I was recently invited to test a product on behalf of MyTrendyPhone.co.uk. One thing I thought I would find useful was an iPad case with a keyboard. I was sent a Universal Tablet Bluetooth Keyboard and Leather Case:

Universal Bluetooth Keyboard Case

Universal Bluetooth Keyboard Case

Please note: I’ve include my own photos throughout but they’re taken in not much daylight on my phone camera, so you may be better off checking out the product photography on the product page.

The reason I wanted one of these was for travelling. As a researcher and workshop facilitator, I spend quite a bit of time travelling and need to be able to work from wherever I am. My trusty iPad goes pretty much everywhere with me (it’s my main requirement when looking for bags – that’s another thing I could really do with!). I use it to check email, keep up-to-date with news and social media, make notes, write blog posts (in fact I started writing this blog post on it whilst on a bus), write and deliver presentations… I’d be here forever if I listed everything, there’s not much I do that I can’t do on my iPad. I actually don’t mind typing on the touchscreen – I even choose to transcribe interviews on the iPad rather than desktop – but I’ve kept wondering if it would be better to try an external keyboard. One big advantage is that the keyboard takes up quite a bit of the screen so it can make it more difficult at times to both type and format. I’ve been testing this case by taking it to events with me, and below is my review of the product.

Layout

There’s a few options for external keyboards. My wireless keyboard for my main computer actually works as a keyboard for the iPad, though it’s not so convenient to carry around a full sized additional keyboard. There are some which fit into an iPad case, and there are some which are fixed into a case. The one I tried was attached to the case by a magnet, so you could use it in the case or you could remove it. I liked the flexibility here – it means you can adapt it to your situation and the space available, and of course you could just take the keyboard with you if you didn’t want to take the full case (e.g. if you have a smaller case).

Keyboard can be used in case or moved out of case

Keyboard can be used in case or moved out of case

Fit

The case I tried apparently fits any tablet from 9″to 10.1″. This means it doesn’t necessarily fit snugly as it’s not tailored to your specific tablet, but if you have more than one or are likely to buy a different model in future that’s an advantage. The tablet is attached using plastic corners – they’re on elastic bands so you can expand to fit your tablet. It’s relatively secure once it’s in, but it’s not the easiest of fastenings to use.

Close up of corner

Close up of corner

Screen angle

Another thing which had always intrigued me was whether it’s more natural to have the screen at a higher angle when typing. My default is for me to type on the screen with it at a slight incline using the smart case, like this:

My usual typing position

My usual typing position

This of course is totally different to the way you would usually look at the screen of a desktop or laptop computer. You can stand the iPad upright, though I don’t tend to do this when I have a lot of typing to do as the iPad isn’t very stable in this position. With a keyboard and case you can usually have the iPad at a higher angle, more like a laptop. The case I was sent has just one viewing angle, which was fine when using on a desk, but too low when using on the train – there’s not enough room on the pull down table to have it at this angle. I also found it was a little flimsy to be honest, the stand seemed like just a piece of cardboard in the case so not very strong. I think I’d prefer to try a sturdier one with more viewing angle options.

Viewing angle with the Universal Bluetooth Keyboard Case

Viewing angle with the Universal Bluetooth Keyboard Case

The case I tested was for landscape use only, you can also get cases which you can use in portrait though I don’t think I’d use that often so it wasn’t a big issue for me – nice option to have though I guess.

Pairing

So how does your iPad know there’s a keyboard that you want to use with it? Usually they connect via Bluetooth, and it found the pairing process very simple. I turned on Bluetooth on my iPad and on the keyboard, and then typed in the passcode to pair them together. You only need to do this once – after that they pair automatically (or they did with this one anyway). I had no problems at all with pairing or getting the keyboard to communicate with the iPad. As Bluetooth is the way the keyboard communicates with the iPad, you need to leave Bluetooth on both devices in order for them to work. Here lies my big problem and the reason I’m currently travelling without the case. Bluetooth uses battery power, quite a lot of battery power in fact. So much battery power that in one train journey to Cambridge I arrived with less than 30% of battery left (admittedly the journey takes around 4hrs, but my iPad has always lasted a full day of use in the past) and never had any problems with battery life. This made for a very dull return journey as I couldn’t use my iPad at all – it had 3% battery by the time my workshop had finished (I used it to present from).

