Category Archives: iphone

Review: iHome’s iBN10 sheds the dock and alarms for a minimalist new four-speaker design

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I’ve reviewed a lot of iHome clock radios over the past nine years. They weren’t all formulaic, but there was a very clear evolutionary line from the original 2005-vintage, iPod-only iH5 to the iPad-ready iDL95 released last year: take two speakers, stick a clock in the middle, center a dock on the top, then make the enclosure sort of flat but pleasantly curvy. iHome had a winning general concept and look, which it updated annually with small feature, color, and shape tweaks. But its new $120 model iBN10 breaks the mold in several ways.

The dock’s gone, the clock has been glammed up and shifted to the right, and there are four speakers inside, rather than the standard two. iBN10 is also atypically handsome, built and billed as an “executive music system” by discarding the faux metals that iHome’s midrange speakers have become known for, and adding speakerphone functionality. This isn’t iHome’s first Kleenex box-sized speaker, but it’s definitely the most sophisticated.

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Measuring 9″ wide by 4.25″ deep and 3.9″ tall, iBN10 goes further in the direction of design minimalism than any iHome clock radio we can recall. Six buttons and a rotary dial are the only top-mounted controls, an efficient reduction of the numerous granular setting buttons of past iHome models. Part of this has been achieved by tossing away one arguably key feature and several smaller ones. Critically, iBN10 has no alarms, versus the standard iHome clock’s two or three, which also means no alarm buttons to mess with. But this also means that your iPhone or iPad is on its own to wake you up or otherwise sound an alarm. Even setting the battery-backed clock is done with a button and switch hidden on the unit’s back.

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iHome has gone through so many clocks over the years that it’s hard to call iBN10’s a real departure, but there are a couple of things that make it cool. Circular in shape rather than boxy, the clock screen uses a ring-shaped set of bars to indicate the current volume level. It features bright white numbers on a black background, and can be adjusted in brightness to either low to high. Changing the brightness requires holding down the rear clock button, and unlike most other iHome clock radios, there aren’t steps between the extremes.

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Dropping the dock enabled iHome to clean up iBN10’s top a lot, as well as to reduce its depth relative to most iHome models. Audio connections are handled through a stable Bluetooth 3.0 wireless connection or an aux-in port on the back, the latter of which iHome handles by including a 3.5mm audio cable. An FM radio with six presets is built into the unit, along with a non-detachable rear antenna wire. Given radio’s decline and iHome’s near-abandonment of even larger AM radio antennas, we wouldn’t have minded if this feature got the chop in the name of minimalism, too. But for those who like FM radio, the feature’s there and tunes stations pretty clearly, with only a slight static hiss evident on strong stations. There’s also a USB port with enough output to refuel iPhones and iPods at peak speeds.

As a desktop Bluetooth speaker system, iBN10 sits in an interesting middle ground between increasingly popular portable models. On one hand, you have small, certainly portable speakers such as Jawbone’s Jamboxes and UE’s Mini Booms, while there’s also growing demand for larger, not-really-portable speakers such as Beats Pill XL, Braven’s 850 and the Big Jambox. Because it’s larger and has four nice-sized speakers inside, iBN10 is far more powerful than the small systems, coming close to the big ones in frequency response and volume. Even though it falls a little short of pricier systems in the bass department, when it’s heard in isolation, iBN10 presents songs with a nice (though unadjustable) balance of highs, mids, and lows given its price. The sound is clearer than many of iHome’s dual-speaker clock radios, and the peak volume level is enough to fill a small room.

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On the other hand, iBN10 is a little quieter than top big portables, and at high volumes, more distorted on the low end. Stereo separation is also a little unusual, because three of the speakers (two left, one right) are to the left of the clock, while the fourth is on the right side. iBN10’s speakerphone performance is good enough that callers described us as intelligible and only a little muffled, though they said the speakerphone in the iPhone 6 was clearer.

