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Essential iPhone accessories that won’t break the bank

In this short article we’ll review and recommend the essential accessories that you need for your iPhone that won’t break the bank.  Each recommendation has a direct purchase link so that you don’t need to go and search for them (note: UK readers if you don’t see GBP prices in this article follow this link).  We’ve recommended products that fit the iPhone 6/6S, however with most of them they are either compatible with other iPhones or will have variants that are – just follow the links through and you can pick the right version for you.

iPhone Case

A phone case is essential to protect your expensive new gadget.  There are literally hundreds out there to chose from, so any recommendation needs something a little different.  We like this case from Dockem which looks cool, protects your phone but also enables you to slide your credit cards in the back.  This value add is great and removes the need to carry a bulky wallet around with you.  It costs only $14.99 on Amazon here.

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iPhone Storage Expansion

Storage expansion for your iPhone enables you to add to the internal storage capability of your phone, but also move files back and forth between your iPhone and your PC.  To do this you need the equivalent of a USB stick with the Apple Lightning connector.  We recommend the SanDisk iXpand which has both a USB and lightning connector and comes in storage sizes from 16GB all the way up to a whopping 128GB.  The device starts at just $38.50 here on Amazon.71h-NlEZRnL._SL1500_

iPhone Battery Pack

It’s a killer when your phone runs out of power.  You can get around this by taking a portable battery pack with you.  As you’ll be carrying this around, portability is key here.  We’re recommending the Anker Powercore+ mini as it has enough juice to top you up, but won’t be a pain to carry around.  It also comes in a range of colours (check out the Amazon link to see them).  It starts at only $12.99.

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An alternative route to go is to get an iPhone battery case which combines protecting your phone with extra battery power.  The cases are, inevitably, a bit bigger but they are a good solution.  Check out the Anker battery case here as a good option.

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iPhone Screen Protector

If there is one thing you must add to your iPhone it is a screen protector.  Without one you will inevitably scratch the screen on your keys (or some other sharp thing) in your pocket or bag.  Luckily they are really cheap.  As they are rather fiddly to put on we’d recommend getting a pack with more than one protector in (so you can muck up putting the first one on!).  Check out the Tech Armour protectors which are just $6.95 with free shipping for a pack of three (click here).

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iPhone Travel Charger

If you travel internationally with your iPhone then you need a travel charger.  These nifty little devices come with a range of plugs which you just snap on for the relevant country.  We’d recommend one with multiple USB ports so that you can charge your other devices too.  The aLLreLi is a good device with 4 USB ports and plugs for US, AU, UK and EU.  It’s only $15.99 with free shipping on Amazon.

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iPhone Headphones

An iPhone isn’t much good without headphones!  There are many on the market, but finding a pair with good sound production, a microphone, remote controls and that is comfortable is hard.  After much hunting around we came back to the beginning and strongly recommend Apple’s own headphones.  They look great and function really well.  You can pick up a pair for only $19.99 on Amazon here.

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Review of Home Security Cameras: Canary, Nest Cam, iSpy, Tenvis and DIY!

Home security no longer needs a massive investment of cash, huge installations and loads of mess. There are modern, contemporary solutions available at a great price. Here we walk you through a few of your options…

Canary
Canary are a relatively new entrant to the home security market, but they are definitely disrupting it.

The canary is a device which sits on a surface (table, shelf, etc) and as such it need no complex installation. The device is controlled and accessed via a mobile app with support for iPhones (find the app here) and Android.


Setup is easy, using the app you hook the Canary up to your wifi network, add members of your household to the device and then position it sensibly so the wide angle camera gets a good shot.

Videos are motion activated and streamed up to the cloud. This is important because if a thief steals the actually canary, you’ll still have all you videos. We’ve found the motion activation to be a bit sensitive, causing it to be set off by pets regularly. Recent software updates enable you to control the sensitivity of this though.

On top of high definition video with audio, the Canary also monitors the temperature, humidity and air quality of your home. This means that you should be alerted to fires also.

When there is movement in the house (and the app has detected that you are not home) you will get a notification with the associated video. You can then take action, either calling the emergency services or setting off a rather loud alarm in your home.

What’s particularly convenient, and perhaps unintended with the Canary, is that it doesn’t actually look like a camera. This means that you can leave it on a table surface and thieves won’t hide their faces from it!

