Welcome to the future. The iPhone future.
Every once in awhile a piece of technology is introduced that surprises and delights the masses. Apple has a history of being front and center in this technology delivery. The original Macintosh in 1984, the iPod, the original iPhone, iPad, AirPods (yes AirPods), and now the iPhone X. But wait you say, the iPhone X really doesn't have any technology that hasn't been released by other technology providers i.e.. Samsung, Google, LG, etc. While that is almost certainly the case for many the elements that make up the iPhone X, this generation of phone is the first to change how we use the iPhone in our everyday lives.
This is not meant to be an in-depth review of every iPhone feature but rather just my musings as someone who has used and owned every generation of iPhone since the 3G, including using that original iPhone purchased for my wife in 2007.
The Look and Feels
First off the device itself. Full glass front and back encased by stainless steel edges. I picked up the Space Gray model and my initial impressions is that the X is a beautiful phone. Beautiful to hold, beautiful to look at (I'll get to the OLED screen later), overall the most attractive phone Apple has ever produced. It's so beautiful in fact, that it's almost a shame putting any type of case on this device, slim or not. Sure, the drop tests have shown that the dual glass design can break if dropped at a reasonable distance, but heck, that's what AppleCare+ is for. I find the X to be one of the heaviest iPhone models I have owned, especially coming from the years of the non-plus models. I truly believe that the extra heft and feel of the stainless steel and glass make it easier to hold than the ever-so-slicker aluminum casings of iPhones past (and present). I have been carrying the iPhone X without a case since getting it and I plan to do so until the mood strikes to cover up this beauty or I plan on taking it along for the ride in potentially non-friendly phone conditions, i.e. vacation.
OLED Done Right
Turning on the device, you are bombarded with the beauty of iPhone X's OLED display. OLED, for all it's negatives consisting of image burn-in, off-axis color viewing, and overall lifespan of these displays, is absolutely gorgeous on the X. This is a screen specifically designed by Apple and manufactured by Samsung. I have never been a fan of Samsung's over saturated, pastel like colors displays. With the X, Apple has brought to the table a "Super" Retina display that shows colors accurately while still remaining to provide that "pop" when needed. The screen is clear, crisp, and readable in direct sunlight, even with it's lower nits (a unit of visual light intensity from a computer display) than traditional Samsung displays used in the Galaxy line and Note devices. The jury is still out yet on whether the Apple OLED's will suffer image burn in as reported on the new Google Pixel 2 XL's, but I am hoping Apple engineers did all they could to minimize any potential issues that may occur over time. In terms of size of the display, the X sports the largest display ever on an iPhone at 5.8". The screen is taller and narrower than the predecessor model Plus design, and that's not a such a bad thing, especially coming from the smaller non-plus designs. The taller aspect ratio is wonderful for viewing lists: email, Twitter feeds, etc. The edge-to-edge screen minus the notch allows me to see more information than prior models. I can even now fit more widgets in a Today view without swiping to scroll.
The OLED on the iPhone X is so good in fact, that even DisplayMate who performs independent testing of mobile device screens has anointed the iPhone X OLED as the best screen ever on ANY smartphone (link). Videos are awesome looking in 4K HDR quality, but there's one thing..... the "Notch".
Yeah the notch is there, it's ever-present. We know why it's there (getting to FaceID in a second). But seriously, it's a non-issue. After a day or two using this device, the notch almost becomes a badge of honor, distinguishing itself and the iPhone X as a unique entity in the sea of smartphone commonality. To be honest, more jarring is the apps that do not quite take advantage of the expanded real-estate and extend into what have become known as the "horns", left and right areas of the notch area primarily used for information display (time, signal strength, Wifi, and battery level sans a percentage indicator.
Extraordinary. Magical. It works. FaceID is Apple's preferred method of biometric authentication and will most certainly be used in future generation of iPhones. Training it to recognize your face is extremely easy. Not only does it register your facial pattern and stores it into its Secure Enclave, the neural network of intelligence actually learns and remembers variations in your face that can occur over time (facial hair, morning look, etc). It even works with sunglasses. The day after I received my X I went out in direct sunlight and tried on my 2 favorite pair of Ray Ban polarized glasses. Both worked fine. FaceID is not perfect and can be affected when bright light sources interfere with the IR beams that scan your face, but in most cases, FaceID has worked as advertised. FaceID can be a bit challenging unlocking the phone while laying flat on a desk or table, but the angle at which FaceID can get that scan registered is pretty extensive, as long as what I call the "lean in look" is less than a 45 degree angle when looking at the phone.
As expected, many people are comparing FaceID to TouchID. It's important to remember that TouchID went through a couple of iterations of refinement and speed improvements, but I believe FaceID will go through the same iteration cycle, becoming faster as technology allows. By all means that does not mean the current FaceID is slow by any measure. Raising the phone up and swiping up to unlock while FaceID performs the scan and unlocks the phone is the method that I found works the quickest to unlock the phone. Swipe to unlock has made it's triumpant return, after a brief absence during the TouchID era, albeit a bit different than the horizontal swipe of days of yore.
Home Button, What Home Button?
Every iPhone from the beginning model has had a home button. The "safety net" for novice and expert users alike. It was core to using the iPhone and now it's gone. Good riddance. The swipe up gesture on the iPhone X feels natural. It's easy to remember. Swipe up to go home, swipe up and hold for multitasking, swipe up to stop "jiggly" mode. It's the new home button. Even from a phone sizing perspective, losing the home button has allowed the phone to become all-screen. An advantage that brings the iPhone into the future. Although all buttons have not been banished...yet. The enlarged sleep/wake button now performs more actions based on the type of press applied to it, and even combines with the up/down volume buttons to perform various tasks:
1. Single press - Sleep/wake
2. Double press - Apple Pay and wallet activation
3. Triple press - accessibility shortcuts (customizable)
4. Single Press with Volume Up button - screen shot
5. Volume up press, volume down press, Sleep/Wake button hold - phone reset
6. Press and hold both Sleep/Wake and Volume up OR Volume down - Power off/SOS mode
Yeah, that's a lot to remember and seems like a Nintendo control button press combo, but it's the price that is paid for removing physical controls from the device.
