Speck iPhone 5 cases review

Forget chasing after bag snatchers and standing up to bank robbers – in this gadget loving age the definition of brave has to be anyone who uses their smartphone without a case. Confronted with such individuals, we can’t help but stare at them with both fear and wide-eyed admiration. After all, if they are willing to risk a scratch, scuff or major damage to the computerised jewel in their pocket who knows what crazy things they might do.

But we don’t want to encourage such reckless abandon. It’s like driving without a seatbelt or bungee jumping without a bunjee. Crazy and exciting – but after a few glorious moments, sure to end in disaster and tears.

No, we say. Stay safe and case-up.

Now as we are unapologetic worshipers at the altar of Jobs, you’ll find iPhone’s nestling in the pockets of our jeans so, inevitably, the cases we’re looking at today are for the latest iteration, the iPhone 5.

There are myriad companies that make cases and protective covers for the iPhone – it’s a massive industry, accounting for nearly $450 million in the US in 2011, and no doubt a lot more in 2012.

That’s a lot of cases so let us guide you straight to one of our favourite brands – Speck. Based in Palo Alto, California, it is about 20 minutes’ drive from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, which helps to ensure that its cases simply work better with Apple products. (N.B. This is nonsense, obviously).

I was one of these early iPhone 4 guys, and one of the cases on offer was cooler looking than the others but it required waiting TWO WHOLE MONTHS for delivery. Yes, rather than buying a cheap case in the mean-time, I lived close to the edge and didn’t get a case. Crazy? Well it’s just the way I roll.The make first came to my attention after the iPhone 4 ‘Antenna-gate’ incident, which for those of a geeky persuasion will recall in June 2010. This was when many complained that the iPhone 4 dropped calls when held in a certain way, leading Steve Jobs to write the immortal line in an email to a disgruntled customer, “you’re holding it wrong”. That didn’t go down well and the result of the fall out from Antenna-gate was that Apple was forced to give away free cases for early iPhone 4 owners, or ‘bumpers’ as the US irritatingly insists on calling them.

For him: Speck PixelSkin HD

Supplier: http://www.speckproducts.com/
Price: $29.95

UK Supplier: Amazon.co.uk – Black only
Price: £19.14

Rating: 5/5

That case was the Pixel HD from Speck. Sure enough, when the iPhone 5 arrived being a’ wild and crazy guy’ I decided I wanted exactly the same case to protect the new phone, and sure enough around the day of release, Speck announced the PixelSkin HD for iPhone 5.

What I like about this case is that it offers pretty comprehensive protection for your iPhone without adding too much in the way of bulk. It’s also tough and I can attest that it saved my iPhone from numerous bumps, scratches and in all likelihood breakages.

It doesn’t offer any direct protection for the screen, but the ridge of the case is raised all the way round so that when your iPhone does fall to the ground it still offers good protection. The power button at the top and the volume button at the top and bottom are covered. While sturdy the case isn’t too thick, so I never have any problems plugging in headphone or the like. If you’re using a dock you might be able to keep the iPhone in the case while using it. I say might though – you’ll still need to take it out in most cases.

It’s good news then that it’s very simple to pop the case on and off easily, which is useful as dirt and dust will creep inside over time and you’ll want to take your iPhone out and give it a clean. That’s always a good moment to remind yourself how thin and light and generally wondrous your Jesusphone is, before you quickly place in back in its protective skin.

The best bit about the case though it where it gets its name – the grid-like array of squares on the rear. Speck offers another case with squares also called the PixelSkin, but these are smaller, hence the ‘HD’. It looks great, but what’s good about this is that this gives the case a grippy feel, so it’s less likely to slip out of your hands or slip off a sofa.

I prefer my black iPhone to be matched with a black case, but Speck usefully does the case in four other colours – red, blue, graphite and harbour (whatever that is). We were sent the red one, and the colour is rich and deep.

Finally, the shiny plastic finish is smart, which makes it easier on the eye that many cheap cases. The Speck Pixel HD isn’t the cheapest case around, but for me, it’s smart, stylish, strong and great value.