Beyond the cost of the initial device, Canary offer you subscriptions which determine how long your videos are stored in their cloud service for (and hence are available in the app).

All in, for the price, the Canary is a very well equipped, useable and capable device. As it requires no physical installation into the building it is great for renters, but to be honest the usability of the app makes it great for home owners too.

Find it on Amazon here: Canary All-in-One Home Security Device

Nest Cam
Nest (now owned by Google) have been in the home automation market for some time now. Their Nest thermostat has been a massive hit in the US, and their Nest Protect Smoke Alarm has gained good traction in the UK too.

The Nest Cam is their home security offering (although it is advertised as having uses beyond security), and looks a lot like a traditional webcam.

It comes with some handy clips so that it can be mounted in various places around the home. Again, it requires a web connection and everything is accessed through their mobile apps and, a big bonus if you are already a best user, it will talk to your thermostat or smoke alarm.

Unlike the Canary it stores everything (in the cloud) rather than just motion activated clips, although it has ‘algorithms’ which determine when you need to be notified.

As with the Canary there is a storage plan which determines how long the videos are stored online for you.

Find it on Amazon here:Nest Cam Security Camera

Wifi Camera with PC Software

This option is a rather DIY approach, but is very flexible. You will need three things:

  1. A network camera, preferably with a wifi connection
  2. Software to control video recording from the camera
  3. A computer to store the videos on

Optionally you may also require some kind of cloud storage such as Dropbox, Microsoft Onedrive, Google Drive or iCloud.

First up you need to configure your camera. We found the Tenvis range acceptable cameras that produce recognisable images. However the quality is low and the colours are just all wrong. To configure the camera you first have to plug it into an ethernet connection (physical network cable), discover the camera’s IP address with the Tenvis discovery tool, log in using the web browser interface and finally connect it to your wifi network. The web interface is not particularly simple and is for the more technically minded.

You can then move your camera around the house (assuming you’re in wifi coverage) and view a live feed from your camera over your home network.

Next you need some software to control the recording of images. We use iSpy which is free and good software. You can configure it to store videos when they are motion activated and you can tweak many many parameters to do with video configuration and storage – again, not for the faint hearted but certainly a powerful tool.

This could be it with you up and running with a video recording system. However, we would recommend that you store the videos in a cloud storage device so that if your computer is corrupted or every stolen you still have your videos.

Summary
There is no real compelling case to go for the DIY solution anymore (unless you have a webcam kicking about the house).  The solutions from both Canary and Nest are very comprehensive and seriously simple to use.  We’d take either, but would recommend the Canary for the simple reason that it doesn’t actually look like a camera!



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Dell XPS 13 (2015 Skylake) User Review

I have been using my Dell XPS 13 for a few months now.  This laptop features the new Skylake processor and a USB-C port.  I use this laptop for all the usual things plus I travel a lot, write some code and often present on external displays.

Overall this is a great device, it’s plenty powerful enough thanks to the Skylake chip and copious memory and it is easy to slip into a shoulder bag.

The entry level model starts at £849 in the UK, however the model discussed here features a i7-6500U processor, 16Gb memory and a 512GB Solid State Drive at £1399.  The XPS 13 can be bought online here:

Amazon (USA): Dell XPS 13 on Amazon USA

Amazon (UK): Dell XPS 13 on Amazon UK

dabs.com (UK): Dell XPS 13 on dabs.com

ebuyer (UK): Dell XPS 13 on Ebuyer

Portability

This is key with this type of laptop and the Dell really excels here. The 13 inch display has been crammed into a case more similar in size to an 11 inch MacBook Air. The shell is sturdy enough to deal with the inevitable knocks and bashes that will occur when travelling.  It’s also super light so you don’t get laptop shoulder ache.

One of the quirks of the unique size of this laptop is that it makes it rather hard to find a well fitting sleeve. It’s too small for normal 13 inch laptop sleeves but a tiny bit too big for the 11 inch MacBook Air sleeves…. And the Dell one is simply ugly. In the end I bought this one custom made from Etsy and it is fantastic quality:

Dell XPS 13 custom laptop sleeve

Performance

The model I have  features a dual core i7-6500U processor with 16GB memory. This is more than capable, I even run complex data analytics software on it which it handles with ease.

