In this day and age, we all have our fair share of electronic devices–with more variations and categories introduced into our lives every year. We use our devices for an increasing number of our personal as well as recreational tasks. These tasks range across various topics including maintaining a depository for ideas and future plans, navigating to appointments, keeping track of our schedules, and maybe even some relaxing media time. Electronics aren’t just for adults anymore either, with our children making up the fastest growing population utilizing the benefits of these devices. From phones and tablets, to cameras to laptops–there exists a never-ending train of accessories that all have one thing in common–they all need to be charged on a regular basis. This is a necessary evil that often creates a predicament for households where there are a plethora of devices that all need to be charged at the same time–not to mention the need to have outlets available for stationary items. This is the obstacle that the thingCHARGER was created to overcome.
I recently wrote about some workarounds I was thinking up for working with the Magic Keyboard + Smart Cover combo on the iPad Pro. I was having trouble finding Apple’s Smart Keyboard and Create Pro in stores, so I spent a few days trying out the only keyboard solution I could get my hands on.
There are no shortages of the Magic Keyboard or Smart Cover, after all, and they have some interesting selling points:
- they’re separable so you can leave the keyboard at home if you’re only going to draw or watch on the iPad Pro
- the Magic Keyboard has more travel than the Smart Keyboard (important to discerning typists)
- the Smart Cover has the extra low viewing angle for touchscreen typing or drawing at a desk (which the Smart Keyboard completely lacks)
- the Magic Keyboard can be used with any device that can connect via Bluetooth
- the Magic Keyboard has iOS-specific shortcut keys for brightness, music playback, etc.
Those were the theoretical pros that I had listed before making the purchase. In reality, I really only cared about the extra low viewing angle and the shortcut keys. The other bullet points were still objective advantages, but they didn’t make my experience any better.
I wrote about the ChargeTech 24W charger a few months ago. It sounded really promising because of its double USB ports for charging an iPhone and iPad simultaneously, and the 24W output was surprising despite its diminutive size. The ChargeTech is not quite as small as Apple’s own 5W iPhone charger, but it’s definitely smaller than carrying around a 12W iPad charger (which only has a single USB port).
ChargeTech has been emailing me recently with some significant Holiday discounts, but this has only served to remind me how disappointed it has been to deal with them as a company. I ordered two chargers from their website on July 20, and two weeks went by without my receiving any shipping information. I contacted ChargeTech’s support on August 3 and received a reply the next day: Sorry, but we’ve had a delay in shipments and it will be another 3–4 weeks.
I decided to wait for the order instead of cancelling it, but I look up ChargeTech’s reviews on Amazon.com. I was concerned by the number of complaints about quality control. People were saying that their chargers were breaking off right at the prongs within days or weeks of receiving them, and some of them were just DOA. This was concerning, but I hoped that it was simply a vocal minority because 83% of the 280 Amazon reviews are 5-star ratings.
On the whole, I think most reviewers have been too dismissive of the Apple Pencil. There’s no question in my mind that the Apple Pencil is a boon to digital artists. The pinpoint accuracy and the incredible palm rejection make for the very best drawing device I’ve ever used on iOS, but I think the Pencil has a wider appeal than that.
There are lots of pen-and-paper users out there, and I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time and money over the past year in an effort to become one. I acknowledge how silly that sounds, but digital has always been a more comfortable medium for note-taking than a paper notebook, at least as far as I’m concerned. Digital notes can be tagged, duplicated, and synced to any of my devices. I also type far faster than I can write.
But there is no denying there’s a romantic aspect to writing with a real pen, even to a zero-and-one digital loyalist like myself. The scratchiness of a fountain pen on good paper, the sensation of posting a cap before you write, and the way the ink flows over the page — all of these sensations are satisfying in a similar way to typing on a great keyboard. There’s a lot to delight in when you’re writing with quality tools.
