Category: Tech Gadgets

SopiGuard Skin for Macbook Pro with Touch Bar

By , December 16, 2016 11:30 pm

I recently got a new 13″  Macbook Pro with TouchBar. This is a 2016 model and the TouchBar is a bit gimmicky, but that’s another story. I wanted to keep it svelte and thin, but also wanted some protection. I looked on Amazon for a skin and finally found a version from a company called SopiGuard. At the time, it had one review and it was not a good one. The reviewer didn’t like anything about it. So I bought it.

Nuts you say? Well, I had a feeling they just didn’t understand how to install it. So, when it arrived I began to transfer my files from one Macbook Pro (i5 2.9 GHz) to my new one (i7 3.3 GHz). The kit has 3 parts rolled up in a nice box. Despite the nice packing, there was a wrinkle in one main piece. More on that later.

Here's my computers transferring files and the SopiGuard kit on top.

Here’s my computers transferring files and the SopiGuard kit on top.

So, a while back I had installed a skin on my Macbook. I learned that the trick was to spray a fine mist of water on the laptop so that you could move the skin around and adjust it. If you do not do this, the large unwieldy self adhesive skin is really hard to position and you’ll be peeling it off to reposition it over and over. The problem is that when you peel it off, odds are food you’ll stretch it and then it doesn’t fit anymore.

So with that in mind, I sprayed a fine mist of water onto my laptop. It’s waterproof and the laptop was turned off. There is little risk of problems from the fine mist.

Spray a fine mist to start.

Spray a fine mist to start.

Next used a knife to pick out the cutouts for the apple logo. I most did OK, but the laser cut wasn’t perfect and I had to tug a little. That left a little imperfection that I’ll show you later. It’s really small. Anyhow, because of the water, I was able to position the skin and then move it around a bit. I started by lining up the Apple logo perfectly. When I got it where I wanted it, I used a credit card as a squeegee and got the water out, keeping a paper towel handy to catch the drips.

You can hardly tell there's a skin on it!

You can hardly tell there’s a skin on it!

The color of the skin was a bit darker than the space gray, but it wasn’t so bad after I got used to it. The skin is also slightly metallic so it enhances the laptop quite well. Now all was not perfect. There was a wrinkle in the skin before I even placed it on the laptop. I am hoping that this small wrinkle will settle over time.

Can you spot the small wrinkles?

Can you spot the small wrinkles?

Also as I mentioned, the area around the Apple logo wasn’t perfect because the cutout left a little piece that I had to tug at. However, I’m being nit picky as you can see here, it’s pretty darn close. Also I guess there’s a tiny shift right. Very tiny.

Small imperfection in upper right of logo.

Small imperfection in upper right of logo.

Well, the last thing was the bottom. It actually ended up being the hardest as it has the most cutouts. I got it applied, but there are many parts that are only ok. I had to pull it up a few times and sure enough, it stretched.

Bottom was the hardest, but it's still pretty good.

Bottom was the hardest, but it’s still pretty good.

There’s holes for the tiny screws and the speaker exit cutouts as well as the notch along the top for the screen. In the end, I stretched it a bit and the upper left cutout for the rubber feet isn’t perfect. If you look really close, you can tell the skin doesn’t sit perfectly.

However, all in all the skin looks great and it does protect the majority of the laptop from scrapes and scratches. For the $16 I paid for it, it’s a pretty good deal. The bad reviews you see are the fact that it’s tricky to install a large self adhesive skin. Use some of the tricks I’ve shared here and you should get good results. I’d recommend this kit!

Here’s a link to the kit on Amazon. SopiGuard Skin.

Good luck to you!

TPU MacBook Air Keyboard cover still the best

By , March 8, 2014 12:50 pm

It’s been a few weeks now with the white silicon keyboard cover and it is going to be replaced. For all the reasons I described in my last post, but the deal breaker was the fact that it blocked the backlight of the keyboard. I miss that feature too much. So I ordered a clear TPU cover and put it on my laptop a few weeks ago.