Geekbench gives a single core rating of 3115 and a multi-core rating of 6596.  What’s impressive here is the performance per CPU core, which is very good.

Connectivity

All the usual suspects are here from a wireless perspective: fast wifi and Bluetooth. No problems here. It does get more interesting when you get to physical ports; the XPS 13 is ahead of its time and features a USB-C port, which is great. However there is no mini display or hdmi port. This means that to connect up to an external display you will need a usb-c to vga or hdmi adapter, which there are not many of at the moment.. And those that are available are rather pricey:

VGA: Apple USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter

HDMI: Google USB-C to HDMI adapter

Alongside the USB-C you have the power adapter, a couple of USB 3 ports, an SD card reader and a headphone socket.

Dell are also releasing a USB-C docking station which had all the display, charging, network and use ports you’d expect.  It is, however, not available at the time of writing.

Display

Quite honestly, the display is lovely. The screen is a QHD+  Which has a resolution of 3200 x 1800, and it produces a fantastically vibrant and crisp image.  This really is the highlight of this laptop.  It is also a touchscreen which I don’t find I use that often, but is occasionally handy for lazy web browsing.

Windows 10

This is finally the good Windows. This isn’t a review about Windows 10, but it is worth mentioning as the OS is much easier to use than Windows 8.1 and looks brilliant on the XPS’ display.

Overall this is not just a great laptop on paper, but is also great to use on a daily basis.

I would highly recommend checking it out.


Protect your email from viruses with Virus Eraser (Mac & Windows)

Viruses can take down both Macs and PCs.  They can be downloaded from the web and sent by email.  Sometimes this is by nefarious people, but sometimes it’s unintentionally by friends and work colleagues.

Virus Eraser is a new antivirus product that works on all versions of Windows and on Macs too.  On top of the real-time protection and massive database of viruses, it also stops you being that person distributing the viruses unintentionally (and, of course, scans your incoming mail to protect you too).

Virus Eraser is said to scan your mail and attachments, and work with all mail clients on a Mac.

We’ve not had a chance to put the software through its paces yet, but the company is an Intel Software Product Partner, which gives them some good credibility.

Check them out here Virus Eraser

Bitdefender: antivirus software that isn’t a resource hog

If ever there was software that became overly bloated it’s antivirus software offerings. Some would say that they make your PC secure because it becomes so unusable you’d never be able to download a virus! But Bitdefender is different.

OK, so apart from Windows Defender, most antivirus software offerings do the basics quite well – they contain comprehensive virus definition databases that get updated quickly. The reason we like Bitdefender is that it doesn’t slow your machine down much or annoy you with silly popups.

Once downloaded Bitdefender will sit quietly in the background, all you have is an icon in your system tray. There’s not a glaring pop up trying to sell you an upgrade or scaring you with stories of fear; just an icon. It will monitor your activity in the background and keep a check on things for you.

If you wish to do an intensive, full system scan then you can. Even when this is running, Bitdefender just shows a small activity picture in the lower right hand corner of your screen.

It works too, from running the full scan on our test PC Bitdefender picked up two Trojans that Windows Defender had missed, which Bitdefender successfully quarantined.

You can pick up free or paid for versions (see here) and you can get Bitdefender to run for free on your Android phone too (see here).

How to expand your iPhone storage

We’ve all run out of storage on our phones before.  Here we give you 4 tips for expanding your iPhone storage easily! If you don’t want to read the full article we recommend using Amazon Prime Photos, free with your prime subscription.

USB Stick for your iPhone
Everyone is familiar with a USB stick and so these devices sell well. They behave in exactly the same way as a normal USB stick (you put it into the USB slot of your computer and load up your files), however they also have an iPhone connector so you can slot it into your iPhone too. You usually download an additional app from the AppStore to access the stick on your iPhone. There are lots out there, but it is good to have Apple certification. For this reason we recommend the iDiskk (click here to see it) which, with certification, gives you 64GB of storage.

Network Attached Storage over wifi
If you are just concerned with accessing files whilst you are at home, then a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device is for you. These have the benefit of massive storage (think terabytes) but they are generally not portable. They usually hook into your home wifi; once this is done you can access them via your home computer or an app on your mobile device. We find these quite clunky solutions, only really needed if you need huge storage space. If you were to go for one we’d recommend the 5TB Seagate Personal Cloud which is good value for money.

