Phone Case Review: Tech21 Evo Check – Is it the Perfect Case?

I have a love-hate relationship with phone cases.  I love the different looks and feel they can give your phone.  I hate that they make my phone bigger and cover up the beauty of my iPhone.  I have used many phone cases over the years.  In fact, some people (my wife) have accused me of having a phone case problem.  They (she) may be right.  I am always on the search for the perfect case.  The holy grail of phone cases that satisfies my every need (desire) in a phone case.  I have come to the conclusion, however, that such a phone case does not exist.  While my idea of a perfect phone case has changed and evolved over the years, as of right now, I have four basic desires when looking at phone cases, and they are as follows:

  1. Bulk. I don’t like cases that add a lot of bulk to my phone.  I like my slim, sleek iPhone and I would rather not turn it into a fat cow of a phone.  My only exception to this rule is when I am hunting Pokémon and need to sport a battery case.  Bulk is kind of unavoidable with those cases.
  2. Design.  My iPhone looks awesome, so the last thing I want to do is cover it up with an ugly case!  This one’s a no-brainer, but I have sometimes had to sacrifice on this point in order to better meet the other criteria.
  3. Protection. I spend a considerable amount of money on my iPhone, so of course I want to protect my investment.  A case that only serves to look good isn’t going to provide much, if any, protection.  Unfortunately, the more protection a case provides, usually results in more bulk.  So two of my criteria are working against each other.
  4. Grip.  I don’t like slick, hard phone cases that are prone to sliding out of my hands. To me that kind of defeats the purpose of having a case!

So in a nutshell, I’m looking for a case that provides good protection, isn’t bulky, provides some grip and looks good.  I think that’s probably what most people want in a case as well. (Unless you’re my daughter.  She only seems to care about number two.  But that’s for another blog post on another day.) Finding a case that meets all four criteria, however, can be a challenge.

I used to really like Otterbox cases as they provide some of the best protection you can get.  However, my tastes have changed a bit and I don’t care so much for the bulk they add to my phone.  I carry my phone in my pocket and Otterbox cases do not exactly work well for that, especially for bigger phones like the iPhone 6/7 and even more so for the iPhone 6/7 Plus models.  When I upgraded to the iPhone 6S from my 5S, I did not want to put an Otterbox on what was already a larger phone than I was used to carrying.  So, I began looking for a smaller form factor case that would still provide good protection. And that’s when I came across a company called Tech21.

Tech21 makes phone cases that are made from a flexible rubber material that provides excellent grip when holding your phone with one hand.  Inside the edges of the case is a material called FlexShock™ that I believe they invented (I could be wrong).  At any rate, this material is nothing short of magic.  I watched a YouTube video of a guy wrapping the silly-putty-like substance around his finger and smacking it with a hammer to demonstrate the shock-absorbance of the rubber.  I also watched a video review of the case on an iPhone 6 being dropped from a second-floor fire escape onto brick pavement and the phone was unscathed.  I was sold!

So I purchased one for my iPhone 6S and immediately loved it.  My phone still felt slim and sleek. It no longer felt like it was going to slide out of my hand, and, while the case was not the greatest color (brown), it looked better to me than an Otterbox.  Plus, I was happy to have found a case that satisfied three out of my four criteria!

Well, fast-forward a year and I just upgraded to the iPhone 7 Plus. Yes, I gave in and got the iPad mini of iPhones.  I found my self once again looking for a case, knowing that this phone was going to be even more difficult to fit in my pocket, let alone hold in one hand!  Naturally, I looked to see what Tech21 had in terms of 7 Plus cases, and was happy to find that they already had a line of cases ready to go for the 7 Plus.  And not only that, they now had more colors to choose from, including white, which I thought would go great with my gold and white iPhone.  So I purchased the Tech21 Evo Check iPhone case in white.

Now that I got all the boring background out of the way (sorry about that), we can move on to the what you started reading this for! I’ll break my review down into the same categories as my four criteria.

1. Bulk

One of the things I love about the case is that it is thin and lightweight.  It almost doesn’t feel like there’s a case on the phone.  My phone still feels thin and sleek.

