Category: Tech Gadgets

Are Knockoff Bumper Cases Any Good?

By , April 30, 2013 9:47 am

When I got my iPhone, the first case I got was a bumper case from Apple. It served me well, but I was never able to resolve the $30 price for a piece of plastic that simply wrapped around the phone. I was very impressed with the quality and build of the case. If you perused my blog at all, you’ll realize that I have tried all manner of cases – TPU, metal, leather, 2 piece plastic, clip on, or simply a skin. Despite all these options, I hankered for the simplicity of a bumper case, but I wasn’t going to pay $30. Besides, a new iPhone is coming this year (right?) so I’ll be changing again anyway.

Then one day I was browsing Amazon and I cam across this item. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0069Y3AS0/ref=oh_details_o04_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1   . You got to be kidding, a $2 case with great reviews and the shipping was free. What have I got to lose – well, except for $2? So I ordered it.

Apple bumper case?

Great packaging. This looks exactly the same as the one in the Apple Store!

The first thing I noticed when it arrived was that it was even packaged like the cases in the Apple Store. No cheap plastic bag in a non-descript case, but vacuum formed plastic bonded to a glassy paper base. I mean, you can’t even make that packaging for $2.

A quick inspection of the case itself showed that it had metal buttons and the grayish plastic just like the original. If this is a knock off, it’s a really good one.

OK, enough package inspection and commentary. Let’s open this up and see if its build and fit is as good as it is packaged. I’ve had good looking cases that didn’t fit so well.

 

After I opened this up and closely inspected it, I noticed a spot where the molding lines were not completely smooth. I also wondered if the gray rubber surround would pick up the color of my jeans like some other cheap plastic cases in the past.  Putting the case on the phone, I was nicely surprised by how snug it fit and that all the opening and buttons were aligned perfectly. Here’s a closeup of the case before I put it on my phone.

3/4 view of the knock off iPhone bumper case.

3/4 view of the knock off iPhone bumper case.

Fast forward 1 week. I’ve been using this case for the better part of a week now and I am beginning to wonder if this isn’t actually a Apple iPhone bumper case made by the same manufacturer that created them for Apple. The rubber hasn’t picked up any residue, the fit hasn’t changed and the protection that it affords my phone if wonderful. A part of me wonders if they are just liquidating these since a new iPhone is imminent and these will become the “old model” in the near future. If you were to judge by the build and quality of the case, you’d never know it wasn’t from the Apple store.

So in summary, if you are in need of a super inexpensive case for your iPhone 4/4S and you like the minimalist look of the bumper case, you can’t go wrong with this. It’s the best $2 case I’ve ever seen. Shipping is even free. I’m still shaking my head that they can create and package something like this for such a low cost.

 

Modern Stereo with iPhone Integration

By , December 29, 2012 6:25 pm

So every time I get a loaner car from the car dealer or when I get a nice rental car, I notice that their electronics is light years ahead of mine. They have bluetooth integration for phone and audio and some have HD or satellite radio. Envy got the best of me and I decided that I needed to upgrade my factory stereo in my S2000. Each time I had considered this in the past, I aborted because replacing the radio would mean losing my dash controls, rendering a bunch of convenient buttons useless on the left side of my dash. This Christmas, all that changed.

 

Pioneer DEH-P9400BT unit installed in my S2000

Fast forward 10 years and things are a lot better! Looking through the Crutchfield catalog and website, I noticed quite a few stereo units that allowed steering wheel control. I also noticed interface boxes that would enable those controls. Sure enough, there was one for the S2000. So began my journey. After lots of research, I decided to get the following setup.

Axxess ASWC universal control interface – $69.95 from Crutchfield.

Pioneer DEH-P9400BH – $229.99 from Crutchfield. This unit included a mess of features!

  • Bluetooth phone with remote microphone.
  • Bluetooth audio streaming
  • HD Radio – look it up at www.hdradio.com
  • iPhone interface for charging and control
  • Pandora streaming support
  • USB port 2 or any USB key or device
  • Aux input
  • CD player with MP3 player ability.

I couldn’t think of another unit with all this goodness! Also, the display is awesome with color matching for the dashlights and also the ability to have a dot matrix animated display. Just all kinds of goodies. So this is what I asked Santa for.  This is the story of my install.

Anyone who knows me also knows that I am not afraid of tearing apart and installing anything. In fact, I rather enjoy it and think I can do a better job than a lot of installation shops. All it takes is a lot of research to prepare and some good old common sense. Of course, props to the folks at Crutchfield who have made a lot of the steps a lot easier.

