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Review of Gumdrop Drop Tech case for Galaxy S4

Today I received the Gumdrop Drop Tech case for the Samsung Galaxy S4. Before we get into my impressions, let’s have a look at the feature set on offer.

The case is described as offering “shock absorption, drop protection, extreme ruggedness and hard-core readiness for all adventures.” This is provided by a three layer system – an integrated plastic screen cover, a rigid polycarbonate frame, and a silicone outer shell. The case is available in three colour variations, including black, green and black/red (which is the variant I’ll be testing).

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At a retail price of $40 in the US (and apparently around £30 in the UK), this is a fairly expensive case and should therefore provide top tier protection without unduly sacrificing usability. Now, let’s see how it actually stands up in real world use.

Installation

So the first part of testing any case is the installation – the process of getting the phone inside the case. This wasn’t as easy as I expected with the Drop Tech, as the multi-layer system demands you pick apart the two layers in order to get started. Once all the pieces were separated, then you can proceed to removing the foam insert and actually mounting the pieces around the phone. This proceeded without issue until I attached the flexible silicone shell around the right hand side, near the power button.

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As soon as this was in place, my phone rebooted, over and over again. The power button was being held down by the button cover, making the phone impossible to use. I tried readjusting the outer casing, but ultimately had to completely disassemble the case once again and then try again in order to shake the problem. Even now, the power button remains on a “hair trigger”, if you will, and seems to often be actuated unintentionally. I barely have to brush the side of the button cover, and it sets off. In contrast, the volume buttons appear to function normally.

Apart from this rather annoying issue, the installation proceeded okay. Now, let’s have a look at the reported raison d’être of this case: drop protection.

Drop Testing

So this week an app was released for Android called Send Me To Heaven, or SMTH. The app is quite unusual in that it combines virtual rewards with real life risks, as you must toss your phone as high as you can and catch it. The app uses accelerometers in order to calculate how high of a throw you’ve achieved, and the leaderboards are quite astounding – usually on the order of 30 metres or more. We won’t be attempting that with the Drop Tech, but it does give us a nice way of testing both the protection abilities of the case and my confidence in it.

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After ten minutes of rather enjoyable testing, my high score was about 5 metres. I didn’t really want to go any higher than that, as I’d have to find a field somewhere and risk losing my phone, but it was definitely nice to play the game without being worried about it.

I concluded with a series of standard drop tests onto carpet, from pocket height, chest height and as high as I can reach (about eight feet). I repeated each test five times, and thankfully no damage came to my Galaxy S4. I felt quite confident dropping the phone from normal heights (e.g. pocket and chest), but was a little nervous on the final test. Regardless, the phone survived well, even when it fell directly onto the screen.

Usability

So, it does seem that this case does provide pretty impressive drop protection, but that comes at a price. While the caseless Galaxy S4 is both thin and light, this case multiplies both aspects considerably – the phone is between two and three times the thickness, and weight increases from 130 grams to 198 grams. The phone also transforms from a very smooth object to one with a ridged rear. This is definitely noticeable in your pocket, as the phone becomes a lot trickier to get in and out.

The day-to-day usability of the phone is also impacted. The lip around the screen, while instrumental in preventing drops, also makes scrolling, particularly from side to side, less natural. The back and menu buttons work fine through the screen protector, but they are in their own recessed cubby holes which makes reaching them slightly more difficult. The home button seems to work as well as ever, although the button cover doesn’t protrude as much as the button itself. The hair trigger lock button remained an issue as well, although I didn’t have any incidences of repeated reboots after the initial installation.

Finally, the screen cover definitely makes the phone’s screen feel less slick. You can definitely tell that something is there, and when the cover became slightly crumpled through normal use this became more vexing.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the Drop Tech Series doesn’t make sense for me as a daily item. While taking the phone in and out of the case takes enough time that you’d want to avoid it when possible, I’d recommend it to be used only in places where the drop protection is really necessary – like when you’re hiking, traveling, or working outdoors. For the odd drop onto carpet, a slimmer case feels like it would offer vastly improved usability while still providing enough protection. While the case doesn’t feel badly made or poorly designed, using it simply wasn’t as convenient as I hoped.

