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March 20, 2014 • Reviews

The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad mini Is Almost Awesome


I’m a huge fan of Logitech’s various keyboard cases and covers for the iPad, and because I am seriously considering putting my iPad Air up on eBay, I decided to check out the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad mini. I hoped it would be a great productivity tool as my iPad mini becomes even more central to my workflow.

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March 2, 2014 • Autos

Own the 1987 Alfa Romeo Quadrifoglio Used in ‘Wolf of Wall Street’

$_57 (11)

It never ceases to amaze me what people will pay to own a piece of pop culture; case in point, the 1987 Alfa Romeo Quadrifoglio used in the Oscar nominated “Wolf of Wall Street”.  I own a 1986 Alfa Romeo Quadrifoglio, and as much as I love my car, I’m shocked to see bidding for this one at $80,000+(!!).

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February 23, 2014 • Reviews

Dell Venue 8 Pro Review: Small Size, Full Windows

Microsoft continues to push Windows 8 hard in both the traditional laptop/desktop and the exploding tablet space, and the Dell Venue 8 Pro is one of the more compelling devices launched yet. Continue Reading

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February 15, 2014 • Reviews

Keep Your Pebble Extra Pebbly with SlickWraps

1 Photo 02 15 2014 12 56 15

When Pebble announced the new Pebble App Store I was intrigued. I was an original backer of the Pebble but sold mine when it came. I went out and picked up a new one and realized I needed to find a way to keep it from scratching. That’s where SlickWraps Pebble Watch Color Series Matte Black protection came in. Continue Reading

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January 27, 2014 • Gear Bits

Own a Piece of Jurassic Park History, Just Stay Away from the Raptor!

Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies. I remember seeing it as a kid, and I was gleefully scared out of my mind in the first moments when the unseen raptor attacked the worker transferring her to a new cage. Really into Jurassic Park? Head to eBay, and you can own the very cage and raptor from the movie!

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January 13, 2014 • Reviews

OAXIS InkCase i5 Review – Customize Your iPhone 5’s Case Back with eInk Photos


How would you like to be able to display grayscale pictures on the back of your iPhone 5 or 5S? Or is that idea not very exciting? Well then, how would you like to read eBooks from the back of your iPhone? Not really? Well … that’s kind of what I was thinking when I first received the OAXIS InkCase. Continue Reading

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December 31, 2013 • Gear Bits

The iPhone 5 Case Was a LunaTik; Fortunately, Our Israeli Bus Driver Wasn’t

I’m finishing up leading a ten day trip to Israel that saw us traverse the entire country. From Tel Aviv to the Golan Heights to Jerusalem, we spent a good deal of time on our bus. Our driver Yuri always had his iPhone and iPad handy, and two days into the trip I noticed he had a new iPhone case. Continue Reading

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December 14, 2013 • Gear Bits

New Laptop? ZAGGify It to Keep It Looking Great

Gear Diary Invisible Shield 38

If you picked up a new computer, phone or tablet during Black Friday you aren’t done shopping yet. Make sure to check out ZAGG and stock up on some protection for your new device. My 11″ MacBook Air looks great and I’m committed to keeping it looking that way. A ZAGG invisibleSHIELD is a big part of making that happen. Continue Reading

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November 26, 2013 • Reviews

The Astak Neos – An Android Tablet for Family Fun and Copious Cooking!

I love to cook. I store most of my recipes in Evernote, so when making unfamiliar dishes I always need access to a smart device. Usually I’ll walk back and forth between the kitchen countertop and dining room table where my laptop sits, checking ingredients as I work. That’s all changed since I got the Astak Neos Android Tablet.

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November 18, 2013 • Reviews

HTC One Max Android Phablet Unboxed and Examined


I like my HTC One; it has turned out to be the best Android phone I’ve ever owned or used, but I do wish that it had a larger screen and a better camera. When I heard there was an HTC One Max coming out, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Larger screen? Better Camera? Yes and no, but …

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November 14, 2013 • Gear Bits

The $0.50 Per Week iPad Mini Rental

iPad Mini - Not Actually a Rental Unit

iPad Mini – Not Actually a Rental Unit

The high resale value of Apple products has long been a compelling argument for the perceived premium — I remember reselling my Titanium Powerbook for ~80% of retail a year later so I could jump to the new Aluminum Powerbook. In contrast, the high-end Dell XPS laptop I bought at the same time fetched less than 40%.

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November 6, 2013 • Editorials

First Steps to Getting Google Glass and Being a Part of Phase Two of the Explorer Program


Joe Stirt, an original Glass Explorer program participant, recently received three invitations he could share; he gave me one. That invite entitled me to purchase a second generation Google Glass device for $1500. Is the tech compelling enough for me to pay to be a beta tester for an unfinished product? I sure hope so — because I mine arrived tonight! Continue Reading

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October 20, 2013 • Editorials

A Request for Reader Input and Advice Regarding My Gear

Screenshot 2013 10 20 16 53 57

Here on Gear Diary we often review new products and, sometimes directly and at other times indirectly, we offer recommendations. This time out, I’m turning to all of you for guidance and input: which laptop I should use on a series of upcoming trips. Here’s background on where things currently stand and what kind of input I am seeking. Continue Reading

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August 1, 2013 • Gear Bits, News

3 Reasons I Almost Bought a Nexus 7 2 … and 5 Reasons I Held Back

Google Nexus 7 Still Made for Watching Movies

Google Nexus 7 Still Made for Watching Movies

Over the last few years it has become somewhat of a mantra – a new 7″ Android tablet comes out, I buy it and quickly lose interest, sell it off for a minor loss, and repeat. I have gone from Samsung Galaxy Tab to HTC Flyer to Acer Iconia to Kindle Fire to Nexus 7 to Fire HD … but it all pretty much stopped with the iPad Mini. With the Mini I found the perfect intersection of a size I knew would work and the functionality I need. Still … I kept contemplating new Android tablets as I heard about them. But nothing was remotely compelling enough to consider buying – until the Nexus 7 2 (even with that stupid name). Here are some thoughts:

  • Awesome, High-Res Screen: I mean, c’mon – a 1900 x 1200 pixel screen with 323 pixels per inch? Gorgeous screen that is perfect for everything media-related. Games, movies and so on.
  • Packs Loads of Gaming Power: 2GB RAM, quad-core Snapdragon CPU with Adreno GPU, and stereo surround speakers. This is undoubtedly going to be the best 7″ gaming experience in a handheld system when it is released.
  • Maybe THIS is The One?: with each passing year, more and more functionality appears in the Android Tablet OS and in apps. I am not an OS zealot – I have different things on my Mac & PC, so why not have Android for productivity and email and games, and iOS for music and games?