Storage case
If you’re happy with making your phone a little larger then there are some great phone cases which add storage capacity to your phone. They essentially have a memory card inside the case, which plugs into you phone as you slip the case onto it. This is particularly good as you’ll always have you additional storage with you when you are out and about. We like this case from KUNER (click here to see it) as it gives you three things in one:

  1. Phone protection – this is a case after all so it will still protect your phone
  2. Storage – it gives you 16GB of extra storage which is the boost you probably need
  3. Battery – it even has a built in battery pack which will juice up your phone on the go

The KUNER case comes in three colors (black, white and pink).

Cloud Storage
This option is great if you don’t want any extra physical hardware to carry out. A cloud storage solution can automatically back up your data and keep your files accessible so long as you have a web connection. Rather than storing your files on the phone, they are stored on the cloud service provider’s servers (with all their advanced & secure backup systems). There are many cloud storage providers out there, but we’re recommending Amazon’s Prime Photos storage system. This is because it works across multiple platforms (unlike iCloud which is tied to your iPhone) and you get completely unlimited photo storage with your Amazon Prime subscription. Amazon Prime costs a few dollars per month but is worth is as you get free same day delivery (which earns your money back immediately), a subscription to amazon’s video service, early access to deals and loads more. Sign up for prime here (free for 30 days anyway) and then after that, sync up your Amazon Prime Photos with your iPhone.

The Verdict

We’re not fans of unnecessary additional hardware, so we’re going with the cloud storage option.  Amazon Prime Photos is particularly good because you get unlimited photo storage with your prime subscription (which you really should have if you buy stuff online – get it here if you don’t) and you can use it across multiple platforms.

If you don’t want to go down the cloud route then we suggest you buy the Kuner case with its built in protection, storage and battery.

iPhone games to quash the boredom

If you are bored and need to kill some time with a brilliant iPhone game that costs less (much less) that the price of a beer, read on.

We’re looking at 3 killer games today ranging from just $0.99 through to $6.99.

Endless Ducker

Endless Ducker iPhone

It’s a simple, yet addictive premise.  Cody is a tall dude, he runs around.  You’ve got to get him to duck underthings (or jump over).  Our lanky friend Cody runs continually from left to right, tap the screen on the left to make him duck under things, tap the screen on the right to jump over.  This is one of those games that you’ll lose yourself in.  Get it on the AppStore here for $0.99.

Minecraft: Pocket Edition

Minecraft Pocket Edition

Minecraft has a massive cult following and the pocket edition has seen big updates recently that pretty much bring desktop Minecraft to your iPhone or iPad.  Whilst you’re paying a few more dollars for this game it’s a very different kettle of fish.  Minecraft: Pocket Edition is a first person game in which you dig holes to collect blocks.  Sounds simple, however what you do with these blocks is the critical bit – and where your imagination can run wild.  You can build anything from a tiny shack to a full on metropolis.  Get it on the AppStore here for $6.99.

Reigns

Reign iPhone

Sit on the throne as a benevolent (or malevolent) medieval monarch of the modern age and swipe your royal fingers either left or right to impose your will upon the kingdom. Survive the seemingly never-ending gauntlet of requests from your advisors, peasants, allies, and enemies while maintaining balance between the influential factions of your kingdom. But beware; each decision you make might have implications and unfortunate consequences down the road that could put your reign and family’s dynasty at risk!  Get it on the AppStore here for $2.99.

Our Verdict

If we had to chose (like you have to!), we’d go with Minecraft (direct link here).  This is a serious game that you can really invest in for the long haul.  Sure, it’s a few bucks extra but you really get what you pay for.. and really, who can resist that retro look?  We can’t!

Waterproof your iPhone 6 with Tech21 #lifehappens

2016 is the year of the waterproof phone with Samsung as a major leader. However, the majority are Android phones and there’s been no such luck for iPhone users. Drop you iPhone water or dirt the likelihood is that it’ll be broken.

Hopefully you have phone insurance, or even better the new Tech21 Evo Xplorer case. Now, this case is mega – you can submerge your iPhone in 9.9 ft (3m) of water for up to 1 hour, you can throw it in dirt and dust, and after that you can drop it from a 6.6 ft (2m) height and the Tech21 will keep your phone safe and happy.

