August 9, 2010

Otterbox Defender case for iPhone 4

It is worth stressing that anyone with an iPhone should have a case of some sort, the day this case arrived in the mail here, that very morning I dropped my iPhone 4 for the first time, and all I could do was watch in horror as it fell to the floor, my muscles frozen, unable even to move my foot to brace the phone's fall. Think of all the times your phone is out, you tapping the screen, holding it up for friends, taking pictures. Sooner or later, it's going to drop.

That said, I'm extremely happy to have my new iPhone 4 wrapped in the Otterbox Defender case, and as usual they've done an outstanding job with this version.

The shape of the new iPhone 4 has let them come up with what I think is a much more user friendly case. The feel of this case is much nicer than that Defender cases for prior generations of iPhone, which were themselves darned good. The silicone exterior is textured, providing for an excellent grip, without being too tacky to the touch. It slides in and out of my pocket far better than prior models, which I generally would never use without the included holster. Having used my iPhone 4 without a case for a few weeks, I had become accustomed to sliding it into my pocket, and discovered that this new case supported that habit quite well. The downside though is that the case isn't quite as grippy on flat surfaces, quite often I would have my phone charging in my car, and have the case resting on the armrest between the front seats. Prior cases would stay put around corners and hard braking, this new case has a harder time staying put, but overall this is, to me, an acceptable trade off.

The included holster has also been redesigned, the original iPhone version had the phone sliding straight down into the holster, the 3G version had the bottom of the phone sliding in at a slight angle, then the rest of the phone clicking into place. The iPhone 4 version requires that one edge of the phone slide into place, then the other edge snaps in. This has the advantage of the phone screen either facing the inner part of the holster, totally protected, or unprotected and exposed, but viewable to the wearer. I actually prefer the screen facing outwards, as it makes it easy to see who is calling, quickly check the time, read a text message, etc. The holster now also doubles as a stand, which has come in very handy for my wife and I to watch baseball games via the MLB At Bat app while dining out.

The case's built in screen protector has also been redesigned, incorporating a textured surface on the inside that eliminates any bubbling, but does not interfere in any way with the touch screen operation.

The Defender case, like prior models, is a multipart design. It includes an inner polycarbonate shell, which includes the protective screen cover, and a silicone skin which goes over the hard shell. The ports on the phone are well protected from dust and accidental exposure, small flaps easily peel back to expose the dock connector, headphone jack, and mute switch. The volume buttons on the phone are also easily accessible through the case.

As usual, Otterbox also has the Commuter and Impact series cases available for the iPhone 4, which offer less extreme protection for those who already pamper their phones, these models do not include a holster, but are still fairly rugged. All models are currently only available in black. Full details on these and other offerings can be found at

In summary, I think that every minor complaint I may have had regarding prior models have been addressed with this case; it works great with and without the holster, the mute switch is accessible, the phone can fit into the holster with the screen facing outwards, and the fit of the phone within the holster is excellent.

Posted by Jim at 3:17 PM | TrackBack

June 28, 2010

iPhone 4 review coming

So, like many folks, I now have an iPhone 4 in my hands, and will be posting a review in the upcoming days of my precious the new model. I also have confirmation of some new cases on the way, and will have those reviews online when samples arrive. Most manufacturers that I've checked with for the better cases won't be shipping for at least a few weeks, so hopefully I'll be able to offer some advise on interim protection shortly.

Posted by Jim at 9:25 PM | TrackBack

February 3, 2009

Using an iPhone without service

This won't help the 3G crowd, but if you have an original iPhone and for whatever reason no longer have cellular service with it, be sure to check out Apple's Knowledgebase article 'Using an original iPhone without a wireless service plan' , which will let you use the phone as an iPod Touch, including WiFi, store apps, etc.

You'll need either the original SIM, or a replacement SIM from your carrier, normally available for a small fee.

Posted by Jim at 12:08 PM | TrackBack

December 19, 2008

Otterbox Impact case for iPhone 3G

The great folks at Otterbox have been kind enough to send over a sample of their latest case for the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 3G Impact Case. Not having a 3G iPhone (yet!) myself, I've asked my good friend Tre to lend a hand with this review. What follows is his report.

I have been testing the OtterBox case for the iPhone 3G for the past month or so, and have found it to be very sturdy and protective of the phone itelf. The case is made out of a single piece of silicone rubber that you stretch over the iPhone. The case fits relatively snugly, although the long vertical sides feel like they aren't as firm, but that may be from continual removal and reinsertion of the phone during the testing.

