Seance (2011)

SeanceSeance is described as a mystery thriller, and in the 1970’s might have passed muster, but in the second decade of the twenty first century, the movie is a grindingly slow affair that could actually have deserved the genre classification had it been 2/3 shorter. Continue reading “Seance (2011)”

Sponsor Review: Otterbox iPhone 5 case

The designers of the Otterbox for iPhone 5 make a single all-encompassing assumption: that the owner has fingernails. In their absence, the box is extremely difficult to assemble. Once on, however, it’s a great way to protect your shiny iPhone 5, 5s or 5c.

Ottebox with belt clip. Bulky but protective.
Ottebox with belt clip. Bulky but protective.

First look

I’ve eyed-off the Otterbox each time I’ve seen it. The concept, for a butterfingers such as myself, seems sound: surround your expensive electronics in a padded case which will protect it from being dropped, bumped or otherwise abused, if unintentionally.

Upon removing the casing from the packaging, I became aware of a couple of things.

First, the unit isn’t waterproof. It doesn’t say waterproof on the packaging, but it is disappointing that something called an “otter” won’t protect my electronics from water. Maybe a different one does. Perhaps a better name could be coined other than “Protector”. Or perhaps I’m expecting too much?

But, it looks like it’ll do the job magnificently. The job, of course, is protecting my $800+ of electronics from untoward issues caused by gravity.

Putting it together

The instructions should include this sentence:

“Assembly will be severely difficult without fingernails”

Sure, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and perhaps this could be rephrased somewhat, but it’s nonetheless true.

The Otterbox has a silicone outer covering around a hard plastic shell. You have to carefully peel the outer sleeve off the shell, then disassemble the shell in order to get your phone into it.

Getting the silicone sleeve off needs a lot of patience if you don’t have the aforementioned fingernails, and you have to be careful to unclip the two flaps, one over the volume control, the other over the headphone jack. These push extremely snugly into the plastic shell.

One of three very tight covers for bits of the case. Fingernails not included in box.
One of three very tight covers for bits of the case. Fingernails not included in box.

Once you’ve got that off, there’s the two clips on the hard shell to unclip. The plastic shell has a hard back with a small hole for the camera, and a circular one for the Apple logo, the latter of which is covered by a transparent cover. The front is all transparent cover, with gaps for the top speaker and infra-red detector and the home button. Both these transparencies protect the phone from damage from fingernails, keys and coins (and whatever else you might throw at it). However, they mean there’s nothing to get purchase upon when disassembling the case which means it’s a swear-worthy job.

Trying it out

Once it’s on, the phone is protected. It’s somewhat larger than the phone though, so if you bought your iPhone for purely aesthetic reasons, this might not be for you. As a way of protecting it from just about anything bar a hammer, it seems a winner.

I will note at this point, that I did no drop-testing of the unit, with or without my phone in it. Sorry, I’m just not in a financial position to afford a new one if the Otterbox failed.

Again though, fingernails are a must because of the silicone flaps over the mute button and headphone jack which are vexingly tight and awkward to open. If this were a waterproof unit, I’d see the logic of making these as tight as they are, however, in a unit that’s open at the bottom for speakers and top for back camera and earpiece speaker, it’s a bit questionable.

Points off for this then.

One other thing: this particular Otterbox comes with a belt clip assembly, which the Otterbox will clip into. The clip on the back rotates a good 360º which means you can have it at any angle you like.

Otterbox with belt clip assembly.
Otterbox with belt clip assembly.

The final thought

For the clumsy iPhone owner, this is really a good idea. The look you end-up with is certainly not svelte, more industrial. It looks very much like it’ll save your phone from accidental drops and other minor abuses, not to mention front-face wear-and-tear.

Just remember it won’t save your phone if you drop it into water. But then again, it doesn’t say it’ll do that anyway.

Rating

4/5 (points off for the unbearably tight silicone cover)

Where you can get it

The Otterbox can be purchased from the MobileZap website where they’ve got an Otterbox page for all related products.

