1/2 a pound. Not heavy at all. The size is VERY close the an Apple Airport Extreme, or the power brick on the cord of a MacBook Pro. The unit itself is a black high gloss, which makes it a finger print magnet, and very slick in your hand.

2 USB ports gives this a huge advantage over it’s competitors. The ability to charge 2 devices at once will certainly come in handy on the road, or sitting next to a friend on an airplane.

The ZaggSparq also needs a full 9 hours per charge, so overnight when you sleep should be plenty.

There is one thing on this unit I would fix if given the chance, and that’s the addition of a charging light. When you plug the unit in, you have no idea if it’s charging, or if it’s full charged. A simple LED that would light up Red while charging, and Green when complete would be an improvement.

I will do a follow up on this after I’ve had the chance to road test this for a bit, but already, I think this will be replacing my iMax Power 5000 mAh unit.


The “Thin Lizzy” iPhone Debate: Jailbreak

January 9, 2010

This isn’t a product or app review this time, this is more of an opinion piece I suppose. What ever it is, it’s about the choice to Jailbreak your iPhone, or not. For the longest time, I was one of those people who didn’t want to chance the possibility of hurting the phone in some way where I would brick the unit, or void the warranty. I stayed away from it, and left the iPhone as Apple intended it to be. When I upgraded to the 3GS last July, I decided to Jailbreak the 3G and try it out for myself.

I found some invaluable tools with Jailbreaking. The ability to run apps in the background is a huge reason to do it. Also, customization of the spring board, or a blacklist feature for texts and calls… I can go on and on. There’s a million reasons to do it. I decided to take the plunge an open up my 3GS and enjoy it’s full potential.

I was at an ugly impasse. On one hand, opening up the phone to so many new features is hard to argue against, but Jailbreaking had one major flaw for me… My phones performance suffered greatly. It was less responsive, the battery life would drain much faster, and I had frequent crashes and buggy happenings. I had no choice but to restore back to factory settings.

I thought, perhaps it was something I did, and tried the process again, on both my 3G as well as the two 3GS units I own… They all act the same way for me. So again, a restore on all the units, back to factory default.

Now, I’m not one to preach one way or another. People like to argue back and forth about what you should do, and in the end, it’s 100% your own decision. For me, I LOVED the capabilities of a jailbroken iPhone, but I could not let the performance of the phone suffer for it. I use the iPhone daily, almost as a lifeline. It’s always at my side, taking care of most things I needed my computer for. I need it to work as it’s intended to work, and be reliable, especially when it’s already crippled on the AT&T network. I have enough frustration with dropping calls in my area, the last thing I need is frustration while the phone lags in general use.

Hopefully with future updates, the performance issues I have experienced will be a thing of the past, and I can once again go the way of Thin Lizzy. But until then, I’m more then happy with the solid performance of the UI.


Contour SurfaceSound Compact Bluetooth Speakerphone

December 9, 2009

If you read my older reviews, you know I’m a fan of the Contour Metal bluetooth headset, so when I saw the SurfaceSound in the Apple store, I knew I would eventually pick one up to try out. several months ago, MyGearStore.com had it on sale and they ran a one day only Twitter sale for 40% off your entire order, so I was able to pick this up for about $45, which is a STEAL. I believe it will run you $99.95 from the Apple store, so I saved more then half.

The unit itself is very thin, and uses a large flat speaker for the sound. It’s got some decent weight to it, and overall, it feels very well made. The microphone is on a swiveling arm, and the clip to hold this to your visor in your car is metal, and hard to bend, almost like a spring metal. Solid, and high quality, and that is exactly what I would expect from Contour.

It comes with the obvious charging USB cable, car charger, and a single wired ear bud for private conversations. Charging is done through either the car charger, or a home USB charger, like the one that comes with your iPhone works perfectly. The USB cable is standard on one end, and what I believe is micro USB on the unit side. Pairing the unit to the iPhone was easy. Following the included instructions had me up and running in seconds.