The case feels extremely solid, and I have taken to being a lot less careful with my phone, and will toss it on the desk as opposed to placing it down. Granted, 4 inches of toss isn't a lot, but with one broken glass face in my iPhone career, this says a lot about the comfort I have in its ability to protect the iPhone.

The corners and back of the case are thicker, ostensibly because those are the points that are most likely to cause the most damage if it drops, but because of the way that it's designed, it makes it much easier to grasp than the naked iPhone. I have found it much easier to hold the phone, especially for long calls without worrying about it slipping at all. On the inside of the case on the corners, the rubber is sort of corrugated, which allows it to absorb some of the shock of a drop of the phone at those points. This works well; I have found myself playing with the phone and bouncing it on the corners as I'm sitting at my desk.

All of the ports are fully accessible, and I had no problems plugging anything in. Because of the case design, I find myself holding the phone in a more consistent manner, and don't have to continually adjust the phone location to get the earpiece lined up with my ear (as I do with a non-encased iPhone). I do however, have a gripe with the thickness of the case around the ringer silence switch- if you don't have fingernails, you are fighting a battle to get your finger through the thickness to turn it on or off. Less thickness near the switch would be a better design choice, IMHO.

I like this case a lot, but will probably not continue to use it, just because of the way that I carry my phone: in my pants pocket. The rubber case is awesome in its protection capabilities, and unfortunately also in its ability to cause high amounts of friction when I try to either put it in or pull it out. And when I'm driving, the last thing I want to be worried about is fighting my pocket when I'm pulling this out to answer a call (California headset laws notwithstanding). I'm torn if using another material for the case would be a good thing, as the shock absorption properties are one of the biggest benefits of the Otterbox case, but something that's a little less grabby would be appreciated. For someone that has a purse or carries it in a jacket, this probably wouldn't be as big a concern as it was for me.

Bottom line: if you're a person that likes an industrial-style case that offers industrial-strength support, this would be a hard case to beat.

Pros: one piece construction, additional rubber support on the corners, easy access to the ports

Cons: ringer switch not easy to access, rubber casing grabs on cloth pockets

Posted by Jim at 7:38 PM | TrackBack

August 20, 2008

iPhone Defender Series Strength Case Review

Last month, I wrote that Otterbox had a new color in their Defender line of cases, Pink. And while this is not normally a color I would be interested in, my wife, on the other hand, absolutely adores it, and so I wasted no time in upgrading her from her old and busted Case-Mate case to the latest offering from Otterbox.

My original review of the Otterbox Defender gave the case very high marks. Basically an identical design, the pink version fared equally well, and more importantly, earned high marks from my wife.

Upon opening the package and checking all the parts to note differences from the original, I noticed a very slight alignment issue with how the two halves of the shell snapped together, some of the catches didn't quite line up, but with some firm pressure, they did fall into place. After assembly, I noticed that the new case wasn't quite as snug in the holster as the original version, the total thickness (plastic shell and outer skin) was just slightly slimmer, but this did not present any issue with the phone being secure in the holster. I had confirmed with Otterbox that they are using a new mold manufacturer for these, and I'm confident that any similar issues are being addressed.

For a few days, we had a minor annoyance with the screen protector, it was sticking slightly to the screen, and was having a bubbling effect as a result. After disassembling the case and removing the phone, I discovered that I hadn't cleaned the iPhone screen quite as well as I should have before putting it in the case, and after a good wipe down with some glass cleaner, and a similar cleaning of the underside of the screen protector, the bubbling issue was gone. Chalk that one up to user error...

As I did, my wife lamented not having the mute switch available, but quickly adapted to simply lowering the ringer volume instead. She rarely has pockets to slip her phone into, and has found the holster to be almost indispensable, and is extremely happy with how securely it attaches to whatever she clips it to.

Also very popular is the circular opening in the back allowing the iPhone's silver Apple log to show through, so that there is no doubt when she answers the phone in front of her friends and coworkers exactly what kind of phone she is using.

About the only negative comment she had was that she wished the holster had been available in a clear version so that it would coordinate better with her attire. I've officially passed along that suggestion to Otterbox.

The word 'Strength' in the product name is quite appropriate, the case is feminine, yet tough, both stylish and functional. Quite possibly the perfect accessory for any woman's iPhone, and as if that weren't enough, 10% of the purchase price is being donated to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, a truly worthy cause. Not yet available for the iPhone 3G, watch the site for more details.

Posted by Jim at 10:17 PM | TrackBack

July 20, 2008

Pink Otterbox iPhone case

Just a followup to my Otterbox Defender iPhone case review from a few moths back, I just received word that this fantastic case is now also available in pink, 10% of the proceeds will go to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, helping to find a cure for breast cancer.

