My Essential iPad Accessories and Applications

Following up on my previous post about the joy that is using my new iPad Air, I thought I’d write about what I deem are essential accessories and applications. It’s only been a couple of weeks since making my purchase and has surprisingly found the transition from Android to iOS not too much of a pain. It’s fast becoming part of my daily workflow for creative writing and note-taking.

Here are some applications and accessories I use…

Accessories

Keyboard Case

Apple’s own Smart Keyboard Cover felt very unnatural to use and didn’t provide enough protection for my nice new tablet. The Inateck Keyboard Case is an absolute pleasure to use and the keys have a very nice responsive rebound. I can literally use this anywhere and feels just as stable on my lap as it is when being used on a desk.

The only downside is the connectivity relies on Bluetooth rather than Apple’s own Smart connector which would normally power the keyboard. Nevertheless, the pairing has no latency and the battery lasts weeks even with daily usage.

Apple Pencil

The iPad Air is only compatible with the first generation pencil and has a really ridiculous way to charge using the lightning connector. Apple could have quite easily made the iPad Air work with the second generation pencil. If the iPad Pro was a cracker, then the second generation pencil would be the caviar.

Regardless of the design, it’s refreshing to scribble away notes to store electronically. Previously to keep track of my written notes, I would write on paper (oh how old fashioned!?) and then scan digitally using Evernote on my phone.

Draw Screen Protector

Writing on glass using the Apple Pencil is a little slippery and need something that gives the texture to almost simulate the friction you would get when writing on paper. There are a handful of screen protectors that provide this with varying degrees of success. The most popular being is Paperlike, which I plan on putting an order for when I’ve worn out my current screen protector.

My current screen protector is Nillkin and isn’t too bad. It provides adequate protection as well as giving enough texture with enough anti-reflection qualities that doesn’t hinder screen visibility. Added bonus: a nice light scratchy sound as you'd expect if writing with an old-fashioned pencil!

Applications

I'm deliberately leaving out the most obvious and well-known apps that we are well aware of such as YouTube, Netflix, Gmail, Kindle, Twitter, Spotify etc.

Jump Desktop

I wrote about this very briefly in my previous post. If you want a link to your laptop/workstation from your iPad, Jump Desktop is your best option. Once you have the application installed on your iPad and host machine you are up and running in minutes. Judging by past updates, it’s getting better with every release.

Evernote

I don’t think I can speak about Evernote highly enough. I am a premium member and is one of my most highly used applications across all mediums. Worth every penny! It organises my notes, scribbles and agendas with little effort.

Evernote is effectively my brain dump of ideas.

Notes haven’t looked so good with the use of a recent feature - Templates. On creation of a new note, you have the option to select a predefined template based from the many Evernote provides from their own Template Gallery.

Grammarly

Grammarly is a must for all writers to improve the readability of your content. I myself had only started using Grammarly since last year and now can't think of writing a post without it. In the iPad form, Grammarly forms part of the keyboard that carries out checks as you type. This works quite well with my writing workflow when using Evernote.

Autodesk Sketchbook

If the Apple Pencil has done anything for me, is to allow me to experiment more with what it can do and in the process allowing me to try things I don’t generally do. In this case, sketch! I would be lying if I said Autodesk Sketchbook is the best drawing apps out there as I haven’t used any others. For an app that is free, it has a wide variety of features that will accommodate both novice and experts alike.

1.1.1.1

Developed by the team who brought you the Cloudflare CDN infrastructure comes 1.1.1.1, an app for providing faster and more private internet. This is something I always have running in the background to have a form or protection using public hotspots and to stop my ISP from snooping where I go on the internet.

When compared to other DNS directory services, Cloudflare touts 1.1.1.1 as the fastest. As everything you do on the internet starts with a DNS request, choosing the fastest DNS directory will accelerate the online experience.

Searching For A New Tablet and Going Back To iPad

I’ve been looking for a tablet for quite some time and doing some in-depth research on the best one to get. I am always a stickler for detail and wanting to get best for the time based on budget and specification.