Enough of the little things… Getting to what actually matters, the sound.

One of the biggest complaints I have with the iPhone, is that the speaker phone is almost useless in a car. With road noise, the speaker is just too quiet, and makes it near impossible to use, so I was more then happy to hear how loud the speaker was on the Contour SurfaceSound. You can raise the volume up all the way, and it’s loud, and crystal clear even over the road noise. I serious plus.

They use an anti echo technology so when your talking to someone, even when the unit is set to full volume, they do not hear themselves in echo, and if they do, you can blame AT&T and not Contour. On the receiving end, when I have spoken to people, I have always asked how I sound, and they have always told me, very clear, and didn’t know I was using a speaker at all.

I do have an issue with the design. The instructions show you should clip the unit to your sun visor in the car, closest to you, pushing it forward on the visor itself. Basically, when you then lower your visor to use it, the Contour SurfaceSound will be facing the floor, and on the bottom. My issue with this is the unit is a bit heavy, and my visor doesn’t hold it’s weight well. It tends to sag with it clipped on, so I decided to mount it on the back of the visor, to eliminate this problem.

Good idea, right? Wrong…

The Microphone on the swinging arm, regardless of how it looks, it on the front side of the arm. Mounting this backwards on my visor resulted in every people I spoke to saying “What? What?  I can’t hear you!” That’s not good. If they made the mic uni directional, the problem would be solved. The other issue I have is the actual Mic arm sticking down. In my car, when the arm is down, and in use, it’s uncomfortably close to my right eye, and I keep having this thought, that a car accident would result if having this thing removed from my eye ball. This would most likely not be the case, but I have to say, it’s a bit unnerving.

Overall, the build quality and sound quality when used correctly are outstanding. I would recommend this to anyone needing a hands free bluetooth speakerphone. For me though, I really wanted to mount this on the back of the visor (nearest the windshield) but the mic makes for inaudible speech to my friends. I supposed I could do some minor surgery like I did on the Blue Mikey, and switch the mic to the other side, but I’m not sure I’m willing to do that just yet.


Impractical Audio Recording on the iPhone

December 8, 2009

After so many failed attempts at controlling the level input of the audio recording function on the iPhone with a portable solution, I decided to try alternative means to even see if this was possible. I KNEW it was, but I need to prove it to myself, and I did. Through the most ridiculous and impractical way possible, I was able to achieve a decent level of live recording, in an extremely loud environment known to some, in a death metal band rehearsal room.

If you’re still reading this, you must be interested in this, so here’s what I used to achieve this…

Behringer Xenyx502 Mixer

Shure Beta 58 Microphone

Mic cable

1/8″ to RCA Audio / Video cable (used with camcorders for TV output)

MONO RCA to 1/8″ Adapter

1/8″ to 1/4″ Adapter

On the iPhone, there are two way to import and record Audio. The Dock connector has Audio input, and utilized by the Blue Mikey, which can record in Stereo with the right mic and software, and the headphone jack. This silly ass set up will use the headphone jack.

The 1/8″ plug on the Audio / Video cable has 3 rings. Left / Right / and the yellow is Video. On the iPhone, the Yellow (or video) plug turns into your mic input. This is used for your Apple stock earbuds with using the telephone feature of the iPhone. Yes, it IS actually a phone too!

The Behringer Xenyx502 Mixer was purchased at Guitar Center about a year ago for about $50.00. It’s their low end, simple mixer. This mixer has 2 Main Out jacks, using 1/4″ plugs, so I needed to get the RCA to 1/4″. My local Radio Shack didn’t have this, so I needed to buy an RCA to 1/8″ Mono adapter. I already owned an Stereo 1/8″ to 1/4″ and that works fine, but if I were going to purchase this, I would have picked up a mono 1/8″ to 1/4″.

So, RCA to 1/8″ to 1/4″ to the Main Out Left port on the mixer. Simple right?

