Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The iPhone flip Case - A Major Issue for 3 Companies at least

So, after my sensor problems with my current case in question, I began my quest to look for a new case for my iPhone 4.  I looked at a lot of candy shell cases, but in the end, I really wanted a flip case.  I was used to the flip case and I still feel that it provides a great deal of safety and privacy for the phone.  I am particularly interested in the so-called all-in-one cases which look very professional. These cases have a slot for 1 or 2 credit cards and a brief note or two.

The Sena Hampton Flip
I visited the Apple Store a few days ago to go over the Sena case issue that I had found and then to see if the issue was resolved with a new Sena case - one made specifically for the iPhone 4.  Unfortunately, I have to report that the issue remains the same with the new Sena Hampton Flip case, which is a beautiful all-in-one.  After installing my phone in the case, I ran into the same issue with the sensor that I had with 3G Sena case.   That particular Apple Store sent back the only Hampton flip that they had left.  It was an issue!

I then looked at other cases and found that many had design changes that kept the top part of the case away from the sensor, but others had the same design as the Hampton.  However, during my research, I found a case that I thought might fit my needs.  It is called the Belkin Verve Folio.  It is an all-in-one flip that has a unique flap that does not cover the camera, thus creating stellar pictures without the "tunnel" glare that you can sometimes find when a case is too deep.   It also has a small recess in the cover for holding cards.  Well, something interesting showed up when I did a Google search for the product.  There are apparently two versions of the same product available.  One that looks like the Hampton and another that has a completely redesigned top half.  I believe that this redesign is a tip of the hat to the sensor issue that exists with many of these cases.  See the difference for yourself between the two versions.

The Belkin Verve Version 1

This is the Belkin Verve Folio that appears to have been reviewed in Amazon and in a few video reviews.  All reviews but one do not mention a sensor issue.  However, the top part of the iPhone is very similar to the Sena Hampton cover, which causes the Black Screen issue when making or receiving a call.

The one negative review was found on the AT&T sales website.   In black and white, the issue that has plagued me for 5 months, brought up again in a very small blurb by one reviewer:

(Quote Verbatim):
"the screen dissapear and turn black for few seconds when receiving call. The top leather cover the sensors"

The Belkin Verve Version 2?
This is the same Belkin Verve Folio that appears to be version 2.  Notice the different cut out at the top of the screen.  Is there a difference between this model and the first that has sensor issues similar to those that plagued the Sena Hampton?

So how does the new version of this device match up with the Sena Hampton or the original Belkin Verve?   (Sidenote:  There is some question as to why the down volume switch on the first model is covered by the case while the up volume remains open.  I personally think that this was probably done because the case was originally made for the iPhone 3GS and ported over to the iPhone 4).  The newer model appears to be better, somewhat more refined.  It is this model that I  purchased a week ago and I will give a review as to whether the device encounters the same sensor issue as its predecessor.  

One interesting finding though is the fact that neither version of the Verve is available on the U.S. website of Belkin.  Is it possible that this sensor issue was more major than anyone cared to talk about?   The Verve is only available in Europe and that is where I am getting it from.  

So, I thought that I had finished detailing this topic, until voila - another set of unhappy customers, this time over at Case-mate, where they make some of the finest ceramic iPhone 4 cases, but where they also seem to be having a problem with the flip leather cases.   There is a beautiful leather case, another all-in-one solution called unoriginally, The iPhone 4 Flip Wallet Case. This thing is absolutely gorgeous, but alas, the comments on the web page leave a lot to be desired:

The Casemate iPhone 4 Flip Wallet Case
This, taken verbatim from

Problem with proximity sensor

Great case, well made, looks good for business, solid, good wallet for 2 cards or 1 card and a note. Basic error on design. The front surround is too deep. The proximity sensor catches it and the phones screen turns on and off at the most awkward times. Im putting up with it at the moment, but not sure it will be on my phone for much longer. I wouldn't buy this version. Id wait fro Casemate to make the front surrond shallower.

And another: 

Makes the phone unusable!!!!! Waiting for my refund!!!!!!!!