Case quality

I thought it was worth mentioning that I was a little disappointed with the quality of the case – I didn’t pay to test this but am judging it on what the cost should be. The packaging had quite a few errors on it (small spelling and grammatical errors, but this is always a bit of a red flag in terms of quality for me) and the case itself was a little flimsy – it didn’t hold itself in position very well. It’s also quite bulky, which in a sense is understandable considering it includes a keyboard (maybe I’m expecting the moon on a stick?!), but I know you can get much more compact ones. It doesn’t fit in my usual bag so I would have to carry a larger bag if I wanted to carry the iPad in the case.

As I was finishing editing this blog post to be published (I drafted it a few weeks ago) I put my iPad in the case to take some additional photos, and one of the corners snapped so the iPad is now wonky and not secure. I’ve been storing the case in its original packaging (with foam protector for the inside) and have only taken the iPad in and out of the case about five times so really don’t expect this to happen in such a short space of time.

Snapped corner

Snapped corner

Final verdict

I have to say I’m afraid I wouldn’t recommend this case (even before the corner snapped). I don’t know if I would recommend any case unless you have a reliable power supply or an external battery (I love my Innergie PocketCell but I don’t tend to carry an iPad connector with me and it gets pretty warm when I have used it to charge my iPad). I’m intrigued by the more slimline cases though as the bulkiness was another key issue for me, so I think if I was buying I’d probably save up to get a more robust case from a reputable brand. Belkin sell a variety of cases such as the Fastfit Keyboard Case or the Ultimate Keyboard Case so I think I’d recommend looking at some of the higher quality ones if you’re interested in a keyboard case for your tablet, and I’d recommend investing in a decent external battery if you want to be able to use the iPad when not connected to a power source.

Do you have a case with a keyboard for your tablet? What would you recommend?

productivity

Productivity by Sean MacEntee on Flickr

I’ve been writing my column on productivity for CILIP Update for almost a year now, and I’m really enjoying writing it and getting comments from people – it seems to be encouraging people to try new ways of working, sometimes with real day-to-day benefits for them. I’ve been getting really good feedback and I’m so pleased. My columns so far (also available on my Publications page) have included:

I’ve tried so many different tools and ways of working and am always interested in finding ways to improve, so I’m glad I can now use some of the things I have learnt to help others on their journeys to a more productive way of working. I came across a blog post from Lifehacker a little while ago inviting people to share their own techniques, and thought I’d take the opportunity to use their questions to share mine.

Location: West Midlands, UK.

Current gig: Evidence Based Researcher for Evidence Base, Birmingham City University (also currently on part-time secondment to Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals as a Future Skills Project Worker).

Current mobile device: iPhone 4S and iPad (I also have a Nexus 7 but rarely use it).

Current computer: iMac at home (this is my main computer), PC at work.

One word that best describes how you work: Flexibly.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without: Omnifocus (to do list manager), Dropbox (to sync documents between devices), Google Drive (for collaboration), Evernote (for meeting notes and image capture).

What’s your workspace like? I work from a variety of different places, but my main workspace is at home in our spare room which is fitted as an office. I share it with my partner and have plenty of desk space (my space is to the left of the computer as I’m left handed), and a set of drawers. I don’t really need much physical space as most of my work is electronic, but I like to have clear space around me to help me work more productively (currently I have some tickets on my desk waiting for me to sort claims for and even just those are driving me mad!). Here’s what my desk looks like at the moment (mine is the computer to the left – spot the essential glass of Ribena!):

Home office

Home office

What’s your best time-saving trick? Inbox zero. Before I start working on anything each day, I sort through my inbox and move everything to the right place. That way I know my calendar and to-do list are completely up-to-date and I know exactly what tasks I have to do. Then as all my tasks are in one place I can focus on prioritising things to focus on based on importance and urgency, and won’t get distracted by looking through my inbox. It really helps me in terms of knowing what I should be working on, and now that I have a process in place for organising my emails it saves me lots of time.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager? Omnifocus. I particularly like the iPad app and am currently using the beta version of Omnifocus 2 for Mac. The one downside is that it’s Mac only so no good when I’m in my office at the university which has a PC. I always have my iPad with me though so access it from there. I live in the Forecast view so I can see at a glance what I have on that day – tasks and appointments in my calendar.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without? My iPad. I take it everywhere with me and use it at meetings, for working when away from home/office, and for keeping me connected (and able to work) whilst travelling. I seem to really enjoy writing on the iPad so often use my iPad to write blog posts and to transcribe interviews.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? Within my team I’m the one who tests out new tools/software/techniques to see which might work for us and I often take on this sort of role in other projects I work on. I love trying out new things and figuring ways of using them to save me time or help me stay organised.

