LifeProof iPhone Cases

What can your case do? Go swimming? Play in the sand? We put the LifeProof case for the iPhone 4/4s to the test...

Portable Audio Showdown

We are hunting high and low for the best portable audio on the planet. From headphones to portable speakers, we are testing everything we can get our hands on, so you don't have to.

Outdoor Technology's Bluetooth Tags

Earbuds go wireless... Well, sort of.

GE's DV1 pocket HD Video Camera

An HD camera any 4 year old can operate... So, that means I can run it too...

Brunton's Restore Solar Charger

A portable solar charger to keep all your gadgets going, when you end up way, way off grid.

Monday, September 9, 2013

iSkin Aura Cases for iPhone 5 - Review


This is the best looking case I have ever seen.  The brushed aluminum on the back, with the machined aluminum outline, is eye-catching and unique.  A trim piece around the outside that matches the colored aluminum back is a nice touch.  The general design of this case fits into the “slim” category: the sides hug the case while leaving the top and bottom open.  I couldn’t wait to get it out of the box and on my iPhone 5.

The phone fits extremely well into this case; a lip on the sides come just slightly around the face to hold it in place.  The sides of the case come just around each corner to provide protection and additional fit.  The open ends provide no interference with your media connections making this case ideal if you like to use docking peripherals, or if you own the Lightning adapter.

The aforementioned trim piece on the left and right edge is actually rubberized and slightly protruding from the edge.  This makes for an excellent grip and feel.  There is a small opening for the toggle switch which required the use of my fingernail to get at it.  This is typical of cases like this, and I personally don’t think it is big deal.

I admit that when I first saw this I was concerned that the aluminum back pieces would end up nicked and scarred from regular use.  Impressively, after several weeks of use and one unintentional drop, the case looks almost brand new with no scoring on the aluminum.

For you camera-philes out there I noticed iSkin’s website statement about the opening around the camera having “anti-glare ring” for flash photography.  I had chalked this up to finish, so I decided to give it a try by shooting a photo without (left) and with (right) the case.  I did notice that without the case the photo looked a little more washed-out.  This is an unscientific attempt from an amateur, but I would say their claim holds up.
Picture taken with no case on iPhone

Picture taken with iSkin Aura on iPhone

Only one minor thing with the case, and it is by no means a deal-breaker.  The volume buttons are integrated with the rubberized trim, but I don’t think they make solid contact with the buttons on the phone; when you press them you have to use an unusual amount of pressure for them to react.  Using the edge of your finger, rather than the flat of your fingerprint, makes this easier.  Upon inspection there are little round protrusions on the underside of the buttons.  These probably could have been a little bigger, or made out of something more rigid to get better responsiveness.


This is one of many cases that iSkin sells.  With this one you can’t go wrong.  It has to be one of the best looking cases on the market without sacrificing functionality.  I have never had anyone grab my phone away from me to check out the case until I put this one on, and I have two friends who bought them the next day.  Do yourself a favor: go to and pick one.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Zero Chroma VarioProtect 5 - Review


Out of the box this case looks great.  There are subtle ridges on each side to conform to left- or right-handed gripping, and in the design these indentations stop short of the face for a seamless look from the front.  A nickel-sized indentation on the back in the middle seems to be for index finger placement.  The case gets thicker at the bottom to accommodate the stand rather than making the whole thing the same thickness.  The stand collapses flush and is visually unobtrusive.

Someone knew what they were doing when they designed for grip.  The 4 indentations on each side fit comfortably no matter how you hold your phone.  The indent in the back was well positioned as a natural place to fit your index finger when talking on the phone.  This case covers the volume and power buttons to cover phone almost completely.  The only side openings in the case are at the mute toggle switch, one for each speaker (the left one shares the headphone jack), and one for the Lightning adapter port.  Overall, this case fits well and feels good in your hand.