I use the Shure Beta 58 into the mixer, and the Audio / Video 1/8″ plug into the iPhone’s head phone port, and I’m then able to adjust the input level of the audio using the Main Mix dial.

Using the mixer also gave me control over the treble and bass of the input, and setting the Main Mix low, the audio input was acceptable!

The band was VERY loud, and the audio recorded as clear as could be in this situation. What made this method nice in the rehearsal room, was the Shure Beta 58 was on a microphone stand, and when panning the room with with video camera, the audio remained stationary, and consistent during the recording.

What have I learned… First, I’m an idiot with way too time on my hands. I also like to overt think and expect too much from my tech. Saying that, this is entirely possible. In a controlled environment, you can shoot nice video and decent audio of a loud band, or other extremely loud noise. This however does not work well for portability, and that’s what I really want here.

It works, really well. Now I need to find an ultra portable solution.


Sony Ericsson HBH-DS205 Stereo Bluetooth Headset

November 19, 2009

The Apple iPhone has had Bluetooth capabilities from day one, but for some reason those all knowing, all powerful forces within the friendly confines at 1 Infinite Loop Cupertino, CA, decided that you and I didn’t need A2DP enabled… Yet.

Software version 3.0 changed that, and opened up the wonderful world of Stereo Bluetooth. Convenient? Absolutely! What you gain in the loss of the tether, you lose some sound quality, but depending on what you’re doing, A2DP is pretty damn cool.

After lots of searching for a good headphone solution, I bought a pair of Sony headphones, and I loved them. I only had them for about a week, until my lovely wife decided that she loved them more. I’ve never seen those headphones again. $89.00… Poof.

The stereo in my car is stock Nissan, but it has a AUX in port on the front of the unit. I use this all the time with my iPhone (among other chargers and such) so I was jealous of people with A2DP built in. And then after some research, I found what I was looking for.

Enter the Sony Ericsson HBH-DS205 Stereo Bluetooth Headset.

HBH-DS205

The bluetooth unit is small. About the size of my little finger, maybe a bit smaller. It has a volume rocker (actually a slider) , on / off button, A microphone, an Action key, and an 1/8″ headphone port. On the bottom, the proprietary Sony Ericsson charging port. Let’s not forget the fancy clip for your shirt!

The unit comes with a pair of headphones, and usually a charger. I say usually, because I purchased this used on eBay, and it came sans charger. I knew this, and picked up an iGo plug and USB iGo cord to charge the unit. Since I purchased this used, no way am I sticking the ear buds in my ears. Hell, it looks like the Geetus had them in…

The Geetus

The unit paired with the iPhone almost instantly. Setting to phone to discover, and holding the power in on the unit for 5 seconds when off, and then entering the code. Simple, and done. I then hooked a 1/8″ to 1/8″ cable from the headphone port of the AUX port on the car stereo, and played a song. It works beautifully. Even putting the iPhone back into my pocket once the song was playing, and the stream never broke once.

Sound quality however suffers. I don’t mean suffering like having to listen to The Geetus fumble on his Bass for hours at a time, but bad enough where I can hear a difference. When I go direct from either the headphone port on the iPhone, or when using a car charger with a line out from the dock, the sound is very crisp, and clean. When using the A2DP, you begins to hear a degrade in quality, similar to a lower bit rate MP3. For somethings, this is more then acceptable. For audiophiles, for just people who enjoy higher quality, this may not do for you.

It says it has telephone answering capabilities as well, and to be honest, I didn’t pick this up for that reason, so I have yet to fully try this feature, and when I do, I’ll add a follow up here.

Bottom line, this unit is great, as it will work with any set of headphones with a standard 1/8″ jack. Also, if you have a AUX port on the car, you can rig it us as I have to use there. Maybe even a stereo in the house… You get the idea. For the price of around $89.00 I can’t really say if this is worth it. You’re still tethered to a degree using headphones. I would suggest doing what I did, and looking on eBay. You can pick it up for less, and even get to a level of affordability that even The Geetus could scrape together.