What are you currently reading? I’m reading Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? What it takes to be an authentic leader (for the Library Leadership Reading Group), and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

What do you listen to whilst you work? I listen to a variety of different playlists on Spotify. I use music most when I’m writing (e.g. research reports) and absolutely love this GTD playlist for when I need to focus. Instrumental soundtracks are perfect for this and I often end up looking up music I hear in films and TV documentaries.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Introvert. I need to have time to myself to recharge, and now always build time to do this during conferences.

What’s your sleep routine like? Not so good. At times I struggle to sleep at night and often spend a good 2-3 hours trying to get to sleep.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see __________ answer these same questions. Emma Cragg – I know she shares an interest in trying new tools and ways of working to improve productivity and I’d love to hear her tips.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? That you should stop beating yourself up about things because you can’t have it all. This blog post by Jenica Rogers is really excellent advice, and something I need to remind myself of often. There was a lot of great advice in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book too, much of which I think about regularly.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? I’d be really interested in other people’s response to these questions (partly maybe because I’m nosy, but also because I think there’s a lot we can learn from each other). If you decide to blog your own responses, you can get the questions from the blog post on Lifehacker, and please share a link in the comments on this blog post once you’ve published your own How I Work.

I travel quite a bit and need to be able to work on the go. Fortunately I have a tablet and a smartphone so between the two devices I pretty much always have access to my email, social media, documents, and note taking apps. I take notes digitally at meetings, use mobile devices to work out where I am and how I get to where I need to be (by foot or by public transport), create presentations on my tablet, present from my smartphone, contact people in various different ways via them (email, social media, Skype, and even occasionally SMS or phone calls) and use them for entertainment purposes too. I use mobile devices a lot. I love them.

However, I do have a frustration; the battery life. The tablet isn’t so bad and can last a day of heavy use without being charged, but the smartphone struggles. I therefore usually carry a charger with me when I’m working away for the day. You’ve perhaps seen me huddled next to a plug socket at events or sitting right on the edge of a row just to get a little bit of a top up of power (yes, I realise I sound like an addict!). I was therefore delighted when I was invited to test a portable charger. I bought something similar a couple of years ago, but it was very bulky so I found it easier to carry a plug. This one, the Innergie PocketCell is really light and compact.

Innergie PocketCell

Innergie PocketCell

In the box you get the charger itself and a short connector which has three different types of adapter: Mini USB, Micro USB, and 30 pin Apple connector.

Innergie PowerCell cable in box

Innergie PowerCell cable in box

To charge the PowerCell, you simply plug it into any USB – either one on a computer, or a USB plug – using the cable (it has a Micro USB input). It has blue lights on the side to indicate whether it is charged or not so you can check the level and see when it is fully charged – the image below shows it at 2 blue lights (out of a maximum of 4).

Innergie PocketCell lights

Innergie PocketCell lights

Charging a device seems really quick – I haven’t timed it from empty to full but even just 10 minutes charging increased my iPhone battery from 52% to 65%. I have a new iPad so unfortunately it doesn’t have a connector for this but I have tried it with my own USB to lightning connector. It does work with the iPad but the charger seems to get hot so I’ve only used it for a quick boost.

The one downside is the short cable. It’s a tricky one as obviously a shorter cable makes it more portable and in most situations is fine for a portable charger, but it can make charging the battery tricky. I previously reviewed the short cable, and although it isn’t as much of an issue in this product I’m still not a huge fan – I’d like it to be a little longer so that’s it’s still portable but means you can have a little bit of distance from the plug socket so that it can fit onto shelves or the floor rather than hanging when it’s charging.

Innergie PocketCell charging iPhone

Innergie PocketCell charging iPhone

Overall, I’m really impressed with the Innergie PocketCell. It’s very portable and means I may no longer have to hunt out plug sockets everywhere I go. I’ve been carrying it around with me and found it a really useful thing to have – I haven’t had to worry about preserving my use of mobile devices as I know I have extra power there if needed. As mentioned, I received this to review – it’s currently available on Amazon for £70. I have to confess this is more expensive than I thought it would be (I previously bought an external battery for around £25), however the Innergie PocketCell a really good bit of kit, and much better than the external battery I bought, so I would definitely recommend it if you’re in the market for an external battery.

I recently received a Innergie 3 in 1 Magic Cable Trio to review, and was looking forward to testing it out. Anyone who has seen me at a meeting or event will know I always have a charger with me and am usually found by a socket or frantically looking for one. I tend to have Apple devices with me for short trips, so one charging cable is usually sufficient (though I do sometimes use a Belkin double adapter so I can charge both at the same time if necessary). For longer trips though I have other devices with me so need more cables (e.g. Kindle charging cable). I was really pleased to hear about this 3 in 1 USB charging cable which could be used to charge a number of different devices just from the one cable. You can only charge one at a time, though that’s what I was expecting (some reviews have mentioned the fact you can only charge one thing at once but I don’t see that as too much of a problem). However, for me there is one big problem…

20130311-074937.jpg

It’s just not long enough. I’m not going to go down the whole ‘size doesn’t matter’ argument because in this case it really does. This charger is only useful if you want your device *right* next to the plug socket. It’s unlikely you’d be able to practically use it whilst being plugged in as it’s just too close.

20130311-075338.jpg

For suspended sockets it wouldn’t even reach the floor. You can’t use it on a train as it won’t reach the tiny distance from the socket on the side of the table to the top of the table.

20130311-074733.jpg

The connectors cover a wide range of devices, and it does work – I’ve used it to charge my iPad and my Kindle and both worked fine. The three connectors are for Apple devices (old version, not Lightning Connector), Mini USB and Micro USB. You have to be careful to ensure the connectors are all pushed in flush for the electricity to flow, but the device seems robust in this way so I don’t foresee any problems unless it is used excessively. I like the way all connectors stay attached even if not in use – much preferable to multiple separate connectors which can be easy to lose.

I just can’t ever imagine myself using this though, not unless I also had a longer USB to USB connector which sort of defeats the object of only having to carry one cable. On the packaging it said the cable was 20cm in length, but I find that misleading as that’s from the very edges of the connectors either side. So I’m afraid I don’t recommend this cable – great idea, just not well executed in my opinion.


UPDATE: I’ve had a response to my review from the company:

Our main goal is to deliver a cable that can truly transfer 2.1 Amp. That is also a requirement for the MFi (Made For iPod/iPad/iPhone) certification from Apple. Due to the 3 connectors included, this is the maximum length of the cable to reach this high performance. Another benefit is of course that it is a very compact cable, that does not clutter in your bag.

For consumers who like the idea of the Magic Cable with multiple tips, but do wish to have a longer version, we recommend the Magic Cable Duo. That cable has one connector less (mini USB), but that made it possible to increase the length to 79cm.

This review has been written for GearZap who sent me a complimentary sample product to test from their iPad Accessories.

pocketboom

Pocket Boom (next to iPhone for scale)

I have to be honest, I was very intrigued about the Pocket Boom. As someone who usually listens to music via headphones it’s not necessarily something I had a huge need for, but I did think it could come in handy when travelling (i.e. in hotel rooms). So what it is?

Well, it’s basically a portable speaker system but as the name suggests it’s pocket sized. It’s battery powered (needs 2xAAA) and connects to any standard headphone connection – I tested it out using my iPhone as this is what I usually use to listen to music. You just connect it to the device (in this case my iPhone), attach the other end to a solid surface, and turn the power on.

pocketboomsetup

Pocket Boom setup (any excuse for some Electronic 80s Anthems!)