The Quirks and Not-So-Good Stuff
Sometimes the future comes with snags and annoyances, especially when it pertains to the implementation of a new or different way of doing things. The iPhone X is no exception. My main annoyances are not necessarily with the hardware or capability of how the iPhone X performs, they are mostly the design decisions and changes in iOS to work efficiently on the iPhone X. First and foremost, is the activation of Control Center. Control Center has been improved in iOS 11 and with custom selections of the controls in the panel which has become more useful than ever. Even in iOS 10, I used Control Center for music and podcasts, access to camera and flashlight functions, and more. The right horn swipe down to access Control Center on the X has to go. Apple needs a better way for people to access this oft use functionality. While the X is easier to hold than a iPhone Plus model. Even reaching the top right of the phone can be challenging, especially one handed. Reachability was (and is) a poor and janky solution to this issue. My suggestion for accessing Control Center is to mimic the same access motion as multitasking (swipe-up and hold), and like the iPad, show the Control Center panel with a quick swipe to the left to access open and running apps. In that way, you have an easier way of accessing Control Center and align it with a similar action on the larger iPad.
Other minor annoyances are on developers of some of the apps I use. The most obvious are those apps that don't take advantage of the larger X display. I am hoping that these devs get on the bandwagon sooner than later and we don't have to go through a non-retina to retina transition that took years for some apps and some not at all. Another scenario is that some apps must have not been coded to use TouchID in a standard way and now on the X do not work properly, or removed the bio-metric option altogether. My Banking app of choice is a prime example of this. It worked wonderfully with TouchID and once launched on the X, a message telling me, "FaceID will be coming soon" is a bit annoying since I use the app often enough to make manually typing in a password a real pain.
Final iPhone X Musings
I love this phone. It's the best damn iPhone I have ever owned. I know I say that with each generation, but all of those iPhones have been iterations of a familiar tech spanning back to 2007. I now own the flagship iPhone and am on the cusp of using tomorrow's technology today. That's not exaggeration or hyperbole, but rather an insight to how I feel. iPhone X are beta users., testing out the next generation of iPhones. If what I have explained thus far on my thoughts of the iPhone X are any indication, the future should be grand. I look forward to putting this amazing device through its paces.
Apple's AirPods have been the talk of the tech sphere in a relatively slow tech news cycle (yes, even during CES). Originally announced at Apple's September keynote which introduced the iPhone 7, and slated for October delivery, the AirPods have been extremely difficult to get from Apple or other electronic device providers. I had originally placed an order on Dec 31st with Apple using the Apple Store app which promised a late February delivery. Having heard that orders were being shipped much quicker from AT&T online, I decided to order from them and cancel the Apple order. Glad I did, since the AirPods from AT&T came less than a week after the order was submitted. I have had some time with them and have formed some pretty solid opinions on the overall experience. This article is not a review per se of the AirPods, but rather a report card of several categories that I deem applicable to any wireless BT headphone or earbuds. In my rating, I will attempt to justify the category rating by my experience using the AirPods. Each category will be given a letter grading (A - D). The categories are as follows: 1) Setup, 2) Fit/Comfort, 3) Connectivity Reliability, 4) Sound Quality, 5) Convenience, 6) Battery Life, 7) Miscellaneous, and 8)My AirPod summation and musings, and finally my overall AirPods rating .
By far, the AirPods are the easiest and slickest Bluetooth pairing experience out there. Sure, there are some BT headphones with compatibility with Near Field Communications (NFC) chips, but Apple takes this process even further towards simplicity. Upon taking the AirPods out of the box, just a flick to open the battery case and hold the case near the iPhone prompts the pairing process. Just click the connect button and the AirPods connect almost instantaneously. Apple's extra sauce is that the connection information is synced up to your iCloud account which makes all Apple devices that use iCloud account (including the Apple Watch), able to connect simply and easily. I did not experience any issues with setting these up with the iPhone 7 and having them accessible to my iPad and Mac. I haven't attempted the manual process of pairing the AirPods with the Apple TV, but what I have read, it's also a simple process. Thank goodness the process is so simple, as I have had to remove the AirPods bluetooth profile from the phone due to flaky behavior (more on that later).
Setup score: A+
2. Fit and Comfort
While I understand fit and comfort is primary based on an individual's ear shape, I can say that I have zero issue with keeping the AirPods in my ears and having them sit comfortably. I can wear them for hours and not experience any discomfort. I can shake my head like a 80's metal head banging rocker and have these stay in BOTH ears. No issues here.
Fit and Comfort score: A
3. Connectivity Reliability
This category primary is concerned with how strong the bluetooth signal is between the phone and both AirPods. It is important to note that when connected to the iPhone, dual BT signals are sent to each individual AirPod unlike some of the other wireless solutions on the market that send a BT stream from the device to one earbud and then that earbud sends that signal along via wire or BT to the second earbud. Apple has nailed this in every sense of the word. Whatever magic Apple put into that glorious W1 chip, it has improved the all around connection experience. Indoors the signal is rock solid even when my iPhone is in the kitchen and I am upstairs in my office with the AirPods on. That's impressive, Even more so is the connection reliability when outdoors. I can walk down a busy Manhattan street and have other bluetooth headsets crackle and experience signal skip. Not the AirPods. I can have the iPhone 7 in a coat pocket, or even in my back pocket and still maintain a solid connection on those very same treacherous Manhattan streets. This is one of the BIG wins for the W1 chip.
