NomadKey Review

Charging cables aren’t usually the most interesting of topics and not something I think much about apart from ensuring I have cables for my devices at work, home and when I travel. That basically means a lightning cable and a micro USB cable to cover the many devices that I use day to day.

I was contacted by Nomad and asked if I was interested in trying a NomadKey and passing on my thoughts via this site. A few weeks ago I received a Lightning and micro-USB NomadKey and since then I’ve been using them to charge my iOS devices and my work phone and mifi device.

Lightning NomadKey
Lightning NomadKey

The NomadKey is a reworked version of the Nomad ChargeKey that launched last year. The main feature of the NomadKey is it’s size and flexibility. Slightly larger than a standard house key it’s designed to live on your key ring so no matter where you are, if you have your keys you can charge your device…well, as long as there is a USB socket nearby.

The NomadKey features a slim USB connector at one end and a lightning or micro-USB connector at the other. Both ends are made of a hard plastic and the middle is a flexible rubber which covers the cable connecting both ends. This allows the NomadKey to twist and allow you to charge your device in some pretty awkward places. While fine for phones and small devices it’s not practical for things like an iPad. The chargers are really light, so much so you won’t notice any additional weight on your key ring or if you decide to carry them in a travel or office bag.

In use I’ve found the NomadKey to be fast and reliable. For iOS devices it’s not only a charge cable but sync’s as well and is certified by Apple. I’ve seen no difference in charge or sync times between an official Apple cable and the NomadKey. It also carries enough current to charge an iPad.

Flexible NomadKey
Flexible NomadKey

Although reliable over the last three weeks I do have a couple of niggles. Firstly the USB and lightning connectors are uncovered. As the premise of the NomadKey is for the charger to live alongside your keys I do worry that over time the connectors will pick up dings and scratches. The more durable plastic that hooks onto your key ring does look robust but again, over time will it become chewed up?

Finally is the question of value. The NomadKey costs $29 with free shipping to the UK which feels a little steep. A 1m lightning cable from Apple is £15 and I think the NomadKey would be more appealing to users if they managed to undercut Apple even slightly.

Despite the niggles I loved the NomadKey cables and would recommend them to anyone looking at picking up a new charge cable or who tend to misplace or forget their current chargers. It’s an excellent day to day charger and especially useful for the frequent traveller. Nomad are also bringing out a new product called the NomadClip which is a portable charging cable in the shape of a carabiner and something I’m far more interested in.

If you like the look of the NomadKey or any of their other products then you can pre-order them now and for a limited time you get 25% off if you use the code “LIVESIMPLE”.

The new iPad

The now yearly event has came and gone – the new iPad is released and I’ve had it for two days. Reviewing it is slightly odd. Almost everyone has at least heard of an iPad and has used, seen or has one. The new one looks almost identical to the iPad 2, especially when switched off. For me it’s quite an upgrade as I’m moving from the iPad 1 to the new third gen iPad, skipping last years iPad 2. Looking at the spec’s the changes are the now familiar Apple evolutionary steps. However three aspects have jumped out over the past two days.

Screen
As soon as you switch on the new iPad the jump in screen quality is obvious. The resolution jump from 1024 × 768 pixels to 2048 by 1536 pixels gives you a retina quality display on the 9.7 inch screen. Text is smooth with no pixelation. Pictures really pop as well, even when looking at thumbnails. Colours are crisp and video looks great too, but the retina display really helps with text. I’ve taken a few screenshots to try and help demonstrate the difference.

iPad 1st Gen
iPad 3rd Gen

I tried to take the pictures from around the same height, which is closer than the distance I’d usually use the iPad but it shows the difference quite nicely. Firing up iBooks highlights the extra clarity the new screen brings.

iBooks - iPad 1st Gen
iBooks - iPad 3rd Gen

I launched FlickStackr and it showed the differences weren’t limited to text either.

Flickr - iPad 1st Gen
Flickr - iPad 3rd Gen

Biggest surprise was firing up the original iPad to reset it for selling on. Text was jaggy, even blurry. Photo’s and images just didn’t have the detail that they did on the new iPad. Once you’ve used a new iPad you’ll struggle to go back to your current device – it makes that big a difference.

The screen also impacts on applications. Just like the iPhone 4, the rush is now on for app developers to update their iPad app’s to support the new retina screen. Non retina app’s, of which there are many, really do look poor on the new iPad. The same happened with the release of the iPhone 4. Updated app’s like Flipboard, Instapaper and Tweetbot look great. Compare that to Goodreader – it’s icon and in screen graphics look terrible. An update will fix that, but it’s a chance for new app’s to try and stake a claim if the retina updates aren’t delivered quickly. App sizes are also taking a hit. A universal app for iPhone and iPad now has resources for the retina iPhone and iPad’s and app sizes are growing, sometimes as much as 30% since the new iPad was released. I can see 16GB iPad’s filling quite quickly with a few app’s, games and video’s installed.

Speed
The new iPad feels very fast. Everything is snappy and app’s launch and perform quickly. The CPU is seemingly unchanged from the iPad 2 but the GPU is 4x as fast. Coming from the original iPad the difference is marked. At the launch event one of the games demonstrated was Air Supremacy. It launched last week just in time for the iPad launch and after waiting a day I eventually bought it for only £2.99. I had fairly low expectations but the graphics really did catch me by surprise – they were great. I’ve captured a quick video which will hopefully show just how rich the graphics are.