This is where the Pencil comes in for me. With the introduction of this accessory, Apple has suddenly given Evernote, Paper, and their own Notes app far greater appeal. There are many instances where text notes don’t fully capture an idea, where a quick diagram would do far more to preserve a memory or train of thought. However, creating these diagrams with any degree of accuracy has always taken extra effort on the iPad. Keeping the palm off of the screen has always been of paramount importance, lest you accidentally activate a multitasking gesture, or leave weird marks on the page from where your palm was resting. All of the third-party stylii with palm rejection only worked about 50% of the time because they were at odds with multitasking gestures built right into iOS. Prior to the Pencil, writing and drawing on iPads always took a considerable degree of contortion to succeed in.
Apple’s Pencil is noteworthy because it breaks all of the rules that other stylii had to abide by…and it just works. It has the power to turn metal and glass into something similar enough to paper. I don’t think it’s overdramatic to say that it sets the form factor free. We’ve been able to use iPads as little writing laptops for a few years now, but the Pencil is what allows you to use an iPad like a blank sheet. You can rest your hand anywhere on the screen when you want to write, and drawing feels very natural, especially when you can physically rotate or tilt the entire canvas. This is something that no other iOS or OS X device can do as well, and it’s a a very powerful selling point for the iPad platform.
In preparation for this article, I’ve spent a lot of time on the iPad Pro in a particular set of apps that have fine-tuned their experience with the Pencil.
During the Special Media event yesterday Apple introduced the all new iPad Pro. We already shared how much we love the new form factor, blazing speed of the new A9X processor, performance boosting GPU, and integrated quad speaker system. However, to say this announcement caught most of us a little off-guard is an understatement. It’s not that we weren’t expecting a jumbo size iPad. We heard the rumor mill churning all summer like everyone else. We fully anticipated that Apple would make an announcement some time this summer or early fall. What caught us by surprise was how much we were blown away after watching the keynote. More accurately — how much we tried to convince ourselves we needed an iPad Pro in our lives!
At its core, the iPad Pro is still an iPad — an iPad on steroids, but an iPad nonetheless. So what makes this new model so appealing to both current and potentially new iPad owners? Simply put, we think it’s the sum of its parts, especially the two new accessories Apple designed specifically for the iPad Pro. Right now let’s focus on the Apple Pencil and what functionality it adds to the user experience.
I’m really into carrying a bag these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in university, I wanted to get away with carrying as little as possible, and doing as much as I could with the stuff I could keep on my person. It’s for people like my university self that the ZAGG Pocket Keyboard was designed.
This little keyboard folds up into a slim rectangle that measures 9 inches long length-wise — perfect for the inside pocket of a blazer or iPad-specific bags. A magnetic seal keeps the keyboard closed during storage, but still allows me to set my little typing station up in seconds when I get to a desk. Two thirds of the tri-fold design are devoted purely to the keyboard, and the last third folds out into a stand upon which to prop an iPad or larger smartphone.
I love how light my iPad Air is, so I usually use it naked or with just the smart cover. But I travel a lot and need to protect the iPad before I throw it place it carefully in my bag. Growing up in the frozen north of Michigan I learned to love wool clothes, so picking a wool felt iPad sleeve was a natural (pun intended) for me. I love the look and feel of wool felt, and like that it’s renewable. I tried two of the most prominent brands of felt iPad sleeves and both have their merits and limitations. Keep reading to see if one of them might be right for you.
Just the basics: Byrd & Belle Simple iPad Air Sleeve
Being a minimalist at heart, I started with the Byrd & Belle Simple iPad Air sleeve. I also figured a Minnesota company should know how to do wool. The sleeve is as simple as it can get: no closures, and no hardware to possibly scratch my iPad. The wool is thick, beautiful, and will protect your iPad from bumps and scratches. Of course it won’t protect from extreme calamities the way a hard case like a Pad & Quill would, but my iPad always goes in some kind of bag when I’m traveling. The stitching on the Belle & Byrd sleeve is extremely precise: my iPad fits perfectly with the smart cover on. Without the smart cover, the iPad could theoretically slip out if I put it in the bag upside down and grabbed the sleeve by the bottom and gave it a mighty tug. If placed in the bag with the opening up or to the side, however, there’s no way the iPad will slip out.