So the first thing to do is to get the old radio out of there. This was made easy by the Crutchfield master sheets. These give a step by step and pictorial manual to follow. My S2000 was pretty simple. I just pried off the stereo cover and vent with my “bone tool” to removed it. It took some yanking to release the clips, but overall it wasn’t too hard.

The radio cover come off after some prying and wiggling.

This left the mounting screws exposed and easily removable. After taking out 4 screws, the factory radio came out. I just unplugged all the cables (there was only 2 of them) and the unit came out.

The wiring sheets and harnesses are the most complicated part of this job.

Now comes the complicated part.  We need to connect all the harnesses together in all the right spots. Again, I must give big props to the Crutchfield folks who shipped a harness for my car along with my order. This harness plugged into the factory recptacle and prevented me from having to cut factory wires for the radio. However, I still had to cut wires for the Axxess steering wheel control box.

In the picture above, the Black box in the upper left is the access control box. The blue plug is the harness that Crutchfield supplied that goes into the factory plug. The black harness at the bottom goes into the new stereo head unit. For the most part, connecting the radio harness to the blue harness was easy. Most of the wire colors matched right up and there was only a couple of unused ones that need to be taped off.

The one complication was the Axxess wheel control box. It had 2 wires that needed to be tapped into the factory wiring. I had to cut wires for that and solder them. It wasn’t difficult, but it is always with some intrepidation that I cut factory wires.

The Axxess box translates the steering wheel controls to signals for the new radio head unit. There’s a special input (3.5″ mm plug) for that in the radio.

In the picture above, you can see the Axxess box being installed. I only had to use 5 wires for this install. There were a LOT of wires that I had to tape off.  Of the 5 wires, only 2 were unique for the system control. The others were just power, ground, and switched power. Pretty standard stuff.

I use solder joints and heat shrink tubing for a factory look.

Most installers will use crimps for wires. This is terrible. You need to solder the wires for the best connection. Also, many installers will just tape up the joint after soldering. Me? I like to use heat shrink tubing. It provides a super clean and very well protected joint. It also looks totally factory. In the picture above, you can see me shrinking the tubing over a joint after I finished soldering it.

Testing the new head unit before final assembly.

So after all the wiring is done (took about 45 minutes) it’s time to plug it all together and test everything out. I like to test before I do the final assembly in case anything goes wrong and you need to re-do something. Luckily, everything worked the first time out. The only confusing part was a orange wire that was supposed to goto a “dimmer”. The factory harness had an orange wire for dimmer and also an orange/white for illumination. What the heck was the diff? Turns out, one is for dimming the stereo at night when you turn the lights on. The other was to dim the unit along with the dimmer control for the dash. Lucky  left it unassembled as I experimented with the two wires to figure this out.

After all was well, I put everything back into it’s place. In the picture above you can see how it all looks. I also installed a custom iPhone mounting plate from www.modifry.com. This gave me a perfect place to mount my iPhone. I use my iPhone as a GPS when I drive.

So how does it all work? So far it’s been 2 days and I think it’s going to be be great! I can’t believe the flexibility I have now to listen to whatever I want and to also have a hands-free phone that’s completely integrated into the car. The Pioneer unit performs flawlessly and I love the features that it has! It’s mind boggling that I can integrate with my iPhone, stream with Pandora, use HD radio, and even a USB stick or harddrive, not to mention CDs! There’s just SO many options now.

So what’s wrong with the setup? Well, the “Mute” button doesn’t seem to want to work. Pressing it on my dash control does nothing. In practice though, I only mute to take a phone call. Since this new head unit will automatically do that for me when I press the phone button, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. So I have been in contact with the Axxess folks and they just tell me to manually re-program the entire unit! Yuck. Since everything else works, I think I’ll just leave it alone.

A final tip. Pioneer has since introduced a new head unit that has even more fancy stuff! Because of this, it appears this unit is now “last year’s model” so the price dropped! I found this for $153.95 on Amazon. I’m telling you that this is a total steal for that price.  So if you have been hesitant to tackle this and get a modern stereo head unit into your car, don’t delay! This is amazing and the price is right.

 

 




BlueTooth Keyboard and Cover for iPad

By , July 3, 2012 8:33 am

So, you think you can live with your iPad but you could be so much more productive if you didn’t have to put up with the “soft” keyboard on the screen. I don’t know about you, but I like the feel of a full stroke keyboard so I thought I’d go looking for a keyboard for the iPad that was wireless. I hate dealing with wires and the whole idea of the iPad is to be totally portable right?

So I got an email offer for the keyboard below. I jumped right on it as it was the right price and I am just a sucker for a gadget add-on. If you visit my blog at all, I think you understand.

Nice aluminum casing with built in rechargeable battery!