All of those things are true, and in times past would have been enough that I would have a Nexus 7 2 on pre-order. Yet as I sat on the Google Play Store site I paused, and then closed the tab. Several days later I have looked more than once, but never come close to ordering – why? Let’s take a look!

  • Aspect Ratio is STILL All Wrong!: here is the bottom line – the Nexus 7 failed my ‘basic productivity test’ because it was too narrow in portrait mode, and too short in landscape. As I said, this would need to work for me as a productivity tool, so having decreased usability in office apps, WordPress, and so on really makes the Nexus 7 hard to justify. That was the case last year and once again the screen remains designed for movies rather than productivity …
  • Android STILL Missing Major App Categories: Apple baked in Core Audio and Core MIDI, and allowed AudioBus to provide inter-app routing of audio signal processing. By comparison, Android is a laggy mess devoid of even remotely useful music production tools. Other things are missing, but music is hampered by an inherent lack of capability and that is a capability I want and need.
  • Tablets will NEVER be the focus of Android: I know it gets better every year, but STILL the apps I am seeing for Android tablets are just stretched phone apps. There isn’t the market to support Android tablet software at the same level as smartphones and, as a result, apps we do get lack the tablet-centric feel of iPad apps. And lets face it, on a bigger screen an app ought to offer more flexibility the way many iPad apps do compared to their iPhone versions
  • Whatever Amazon Does Will Be Better: OK, so ‘better’ is subjective, but I prefer the Kindle Fire HD to the Nexus 7 – and so does the broader market- by quite a wide margin. The Fire HD had a better aspect ratio, better feel and much better sound system than the original Nexus 7- and IT didn’t have the laggy slow-down that happened over time to the Nexus 7. Rumors have the next Fire HD arriving with even better specs, and given how great the ‘Special Offers’ were through Amazon, it is worth the wait.
  • Games and other apps STILL come to iOS first: aside from basic productivity stuff, I use my iPad for data analysis on the go. While it lacks the full functionality of my laptop, having JMP Graph Builder and Stats Pad to do ANOVA, regression, and basic analyses provides me amazing utility. None of thse apps are on Android. Also, XCOM and Deus Ex just released for iOS … and may or may not jump to Android. Quite simply – gaming and apps on Android compared to iOS is like gaming on a Mac compared to a PC: longer wait, smaller selection.

If you note, I am not putting down the technical aspects of the Nexus 7 2, nor am I saying that for some people it won’t be an awesome product. In fact, I know someone at Gear Diary has pre-ordered one – so it will be interest to read impressions and see how long it lasts before hitting eBay.

What are your impressions of the new Nexus tablet? Do you plan to buy one? Let us know in the comments!

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July 15, 2013 • News

Have You Had to Exchange Your iPhone 5 for Warranty Issues?


A couple weeks ago, I realized that my iPhone had stopped taking clear photos. Shots that I would ordinarily have taken and expected to be good were now coming out fuzzy and unfocussed. It was pretty obvious that my iPhone 5’s camera had a problem, but it wasn’t clear why. Knowing that I’d be joining him and the other editors at his lake house for GearFest soon — and knowing that I didn’t have a nearby Apple store — Dan told me to send him my iPhone, and he’d take it to the Apple Store for them to check out. While there Dan was told the camera issues were actually a rather frequent complaint with the iPhone 5, and while they could try to repair it that rarely fixes the problem. The flawed iPhone was swapped out for a new one.

This wasn’t Dan’s first time to take an iPhone 5 in for warranty issues, his had been exchanged for a new device when it had begun inexplicably freezing earlier this year.

This morning, David posted in our back-channel that after several days of seeing “the flashing Apple ‘screen of death'” when trying to charge the phone, he also took his in to the Apple Genius Bar. He noted that the iPhone 5 seemed to be “the hot ticket item of the day at the Apple store, as those subtle little white warranty boxes where flying out the door.” David said he was there for “50 minutes Saturday, and at least a dozen went out the door, just at that one store.”

So that’s three of us who have had three different issues with the iPhone 5, and obviously we aren’t the only ones. Granted, all of our defective phones were replaced under warranty by Apple, but it did make me wonder how many others have had warranty issues with their iPhones that resulted in them getting a “new” iPhone 5 in exchange from Apple?

Do you own an iPhone 5? And if so, have you had any issues with it that resulted in a warranty exchange?


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July 2, 2013 • Reviews

Lumia 928 Windows Phone Review – Slight Learning Curve Leads to High Rewards

About a month ago, I made the radical decision to move from my iPhone to Windows Phone. I’ve always liked Nokia products, and when the Lumia 928 came to Verizon the temptation was overwhelming, so I took the plunge. You can check out my first impressions here. Since this was such a radical change, and since Windows Phone has so many proponents and detractors all by itself, I’ve broken this review down into two sections: Windows Phone itself, and the Lumia Hardware.

Lumia 928 Windows Phone

Windows Phone:

Before I get into the phone itself, I think it’s worth spending some time initially on Windows Phone. Switching ecosystems was the biggest hurdle in getting rolling on this phone, and when discussing the Lumia line, the specter of “no apps” seems to come up all the time. So lets look at a typical use of my smartphone.