So I am a big fan of credit card slot cases. I was looking for a good leather case that could be used as a wallet. When I got this case I really liked how it looked. Then after using it for a day I noticed a major design flaw. Because this cause comes down close to the ear hole and front facing camera, it covers the proximity sensor to the point where the screen will remain off when you are on a call and it will not turn back on regardless if you have the phone away from your face or even when the call has ended. To turn the screen back on you must remove the phone from the case to expose the proximity sensor. So every time I got a call this happened. So in my honest opinion this case makes the phone unusable/disabled. I am currently waiting for casemate to refund me. It cost me over $5 to ship it back to them so I basically wasted money on this case. Hopefully casemate has good customer service and they refund me ASAP.

So, I AM NOT ALONE!  This seems to be a long standing problem with other manufacturers.  Perhaps the iPhone 4 cannot use a flip case due to significant issues with its sensor.  This is obviously not only a problem with SENA or BELKIN as now a third company, CASE-MATE seems to have the same issue.  Belkin has apparently withdrawn its name, at least in the U.S. from advertising flip cases.  Now that I know that the problem is found with 3 different companies' flip covers, it is probably time to do some reflection as to whether I should actually purchase a flip cover at all for my phone, which I have no plans on changing for at least another 2 years.  I would hate to purchase the OTTER.   But it is looking as though this may be the path of least resistance.  I am still awaiting the European version of Belkin's Verve and I will give a review on that as soon as I get it.   I think that if this does not solve the sensor issue, then I may need to come up with a prototype of my own....:). 


Just for the record, I want all of you to know that Sena, Belkin and Case-Mate make some of the best iPhone covers and cases.  Personally, I think that I wouldn't hesitate to purchase a case from any of them.  They all make quality products so please do not take my comments above to mean that you should not buy a case from any of the 3 companies listed above.  Just be a little weary of the flip cases on the iPhone 4 from any company.   But feel free to go and see for yourself the quality workmanship that you can find and the great selections from these companies.  I have listed their websites below.  Believe me, my comments are no reflection of the extraordinary work that these people put into their products.

Sena Cases
Belkin Cases
Case-Mate Cases

Sunday, March 13, 2011

NHK WORLD TV LIVE is free in the APP STORE....

If you are having trouble keeping up with the news from Japan, NHK has an iOS app that broadcasts a live stream from NHK, Japan.  The quality is excellent and the entire broadcast is in English.

I think that donating to the Red Cross is the best way to help and let us not forget the people of Haiti as well.  My prayers go out to all who are suffering.


My iPhone Sensor Issue SOLVED !!!!

YES FOLKS!  I've finally solved the iPhone "blink on, blink off" sensor issue!  After months of tinkering and meandering with thoughts of software vs. hardware issues (see previous posts 1 and 2 ), it turns out that the blinking issue has nothing to do with Apple.  At least not in this case.

To recap, the issue at hand is the appearance of a blank black screen during a phone call.  This would make it nearly impossible to press the virtual speaker button or hit the vitrual keypad during phone calls.  Over time, I felt that this was a software issue after playing around with mockups created with my Arduino electronics kit at home and listening to Steve Jobs give an interview last summer, prompting me to write about this in a previous post.  I then thought that if the various updates of iOS 4.0 to the present 4.3 couldn't resolve the issue, then it may have been a bad batch of iPhones, relegating this to being a hardware issue.

Now I am not saying that this is the solution for everyone, because it may not be, but I began to notice some strange things as to when the "blackouts" would occur with the phone.  It almost never happened in a darkened room, only in broad daylight or a well lit room.  But the only thing that I could muster from all of that was that it was a sensor issue.  If I kept the "Home" button pressed it would keep the screen on, but that would also do some other unpredictable things.  If I covered the sensor it would do the obvious - create a blank screen.

In retrospect not much had changed in my usage habits from my iPhone 3G to my iPhone 4.  I became a creature of habit, spending a hefty sum of $45 for a leather Sena case for my iPhone 3G.  It was a perfect case that had a very nice clip that would hitch on to my belt with its attachment.  It was a flip case made of soft leather.   I did not want to get rid of it, so when the iPhone 4 came out, I was saddened to see that it would not fit perfectly.  But I found that if I added an old Driver's license and a workout club card in the back, the iPhone 4 fit perfectly in place.  The sensor was wide open, the ear piece was also wide open.  Everything was perfect.  Or so I thought !