2. Design

With the additional color choices, the case looks as great as it feels.  I’m often hesitant to get white iPhone cases as they usually don’t stay white for long, and then you have a dirty-looking phone case. Yuck.  But the white case I chose is actually clear rubber with the white being the FlexShock™ material underneath the clear along the edges. So the clear rubber protects the white from getting dirty and stained.  Plus, the clear back allows the gold design on my phone to show which I think looks really sharp. The case is also available in black and light pink.

3. Protection

As I’ve already stated, the FlexShock™ material lining the inside edges of this case provide excellent shock absorption so if you drop your phone, the impact shock is absorbed by the lining and not passed onto your phone.  I can’t attest to this personally as I have yet to drop the phone with this case on (see the next category). But if you’re curious, just search YouTube and you’ll find a plethora of videos of crazy people throwing their phones with Tech21 cases on them across rooms with tile floors, cement, etc. with no harm to their phones.  The edges of the case also provide a small lip around the front of the iPhone so you can lay it face down on a table or counter with no fear of the screen getting scratched.

4. Grip

The rubber material that the case is made from has a nice “grippy” feel too it.  Some complain that it can get greasy if you’re hands are sweaty or oily, and they’re correct. However, I’ve never had anything on the case that couldn’t be quickly and easily wiped off on my pants or shirt (don’t judge me).  The material provides great grip in your hands.  I can hold my iPhone 7 Plus in one hand with no sliding whatsoever.  I can even tilt the phone to more than 45 degrees without holding onto it and it doesn’t slide off my hand (see images below).

So for now, my search for the Holy Grail of phone cases is over. Measuring by my criteria, the Tech21 Evo Check phone case is, in my humble opinion, as close to the perfect phone case as you can get.  It’s the closest I’ve ever found, anyway.

Product Images:

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Phone Case Review: Tech21 Evo Check – Is it the Perfect Case?

Apple Watch! Initial thoughts…

IMG_4555Ever since I was a young man of 10 or 11 years old, I’ve had a fascination for watches that do more than just tell the time. My first watch was a simple Casio that had two buttons. The display showed the time, but if you pressed one of the buttons it would change to show you the seconds. Another press showed you what time the alarm was set for. It was a technological marvel!

And then my dad got me and my brothers each a Casio calculator watch. Mind. Blown.  I could do math on my wrist! And not only that, it had a simple race car game where the display became four lanes of traffic viewed from the top and you moved you race car back and forth between the lanes to avoid oncoming traffic. That simple game became an obsession of sorts for us. We were all three playing it constantly trying to beat each other’s (and our own) high scores (keep in mind this was before Nintendo even exisited…gasp!). We played it so much that we all wore out the two buttons on the watch that you used to move the car back and forth in the game!

I never really realized it until now, but that watch created in me a fascination with “smart watches”.  Never again did I own a watch that simply told me the time. Over the years I would spend hours studying digital watches in stores seeing what features each one had. How many stopwatches, timers, or other features they offered. I once had a watch that could store up to 50 phone numbers in it. Then I got a watch that, when taken off my wrist and strapped into a cradle on my bicycle, became my speedometer/bike computer. It would track my speed as well as my cadence.

Last year I took the biggest leap to date when I purchased a Pebble smart watch. I was instantly in love with it. Notifications and text messages from my iPhone now came to my wrist along with sports scores, the weather, and other tidbits of information. Amazing! Soon, I found myself wishing I could reply to those messages from the watch itself, and, for a short time while my iPhone was jailbroken, I could. Simple, pre-programmed responses, but I could reply all the same.

Then came the Apple Watch event announcing the new Apple Watch models. I was impressed, but wasn’t sure if I would be spending the money to upgrade from my Pebble just yet. Well, fast-forward to April 10 and I was awake at 2 a.m. awaiting the Apple store to come online so I could pre-order my 42mm Space Gray Apple Watch Sport Edition. Then the waiting game. I was given a May 13-27 delivery window (much to my dismay) and my watch was finally delivered on May 19, a little over a week ago.

