Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mobile accessories review

As some of you know, I'm a happy owner of Huawei Mediapad X1. So far it's the best 7" phablet (not counting the new Mediapad X2, obviously, which has better hardware with the same size and slightly changed buttons) but this post is not about device itself, instead I wanted to write a few words about cables, cases, screen protectors available on the market. By "market" I usually mean Aliexpress but some stuff might be available in your local stores as well. I'm not endorsing any sellers or brands, especially not original accessories, and prices are for reference only (and usually are for one piece and include shipping i.e. if you're thinking to buy a dozen of something, you might be able to find a better deal). In almost all the cases there might be cheaper options but with worse quality, seasonal deals and everything tend to change every month as new manufacturers and sellers come to market.

Unlike competitors' devices in the same form factor (I'm not pointing at Samsung right now), Mediapad X1 is small and narrow, it's not a tablet and it can be used in many ways people usually use smaller phones, but it still requires a large pocket or a bag to carry around. It would be interesting to write about cargo pants, vests, slings, funny packs, armpit bags, mini backpacks, etc., but I'm not doing it at least just yet. Suffice is to say that pants are my current favorite.

I somewhat dislike conventional Bluetooth headsets, haven't tried any wearables so far, and haven't decided yet whether or not I want to buy Talkband B2 (about $180, but just $150 in my local stores as of this week) so this part I will also skip. Cheap $1 earbuds is what I use (yeah, I also dislike in-ears).

First of all, regardless of what kind of case or cover you decide to use, screen protector is a must (no Gorilla Glass here). There are two kinds of protectors: protective film and tempered glass. Price is about $1 for the film and $4 for the glass. Given that tempered glass protects better and both are cheap, choice is obvious. It makes sense to buy a few extras in case you can't apply it first time or in case it breaks. In my local stores I managed to find a film for $2 (I needed it because the old one got scratches and I waited for the delivery). Universal films is also a thing, they will do if you need something urgently and nothing else is available, not recommended otherwise. Applying a glass is actually somewhat easier that applying a film with one major difference (with the protectors I saw, anyway): if you have a bubble and try to make it go away applying pressure, it can metastasize in form of micro-bubbles, they usually aren't visible but are a little bit annoying so make sure there's no dust (and buy extras).

Second of all, cases and covers. There are three major kinds of them: flip-case, flip-case with window, and back cover. As a sub-type of flip-case, there is a trifold case which can be used as a stand but from my experience this device is so not tabletish that you wouldn't want to do that very often. Of course, there are different materials, colors, manufacturers, prices, but that all is secondary and subjective, so shop around, try different ones.

Flip-case with window is obviously the most high-tech thing. Small window shows time, some notifications, and allows to use camera without opening the cover. No flashlight though. Beware of very cheap listings with no feedback: some of them are so cheap that window doesn't work. Starting from $3-4.

Usual flip-case is less attractive as it requires you to flip it every time you need to see the time or something. Not convenient at all for my liking. But, on the bright side, in this category there are wallet cases in which you can carry two credit cards or id and credit card (although maybe it's not the wisest idea to carry phone, id, and money in one place). $6.

And last but not least is the back cover. My recommendation is to always compliment it with tempered glass screen protector, never put it to bag with heavy objects, and switch to flip-case (or put into an additional case) when travelling because screen is very vulnerable. But other than that it's my current favorite: in all the flip cases device just feels too flimsy and bulky while it's actually very thin and narrow, it's also the best if you use camera or flashlight often, and usually being soft and elastic such cover can sometimes actually protect your device from falling better than the hard cases. Traction is better, I like the look, and port and button protection is effective. Buttons might be a bit tight hard to press and port protection (not present in all covers) is inconvenient for some. About $3.

Travel cases might be good to compliment back cover but I haven't tried any yet (I'm thinking Cocoon Travel Case 7 or similar). In the same category there are waterproof bags, sport cases, and then slings and funny packs (never used any of them).

Flip case with attached qwerty keyboard might be a thing (about $15) but I find them not very usable on the go (and I do most of the typing on mini laptop anyway) while at home you can use just any Bluetooth or USB keyboard.

Yes, the latter would require an OTG cable. There are two kinds of them: with and without external power ($1 and 50¢ respectively), there are also small adapters (20¢). Buy several of each, and then buy and extra one to carry in backpack and another one to leave at home. Much like a microUSB cable, this is the accessory you need often, for many devices, and will probably need even more often in future. If there are some devices (thumb drives, keyboards, etc.) that you use only with phone but not with computers, you can just plug it into an OTG cable (or adapter) and never unplug. Because those cables are cheap and you will need them regardless of your preferred device until USB-C become a thing which will not be until after a few years and then some.

Unlike some competitors (again not pointing at Samsung and Sony), Huawei still uses microSD cards as a main storage, and although you won't take the card out often, a small reader is still a good thing to carry on your key chain (50¢).

Stylus is a thing that almost nobody uses these days (maybe hand-writing could be good, not sure) but it's cheap enough if you need it (50¢).

Next time I have nothing to do I'll probably write about my experience with the phablet itself and maybe about my expectations from X2. Stay tuned.

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