So why is this sonic performance “interesting?” Mostly because of pricing. At $120, iBN10 is priced below both the small portables and the large portables – the latter by a factor of 1/2 – while including a clock, radio, and speakerphone functionality. All you give up is portability. By contrast with the typical midrange iHome unit, you gain extra speakers and clarity if you’re willing to give up integrated alarms and a dock. Given the price, clean design, and sound quality, it’s a good pick for some people, whereas others will prefer the dock and alarm frills of a standard iHome clock radio. From our perspective, iBN10 isn’t perfect, but it’s appealing enough to win a space on an executive’s desk, which is precisely what iHome intended. As a bedside stereo, it’s a compromise that favors beautiful form over function.

iBN10 is currently available for under $112 online.


Filed under: Reviews Tagged: Bluetooth, clock radio, ibn10, iHome, iPad, iPhone, IPod Touch, speaker

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Savage Interactive debuts Procreate Pocket, bringing iPad illustration tools to larger-screened iPhones

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Demonstrating the types of apps that will increasingly migrate from Apple’s tablets to its larger iPhone 6 models, Savage Interactive has released Procreate Pocket ($3), a shrunken-down version of its signature iPad app Procreate. Widely admired for its professional-grade drawing tools, Procreate previously enabled tablet users to compose multi-layer illustrations using numerous brushes and a mistake-friendly, multi-layer Undo tool.

Now focused on on-the-go sketching, Procreate Pocket pares down the brush selection to 12, with the ability to add additional brushes online, and wireless sharing of compositions with the iPad.

Similar to the tablet version, Procreate Pocket includes layers, a 250-level undo feature — key when drawing with a finger on small screens — and supports a 4K-resolution canvas for all iPhone 5 and 6 models.

Blurring, 64-bit color accuracy, and advanced selection tools have also been brought over from the iPad app. For instructional purposes, Procreate Pocket can also directly record the creation process directly to your device in 1080p video form. Procreate Pocket is available in the App Store now for $3, and Procreate for iPad is available for $6.


Filed under: Apps Tagged: illustration app, iPad, iPhone, iphone 6 plus, Procreate, Procreate Pocket

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Review: Imation’s Link Power Drive adds 16/32/64GB of storage to a compact 3,000mAh Lightning battery pack

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There wasn’t really a market for hybrid batteries and external flash drives until this year, when Mophie’s Space Pack seemingly came out of nowhere, impressively nestling 16 or 32GB of additional flash storage inside a 1700mAh iPhone 5/5s battery case. But having demonstrated the value of combining these features together, Mophie’s $150 to $180 asking prices were high enough to keep some people away, and the requirement of an iPhone 5 or 5s was similarly somewhat limiting.

Imation is trying something different with its Link Power Drive, a small plastic box with a silver top and white base. There are 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models, each equipped with a 3000mAh battery, a Lightning cable, and a USB cable. The MSRP of the 16GB unit is less than any Space Pack, and the 64GB model has twice Mophie’s top capacity for the same MSRP — except Imation’s street pricing is much lower. Better yet, every model works with whatever Lightning-equipped iOS device you might have, and there’s enough battery power to completely recharge any iPhone except the iPhone 6 Plus. All you need to do is carry the accessory around separately, attaching it when needed.

Measuring 2.8″ wide by 2.5″ deep by 0.85″ tall, Link Power Drive follows Space Pack’s lead by stuffing a flash drive into the same footprint as you’d normally expect from just a battery. A free Power Drive app enables you to browse the contents of the 16/32/64GB flash drive, which you can fill by dragging and dropping files from a Mac or PC. Imation’s app is straightforward and functional, working regardless of whether the battery is turned on, with simple UIs for browsing photos, playing music, and opening documents.

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Unlike some other iOS developers, Imation doesn’t offer a Safari-assisted workaround for playing protected iTunes video files, which just stall out and return to the app’s folder-browsing menu. Unprotected videos play without incident using a regular iOS-style interface. The app’s only other frills are a contact backup and restoration menu, and a feature that lets you transfer photos to or from your device and the accessory. It’s not fancy and could use some more tricks, but it mostly does what it’s supposed to do.