Pros: High-quality wool and stitching, precision fit, allows for use with smart cover, made in MN
Cons: Cover-less iPad could slip out
The Chisel iPad dock is made by the folks at iSkelter. These guys caught my eye a while ago on KickStarter with their unique collection of wooden docks, desks and accessories. A quick visit to there website, and I knew I had to get my hands on one of their iPad docks to review. I love that their mantra is–hand built by people who give a damn. You can’t help but love their tenacity. You really feel like they love what they do, and that desire to make good products is obvious in the results. Luckily, they don’t have to rely soley on witty slogans to sell their products, as their hand-built designs sum up a pure, simple design philosophy spear-headed by industrial designer, Nathan Mummert.
With the Chisel iPad dock, it’s all about the design. It’s the design that draws you in, and makes you want to buy one in the first place. It’s the design that makes you proud to display the dock on your desk–and it’t the design that makes it functional and useful as an iPad dock. The Chisel is created from a beautiful selection of renewable bamboo. It uses a simple design philosophy that holds your iPad in both portrait or landscape mode. Assembly is a snap, too.
I’ve had about four months to use the Pencil Stylus from FiftyThree, and I think it’s now safe enough to call this purchase a success. I was initially worried by reviews I’ve seen on Amazon that suggest that the Pencil can’t hold up for very long before breaking, but I’ve been taking the stylus around everywhere with me for a few months now, and it’s handling everyday wear and tear just fine. The rubber tip and eraser require a bit of a wipe down every few days, but that has been the extent of the upkeep.
I bought the Pencil because I wanted a solid stylus to help me draw more accurately within the Paper app. Pencil nails that with its great build quality and interesting material choices. I like that this stylus is made out of wood, yet still feels right at home alongside my aluminum iPad.
I wouldn’t fault you for making fun of Belkin’s naming convention with the QODE Ultimate Pro keyboard case. After all, why does an “Ultimate” accessory need to also be described as “Pro”? In Belkin’s case, it’s actually because they already have a QODE Ultimate case, and so they added the Pro moniker to let us know that they’ve upped the ante.
The good news is that, although the name may be silly, the product really delivers. Belkin’s QODE Ultimate Pro is one of the best keyboard cases I’ve ever used.
One of the tradeoffs of keyboard cases is that the added utility tends to double the weight of the iPad. The resulting combo is not heavy enough to weigh down a bag like a laptop would, but the added heft of a keyboard does make the iPad Air 2 harder to hold in one hand.
One approach to keeping the iPad lighter is to make sure the keyboard is easily detachable. This is the approach that Logitech took with their Ultrathin Keyboard’s magnetic hinged design. However, the Ultrathin fails to address the way that iOS Bluetooth pairing affects the software keyboard.
The Cooler Master JAS Mini is small, light, very simple, offers almost infinite viewing angles, and fits well with the Apple design aesthetic. I travel a lot, about 150,000 miles a year, so the weight of my gear is very important to me. With some trips taking as much as 36 hours door-to-door, any extra ounces in my gear bag have me walking crooked for days after. So I walked down to the local Apple Store to find a stand for my iPad Air to use on airplane tray tables for games or movies, and for at my desk(s) typing with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard I carry. My criteria were: size, weight, viewing angles, and stability.
I pulled all the available stands off the wall and immediately rejected all but two because of weight, size, or design. The two that remained were the Compass stand, for which I’d read many good reviews, and the JAS Mini that I’d never seen before. I took both out of their packages and whipped my iPad out of my bag. The Compass was well designed but seemed unnecessarily fussy, with lots of little parts to deploy. And it didn’t feel as stable as I wanted with those two tiny feet as all that was holding my iPad up off the desk.