The protector arrived in a very nice package. There was a formed plastic keyboard template in the envelope to make sure that the actual TPU unit didn’t lose any of its’ shape. Overall it was an impressive presentation given that this cover only cost $8. I think the design sensibilities made popular by Apple is spreading. It’s a great thing.

 

Premium packaging for a low price.

Premium packaging for a low price.

Installed on my computer, the effect is exactly as I had hoped. The keys are protected but it’s so subtle that you can barely tell that it is there. Also the feel of TPU is not as “sticky” as silicon. Although you can tell there’s something there as you type, it is in no way as noticeable as silicon. About the only thing that’s not better than the silicon is the fact that the protection doesn’t extend much beyond the outer keys. The silicon unit overlapped the recess for the keyboard affording a bit more protection from spills, etc.

Protection without distraction!

Protection without distraction!

In the picture above, you probably can’t even tell there’s anything on the keyboard. The “soft” look on the keys looks like a photo anomaly or something. Nope, it’s just the TPU protecting the keys. So if there a bad thing about this cover? Well, it does get dirty after a while and become a little less clear. The good news is that it’s so easy to wash and restore it back to new that I do it every week or so.

At the end of the day, TPU is an amazing material. I’ve tried many types of covers for my iPhone and keyboards for my laptops and I always return to a high quality TPU. In the end, it is the best combination of protection and appearance that I have ever come across. Thumps up!



Pros and Cons of Keyboard covers for the MacBook Air

By , February 2, 2014 6:53 pm

The Macbook Air has one of the best keyboards that I have every come across. The keys are perfectly spaced and provide excellent tactile feedback. To top it off, it’s backlit. I’ve noticed that after a lot of use, the keys on my keyboard get slick from wear. Also, the keyboard seems susceptible to dust, dirt and liquids. A lot of different companies provide keyboard covers that can provide great protection.

Recently one caught my eye because it not only protects the keyboard, it makes the computer very unique and look completely different.

It changes the personality completely!

It changes the personality completely!

This was from a company called Kuzy. Its a silicon rubber cover, but it’s also white! I decided to give this a try on my computer and thought I’d share a few pros and cons after having used it for a few weeks.

Of course, this cover changes the personality of the computer quite a lot. Here is a picture side by side for comparison.

Standard Macbook Air KeyboardNew look!

As you can see, it drastically changes the way it looks. The protection afforded is very good as well. However, all is not great in keyboard land. There are several things that take getting used to.

PROS:

  • It does look cool!
  • The keyboard is well protected from dust or liquids
  • It’s super thin and the fit is excellent.

CONS:

  • Typing doesn’t feel the same. The added friction of the silicon keys feels totally different.
  • More effort is needed to press the keys. I don’t type as fast or as error free.
  • The backlight is blocked. I can’t see the letters as well. The painted silicon keys blocks the light.
  • Blocks air circulation? I heard that the Macs draw cooling air through the keyboard. I’m not sure this is entirely true, but if it was the case, this cover would block that air almost completely.

So all in all, this is a balance of style and function. I have a feeling that I will be periodically removing this cover when I get tired of the cons. However during the times that I am drinking or eating something while working on the computer, I’ll keep this installed.

The Joy of iPad Cases

By , July 25, 2013 11:57 am

I’ve been using my iPad as my primary computing device over the past months. I like to keep my iPad thin but protected. Originally, I used an OEM apple magnetic cover and a Kensington TPU (thermo-plastic-urethane) cover to protect the back. Although this setup worked, the magnetic cover got really annoying. It kept coming off at the most inopportune moments, resulting in a dent on my iPad. Time for a new cover.

First, I thought that I would try a keyboard cover and got a Belkin Ultimate Wireless Keyboard
cover at Best Buy for $140. (Amazon has it in black for $96) It’s got all the makings of a great cover, but was ultimately let down by the build quality and price. For $140, I expect the thing to stay together as designed. (Topic for another post).

