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:

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

iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode Reviewed

With the recent release of the newest iPhones, the iPhone 7 Plus is sporting dual cameras, one wide and one “telephoto” lens for bringing you a little closer to the action.  Taking advantage of the dual cameras, Apple announced that it was working on a “portrait” mode where the camera software would use the two lenses to determine depth in a photo and thereby create photos with blurred backgrounds, emulating the type of images you can get from a DSLR.  Being a photographer who also loves shooting awesome pics with my iPhone (at least I think they’re awesome, anyway!), I was very intrigued by this new feature.  Enough so that I pulled the trigger on switching to the larger form factor plus model of the iPhone 7.

This past week Apple released iOS 10.1 beta for developers and I was excited to see that it included the new portrait mode update.  My initial reaction to the first photos I snapped with it was one of shock at how well it worked.  The “fake” shallow depth of field looked pretty natural in most of the candid shots I took with it.  The first shot I took was of myself, blindly pointing the camera at my face and pushing the button.  When I turned the phone around and looked at the camera, I was shocked.  Shocked first of all that I actually framed the no-look selfie pretty well, but mostly that the image looked amazing!  The blurred background made my face pop out just like a DSLR shot would do. See the image below.

img_1434
First shot I took using the new “Portrait” mode on the iPhone 7 Plus

My mind was flooded with the possibilities this was going to open up.  As one who shoots photos with his iPhone a lot for social media and other uses, I am always looking for new tools to take the photos to the next level.  Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to render DSLRs useless.  I will not be using this to shoot portraits for my clients.  But as far as my hobby photography, this will definitely allow me to leave my bulky gear at home more often.  For instance, Friday night we went to a local high school football game.  I normally lug my camera gear along, but this time I left it at home and only took my iPhone.  Even though I didn’t have my DSLR, I was able to capture some really great images using the portrait mode.  Notice in the example below how the background is blurred out reducing distraction and making the subjects in the photo pop out. The blurring is not perfect around all the edges, but you have to look pretty hard to see the imperfections.

 

Processed with Snapseed.
Candid photo shot using iPhone 7 Plus “Portrait” mode

 

But I did wonder just how well this would perform on a photoshoot, so I convinced my wife to go out with me on a photo shoot.  She’s been my photo subject for many a photo shoot, but this was the first time I left my DSLR at home.  In the end, my belief that this would not replace DSLRs was confirmed, but also confirmed was my belief that this would allow me to leave my heavy gear behind more often.

iPhone 7 Plus on a Photo Shoot

Limitation 1: Speed
The camera in portrait mode performed well all in all, but it did have limitations.  The first limitation I noticed was that it’s not the fastest at taking successive shots.  Each shot takes a few seconds for the processing to complete and save the image, thereby limiting how quickly you can fire off shots.  As my wife was moving and changing her poses, I often missed great shots because the phone wasn’t ready to take another shot yet.  This is not a problem with a DLSR as they can fire off many shots per second to get those split-second moments that pass by.

Limitation 2: Distance
The second limitation I immediately noticed was the distance you are limited to.  You can’t be too close to the subject (about 2 feet) and the subject needs to be within 8 feet.  So that leaves about 6 feet of “wiggle room”.  I found it difficult to be able to get back far enough to take full-body shots as it uses the longer of the two lenses.  I could get far enough away to get mid-calf-up shots though.  But this is understandable, as the effect is pretty minimal when you get that far away from the subject, so I can’t really fault it for that.  But it is another reason that this feature will never replace a DSLR.

Example Images From Test Photoshoot

In the end I did manage to get some pretty publish-worthy photos using just my iPhone, which you can see below.  Again, the blur effect is not perfect along edges (especially hard edges) and you often get a bit of a halo around the subject.  But, unless you’re looking for it or zoom into 100%, you’re not going to notice it.  I did edit the photos for color, but all edits were done on my iPhone using Snapseed.  Click on each image to see a larger version.

In conclusion, I have to say I am very pleased with the performance of the new camera on my new iPhone 7 Plus and even more so with the new portrait mode.  DSLR killer? No.  Great addition to my always-on-me camera? A resounding YES!

iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode Reviewed

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…

Ten of My Most-Used iOS Apps

I thought I’d write a little about my most “essential” apps. I’m always on the lookout for a good app, and at present have over 230 apps installed on my iPhone. I would probably be shocked (and maybe a little embarrassed) to find out what small percentage of those apps I use on a regular basis. So, in trying to determine which apps I would consider “essential” I asked myself, “If my iPhone was erased, which apps would be the first to be reinstalled?”