For her: Speck FabShell FreshBloom Coral
Supplier: http://www.speckproducts.com/
$34.95
UK Supplier: Amazon.co.uk
£11.99

Rating: 5/5

If you want something less minimalist on your iPhone, then Speck also offers the FabShell range. The one that was sent for testing has a fabric finish integrated down the back and down the sides of the case. Again, the first impression is of quality and style. By its very nature a case is going to alter the look of your phone, and if you have picked up an iPhone it’s fair to say that image is important to you, (he said, knowingly knocking the cheap plastic feel of all Android phones). The Fabshell gives your phone that slight arty touch, without falling into pretention. It also feels great to touch, adding a tactile enhancement that oozes class.

Putting the FabShell on, I noted that the shell was thicker than the Pixel HD. This made it a little trickier to get on, but this is offset with offering even greater protection. The ridges for the ports are inevitably a little deeper though, so be warned and the power button is a tough more difficult to push and the mute button on the side is harder to get to as well.

The line drawing finish of the one we were sent (FreshBloom Coral) wasn’t particularly to my taste, but there are a good number of cool looking ones on the Speck web site – Raw Edged/Pomodoro looks good to me, so there’s bound to be something to your liking.

Verdict:

There’s no denying the quality of these iPhone cases. They add rather than detract from the look of your phone, and offer solid protection without adding too much bulk. Highly recommended.

Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphone launch at Abbey Road

Last night I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the launch of the brand spanking new Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones. As you may know, Bowers & Wilkins are a legendary high-end speaker manufacturer, associated with quality and class, so it was odds on for a fine evening.

What made it extra special for me was that the launch was at Abbey Road studios in London, in Studio 2. This is arguably the most famous recording studio in the world, as it’s the room in which The Beatles recorded most of their music. As a dyed-in-the-wool Beatles fan this was pretty exciting stuff.

Of course many other acts also have recorded there too – Pink Floyd, for one, so in rock terms it’s virtually hallowed ground.  (That said, Cliff Richard also used to record in there. Sorry Cliff – loved your Young Ones record. No I mean, the one with the actual Young Ones). It’s a studio that’s still constantly used (indeed the party was over by 9pm as we were chucked out to make way for someone else) but it was nonetheless a huge thrill to think of the Fab Four sitting, composing and recording so many of their tunes in the room where I was chatting and casually drinking a beer.

Bowers & Wilkins has a long established connection with Abbey Road – its speakers have been used as reference monitors in there since the late 80s – and the company had placed many of its current products around the room, including one of its Diamond range speakers, its P5 headphones, its well known Zepplin iPod dock, and a single flagship Nautilus (that’s £5,500 to you sir).

A grand piano sat at one end of the room. Had Paul McCartney tinkled away on the ivory keys on this very piano? Yes, probably.

The launch was delightfully mellow and unstated a brief introduction to the company and products by two of its senior members. We were then treated to a live performance by a band called Portico Quartet that we were told had just been had been nominated for a Mercury Prize. Spotify describes them as “a contemporary modern jazz and ethnic fusion”, which sounds like a load of pretentious bollocks – but actually it was pretty cool, mellow and trippy.

The twist was that the performance was being recorded and we were each given a pair of the new P3 headphones attached to a wireless mic that was tuned into the mixing desk. We were therefore listening in to a live recording being made in front of us. This was then mixed and mastered, and on leaving the studio we were presented with a pair of P3s and an iPod shuffle on which was placed the recording of what we’d just seen and heard so we could listen to it on the way home.

Nice.

It was, without too much fanfare or pomp, the most enjoyable press launch I can remember going to for a long while.

The P3s

But what of the P3s themselves? These are the baby brother of the very successful P5s and have the advantage of being smaller, more lightweight, more portable (they fold and are supplied with a carry case) and at an RRP of £169.99 – less expensive. They are also superbly comfortable to wear, both for short and longer listening sessions and also look incredibly classy and cool – which is no more than you would expect from Bowers & Wilkins.