Beautifully made with great materials

Beautifully made with great materials

CONNECT THE DOTS:

After a lot of research I came across a cover from “The Joy Factory” called

Hard plastic back with leather like material.

Hard plastic back with leather like material.

“Connect the Dots”. The one I got is tan colored and is just beautiful. These retail for $79.95, but I was able to get it from an Amazon seller for $40. I think I have discovered the perfect iPad cover.

Here are a few shots of the cover with the iPad inside so that you can see the fit and protection that it affords. There isn’t a thing about the fit that I can complain about. It fits like the proverbial glove.  Also the cover is attached to the back piece so there is no chance of it coming off like with the OEM magnetic cover. The positions available are exactly the same as the OEM unit.

 

PACKAGING:

Nice multi-purpose packaging

Nice multi-purpose packaging

When this cover arrived in the mail, I knew there was something

Steve Jobs' quote on a mousepad.

Steve Jobs’ quote on a mousepad.

different about it. The Joy Factory really thought about he packaging and didn’t waste any materials or space. I like that.

The outer sleeve has a zipper up top so that you can reseal the case for watertight storage. You don’t have to cut or rip apart the plastic like so many others.

When you open the cover, it has a mousepad in it with the “Connect the Dots” quote from Steve Job’s commencement speech. These dots are also the inspiration for the black circles on the cover itself. It’s nice that they didn’t just stuff it with something for me to throw away as soon as I opened the cover.

FIT/FINISH:

So it looks great, is packaged well and has a bit of a story connected to it. How does it work? After a month of usage, I can say that it’s fantastic. There are several things about this cover that make it the best I’ve encountered. All the attention to details really stands out for me.

Stitched cover with chrome embossing.

Stitched cover with chrome embossing.

 

  • Stitching – unlike molded plastic covers that just glue pieces together (thermally or chemically) this cover is stitched. You can see this in the picture to the right. 
  • Materials – the cover looks like it is made of leather. I think this may be synthetic, but it feels so real that you may never notice the difference.
  • Inside – the iPad is self is nested in a suede like material. Both the inside of the cover (part touching the iPad glass) as well as the inside of the backside (part touching the aluminum) have a soft material.
  • Logo – The simple chrome Joy Factory logo is embossed and secured into the case. It’s so nicely done.
  • Magnets – yes this turns the iPad on and off like so many covers, but it also has a magnet to keep the cover held in pace when you fold it back to use it in “tablet” mode. No one else has that feature.
  • Dots – the cover isn’t just a blah piece of material. It’s very interesting with the dot pattern in it.

Overall, this cover really stands out from the crowded field of iPad covers. I’ve tried many different alternatives and can highly recommend this cover for all the reasons above. Despite the odd name, it’s a really great product. So hop on over to the Joy Factory site or Amazon you want to find out more.  The Joy Factory SmartSuit3 (Connect the Dots Vintage Khaki)

 

The Gray Pebble Watch Update

By , June 13, 2013 10:50 pm

If you’ve noticed the wearable computing craze hitting all the major companies, know that a little company called “Pebble” started it all a long time ago on KickStarter! They asked for a hundred thousand bucks to build a few and ended up getting $10.266 million.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/597507018/pebble-e-paper-watch-for-iphone-and-android/posts

I was one of the folks fascinated by the idea of a smartphone connected watch and supported them in Kickstarter. Heck, I think that was my first Kickstarter experience almost a year ago. I have patiently waited for my watch and then one fine day this week … this came in the mail.

Looks like Kindle packaging!

Looks like Kindle packaging!

 

First thing I noticed is how much this resembled the Kindles that I have gotten from Amazon. I like how they make the box very functional and informative. It also amps up the anticipation as you think about opening the thing up! Enough, let’s rip it open.

Bare minimal packaging

Bare minimal packaging

To the right you can see the photo of the box after I opened it. There were no instruction books or anything. Only a watch, charging cable, and a printed graphic with instructions to get the application on your smartphone.