Only having ever owned two tablets in the past - an iPad 2 and Nexus 7. Being someone who has semented himself in the Android/Google ecosystem, I automatically got along with the Nexus and quickly became my daily driver for web browsing and reading the vast variety of books from Amazon and Google Books. That was 5-6 years ago. The tablet game has changed... No longer is it just about viewing information, watching videos with some minor swipe gestures and basic gaming. It’s more!

Ever since Microsoft released the first version of their Surface tablet computer, it shifted the industry standards to what we should now expect from a tablet, which then led to more innovation such as:

  • Keyboard support
  • Writing with palm rejection (not that old school stylus from yesteryear!)
  • Multitasking with the ability to view multiple apps in one screen, which is only getting better by the day!
  • Near laptop replacement - We’ll go into this a little later

I wasn’t so quick to jump on the new iterations of tablets entering the market as I was waiting to see the proof in the pudding and for prices to go down. I just don’t think its worth spending over £600 on a tablet - looking at you iPad Pro! Nevertheless, from initially piquing my interest, it now got my full attention. For the first in a long time, I could see how having a tablet be useful in my day to day activities again.

Do I Really Need A Tablet?

Short answer: Yes.

If you asked me this question last year I would have more than likely have said no. My Pixel 2 smartphone fit the bill for for my portable needs. Tablet life was soon being relegated to just holidays and long weekends away.

The only thing that has changed is the increased amount of blogging and writing I now do. Typing on a smartphone really made my thumbs tired for long periods of time for when I didn’t have a computer to hand. On the other hand, I found lugging around my MacBook Pro 15" just for writing was a little excessive and lacking all day battery life.

I could see myself buying a tablet along with a Bluetooth keyboard for easy quick note taking for when going to conferences and for writing something a little more indepth. For anyone who writes, they will probably tell you when you have a sudden spark of inspiration you need to just write it down.

Conundrum: To Android or Not To Android

There seems to be a real lack of good Android tablets going around that has good build quality, vanilla OS with accessories to match. It’s guaranteed that if you go for an Android tablet, you’ll be subjected to inferior cheap cases and hardware. This was indeed the case when looking for a nice flip case for my old Nexus 7.

One would be forgiven for being given the impression accessory manufacturers don’t give Android tablets the light of day - very annoying. I still love the nice leather Kavaj case I purchased soon after getting my iPad 2. My iPad 2 may not be getting used, but still looks the part resting on the bookshelf! I guess it’s understandable why accessory manufacturers are not providing the goods for where there is limited demand. It all comes down to a lack of flagship Android devices and I was hoping the Pixel Slate would change this. Not a chance! I really wanted to go for the Pixel Slate but the main unknown factor for me is the longevity of a device that starts at £749.

The only choice was to consider an iPad.

What About The Microsoft Surface?

The Microsoft Surface is a computer powerhouse and if I needed another laptop, this would have been a great purchase. I look forward to owining one in the future. Again, it all comes down to price. You have to take into consideration the cost of the computer itself as well as the added type cover. Plus I feared I would be greeted with a long Windows Update when I have a sudden spark of writing inspiration.

Choosing An iPad

Apple’s have positioned their iPad lineup that should meet all demand:

I opted for the iPad Air for the 10.5” screen, A12 Bionic processor and Smart connector. The Smart connector was something previously available to the Pro series only and it was a welcome addition to their mid range tablet as this will give me the ability to connect a keyboard cover and any further peripherals that maybe on the horizon. Future proof!

The performance and multi-tasking support is pretty good as well. I am writing this very post with Evernote in one window, Chrome in another whilst listening to Spotify.

Near Laptop Replacement and iPad OS

I have no expectation to make the iPad a laptop replacement. But it’s the nearest experience to it. In all honesty, I don’t understand how some even find the iPad Pro a complete replacement. Would someone enlighten me?

I found using Jump Desktop to remote onto my laptop a really good way to get a laptop experience on my iPad. Very useful when I need to use applications I’d never be able to run on a tablet like VMWare. Jump Desktop is one of the best remote desktop applications you can use on an iPad.

