Casemade Leather iPad Case Review: Real Leather at a Really Nice Price

Casemade offers a solid genuine leather case with a good value.
Casemade

There are plenty of leather cases available for your iPad, but actually tracking down a decent one is a bit of a tightrope walk. Genuine leather cases are expensive, and sometimes hard to tell from the hordes of imitators.

Casemade, a UK company that boasts of genuine Italian leather on its iPad and iPhone accessories, hopes to walk that line. The company sent us its standard leather case for the latest iPad, available for $60 or £40. It’s a pretty nice option for protecting your tablet, covering all the basic features in a beautiful and functional exterior.

You won’t find much in the way of fancy features, but as a simple means of keeping an iPad safe and looking good, it’s more than adequate. The Casemade design is pretty straightforward, and should be familiar to anyone who’s used an iPad in the last few years.

The exterior is full Italian leather with suede interior, with soft-touch plastic for the tablet tray.
The exterior is full Italian leather with suede interior, with soft-touch plastic for the tablet tray. Michael Crider

It goes with the standard folio layout: a hard plastic shell surrounded by a stiff leather exterior. Our review unit is in standard tan with matching stitches, though black with red trim is also available.

Genuine Leather Looks Fantastic

The exterior is smooth and unadorned, save for a small embossed logo in the bottom right corner. A book style-seam runs vertically on the front and back, allowing the cover to fold back on itself and slip into a thin tab, displaying the tablet in a horizontal position with about a seventy-degree angle. Aside from the cutouts at the rear for the iPad’s camera and a microphone, that’s it.

The single corner logo is the only branding on the case.
The single corner logo is the only branding on the case. Michael Crider

Closed and protecting its cargo, the case is approximately three-quarters of an inch thick—pretty chunky for a svelte tablet, but about average for this kind of folio design. The plastic inner case is open at the tablet’s top, bottom, and volume cluster, though it wraps around the corners snugly enough that the iPad isn’t going anywhere. The interior is lined with suede leather, pleasantly soft to the touch and easy on the iPad’s glass screen.

The case is an excellent value considering the materials.
The case is an excellent value considering the materials. Michael Crider

The case looks excellent and feels even better. The grain of the leather on the exterior has just enough give to let you know it’s real while staying thin enough to slip easily into a bag. With the case closed all portions of the iPad are protected by extruding leather and plastic, though it should be noted that the top and bottom are susceptible to impacts on irregular surfaces.

The Stand Function is Pretty Basic 

The case comes without an exterior clasp, relying instead on hidden magnets to secure closed. These pull double duty, automatically turning on the screen when the main flap is opened, as most iPad cases will do these days.

The stand function is lacking in flexibility.
The stand function is lacking in flexibility. Michael Crider

Aside from easy access to the charging port, headphone jack, and buttons, the only other practical feature of the case is that fold-back stand. This could have been implemented better: the leather-only fixture tab is stiff and not altogether sturdy. Even when the tab is correctly used, the curve of the flap makes the iPad “rock” back if you’re actually trying to use it.

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Hexgears Impulse Review: a Mid-Range Mechanical Keyboard That Hits All the Right Buttons

The Gexgears Impulse splash-resistant keyboard gets our recommendation.
Hexgears

After an impressive debut with the low-profile X-1, I was eager to check out some of the other designs from rookie keyboard maker Hexgears. The Impulse, a mid-range model with Kailh’s Box switches, doesn’t disappoint.

This design is missing some of the more whiz-bang features of more expensive options, notably any kind of programming function. It makes up for it with a combination of utilitarian features and excellent build quality.While a less than perfect, the Impulse offers a light show that should appeal to gamers and a selection of switches that will make your fingers jump for joy. For under $100, it’s an easy mechanical keyboard to recommend for both beginners and connoisseurs.

BOX Switches Highlight the Hardware

Hexgears sent us the Impulse equipped with Kailh BOX White switches and “pudding” caps. The first point first: this is one of the only pre-built keyboards available with the BOX switch designs.

Hexgears offers smooth, splash-resistant BOX switches.
Hexgears offers smooth, splash-resistant BOX switches. Michael Crider

Broadly similar to the familiar Cherry key switch and its innumerable clones, Kailh’s BOX switches add a plastic square around the stem. This keeps the keys compatible with standard keycaps, while also making the travel much more stable and smooth. Hexgears is offering the keyboard with BOX Brown (middle stiffness and tactile, a noticeable bump with no click), BOX White (middle stiffness and clicky) or “Hako Clear,” a more niche and much stiffer tactile switch.

The Kono store sells the Impulse in only one size, but with combinations of single-color white and RGB LEDs and the “pudding” two-tone keycaps featured in this review, with prices ranging from $80-100 depending on those options. The keyboard is marketed as “spill proof,” but that’s more a function of the key switches themselves than anything else. With those stems extending all the way around the entrance of the switch and keycaps firmly in place, it’s very difficult for water (or Coke, or coffee, or beer, et cetera) to get to any of the delicate mechanisms inside. Hexgears says the keyboard is IP56 water-resistant, good for anything short of a full dunk into liquid.

The Impulse is offered in a full size format, with RGB or white-only LEDs.
The Impulse is offered in a full size format, with RGB or white-only LEDs. Michael Crider

Other charms of this design include per-key LED lighting and a full ring on LEDs around the plastic casing, PBT (read: fancy) plastic keycaps with shine-through legends, and a six-foot braided cord.