The one thing I’ve not mentioned in that list is sound quality. Needless to say, the P3 are truly excellent, especially for the price. I’ll home straight in on the bass, which is beautifully rich, full and rhythmic. It’s great how you can follow a bass line and pick out the intricacies and subtleties of the playing.

That said, I have to admit to some reservations. My first impression are that while the sound is really excellent, there’s something missing that I can’t yet put my finger, or at least my ear, on. Is there a lack of crispness at the high end? Is the sound a touch –  muddy? I’m not sure. I’ll leave it to a dedicated review to make a final judgment.

Clearly though there’s a lot of love, passion, and great engineering that has gone into the P3s and I’m sure they are going to a a massive success for the company. And they could not have picked a more fitting location for the launch that Abbey Road Studio 2.

 

 

Klipsch Image X10i earphones review

Price: £198.27 from www.amazon.co.uk
Score: 9/10

Pros: Sound quality, comfort
Cons: Only guaranteed to work correctly with iPhone and iPod touch.

Recently I had the pleasure of trying out the Klipsh S4i headphones and found them to be a fantastic sounding and comfortable to wear pair of earphones. For around £85, they are certainly one of the best you can buy. So can Klipsh really justify charging around £200 for its X10i headphones? It does seem slightly odd that there’s no pair filling in the price gap between the two sets, so can these really worth the huge step up in price?

In a nutshell, they are. And how. Let’s get right down to it- the Klipsch X10i headphones are fantastic. The X10i’s are an update of the X10 that have been around for a year or so, but add an inline three button remote and integrated microphone, making them a perfect match for the iPhone, enabling users to answer and end calls with a press of the centre Play button and skip between tracks. It will also work with Voiceover, as used on the 3rd Gen iPod shuffle. The other distinguishing aspect of these top-of-the-range earphones is that they are incredibly small and light, weighing just 10.5g and making them less fatiguing to wear for long period.

The set feels special as in the box you get a faux leather case to carry them, a 3.5mm to phono plug connector, and an airplane adaptor. Most crucially though, Klipsch includes a selection of ear tips to ensure you get the perfect seal. This is important to ensure that you get an airtight seal thus providing you with real sound isolation which means you can play your music at lower volumes. You’ll also get a fuller and truer bass response from the headphones, which will have a massive impact on sound quality.

Klipsch provides five sets of ear tips, two with ‘double flange’ tips that it claims will give the tightest fit and best sound isolation. However, I knew straight away that these would not fit my ear canals, and though I gave it a go I was proved right. Fortunately, the smallest ear tip provided me with a snug fit, ensuring great sound isolation and tight bass. Klipsch suggest you push the headphones in and then pull them out slightly to get the snuggest fit possible.

Klipsch is the only manufacturer to offer oval shaped earbuds, which it claims more naturally matches the shape of the ear canal to ensure a more comfortable fit. It seems to work too, as I found I could wear the X10i’s for a hours at a stretch without it proving uncomfortable. Considering you’re sticking something in your ear, that’s impressive.

As soon as I got hold of them, I was very keen to give them a try. I unboxed them, released them from their impressive packaging and plugged into my ears using those small ear tips, and went straight to my goto track for bass, rhythm and vocal clarity – Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, encoded using Apple Lossless. The X10i’s delivered, and in spades – the slap of the drums, the movement of the bass, the hi-hats, the vocals – the sheer drama of the track is all there, plugged directly into your skull.

With all types of music the X10i’s are fantastic monitors of the sound, to the extent that if you’re using low bit-rate material you’re going to come a cropper as the X10i’s will ruthlessly reveal any flaws in your source material. As such, I was glad that I’ve most of my CDs have been ripped at a minimum of 192Kbps AAC, and have recently moved to 320Kbps AAC – probably overkill, but I’m happy to have the overhead and it produces smaller file sizes then encoding losslessly.

While I had no issues with the very good S4i’s, listening the X10i’s is like wiping your glasses and being able to see clearly – like moving from a good quality SD picture to HD. What’s impressive is that there’s a balance to the sound, with no one aspect being neglected or becoming overpowering. The mid-range is finely detailed, the bass is full, and the top end is precise and clear. It’s all good.