They also have pink cases for the iPod Nano as well.

Posted by Jim at 3:24 PM | TrackBack

December 19, 2007

Postfix and iPhones

My wife received an iPhone for Christmas this year, and she's been having fun playing with her new toy. She was very excited to find out that she could check her mail from the phone, and as I had never bothered to set up mail on mine, I took a few minutes to set her up. But, this simple exercise took a bit longer than I expected, since my mail server here wasn't set up for this just yet.

I have both POP and IMAP configured, but haven't tested IMAP extensively, and have only used it via the webmail apps I run, and the iPhone was trying to talk on ports that I hadn't set up yet.

The first order of business was to allow mail to be received on port 587, this is done by uncommenting the line starting with #submission in the postfix file. The submission port is a standard designation for port 587. If you would like to have postfix be able to receive mail on other ports, simply copy/paste that line, and change the word 'submission' to the desired port number, restart postfix, and postfix will now be listening on this new port. This may be handy for getting around certain networks that block the standard mail ports and want you to use their mail gateway. Having an alternate port you can send on may be handy to have in those rare occasions.

The next trick was editing the account setup on the iPhone. After entering all of the account info, the initial connection failed. I began tweaking settings on the mail server, but couldn't easily get back to change my wife's account setup on the phone. I found that by going to the phone's Settings, then Mail, I could select the account, and at the bottom of this screen was an Advanced option, that let me tweak all of the settings.

Despite declining to use SSL encryption, this option was still selected for both incoming and outgoing, very simple to turn off. This screen also lets the default ports be overridden, again, useful to get around certain network blocks.

Once I had tweaked the necessary settings on the iPhone, I had her mail running just fine. Thank goodness for unlimited data plans...

Posted by Jim at 11:05 AM | TrackBack

December 8, 2007

Otterbox Defender Review

Earlier this week, I received the Otterbox Defender iPhone case, a water resistant hard shell case with an outer silicone skin. I've taken my time checking this one out, read on for the pros and cons.

The polycarbonate shell has three catches that can be released with a small screwdriver, the iPhone pops in, then the case snaps shut around it. This shell (available in either a stylish yellow, or basic black) gets wrapped in a silicone skin, which then slides into the included holster.

I've not really been a fan of hard cases in the past, but having the flexible outer skin on this one gives it a great feeling, solid, yet slightly giving to the touch. My phone felt better in my hand than if I were holding it without any case at all.

The hard shell protects the phone very well, and the silicone skin has snap openings for the headphone and dock connections, keeping dust and moisture out of those sensitive areas. The volume buttons, power button, and home button are also skinned over, providing barriers for these openings as well. The camera lens is not covered, nor is the Apple logo on the back, nicely sized circular openings in the case allow these to show through.

For those of you paying attention, note that I made no mention of the side switch to enable vibrate mode, turning off the internal speaker. This switch is unfortunately completely covered by the hard shell case. Word from the manufacturer is that because of the size of that switch (and it is a small one!), even had there been an opening for it, it would have been impossible to activate by hand. The workaround for this is simply to use the volume controls to lower the volume to its lowest level. Note that this will not completely silence the phone, but even in a quiet room, the minimum volume can barely be heard.

The holster is likewise a very nice piece, the phone slides in easily, and can be removed very quickly as well. That is, as long as you slide the phone in with the screen facing inwards. I'm used to having my screen face outward, and didn't realize that it wasn't supposed to work that way.

If you insist on having the screen face outward, here's what you will face. If you slide the phone in bottom first, the home button may trigger as it slides into the case. Minor annoyance, the phone will go back to standby in a few moments. Sliding the phone in top first, through, is a different story.

The hard shell has a notch on either side, that will mate with ridges inside the holster, giving a very solid fit. If the case goes in top first, these parts don't line up, and the phone tends to stick in the holster. This makes it slightly difficult to remove, but not terribly bad. The more annoying thing is that the volume up/down buttons will be triggered as the phone slides into the case. If the phone is in standby, this isn't an issue, but if the phone is still active, you will note the volume level will jitter, as the up/down buttons fight for control. You may also note that the screen may blank, which the phone will do if both buttons are held down long enough (no idea why).

As much as I had been used to having my phone facing outwards so that I could simply glance at the display to see if I needed to take the call, having it facing inwards hasn't been that bad, and since it slides out so easily, I've adapted rather well to this way of doing things.

Those of you with a Dremel that really want your phone to go in facing out can probably grind down the case just slightly to avoid the issues mentioned above. I do have a Dremel, and I love hacking things (regular readers will know this), but at this point I'm not going to mess with a good thing.