The Tech21 team engineered the device to ensure that the device works with your life, so whilst it gives your phone the protection it needs you can still enjoy all of your phone’s features. You get access to all the ports and can listen to high quality audio with the case on.

This is great new for those who work in a challenging environment, those who take their phone to the beach or lake and maybe those that just have a tendency to drop their phone in the bath.

You can get the Tech21 case direct from Tech21 (see here) or via Amazon (see here).

Facetune: Here’s an app that makes you look (even more) awesome

So we’ve all got those little skin blemishes… perhaps our teeth aren’t quite perfect.  These are great and they makes us who we are, but maybe we don’t want our online picture to have those in?

Facetune let’s you tweak your photos as professional photographers do (and who charge hundreds of dollars to do so).  All the airbrushing techniques you’ve read about that celebrities use can now be applied to your selfies… by you!

There’s loads the app can do to tweak your picture including editing your smile, your skin, your eyes, your hair and even your facial structure!  You can then apply some make up and and a professional feel to the picture by, for example, blurring the background.

All of this, not for hundreds of dollars… just $3.99! Get it here on the AppStore.

FreedomPop: UK mobile data just became free

FreedomPop has been active in the USA for some time now, but it is only recently that they’ve come to the UK.

If you’re lazy and can’t be bothered to read the full article..just click here to get free data with FreedomPop in the UK.

Why should you care? Free data – that’s why. There have always been deals from the mobile networks and MVNOs that give cheap data, but nobody has given it away completely free before.

FreedomPop uses Three’s network, so they don’t own the infrastructure themselves, but that makes no difference to you the consumer and Three he a very robust data network.

They don’t just do mobile data, they offer free texts and calls too – however this is offered via their app (click here for their iOS app) as a voice over IP solution so you don’t get the QoS you would with a network based voice call. However, we’ve only used FreedomPop for data so we can’t comment on much else.

So, the free allowance gives you 200mb if data per month (although they have an offer on at the moment upping this to 1GB – see here). Whilst this isn’t a lot (and certainly wouldn’t suffice for heavy usage…but you can upgrade at competitive rates), we find it plenty for staying online between the office and home, etc. It’s worth noting that FreedomPop isn’t our main mobile connection, but the nano SIM has been used in an iPad mini and a 3G dongle with great success.

You do need to pay for the SIM card and to activate it – a total of £0.99. We assume this is to avoid people ordering hundreds of the cards. This is a one off payment though, and seems manageable to us.

You can get a micro or nano SIM card. The nano SIM slotted straight into our iPad mini. For the 3G dongle we needed an adapter such as this to change the nano sim to a full size SIM:

Mudder 5-in-1 Nano Micro Standard SIM Card Adapter Converter Kit

The 3G dongle we’re using is a great bit of kit, it lasts for a whole day of usage and is small enough to stick in your pocket. It is not 4G but can still push up to 21Mbps over a decent 3G connection:

TP-LINK M5350 3G Mi-Fi Hotspot

In summary, this is actually the real deal. You often hear about free data deals which, when you look into them, have unreasonable caveats such as long term contracts. Whilst there is an initial payment of a few quid, this seems like a great deal for lightweight data usage.

Find out more at FreedomPop UK here.

Free books for a month; Amazon offers unlimited Kindle reading

Amazon Kindle has changed the way we read books – no longer do we lug around mountains of paper books.. having to wait to get to the physical store before we can buy them; instead we download them in an instant.  This part, we all know.

Summary: Can’t be bothered to read further, just get free books for a month by clicking here.

But there is a lesser known offer that Amazon have for Kindle addicts.  If you are paying money for each book that you read, you are throwing money away.  Amazon have an unlimited reading plan which means that you just pay a tiny monthly fee and read as much as you like.

This is a killer for going on vacation or just those people that plough through a book in a few days.  On top of this, loads of the books actually come with a free audio book version from Audible so if you don’t want to read you can just listen.  Of course, you can do this on any device too, not just a kindle.

Even better than this, is that there is currently a 30 day free trial.  If you don’t like it at the end, just ditch it and you’ve not lost anything.

Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial