Otterboxes for the iPhone and Galaxy S3

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 

There are two things I always do with a new digital device, get a good screen protector and a good case. (And the biggest memory card that will fit).

The screen protector is pretty easy: I’ve used both Zagg and Armor Suit and prefer the Armor Suit, but not by much. Both work really well and I have an Armor Suit on my Motorola Razr V9x (still the best basic cell phone I’ve ever owned) that has lived in my pocket for many, many years without a scratch visible on the outer screen.

For cases I lived with an (almost iconic) yellow Defender case for my Blackberry Bold 9000 for about 5 years.  It was awesome, indestructible, and fit the belt holder perfectly.  Alas, it was no match for a random late night cab ride and early flight out of Dubai–can’t defend against that, can ya? Well, it lasted about 5 years, so no complaints. I contacted Otterbox to see if I could get a replacement silicone bit and they checked and only had 2 belt holsters left in stock from the entire product line.  They mailed me those for free. Thanks Otterbox! (One did come in handy eventually.)

I got an iPod from United and, of course, got an Otterbox for it; one of the Commuter series.  With a polycarbonate outer shell protecting the critical corners, and that backed underneath by a few mm of soft silicone, the iPod is extremely well protected.  This is a well-engineered protection model, far better than just a layer of silicone.

A corner drop tends to generate very high localized pressure where the corner tries to merge with the hard surface it is being dropped on. Having the polycarbonate outer shell distributes that pressure load over the silicone underneath it resulting in a broad, gentile distribution of the impact load and minimizing the risk of localized overpressure which would crack plastic or glass.

Conversely, simple silicone sleeves without the polycarbonate layer, while adding critical padding and being fairly effective in most cases, can’t distribute the impact load nearly so effectively.  This should not matter too much for a surface-to-surface drop where the impact force is distributed over the whole back or even an edge of the phone, but in a corner drop the silicone can be effectively mushed out of the way as the hard surface attempts touch delicate plastic or glass in a tragic romance.

This outer shell is what distinguishes the Commuter series from Otter’s lower-cost silicone-only Impact series cases, as well as the host of cheap silicone sleeves on the market.


I replaced the Blackberry with a Samsung Galaxy S3 and got a Commuter case for it.  The case is very nice, not too big, but Otterbox did something very, very wrong.  They rotated the polycarbonate tabs 45 degrees, covering the edges and not the corners.  Why Otter, why? The case is still quite nice and it is the nicest looking and most comfortable I’ve found, but this is an odd engineering mistake.  They talk about the “layers of protection” as a key selling point for their more expensive Commuter and Defender series, yet leave the most fragile corners protected by only a single layer.  As protection goes, it is no better than the Impact since the corners are all that really matters.

The polycarbonate shell does serve to anchor the access flaps closed, which is an improvement over the iPod case, but this could easily have been achieved with a few well-placed polycarbonate fingers reaching around the case without making it difficult to assemble (too many fingers wrapping around the device make it impossible to snap the device into the polycarbonate shell).

Further, the textured silicone edges on the iPod case are actually really nice to hold, far more comfortable and slip-resistant than the polycarbonate edges of the S3 case (and make the iPod less likely to drop than the S3 as well).  As an additional bonus, the iPod version exposes some textured silicone on the back surface making the case somewhat non-slip, while the S3 case is all polycarbonate on the back. Without some non-slip silicone on the back, the likelihood that the enclosed device will slip off a sloped surface and onto a hard floor or into a toilet or sink is much greater. While the case makes a disaster far less likely for the former eventuality, it is not waterproof.

While the Android OS just crushes iOS, and the availability of Android-specific tools and applications, particularly for security and encryption, makes it the best choice for a mobile device right now (though security, at least, is even less of a concern with a Blackberry – that’s the one thing Rim still has going for it – that and efficient use of data), Otterbox really could have done a better job with the case.   Hopefully the S4 case will get it right.