I like it. It’s not too hard to figure out what to do if you have half a brain.

 

Well, it turns out that the wrong half of my brain was working.  I ended up going to the link on my PC and realized that I can’t do anything from there. It took me a second to hop over to my smartphone and install the app. After that, the instructions for pairing it with the Pebble watch was simplicity. Seriously, there are so few options that it’s hard to mess up.

Special Kickstarter Edition for the 85K people who contributed.

Special Kickstarter Edition for the 85K people who contributed.

 

Quality and Build:

The folks at Pebble took time to make this watch right. I followed along their blog as they went through all the startup pains for manufacturing on a mass scale. I was bummed when slips occurred and realized that my grey watch would not be among the first to be produced. I almost switched to black…almost.

I am glad to report that it was worth the wait. This thing is made very well. The grey color is actually under a clear shell. I am guessing this is the scratch resistant plastic that they were talking about. The band and buckle are all very good quality materials and the entire watch feels nice. It’s very light but looks and feels very nice.

There are 2 things that I had to get used to. One was the buttons. It feels like they are hinged on one side. Although they are large, they are easier to push on top than the bottom sometimes. I messed with this for a while and concluded that this is just an illusion. The “switch” appears to be in the middle but the buttons are large so that if you don’t push just in the middle, you have to push extra hard to activate the button.

The other thing i didn’t like so much was that the special magnetic charging plug has very weak magnets. Seriously, a small tap and it disconnects and stops charging. I had to leave it undisturbed for a few hours to make sure I got a full charge.

Loading Apps and Watchfaces:

The exciting thing about the watch is how you can customize it! It took me a few tries, but I discovered that all you have to do is choose to download a watchface from http://www.mypebblefaces.com/ (there are almost 500 of them now!) and it’ll automatically open up the Pebble application and install. If your Pebble is connected to your iPhone (via Bluetooth), the watchface also installs on your watch. You really don’t have to do anything else. Simple!

Once loaded, the watchface name appears on the smartphone app. Here’s a screen capture of the watchface screen on my iPhone.

Watchfaces on Smartphone application.

Watchfaces on Smartphone application.

There are only 2 options on the application. One lets you check status of the Pebble watch to smartphone connection and the other is this one.

You can see that the app has all the hallmarks of an iOS app in this case. You can rearrange the order or delete a face. That’s it. I searched around for other options and there are none to be had. Simplicity is a good thing for watchfaces.

I did come across a few apps that I wished to customize but realized that it required a change in code, a recompile and a retransfer. Now that is a pain! Perhaps it’s easier in Android, but with iOS unless you have a developer license or a jailbroken phone, you can’t load unapproved apps onto the phone. So this is an issue to be address.

An example of where this is a problem is in the watchfaces that have weather or multiple timezones. You can only install the one that the publisher provides. So if the timezone default is New York, that’s what you get. You can’t change it to CA and save it. It’ll always go back to NY. I’ll address this issue another time when I try to tweak an app. For now, let’s move on!

 

After browsing a plethora of faces, I ended up installing and keeping the following  five (5) faces.

Modern - love the classic analog watch with at twist.

Modern – love the classic analog watch with at twist.

Maurice - beautiful variation on a classic watch.

Maurice – beautiful variation on a classic watch.

Suunto Core - could be more clear at a glance.

Suunto Core – couldn’t be more clear at a glance. Has become a fave.

 

91 Dub - nice reverse color with Kickstarter acknowledgement.

91 Dub – nice reverse color with Kickstarter acknowledgement.

Belt Drive - digital version of a super expensive watch.

Belt Drive – digital version of a super expensive watch.

Well, since this post I have experimented with a few more watchfaces and apps, but ultimately removed them since they required coding or didn’t have much practical use.

When I have the watch on, I can switch between the faces by simply pressing the top or bottom button to cycle through all the faces I have installed. It’s great fun to change faces depending on your mood at any time.