This is one of the coolest and well-designed features of any case I have ever owned.  The stand rotates 360 degrees and has 11 different “locking” positions for angle adjustment.  The latter provides the ability to view the phone from any position on nearly any surface at just the right angle.  As one would expect, when the phone is in the “vertical/upright” position it can get a little tippy so you can’t use all 11 positions.  Since this is really designed for viewing in the widescreen position that isn’t critical.  Just a great stand.

Unfortunately, there are two flaws that made me give up on this case after a few days.  The less serious of the two is the sensitivity of the lock button.  It seemed like every time I picked up the case it would lock the screen.  I tend to grab my phone the long way, and if I applied even the smallest amount of pressure it would close up on me.  This was especially annoying when watching a movie as it stops playback.

What ended my love-affair with this case was the serious design flaw with the Lightning connector; the case opening is not wide enough to fit 30-pin-Lightning adapter.  I use my old 30-pins extensively and move my adapter as necessary.  This includes my USB connections in the car and my charger at work.  The only way to use the adapter is to remove the phone from the case.  This should never have to happen, and it is disappointing that after all the thought that seemed to go into designing the case this little detail was over-looked.

If you are an Apple product user who only owns or uses the Lightning cable made for the iPhone 5/iPad mini then get this case.  If you use the Lightning adapter this case is to be avoided.  No case should have to be removed as a part of normal use.  Add to that the lock button sensitivity and you have a case that falls short.  After experiencing all the positives this case has to offer I could not have been more disappointed.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

LifeProof Case gets an upgrade for iPhone5

Once again we call upon our man Drew to give us his perspective from the demanding world of the construction trades.  Want to kill a phone fast, work with concrete all day.  Dust, water and dropping your device off of the scaffolding to a cement floor; that's about as bad as it gets.  Here are his thoughts... 

I am in the cement industry, I am very rough on my phones and this one holds up to everything. I drop it all the time and nothing ever happens; maybe a little dent on the case but the phone is always good. I have dropped it in snow, water (completely submersed in water and sprayed under the faucet), dirt, wet mud and cement. I have gotten cement and concrete dust on it and it always just rinses off with water at the sink and dried with a towel, which is my favorite thing about it.  I love this case for someone that beats up his phone, is clumsy or has a child that wants to play with it and try to eat it and drool all over your phone.


Compared to the iPhone 4 model, it seems more durable and a  slimmer design.  I like that the screw in plug for earphones was more integrated into the design, so it doesn't look so weird and bulky now. It's a slick design.   I like that now there is a cut out around the back for the apple to show, I know it's not functional but it adds a nice touch. The sound and mic are great with no muffling and is loud.  The glass over the camera never is spotty or blurry, you can't even tell there is a screen over it protecting it. 

Tech Specs
The belt clip I use all the time.  It bevels away from the screen when locked in so the screen never touches or gets scratched.  It can be plugged in and the camera is accessible when clipped in.   You can clip it face in or out and has two different size clips for different size belts. I had the iPhone4 clip as well and it always broke, this one is not the same.
If I have to find a flaw, it is that the screen is easily scratchable.  Just wiping off mud causes little scratches on the screen protector.  All in all this is the best case I have found.  Trust me, if I can't ruin this thing, I'm pretty sure  no one can.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wicked Audio Deuce Ear Buds - Review

Continuing our Portable Audio Showdown series, we turn our attention to the Wicked Audio Deuce ear-buds.  These pint size headphones will break your eardrums before your budget.    Here's our breakdown...

Fit: the headphones come with 3 different earpiece slips to allow the wearer to customize the right fit to their ear.  I tried all three, and it is pretty easy to determine the right one: to large and you can't get them out of your ear fast enough, too small and they fall out.  I am not sure where I fit for ear size relative to the general population, but I found the smaller ones to be the best fit.
Look: in the ear, these headphones are nearly invisible.  I was impressed at the way these disappear in the ear.  This is convenient for Northerners (like me) who need to wear something on your head in the colder months.

Feel: the soft rubber slips make for a soft feel in the ear.  They expand enough that you feel them in place, and after a while you tend not to notice them anymore.