Jump Desktop features one of the fastest RDP rendering engines on the planet. Built in-house and hand tuned for high performance on mobile devices. Jump’s RDP engine also supports audio streaming, printer and folder sharing, multi-monitors, touch redirection, RD Gateway and international keyboards.

I am really looking forward to the release of iPad OS as it might lead to a more immersive experience that bridges the gap closer to the basic features we expect from a laptop. I always felt iOS still lacks some of features currently present in Android, such as widgets to see app activity at a glance and more control over your files.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a tablet that has the capability to do a lot of wonderful things with a lot of nice supported accessories, you can’t go wrong with an iPad Air.

Update (21/06/2019): Android Abandoning The Tablet Market

Well this totally caught me off guard. The Verge reported on 20th June that Android are exiting the tablet market and concentrating their efforts on building laptops. This further validates my purchase and choosing an iPad was indeed the right decision.

Securely Erasing An Android Device

I decided it was time for my trusted Nexus 5 and I to part ways. We had many good times over the last few years we had known each other. But as things sometimes unfortunately turn out, our time together finally came to an end. The battery life was starting to wane and I really need a phone with a larger capacity - more than 16GB.

Enough with the sentimentality...

I am now the proud owner of a Nexus 6P.

My Nexus 6P

And what a beauty she is!

In getting the Nexus 6P, I am about to sell my dear Nexus 5 on eBay, so that it may grace someone elses life in a positive way just as it had done mine. It's in very good condition and still looks brand-spanking new. The only thing that I need to ensure is that the phone is wiped clean - inside and out. Even though I carried out a factory reset, I read doing this alone is not enough to make your previously stored information fully un-recoverable.

To be completely sure that the device has had a complete wipe down, you need to ensure the Android device is encrypted prior to carrying out the factory reset. You can check if the phone is set to be encrpyted by going into Settings > Security > Encryption. By doing this, the encryption process will scramble your data and if some data is left after the factory reset, a key would be required to unecrypt it. For the general user, this should suffice.

I decided to take things a step further, just to be 100% sure. I found a very good post on StackExchange Security that states the following:

Factory resets reset your phone to a stock like state but does not remove your data, just applications. This leaves some data behind. The best way to prevent this data from being recovered is to encrypt the phone, and use wipe data/factory reset from the recovery menu. This way you don't have to download a ton of data and you can be fairly certain your things are secure.

If you're not that worried, encrypting, and data/factory reset from the recovery menu is probably enough.

Forgot to mention why the recovery mode data/factory reset. It formats the user data areas as well as the application area, and is far more thorough/secure than the one inside of the android OS and will prevent you from download junk data. It just flat out gets rid of it.

To get to the recovery console on the Nexus 5 for resetting:

  1. If your phone is on, turn it off.
  2. Press and hold the Volume Down and Volume Up buttons, and then press and hold the Power button at the same time until the phone turns on. You'll see the word "Start" with an arrow around it.
  3. Press the Volume Down button twice to highlight "Recovery."
  4. Press the Power button to start Recovery mode. You'll see an image of an Android robot with a red exclamation mark and the words "No command."
  5. While holding the Power button, press and release the Volume Up button once.
  6. Press the Volume Down button twice to highlight "wipe data/factory reset" and press the Power button to select it.
  7. Press the Volume Down button seven times to highlight "Yes - erase all user data" and press the Power button to select it.
  8. After the reset is complete, press the Power button to select the option to reboot your device.

Don't forget to also revoke account access as an extra measure by logging into your Google Account and clicking the "Remove" button (https://security.google.com/settings/security/activity).

Disconnecting Nexus 5 from Google Account

There's Nothing Like a SSD To Breath Life Back Into Your Computer...

Crucial 480GB SSDThe plan originally was to ditch my current laptop, Alienware M11x R3 for something a little more recent with a better build quality. Even though my Alienware is an amazing workhorse for the type of work I do (with a very high spec), I started to get annoyed with the common issue these laptop's have: screen touching the keyboard when closed.