So upon ordering and receiving my Hype HY-1023-BT keyboard, I was duly impressed with it’s appearance and overall quality. The aluminum matched very well with the iPad and the key action was very nice. The aluminum itself was a bit flimsy and not as good a quality as the aluminum on the iPad itself, but then again what is? However, what I really liked was the way that you could prop up the iPad in a slot in the keyboard and get a psuedo laptop experience.

Wow, it looks like a mini-laptop in this mode!

But the real the kicker was that I could place the keyboard on top of the iPad and have it become one protected compact unit as shown below.

Protected like a clamshell. Keyboard snaps on face of iPad.

OK, so enough of the physical coolness of this keyboard. How does it really work and is it worth the price of admission?

After using this on and off for a week, here’s my quick list for your consideration.

PROS:

  • Great protection for the iPad face. Great and secure fit.
  • Full key action is great for long sessions of writing and / or email answering.
  • Blue tooth pairing is easy and wakes up every time without incident. It will even go into powersave mode if you forget to turn off the power switch.
  • Rechargeable battery uses a standard mini-usb for charging.
  • Combo touchscreen and keyboard is nice and you get used to it fast.
  • Lots of curious looks and compliments.

CONS:

  • If you have any kind of case or protection on your iPad already, you have to remove it to fit this keyboard cover. I had a nice Belkin TPU cover along with the Apple smart cover that had to be removed. This leaves the back of the iPad vulnerable.
  • Taking the cover off is not so easy. It takes a bit of effort to snap off and then insert in the stand. You also have to turn on the Bluetooth keyboard to get a connection.
  • If your battery dies, you are outta luck.
  • I found I didn’t use my iPad as much because it was work to get it setup.
  • It’s too much like a laptop now.

 

I think the last two items in the CONS column seal the deal. I found that the convenience of whipping out the iPad for a quick session was defeated. It took a while to set up the iPad and the immediacy was compromised. So I went back to my TPU case and Apple Smartcover. It may not be as cool, but it makes the instantaneous usage of the iPad much easier. Apple got it right.

However, if you want t a full sized keyboard and you don’t want to spend the bucks for the one from Zagg or Loitech ($100), then this is an awesome alternative. Oh yeah, how much did I pay? I got it through a GroupOn Deal for around $25! For that price, it’s a steal.

 

i.Trek SupaMount – Tripod Clamp for iPhones

By , June 23, 2012 9:48 am

Taking a group picture with an iPhone (where you are included) has been one of the challenges that I have been scratching my head about. Recently I picked up an i.Trek Supamount after seeing glowing reviews on Amazon.

What is the great looking contraption?

So what is this thing and why do you need one?

Well imagine this scenario. You have a group of 5+ people and you need to get a picture, but you want to be in the picture yourself. Your “arms length” self portrait will only go out as far as your arm, so short of asking someone else to take the picture, what can you do? Besides, who wants to ask a total stranger to snap a picture, they may just take off with you phone. More likely, they’ve not used an iPhone before and you’ll spend the next awkward moments teaching them the finer points of snapping a decent picture with a camera phone. What a pain!

If only you could mount the iPhone on a tri-pod and then get some built in delay – like on your dedicated cameras..

This is where this little $18.95 contraption shines.

 

Overview:

First, just look at the thing! Upon opening the box, I just sat there and admired it. Beautifully machined aluminum with an anodized gold accent. I love functional gadgets that are well made. heck, the iPhone is about the ultimate example of that. This is made of aluminum so it is light. The “jaws” that clamp the iPhone have a rubber surface that grips very well without having to tighten the clamp very much. The aluminum handle also acts as the control for the clamp. Simply turn it to open and close the jaws of the clamp. There’s are threaded holes on two sides to accommodate the standard tripod mounting screws.

It's functional, light and very well made.

OK, so it looks great, how does it work?

Functionality:

Wow! Not only does it work great on the tripod, I later learned that I can use it for holding the phone upright to watch videos or whatnot.

i.Trek on the TrekTek. Say that fast 5 times.

But let’s return from the diversion. So I whipped out my “TrekTek” walking stick/tri-pod (worthy of it’s own review) and mounted this clamp with my iPhone. As you can see, it’s one tidy little setup. It’s very sturdy and the ball joint on the TrekTek makes the adjustments almost infinite. The mount can hold the iPhone in either portrait or landscape mode with little issue.

One of the issues with the TrekTek is that compact nature of the legs makes it a bit wobbly for large 35mm cameras. As for the iPhone, it is super light in comparison and because of that the combination tripod becomes very stable.

So that last piece of the puzzle is how to get into the picture when you have to manually fire the shutter with the iPhone. As you may have guessed, the application store can fix that problem in spades. Whether you want a fancy program that you can pay for or a free option, there are plenty out there.