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HTC M7 leaks continue, paint hopeful picture for HTC’s success in 2013

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HTC were the first of many to come out with a 5-inch 1080p smartphone, and now it looks like they’ll once again be the first to achieve an even more impressive milestone – to release a phone with a 4.7-inch 1080p smartphone. It’s called the HTC M7, and according to recent leaks it looks likely to launch at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month.

Let’s have a look at what’s been discovered so far. First of all, we’ve got a pretty good idea of the overall look and feel of the device, thanks to a full image that leaked last week as well as a video of the front and rear chassis of the phone – sans any interesting internal components – courtesy of ETrade Supply.

The video makes it quite clear that HTC are abandoning the design language they introduced last year with the One Series, in favour of a more angular style that we saw in their 5-inch 1080p smartphone late last year, the Droid DNA aka Butterfly. It’s a surprising development, given how adored the One series’ styling was, but I suppose progression along a design front is key.

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So we’ve got a rather angular look and feel that’s similar to what we’ve seen most recently from HTC, but on a smaller device. That smaller screen should make it easier to hit the lock button at the top of the phone (which was a bit of a stretch on the Droid DNA). There’s also a new button – a dedicated camera button! That’s always a favourite with photographic enthusiasts, and hopefully indicates that we will see at least a 13 megapixel sensor here and performance to match.

We also know roughly what’ll be inside the phone. We’re expecting a faster 1.7 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage with micro SD support. Again, all good and proper. On the software side of things, we’re expecting a less colour Sense 5.0 skin, offering a complementary design to the phone’s monolithic look.

The M7 looks promising for HTC. The beleaguered Taiwanese company desperately needs a hero phone to sell well, and the M7 is their best attempt. With a well reviewed and best selling sim-free HTC phone, the rest of their business could also see an upturn thanks to the ‘halo effect’ that’s been so well employed by Apple. Will that happen? I guess we’ll have to wait until the release of the phone to really tell, but I am hopeful.

What do you think – will the M7 be HTC’s salvation? Let me know in the comments below.

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Sony Xperia Tablet Z announced

It looks like internet rumours have scored a rare hit today – Sony have officially unveiled the Xperia Tablet Z and it matches earlier leaks in pretty much every detail. The slate comes with a host of impresssive features, not least of which a magnificently thin 6.9 millimetre waistline.

The Tablet Z includes a 10.1″ Bravia 2 display at a resolution of 1920 x 1200, a quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor running at 1.5 GHz and 2 GB of RAM. Internal storage is good too, at 32 GB, and there’s an SD card slot for additional storage. Finally, the tablet should include some reasonably good optics for a tablet, at least comparable with Apple’s attempts. That’s courtesy of an 8 megapixel Exmor R sensor on the rear of the device and an “automatic low light mode” that should step in when conditions aren’t favourable. Connectivity is also strong, with options for NFC, Bluetooth 4 and Wi-Fi N. You should also be able to get the tablet with LTE in supported markets – although it’s not known if the UK will be represented among that list.

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Finally, all of this hardware together with a 6000 mAh battery is encapsulated in a chassis just 6.9 millimetres thin and with a weight of less than half a kilogram – 495 grams, to be precise. According to Sony, it’s the “thinnest tablet” they’re aware of – not even the tiny iPad Mini, at 7.2 millimetres, is thinner. The chassis of the Tablet Z is also water-proof and dust-proof, with a strong IP5X certification that should allow this tablet to stand a quick tumble into the drink none the worse for wear. The Tablet Z will be available in white and black versions, as was the case with the Sony Xperia Z smartphone.

In terms of software, we’re going to be looking at Android Jelly Bean. It’s only version 4.1 instead of 4.2, but Sony should have no problems updating to the latest version – hopefully before Android 5.0 is released. We haven’t heard too much about the software running on the tablet, but as it’s Sony we’re talking about expect the usual strong suite of media streaming and remote control options.