The hard shell of the case includes a built in screen protector, a nice feature. The protector doesn't interfere with normal operations of the phone, finger taps and slides work just fine. But since the protector is part of the shell and not actually affixed to the display, there is a very tiny gap, and this does slow the response slightly. I have a tetris-type game installed, and have found that I can't tap quite as quickly through the screen protector. But for normal use, as I said, this isn't an issue.

The Speck iPhone case I reviewed recently had a rather disappointing clip on its holster, very loose. The clip on the Otterbox case is very solid, and not prone to opening up when it isn't supposed to, it has a very tight spring and holds where it is supposed to. My only comment on the design is that the clip's hinge is too close to the edge, making it slightly difficult to release, having a bit more room to press down on the hinge would have been nice, but it still isn't that bad.

I will say this, in the week I've been using this case, I have not once had the phone slip out of the holster. This combination is very good at what it is designed for, it will protect your phone and keep it secure. It feels great, and it looks sharp too.

If you need a case with a holster, then this is a fantastic one to try out. If you're just looking for a nice hard shell case without a holster, then this is still a fantastic one to try out. The case works great without the holster, slip it into a pocket, pouch, or purse, whatever you've got. Use it with the holster and clip it to your pocket, belt, etc. Either way, this unit works great.

Update: 6/30/08

This case still continues to be my favorite, over the months since this review I've talked with a number of other vendors and inspected their wares, and most weren't even worth picking up off the tables.

This case, despite the use it has seen (throwing into the passenger seat, drops, moisture (including a visit to Niagara Falls!), loose change, keys, etc), there are no marks or scratches at all, it looks as good now as the day I pulled it from the box. There has been no distortion of the material, the shape has held, no gaps, etc.

Posted by Jim at 6:03 PM | TrackBack

December 3, 2007

Otterbox Defender case received

Good news, the case from OtterBox has arrived, and I've swapped out the Speck case for this one, and will be giving it a whirl to see how it stands up. Watch for a review posting later this week.

Posted by Jim at 5:23 PM | TrackBack

November 10, 2007

Otterbox Defender case for iPhone

Just a quick head's up that the Otterbox Defender case for iPhone will be shipping soon, I should be having a model for review fairly soon, and will post the details of this as soon as I'm able. Until then, check out their product site for more info.

Posted by Jim at 10:35 PM | TrackBack

September 5, 2007

Posting from my iPhone

I finally took a look at the site from my iPhone, I was surprised (oddly enough) at how good it looked, considering how long ago I did the original layout, menus, and such. I even thought that it would be fun to post an entry from my phone while I was at it...

The touch keyboard works well, but I'd hate to have to type more than a few paragraphs. I am able to do some two fingered typing, though, so maybe with time this will be easier. But a bluetooth keyboard would be nice...

Posted by Jim at 4:17 PM | TrackBack

August 26, 2007

Speck update

Word is that Speck might be shipping a new holster for their iPhone case that I had reviewed recently, if this is true, I should have the revised version in a few weeks, and will post more on this as I get it.

Posted by Jim at 11:24 PM | TrackBack

August 16, 2007

iPhone hacking, first steps

Since before the iPhone first shipped, folks have been eagerly waiting to get one in their hot little hands, and break it. To tear it apart, find out what makes it tick, and make it better. I'm sure that many of you have seen the articles here and there about folks installing new applications onto the phone, a Terminal, then later games like Tetris and Tic-Tac-Toe, and now an actual Nintendo emulator and a version of DOOM. This is where things are now starting to get interesting...

Compiling applications and installing them on the iPhone is not for the faint of heart, but thanks to the hard work of many folks, it is now getting easier for lesser folks to get in on the fun. iPhone Central recently published an article called The iPhone Hacking Kit, step by step, and it is a great guide for those wanting to get in on the action. Even with this guide, I still had a few issues, though, but I will walk you through them.

First, I can't say enough good things about the developers who got this all working, and are still working to make things better. And the MacWorld folks did a great job at compiling information from several sources and bundling up a download that's easy to get and easy to use. The issues I had following the directions were minor, but had unexpected consequences. Please take a moment to review their article, and then my comments below.

My first problem was with the setafc command, part of the iphuc software, which is used to set the AFC (Apple File Connection) being used to talk to the phone. Normally, the AFC is restricted to only letting iTunes sync its data to the phone, and only a limited number of directories can be accessed. After jailbreaking the phone, the setafc command listed in the article opens up the phone so that all directories can be accessed.