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Link Power Drive’s recharging performance was about what we expected. Starting with a completely discharged iPhone 6 Plus, we were able to achieve a 65% recharge in roughly two hours. Given typical energy lost during transfers, and power consumption by the partially active iPhone during recharging, this is normal for a 3000mAh external battery connected to the iPhone 6 Plus — the 4000mAh cell in MOTA’s Battery Case for iPhone 6 Plus achieved an 86% charge. Smaller iPhones will be at or above 100%. By building both the Lightning and USB cables directly into Link Power Drive, Imation makes both device and accessory recharging very easy. The only hiccup we experienced was a one-time hunt for the unit’s power switch: Imation hides it between the cable heads rather than combining it with the four white LED battery life indicator on top.

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The biggest draw for Link Power Drive is its street pricing, which is markedly lower than its $130 to $180 MSRPs. The 16GB model can currently be had for under $70, the 32GB model for around $80, and the 64GB model for under $100, making these tethered flash and battery options less expensive competitors to wireless iOS-compatible hard drives such as Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless and Seagate’s Wireless Plus. You’ll have to decide whether the combination of smaller storage capacity, battery recharging, and a lower price are more appealing than higher capacities and wireless streaming at higher prices.


Filed under: iOS, Reviews Tagged: battery, external storage, Flash storage, Imation, iOS, iPad, iPhone, IPod Touch, Link Power Drive

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The value of Apple Pay in one stat: almost half of Americans have had card details stolen

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Apple Pay may be more convenient than carrying around a whole bunch of different cards, and contactless payment is certainly very quick and easy, but it’s the security which is arguably the greatest benefit. Your actual card details are never stored in your phone or on an Apple server, and only a one-time code is sent to the payment terminal. Retailers never see your card details.

Just how important is this? A WSJ/NBC News poll reveals that a full 45% of Americans have been told by a retailer, bank or card company that their card details have been stolen in a data breach.

In the past year alone, major breaches have been reported at Target, J.P. Morgan Chase, Home Depot, K-Mart, SuperValu and others […] 

Some 45% of Americans said they had received such a breach notification letter from a retailer or card-issuer that their payment data had been affected by a breach

Fifteen percent of those polled also said that they had been hit by online fraud or hacking.

Apple Pay is currently only available in the US, but a job listing recently revealed that Apple is working on bringing the service to Europe and beyond.


Filed under: iOS Devices Tagged: Apple Inc, Apple pay, chip and pin, contactless payment, Credit card, Credit card breach, Credit card hack, Debit card, iOS, iPhone, Mobile payment

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Review: MOTA’s new Battery Case for iPhone 6 Plus shows what 4000mAh can – and can’t – do for Apple’s big iPhone

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I have to give MOTA a pat on the back for what it has achieved with the Battery Case for iPhone 6 Plus, the first such accessory we’ve tested for Apple’s largest iPhone. Despite its generic name, the Battery Case is handsome, well-built, and at $90, a steal relative to the lower-capacity $100 and up versions we’ve seen for the iPhone 5 and 5s. Critically, despite a 4000mAh rechargeable cell inside, it’s also surprisingly easy to hold and pocket, even though it adds thickness to the already-too-large iPhone 6 Plus.

But there are a couple of caveats, too. The case isn’t Apple-licensed, so there’s always the risk that it might have some iOS compatibility issues down the line — this would be a bigger issue if there weren’t also problems with cases Apple formally approved. And you’ll probably need the headphone port adapter MOTA includes in the package. More on that, below.

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MOTA’s Battery Case for iPhone 6 Plus ships with five pieces — a mostly soft touch plastic rear and bottom frame, two hard plastic bumpers that cover the iPhone’s top, bottom, and sides, a headphone port adapter, and a micro-USB to USB charging cable. You can choose from four different colors, including black, blue, green, and pink. We picked black, which nicely matches the black and gray iPhone, though the soft touch material does show fingerprints. MOTA includes one clear bumper and one smoke gray bumper with the black case, each of which might be a better match for a given iPhone color.