Disclaimer

I received this Otterbox free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are mine alone.

sponsor post: bluetooth keyboard

Well, this keyboard well-and truly removes the bad taste of the last one.
image

First look

It’s a no-name keyboard with the usual mangling of English you find on things from China. If I could get in contact with them I’d be happy to offer my proofreading services to them. Hey-ho though, onto the review.

Out of the box, it looks like a metal keyboard, in the same silver as the iPad back case. However, it’s made of plastic. There are pro’s and cons. The pro is that it’s very light, 235grams in-fact. The con with this is that the keyboard has a visible bulge in it and I’m not sure how long the keyboard will last. I’m not sure I’d like to drop it, but then-again, if it’s got my $400 iPad in it, dropping it isn’t high on the list of priorities anyway!

Putting it together

The simplicity of this keyboard is in its hinged slot at the back. You just drop your iPad into the slot and it’s held in place with a not-too-stong, not-too-weak magnet. You can push the iPad out or pull it out but it won’t fall out by itself.

The hinge is, however, rather stiff. I’m marginally concerned with the pressure of the fulcrum on the part of the iPad edges that sit within it, but again, one is metal, the other plastic.

The keyboard is powered by an internal battery which is, according to the specs on the box, a Lithium polymer battery of 150mAh. It takes around 20 minutes to charge from totally dead (I tested this accidentally by leaving the keyboard on all day). Note to self: Remember to turn the keyboard off. It doesn’t have an auto-off unfortunately. Nor, it seems, a battery warning when it’s getting low. It’s charged with a micro USB cable, free in the box. That I have to carry around an additional cable is a minor irritation at this point.

The final quibble is that the iPad doesn’t auto-off when you fold everything down like a laptop would. Even the Apple Smart Covers do this and all that would be required is a small magnet in just the right place on the keyboard edge.

Trying it out

So it’s a bluetooth keyboard, so has to be paired with the iPad. It’s a simple case of selecting the keyboard in the bluetooth panel, entering the code and you’re off.

Using the keyboard

Well, I’ve typed this entire review using the keyboard, so I’d call that a positive result. Oh this is nice! The keyboard is responsive and easy to use. he keys are almost standard in their positioning (although the delete key is one row down and I keep forgetting that and getting =+- symbols when trying to backspace. The ; and / keys are next to a rather small spacebar and the arrow keys have lots of space; if these were further compressed (or even not there at all this would be a grand improvement. There’s a FN key which could mean the arrows could be placed on alphanumeric keys for example, as other symbols are.

The final thought

It’s a great little keyboard that means I’ll actually use my iPad more than I did as it’s effectively now a touchscreen mini computer (though not the ultrabook on the box). That I can pull it to pieces if I just want the iPad, or leave it whole if I want both.

Rating: 5/5

Where can you get it

You can get this keyboard from the mobilezap website with a bunch of other keyboards and cases. This one retails for $79 and I think it’s worth it.

Disclaimer

I received this keyboard free of charge for review purposes. And I’m keeping it!

Sponsored Post: Rock Salt Lamps

I’ve owned several rock salt lamps in the past, and found them to be quite nice in a hippy sort of way. The last one I had was white and due to its position in the bathroom disintegrated pretty much immediately.

It really pays to read the instructions sometimes. Salt lamps will begin to break-down in moist areas, and it’s pretty logical that this would be the case. Water + salt = salty water.

I haven’t owned one for a while since the I experienced an issue with the last cable I had (not on the one in the bathroom). The way a salt lamp works is that the chunk of salt is attached to a wooden base with a hole in it. Then a cable with a bulb (it has to be an incandescent bulb, not a flourescent one) is inserted into the hole and switched on. As the bulb warms up, so too does the salt and you get a nice glow from the lamp. It’s not bright by any means, but it’s not really intended as a spotlight in a police interview room.