And when will see the Xperia Tablet Z? Well, the tablet will be released in the Japanese market sometime this spring, but we should hear worldwide pricing and availability information at Sony’s press event at the Mobile World Conference in just over a month’s time.

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Google Nexus 4 cases – top 5 for January 2013

Good evening, folks! We’re going to be taking a hands-on look at five of the best cases for the Google Nexus 4 today – cases that provide style, protection and functionality in varying measures. Whether you’re looking for a thin and light case that’ll preserve the Nexus 4’s svelte waistline or a comprehensive package with all the bells and whistles, we’ll have a Nexus 4 case for you. Let’s get right into it, shall we?

5. PDair Leather Flip Case for Google Nexus 4 – Black

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We’ll kick of this top 5 with this genuine leather flip case made by PDair. The case is nice to look at and to hold in the hand, with that proper leather feel and finish that you’d expect. Putting in my Nexus 4, I was impressed by how tightly the phone was held in place with the two side arms and top hooks – there’s no way that this phone was going anywhere.

The phone in the case was quite a bit bigger, and didn’t fit in my pocket so well, but that’s kind of the price that you pay for full screen protection. A nice case if you’re a fan of leather and the vertical flip form factor.

4. FlexiShield Skin for Google Nexus 4 – Clear

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This next case is quite a simple one – a FlexiShield Skin, offering a good mix of flexibility and light protection in a rather thin package. The clear model I tested offered a kind of futuristic look, with the transparent plastic adding a nice effect to the bezel of the phone.

On the back, I was less of a fan – you cover up the holographic effect present on the phone and instead have a kind white shade that doesn’t fit the phone. Still, that covering of the back glass ensures that you’re covering up the phone’s biggest vulnerability. A good budget option with few frills – and the ‘Smoke’ colourway might look more nondescript.

3. PDair TPU Protective Case for Google Nexus 4 – Blue

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I rather liked the style of this case – a blue design with a wave running down the back. This covered up the blackness rather better than the previous case, and added a bit of its own fashion to the piece.

I like blue cases in general, and this one was no exception as I felt it complemented the phone’s excellent display well. The PDair TPU felt comfortable and easy to grip in the hand, with little added bulk. A good option if you’re looking for minimal protection and a cool look in many potential colours.

2. Leather Style Wallet / Stand Case for Google Nexus 4 – Black

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This case is the functionality king of our top 5, offering not only wallet-style pockets but also stand functionality. The plastic core of this case offers a good amount of security, but it was noticeably easier to install and remove the phone – not necessarily a good or bad thing, just a difference.

The stand works by connecting the snap enclosure backwards, allowing for a landscape mode that isn’t too adjustable but still works well for movies and games. This case only really falls down in its bulk, which is fairly considerably compared to the other cases on this list. Still, if you’ve got substantial pockets or you want to use the included belt clip, a good option.

1. ArmourDillo Hybrid Protective Case for Google Nexus 4 – Blue

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The ArmourDillo was my runaway favourite, this time around. The case is a marriage of a flexible TPU case with an impact-resistant exoskeleton. That combination provides a lot of grip, and gives me a lot of confidence that my phone would be undamaged even from a drop onto concrete from a good height. While this case is a bit thicker than normal TPU cases, I feel that the additional protection is quite worthwhile.

The ArmourDillo also has an impressive added feature – a rock-solid plastic stand embedded in the back that works in landscape orientation. This is perfect for watching YouTube videos on the train, without needing to pack your own stand. All in all, the ArmourDillo is a brilliant little case. From the silly name to the suitably organic look of the case, I really fell in love with this case and I’m sure you will too!

Conclusion

Thanks for checking out this top 5. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to share them below. You could also share your own recommendations – which cases have worked well for you?

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Samsung Galaxy S4 Rumour Roundup

Hi folks. Today, we’re going to be looking at the potential hardware specifications of the next big Samsung handset, the Galaxy S4. Let’s get right into it.

