Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hand and Hide case for the Honor 8

The one downside to the great variety of Android phones out there is that it can be hard to find a high quality case for your particular phone if you stray from Samsung's popular models (for which everyone makes something). The one exception to this state of affairs is a small case manufacturer called "hand and hide" located in Portland, Oregon. These folks have a line of cases that cover an amazing variety of models including my new daily carry, the Honor 8.

First off, this is not run of the mill stuff.  The people at hand and hide use only thick, high quality leather and everything is cut and sewn by hand in the USA and subject to a lifetime warranty. If you have ever owned a Ghurka wallet or a Hartmann bag then you have some idea of the level of quality I am talking about. A hand and hide case will set you back about $100.  That isn't cheap, to be sure, but a similar offering from Vaja or Piel Frama will run you at least as much (and in the case of Vaja specifically, much more). When you consider that most of us carry our phones everywhere these days and also that the phones themselves have gotten so good that a few years of ownership isn't unusual, I think it makes sense to get a good case that you really like.

Each hand and hide case is available in a variety of different colors.  The case you see above is their chocolate brown model.  The case itself is made entirely of stitched and riveted leather with a sturdy brass snap to hold things together.  There is no plastic at all thankfully. The phone is held in place by a pair of shaped leather flanges and the fit is quite secure. I'm not the least bit worried about my phone falling out of this case.  It actually takes some work to get it in. As the pictures above hopefully illustrate, the cut-outs for the various controls and ports on the phone fit perfectly. The case includes three storage slots for cards and cash which I find very handy. In terms of protection, a case like this which physically covers the screen, is about as good as it gets. Lets face it, if there is one part of our phones that gets demolished easily, its the screen.  This type of case obviously adds to the thickness of the phone but I think the trade-off in protection is completely worth it.

For a phone like the Honor 8, which is a really good high-spec smartphone from a company that is relatively unknown in the USA, having the option of a great case like this is very appreciated. Everything else out there for this phone is relatively light grade plastic that, while reasonably protective, really looks cheap. For a piece of personal tech that I am going to handle 10-20 times a day, its nice to have something that doesn't scream "bargain bin" every time I pick it up. So, to wrap this up, if you want to treat yourself to a nice phone accessory that is both protective, useful and beautifully made, give hand and hide a good look.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I am officially no longer a subway rat

From 1977 until a little while ago I was a dedicated NYC Subway rat. I had been riding those trains from the first day of seventh grade at Russell Sage Junior High School for thirty nine years. I had been all over the subway system. Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, you name the station I've probably been there.

Then one day about two months ago, it happened. I walked by the Long Island Railroad station in the middle of Kew Gardens on my way to the subway, like I had done thousands of times before. Only this time, I stopped. I don't know why I stopped that day. Maybe I was just tired or something. I'm still not sure. But I stopped.  I stared at the old station for a few minutes and the cautiously wandered over. There were signs indicating when the next train would arrive. There were machines to buy tickets from. There was a little waiting room with benches. And just like that, I bought a ticket. It was expensive. Round trip to Penn Station was almost double the price of the subway. But when the train arrived, right on time like the sign said, and I got in and settled into an upholstered seat, I was hooked. Eighteen minutes later, I arrived at Penn Station. I couldn't believe it. That's easily twice as fast as the subway.

Well, as it turns out, there is a transit check program that includes the Long Island Railroad. You get to pay for the tickets pre-tax. Additionally, the monthly ticket is proportionally less expensive than the individual ticket. It's still more expensive than the subway. But not staggeringly so. And it's really fast. I think I mentioned that.

So, goodbye to the NYC Subway and hello to the next phase of my commuting life. I'm still just trudging off to work every day. But at least I'm enjoying the ride.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Blu Studio Energy II Review

I had the predecessor to the Energy II, the original Blu Studio Energy before giving it to my son. It was a terrific phone that never gave me any trouble. The new model is a nice step up from the predecessor while still retaining its amazing battery life and bang for the buck.

The Blu Studio Energy II is an unlocked Android 5 smartphone equipped with a 64 bit quad core brain running at 1.3 GHz, 16 GB of storage (with a micro SD expansion slot for more room), an FM radio, 1.5 GB of ram, a 5 inch AMOLED screen, LTE connectivity and dual sim card slots (Very useful when traveling overseas. Buy a cheap local sim card and off you go). The rear camera is a pretty good 8 megapixel autofocus model and the front selfie cam is an acceptable 5 megapixels. Blu even throws in a nice case.

In most respects, these specifications would put it squarely in the mid-range category of smartphones but for one big exception. The Blu Studio Energy II, as its name implies, packs a gigantic 5000 milliamp battery. That's roughly 2 to 3 times the battery power of most other phones and it fundamentally changes the way you can use the phone.

To put it simply, with the Blu Studio Energy II, you can ignore your battery meter for all practical purposes. If you have charged your phone up the night before (or even the day before), just grab it and go the day doing whatever you like. It will still have power at the day's end.  No more running out of juice, cutting calls short, scrambling around to borrow a charging cable or spending a hundred bucks on a big, heavy Mophie charging case. In the last photo above, you can get a pretty good idea of how nice this is.  The phone had been on for 7 hours and 41 minutes and it still had 77% battery power remaining.  And I wasn't babying it either.  I used it for at least an hour and a half during this period.

In terms of build quality, the phone feels terrific. The frame is a solid piece of aluminum with a snap-on plastic back to give user access to the dual sim card slots and SD memory card port. The screen is made of Corning's Gorilla Glass for durability. The main camera takes good pictures (Its not the best of its type but its still pretty good) and the selfie camera gets the job done adequately.

I particularly appreciate the inclusion of the digital FM radio. Streaming media is very nice but, sometimes, only a real radio will do.

The Blu Studio Energy II can be had on Amazon. I got mine for a very reasonable $129. That's $129 complete by the way with no further payments. Very nice indeed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Sony SBH52BK Bluetooth FM Headphones

It's been a long time since I got excited about a Sony product. This little gadget, however, is so good Apple should include it with every iPhone sold. You see, this Sony headset solves two problems I have had with the iPhone. It will work with an Android phone too btw.

First off, listening to music on an iPhone without it being tethered to you with a headphone wire is extremely convenient. No more wires getting snagged on something whenever I take my phone out of my pocket. Very helpful, especially on a crowded subway train. And, while there are other wireless headphones out there, they are all pretty bulky to me. This one is different. It's about the size of a pack of chewing gum and has a clip on the back.  What makes it great though is that you can plug in any regular set of headphones that you like. It comes with is own basic set which work fine but you are free to use whatever headphones you prefer.  The ability to remove and replace the ear buds makes it easy to carry this Sony setup anywhere. 

The second trick this Sony manages is that includes a very nice digital FM radio. It really bugs me that Apple's otherwise excellent iPhone has its FM radio chip disabled. (It's in there but Apple won't  turn it on) FM is great to have for those times when you can't stream via WiFi or can't get a strong cellular signal. It is not as convenient as having FM built in to the phone itself but it does work very well. 

The controls on this Sony are easy enough to figure out and the device recharges through a micro USB port using the included cable. Prices I've seen run from the $60 range to Sony's $99 price. Well worth it in my opinion.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

iPhone FM Radio

One of my pet peeves with Apple's otherwise very nice iPhone is the lack of a simple FM radio. Mind you, I'm not talking about streaming media (Pandora, Rdio, etc) by the way. I mean real, old fashioned, over the air FM.

Now some children of the twenty-first century might wonder why this would be a desirable feature to have. Here's the deal, Digitally tuned FM has certain advantages over streaming media services. First and foremost, FM uses no data to operate. You can listen to it all day long, wifi or no, and use no data. It is completely free. In addition, FM radio signals will often be available even in those areas where you can't get a cellular signal (or won't because of cost, e.g. overseas). Lastly, your employer or school can't block FM the way they can with streaming media on their wifi networks. 

An outfit called Allputer  now sells an accessory called iFM. The device plugs into your iPhone, prompts you to download a tuner app and runs off the iPhone battery. Setup is very quick and the result is a very nice sounding FM radio. Your headphones serve as the antenna. 

This solution isn't as elegant as the built in FM radios that Motorola and HTC include in their phones. But, if you really just want to enjoy your favorite radio station on your iPhone, now you can. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

And back to the iPhone

After a few years with several android devices, I gave returned to the Apple world. No, I didn't go with the big screen iPhone 6 or 6+. Instead, I went for a 5s. 

That may seem like an odd choice given the wealth of new machines available from both Apple and Google's hardware partners but after doing the big screen thing for the last few years, I realized that a somewhat smaller screen device was a better move now. 

For starters, when you put a big screen phone in a reasonably protective case, or for that matter a Mophie Juice Pack, the result is really very big. Too big to comfortably pocket in my opinion. Yes, you can cram such a phone into your jeans (or khakis at work) but it isn't a comfortable arrangement for any length of time. And frankly, I'm getting a little tired of the whole belt clip thing as an alternative. It works but it looks ridiculous after a while. 

As for heading back to the iPhone, that decision was a result of the bad taste that my Galaxy S4 left in my mouth. After the upgrade to Android Kit Kat, it just never ran right. It would overheat regularly and the battery life was abysmal. I spent more time and effort managing the device than the phone did managing my data. 

The ios operating system still is not as flexible as Android in most respects. The lack of native file system access is still a serious limitation. That being said though, ios 8 now allows for some widget-like functionality, which does help out quite a bit. That and the new ability to change keyboards ( I'm using SwiftKey to write this post) has resulted in a much more satisfying user experience. 

As for file management, Apple users are still largely stuck with ITunes. Mophie, however, does provide some relief to this problem though. The Juice Pack Space, in addition to doubling the iPhone's battery life, also includes extra storage. (I went for the 16gb model). Now, I can plug into my computer, drag and drop music over to the Mophie and play them with Mophie 's free app. Other files including pictures and videos can be easily moved over to the Mophie Space too, freeing up loads of storage on the phone itself. It's not a perfect solution but it does help a great deal. 

So far, I'm pretty happy with the 5s Mophie combo. It is easy to carry, feels great in the hand, and performs beautifully. I'm hoping to get some very good use out it. 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

In praise of FM

The one glaring omission in Samsung's latest smartphones is the decision to take out the FM radio. The old HTC One X pictured he has a very nice digital radio built in as did my old HTC Inspire. While I understand that streaming media like Pandora is all the rage these days, FM still has it's place in my opinion.

First off, FM does not use you data plan. If you are lucky (or wealthy) enough to have an unlimited data plan then stream away with your Pandora app to your heart's content. But, if you are like most folks, streaming media is for use when on WiFi only. Secondly, FM will work even when you can't get a data signal. This is especially useful when in poorly served rural areas and when traveling abroad where data is expensive for Americans.

Why Samsung omitted the FM hardware is really beyond me. They choose to include a boat load of other features, many of which are frankly of dubious value in my opinion. As I understand it, HTC still gives you FM on the new HTC One M8. Come upgrade time, that's where I'll be going.

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