Sound: the range and volume on these is pretty good.  Being that these insert into the ear, you get a better delivery than a standard bud-style headphone.  You aren't going to get real deep base out of these, but then again you shouldn't expect to from a piece this small.  I listened to several guitar-based songs to get a sense of the highs, including jazz, rock and pop, and it met my expectations.  Vocals were a little distorted compared to some of my other options, including the standard iPhone headphones, but they were sufficient.
Voice problems persisted in movies, as well.  The voices were muted and imbalanced against any backtracks or sound effects.  You can't turn the volume up or you'll blow your ears out if a sound effect or some music plays, but turning it down makes it difficult to follow the conversation.
Volume-wise these were some of the best I've tried.  Again, because of the placement in the ear, these provide much better volume than an over-the-ear set or earbuds.  I used these on a couple of flights, and the first time I turned my music on I had to pull them out to prevent permanent deafness!  I set my volume at just over half, which is a volume I have only ever seen with my Bose QC15s.

Overall: a decent set of ear buds.  If your one that has trouble with earbuds, especially while active, then you can't go wrong with these.  I would use these for working out and feel confident that they will stay where they belong.  I would not use these as an all-around set; music is about the only thing you can use these for so if you are a mixed-use person who intends to do music, gaming and movies there are better options out there.

With an MSRP of about $20, and available all over the web for closer to $10, how can you go wrong?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Outdoor Technology's DJ Slims - Review

The deeper we delve into the labyrinth of options available in portable audio options, and headphones in particular, the more we realize that personal preference and the the conditions have a massive impact on what we like.  With sound quality coming in at the top of every testers list of requirements, we find ourselves moving past it once our standards are met in that department.  Combining style, function and features in a balance for the occasion, is what makes you take notice.

If you are looking for phones to accompany you on a 10-mile run, odds are you aren't going to rock a pair of noise cancelling over-the-ear monsters.  For around the house, and around-town, I found a pair that suits my needs exceedingly well.  The DJ Slims from Outdoor Technology are my new go-to option for most daily uses.  

First things first, these are wireless.  With Bluetooth connectivity, the days of fuzzy static laden wireless signals are a thing of the past.  These deliver clear, clean sound that is in line with top-quality on-ear options.  They are not audiophile audio, but few of us have that sophisticated of a hearing pallet and even fewer of us really care.  It's just not what we are after here.  Paired with my iPhone, these shine in the integration department.  Control volume, song selection, answer calls (with integrated mic so they can hear you too) without ever digging your device out of your bag, from up to 30 feet away.  Sitting in a coffee shop, crushing my keyboard, I barely miss a keystroke when answering the phone.  Auto pause and play-back during calls prevents in-call soundtracks.

They are pretty light, very comfortable, making those long work days a bit more bearable.  I have been getting a full day's use out of a single charge.  OT says 8 hours of audio playback and 9 hours of talk time, with 254 hours of standby.  If you can't get a full day, you may want to consider interacting with live human beings occasionally. 

They may not be for every situation, but this is a welcome change from the ear buds I have used as my daily option for years.  They are an upgrade in comfort and function on nearly every level. I do wish they folded up somehow for better transport and storage, but it really hasn't been much of an issue.  

MSRP: $70.  Considering what you get for the money, these things are a steal!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Able Planet's True Fidelity Headphones - Review

To kick off our "Portable Audio Showdown" we delve into the "Noise Cancelling Headphone" category.  What truly sets these apart from the rest of the pack is the technology implemented to reduce ambient noise.   When shopping this segment, the range available is overwhelmingly huge.  From Wal-Mart specials for $30 up to audiophile versions that will set you back upwards of $500.  Finding a balance between performance and cost is definitely a matter of personal preference, but I think we have found a true value.

The True Fidelity series from Able Planet are, in our opinion, a great bang for the buck.  Able Planet has a huge range of products, from Headphones to Hearing Aids.  It is the underlying technology, their LINX AUDIO(r), that is the foundation of most of their Noise Cancelling products.  I am by no means an electrical engineer nor do I have any formal training in hearing sciences, so I'll let them explain it to you... Honestly, the tech is over my head, but the outcome is unmistakable.  What I do know is that it works.

What We Liked:
We tested the True Fidelity NC350BCST's, which are said to be designed to reproduce a true "live music" sound.  This is perfect for me as a fan of recorded live shows like The Grateful Dead, Trampled by Turtles and Led Zeppelin.  Straight out of the box, these feel like quality headphones.  The materials used all appear to be solid.  The construction of the shell is a hard black plastic with a few chrome accents, nothing flashy just an understated style.  The pads for the over-the-ear style cans and the headband are soft and squishy, providing ample cushion for a comfortable fit.

The sound was surprisingly clear.  A little switch activates the battery powered active noise cancellation tech.  With it in the "off" position, the sound is clear and precise.  The over-the-ear design does a good job of passive noise reduction, while the drivers produce a crisp sound from deep bass notes to ripping guitar solos.  Find yourself with a seat over the wing, and a screaming  kid in the seat behind you, flip the switch to "on" and it's like hitting a "Mute Button" on the rest of the world.  I found myself flipping it off and on, just to soak in the difference it makes.  It seems to really shine when eliminating constant noise (think engine noise or the hum of a large crowd), while still doing a good job with intermittent sounds (like a crying baby or the varied noise of a TV in the background).  Plugged into my iPad, the rest of the world seemed to disappear once I hit play on a movie, surrounded by 100+ chatting strangers on a 4 hour flight.  These things can get loud too. I have been accused of listening to my music far louder than is healthy, but even I can't crank these up to the max without fear of blowing out an ear drum.
They come with all the goodies you'd expect from a premium headphone as well; a large hard-shell case to keep them safe when not in use, in-line volume controls with mic and even various adapters so you can plug into all kinds of audio sources.

What We Didn't Like:
If we have to find flaws in these phones, it would have to be in the weight and long-term wearability.  They are a bit on the heavy side, compared to some of the other noise cancelling phones we are testing.  The headband is a bit small for my head, causing them to pinch a bit.  After about 2 hours I needed to take them off for a while to give my head a break. The case is rugged and will protect these headphones through some pretty serious abuse, but it's size gobbles up the bulk of a normal carry-on bag, so plan accordingly.

Final Thoughts:
For the money, these are a great bargain.  At $140 MSRP and available all over the web for about $80, there isn't much that is comparable for the price.  I would be interested in trying a couple of Able Planets similar models, as the fit issues for me may be resolved.  If you are looking to foray into the world of audiophile headphones, but you don't want to have to sell a kidney to do it, these would be a great place to start.

  • Featuring Award-Winning Patented LINX AUDIO® a Hear the Difference® technology
  • In-Line Volume Control for Easy Adjustment to Safe Listening Levels
  • Lightweight and Comfortable fit
  • State-of-the-art active noise cancellation (ANC)
  • Superior comfort

  • Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20,000Hz
  • Sensitivity at 1 kHz: 115 dB (Off); 121 dB (On)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Brunton Restore Solar Charger - Review

The 21st century outdoors lover has a wealth of technology to choose from. GPS location devices, cameras and camcorders, fish finders, mapping technologies and MP3 players are commonplace on our gear lists. The problem this creates is that now you are packing in spare batteries to keep that technology up and running. The Brunton Restore is a universal solution to this dilemma.
At roughly the size of a VHS cassette and weighing in at just over 7 ounces the Restore will keep you in juice no matter how far off the grid you wander. Water resistant and encased in a durable rubber shell, this in not a fragile piece of equipment. Fully charged before heading into he woods the Restore refilled my iPhone twice before I needed to open the solar panels to let the sun do it's magic. 6-8 hours of partly cloudy skies and we were fully charged once again. I had 2 devices running throughout the day and I never had to worry about conserving batteries.

As electronic tools continue to improve and enhance our outdoor adventures, products like the Restore will become commonplace. For toy junkies like me, that time is now.

MSRP: $124