Connectivity Reliability: A
4. Sound Quality
I suspect most people, myself included, didn't expect much from the AirPods given the relatively crappy quality of Apple's prior generations of wired EarPods. I know many people swear by the EarPods, but hey, they are free and you get what you pay for. I never found EarPods to be anywhere near decent sounding and definitely lacking bass and sounding tinny. While the AirPods on not magnitudes better than EarPods, they do have better bass and overall quality has improved. Another thing here to consider is the fit. The better the seal in your ear, the better bass response and overall quality will you experience. In my opinion, Apple has improved the audio quality of the AirPods, and while they don't approach my Bose QC30's wireless, they do provide good enough sound for me to not throw them into Jerry's drawer of headphone oblivion. Bass response has been improved and, mid's are clear. Higher volumes can tend to push the AirPods a bit depending on the type of music, but heck, after all these are tiny buds.
Sound Quality score: B
As a daily commuter to and from work and someone who is on-the-go on the weekends, the convenience of any mobile device is really important. What I consider to be convenient when referring to wireless devices is the ability to control audio from the AirPods independently from any other device, including the iPhone itself and even the Apple Watch. Sure, I could reach into that coat pocket to press a volume button, but that becomes more difficult if the phone is in the back pocket. Forget the using the Apple Watch - a) because winter coats and gloves make accessing a watch difficult, and b) I just don't want to have to raise the watch, bring up the dock, scroll and select the Now Playing app, then finally adjust the volume. This is where the AirPods fall down. Using Siri for simple audio commands, can be done, but forget that if you are in a quiet area (i.e. commuter rail car, library, etc.), or where signal is not that great. It can sometimes take up to 5 - 10 seconds to issue a verbal command to Siri, transmit it to Apple servers, and get the action back for action on my phone. It should also be noted that while playing audio in a 3rd party Podcast app (i.e. Pocketcasts, Overcast) and activating Siri for a non-audio command (i.e. "What time is it?"), the audio from the 3rd party apps do not resume when Siri completes the request. To solve this particular problem, I have gone back to using Apple's Podcast app which works well with Siri.
Apple provides user customization for double tap on an AirPod to either activate Siri or Play/Pause. I use Siri for other functions too much to sacrifice losing the function. Another convenience plus is the ability for the audio source to automatically pause when one of the AirPods are taken out of the ear. A strange quirk is when you are listening to an audio stream using only one AirPod. Removing that one AirPod from your ear will indeed pause the audio, but putting the loose AirPod back in will not continue the audio. Another strange user experience quirk.
Overall, the lack of volume controls offered by the AIrPods is the major black-mark affecting this categories score.
Convenience score: C
6) Battery Life
Apple claims 5 hours for each of the AirPods with an additional day of battery charge with the battery case. In my daily use, I have had no problems with battery. The most I have run down the AirPods battery is 6o percent during a long commute. The battery charging case can usually last one day before it needs to be topped off. I don't spend long periods of time on the phone so I can't attest to how much of a drain have on the battery using the built in mics. I have been reading about many people having extreme battery drain with the battery case. Since I can get a full day, maybe two from a charged battery case, I won't complain about that.
Battery Life score: B
For this category, I will cover a couple of things. First, is call quality, which has been a hit or miss experience for me. When the AirPods work and I can successfully answer a call by double-tapping, the dual beam-forming mics do a commendable job, even in a noisy Manhattan street environment. I was able to hear the person on the call and I came in without too much background noise interference. On the negative side, I have experienced several calls when I have double tapped to answer, and the voice coming from the other side was in slow motion, garbled mess. I would have to end the call, try using Siri to call the person back (if that worked), and finally had to re-dial the person directly from my phone. At other times, I have totally missed calls that I knew were coming in as I felt the phone vibrate in my pocket, but was unable to get the AirPods able to answer by double tapping, no matter where or how hard I tapped. Nothing is more frustrating when tech doesn't work and missing an important call can become a deal-breaker. On several occasions I was able to activate Siri by double tapping, I would see the Siri voice wave line on the iPhone, however no audio was being sent to the phone through the mics.
I will have to monitor the inconsistent behavior pertaining to answering calls and Siri functionality. I am hoping that Apple will have a firmware update to improve the reliability of phone functions.
Miscellaneous score: C
8) Summary and AirPods Musings
Let's get one thing out front and center. I have used many Bluetooth wireless devices over several years, including some very good devices from Bose, Jaybird, and Beats. The level of technology that is packed into the size of a small AirPod is amazing, especially when consider the signal strength, and battery life offered by these little marvels. For a first generation totally wireless set of audio buds, the AirPods show that Apple has a bright future with accessories such as these. Many have been extolling the AirPods as the best thing to come out of Apple in a long time. While I think that may be a bit hyperbolic, I do appreciate everything Apple has put into the product from the quality to the performance of these devices. With all the praise though, I have experienced some really annoying bugs with Siri, incoming phone calls, and inconsistent behavior. As much as I really like the AirPods, I am still scratching my head over how Apple could leave out simple volume and next/previous controls. I can appreciate Apple's desire to "keep it simple" and leverage Siri for basic commands, it's what they do. Read or listen to most AirPod reviews on the web, and the overwhelming consensus is that Apple should have designed the AirPods to support either swipe gestures up and down the stem for volume or have each AirPod support a certain tap combination or function. For example, have the left AirPod double and triple tap for volume adjustment, while the right can activate Siri or skip/next track. This could pose a problem as if you listen with only one, then you would lose the functionality provided by the AirPod that is not in your ear. I would think that would be a more acceptable inconvenience as the majority of listening I do is in stereo with both AirPods in my ears.