I wanted to get an Apple MacBook Pro Retina. But that got thrown completely out the window when I decided to go on the path of getting a property! Eek! So I had to make do with what I currently have on a very modest budget.

As of late, I started noticing that my laptop was getting very sluggish and kept freezing every so often. This continued even after carrying a full factory format to give my Operating System a fresh install. The only thing I could amount this to was that my hard drive was on its way out.

Luckily for me, at the same time, Amazon had some great offers in their computer components section and managed to get a Crucial 480GB Solid State Drive at a price that was an absolute steal!

I've heard online and from a few friends of mine that once you go SSD, you definitely won't go back...and this truly is the case. I wasn't expecting to see so much of a performance increase. My laptop has never performed this well.

At the same time, I decided to upgrade my current Operating System to Windows 8. I was getting a little bored of Windows 7. Plus, I quite like the new tiles interface. Very pretty! I don't understand the complaints or negativity. Some are obviously scared of change...but that's for a future blog post.

Here are a few things I've noticed since my upgrade:

  • Boot times have minimised substantially.
  • My laptop always used to feel very warm during long-term usage. Now it always feels cool.
  • I'm sure battery times have improved.
  • Virtual Machines load in seconds, rather than minutes.

Upgrading to a SSD is a very cheap and easy way to get more out of your machine. Highly recommended!

Official Google Nexus 7 (2013) Case Review

Nexus 7 Case Google LabelEver since I purchased my Nexus 7 last year. I've been trying to find a nice case for it. Failing, I settled for a cheap and cheerful folio case from eBay, which (still to this day) has served me well. But I was dying to have a case that looked different and oozed some unique design elements.

When I noticed Google selling their own collection of Nexus 5 and 7 cases, I purchased one straight away. The Grey/Blue colour scheme caught my eye. It seemed that Google's offering ticked all the boxes. What could they possibly do wrong? It's an official product designed and manufactured by the very people who made the Nexus 7. If anyone could make a case without fault, it would have to be Google....right?

Sadly no.

For starters, the case lacks magnet technology allowing automatic power on/off feature when opening the case. Secondly, there was no type of latch that would keep the case closed and found that the case opened whilst it was moving around in my backpack. Maybe I just had high expectations since my current offering already had these features.

Yes. These might be small things. But I found myself getting increasingly agitated (maybe an overstatement!) whilst using my Nexus 7, especially for a case that cost four times the price of the case I previously used.

Nexus 7 Case - Outside

Nexus 7 Case - Inside

It wasn't all doom and gloom. There were things I did like about Google's case offering. I loved that the case looked and felt very different to what is available on the market currently. Outside was covered with hard wearing fabric with an inner lining of suede. Definitely high quality stuff! 

Unfortunately, Google just seemed to miss the mark by not including a few key features, mainly being the magnetic sensor.

Back to Google it goes.

Update - 11/02/2014

I was expecting to pay for all postage costs to return the case. But after contacting Google Support regarding the reasons to why I wanted to return the item, they sent me a prepaid shipping package and were very helpful throughout the return process. Quick and easy!

The Beauty of A Mechanical Keyboard - Ducky DK9008 Shine 2

A few weeks ago my Dad gave me my first mechanical keyboard. Knowing that I have a major fondness for anything that "lights up", he got me the "Ducky DK9008 Shine 2".

The manufacturer wasn't kidding when they called their keyboard range "Shine 2". Soon as the keyboard is plugged in, things come to life and you are blinded by the most immensly bright blue light. Images on the internet will not truly justify how bright these LED's are! Thankfully, you have full control over the level of brightness and lighting modes.

Ducky Shine 2 Keyboard

I'd be lying if I said that I've heard of the "Ducky" range of hardware peripherals until this point. Alas, I haven't. If the internet reviews are anything to go by, "Ducky" is well known in the mechanical keyboard market, providing a wide range of high quality and customisable keyboards. Nice!

What's even better is the fact that I have the flagship model! I dread to think how much this thing costs...