What’s surprising is that Klipsch only uses a single driver, whereas competitors in this area use three or more. This helps keep the size of the earphones down and enables them to be as tiny as they are.

The only areas I did find of concern is that as with the S4i’s the connector for the earphones plugs in vertically rather than at a right angle. This means that if I have my iPhone on the desk in front of me the right way so that I can see the album artwork the X10i cable has to be bent round at an angle, putting pressure on the cable, which isn’t ideal. Additionally, when you come to pull the earphones out of your iPhone you must be careful to do it at the base as otherwise you could easily pull the cable out. When you spend this much on a set of headphones, that’s not something you want to do.

Another issue I encountered was when I tried to use them with another phone – a Android powered Samsung Galaxy S. While I wasn’t expected the in-line remote to work with the Galaxy S, I was expected the earphones side of things to work – but sadly I was disappointed. The output sounds as if the headphones are not plugged in properly making them unusable. It’s clearly connected to the Apple chip inside as strangely pressing the play button makes the headphones work as normal. Clearly, you’re not going to hold the button the entire time, so sadly the X10i’s are completely unusable with the Galaxy S.

If you’ve just got the iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4 , or a recent iPod however, the X10i’s are simply an outstanding choice. If you really want to hear every detail in your music, answer phone calls with a press of the button and have a comfortable listening experience then the X10i’s really deliver.

Proporta Silicone iPhone 4 Reception Case with SteriTouch

Score:7/10

If you’ve recently picked up an iPhone 4, you’ll probably be on the lookout for a decent case – especially now that Apple free case program – the one introduced as a sop to appease those unhappy with the naked iPhone 4’s reception ability – is coming to an end.

Every time I need a case, I always check out what Proporta has to offer and as ever there’s a good selection there. If you don’t want to spend a fortune, one of the cheapest options is the Silicone iPhone 4 Reception Case with SteriTouch, to give its not very catchy full title. However, while it’s £19.95 at Proporta, you can pick it up for £12.95 at BlueUnplugged.

This claims to offers a three in one benefit –it will protect your iPhone 4 from bumps and scratches, will solve the reception issue, and also offers protection from a hidden menace – germs. We’re told on the Proporta web site that average mobile has 25,127 germs per square inch, whilst the average toilet seat has just 49. Duly terrified, we should therefore be assured by the fact that this case has antimicrobial agents are embedded into the silicon material.

Presumably these antimicrobial agents have with dark glasses and ears pieces and confront dangerous microbes saying, “so Mr Anderson”. While it’s hard to test the effectiveness of something like this, I can confirm that I didn’t catch any major diseases while using this case – so that’s probably a plus point right there.

As far as the reception issue goes, the case has a thickened, rigged grip over the aerial, which seemed to do the trick, and no calls dropped with the case on, which did happen with the phone bare.

Proporta offers the Silicone case in a number of two tone colours – black with either Green, Grey or Pink. I went for the pink one, which I normally wouldn’t do, but as the visible coloured parts are subtle it actually works very well. With the phone outside the case, the whole of the back is pink which is a bit much, so best get the phone in there quick.

The case is very easy to slip on and off – so if you do need to take the phone out of the case on a regular basis for any reason, this will be a good one to go for.

The Silicone leaves the bottom of the phone, the microphone socket, the silencing switch and the camera exposed, which naturally it has to, but otherwise the back and sides are covered. The glass front is not covered, so you’ll need to get a separate screen protector. The volume up and down buttons actually feel better to use covered, and the grips on the right hand side means it won’t easily slip out of your hand.

One issue is that the case is not particularly snug, and the thin strip over the bottom edge at the front feels a little thin and flimsy so care needs to be taken. However, it is very lightweight, so you won’t be adding bulk to the phone.

Overall the cover does the job, and if you drop the phone onto a hard floor or even the road you will be pleased you had if on your phone. It looks fine, but in the hand it just doesn’t feel like a premium product – but then at £12.95 is isn’t.