CPU

There are three options here, ordered from least to most impressive: The Exynos 5250 (the dual-core A15 chipset with Mali 604, used already in the Nexus 10), the Exynos 5450 (a quad-core version with a Mali 658 GPU that should be incredibly beastly) and the unthinkably powerful big.LITTLE configuration (a four-core A15 with four-core A7).

I feel the first is too boring and the third more likely to be seen in a tablet first, but the second sounds good – four powerful cores seems doable in the next four months or so. We may yet see a Galaxy phone or tablet with a big.LITTLE configuration, as it does make a lot of sense from a power usage standpoint – like the Tegra 3, the less powerful cores can be used for simple tasks, ensuring the full power of the chipset is only used when needed.

Display

We’re likely going to see a 4.99″ 1080p display at 441 pixels per inch, equalling the count of the Droid DNA and several other forthcoming Android handsets. Samsung are reportedly finding production of the display difficult, and are shifting their lower and mid-range handsets to use LCD PLS instead of Super AMOLED. That option will remain for the higher end handsets, so we will likely see the Galaxy S4 use Super AMOLED once again.

Camera

Here, we’re hearing that we’ll see a 13 megapixel sensor. Samsung have used 8 megapixels for the last two generations of the Galaxy S, so a move to 13 megapixels would make sense and shouldn’t be too hard.

Wireless Charging

While it hasn’t been discussed in either direction yet, my own personal hope for the Galaxy S4 is that it includes wireless charging support in the box. This wasn’t the case for the Galaxy S3 – instead, Samsung promised a wireless charging accessory that never came. With the Lumia 920 and Nexus 4 shipping with the tech built in, it’s about time Samsung equalises.

Announcement date

The early indication is that we’ll see this phone announced in late Q1 or Q2, at a Samsung Unpacked event.

Conclusion

So there we have it – all we know (or think we know) about the Samsung Galaxy S4. Be sure to let me know what you think of the proposed handset in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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LG Nexus 4 leaked for the final time

The well-leaked LG Nexus 4 has been leaked once more, and this time with some official trappings. The leak comes via UK retailer Carphone Warehouse, who are well known in this day and internet age not for selling carphones but instead for providing leaks of new products from their inventory system and posting pre-order pages ahead of schedule. This time, they’ve provided both ahead of Google’s Nexus event on the 29th of October.

The specifications match up with what’s been leaked before – we’ve got a 4.7″ screen at a resolution of 1280 x 768, a quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor running at 1.5 GHz, 2 GB of RAM, an 8 megapixel camera and support for NFC. Like many other Nexus devices, the Nexus 4 is short on storage with only 8 GB of memory on-board.

The phone runs Google’s next release of their Android operating system, 4.2, which is expected to be named Key Lime Pie or some other name that begins with a K in following their alphabetical dessert naming structure. One new feature of the OS which we haven’t heard before is ‘Gesture Typing’, which sounds awfully similar to Swpe. It is described as allowing you to type by “dragging your finger across the screen from letter to letter.”

The Nexus 4 will be available for free if you’re on a contract of at least £31 per month, while the ever-present inventory stealth shot shows that the phone will cost £389.95 sim-free, considerably less than what the previous Nexus phone, Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, was sold for in November last year. We also learn that there will be two colours available, Black and White. The phone is listed as being delivered on October 30th, just one day after Google’s Nexus event.

While Carphone Warehouse have since taken down the pre-order page, I think we can be pretty confident that the LG Nexus 4 will arrive as leaked and predicted at Google’s event on the 29th. Be sure to tune into your favourite tech site (I’ll be on The Verge) for a live blog of the event, or on YouTube to watch Google’s stream.

This article is sponsored by MobileFun.co.uk, the UK’s leading online retailer of Google Nexus 7 cases.

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KBT Race S Pink Limited & QWERKeys Keycaps

KBT Race S Pink Limited Edition

So this week has been good to me in keyboarding terms – I’ve finally received the KBT Race S I ordered from mechanicalkeyboards.com earlier this month. The delay wasn’t their fault, just customs, but I’m very glad to finally have my hands on it.