One thing I noticed after unboxing is the sheer weight. It's definitely one of the bulkiest keyboards I've ever handled. But this piece of hardware exudes quality and workmanship. Well this is something you'd expect from a top of the range keyboard that is on the higher end of the price spectrum.

There has always been a misconception that mechanical keyboards are known for being stiff and produce a loud clacking noise. This couldn't be further from the truth with DK9008 Shine 2. This particular model uses the Cherry MX Brown switches, which produce a sharp response whether you are the kind of person that is a "heavy hitter" or who has the "lighter touch". Either way, the keys feel light to press with minimum effort and produce a nice satisfying "click".

I've tried this keyboard for both standard typing and gaming. It's a great all rounder.

One things for sure. Once you go mechanical you will never want to go back to the traditional membrane switch keyboard.

For more info on the Ducky DK9008 Shine 2, take a look at their website: http://www.duckychannel.com.tw/en/DK9008_shine2.html

And yes. This blog post was typed up using the Ducky DK9008 and I forsee all future posts will be typed up in the same manner. :-)

The Floppy Disk Reinvented – Into a Coffee Table

You have to see it to believe it. The inner geek in me want to purchase this.

Floppy Disk Coffee Table

The guys who made this have managed to put in an impressive amount of detail (as much detail as you can get from a floppy disk!).

Floppy Disk’s were well-known for their lack of storage space, thankfully, there’s a adequate sized secret compartment that is revealed by simply moving the metal shutter.

More images of this beauty can be seen over at Design Boom: http://www.designboom.com/design/floppy-disk-table-by-axel-van-exel-marian-neulant/

And whoever said the Floppy Disk is dead!? Smile

Where touchscreen and keyboard meet in perfect harmony…

Touchscreen LaptopI had the opportunity to try out one of my friends new gadget purchases (someone's been a good boy this year!) - the Asus Transformer Infinity. I read a lot about the Asus Transformer range ever since its first release in 2011, but got the impression that this was just another worthless mishmash of tech with a mistaken identity. I never understood why anyone would buy a touchscreen tablet that had a keyboard. That just defeats the whole point of having a tablet device does it not? How wrong was I...

The combination of a keyboard and touchscreen just works and feels perfectly natural. I always had the misconception that a mouse is needed to accurately communicate with an OS user interface. The more I used the Asus Transformer, the more I wished I had one and oddly when returning back to my Alienware m11x I felt something missing. In my eyes, the good ol' touchpad just seemed inadequate. In all honest, the Asus Transformer touchpad is just as inadequate and a little flaky (possibility due to lack of support by Android). They should have left that out.

With the advent of next generation on laptop/touchscreen hybrids such as the Microsoft Surface and Lenovo Yoga (which has an awesome ad), maybe there is method in this concept after all and I look forward to using future variations.

For the moment, all I know for sure is I want a Asus Transformer Infinity!

My Alienware m11x Review

Alienware M11xOn hearing Dell have officially acknowledged there is an issue with all Alienware M11x screen hinges (duh!) regardless of warranty status, I decided to write a belated review on my experience of owning this very laptop.

After having a Dell XPS M1210 since 2007, I thought it was about time I looked for a more substantial piece of kit. I believe I still would have been completely happy with my M1210 to this very day if it wasn’t for the dependence of 64 bit architecture on some key software applications I use.

The thing that really impressed me about the m11x was the portability factor. It really is quite a marvel on how the guys at Dell managed to pack so much high spec goodness in such as small light-weight package. I decided to go all out on my laptop specification. As my Dad has always told me: “Always get the best for the time”, especially since technology progresses so fast nowadays and you want your piece of kit to last as long as it can. Very wise my old man!