I wanted to get a free “no frills” program and settled on one called “Ten Seconds”. Here’s a link below to a video of that application.

 Results?

OK, so I just got this when I returned from a trip so I could only try it with a picture of myself. Here’s a closeup of the business end of the clamp, tri-pod, and iPhone along with a picture of my goofy self using this combination.

Picture of my goofy self using Ten Seconds.

Secure and beautiful. What more can you want?

Again, the ball joint of the TrekTek mount combined with the clamp mount makes it quickly and infinitely adjustable. The combination handle and clamp control of the SupaMount works perfectly. The iPhone is held very securely with very little pressure. You can have it be in portrait or landscape mode and it’ll work fine.

Using the Ten Seconds app is simplicity. Fire the app and in 10 seconds it’ll shoot a picture. The last few seconds will have an audible signal that the shutter is about to fire. After the picture is taken, you have about 3-5 seconds to review the picture before it is written into your camera roll. It’s so easy to use.

Final Analysis:

You still here? Go buy one already. Here’s a link to it on Amazon. Seriously, if you want to stop carrying around a separate camera and use the phone you always have with you anyway, this is a perfect solution. With the 8M resolution of the iPhone, it’ll do a great job in almost any situation.

 

Multi-function Dock and FM transmitter that doesn’t suck!

By , February 23, 2012 10:53 pm

I’ve been trying to find a way to get my iPhone, iPod, Nano, etc. to play in my cars without having to replace or hardwire some new deck into the car permanently. I’ve also tried all kinds of things like tape deck adapters and FM transmitters. They all mostly suck big-time. Recently I wanted to add handsfree capability to our family SUV (Volvo XC90) and discovered that it used a fiber optic based system that was ridiculously expensive to upgrade. So I went looking for another solution.

This is ridiculously cheap, but it works!

On Amazon I started reading all kins of reviews of units that basically had lukewarm to bad reviews. In this search I started thinking I could use another charger for the car that would double as a mount. You know how those web searches can become a big black hole.

Then I came across this All in One unit for the ridiculously low price of $12.69! No this is not a typo. For the price of a cable I could have a mount, charger, fm-transmitter, and a remote. It was ludicrous. Since I have Amazon Prime and the shipping was free, I figured, “what the heck”?

I also perused the reviews and there were a surprising number of good ones considering this cost less than I spent on lunch today.

So in 2 days time, good old Amazon Prime came through again and I had my unit in my hand. I snapped a picture to share with you and then started to fiddle with it. Besides the fact that this thing has more appendages than a baby in a bilirubin chamber (ok, total non-sequiter) it seemed pretty well made. The mounting was secure, all the parts fits and the cigarette lighter adapter even had some rubber protrusions to makes sure it fit tightly.

The “remote” was amusing. They tried to make it look like a ipod! I really didn’t expect it to work so well, but hey, in the next weeks the truth will come out.

My phone in the cradle with the remote to the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, so how has it been in the past few weeks? Well, it’s a mixed bag. There are some goofy things, but also a surprising number of good things to report.  So let’s get to the deets.

GOOD STUFF:

  • The FM transmitter actually works! I get a light static, but other than that the music is clear and the GPS voice directions are fine! I am amazed. It’s so much better than the half a dozen other FM transmitters I have tried.
  • I can use it as a speakerphone for handsfree! This solves a world of problems for me. This is much better than a bluetooth headset or my Jabra clipped to the visor.
  • It charges the phone, but a little slowly. Actually, if I am running the GPS, it charges it TOO slowly. Sometimes the battery level goes down after a trip with the charger plugged in.
  • The crazy little remote actually works! It’s IR so you have to point it at the top of the unit, but it does work.
  • The stalk is bendable and stay put.
  • The phone mount is very solid and holds the phone securely.
  • There’s an additional USB port on the side to charge another device.

BAD STUFF:

  • The GPS seems to get confused and loses the signal at times. This may have to do with the fact that my mount is on the center console so the phone doesn’t have a clear view of the sky. It is annoying as I lose the signal a lot more than when I had it mounted higher up on the dash with the vent mount.
  • Although the lighter adapter is tight, The weight of the unit caused the entire lighter assembly to wiggle around.
  • The FM frequency is on top of the unit, covered by the iPhone. It’s a pain to see the station if you need to change it in route.
  • The charger is weak.
  • For some reason my iPod touch will not transmit via FM if I plug in the main charger. I can use the USB port charger on the side without issue.
  • It a bit janky with all the cables coming out of it.

 

The bottom line is that for $12.69, this is a total steal. Consider that Apple charges $19.95 for the cable alone and it’s no comparison. In Summary, this is worth a try for the price. It ain’t pretty, but it’s functional.

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