My mum ordered me a salt lamp for my new home and I did think it would be a bit hokey. However, when it did eventually arrive, I was quite taken by it. This one is carved into a bowl shape, with chunks of salt over the top. It weighs quite a bit mind you and I did have to remove the salt chunks to get it into place on my shelves.

IMG_3147

Amanda at Rock Salt Lamps, where the item was ordered, was extremely helpful. In the first instance, the salt lamp originally delivered was damaged – split in half – so a new one was ordered at no additional charge. About a month of backwards and forwards occurred, mainly due to my odd working hours and not being physically home when delivery took place.

In the end, Amanda contacted me direct and we worked out a solution: she would hand deliver the item to me.

When exactly does that happen these days? Hand delivery? And free? Admittedly the rock salt lamps shop is in Essendon, which is around 10km away from where I live, but nonetheless, I was impressed.

So, if you’re in the market for a rather nice piece of salty sculpture for your home, which creates a happy feeling to look at, do go to their website!

Rock salt lamps online has a great deal of salt lamps to choose from, in addition to the VERY CORD I needed when my old salt lamp went weird on me. I wish I’d known that 2 years ago before I chucked it out.

Each salt lamp comes with a spare bulb too, which is really useful, and you can order them from their shop too.

Rock Salt Lamps

Visit the rock salt lamps online store

Email Rock salt lamps

Disclosure

I actually own a rock salt lamp from this seller and am quite pleased with it. I received free delivery on the item thanks to Amanda who is one of the business owners.

 

Sponsored Post: Avantree Bluetooth Keyboard with Case

My original thought was that I would write this review actually using this new iPad bluetooth keyboard for the iPad Mini, but it was not to be.

First look

Nice packaging
Nice packaging

The Bluetooth keyboard and case looks neat enough. A friend mentioned the keyboard looked a bit like the ZX-81 from back in the 1980’s, and I’m inclined to agree: it’s a silicone sealed affair with what have to be the tiniest keys I’ve ever seen.

Opening the case, there’s the usual accoutrements: An outer case which is faux-leather, a silicone keyboard, chargeable with micro USB cable (more on that later), and a flexible plastic sleeve for the iPad Mini itself. There’s a magnetised flap at the keyboard end to use as a clasp when you close the case to keep it shut.

The bluetooth keyboard is made of silicone and has keys; check out the flap at the front though!
The bluetooth keyboard is made of silicone and has keys; check out the flap at the front though!

I could see a few immediate issues.

First, the magnetised flap folds back up so when the case is open, it is in the way of the spacebar and lower row of keys.

Second, I’ll quote from the user manual:

Using the USB charging cable

1) plug the Micro USB cable into the mini USB port on the keyboard. Plug the other end of the cable into a powered USB port on a computer.

So the assumption is you’ll have a computer sitting around you can charge off of in case the battery goes. This is counter to the entire point of the iPad: you don’t want to be carting a computer around if you’ve got a svelte tablet now do you?

A tiny bit of experimentation however, shows that the keyboard can be charged from an iPad power adapter so that’s a little more lightweight an option: I carry around the adapter as a matter of course and into this I plug the Lightning cable that came with the device.

Ultimately I’d have preferred that there wasn’t a mini USB cable but instead the unit used the Lightning charge cable which I carry around anyway. That way I wouldn’t have an extra cable to cart around with me.

The packaging says the battery lasts up to 30 hours; there’s no indicator lights so I can see how much charge I’ve got left either. I’m not sure how I can measure battery life other than to build a lego mindstorms machine to randomly press keys for 30 hours to see if this is true.

Finally, my housemate asked if the keyboard had been designed for squirrels, as the keys were so small.

Putting it together

I had to seriously wrestle to get the iPad into the unit. The plastic sleeve is super-snug, which is great to keep the iPad from falling out, but damn hard to get it in first-time around.

Overall the weight of the iPad is now doubled with the case. It looks like a leather-bound book more than an iPad, possibly useful so as to avoid it being pinched by the first miscreant that wanders by and sees it sitting on the table.