World awaits iOS4

Anticipation is building for the release of the latest update for the iPhone in the shape of iOS4, which is officially available today. Apple has said that the update, renamed from iPhone OS to iOS, would be released today, but did not specify a time and social networks such as Twitter are abuzz with anticipation.

The gold master however has been available for two week to developers and those keen enough to find it on the internet.
The update brings with it major changes such as the introduction of folders for organising apps, and introducing Apple’s version of multi-tasking, where apps can be paused and placed in the background when you switch to another app, and then resumed from where you left off. However, every single App needs to either be updated to support iOS4, so users upgrading to the OS will initially only get the benefit from newly developed apps or those from developers that have had the foresight to update already.

In terms of hardware, the iPhone 4 will come equipped with iOS4 pre-installed, while owners of the iPhone 3GS can upgrade. The iPhone 3G can be upgraded but only partially supports the new OS, and due to hardware limitations multi-tasking is not supported. The original iPhone cannot run the new OS at all.

Apple announces the iPhone 4

The new version of the iPhone was as expected revealed by Steve Jobs at WWDC, though it’s just dubbed the iPhone 4, rather than than iPhone HD as had been rumoured.

It does have a high resolution 960 x 640 display for much sharper text, offers greater contrast ratio and IPS tech for better viewing angles.

It’s also powered by the A4 processor as in the iPad as is a microSIM slot. The space saved helps fit a larger battery and 802.11n Wi-Fi is now provided.

An all new piece of hardware is a 3-axis gyro providing pitch, roll and yaw movement.

Design wise there were no surprises, though it undoubtedly impresses in stainless steel and glass.

Jobs also revealed that Bing has been added as a search option, commenting that, “Microsoft has done a great job on this!”.

iBooks also arrives for the iPhone and as with the Kindle, will sync between both iPhone and iPad.

The front camera app is announced as Facetime, rather than iChat, but will only run over Wi-Fi, at least in 2010, limiting its usefulness. The rear camera is now capable of recording 720p video at 30fps.

The phone will be available from 24 June. It costs $199 for the 16GB version or $299 for a 32GB version on a two-year contract in the US but UK prices have not been announced but pre registration is possible with Carphone Warehouse and O2.

iPhone 4.0 OS – no laughing matter

I finally got round to watching Steve Jobs keynote on the iPhone 4.0 OS update last night. During the keynote Jobs said there were 100 new user features added but focussed on seven ‘tentpole’ features, which I have to admit made me titter somewhat but that’s just me.

While I think it’s a solid list of updates and improvements my overall feeling was somewhat subdued. As each feature was reeled off I was left with little sense of ‘wow’. Even when the much anticipated multitasking was finally announced it didn’t set my world on fire and after he demoed it, Jobs even had to give the audience an expectant look to trigger the fanboy clapping – it was all slightly awkward. The biggest ‘takeway’ was the feeling that Apple has just caught up with other platforms and that we’ve been waiting too long for these features in the first place.

Of all the major features listed in fact it was the last mentioned that impressed me the most – iAds. This will bring slick in-app adverts to the iPhone. Jobs demoed an advert for Toy Story 3, which even lets you play a game inside the ad – so if you’re playing a game with an advert in you could end up playing a game within a game.

Amusingly, when Steve mentioned that all the clever iAd stuff was done in HTML5, clearly a reference to Apple refusing to let Adobe Flash touch the iPhone, Steve got an ironic laugh from the audience. I wonder how many times in the history of comedy has the line – “All this was done in HTML 5″ got a laugh?

Top of my personal list of must have additions is the threaded email feature as it’s such a pain having to scroll through long lists of messages in an email chain when you want to get to something else entirely.Folders is another good addition as the scrolling through pages of apps was getting silly. 

Overall though, it’s a list of catch up features. Those who’ve made heavy investments in iPhone apps will naturally be inclined to stay with the platform, and no doubt that it what Apple is counting on. But for those who haven’t, or who are willing to write the investment off as it were, the newest Android phones make for some serious competition, especially with their far more attractive tariffs. 

For me personally, it will be the hardware upgrades for the iPhone 4G that will make me decide to stick or twist.