Aside from the various lack of controls, there are several quirks that need to be fixed and I am hoping that they can be address via a firmware update. Most modern Bluetooth manufacturers support designing their headsets to install updates for fixes and feature improvements. Obviously, the hardware design dictates how much the software updates can change functionality but most of the time updates provide improvements to connectivity or other issues that may affect the overall use. I am hoping that Apple provides timely updates and fixes for the AirPods. Whether it be for quirky call behavior, voice issues, or inconsistent Siri behavior, it would be nice if Apple can fix these via a firmware update. It would be disappointing if Apple ignored these issues and made people go out an buy a 2nd generation set of AirPods to get feature updates and fixes. I'm on the fence on whether Apple will go that route but I put nothing past them.
Overall the AirPods are an amazing piece of technology at this stage of the wireless headphone market. While other manufacturers offer their own models with various features and levels of battery life, the Apple AirPods are designed to work best with various i-Devices. When AirPods work, they work well. When AirPods fail or don't work as expected, it can be a very frustrating experience. More often than not, in my own use-cases, the AirPods have performed as expected with the occasional snags and annoyances. Ok Apple, you finally shipped them, I bought a pair, now the ball is in your court to get updates out to iron out the bugs. I will continue to use the AirPods as my primary headphones but in the back of my mind, if the bugs occur more over time, I have several really good (but not totally wireless) alternatives I can go back to.
Overall AirPods Score: B+
When I first reviewed the Caudabe Stealth for the iPhone 6/S (link), it was a case that looked good but was a pain-in- the neck getting on and off the iPhone. The fit and finish of that first generation case was good but I had issues with alignment of the holes for the camera and flash with the red version of the case which improved with the gray version I ordered a couple months later the second time around. The one thing I do know about Caudabe is that they listen to their customers and evidence of that attention shows in their new, improved Sheath case for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. This review is for the black Sheath case for the iPhone 7. Caudabe was also kind enough to provide a grey case as well but this review will focus primarily on the black version.
The changes for the Sheath for iPhone 7 are subtle but overall they combine to make a good case even better. The first thing Caudabe did to improve the user experience getting the case on to the device was to actually include an instruction insert in the packaging. Putting the case on was a non-issue, unlike my first go around. I wonder if Caudabe included these instructions with the earlier version of the cases whether or not I would've had issues putting the case on, or did Caudabe improve something in the manufacturing process to assist the process with these new versions? Regardless, installation was pain-free.
If you didn't read my initial review of The Sheath, the case is a svelte .90mm thick, full coverage case. Caudabe calls the material ShockLite, a soft gel-like flexible polymer with shock protection. It's not quite silicone in feel, as opposed to the sticky Apple Silicone offering, but it does add relatively good grip to the iPhone when it's on. The grip has actually been improved since the first model of the case. Caudable modified the manufacturing process to make the case feel a bit more "grittier" in the hand. It's the best way I know of to explain the difference between the older and newer Sheath. I actually prefer the new feel over the older one and am glad Caudabe made this change. As an added bonus, the material, even in black, seems to resist fingerprint smudges. That's certainly a good thing! In terms of overall look of the Sheath the accent faux antenna lines on the first generation have been reduced to one on the top part of the newercase. The area around the camera and flash have also been redesigned and have accent lines as well. The new patterns makes for a much cleaner,classier look to the overall design. The bottom of the Sheath now includes dual speaker cutouts and eliminates the headphone jack area to accommodate the newer iPhone 7 design. The area around the lighting port is reinforced to reduce the amount of wear and tear on the case from plugging in charging cables and docks. I had no issues with the Apple stock lighting cable nor the several charging docks I have both at home and at work. The volume and sleep buttons are easily pressed and have excellent tactile feedback. The side mute switch is also easily accessed as well. The Sheath offers a lay-on-table design that allows for putting the iPhone 7 face down without the screen touching the surface you are placing it on. If you plan on using The Sheath with a tempered glass or other screen protector, I would recommend getting in touch with Caudabe customer support prior to purchase and verifying that the protector will work with it.
Besides Black, The Sheath is also offered in Gray, Navy Blue, and Red. Having a (matte) black iPhone 7, the black version of the Sheath looks spectacular on my phone. Combine that with the quality of this case, the slimness, and the overall fit and finish, I highly recommend this case to anyone looking for the aforementioned qualities in a great looking iPhone case. I struggle to find anything negative to say about this case. It might just be the perfect combo of protection and feel out there in the market. The Sheath has become my everyday case and I think it will be for the forseeable future.
Oh, btw, did I mention how great the black case looks on a black iPhone? :)
Caudabe The Sheath (iPhone 7) - $19.95 USD
They say "second time's a charm", and in the case (no pun intended) of Caudabe's newest Sheath Case for the iPhone 6/S it is indeed. I have always been a fan of Caudabe's products, especially of the razor thin Veil and Veil XT cases. Caudabe's newest case, the Sheath, is aimed at iPhone 6/S owners who want a thin case with some measure of drop protection and a bit of grip thrown in for good measure.