Pairing the keyboard with the iPad seemed relatively easy: turn on bluetooth on the iPad, turn on the keyboard and press the bluetooth signal button (which has the wireless symbol on it rather than the bluetooth symbol which is a bit of a silly thing to do). The iPad tells me to enter a code on the keyboard and press enter and it’s working.

Trying it out

It’s slightly awkward using the bluetooth keyboard and case. First you have to pull out the clasp that holds it shut. Then you have to turn the whole thing over and pull out the stand. As already mentioned the closing clasp sticks up and is in the way for a good third of the time. Future improvements to the unit would include a better stand and clasp because, frankly, these are sub-optimal. Certainly they do the job, but they’re not particularly elegant to use.

I tried the case on my lap first, and it really wasn’t a good fit. My legs, clearly, were not long enough to use the unit without having to pull my arms back to push against the chair. If I didn’t and pushed the case forwards even a little the whole thing fell on the floor.

Using it on a table was marginally better. I could actually get at the keyboard without having to become a contortionist.

I thought I’d try taking the keyboard out of the case, as it says on the box that it can be removed. My advice on this is don’t do it unless you want to reassemble the keyboard: the back of the keyboard is stuck to the case with quite strong velcro which was — for me — pulling the keyboard apart as I pulled on it.

Check out the bulge.
Check out the bulge.

Suffice to say, I didn’t pull any harder otherwise I’d have nothing further to review.

But these issues are as nothing to the keyboard itself.

Using the keyboard

It took 10 minutes to type these 3 paragraphs.
It took 10 minutes to type these 3 paragraphs.

The keys on a sealed silicone keyboard consist effectively of a dome inside which there is a contact at the top. At the bottom is a circuit board over which the silicone keyboard sits, and where there is another contact. When you press down on the dome (the key in this case), the two contacts touch creating a circuit, and a keystroke is registered.

The problem with this keyboard is that the contacts internally must be too small. I had to very carefully press each key in turn to get an accurate contact, and even then it was anyone’s guess as to what would really come out the other end.

The spacebar has at least three contacts on it, but none at the edges, which means you have to hit it directly over the contacts otherwise you get nothing. I swear I pressed the spacebar five times at one stage with no result, until I moved my finger about two millimetres to the left and suddenly had the intended result. The other keys also seem to work intermittently. Indeed, the only way to accurately register a keystroke is to press each key very, very deliberately. If you get the pressure wrong, nothing happens. If you press a key from any angle other than directly above, nothing happens.

The final thought

I could just about live with everything but the keyboard in this unit.

The faux-leather seems well constructed, the sleeve for the iPad Mini itself is snug enough to mean it won’t fall out. Even the clasp and back stand I could deal with if I had to.

The keyboard though is really poorly designed. About the only positive thing I can say about it is that the bluetooth works. Oh, and it charges; That’s two. Unfortunately, there are at least 26 other issues with it, together with ten digits and a bunch of additional function and abbreviation buttons.

And don’t try to pull the keyboard out of the case because you’ll need to reassemble it. Most likely with superglue.

The bottom line is if you’re a very patient two-finger typist that looks at the keyboard while typing, then well and good. For anyone else, stick with the keyboard that is in the iPad itself or get a mechanical keyboard instead.

Rating: 1/5 (The case is fine, but the keyboard itself leaves a lot to be desired)

Where can you get it

You can get this and other iPad cases at the Mobilezap website. I’m actually currently using the official Apple smartcover which MobileZap sell and which does the job admirably!

Disclosure statement

I received this unit free of charge from Mobilezap.com.au for review purposes.

Sponsored post: External power pack for iPhone 5G

The external power pack for iiPhone 5GI’m always slightly dubious about after-market paraphernalia for my Apple iPhone. I’ve had odd experiences in the past with crackly desk chargers and dodgy cables. Though to be honest, name-brands aren’t immune to poor design, as Belkin recently found with their iPhone 5 desktop charger where you had to supply your own cable and it would be pulled unceremoniously out when you lifted the phone from the cradle.