First Impressions

I had tortured myself while I awaited my watch’s arrival by watching Youtube video after video of people unboxing, using and reviewing their Apple watches. So, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect when I opened mine and used it for the first time. I will say I was surprised at the weight of the box, even though I heard many people comment about it. I was also surprised to find that it was smaller than I had imagined it would be. It wasn’t the monstrosity on my wrist that I had been afraid it would be. I had also been worried that the screen would not be very responsive as I seemed to see person after person having to tap multiple times on their screens to get a button to recognize their tap. While I do have to tap a second time occasionally, it is not very often and the screen is very responsive in my experience. Some have complained about the watch’s appearance, but I personally think it’s a very good-looking watch. Definitely the best looking watch I’ve ever worn. I’ve grown accustomed to having watches with a lot of utility looking very, well, utilitarian. Bulky, blocky. Not elegant. But the Apple watch is not bulky or blocky and is indeed very elegant. Again, that is my opinion and I’m speaking as one that just came from a Pebble which is definitely more bulky and blocky than the Apple watch.

Battery Life

Yes you have to charge it every day, but this issue was grossly over-blown. Each night I put my watch on the charger on my nightstand while my wife and I watch one of our shows on Hulu or Netflix in our bedroom. By the time the show is over my watch is 100% charged since it is usually still around 40-50% when I put it on the charger. Then I wear the watch while I sleep because I like to have a watch on at night. As an added benefit I love being able to see what my heart rate is while I sleep! Then, in the morning the battery is usually down to about 90% so I place it on the charger while I get ready for work. It’s always at 100% by the time I leave for the day. So all the critics that say you can’t wear it for sleep tracking are simply wrong.

Conclusion

I’m not going to write a full review of all the features of the watch, mainly because there are already a plethora of reviews out there that give an in-depth rundown of all its features. But I do want to add my voice to the many critics and nay-sayers that don’t see the point of the watch. I knew before I even bought the watch that I would love it. How could I possibly know that, you ask? Because I loved my Pebble and in everything I viewed or read about the Apple watch one thing was clear to me: it would do everything the Pebble did and more, and it would do it better, with the exception of battery life.

It seems to me that every critic of the watch is expecting it to be something it was not intended to be. It’s kind of like giving a bluetooth headset a negative review because it won’t clean your floors. It’s kind of ridiculous.

And as far as third-party apps being terrible, I would agree. But that’s going to change, and very soon. Once developers are able to create native apps and they are made available to users this fall that criticism will in all likelihood be moot.

In short, the Apple watch is amazing and it’s only going to get better.

Apple Watch! Initial thoughts…

Apple’s New “EarPods” Review

Along with the launch of the iPhone 5 we got our first glance at Apple’s newly designed earbuds, dubbed “EarPods” by Apple. In their announcement they promised they would fit better and sound better. Common complaints about their previous standard earbuds were that they wouldn’t stay in your ears and sounded terrible. And I have to say, in my experience, I have to agree with those complaints. I tried so hard to make Apple’s earbuds work for me, but I just couldn’t stand the feeling of earbuds that felt like they would (and actually would!) fall out if I so much as smiled. So I was anxious to find out if Apple’s new EarPods would deliver on their promise.

Since I’m not upgrading to the iPhone 5 just yet and don’t have any plans to buy a new iPod, I started a search in local retail stores to buy a pair of the headphones to give them a try. This was no easy task in itself. The nearest Apple store to me is about 45 miles away so I preferred to find them somewhere closer. I tried Best Buy and Wal-Mart with no success. I finally found a pair in a small computer store on the campus of the University of Nebraska. Success! I walked back to my car and anxiously opened the package.

Packaging

EarPods fit nicely in the included hard shell carrying case.

As one would expect, the packaging was neat and clean and of high quality, par for the course for Apple product packaging. I love the fact that they come in a hard plastic case to store them in when you’re carrying them around in your pocket. I have always tried to find some small container to put my ear buds of choice in for carrying in my pocket to keep them from getting filled with lint and other debris common to average pocket, not to mention getting tangled up in knots in the process. To know that I wouldn’t have to find something to transport them in was a huge deal for me personally. I have to say it can be somewhat time-consuming to put them back in the container, but I feel it’s time well spent to extend the life of the EarPods. Packaging: 5/5

Fit/Comfort

EarPods feature a newly-engineered shape touted to fit a wide variety of ears.