Anyway, apparently you need to make sure that the values returned eventually get to zero for each parameter returned, even if you get no error message. Repeat the command a few times, exit iphuc and then Terminal, and try again, restart the phone if you have to. It is important to get these values to zero. My first time through, I thought I had everything done right, but ended up stuck in a mode where I couldn't get to the full file structure, and ended up restoring the phone's software. I think that if I'd worked it a bit more, I'd have gotten it, but it was late and I just wanted to get back to a fresh starting point.

The next trick, when you get to doing the putfile commands, you do need to specify the full destination path and filename at the end. So, when copying files to /System/Library/LaunchDaemons, for example, make sure that you add the filename at the end that you're putting there.

I ended up using Stickies to copy/paste a command to get the structure, then duplicated this a few times and copied/pasted in the file/path names to make sure they were all right.

Later in the article, you do some scp commands to transfer files to the phone. This is not a command you enter while in iphuc, or while ssh'd to the phone. Open a new terminal window, and enter those commands here.

With those tips, you should be able to get through this easily, and you'll be well on your way to overloading your iPhone with fun new things to do.

Posted by Jim at 9:53 PM | TrackBack

Speck iPhone ToughSkin

I recently picked up a Speck ToughSkin case for my iPhone, there are a growing number of cases available now, and I just couldn't stand having the phone in my pocket one more day...

A trip to the local Apple store only turned up a few varieties, and after scouring a number of sites for information, decided to order the ToughSkin.

The case itself looks great, from the pictures and information I could find, the case seemed like it was made of a fairly hard rubber or plastic material, and I expected it to be fairly rigid. Actually, it's a fairly flexible rubber, but is thick enough to provide ample cushioning which, it turns out, is a good thing.

The holster for the phone is nice, overall, and has a clip that can be locked in place to act as a stand, so that the phone can stand on a desk in either landscape or portrait mode, so you can surf or watch a movie easily. In fact, the clip is the best, and worst, feature of the case...

What I do not like about the clip is its total lack of clippiness. The amount of tension keeping the clip closed is negligible, the lightest touch can open the clip, which means that the simple act of bumping the phone can cause the clip to open, and in some cases cause the phone to drop to the floor. In the week that I've been wearing this, my phone, clip holster and all, have dropped to the floor twice. But, thanks to the nice rubber enclosure, has survived nicely.

My phone also dropped a third time when it became separated from the holster. This was likely partly my own fault, for not having the phone pressed into the holster properly. There are two tabs on either side of the phone case that fit into openings on either side of the holster, if you aren't careful, and do not have both of these firmly seated, the phone can pop out rather easily.

If you have no interest in a holster, this is definitely a nice case, it is available in both black and clear, I bought the black one and I think it looks very sharp. And as long as you can be careful, the holster isn't that bad, but as I'm always on the go, this may not be the optimal holster for my needs.

Posted by Jim at 9:03 PM | TrackBack

iPhone hacking, fun!

OK, I've got a few entries that I hope to bang out later tonight, I've been having a lot of fun/frustration tweaking my iPhone, and after finally having some successes today, wanted to get some of it down to hopefully help others.

Also a review of the Speck ToughSkin case for iPhone.

Posted by Jim at 6:23 PM | TrackBack

July 25, 2007

Ringtone length

While working on creating some new ringtones for my iPhone, I realized from looking at ringtones for other phones that they varied wildly in length, music could be 30 seconds or more, and short clips might be only a few seconds. From past experience, I knew that my phone would only ring about 4 times before going to voicemail, and that this wasn't 30 seconds, so, how long should I make my ringtones for maximum effect?

After some digging online, it seems that the phone carrier controls how long your phone rings before going to voicemail, and that this option can be changed through some cryptic codes.

Query: *#61#[SEND]
Set: **61*destination*11*nn#[SEND]
Cancel: ##61#[SEND]

Doing the Query above, I found that my delay was currently set to 20 seconds before going to voicemail. This delay can be set to a number from 5-30, in 5 second increments.

The destination above is the number your phone uses get to your local voicemail system, it will be +1, followed by your area code, followed by the 7 digit local voicemail number.

What exactly the *11 does, I have no idea, and some guides have this parameter omitted, so you can try it either way.

To cancel forwarding completely (no more calls going to voicemail, use the Cancel command above.

So, armed with this info, you should now be able to create your own ringtones of an appropriate length, and set your delay to match your ringtones a bit more closely.

Posted by Jim at 9:25 PM | TrackBack

Custom iPhone ringtones

The folks over at have a great link to info on adding custom ringtones to your iPhone via a GUI interface. Pretty sweet, while we wait for iTunes to gain this feature... Check it out.

Posted by Jim at 9:25 PM | TrackBack