What it comes down to is this: do I want to plug $800AU of kit into a $50 powerpack? Is it worth the risk of damaging my phone (which I’m still paying for through Telstra) for the sake of having extra power in an emergency?

If I was still using my Android phone, this might just be a higher consideration; the power-consumption on that baby was astonishing if you had all the cool gadgets running. The iPhone though holds charge pretty well.

Out of the box

I have to say I had some initial worries upon receiving the battery pack.

The first thing is that it’s an External power pack for iPhone 5G, except there isn’t a 5G iPhone. Not yet anyway. The internal manual had what I assume were translation typo’s; this is a device most likely from mainland China. On the other-hand, so is the iPhone so they’re in good company.

Interestingly, this external power pack has a passing resemblance to the Morphie Helium Juice pack, available on the Apple store. There is, though, a difference in price. The Morphie retails for $89.95, while the external power pack I have is on Mobilezap (who supplied the item) for $53.49. The nice thing about this one is that it has indicator LED’s on the front which count down the percentage of charge left in the pack, from 100 down to 25. The Morphie has these on the back as single dots. Also, the Morphie requires what appears to be a micro USB cable for charging while the external pack I’m reviewing uses the lightning cable that comes with the iPhone. Less cables = good IMHO.

The weight of the external power pack is 73grams, which doesn’t sound like much, but together with the physical dimensions, basically double the size of the phone; it feels like my old-school Nokia to be honest rather than the svelte Apple device that Steve Jobs and Jonathon Ive spent enormous amounts of time and effort designing.

A little online research gave me some reviews which gave me a little more confidence my iPhone wouldn’t be reduced to a doorstop if it was plugged in, so I began with the real testing!

Let’s get down to it: Can I do the usual things with the phone?

The phone slides comfortably into the unit without having to be forced and the build quality seems good. When plugged into the lightning charger that came with the iPhone, the indicator lights gave me 50% charge in the unit out of the box. However, connecting the iphone charger to the external power-pack WITH the phone in it doesn’t actually charge the iPhone too. Some experimentation indicated what actually happens is the pack charges, then you charge the iPhone by pressing the pack’s ON button.

Because of the additional length of the pack, only narrow headphone cables will fit, so you can forget using anything like my Sennheiser HD 215’s with their chunky jack or Skullcandy Lowrider headphones for that matter with their silicone covered jack. The iPhone headphones packaged with my iPhone 5 do fit though, so that’s fair enough (though irritating because I prefer the bigger headphones). From the photos, the Morphie may well have the same issue.

This means I have to continually unplug the battery pack from the phone in order to use my headphones, which leaves me concerned I’ll drop the phone and damage it.

An unexpected positive is that as the pack is as thick again as the phone, there’s a possibility sun glare will be reduced on the camera, rather like a hood over the lens of an SLR camera. This is perhaps an unintentional positive, but worth noting.

Syncing the iPhone with the computer was the next test: Just plugging it in didn’t do anything; in order to sync with the battery pack connected, the pack has to be turned on and the phone charging. Kind of logical, but not at the same time? The sync worked fine as did a transfer of photos from the phone.

But does it juice-up my phone?

The point of an external battery pack is to charge the phone when it’s running low. So let’s see how that goes?

So I haven’t charged my phone since Monday morning and have been using the battery pack off and on since then. It’s now Tuesday evening and it looks like I can get 3+ charges off the pack without having to explicitly charge it which is pretty good to be honest.

The final thought

Okay, other than some initial dodgyness around a poorly written manual, headphone jack too small for after-market headphones, and an unintuitive sync, here we have a battery pack that’s single-mindedly good at what it does: charging an iPhone 5.

Rating: 4/5 (it does what it sets out to do but has some irritations)

Where can you get it?

You can get your very own External Battery Pack for iPhone 5G on the Mobilezap website.

Disclosure statement

I received this unit free of charge from Mobilezap.com.au for review purposes.