The Race S is a 75% keyboard from what I understand, which refers to its size. It’s less wide than a tenkeyless, and it also has a very cool layout – Instead of a traditional keyboard, which has spaces between different sections of the keyboard, on the Race S they are all together. This, combined with the extremely minimal ‘bezel’ around the keys, gives the impression of just a bunch of keys chilling in space, which I very much like.Continue reading

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No distractions: the best writing apps for Mac, Windows and Android

I spend a lot of time writing. My 9 to 5 job is for Mobile Fun, but I’m also writing mobile phone news and tutorials for giffgaff, StarCraft II / eSports news for Team Acer, PC hardware reviews for XSReviews and various bits and bobs for dozens of other tech-focused blogs.

All of this requires that I be fairly well organised, but more interestingly it also means that when I get down to actually writing I need to be very very efficient. A lot of that comes down to my writing environment, which in computer terms means the app that I’m using to write.

As I work on (and about) loads of different platforms, I’ve spent a lot of time searching for the perfect writing app on each one – I’ll find a new app on Mac, for instance, and try in vain to find alternatives on Windows and Android. Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve got it all figured out – and before that transient feeling vanishes, I thought I’d sit down and write about these apps. So here we go.Continue reading

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Google Nexus 7 FAQ: Cases, docks, apps, root

The Google Nexus 7 is a brilliant little tablet – small, powerful and so cheap that you can’t afford not to buy one. I’ve been covering the device for my work at Mobile Fun and XSReviews.co.uk, and I’ve gotten a lot of questions about it. I thought I’d take the time to answer some of these commonly asked questions right here.

What cases would you recommend?

At the moment, I’d suggest the SD TabletWear Stand and Type Case, which is newly available in a Carbon Fibre variety. The case offers excellent protection from scratches and falls thanks to its fairly sturdy faux-leather construction, although it is fairly bulky as well. The Stand and Type has an integrated two-way stand, with modes for typing (low angle) and watching films (high angle), similarly to iPad Smart Cover.

If you’d prefer something much less bulky that you only put on when you’re doing using your tablet, I’d suggest the Case Logic Google Nexus 7 Sleeve, which is simple and basic but will do the job just fine.

What accessories would you avoid?

I’d say that Nexus 7 batteries are probably the accessories to avoid for the moment, as unless they provide much more than 4,000 mAh of battery power, they’ll barely double the battery life of the tablet. You’ll need something tablet specific, otherwise it’s not really worth carrying around all this weight just to have a minor battery increase.

Are desktop docks coming soon?

At the moment Mobile Fun only have a single dock listed on the site, and there’s no release date associated with it. It took months upon months for accessories to be released that make use of the Galaxy Nexus’ pogo pin connections, so I imagine that it’ll be a similar story for the Google Nexus 7. If I hear anything, I’ll let you know.

What apps would you recommend?

Oooh, fun.

Root apps: ROM Toolbox Pro, StickMount, SuperSU, Sixaxis Controller, RootExplorer

Reading: Reader HD, Pocket, The Verge, Instapaper

Task Management: Any.do

Social Networks: Reddit is Fun, Facebook, Skype, Plume

Creative: Write, Writer, Instagram, Evernote

Media: TwitchTV

Games: Dead Trigger, Heroes Call, Dark Meadow, Football Manager Handheld 2012, Temple Run, Strikefleet Omega, Draw Something, Blood and Glory, Minecraft, Asphalt 7, GTA III, Max Payne, Mass Effect Infiltrator, Angry Birds Space

When should I root my tablet?

You should probably root your N7 as soon as you buy it, as to unlock the bootloader you need to factory reset the device (which wipes your installed apps, settings and data). The rooting process is very simple with the excellent Nexus Root Toolkit.

For more information…

For the full review (including loads of lovely charts, graphs and screenshots) and more accessory advice, check out my full review of the tablet at XSReviews.