What makes it such a clever product is that you can attach it to pretty much any solid surface and it will amplify the music by vibration. Depending on the surface chosen it will result in a slightly different sound, and it’s good to experiment. It’s a sticky foam pad so should be able to stick to most surfaces, not just on horizontal surfaces. I quite like the sound produced when it’s attached to the side of one of our drawer units.

pocketboomondrawer

Pocket Boom stuck to side of drawer unit

One problem I do have with it is I get quite a lot of feedback from using my phone which is a pain. I also have to confess that despite having it for a couple of months now I keep forgetting to take it with my when I travel, so it’s clearly not yet become part of my essential travel kit. I’ll try to remember to take it with me the next couple of time and see if I use it. I wonder if it may also be a useful way to include music in my training sessions so will also give it a go for this next time I have opportunity to do so.

So would I recommend it? I probably would given the relatively low price point, though it’s not blown me away. It’s certainly an easy way to play music, and extremely portable. I’m by no means a music expert so I can’t really comment on the quality of the output but it’s certainly better than playing it through my iPhone speakers. It gets distorted when on full volume on my iPhone but that may be the fault of the iPhone (or the surface). It’s definitely a talking point too, and I can imagine it would be good fun at social gatherings.

Tuff-Luv Spark Kindle Cover with Light - by joeyanne, on Flickr

Tuff-Luv Spark Kindle Cover with Light - by joeyanne, on Flickr

It’s coming up to the holiday season, and I know a number of people are considering getting a Kindle. There have been quite a few questions on Twitter and interesting conversations with both Kindle owners and those thinking of getting one. I noticed however that some features of the Kindle that I mentioned were unknown to some other Kindle owners, so I thought I’d share a few tips about the way I use my Kindle that you might not know about.

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I’ve recently been trying out a new case* for my Kindle, one that also came with a light. Reading on my Kindle is mainly done in bed as I’m trying to get to sleep, so it’s important for me to be able to hold it comfortably lying down and be able to read it in the dark. I do have a bedside lamp but I’ve been wanting to try a Kindle light for a while; partly so that it is less distracting for my partner as I wouldn’t have to have the bedside lamp on, and also as when I stay in hotels it’s sometimes not possible to read as there is no bedside lamp.

The Tuff-Luv Spark Kindle Case with Light (Purple) is a funky looking case; I love the colour and the feel of the leather is really good. The light is very compact – you can store it within the spine of the case when the case is closed so it doesn’t take up any extra room.

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If you read my earlier post on my experience with a Kindle, you may be somewhat surprised to learn that I now own one. I didn’t exactly love it when I borrowed one last year. However, I came to realise that I was trying to turn it into something which is was not. It’s not a multi-functional device, and it’s unfair to compare it with one – it’s not a competitor of the iPad. But it is a great reading device.
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I’ve been meaning to get round to writing this blog post for so long but work projects and Christmas have taken over my life somewhat recently (I also think I’ve been putting it off because writing about it might make me want one even more!). I borrowed an iPad for just over a week (thank you BCU eLibrary team!) and I loved it. Unlike my experience with the Kindle, everything I tried to do on the iPad just worked or was even easier than I had expected. I’m going to try not to let the shiny shiny aspect of it overtake my thoughts though and give an objective view of what I liked and didn’t like about the iPad. NB: I wrote about the iPad as a reading device as a guest blog post for the eLibrary team, but this post is about the device more generally.

Mobile RSS on iPad

Mobile RSS on iPad (click for larger image)

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Amazon Kindle - Black Leather Cover and Book Titles

Amazon Kindle - from dvdmerwe on Flickr

One of the things that has stood out for me so far in my new job is the vast amount of reading I now have. I’ve always used the commute to and from work to read (study modules for my diploma, journal articles, reports, work related reading etc.), and tended to prefer to read these on paper than on screen. But in this job the volume of reading is a lot higher, and I was conscious of the amount of paper I was using (and also having to carry around between home and work), so I wondered if an e-reader might be a better way of doing things.

I do read a fair bit on my iPhone but I’d never tried a dedicated e-reader. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to borrow a Kindle for a couple of days thanks to BCU eLibrary team. I had a couple of days of travelling so knew I’d be spending a lot of time on the train, so I decided to use the opportunity to see if the Kindle suited my needs.

As some of you may be aware (particularly those of you who follow my tweets), I had a mixed experience with it. I thought I’d share the main pros and cons from my experience as I know there are others wondering about getting a Kindle at the moment. Read the rest of this entry »