I never used the phone out of the case.  As I said, I became a creature of habit.  I was always thinking about donating the phone or reselling the phone later to somewhere such as   and I wanted the phone to be in pristine shape when it came time to do so.  So when I visited the Apple store 3 weeks ago, after upgrading the software twice, I approached the Genius Bar expecting nothing but the company line or a test of the phone and the possibility of a new phone replacement.  The Genius Bar employee looked at my phone and asked me to try a phone call to see if it would happen again.  Since the Apple Store is brightly lit, the flaw would be easy to reproduce.  Like clockwork, I made a phone call and the screen went black.  He then asked the simplest question, "Have you ever tried using your phone outside of that case?"  Your kidding right?  Come on!  No Way!  I looked at him with chagrin, and of course I had to say "No!" I then proceeded to take the phone out of the secure leather case and dialed 611.  No vanishing screen.  A perfect phone.  Refusing to believe that this was the case, I then proceeded to make no less than a dozen calls without the case.  My naked iPhone streaked across the airwaves with ne'er a blip on its screen.   I thanked the Genius Bar employee a thousand times, but I have to admit that I had a tough time looking him in the face.  I was really ashamed of the fact that I thought that I could cheaply just switch out my old iPhone with a new one and not have any problems.  I even blogged about the issue vociferously.  I WAS WRONG !!!!

I am now in the process of looking for a new case, but I have made phone calls with my phone in all sorts of lighting conditions and the problem of the sensor has not reoccurred.  What is interesting to note in hindsight is the fact that the lighting had a lot to do with this issue.  As my Genius Bar employee hypothesized, the issue at hand was that the black leather, which was not fully adhered to the phone at the top was casting a shadow over the sensor and the sensor was reading this as skin contact or a darkening of the light and hence it would trigger the screen to go blank.   What a welcome solution.

So there you have it.  In this case at least, using a non-sanctioned iPhone 4 case can lead to sensor problems.  I hope you enjoyed reading my quest for a solution to this problem.  If you have any other suggestions please feel free to post in the comments.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are Slow Upgrades getting you down? Here are a few suggestions to speed things up.

With every release of the iphone or ipad there is always a software update.  Sometimes the updates will come midcycle without a hardware release.  It is always an exciting time to see what new things one can do with a phone or gadget just because of a simple update.  However, for some of us, each update is wrought with negative feelings.  Will it brick my phone?  Will my usual apps crash?  Have the developers of my favorite apps kept up with the updates?  For me what is always scary is when I hear that Xcode has been updated along with the software update, such as what has occurred today.  This usually means that a new iOS is on its way.  And that usually means a hardware upgrade and the distinct possibility that  the new handset or gadget that was purchased a year ago will be totally obsolete or begin to run slowly.

But I digress.....For now, the main issue is whether the backup will go smoothly or take forever.  Indeed synching can take up to an hour on some systems and I have found a few reasons why:

1.  Too many photos in the iPhone directory.   This has long been a source of derision.  the plist file is usually corrupt in iPhoto.  It is one of the easiest to go astray.  Backing up photos can take up to an hour as some people may have up to 6,000 or more photos.   There is a discussion list on correcting the plist file on the Apple forums.  

2.  New Synching apps.  With the advent of iPhone4 we got what we craved for and we must pay the consequences.  A few apps allow the direct downloading of files without the use of iTunes or they act as sole downloaders in iTunes to download further files.  For the latter VLC requires iTunes, but you can drag and drop files from anywhere for a quick upload.   For the former, it is important to ensure that despite the fact that you can do over the air (OTA) downloads without the use of iTunes, iTunes wants to do a backup of the files that you have downloaded.  This can account for up to 16 gb of movies, music, pdf's and other files.  The ones that I personally own are these:

Air Sharing
Documents to Go

For these particular files, I tend to delete the files that I don't think I will need before doing the backup, upgrade or synch.   For example, before the iOS 4.3 update, I checked Air Sharing, OPlayer and Documents to Go and erased all movies and large pdf files that I didn't need.  I can always get them back later.   For movies, that accounted for 12 gb!  PDF's were over 5 gb!  Never the less, the update took me a total of 40 minutes with backups included.   I also decided to forego backing up the iPhoto directory as I back this up to an online service to preserve my computer memory.

Hope this helps....

*Photo taken from

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Best Video Player for the iPhone is OPLAYER.

(This article is taken from my archives.  I originally wrote it in January and in March, I haven't changed my tune, and yes, this is another one of my rants on codecs and iTunes)...