When the Sheath was first made available, I placed an order for the red version. Upon the receiving the case, I found it very difficult to put on and no matter how I tried to adjust the fit, was unable to get the camera and flash to align properly. I have included snap shots of the red case in this review along with the gray version. In addition, I was using a metal plate on the back of my phone for a magnetic mounting in my car so the plate would cause a bit of a hump in the back of my phone. I have since ditched the magnetic mount in my car and have gone with a clasp-type holder so a plate is no longer necessary. Obviously, having the plate present wasn't a issue with the case itself, but rather my own. Even though I am a fan of red cases, especially for the silver/white iPhone, I wasn't a fan of the red color offering for the Sheath so I ended up returning it for a refund. However, I did like how thin case was and the level of protection it offered so after getting a different car mount I decided to pick up the gray version of the case, and let me tell you, I am glad that I did.
The Sheath is a svelte .99mm thick full coverage case. Caudabe calls the material ShockLite, a soft gel-like, flexible polymer with shock protection. It's not quite silicone in feel, as opposed to the sticky Apple Silicone case but it does offer a relatively good grip to the iPhone when it's on. Getting the case on presented some problems and a bit of frustration. Even following the directions that come with the case, it is EXTREMELY difficult to get on. Inserting the top of the iPhone first and then working your way down to the corner of the phone with the audio jack was pretty easy. Getting the opposite lower corner into the case took me awhile. It required me stretching out the case while slipping the corner in. After several attempts I was able to get the case fully installed. As opposed to the red case, the gray was on-point and precise when it came to all cutouts around the case. Once the Sheath is on, it's REALLY on, offering no give in either the sides or top/bottom of the iPhone.
One of really nice features of this case is the individual cutouts for both the rear camera and flash. Most cases have a large, single cutout which has open space for both the camera and flash. The individual cutouts, when aligned properly give the case a polished look. The back and sides of the Sheath have simulated antenna lines in a darker color than the rest of the case that match those of the iPhone. Whether or not you are a fan of the iPhone antenna lines, the addition of this small touch separates the Sheath in terms of look from other cases on the market. In essence, the Sheath looks like it belongs on the iPhone 6/S. The red version of the case is barely translucent, showing the Apple logo in the back but the darker colors like the gray and black are not. On the front, the Sheath offers a ever-so-slight lip offering a lay-on-the-table design. I suspect the lip will support 3rd party tempered glass protectors without issue. All buttons are covered and offer great tactile response. Caudabe claims it has reinforced the area around the iPhone lightning port and from what I can tell, it does seems seem sturdy and able to stand up to long-term use. Due to the thinness of the case, there should be no problems with docks and most lightning charging cables.
Overall, I am enjoying the gray Sheath on my iPhone 6s. It meets all my criteria for a slim case, while providing more protection and lay-on-table design over the thinner Veil XT. Six Plus owners fear not, Caudabe claims a version for the larger phone is coming. But for now iPhone 6/S owners should take a look at this new Caudabe offering. The case is offered in black, gray, blue, and red. I am glad I gave the Sheath a second chance. Aside from the difficulty of getting the case on initially, the Sheath is worthy addition to my iPhone 6s case collection and one that I will continue to enjoy using.
Caudabe The Sheath_ - $19.95
I had a craving to put a leather case on my 2 month old iPhone 6S, knowing full well that the iPhone 6 form factor will most likely change with the release of the iPhone 7 next fall. After my experience with the Product (RED) leather case for the 5S and a black Apple Leather for the 6S, Apple's offerings left me underwhelmed and looking elsewhere. Enter Bellroy.
Mostly known for their product line of thin leather wallets (one of which I own), Bellroy now.offers a variety of smartphone cases with and without storage for items such as cash and plastic cards. Since I already own a separate iPhone 6/s wallet case, I decided to purchase the basic iPhone 6 case in a shade of red Bellroy calls Tamarillo. Bellroy also offers the case in Black, Blue Steel, Java (Brown), and Charcoal.
The case is a basic snap on that covers the top and both sides of the iPhone, leaving the bottom exposed to accommodate various plugs, chargers, docks, etc. The case feels very good in the hand (I'll get to the leather below). Compared to the Apple offerings, the Bellroy case feels and looks thinner. Even on a 6S, which is slightly thicker than the 6, there is a very slight lip which provides just enough lay-on-the-table protection to allow putting the phone down without worry of the screen touching the surface. The lip is not intrusive when touching the edges of the iPhone.
Being a leather case, the quality of the leather used and it's durability certainly come into play over the long term when using the case. As I mentioned above, I had purchased an Apple leather case for the 5S in Product(RED), and the aniline leather and coloring wore really badly, even after a couple of weeks. Some people like a "worn" look when it comes to leather, but in the situation with the Apple leather case, over the span of a couple of weeks, it became downright nasty looking. Even the Black leather Apple case I have for the iPhone 6, after several months became course and rough looking. It's the nature of leather, I get it. The leather used on the Bellroy case is very soft and feels good to the touch (even a little slippery). It should be noted that the back of the case is leather with the sides being a similar colored polycarbonate (plastic). One can hardly notice the transition from the leather back to the polycarbonate sides. Only a seam in case that runs the length of the sides can really identify where the leather ends and the polycarbonate begins. Overall, the look is very clean and classy. Bellroy states in their product specifications that the leather used is "vegetable tanned" which doesn't say much for its durability over the long haul. Only time will tell how this case holds up with daily use.
In terms of control access, the power, volume buttons, and mute switch are easily accessible. Not a surprise given the thinness of the case. The camera opening also includes a black out ring border to help minimize flash issues.
In summary, the Bellroy case for the iPhone 6/S is a quality leather case that is nice to hold and looks great. As with most snap on cases, there is a trade off between convenience and bulk versus the amount of protection the case offers. I plan on using the Bellroy case as my primary case for the immediate future. How it holds up in terms of looks and leather quality remains to be seen. Hopefully this case can get me through the next several months until the iPhone 7. Based on my initial use so far, I highly recommend this case for people who are looking for a reasonably priced, good quality alternative to Apple's Leather case.