Once I got the EarPods extracted from their cool case, I placed them in my ears. They fit a little differently than your typical ear buds, and to my delight, they stayed put and didn’t feel like they were barely hanging on like the old Apple ear buds! I tilted my head side to side to see if they would fall out, and they stayed in place. Yes! Now, they aren’t super tight fitting in my ears, buy my ears have larger than average ear canals. I almost always have to use the largest rubber fittings on ear buds with interchangeable ear pieces. As I have used the EarPods I have found that they stay pushed in better after they have warmed up more to my body temperature than when I first put them in “cold”. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. The plastic housing just seems to have more “grip” when it gets warmer. I prefer to have them pushed in as deep into my ear canal as possible as this produces the best sound quality for my taste. They do work their way back out after a bit and I find myself pressing them back in every now and then, but that hasn’t bothered me.

As far as how the EarPods will fit in different sized ears, I’m not sure. They claim to have formed it to be on average the right size for most people, but I have no way of putting that to the test. My wife has freakishly small ear canals (sorry honey, but it’s true!) and the EarPods won’t even fit in her ears, let alone stay put. But then again, we’ve had difficulty finding any ear buds that fit in her ears! My 14-year-old son also has a hard time getting them to fit in his ears, but he can get them to stay. For me personally, the fit of the EarPods gets a passing grade. Fit/Comfort: 4/5

Sound Quality

Uniquely-shaped ear bud directs sound straight into your ear canal.

Okay, so once I determined I was satisfied with the fit of the EarPods, I plugged them into my iPhone 4S and selected one of my favorites tracks for testing bass response in headphones. I personally like good bass in my music and have been on a fruitless search for a pair of ear-bud-type headphones with decent bass. I even once bought a more expensive $80 pair of ear buds after doing a lot of research online to find a pair with good bass response. I figured if they delivered, they would be worth the investment. I opened the $80 ear buds in my car, tried them out, and immediately went back in and returned them. They didn’t sound any better to me than a cheaper $20 pair that I already owned. So, at this point, considering my previous lack of success in finding any ear bud that had good bass response for under $100, I was skeptical at best about how my latest ear bud purchase would sound at the low end.

I pressed play on my iPhone, and…I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was honestly the most amazing sound I have EVER heard come from an ear bud. The highs were crisp and clear, while not being ear-piercing, and, most amazingly, the lows were deep and silky smooth! Now, I have to mention that everyone’s experience may not be the same as mine. It does depend on your music type as well as the EQ settings on your device. I have my iPhone’s EQ set to the “Hip Hop” preset (Settings->;;Music->;;EQ) as that has the best balance between the bass and treble in my opinion. When I turned the EQ off or changed it to many of the other presets, the headphones did not sound nearly as good. With the EQ off the bass sounded more hollow and the treble end was ear-piercing. So, experiment with the different presets and find the one that sounds the best to you. Everyone hears things a little differently.

My son, who has been begging to get a pair of Beats headphones, after hearing the EarPods playing his favorite rap artist Lecrae, has now changed to wanting a pair of EarPods instead (hallelujah!). Now, that’s not to say EarPods can compete with Beats, but they are certainly good enough to satisfy a thirst for more bass in your headphones. Especially in ear buds. Sound Quality: 5/5

Controls

The usual three-button inline remote with built-in mic returns, but this time with more control.

The EarPods also have an inline mic for phone calls and controls that can be used to control your iPhone or iPod. The functions that you can control with the three-button inline remote are volume up and down, answer or reject phone calls, “summon” Siri, play or pause your music, Skip forward or back a track, and fast-forward or rewind. It can be somewhat difficult to remember the button sequences for different functions since there is basically only one button used for all functions as the plus and minus buttons are used for volume up and down exclusively. If you’re like me, if you don’t use a function very often you’re likely to forget what the button press sequence for it is. Controls: 4/5

Sum It Up, Man!

All in all, I am extremely pleased with my purchase. I can honestly say I have never been satisfied with the sound from any ear buds I have ever owned, until now. For me, EarPods appear to have it all. Good, comfortable fit, and great sound quality. If you’re not planning to upgrade to an iPhone 5 or buy a new iPod Touch or Nano anytime soon but use headphones to listen to music, I would recommend buying a pair of EarPods. For this kind of sound quality I would pay $80. But the best part is, they’re only $29! Will they satisfy the audiophile? Maybe not, but for this price range they are without a doubt unrivaled. In a word, amazing! Final Score: 18/20

Apple’s New “EarPods” Review