It has been almost 2 years and I’ve been carrying the Otterbox-protected S3 more or less continuously since in a relatively active and somewhat unforgiving environment, not that anyone’s pocket or purse would fail to meet that definition.  A few issues emerged:

  • The rubber flap covering the USB port, which you need to access at least twice a day for charging, tore off very early on;
  • I change SIMS a few times a month and the case doesn’t really like being taken on and off and eventually cracked in two places, but it still holds together;
  • The unprotected silicone covering the corners began to deteriorate fairly quickly, as I predicted, and one corner has disintegrated completely, leaving that most fragile of impact points unprotected.

Failed corner of the otterbox case

I’d probably buy another – two years is a pretty good life (but not as good as the 5 my blackberry gave me.  I still miss that phone).  I wish Otterbox would focus on protecting the corners, not the edges. The iPod case, far less heavily used but equally traveled shows no wear on the corners at all and provides the same protection it did two years ago.  It is a better design.

Posted at 12:36:41 GMT-0700

Category: cell phonesNeutralphotoreviewstechnology

Sad iPod

Saturday, May 19, 2012 

Looks like after almost 10 years the iPod Carolyn handed down to me has finally died. It was giving me disk errors and working very slowly on the plane ride here and since I think the disk has locked up. While I <3 rotating media, it may be time for something a bit more compact in the carry around device space. It will be interesting to see if flash media can last 10 years (though it will degrade by progressively losing capacity and performance, rather than physically locking up).

Fortunately I only buy physical CDs and never, ever download defective by design craptastic DRM files from iTunes, so at least I didn’t lose the keys to my own data with the device failure.

Sad iPod.jpg

Posted at 23:22:47 GMT-0700

Category: -

Rental Cadillac DTS

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 
Wtf? Another Caddy? They drive OK, but what is up with the mid-90s vintage entertainment system? Analog in only? American cars always have really crappy music navigation interfaces, but even low-end cars with the janky microsoft sync interface at least can read off a 2GB FAT USB stick (no larger).

If you’re trying to compete with Mercedes an Infinity, you have to be able to read at least a FAT32 file system if not an ipod and usefully navigate folders and playlists.

Posted at 11:07:28 GMT-0700

Category: Negativephotorental carsreviews

Rental Lincoln Navigator

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 

Hertz gave me ANOTHER black Lincoln Navigator (this is different than last week’s) to try to drive through LA’s traumatic rainstorms in (thunder! OMG!). Nothing like the efficiency of driving a car that seats 7 for a commute. Fortunately I don’t have to drive far so the total environmental impact is at least minimized and largely offset by the hilarity value.Navigator.jpg

The car has power every crazy thing. Even the back seats fold down with a button push, necessary since it has become standard to have a power opening and closing trunk so you don’t strain your dainty little self as you drive around in your ginormous faux-tough SUV.

A funny touch is the in-mirror back up camera. Nice that it is full color, but the screen is small enough that you’d never see a puppy. On the other hand, the back window is so far away and so shrouded in black leather that the little color view is the best you’ve got. Puppies are free.


It is always fun to try to figure out the electronic entertainment systems in one of these things. The test is “can you get it working between LAX and Santa Monica without reading the manual.” Mercedes, yes. Lincoln no.


In the end I did get it reading off a USB stick (and the ipod, though the Microsoft SYNC UI for that is unusable. Odd that M$ is advertising SYNC in magazines as brandable feature for a new car when it sucks so bad: I’d avoid a car with M$ inside myself).

Once it was working, the only appropriate choice was Gangstagrass. Thanks @satiredun!


Posted at 17:09:17 GMT-0700

Category: Negativephotorental carsreviews

Mercedes E350 Hertz Rental

Friday, November 6, 2009 

Hertz gave me a lovely Mercedes E350 as a free upgrade in LA this trip: definitely the best upgrade so far.IMG00025-20091106-1001.jpg

It is quite a nice car, with plenty of trunk space, and extremely quiet interior, a powerful engine, and excellent handling. The interior is clean and well designed with a nice dash that’s easy to read. In fact the entire system was fairly intuitive. I had my phone paired with the in-car audio system, the voice recognition system figured out, the nav system programmed, climate set, and my favorite Sirius classical station on the radio in the 20 minute drive from LAX to Santa Monica. It was probably the first time I’ve made that trip and arrived a little disappointed it was so brief.