Battery and Backlight:

So this watch has an e-ink face, which means that technically it doesn’t use any power when it’s not refreshing the screen. Obviously watch faces with second hands or other animation would result in constant screen refreshing. According to reports and specs, I should get about 5 days of operation from this. I let it charge fully when I got it and it’s been 3 days. I’m going to run it until it’s dead or I get a warning.

The face is really easy to read in good light. In the dark, there’s a motion sensor that will briefly activate the backlight. So if I want to know the time I can snap my wrist and see the face in the dark. I’ve noticed that I have to snap quite hard. I guess this is good to prevent accidental activation. Sometimes I’ll tap the upper right (quite hard) and it’ll also get the light to come on.

An item that bugs me is that there is no battery level meter. I’m always wondering if I need to charge. It turns out that when plugged into the charger a battery icon will appear. However, the icon really only shows a few states (5). It’s either full, low, empty, charging, or charging from low. That’s not so helpful. There’s an explanation for this, but I’m not going to get into it here. Here’s a link if you care.

 

 

 

http://pebbledev.org/wiki/Battery_Lifetime_FAQ,_or_%22Why_doesn’t_pebble_have_a_fuel_gauge%3F%22

Super Cool Features:

Now watchfaces are cool, but they have limited usefulness. What’s really great is the display of SMS messages and also incoming calls! I can keep my phone on silent mode in my pocket and when a call or text comes in, the watch vibrates and the message or phone number appears on my screen! That’s nice. I’ve used this numerous times already in the days I’ve had it. One caveat is that when a call comes in, it shows the number and not the name of the caller. I don’t know about you, but I’ve not memorized hardly any phone numbers. I wish it’d show the name.

There’s a native function to control the music app on the phone from the watch. It works well enough, but it’s limited to pause/play, skip ahead, skip back. I’ve not used this too much, but I can verify that it works.

The vibrating alarm was one of those features that was a great surprise. You see, my wife is a light sleeper. When I set an alarm in the morning, it’ll go off for a while before I wake up. By that time, my wife is wide awake. It bugs her. With the Pebble, the alarm is a series of vibrations on my wrist. Although you can kind of hear it, it’s not enough to disturb anyone and the vibration is surprisingly effective at waking me up!

Next Steps:

I’m going to try a few apps/games in the next days. I’ve also noticed a lot of activity in the forums as the SDK is enhanced and people are trying out new things. After I have had a chance to mess with these items, I’ll add to the report. For now, I think I’ve typed enough!

Quick Summary:

Pros:

  • Great build quality
  • Waterproof
  • Simple interface
  • Tons of fun watch faces
  • Vibrating alarm
  • Good battery life
  • Can see it in the dark without having to push anything
  • SMS and calls on the watch
  • Super community support and SDK

Cons:

  • Magnet in charger weak
  • Button action – hard to press sometimes
  • Hard to customize apps for timezone, location, etc.
  • No persistent battery level indicator
  • No name in caller indicator

At the end of the day, the Pebble watch is a great first generation device. It’ll be fun to see what Apple and Google come up with. In reality, I’d be surprised is Pebble doesn’t get snatched up by a larger company. They are way ahead of the game and will have a large developer community by then. That is worth a lot more than the watch itself. OK, signing off for now.

 Update 6/15/13, 12:42am – Battery life was about 4 days for me.

So the last time I checked the watch was at 12:07am on Friday. I was in a theater watching a movie and was wondering how long it had been. I noticed that the low battery icon was present in the upper right. When the movie was over about 15-20 minutes later I glanced at my watch but the face was completely blank. I had read that the battery puts out at a peak voltage and then drops off dramatically at the end. That’s one of the reasons they have difficulty having an accurate battery meter. Apparently it’s a characteristic of a Lithium Ion cell.

So the watch lasted from Tuesday until Friday for me. So 4 days after the initial full charge. I’ll continue to keep an eye on this to see how it fares going forward.

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