Bellroy - $49.95
I am no audiophile, but I do love listening to music, podcasts, and sports radio. That listening experience is usually augmented by using a great set of Bluetooth wireless headphones. I have tried many from well known brands such as Bose, Beats, and even Jaybird. I think my search for the perfect set of wireless ear buds is over for now, the Jaybird X2's are a cut above the rest and I am going to outline why. However, before I do, I should mention that I owned a pair of Jaybird's previous generation high-end earbuds, the Bluebuds X. The Bluebuds sounded great but my unit always seemed to suffer from terrible signal breakup whenever I subjected them to the outdoors environments of New York City. All I needed to do was step outside with my iPhone in my back pocket and the Bluebuds would studder and drop out like a bad Skype call. The new X2's are re-built from the ground up with all modern, up-to-date components which I believe give them an advantage over the older generation model.
As I mentioned, I am no audiophile, but hands down the X2's sound quality is best of any bluetooth earbuds I have used. If you closed your eyes and did a comparison between some wired buds and the X2's, you might be hard pressed to tell the difference. The engineers at Jaybird have utilized a custom Bluetooth codec called SWIFT which has been optimized for sound delivery. Surprising enough, the X's still utilize BT 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) which to my understanding is still the underlying technology in later BT implementations (i.e. 4.X) that delivers sound from the source to the headphones. What all that tech speak means is at the end of the day is an awesome sound experience for the listener.
Being earbuds, there's a couple of things that go into how comfortable wearing a pair of these type of headphone are. The fit should be snug enough to ensure good sound isolation and keep them in when you move around. In order for the X2's to fit properly, the right size earbuds must be selected along with the wingtips which stabilize the bud in the ear. The X2's come with a set of small, medium, and large plastic eartips as well as three sizes of Comply foam tips which really make a difference in terms of comfort and sound isolation. Included are plastic "wingtips" that provide a sort of wedge in the ear crevice to keep the buds in the ear. The wingtips have been redesigned from the older Bluebuds and now have a more rigid feel with rounded edges which definitely help with comfort. I am able to wear the X2's for long periods of time without getting that typical "earbud" fatigue that most buds have when you put them as far into the ear canal as they need to go. Speaking of the ear canal, if a good seal within the ear is obtained, the X2's really shine in terms of comfort and sound quality. I realize that this is purely subjective as everyone's ear sizes are different, but I have found the perfect combination in using the small wing tips and the medium sized Comply foam tips. The buds are fixed securely in my ear and I am not sure I could shake my head forceful enough to get them to fall out.
It should be noted that Jaybird offers two ways to wear these earbuds, either traditionally with the cable sloping down from the ear (under ear) or over the ear where the cable is draped over the top and then behind the ear. Whatever way is most comfortable, you should be able to get a secure and comfortable fit.
One of the things that really annoyed me about the older Bluebuds X was how the wing tips would slide off of the bud and would require re-adjustment each time you put them on. Jaybird has solved that problem on the X2's by placing a bit of a ridge where the wing tips fit so they will not slide off. Nice touch.
The control stick provided houses a main button (center), and two volume buttons. The function of each button is dictated by how you press each. A single press and release of the main and volume buttons does exactly what you would think, playing and stopping the audio and controlling the volume up or down. A one second press-and-hold of a button changes the function. For example, a one second hold of one of the volume buttons changes the functionality from volume +/- to next/previous selection. The control stick also supports longer presses up to 4 seconds for the main button to initiate Bluetooth pairing mode. When paired to the iPhone, all phone functions such as answering a call, activating Siri, call transfer work well and are easily activated. One of the nice customizations Jaybird has implemented with the X2's when setting the volume up or down from the control stick, the iphone also adjusts the device volume in sync with the X2's. I have had other headphones where this is not the case and you have instances where the volume of the headphones is out of sync with the volume of the device. Jaybird has also removed the "beep" whenever a volume button is pressed. Some people may prefer that, but I found it annoying and am glad Jaybird removed that from the X2's. In terms of the quality of the microphone during phone calls and using voice commands with Siri, I would have to say that it has been greatly improved when compared to the Bluebuds. Conversations held outdoors, even in NYC with the X2's resulted in the other person being able to hear me without issue.
Put quite simply, battery life is simply amazing for a piece of technology as small as the X2's. I have been able to get a strong 8+ hours during normal use during a given day. Most days I use them for shorter periods of time so I really never have to worry about running out of juice at inopportune times. It's actually quite amazing how these small buds even outpace the Beats PowerBeats 2, which get about 5 hours and are physically larger than the X2's.
Jaybird offers a 1 year limited warrantee for defects but has a more generous lifetime replacement warrantee for any damage caused by sweat or moisture.
The X2's come in a variety of colors such as Storm (White), Fire (Red), Midnight (Blue), Alpha (Green), Ice (Light Blue), and Charge (Yellow). The wire that connects the two earbuds is a flat matte black cable which reduces tangles.
In terms of accessories, Jaybird doesn’t skimp with the X2's. Provided are a nice, soft touch plastic carrying case, three sets of wingtips, and six pair of earbuds, three rubber versions and three Comply foam tips in small, medium, and large sizes.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, the older set of Bluebuds had a terrible time with skipping in the rigors of NYC. Many people I have spoken to that have the Bluebuds don't seem to have the signal breakup issue but then again, none of them live in NYC. That being said, the redesigned X2's do a better job at maintaining a steady connection to my iPhone. Deciding to put the X2's patented Signal Plus technology to the test, I went to the one of the most busiest and densely packed places in NYC, Times Square. Walking thru a busy midtown Manhattan during the day I can get the X2's to skip while having the iPhone in my back pocket. Placing the iPhone in my front pocket does help reduce the occurrences of skipping most likely due to the X2's having the iPhone closer to them. I called Jaybird tech support to discuss this issue with them and they suggested performing a hard reset of the X2's by putting them into pairing mode then holding both volume buttons down until a beep is heard. The hard reset re-loads the X2 firmware (the program that tells the device how to work). The combination of hard reset and re-pairing of the X2's to the iPhone seems to have improved the situation. I can now walk thru various areas in the city and not get "significant" signal breakup. Overall the situation has improved but if you live in a major metropolitan city and plan to use these outdoors, plan for some signal skip.
If you are looking for a pair of in-ear wireless earbuds, look no further than the Jaybird X2's. Quite simply, they are the best Bluetooth wireless earbuds on the market right now, bar none. They sound amazing, provide a reasonable level of comfort while wearing them, have great battery life, and the controls work well with a modern smartphone such as the iPhone. The fit and finish of the X2's are a improvement over the older Bluebuds X and I suspect they will hold up over time.
You can order your pair of X2's directly from the Jaybird website or visit a local Best Buy which also carries them.
Jaybird X2 - $179.95
The Apple Watch is a relatively expensive piece of tech equipment. It commands a bit of respect in terms of treatment. Fortunately, you don't have spend a lot of money to give it a home when you are not wearing it. Enter the Spigen 330 Apple Watch Stand. Priced just right at $24.99 ($19.99 on Amazon, for Prime members), it is an inexpensive option for your Apple Watch.
The stand is a molded piece of aluminum with a rubberized TPU square that houses the circular magnetic watch charger from Apple. Once you insert the magnetic charging piece into the top, you then thread the connecting cable thru a cutout in the arm of the stand. There's not much in the way of cable management here as other stands do a much better job at hiding the cable, but for the price of the Spigen, it's really not a deal breaker.
The stand is extremely light but thus far I have not had any problems with attaching or taking off the watch from the stand. Placing the watch onto the stand is a breeze as there is no need to loop bands thru a cut-out slot, like the more expensive Twelve South HiRise stand. The use of TPU where the watch connects to the charger ensures that no metal on metal contact thereby reducing the possibility of scratching your valuable Apple Watch.
Overall, the Spigen 330, is a good quality stand for a reasonable price, I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a stylish, low cost solution for storing and showing off your Apple Watch when not on your wrist.
SPIGEN 330 - $24.95 (Link) / $19.99 Amazon Prime (Link)
The Caudabe Veil is the thinnest case available for the iPhone 6. At just .35mm thickness, it's more like a skin than a case. My experience with the Caudabe Veil on the previous iPhone 5/S was very positive and it quickly became one of my favorite cases for any iPhone form factor. The Veil XT is no exception. The XT improves on the original Veil by offering full-side protection as well as a raised .7mm ridge around the camera hole to provide lay-on-table protection for the iPhone 6's protruding camera. It should be noted that the original Veil is still being sold by Caudabe and now includes the same raised camera ridge.
The feel of the Veil XT for the iPhone 6 is exactly the same as the product line for the 5/S that I reviewed last year (link). On the slippery iPhone 6 form factor, the matte plastic feels very nice, provides an improved grip, and resists fingerprints which absolutely drive me batty when I constantly have to wipe down a case to remove them. The Veil XT attaches on to the iPhone 6 just below the edges of the rounded glass so the case does not interfere with the feel of your fingers on the glass. The way the case attaches to the curves also presents a bit of give and movement of the plastic if you happen to flick the plastic in a certain way. Based on the curved form factor and how thin the Veil XT is, I can't see any way around this particular issue. At the end of the day, it hasn't really affected my view of the case.
There are specific cutouts for volume buttons and the mute switch. The bottom of the Veil XT has specific openings for the headphone jack, microphone, Lightning port, and the speaker. Each cutout seems to be precision cut to the exact form on the phone so looking at the bottom of the XT is like looking at a bare iPhone 6.
The Veil comes in 2 colors: Frost (a translucent clear) and Wisp (translucent smoke color). I have had both white (silver) and Space Grey iPhones and I find that the Frost looks best on the white iPhone and the Wisp looks best on the Space Grey. I hope that Caudabe considers other color offerings for the iPhone 6 Veil lineup similar to what is offered for the 5c cases. I would definitely be interested in a translucent blue or red color case on my Space Grey iPhone 6.
What more is there to say? This is the absolute thinnest case you will find on the market. I call the Veil the "un-case" case. Obviously, the drop protection with the Veil is minimum to none, but will suffice in protecting your iPhone from scratching which is an accomplishment given how paper thin this case is. Adding the bottom protection offered by the XT is an added plus and is well worth the extra premium if you want the "maximum" protection from a case as thin as the Veil.
Much thanks goes out to Caudabe for sending me some review samples! The Veil XT (Frost and Wisp) can be purchased on Caudabe's site (link below). What are you waiting for? Go grab one and experience the magic of the Veil!
Caudabe Veil XT - $19.95 (Link)
The allure of the Apple Leather case for my iPhone 6 was too hard to resist. After my first experience with the PRODUCT RED leather case for my iPhone 5S, I was a bit hesitant to spend 45 dollars for a case that would look worn and used after a few weeks. However, after keeping an eye out on the various iPhone forums and my Twitter feed, I had come to the conclusion that darker is better when it comes to ownership of an Apple leather case. With that in mind and a finger on my iPhone 6's Touch Id (for Apple Pay), I marched down to a local Apple store and purchased a brand new Apple Leather Case in black. My first impression upon placing on my iPhone? Wow.