Most of the interaction with the Car’s computer is through voice prompts and the system is very effective: it never made a mistake in my use. One can also navigate the cars computer options with a fairly nice click wheel, which is reminiscent of the BMW system, but without the force feedback (alas).


The Nav system in the car is excellent. It works far better than the Hertz NeverLost system (which was, inexplicably, also installed). The Mercedes version is a lot easier to read and understand and is integrated with the audio system in the car (though the announcements were painfully loud and the one thing I didn’t figure out was how to turn them down).

The computer’s visual interface also serves as the backup camera. It seems a bit superfluous on a normal sized car, but it has a good down-view, so one can see if one is about to backup over a child’s favorite toy or limb, which I suppose has merit for people who haven’t realized that most children are the free byproduct of an otherwise pleasurable activity.


I was very impressed with the iPod integration. The in-glove-box cabling includes an analog headset port (female, for reasons I do not comprehend – it should be male) and an iPod connector.


The on-screen interface is a nice integration with basic iPod functionality and the click wheel emulates the iPod’s navigation mode in a very intuitive way, unlike the Audi interface.


Mercedes even manages to push their own logo to the iPod, which is pretty impressive.


All in all, an excellent rental I’d be glad to get again.

Posted at 17:09:55 GMT-0700

Category: GeopostphotoPositiverental carsreviews

United pod ports

Sunday, May 24, 2009 

The pod ports include usb (power only, I think), a network connection (!), a 110V outlet as well as the wacky proprietary iPod connector that they still don’t have the cable for.

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Posted at 13:26:42 GMT-0700

Category: Related Links

More on the UAL PODS

Sunday, February 22, 2009 

I haven’t tried the iPod interconnect yet, but I will; I need to put some video on the iPod first. I’m not sure why they decided to use a proprietary cable. That was kind of stupid, there’s a USB port in the pod. The proprietary cable takes analog video and audio, but how hard would it to be to build a local decoder for MP3/MP4 content into the pod? Or just build a dock like the table radios at modern Holiday Inn’s that have an iPod dock built in.

The TV system is pretty good. It has a lot of content on it, but the TV shows they have are limited by source (NBC) and while The Office is pretty good, they only have two episodes. Air Canada has a lot more content and a wider variety of sources.

One of the best things Air Canada does is sponsor Canadian film makers and then showcase their work on the in-flight system. UAL should do this too, though internationally. If I was in charge of the UAL in-flight system, I’d offer an annual prize for films: the rules being if you submit, it may be shown on UAL flights as long as UAL wants, maybe $20k for first, $10k for second, $5k for third… for $35k they’d have some entertaining content. Almost every little twiddle on the Air Canada student collection beats anything by NBC.

Another problem, and this drives me nuts everywhere, is that now that there are about 2 standard aspect ratios (4:3 and 16:9) nothing is ever shown in the right one. Everything I see is squished one way or the other. The UAL system does not letterbox, so WTF? Why not blackbar the source? Is it that hard? It’s all transcoded anyway, do the black bars at transcode – they don’t take any space up in the compressed output and it would always play right. No squished faces. It really took away from my enjoyment of the cinematic experience that should have been Max Payne.

I find the lack of temporary storage space in the pods a bit irritating. It sort of sucks to have to put everything in the overhead, especially on takeoff, and then wait until the seatbelt sign is off to get it back, especially as the in-flight system can’t be enabled until a safe altitude is reached as it apparently “interferes” with the nav system. Just like iPods do… of course if the RF leakage from an iPod interfered with the nav system, what on earth are planes doing flying into urban areas with their multi-kilowatt radio and tv transmitters littering the landscape and god forbid airports with the radar sweeping around so that cell phones get knocked off their towers.