So my specification is as follows:

  • Processor: Intel i7 1.5Ghz (overclockable to 2.6Ghz)
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Hard Disk Drive: 320GB
  • 2GB nVidia Geforce GT 540M Graphics Card
  • Flashy lights!!! (as standard)

All this for around the £1000 mark. Not bad considering I paid in excess of over £1200 for my old Dell XPS laptop and I was getting quite a lot for my money compared to other gaming machines on the market. A laptop with this setup doesn’t fail to impress when it comes to Windows Experience ratings:

Alienware M11x Experience Index

The experience rating is based on a non-overclocked processor running at 1.5Ghz. I will be interested to see how the rating fairs when the processor has been overclocked…soon as I figured out how to do this.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good

Aside from the form factor, the Alienware M11x manages to pack a real punch when performing any task. From opening Notepad (lol!) to playing the most performance and graphic hungry games. I will admit, I am not much of a gamer but my experiences with playing Dirt 3 has been absolutely phenomenal especially with compared to its console counterparts. The icing on the cake has to be playing games externally through a High Definition TV via HDMI.

The cool customisations and light effects you can make to the keyboard, front and logo lights will satisfy the inner geek. A really nice touch to keep your hardware looking different.

The build quality is similar to what I’d expect from Dell. The good and bad. The matte black soft-touch finish allows the laptop to be somewhat scratch resistant and not much of a finger-print magnet compared to earlier editions of the M11x. All panels and covers are rock solid and all sockets and ports are nice and grippy!

Battery life is greatly increased thanks to the nVidia Optimus switchable graphics, which automatically detects if the application you are running needs full graphics power. I manage to get around 5 hours battery life through general use.

The Bad

Only a minor gripe based on my personal preferences is there is no hard drive status light. My previous Dell laptop had this status light to show me how much my disk drive is working. Useful if your computer is locking up.

It would be nice to have an additional powered USB socket to charge more than one appliance when my Alienware is switched off.

The Synaptics touchpad is as responsive as all the other touchpad’s I’ve used in the past. So no issue there. I am just not too keen on the honeycomb textured surface. The finger doesn’t glide as fluidly as I would have liked.

The Ugly

The well known issue I stated at the beginning of my post – faulty screen hinge. I had known that there have been numerous issues with the hinges even before I made my purchase. You would have thought by the third iteration of the M11x this issue would have been solved by now. Unfortunately, it hasn’t.

The problem I have been experiencing from day one is the keyboard touching the screen when the lid is closed. This has resulted in marks on various points on my screen. Unfortunately, by the time I noticed the damage was done. It seems that the keys on the keyboard are not aligned correctly with the base of the unit.

I will be sure to get both screen and hinges replaced.

Conclusion

Overall, I'm really pleased with the laptop. My only gripe is the hinge issue ruining my screen.

Asus EEE PC 701 Ultra Mobile Laptop

While I was browsing the web for some tech goodies for my PC something at the side of the webpage caught my eye. Judging by my post title you guessed it, a ASUS EEE Laptop. But the thing that really surprised me about his laptop was the price. It was £239.99 (at time of post print)! Just think, you could purchase a PDA for that amount! Of course for this price it is not the most highest spec laptop:

  • 7" Display.
  • Intel Celeron CPU.
  • Linux OS.
  • Webcam.
  • 4GB Flash HDD.
  • Wireless
  • Ports: 3 USB ports, 1 VGA out, SD card reader, modem, Ethernet, headphone out, microphone in.

After looking at this spec the only thing that disappointed me was the limited Hard Drive space especially when comparing to the amount of junk on my current laptop. The maximum Hard Disk space you can get in the Asus EEE series is 16GB. Being a Windows XP guy (will isn't everyone), I was actually quite glad that a Linux operating system was used for the Asus because overall Linux is a lot lighter when compared to Windows. By combing a little Linux with a flash Hard Disk Drive you know that startup time will not be an issue. However, even the Linux OS takes around 2.5GB storage space. So you will be limited to the amount you can store. Well I guess thats why they supplied a USB port to attach a flash drive.

So who would buy this laptop??? Well if you want a sleek fast and portable laptop with lots space for all your data then this is not for you. However, if you simply just browse the Internet, check emails and uploading a few images and music. Then this could be good value for money.

The reviews for this Laptop has been quite favourable and this is a really really good example that the price of technology has reduced considerably. This has to be an ideal candidate for the education market.

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