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Fully assembled, the Battery Case looks really nice and even provides full, tactile button protection, not a given for such accessories. While the side ringer switch hole is on the small side, this choice enables the bumper to be resiliently thick. There’s a small lip on the front edge to absorb glass impact in the event of an accidental drop, and front pass-through holes for the microphone and speaker. The rear camera and flash hole is deliberately long, seemingly for aesthetic reasons, but looks nice and is deeply recessed enough to resist camera damage.

Apple-licensed or not, MOTA’s design is actually more thoughtful than many authorized cases we’ve tested. Cellular and wireless signal strength appeared to be unimpacted by the design, with both speakerphone and regular phone calling working well through the speaker and mic vents. Only the headphone port — recessed below the bumper, requiring the included adapter to work with anything — creates a potential usability challenge. It’s also worth noting that the rear power button, recessed to avoid accidental presses, won’t trigger the four white LEDs to indicate remaining power unless the unit’s turned on — a very tiny issue.

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Battery performance was on par with our expectations. The 4000mAh cell was able to take a powered-on (but inactive) iPhone 6 Plus from dead to 86% charged in a little under three hours, which is obviously short of a complete recharge, but not meaningfully so. It would be easy to knock MOTA’s cell for not hitting the 100% mark, but the iPhone 6 Plus already has superb battery life, and 86% translates to over 20 additional hours of calling time. If bringing that number to 100% would have required a thicker, heavier case, making the 6 Plus more uncomfortable to carry, MOTA made the right call here.

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If you’re looking for an iPhone 6 Plus battery case right now, we’re very comfortable recommending MOTA’s Battery Case as a good option. It feels nice, works properly, delivers more than enough extra power to keep any iPhone 6 Plus running, and sells at a very reasonable price. The big question is whether any of Apple’s licensed battery case makers will be able to come close to MOTA’s balance of price and performance. With CES just around the corner, we’ll know the answer soon enough.

MOTA’s Battery Case for iPhone 6 Plus has a $90 MSRP and is available now for $85.


Filed under: Reviews Tagged: battery case, iPhone, iphone 6 plus, iPhone battery case, MOTA

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Should Apple double the RAM in next year’s iPhones and iPads? [Poll]

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2 x 1GB RAM in iPad Air 2 shown in orange (ifixit.com)

A Taiwanese financial news site cited by Apple Toolbox claims that Apple plans to double the RAM in next year’s iPhones from 1GB to 2GB, and the iPad Air from 2GB to 4GB.

As sources of Apple-related news goes, the citation has to rank somewhere in the Digitimes arena, but it was a Taiwanese supply-chain rumor (dart throwing?) that correctly predicted the previous RAM doubling from 1GB in the original iPad Air to 2GB in the iPad Air 2 – albeit a prediction made rather closer to launch … 

Apple has always been somewhat stingy with RAM compared to similarly high-end Android devices, but a direct comparison is unfair. The tight integration between hardware and software has enabled Apple to maximize the efficient use of RAM. And while the financial cost of adding a further 1-2GB of RAM is small, additional RAM also consumes more power.

The power consumption difference isn’t significant in standby mode, but does become a little more so during read and write operations. We’re still talking small differences, but for the iPad in particular where all-day battery-life has long been a key attraction of the device, each individual power-saving adds up.

That said, there’s no doubt that the 2GB RAM in the iPad Air 2 made a real difference. I’ve definitely seen reduced page refreshing when running multiple tabs in Safari since upgrading from the original Air, and judging from the number of threads in the Apple Support Communities, there is certainly demand for the same on the iPhone.

If you’ve upgraded to the iPad Air 2, have you noticed a real improvement? And for iPhone owners, how big a deal would it be to get more RAM? As ever, let us know your views in the poll and comments.


Filed under: AAPL Company, iOS Devices Tagged: Apple Inc, iPad, iPad Air 3, iPhone, iphone 6s, RAM

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