I can’t wait to see the app’s that will come out over the next few months, and also what iOS 6 will bring to take better advantage of the power. I’m not saying the new iPad is a console beater, but it’s certainly a big update over the iPad 2. RAM has also increased to 1GB which will have quite an impact for app developers. Check out this screen from Real Racing 2 (is there a racing game that doesn’t have a ferris wheel?) which was updated for the launch of the new iPad – very impressive.

Real Racing 2 on the new iPad

One aspect of speed that we can’t see in the UK is LTE. By all accounts LTE speeds being seen in America are superb. Shame we are so far behind with 4G networks in the UK.

Battery
With a massive pixel count, 4x graphic chip and LTE (in America only) I had concerns about battery life but it feels almost identical to previous iPads which is a pretty impressive technical achievement. The tear downs show that the iPad is really a screen and a massive battery. However the extra large battery (almost 70% larger than the iPad 2) has had some design consequences. The new iPad is slightly heavier and thicker than the iPad 2. However for me it is slightly lighter and a lot thinner than the original iPad.

Original iPad compared to the new iPad

A bigger battery means charging times have increased. A 70% increase in battery probably means a70% increase in charging time. Expect to be topping up overnight in future. I’m also surprised at how hot the new iPad runs during normal use, and even more so during some of the higher performance games. It’s not too hot to touch, nor hot enough to be uncomfortable, but it is hot enough to notice and be slightly perturbed.

Upgrades
There are other upgrades on the new iPad. The camera, now called an iSight camera, is a 5MP camera whose picture and video quality is now good enough to use. However I can’t really see me using the iSight unless really pushed – it’s just doesn’t feel right taking pictures with a tablet. The front facing camera hasn’t changed and suffers from quite a bit of pixelation.

The new iPad doesn’t come with Siri but does include Siri’s dictation feature. This has worked pretty well for me which is a nice surprise given my Glaswegian accent. I can see me using this quite a bit, and if you feel the same this handy list of dictation commands should help with the formatting of your text.

Apart from that the new iPad is pretty much unchanged from the iPad 2, but for me that means I get to enjoy Airplay mirroring for the first time and also the joy of using a smart cover day to day. They really are great, but I’ve never felt so ripped of in an Apple store as when I handed over £60 for the cover. The Apple tax has many ways of making you pay.

Conclusions
The new iPad is a great device, outperforms the competition with ease and should easily keep Apple’s lead in the tablet market. The new screen literally makes the old screen look bad overnight. Three days ago I had no issues with the old iPad’s screen – now it looks like a pixelated mess in comparison. It’s fast in use and the battery life is great but the design has seen some compromise with a small weight and thickness gain. The heat is more surprising as I’ve not seen much mention of it – it can get pretty hot while gaming.

If you have an iPad 1 then this is a great upgrade. For iPad 2 users there’s considerable benefit to be had in upgrading but it’s a more difficult decision. For the gadget obsessed upgrading your tablet device every year might be worth doing but for the average user I would expect a tablet to last 2-3 years.

If you are new to Apple or tablets then the new iPad has stolen a march on all the competition. They will undoubtedly catch up over over the next 6-9 months competing on price, extra features and new technology but as a whole package with a fantastic app ecosystem it’s hard to see how the iPad can be beaten in the next year. The new iPad is highly recommended.

iPad Stylus Round-Up

Ok, round-up is a bit of an exaggeration but over the last 10 months I’ve tried three different stylus solutions and one has come out as a definite favourite. The first one I tried was recommended almost everywhere after the iPad had come out – the Pogo Sketch from Ten One Design. It was fairly inexpensive at around £12 as I had it shipped from America.

The stylus felt good in the hand but I never felt comfortable with the nib. It was like a piece of polystyrene had been painted black and stuck on the end of a nice thin metal tube. The Sketch was accurate and was better at certain tasks than my fat fingers but I never enjoyed using it. The design really irked me.

So the next stylus I tried was the Boxwave iPad stylus. This was a much improved design and featured not only a clip so you could attach the stylus to an iPad case (worked well with the default iPad case) but also a small plastic attachment that fitted inside the 3.5mm headphone jack so the stylus could be attached to the iPad. Over time I found the headphone attachment got in the way but it’s easy to unclip from the stylus. The nib was also made os soft rubber which was a lot better than the Pogo Sketch. I really liked the weight of the Boxwave and it’s design but I had one issue. There were certain times that my inputs wouldn’t be recorded on screen. I’m not sure why but it would work 95% of the time and the other times I would draw a line, squiggle or text and when I lifted the stylus, the whole input disappeared. Very odd and quite annoying.

Still not happy I then tried another stylus and finally found one that worked accurately and also felt great in the hand due to it’s design an weight. The Just Mobile AluPen is far chunkier than the other two products I tried and features a soft rubber nib similar to the Boxwave.

I just love the look of AluPen and find it very comfortable in the hand. The weight is also just right and despite the angular design it never gets awkward. Despite the size the nib allows for fine control and drawing on the iPad and unlike the Boxwave it works every time. Joy. One point to watch though is that the price is higher than other similar solutions. The official website has the ALuPen and it’s colour variants priced at over ¢30 but I picked up the silver AluPen for £14.99 from Amazon. Colour versions were all higher priced – the red looks really good and reminds me of the Ironman colours.

So the AluPen has become my favourite stylus for the iPad and very handy for the times where I want some slightly better control than my finger offers.