Update October 19th, 2011:  I have posted a new article reviewing what I believe to be the best video players for both the iPhone and iPad.  It is an update on this article

I waited for a long time to see VLC show up on the iPhone - 2 years to be precise.  But having downloaded it on its first day of release, I have yet to use it.  Why?  Well, upon reviewing the early users of the program, although the reviews were good, one reviewer placed a very interesting comment, something to the effect of, "not as good as Oplayer..."  You don't have to say this twice to know that you may be missing something.   Immediately I took the opportunity to download the Oplayer program followning the VLC download.

The reason for a third party app is due to the fact that Apple's Quicktime refuses to play anything other than .MV4, .MP4 files or other simple file types.  It will not play .DIVX or .MKV files.  I don't know if licensing is an issue or something else, but it has been a frustrating endeavour listening to the Jailbreakers and Android owners boast about being able to play different codecs.  So it was a hearty surprise when an app called CineXplayer was accepted into the iPad app store.  It allowed the above mentioned codecs to be played by going around Apple's codec limitation and allowing the .AVI files to be uploaded via iTunes.  I fully expected this to last for only a few days and be removed from the App store, but it wasn't.  The only problem was that I do not own an iPad.  So it was watchful waiting until the CineXplayer developers released a version for the iPhone and iPod Touch.  The rumor mills were filled with VLC entering the fray and I was thrilled to find out that VLC would be released soon.  I downloaded it the first day.  But it was Oplayer, an App that, until noted in the review, made absolutely no noise in the video environs, that eventually won me over.

I was able to immediately use the Oplayer App but not the VLC application due to the fact that the OPlayer application allowed for OTA (Over the air) downloads immediately.  The VLC application, similar to the CineXplayer on the iPad, requires iTunes to transfer its .AVI files to the device.  OPlayer does not. 

Oplayer is far from perfect, but I have not found any significant faults thus far.  It plays Xvid files and other .AVI files wonderfully, while distributing its .MP4 files to the Quicktime player, the native player of the iPhone, thus not duplicating services. 

One very interesting thing that Oplayer does is to change the port for each download.  It's a wonderful security measure and obviously something that the creators of this software program thought about for a long time.  You may start on port 2456, and not the usual 8080, but after owning the software for a few weeks, you will soon see 5255, but never the same port on the same day.  Again, brilliant security feature.

Standard video plays better than HD video due to the iPhone using Hardware acceleration for its native Quicktime videos but not for standards that it does not natively support. But Oplayer even has a solution for that.  Just like in the Palm days, there is a Skip Frame feature whch may improve performance with HD video.

Of note, you can also play .mkv, .3gp, .mov and .rmvb files, not to mention Microsoft's .wmv files.

Some things that I would like to see in the future are batch downloads, support for the Mac Centric AFP network for Airport and a working meter to tell how much longer the download will take. Other than that I really have no issues with the software.  It does its job very well.

So, if you are looking for an alternative to QuickTime, I think Oplayer is worth a look.  In fact out of all the video players that I own on my iPhone, I would rate this as the best.  The cost is $2.99 as of this writing and it is found in the App Store on iTunes.  The maker of the software is Olimsoft.


Update:  A few newcomers have joined the fray since my post, but rest assured, although there was a little hiccup in an update made to the software a few months ago, the most recent iteration of the OPlayer app remains my pick for the best video player for the iPhone.   There is now some early support for SMB direct streaming and downloading.  Although not quite AFP, SMB or Samba, is a worthy alternative and OPlayer streams flawlessly.  So if you have a NAS drive you can access movies, music etc directly.  This addition is quite welcomed.  

Updated September 16th, 2011.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

iOS 4.3....Eureka !

Yes, I thought the iPad2 was phenomenol.  Yes, I will be getting one!  Yes, I was blown away by the Garageband demo.  Yes, I really enjoyed the specs.  Just like many of you, I was impressed by all of the above.

But yesterday I also saw something that I have been wishing for.   The advent of iOS 4.3, with the ability to use AirTunes on ANY SUPPORTING APPLICATION.  Yes, you heard that correctly, the ability to use Air Tunes in any supported application.   What does this mean?  It means that you are not completely tied to iTunes to stream movies to your Apple TV or other iOS 4.3 device.   Hopefully, it will also mean that CinePlayer can stream xVid and AVI files to your TV not just .MV4 files.   At least, that is what I got out of the video that I played back last night of the keynote for iPad 2.  Web pages and everything else should be able to be streamed or accessed via the HDMI cable.

This is welcome news and for me a wonderful surprise from the keynote.