There are a lot of apps out there that I think are cool and use from time to time, but really only a small handful that I use on a regular basis. So, for what it’s worth, here are ten of my favorites (in no particular order).

AppAdvice ($1.99) – I use the AppAdvice app pretty much everyday. It is one of my main sources for all things Apple. It has daily news articles, app reviews, etc. If there’s news in the world of Apple, they’ll have it. The app also has a sweet section called “AppGuides” which have the top apps in various categories. They break apps down into four categories: “Essential”, “Notable”, “Decent” and “Beyond”. Looking for the best app for stargazing or searching for a job? You can find them in AppAdvice.

Apps Gone Free (Free) – This app is also made by the people at AppAdvice and is simply a daily listing of apps that previously cost money but are currently free. I have gotten a hold of a LOT of paid apps at no charge thanks to this daily-updated app.

20120930-190705.jpgGoodReader ($4.99) – GoodReader is an app I use a lot to manage documents from PDFs to image files to other document types. I can open files directly from e-mail into GoodReader using “Open With…” and then the documents are automatically saved for later reference. You can also password protect folders of documents within the app which makes it nice for downloading PDFs of our monthly bank statements and keeping them secure from prying eyes.

Springpad (Free) – I use Springpad to keep track of a lot of things. I can create “notebooks” within the app which can include all kinds of information like checklists, notes, images, voice memos, etc. And the best part is your free account can also be accessed from a computer through a web browser making it easy to update your information from just about anywhere you are. You can also share notebooks with other users which worked out really well this summer when my wife and I were making lists of stuff to take to our youth camp. We could both add items (or check them off) from our phones and the other one would see the changes almost instantly.

20120930-190715.jpgJotNot Pro ($1.99) – JotNot Pro is a “document scanner” app. Basically, you take a picture of a page and JotNot turns it into a pdf in your phone that you can print, e-mail, etc. You can “scan” multiple pages into a single pdf document with ease. This is one of the apps I found with the help of the AppAdvice app. I use it quite a bit to make digital copies of documents to e-mail to others or even myself for safe-keeping.

20120930-232148.jpgChrome (Free) – I downloaded the Google Chrome browser the day they released it in the App Store. I’m a big fan of Chrome on PC so I was anxious to try it out on my iPhone. It did not let me down. Using my Chrome sign-in username and password all my desktop bookmarks were instantly available on my phone, and any bookmarks I make on my phone are available on my desktop. I can even see what tabs I have open on my desktop or phone and open them up as well. Love it!

20121001-002440.jpgHanDBase ($9.99) – I have been using HanDBase since back in my Palm Pilot days. I was using HanDBase before smart phones even existed and Palm was king of the PDA world. Palm PDAs are all but a memory, but HanDBase is still going strong! In a nutshell, HanDBase is a personal database app. You can create any kind of custom database or use one of the many templates created by other users. One of the things I currently use it for is to keep track of what praise songs we sing in our youth group as well as what dates each song is sung on. And I know I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I can do with this powerful app.

20120930-232600.jpgSnapseed ($4.99) – Snapseed is a great photo editing app that’s quick and easy to use. It has some pretty cool filters as well as image enhancement features. It’s not a one-stop-shop photo editor, but it is a valuable tool in my photo-editing arsenal.

20120930-190721.jpgRadarScope ($9.99) – There are some decent free weather apps out there that include radar, but I haven’t found any app that does radar better than RadarScope. Yeah, it’s a little pricey as far as iOS apps go, but it’s worth the price in my opinion. It features lots of different radar types available, animated radar, and up-to-the-minute alert boxes are displayed on screen as well. Simply tap on an alert box to get the details on the alert. Another cool feature is the storm track display which shows the likely path of storm cells along with marks estimating the time it will reach locations. This is my go-to app during our stormy summer months.

20120930-232726.jpgFlixster (Free) – When I want to see what movies are showing in my local theaters and check the times, Flixster is the app I rely on. I can mark my theaters as “favorites” so that they’re always easy to find when I want to browse show times. Flixster has a lot of other features, but honestly I pretty much just use it to look up show times.

There are a lot of other apps I use on a fairly regular basis, but these apps probably see the most use outside of the built-in apps like mail and maps as well as usual apps like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Now it’s your turn…outside of the “usual suspects” what apps do you use most often? Let me know in the comments!

Ten of My Most-Used iOS Apps

What’s So Wrong With Apple’s New Maps App?

Seattle’s Space Needle in 3D in Apple’s new maps app.