The feel of the leather case is just as I remembered from my iPhone 5S version. The soft aniline leather feels great in the hand. The case adds very little bulk to the iPhone 6 and offers protection on all sides except the bottom, which is pretty much the standard for most snap-on style cases for the Six form factor. The older style leather case for the 5S encased the whole iPhone, including he bottom, but caused problems with non-standard lightning connectors, certain headphone jacks, docks, and was known to tear easily. The newer, open design for the iPhone 6 does away with all of that. The iPhone is still protected from drops on the bottom by the overlapping leather that attaches to each of the corners.
As usual for an Apple case, the fit and finish are top notch. All buttons are covered and provide good tactile feedback when pressed. The mute switch is easily accessible using the tip of my thumb or forefinger. The front of the case has just enough of a raised lip to provide lay-on-table screen protection. If you are the type that needs to feel the curved glass when swiping on the screen, then this case is not for you. However, the leather feels so good in the hand that I can give that a pass. On the back of the case, ample protection is provided to protect the camera against touching most flat surfaces (not that the safire glass lense needs protection). Thinner cases may not even protect the camera or if they do by providing a ring around the camera hole, the raised edges can make the case a bit wobbly when pressed down. In terms of protection, I would have to say the Apple case falls right in between the minimal thin shell-type snap on cases and the larger, more bulky full coverage cases (think Otterbox). With the leather case on, I suspect a significant drop on something like concrete from more than a couple of feet would do more damage to case than to the phone. That's the point, right?
Will the black leather case stand up to daily use and not look like a worn leather jacket after a couple of weeks? Some like the look of worn leather, but not me, at least not on a device like iPhone. From what I have been able to gather from internet forums and Twitter, the lighter color cases (Red, Olive Brown, and Pink) still suffer from color fading due to the nature of the coloring of the aniline leather. The darker colors such as black and midnight blue seem to fare better over time. I have only had the black case on for a couple of days as of this writing, so only time will tell if the leather retains it's looks. I certainly hope that the black leather holds up and I get my 45 dollars (plus tax) worth. For now, I will throughly enjoy using the classy looking black leather case. I highly recommend this the Apple Leather case if you want a slim, great looking case with decent protection. Just be sure to go dark if you don't want a worn look.
Apple Leather Case for iPhone 6 (Black)- $45 (Link)
The iPhone 6 is out and it is truly glorious. Curved edges and seamless glass curves make this iPhone one of the most pleasurable iPhones ever to hold in one hand. However, it's still an iPhone and if you're like me, you'll want to protect your new investment. As most of you may know from reading my site and from the case reviews I do, I prefer minimal cases that keep the iPhone form factor and protect against minor drops, scratches, and other everyday dings that can mar a device. I placed an order with SPIGEN soon after the iPhone 6 was released and finally received it this week after the bombardment of orders that befell the company as they struggled to meet demand. It was well worth the wait.
The Thin Fit is a typical thin-shell snap-on type case. You apply the case by first snapping in one side (usually the side with the volume buttons) and then the opposite side. Once the case is on you can barely notice that anything is on the iPhone. I ordered the Smooth Black version of the case for my Space Grey iPhone 6. The Smooth Black is the only case in the Thin Fit series to have soft touch, matte feel. The matte polycarbonate (ahem plastic) gives the iPhone 6 a grippy feel and it certainly does feel great in the hand. As with most matte finishes, it can be a bit susceptible to fingerprint smudges, but I haven't really noticeable with this case and can be wiped off easily. The case is very thin, though not as thin as a Caudabe Veil (review of the Veil to follow). However, I truly feel that the Thin Fit is the perfect case for the iPhone 6 offering just enough protection while not adding any significant bulk to the device. I have other "thin" cases for the iPhone 6 such as the SPIGEN Neo Hybrid, the Apple Silicon case, and a CM4 Q Card (review to follow), and none of them keep the iPhone as comfortable to hold as the Thin Fit. It comes down to the width of the device with the added size of the case. In many ways, especially with the black Thin Fit, it's almost as though the case is part of the iPhone.
The Thin Fit, offers no top or bottom protection similar to most snap-on type cases for other iPhones in the past. For the bottom of the iPhone, the lack of protection is offset by the convenience of working with any headphones, charging cables, or docks that plug into the device. Why SPIGEN did not offer any protection on the top of the case, I am not sure, but overall the look and feel of this mimimal case is outstanding. The curved edges of the case flow nicely along with the iPhone 6 glass. There is a slight lip on the sides of the case which offers lay-on-table-design which allows you to place the iPhone face down and not have the screen touch the surface. This is a great feature when you have the iPhone out on a table and you just don't want to be distracted by notifications. The case is solid and there are no creaks or movement to speak of. The cut-outs for the volume, vibrate, and sleep buttons make each button easy to access.
Overall, for my needs this is the PERFECT case for the iPhone 6. When I need (or want) something with a little more protection, I will use the Apple Silicone case. If I go on vacation and want a wallet style case to hold credit and/or room key cards, I have the CM4 wallet case. For my every day needs, the SPIGEN will be my daily driver. It looks great on the Black/Space Grey iPhone 6 and keeps it feeling great in my hand.
If you can get a hold of one during these initial days of the iPhone 6 by all means do so. I highly recommend the Thin Fit for anyone looking for a thin, slim, and great looking case.
Spigen Thin Fit (Smooth Black) - $14.99 (Spigen site), $9.99 on Amazon (Link)
As an avid tech fan I look forward to sharing my tech experiences both personally and professionally with those that have similar interests and passion for technology.