But the lie flat seats are very comfortable. This is the first long flight I’ve been on where I got to enjoy them. I was on a 767 from ORD that had the new pods and they were cool, but 4 hours is hardly time to experiment with the new features. Now they’re in 747s and I gather the 777s will be the last to be converted.

Which reminds me, I listened to the wonderful News Quiz podcast on the way and the following were two wonderful gems of many from the recent show:

“You know how the temperature is adjusted for windchill? Surveys should be adjusted for stupidity: surveys say that 1 in 3 Britons think the world was created in the last 10,000 years, but adjusted for stupidity, nobody does.”

“Instructions for sperm donors: on arrival ask for Mr. Hancock.”

Posted at 16:00:31 GMT-0700

Category: planesPositivereviews

UAL 747s haz new pods

Saturday, February 7, 2009 

Very nice. Lie flat, ac, usb, 10BaseT. No place to keep your laptop during takeoff is an oversight.

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There’s a custom interface for to connect an iPod to the entertainment system. The cable runs $30 and connects the audio/video outputs of the iPod to the IFE so you can listen and watch your video on the 17″ monitor. That’s pretty cool, but one can imagine some interesting moments with unedited films or pr0n.

  • The pod should have room to keep your laptop and other stuff at your feet during takeoff so you don’t have to wait for the seatbelt light to turn off.
  • The LED lights behind the seats are cute but useless – it would be better to have a couple of LED’s under the edge of the center table to illuminate a keyboard or magazine unobtrusively.
  • The iPod interface is a cool idea
  • UAL should run a contest like AC does for student films.  The AC shorts are the best things on the IFE.  But Canadians are pretty funny.

eXport Smart Cable In Flight Traveling Companion for iPod

Related only in that it was on my iPod and I heard it on the plane, the always amusing BBC NewsQuiz had a wonderful moment: “Survey results should be adjusted for stupidity. According to a recent survey one in three Britons believes the world is less than 10,000 years old, but adjusted for stupidity nobody does.”

Posted at 15:00:16 GMT-0700

Category: photoPositivereviewstechnology

Pontiac grand prix

Monday, October 13, 2008 

I rented a pontiac Grand Prix in Canada.  It’s a slightly sporty car that otherwise doesn’t stand out in any way.  The stereo doesn’t have line/ipod inputs but works.  The knob based control system has lots of identical knobs making it easy to change tuning instead of adjusting volume or vice versa.   Otherwise fairly comfortable and basically a competent rental car.
Posted at 21:00:13 GMT-0700

Category: Neutralphotorental carsreviews

Ford Taurus X Rental

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 

Rental car review

ford taurus x.jpg
This week i got a new Ford Taurus X, an interesting rental car. It’s an SUV type vehicle, oversized and overaccesorized, but a surprisingly pleasant vehicle that’s fairly easy to drive and comfortable.
Now the theory is that such a car would be good for off-road use or something since it has four wheel drive, but that’s really not happening. Better to think of it as a minivan with a nose and some extra weight in the drive train. Desipite the foolishness of SUVs in general, and especially given gas prices, the car had some neat features.
  • I used the backup sensor in a parking lot – a good thing as the car is long and has poor visibility out the back.
  • It has an outside temperature indicator which I like.
  • The seat moves all the way back when you take the key out, and then back to where it was for us old people.
  • The tailgate opens and closes itself, which is kind of absurd and overkill but fun in a gadgety way.
  • The engine is fairly powerful (Canadian rentals seem to be more powerful than US rentals – my .ca Grand Am would spin it’s wheels embarrassingly easily, whereas my .ca.us Grand Am in LA was kind of anemic).
  • It’s quiet and comfortable.
  • The rear seats fold into the floor of the car – just like a mini-van.
  • The stereo had an analog input and a 6 CD MP3 changer
  • It has Microsoft Sync – more on that below.

Read more…

Posted at 23:00:30 GMT-0700

Category: photorental carsreviews