Let’s say my wife Sarah and I are out and I see something cool. I snap a picture, edit it if needed, and upload it to Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest etc. Or I get an email about a post that needs editing for Gear Diary, and I pull it up in WordPress to take a look. Maybe that picture I snapped is worth a post, and I write it in the same WordPress app. We might use GPS on the phone to find directions, or look up food nearby. And when we’re standing in line at the store, I play Angry Birds, browse RSS, or check social media. The point, aside from how boring I am, is that all of these things can be done on any platform. For everyday workflow, there’s almost no difference in mainstream apps between Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

In fact, if I were to list my main iPhone apps, almost all of them have Windows Phone analogs (iPhone in italics, Windows Phone app in bold):

Lumia 928 Windows Phone




Angry BirdsAngry Birds

Kingdom RushMystic Defense LF


FeeddlerProNextGen Reader

AnylistGrocery Gadget


Accounts2Checkbook Metro



The point, without getting into every app I own, is that aside from having to hunt down some new apps, I’m not missing anything. If there’s not an exact match for the app I use, there’s an equivalent. At the end of the day, it’s disingenuous to say Windows Phone is “a nice platform if you don’t need apps”. Does it have 100% parity with iOS and Android? No. Is the difference so glaring that you’ll feel like a social pariah if you switch platforms? Hardly. At this point, most smartphone platforms are close to feature parity, and it’s become about the little things that make the bigger differences.

So what are those little things about Windows Phone that make me so happy? Well, there’s the interface. Yes, it is very minimalist, but it can be customized with Live Tiles to make it exactly what you want it to be. Live Tiles can function similar to widgets, with updated app information, news, weather, etc. The difference is that you can mix small tiles with big ones or double sized ones, in whatever formation strikes your fancy. I have mine set up one way, and someone else with a Windows Phone can have the same apps and functionality in an entirely different setup.

Lumia 928 Windows Phone

But the features I like go way beyond the user interface. There are things like the first time my phone was connected over Bluetooth and offered to read me an incoming text message. That’s not surprising, as Siri can do that too, but Siri doesn’t proactively offer me that option while my phone is in my pocket. THAT was darn cool. I also love that if I download new camera lenses/apps, I can access them from inside the camera app. This means the dedicated camera button mapping remains in place, but if I don’t like the default options and want something special, it’s just one or two taps away. Finally, I discovered last night that the flashlight app I downloaded can be controlled with the camera button. Once I launch the app, I can flip the flashlight on and off with the tap of a camera button, which is handy if my hands are full and I can’t tap the screen easily (this happened last night, and I discovered the camera button function when I hit it by accident).

The point of all these is that Windows Phone has a clear design and feature plan. Everything is streamlined and minimal, but at the same time, there are systems in place to make use automated and easy. Bluetooth settings that read your texts, camera lenses that integrate with the camera app, flashlight apps that use the camera button-these are all simple concepts. But they all work smoothly together, so there’s no jumbled mix of settings, no entering and exiting apps to find the one that does what you like. If you need something, it’s no more than a tap or two away. Once you get your Start set up the way you like, and get rolling on apps, you find an operating system that manages to mix design and efficiency shockingly well!

Granted, there are a handful of things that I don’t love. Facebook’s integration into contacts is excellent, but the actual app can be a bit buggy. Also, I really hate that music volume and ringer volume are linked together; I keep my phone on vibrate, because if the ringer were on at the same volume I listen to music, all of New Jersey would hear when I got a phone call. But in many ways, Windows Phone reminds me of Android when I first bought my Droid; it’s still slowly building an app library and a stable of features, but the potential is there, and it’s fun to experience it as it matures!

Lumia 928 Windows Phone


Of course, Windows Phone needs solid hardware to go along with the software, and that’s where Nokia comes in. They’ve been the biggest manufacturer of Windows Phone devices for the last few years, and slowly but surely they’re refining the Lumia brand with each generation of devices. The 928 falls in a funny spot — it’s a slight improvement over the 920, with a better screen, a Xenon flash, and a more streamlined look. At the same time, it’s very much overshadowed by the even sleeker Lumia 925, the GSM successor to the 920. Still, the 928 is the top of the line for Verizon Wireless, and it is a pleasure to use.

Lumia 928 Windows Phone

It is a bit on the large size, even for a phone with a 4.5in screen. There’s definitely some wasted bezel space on the top and bottom, and it’s not going to win any “thinnest smartphone” awards, but it has a slight curve to the back, and feels really good to hold. I have no problems using it one-handed and even typing one-handed with my thumb, but someone with smaller hands might find reaching the top corners to be a bit of a stretch. At first it felt a little bit too big, but after a few days of use I was so adjusted to it that Sarah’s 4S felt like a mini-phone in comparison. The screen is an AMOLED with Nokia’s ClearBlack enhancements, which basically means it is very vibrant, blacks look very black, and its remarkable readable in direct sunlight. I will say that it does not look as good as an Apple Retina screen if you look up close, but if you need to hold your smartphone six inches from your face, then you have a bigger issue than the quality of the screen … I would suggest reading glasses at that point.

My biggest peeve with the build of the phone is how slippery the casing feels. It’s plastic, but a very solid feeling phone. It’s just very slippery, and while I love the look of the black face and white body, I do keep it in a case much of the time. I have a two-week old child and a 100 pound labrador at home, so we’re sort of at the point in our lives where everything should be covered in bubble wrap. The Lumia looks fantastic caseless, but I feel better adding a touch of bulk and better covering the phone. Verizon sells TPU-style cases for the Lumia, and I found a bright green hard case on eBay that looks great against the white polycarbonate, so at least the phone is stylish, even if it is encased!

I stated in my first impressions post that one of the things I really loved about the phone was the camera, and that’s definitely one of the standout features for me. In fact, I bought the phone in large part because I use my smartphone camera constantly, and having a camera that could replace my point and shoot was really intriguing for me. I’m terrible about remembering to bring my camera, keep it charged, locate an SD card, etc…but I always have my phone on me. The camera is fantastic, even if I use the default lens settings, and it’s simple enough to use that any stranger can use my phone to snap decent pictures. This was put to the ultimate test when our son was born a few weeks ago. Sarah was busy actually giving birth to him, so we had my phone out for his first photos. Not only was I able to quickly fire off shots of him, but the interface and dedicated camera button made it simple enough for the nurses to grab my phone and take pictures. None of them had seen a Windows Phone before, but all of them complimented the quality of the photos and the ease of being able to quickly snap the pictures.

Lumia 928 Windows Phone

The phone’s size and lens orientation work well from an ergonomic standpoint, since it feels like you’re holding a very thin point and shoot when snapping photos. Your fingers naturally support the phone and stay away from the lens, and the shutter button is easy to access. Plus the important settings like flash, front and back facing camera, video camera, and lenses are all lined up where your right thumb is, so you can rest your pointer finger on the shutter and use your thumb to navigate changes while using the screen as a viewfinder. It just feels very natural, and that’s key if you want good pictures under all circumstances.

Of course, the phone is good for far more than just snapping photos. Call quality is so good that I actually was asked one day where I was calling from, since I sounded much clearer than I usually did on a cell phone. Granted, my 4S and my car’s bluetooth were not always the best of friends, and callers often told me I sounded staticky and like I was in a wind tunnel, so the bar wasn’t the highest for the Lumia, but it is a marked difference. And I hear a big difference on my end for sure. Calls sound clearer, and I don’t need to put the volume up to near-max levels to hear conversations.

One of the other things that drew me to the Lumia was how fast the phone moved through the user interface, and I have not seen a slowdown despite significant daily use. In a typical morning, I wake up, fire through email from 2-3 different email accounts, check Facebook, Twitter, NextGen RSS, and then play Pandora while walking the dog and driving to work. Over the course of the day I usually repeat those actions, with a fair amount of WordPress, texting and phone calls. I also have Accuweather, NBC News, NextGen and a stocks app all updating Live Tiles throughout the day, and nothing hiccups. I do have a few games, including animation heavy ones like Rayman Jungle Run, and nothing has slowed down or stuttered no matter what I had running.

Lumia 928 Windows Phone

In fact, when we were in the hospital after my son’s birth, I found myself using the Lumia and my iPad pretty interchangeably. This was a big change from how I used my iPhone versus my iPad, where my iPhone was mostly for quick emails, games, Facebook, and Twitter…I only reached for my iPhone for anything more intensive for content consumption when it was my only option. The Lumia’s screen is big and clear enough that I was equally happy using it to keep on top of the world as I was grabbing my iPad. In fact, because we were in that “Oh wow the baby twitched better take a picture” phase, it was helpful to have it so close by! But even for just catching up on RSS or reading Kindle books in the small snatches of downtime, I didn’t feel like I was limited — it was just big enough to make comfortable for longer form reading as well as quickie items.

All this use does slurp battery life, but I’ve been VERY pleased overall with the strength of the battery in the Lumia 928. In a typical day I can get about 12 hours of standby and active use from charge to drained, and I usually make it all day by topping the battery off midday. I bought a Nokia Wireless charging plate to keep at my desk at work, and it’s the greatest invention I have ever seen. I simply drop my phone on the charge plate when it needs to be charged, and if I need to use it, I pick it up, use it, and put it back for more charging. It’s so seamless that I wish I had bought at least one more for home as well! Regular charging takes place via microUSB, which makes life pretty easy since those are almost as common as plastic wrap when it comes to electronic devices. I swear I have at least two microUSB cords for each device I have with a microUSB port, so it’s easy to carry extra charge cables just in case…but luckily I haven’t needed to do an emergency charge yet!

There are really only two things that stand out as flat-out failures for me with the phone. One is Nokia’s HERE DRIVE beta maps app. It doesn’t offer a list of directions, just barks them turn by turn at you, so if you want to know HOW the app is directing you the only option is to scroll around the map and see where the line is headed. This also means you don’t get a choice of routes, and that’s problematic if you want to see your options with and without toll roads, different traffic patterns, etc. The good news is that it’s been mostly good at getting me from point A to point B, but I will be seeking out better options. The second issue is a Verizon one, and I’m hoping they really do come through with a fix soon. See, the issue is group messages, or lack thereof, and it’s entirely a Verizon problem. If I send a group message, I see the group text in my list of messages, but the replies all come through individually…so if I want to reply to the whole group, I have to go back to that initial group text. Worse, any group texts I receive come through as though they went just to me, and not to a group, so my replies go to the person who sent it but not the rest of the group. It’s a pain, but Verizon has promised a solution soon. I hope…

Overall, I am really, really happy with the Lumia 928. I took the plunge and switched platforms without any real experience on Windows Phone, but the learning curve was slight, and so far the rewards have been great. The combination of Windows Phone and Nokia’s excellent hardware makes for a truly fantastic device, and in my opinion a worthy competitor to the iOS/Android choices available today!

MSRP: The Lumia 928 is $99.99 from Verizon Wireless with two-year contract — prices vary at other retailers.

What I like: Beautiful screen; very fast performance; great battery life; Windows Phone offers a clean and minimalist design; camera is fantastic

What Needs Improvement: Volume is the same between media and system settings; not all flagship apps from other platforms available on Windows Phone; Nokia Drive beta needs work; Verizon group messaging needs to be fixed.

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June 26, 2013 • News

The New HTC 8XT Windows Phone Rocks HTC BoomSound

HTC 8XT Windows Phone

The HTC 8X is a terrific Windows Phone. I have one in hand and it looks and feels great. The just-announced HTC 8XT takes things up a notch or two and is coming this summer.

HTC 8XT Windows Phone

The HTC 8XT is one of the first Windows Phone 8 smartphones to be available on the Sprint network and it is the very first to feature dual front-facing stereo speakers. The phone sports great sound thanks to HTC BoomSound, has an advanced camera that incorporates all of HTC’s camera expertise and it has HTC’s now-iconic design.

HTC BoomSound is a big deal. As the company explains, it

delivers dual front-facing stereo speakers and a dedicated amplifier –­ bringing people closer to the music, videos and games they love. In addition, Beats Audio™ integration enables studio-quality sound that delivers thundering bass, soaring midrange and crisp highs.

HTC 8XT Windows Phone

The camera has similarly fancy technology built-in. The HTC 8XT has an 8-megapixel main camera with autofocus and LED flash and a front-facing 1.6-megapixel camera. Thanks to an f/2.0 aperture on the main camera the phone is able to capture great photos in bright-light and low-light. And it will come as no surprise to those familiar with HTC’s recent phones that it is able to capture multi-shot burst mode and features the ability to shoot video and capture still photos simultaneously.

I loved the HTC One Android phone I reviewed but am pleased to see that hTC is using the same brilliant color, soft-to-the-touch texture and a tapered design that makes the HTC One X such a pleasure to hold and use. The HTC 8XT will be available later this summer for $99. You can learn more here. (And make sure to check out Judie’s eBay Buyer’s Guide to Windows Phones.)

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May 23, 2013 • News

Enervee Takes Comparison Shopping to a New, Energy Conscious Level

There are a million ways to shop by price online. You can sort lowest to highest, seek sale items, look for free shipping, and head to sites like eBay to try to get a better deal. There’s also plenty of places that will tell you how eco-friendly a device is, or will be over its lifetime. Enervee is looking to combine those metrics into one website that gives you a price, features, and environmental impact breakdown on major household appliances, so you can see what the true price of an item will be over its lifetime, and whether you need to feel guilty about the carbon footprint.

I pulled up an LG washer that’s very similar to the one we own, and it had a score of 67, which is deemed “Pretty good” by the site. They look at the carbon footprint (equivalent to two gallons of gas), they estimate it will cost approximately $400 over its lifetime to run, and then added in the purchase price to ballpark cost over 11 years. They seem to focus more heavily on energy, and I couldn’t find a metric that took into account water cost, but since this formula is being applied to dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, and other household items, I can see why they focused on electricity as the biggest target. You can also see Amazon reviews on select items (television only for now but more will be rolled out), as well as multiple places to buy.

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May 4, 2013 • Reviews

HTC ONE: A Review from Two Continents


One of us is in the US while the other is in Australia; both of us have been using the HTC ONE for the last bit. With HTC pushing the phone this weekend through special sales promotions, we thought it would be a good time to share some of our thoughts.

Dan: A couple of weeks ago, I wrote some of my first impressions of the HTC ONE Android Smartphone. My initial impressions have only continued to be positive, and I am more enamored with the device now than when I first gushed about it. At the time, I described the HTC ONE as being as close to jewelry as a smartphone can be. I stand by that statement. I also noted that the look and feel and build of the phone rivals the iPhone 5 and might even exceed it; I stand by that statement as well. In that initial look, I noted that the dual front-facing speakers were like nothing I have ever heard from on a smartphone before; that statement is perhaps close to an understatement. The phone is amazing as a standalone music or video device. My time with the HTC ONE is coming to an end, but Mitchell’s time with his is just beginning.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 005

Mitchell: My HTC ONE journey really began on April 5. My local carrier Telstra sent out an email blasts announcing that HTC ONE pre-orders were now open. Within minutes of that email I had my order in for a gorgeous 32GB Black HTC ONE.

I’ve been using an LG Nexus 4 for over a month and, convinced that I could switch to Android after four generations of iPhone, I was certain that the HTC ONE was going to be my next long-term smartphone, replacing my 64GB iPhone 5.

Finally receiving the HTC ONE this week, I tore into the box immediately, and I was definitely struck but the solidity of this phone. HTC waxes lyrical about the materials and overall build of the HTC ONE, and its not hard to see why. In a sea of plastic, the HTC ONE definitely stands out.


HTC ONE By the Numbers

Let’s get the specs and other factual stuff out of the way.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 002

The Screen is Gorgeous

  • Android with HTC Sense (They are careful not to list the numbers. If you dig deeply you will see it is “Android OS, v4.1.2 (Jelly Bean), upgradable to v4.2.2 (Jelly Bean)”)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 1.7 GHz quad-core processor
  • 32GB Storage
  • 2GB RAM
  • 4.7″ 1080p Full HD screen with 468PPI
  • HTC BoomSound
  • Dual front speakers
  • Built-in amplifiers
  • Beats Audio
  • HTC UltraPixel Camera
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • 2.1MP front camera
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC

In the box

HTC continues to offer a less-than-exciting unboxing experience. This time out, the ATT version includes:

  • The HTC ONE
  • An AC charger
  • A MicroUSB sync cable
  • A (cheap) 3.5mm headset with microphone
  • A SIM eject tool
  • A Quick Start guide

IMG 1958

HTC ONE Look Feel and Build

Dan: I’ve said my piece regarding the look, feel and build of the ONE. Mitchell has both of the current heavy-weight contenders in the Android smartphone competition, and he can give far more color than me.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 007

Mitchell: I’m lucky enough to have the new Samsung Galaxy S 4 on my desk as well, so I have been comparing the two relentlessly.

Like the iPhone 4, the HTC ONE is a solid, hefty chunk of technology that exudes quality. The black metal looks very slick, and has a reasonable amount of grip despite its smooth texture.

Having carried an iPhone 5 for the last 8 months, the extra heft of the HTC ONE is very noticeable  Some accuse the iPhone 5 of being too light, but I’m not one of them. Even the Samsung Galaxy S 4 feels a lot lighter (143 vs 130 grams), despite a mere 13 g (or 9%) separating the two.

Since I actually OWN the HTC ONE in my possession  I have been quite careful with it, occasionally toting it naked, other times in one of the three cheap-o cases I ordered in eBay weeks ago. So far it has picked up nary a mark, and indications online would suggest it’s better at “wear and tear” than the black iPhone 5. That said, the amount of info on the black HTC ONE is few and far between compared to the silver.

Up against the Samsung Galaxy S 4, the HTC ONE unquestionably feels like the more premium product. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Galaxy S 4 feels slimy as other publications have done, the Galaxy S 4 feels solid without feeling special. On high volume, the S 4’s rear-facing speaker makes the battery cover vibrate, and while the silver band around the edge looks nicer than the equivalent on the Galaxy S III, it’s fake.

The HTC ONE exhibits none of these qualities. My concern is scratching that beautiful aluminium body, since it doesn’t share the GS4’s ability to bounce or flex should rock meet hard place.

Strangely, I have been finding the Samsung Galaxy S 4 to be easier to hold and use in day-to-day situations. Despite being marginally wider (less than 2mm), I feel much less nervous texting one handed.

As for design, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with the HTC ONE in the flesh. The back looks fantastic, with gorgeous symmetrical lines and a subtle curve that catches the light especially nicely on the black model. The front is where it slightly loses its appeal.

The top and bottom speaker grills are glued onto the phone, which is fine (though it seems a bit out of whack with the whole “unibody” line that HTC is selling), but they add significantly to the amount of non-display area on the front of the phone. Compared to the Galaxy S 4, the screen looks surprisingly small due to the rather large black bezels on all four sides of the display.

4.7-inch vs 5-inch is inconsequential, and in fact I prefer the former since it can make-on-break one handedness, but on the HTC One it feels like a wasted opportunity to make the phone just that little bit smaller.

Ditching the third soft key for a non-function HTC logo is a strange decision too. Why couldn’t the HTC button act as “Home”, flanked by back and multitasking keys?

Mitchell’s Gallery of HTC ONE vs Samsung GALAXY S4 Pictures

Dan: I think I’ve largely said my piece. The HTC ONE is gorgeous and built beautifully; it is as refined as any smart phone on the market, and it feels solid without feeling like a brick. Both visually and from a tactile perspective it is a far more interesting device then the iPhone 5. When compared to the Samsung Galaxy S 4, it is on another planet. One is big and plastic, while the other is metal, glass, and gorgeous. Hands-down if you’re looking for the best phone from an industrial design perspective, this is one of the top contenders if not the knockout winner.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 001 HTE ONE Software and Operating System

Dan: I was an early detractor of Android, but I’ve been softening as of late. The operating system has become increasingly refined, and it is not the dog I once believed it to be. While I prefer iOS to Android, I would certainly be more than happy to use an android handset. The HTC One is most certainly an Android handset. That’s good and bad. On the good side there is the fact that the phone is running Android v4.1.2; it’s polished and works well. Even with HTC Sense skinning the operating system (I happen to like Sense), the phone is plenty zippy. That, of course, is thanks to its speedy processor and healthy amount of RAM. During my use of the device, I never had a slowdown or other issues with it. That’s saying a great deal since that is usually not my experience with Android.

As noted, however, this is truly an Android handset. What that also means is the fact that the phone is shipping with v4.1.2, a version of Android that is already old. And while it says “upgradable to v4.2.2 we haven’t seen best track record for HTC Android handsets getting updated to newer versions of operating system. And even if it does, by the time that happens, v4.2.2 will be outdated.

My rule of thumb is this:

When buying an iOS device, you can figure that you will see at least two full point operating system updates before the device is sunset. With the second update you may not get all of the new features, but you’ll get most of them — and the device will continue to work solidly.

When purchasing an Android handset, you have to go into the acquisition with the mindset that you’ll used the phone with the current operating system for the life of the device. Never, ever assume you will see an update, since you likely will not. Since this phone already has an obsolete version of Android, I’m a bit mixed.

Two things worth noting despite not being unique to this device are Google Now and Google voice recognition. Google Now works incredibly well on the HTC One, and is a phenomenal feature that I am appreciating on all of my devices now that it’s available on iOS as well. My phones and tablets are work devices as much as they are entertainment machines, and Google Now makes them even better from this perspective.

It’s also worth noting that the HTC ONE has excellent microphones and, when combined with Google’s much improved voice to text transcription software they work quite well with terrific although not perfect accuracy. I also love the fact that you can use voice recognition off-line. This is something that isn’t available with iOS or earlier android handsets. Combined, these two features make the HTC One an excellent productivity tool.

And there is one more feature worth mentioning — HTC’s BlinkFeed. This makes the start screen more useful by putting the information you want right in front of you when you first turn on your phone. Many will hate it. I happen to like it, and I am looking forward to seeing this type of information presentation becoming more refined and allowing even more customization.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 011

Mitchell: I think HTC has made an error with the software skin on the HTC ONE.

The HTC ONE uses a 1080p Super LCD 3 panel, which in a word looks PERFECT. Colours are vibrant, brightness is excellent, and outdoors it is very usable. Despite its amazingness, it will never be able to beat AMOLED on black levels.

That is why I’m stunned that HTC has made such liberal use of grey in its Android skin. Not only is it dull and corporate, it is completely unflattering to a display technology that has to compete with the rather eye-pleasing Super AMOLED panel that graces the 5-inch face of the Galaxy S 4. All the grey makes the display feel washed out, an impression that instantly disappears when you make a photo full screen.

Other than that, HTC have gone very minimalist with this latest outing of Android HTC Edition. Where the Samsung Galaxy S 4 is full of (often confusing) options, features and menus, the HTC ONE is remarkably simple, almost bordering on Nexus levels of simplicity.

Setting up an Android novice (or iPhone convert) would be a much simpler task on the HTC ONE than Samsung’s new flagship (or HTC’s previous one, for that matter).

For the tech savvy, however, the Galaxy S 4 is a tour de force, offering a dizzying array of features that dwarf any claims to fame put forward by HTC.

The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. – Lloyd Jones

Samsung has thrown an incredible amount of “stuff” into the GS4, from persistant eye tracking to air gestures, and just enough of it works well and is useful that you can’t dismiss it as mere gimmicks anymore.

But the one area that HTC ONE has scored an indisputable goal is …

HTC ONE Audio Output

Dan: My HTC ONE X has an indication that it carries Beats Audio inside. It’s a step in the right direction, but unless you are using Beats headphones it won’t do you much good. Fast forward a year to the HTC ONE (getting confused by the naming convention HTC is using? Me too), and you now have Beats Audio built in at the OS level, driving two forward facing speakers, and working with any audio device you throw at the phone. The result is the best sounding phone-as-MP3 player ever. I’ll let Mitchell dig more deeply into this, since this was the key feature he first mentioned to me after receiving his phone.

IMG 1967

Mitchell: Aside from the build quality, audio output was the thing that most excited me about the HTC ONE. I spend a lot of time on the road for work, and spend more than my fair share of time in hotel rooms. I often watch videos and listen to music when the day is over and I’m relaxing in my room or tucking into bed, and mre phone speakers (or those on my iPad mini) just sound poor when cranked to levels that would attempt to fill a small room.

The HTC ONE is simply amazing in this regard. Instead of a crappy, tiny mono speaker firing through the battery cover into whatever surface your phone is laying on, the HTC ONE’s dual speakers pump out stereo sound up and into the room.

The first time I piped Avicii and Fall Out Boy through the HTC ONE, I was blown away by the fidelity of the sound. Never has a smartphone sounded this good. Volume levels are excellent, and while the bass won’t rock the world, it’s far more noticeable than your average smartphone speaker. In fact, the HTC ONE would put many laptop speakers to shame, they are that good.

I have to admit to being disappointed that the Beats tech doesn’t work its magic on ringtones. You can set your own music as a ringtone, but it doesn’t sound quite as good as playing it through the stock media player or something like Double Twist.

HTC ONE Camera and Photography Software

Dan: HTC is doing some interesting things with their phones cameras these days. Last year with the HTC ONE X they spent a great deal of time and energy focusing (apologies for the pun) on the camera and some of the software. A year later they’ve done the same thing, but they have moved in a slightly different direction. They stepped off the megapixel bandwagon and are now focusing on the overall experience of the camera and applying what they refer to as UltraPixel. I found it to work rather well, and we have included a gallery of images shot Mitchell took with the camera.

HTC UltraPixel Camera

  • BSI sensor, Pixel size 2.0 µm, Sensor size 1/3′
  • Dedicated HTC ImageChip
  • F2.0 aperture and 28 mm lens
  • Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)
  • Smart Flash: Five levels of flash automatically set by distance to subject
  • Front Camera: 2.1 MP, 880 wide angle lens with HDR capability
  • 1080p Full HD video recording with HDR Video
  • HTC Zoe with Sequence Shot, Always Smile and Object Removal
  • Gallery with Video Highlights and HTC Share
  • Continuous shooting and VideoPic
  • Slow motion video recording with variable speed playback

Dan: HTC has done some of the same gimmicky stunt stuff that I first saw at the release gathering for the Samsung GALAXY S4. They are packing in features like their new Zoe functionality that look great and offer some eye candy, but these are things that end-users are likely to use on an infrequent basis. Take Zoe for example. It shoots video and stills, and then lets you do some rather neat stuff that … you are NEVER GOING TO DO! Zoe is really quite intriguing, looks great on paper and in videos, but when I actually set out to use it I didn’t find myself all that moved to continue using the functionality. If I’m not going to use it, the mainstream smartphone user is even less likely to do so. I get packing in features, but I think we may have entered into an era where there is “feature creep” when I would instead prefer that companies focus their time, energy and resources on making the basic functionality even better.

That noted, the camera on the HTC ONE certainly holds its own admirably, and you won’t be unhappy with the pictures or video you get from it unless you are expecting the same caliber images that you would get from a standalone camera.

Mitchell: I haven’t spent a huge amount of time taking photos with the HTC ONE, but it doesn’t feel as remarkable as HTC would have us believe. Low light performance is ok, but not the knock-your-socks-off-wow that I was hoping for.

HTC ONE BLACK Gear Diary 004 HTC ONE Nitpicking

Dan: The battery life on the HTC ONE is pretty much what you would expect. I haven’t done any systematic battery rundown tests, but I wasn’t expecting to get a full day of use from it, and I didn’t. The HTC ONE joins the ranks of all of the other high-end phones I’ve been using, in requiring an external battery.

Mitchell: Battery life is one of the biggest bug-bears I have with the HTC ONE too. Every time I lit up that amazing display, the battery indicator seemed to start dropping at an alarming rate. The HTC ONE was ok when in standby, but as a pretty heavy user that doesn’t cut it for me. I have no problem with an integrated battery, as long as it can go the distance. The Galaxy S 4 (in my admittedly unscientific testing so far) seems to last a lot longer.

The HTC ONE also takes much longer to charge, which is more pronounced by the middling battery life. The Galaxy S 4 and iPhone 5 are both very happy to take quick top ups that add a noticeable boost in battery percentage. According to Brian Klug over at Anandtech, the HTC ONE doesn’t use Qualcomm’s Quick Charge tech, which may account for the sluggish charging.


Should You Buy an HTC ONE?

Dan: With so many excellent smartphone choices currently available the real question is … Should you buy one? I hate this question (and I’m one of the people asking it)! As Mitchell’s and my take on the phone demonstrates, phones are a truly personal decision. From the OS, to the screen size, to the aesthetics, to the specific features a phone offers, it’s really a matter of individual taste and choice. Is this a solid device? Absolutely. Is this the phone for you? Only you can answer that, but I’ll give it a shot.

If you prefer Android, keep reading. If not, stop here and jump to the conclusion.
If you want a phone whose screen size is approaching phablet land, stop reading. While almost too large for my taste, the ONE is significantly smaller than the GALAXY S4.
If you want an Android device that looks great, feels great, is large but not huge, and you are okay with running an OS that is already outdated, then the HTC ONE is a great choice. Were I in the market for an Android phone to use full-time, this would be my current choice.

Mitchell: Technically, I have already have bought the HTC ONE. The question I’m currently asking myself is whether I’m going to keep it, or stray across to the plastic side and make the Galaxy S 4 my go-to. The HTC ONE uses beautiful materials and has amazing speakers, but I think the Galaxy S 4 is able to match or beat it in most other areas. So far, the latter is looking likely. I’ll be posting more thoughts on the Galaxy S 4 in another article.

So there you have it. A silver HTC ONE in the US and a black HTC ONE in Australia. One who wants to be on record that, we’re he required to use Android, this would be the phone for him and the other who is likely ditching the ONE and moving full time to the Samsung GALAXY 4S. I both cases we see the HTC ONE as an excellent phone but not the clear home run winner we wanted, and HTC needed, it to be.

The HTC ONE is available from AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile in the United States.

From AT&T: $199 for 32GB and $299 for 64GB with a two-year contract; $599 for 32GB and $649 for 64GB contract-free
From Sprint: $99.99 for 32GB with a two-year contract; $549 for contract-free
From T-Mobile: $99.99 today for the 32GB model, and $20 per month for 24 months

What We Like:
Dan: Solid build; Good camera; Fast; Amazing audio
Mitchell: Best ever phone speakers; solid metal body

What Needs Improvement:
Dan: Battery life needs help; Already running an obsolete version of Android; Almost too large for my taste; Non-expandable storage
Mitchell: Battery life; slow charging; barely smaller than its 5-inch competition despite smaller display

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April 16, 2013 • Editorials, Health and Fitness

5 Ways to Honor the Boston Marathon Tragedy Victims – A Monday Mile Special Edition

5 Ways to Honor the Boston Marathon Tragedy Victims

5 Ways to Honor the Boston Marathon Tragedy Victims

As someone who was born and spent more than forty years in the Boston area, my heart is heavy today. Although I am glad that the numbers didn’t continue climbing through the night in terms of those hurt, I am still having trouble wrapping my head around the horrific events that occurred at yesterday’s Boston Marathon. As I went for my run this morning, my mind was constantly thinking about the situation, and I posted that on my Facebook page. Since then, I have also been thinking about how we can best deal with the feeling of loss that every runner and Bostonian I have talked to describes.

Here is what I said earlier:
As I ran yesterday morning, Boston was on my mind – as it was for pretty much every runner. For me it was thinking that as my pace has improved, being a ‘Boston Qualifier’ has become a realistic goal, and how awesome it would be for all of us to take a day to go to our favorite city and have my wife and kids waiting for me crossing the finish line.

But as I got up to go out this morning for what was a great 8.5 miles, rather than thinking about the gorgeous 55 degree morning, the fact that I had been able to try to help my brother in some small way and that he continues to make a strong recovery, and so on … Boston was once again on my mind.

The senseless and needless tragedy, my ability to just go out for a run while over a hundred people are hurt by a cowardly bomber, innocents all, including a little kid. Those who will not be able to run again due to injury or lost limbs, and those for whom going for a run will never be the same. And how when the bombs went off most of the people running were those doing so for charity, people who raised millions for the good of others – and those cheering them on.

So as I ran this morning, I dedicated myself to the memory of all those forever changed by this tragedy, as well as to my brother — improving but still in the hospital — and my amazing family. I enjoyed hearing from so many folks yesterday and each safe voice lightened things a little, but the tragic events still weighs on all of us today.

Here are a few ways to honor those impacted by this tragedy:

  • Give Blood – while Boston is all set according to the Red Cross, I am sure they need help in Providence, Nashua, Worcester, and pretty much everywhere else. We had a blood drive in my engineering building at Corning yesterday so I am set for a while … but the sad reality is there is always something happening that means people need blood transfusions.
  • Help Financially If You Can, But Don’t Get Scammed – wherever there is tragedy you can count on two things: conspiracy theorists and scammers. I won’t discuss conspiracy nuts, but there are already people on eBay selling Marathon stuff ‘to raise money’, and Facebook sites set up, Twitter accounts, and so on. Right now the only trustworthy site is the Red Cross, according to this report.I have just learned that MeetingHouse Bank in Boston has set up a fund to help the family of Martin Richard, the 8-year year old boy who died, and whose sister lost her leg and mother has a grave brain injury. The site is here, but you should definitely call the bank directly.
  • Don’t Stop Running – it might feel like a cliché to say ‘if we stop living due to fear, the terrorists win’, but it is true. For runners, the best thing to do is L.U.N.A.R. (lace up now and run)! It will help us all heal, and seeing people out running will help others remember that while there were a couple or at any rate fewer than a hundred people responsible for this attack, there are thousands of runners out each weekend in every city across the country, and hundreds even in small communities like mine. There will always be bad guys … but there are so many more good people.
  • Continue Supporting Races – on the one hand there is an easy thought ‘why make yourself an easy target’? But then do we need to cancel all professional sports? All high school and intramural sports? All concerts and plays and musicals and theater and movies? Close all bars and restaurants? My point is that if someone wanted to set off a bomb that hurt more than 150 people and struck fear and disbelief it would be easy.For anyone who has run a race – or biked a race, or pretty much done anything of the sort — you know what it is like to round a corner and hear the cheers of the crowd. It is amazing — and many of these people don’t care who you are, they are there to cheer on everyone. This is not like the infamous parents at soccer games screaming at 12-year old refs for getting it wrong … running crowds are awesome.
  • Do a ‘Memorial Run’ of your own – head to RunJunkies and print out a ‘virtual race bib’. ‘Sign Up’ for the event. Then … go for a run. Gather up a few friends. I have two groups in my area, both of which are having group runs over the next week. Does it actually accomplish anything? Yes – it helps us all heal, and helps to do something with this sense of loss and helplessness.

There is plenty of outrage, anger and sadness to go around, but we also need to be sure to show the cowards who perpetrate these kinds of attacks that we will not quit, we will not, stop, we will not cower. And they will not win.

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April 5, 2013 • Reviews

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4 Review

Bulky cases on already large phones is a problem for me, and the Nillkin Hard Case line looks to be a good option.

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4

Having recently switched from my iPhone 5 to a Nexus 4, the main thing I have been getting used to is the extra size. Having 4.7 inches of screen to play with for browsing and videos is wonderful, but less so when attempting to type one-handed. It’s relatively easy with a naked Nexus 4, but when out working I always want that bit of extra protection.

The Nillkin Hard Case is very no frills, and arrived in a clear plastic package. Total cost delivered on eBay was AU$13.99 with a screen protector.

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4

No frills

The Nillkin Hard Case is made of soft touch plastic, with a definite quality feel. The case exhibits no rough edges, and the fine dimpled pattern on the back is a nice touch.

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4

Light dimple pattern on the back

I opted for the red version, though it’s slightly more magenta than I was hoping. For the Nexus 4, the Nillkin Hard Case is offered in black, brown, white as well as the red I chose.

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4

Barely larger than the Nexus 4 it protects

The fit of the Nillkin Hard Case is excellent, clipping onto the phone easily with zero play.

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4

Excellent fit

The side buttons are neatly framed, and provide plenty of access.

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4

Good access too all buttons

The slim design barely increases the width or depth of the Nexus 4, making it just as easy to use one handed as when the phone is naked.

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4

The top and bottom don’t offer the same protection you’ll get from the many TPU cases floating around on eBay, as the Nillkin Hard Case is quite open at the ends. The benefit is there are no problems using any style of headphone connector. microUSB connectors don’t foul on the case either.

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4

There is a very small lip on the front edges of the case, just enough to keep the display from coming into contact with the surface the phone is sitting on. I wouldn’t trust it too much though, and it certainly won’t help if your phone takes a dive onto an uneven surface.

Nillkin Hard Case for Google Nexus 4

The Nillkin Hard Case is easy to recommend as a sleek, good-looking case to prevent minor scuffs and scratches. If you’re a bit rougher with your phone, however, you’d best look for something a bit beefier.

The Nillkin Hard Case for Nexus 4 can be purchased from many online retailers.

Price: AU$13.99 delivered (eBay)

What I Like: Quality feel, slim design.

What Needs Improvement: the red case could be redder.

Source: Personal Purchase

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