There has been a lot of buzz criticizing Apple’s new maps app that replaced Google’s map app. I personally don’t see what the big deal is. Sure, there are fewer points of interest on the map, but that will get better over time. And besides, I never used Google’s map to locate a point of interest anyway. I would search on Google for the address and then put it into maps to see where it was. Apple’s maps app will do that just fine. And in addition, Apple’s app will give me turn-by-turn navigation to get there. Google maps never did that for me. I used turn-by-turn on a recent several-hundred-mile trip and Apple’s maps app got me there perfectly. And the estimated time of arrival was only off by a few minutes. And the nice part was that I turned my screen off (I was plugged into power the whole trip) and anytime I needed verbal directions the screen would turn on and Siri’s voice would tell me what to do. Once I made the necessary turn, the screen shut itself back off! I was very impressed and pleased.

The criticism got bad enough that Tim Cook actually published an apology for the poor performance of their new map app. He even suggested alternative map apps people could try in the meantime. Again, I don’t see what the problem is! I think maybe Tim’s strategy is to get people to try those other map apps so that they’ll see that by comparison, Apple’s is the superior product!

Much of the criticism also seems to be centered around the 3D maps having errors in some rendering of roads and buildings. At this point the 3D imagery seems more of a “toy” or “gimmick” to me than anything that’s useful enough to where I care about glitches here and there. I personally am dumb-founded at the beauty of the 3D imagery that they have right! I say give Apple a little more time and they’ll improve the maps app. It won’t be long and people will forget all about the initial glitches. I do admit that I miss Google Street View, though!

What’s So Wrong With Apple’s New Maps App?

Buyer Beware: Black iPhone 5 is Easy to Scratch

Photo Credit: AppAdvice.com

Heads up for anyone planning to upgrade to the iPhone 5.  It is being reported that the black iPhone 5 is pretty easy to scuff up (dubbed “Scuffgate”), and some are even coming new out of the box already scratched up.  The black iPhone has a black slate coating on it that, when scratched off, reveals the silver aluminum underneath, making for a not-so-pretty looking phone.  The white iPhone is prone to the same scuffing, but since it is white, the scratches are less noticeable.

When and if I ever upgrade to the iPhone 5, it looks like I’ll be getting a white one!

Source: AppAdvice.com

Buyer Beware: Black iPhone 5 is Easy to Scratch

Little-Spoken-Of New Feature in iOS 6

With all the news about the iPhone 5 and new features in iOS 6, one new feature has flown under the radar and as far as I can tell, has not been talked about at all during or since the iPhone 5 reveal. It is a feature that got my attention when it was originally mentioned last June during Apple’s initial reveal of iOS 6 at WWDC. Since I hadn’t heard any mention of it during the release of iOS 6 I was afraid it may have gotten the boot, but upon upgrading my iPhone 4S to iOS 6 I was pleased to find the feature intact.

What Is It Already?

Okay, enough beating around the bush. Most people probably won’t be as excited about it as I am anyway! The feature to which I am referring is the ability to upload images from your iDevice’s camera or camera roll directly through web pages in mobile Safari.

Clicking on “Choose File” in a web page will now let you select a photo from your iDevice’s camera!
For instance, if a website has a feature where you can upload, say, a profile picture for an account, and that website has a form where you can select a file from your computer and then upload it to the website, previously you could not do this from within mobile Safari on an iDevice. If you clicked on the “Select File” button, nothing would happen. So, to upload pictures from your iDevice to a website like Facebook, Twitter, etc. you had to have an app that would upload the pictures for you. Not anymore!

Now you can, if you so desire, go to facebook.com in Safari on your iDevice, select “Desktop Site” from the menu to view Facebook as if you’re at your computer, click “Add Photo” and then select a photo from your camera roll (or take a new one on the spot) and post it! I realize it would be pretty silly to do all that when you can just use the Facebook app, so Facebook isn’t the best application of this new feature, but you get the idea. This feature enabled me to add the ability to take and upload pictures of students in my youth group to my secure online attendance database directly from my iPhone to help with putting names with faces in our group. I would have needed a special app to be able to do that under iOS 5. And it’s a lot easier than taking their pictures with a digital camera, keeping track of who’s who, transferring them from the camera to my computer, and then finally uploading them to my online database. Pretty sweet, huh?

I realize not everyone is going to share my enthusiasm over this rarely-spoken-of feature, but it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me personally. Go ahead, try it out. You know you want to!

Little-Spoken-Of New Feature in iOS 6