All the Lights and Sounds

In a word, this keyboard is solid. While you don’t get the full metal body, detachable USB cord, or modular switches of more premium designs, its excellent build quality surpasses most of the better-known keyboard builders in this price range.

Optional "pudding" PBT keycaps show off the key lighting.
Optional “pudding” PBT keycaps show off the key lighting. Michael Crider

Kailh’s BOX switches make for a smooth, even travel on the keys, and the two-tone pudding keycaps make for dramatic lighting even at lower intensities. While not explicitly a “gamer” board—the lack of linear options will surely bum some out—the independently-controlled light show for the keys and the LED ring will surely delight users who like to make their desk into a miniature rave. The key stems and standard layout are compatible with all ANSI-formatted keycap sets, so the Impulse is a good board if you’re looking to customize it after purchase.

The BOX switches and plastic case can repel spills and splashes.
The BOX switches and plastic case can repel spills and splashes. Michael Crider

Underneath you get the usual fold-out riser feet, though the keyboard is thick enough that I doubt many users will want an even taller profile. A gently curving deck, with a rather large printed logo on the top edge, is the only other adornment. If you need to open the plastic case (see the water resistant testing below) it’s easy to remove the screws and expose the circuit board.

Programming Could Be Easier

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The Best Gifts for LEGO Lovers (That Aren’t LEGO Sets)

A selection of great gifts for LEGO fans, when you can't track down that new set.

LEGO mania has swept over the world of toys and popular culture, and now there are plenty of LEGO lovers who are all grown up. The classic sets come in all shapes, sizes, and prices and make great gifts. But if you’re looking for something a little more creative for the LEGO fan in your life, check out our selections below.

LEGO Stud Tape ($23)

This flexible, sticky tape lets you build LEGO decorations almost anywhere.
This flexible, sticky tape lets you build LEGO decorations almost anywhere. Mayka Toy

Thanks to LEGO’s building system going out of patent protection, there are now plenty of alternate toys available from other manufacturers. None are quite so versatile as LEGO-compatible tape: rollable, stickable tape that lets you fix LEGO figures and bricks to almost any flat surface. It’s inexpensive and it makes a great addition to any LEGO-themed bedroom or desk, letting fans get creative just about anywhere. This tape is available from a variety of vendors in different colors and sizes. 

Minifig Packs ($5+)

LRGO's limited edition minifig packs get you exclusive figures in inexpensive packages.
LRGO’s limited edition minifig packs get you exclusive figures in inexpensive packages. LEGO

The LEGO mini-fig is almost as iconic as the bricks themselves, and plenty of fans obsessively collect the tiny and interchangeable LEGO people. If your fan can’t get enough of them, you can find plenty of places that will sell loose packs of minifigs in randomized assortments, or you can track down individual and rare minifigs on secondary markets like eBay and Amazon. Not interesting enough? Search out custom-painted and crafted minifigs from creators on Etsy, for those few pop culture properties that haven’t already been LEGO-fied.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0155L3JY2/

Minifig Head Mug ($15)

You might say it's a bit of a pot head.
You might say it’s a bit of a pot head.

Nothing helps a 10-hour build session go by like coffee (or maybe cocoa, if your LEGO fan isn’t old enough). Why not get your drink into the spirit with this minifig-themed mug? You can’t actually build anything with it, but it looks great sitting next to completed sets on your desk or coffee table. For an alternate choice for LEGO fans, go for a mug that’s a gigantic-scale version of the mugs that the Minifigs use themselves, or one that’s covered in building studs

LEGO Stationary Set ($10+)

This themed pencil case and stationary set is a fun way to stay organized.
This themed pencil case and stationery set is a fun way to stay organized. LEGO

LEGO has an official selection of brick-studded office supplies that fit into a pixel case with a flat base plate, with the idea being that you can snap your pens, pencils, rulers, and other classroom detritus into a perfectly-organized space. This stuff is ostensibly for kids, but I think there are plenty of adults (especially in the design and architecture fields) who’d be happy to get it for a birthday or holiday. Start with the pencil box, then search for “LEGO stationary” on Amazon to see the rest of the set.

Brick Separator Tool ($5) 

It's a weapon of mass deconstruction.
It’s a weapon of mass deconstruction. LEGO

LEGO bricks are manufactured with a 10-micrometer tolerance, so when they fit together they aren’t coming apart without some serious force. That can make deconstructing sets (or making up for mistakes) a chore, not to mention nail-breakers. These separation lever tools come with some of the more expensive sets, but they’re easy to lose and come in super-handy if you’re getting more creative. Grab a handful as stocking stuffers and your LEGO fanatic will thank you.

Display Cases (Various) 

Display cases keep elaborate sets clean and dust-free.
Display cases keep elaborate sets clean and dust-free. iDisplayIt

More elaborate LEGO sets beg to be displayed on shelves and other furniture, but they’re kind of fragile by their very nature—not to mention a serious pain to dust with all of those exposed studs. For those big sets that need to be seen to be appreciated, keep them safe and clean with a transparent display case. Cases made for model cars, ships, and planes work great, but just make sure you measure the assembled set you want to protect and order a cover that will fit. There are plenty of options on Amazon for generic cases, and even some made for minifig collections, but iDisplayIt sells high-quality cases custom cut for specific LEGO sets.

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Valar Morgiftis: The Best Gifts for Game of Thrones Fans

Here's a selection of gifts for the ultimate Game of Thrones fan.

Winter is coming. No, wait, winter is here. No, that happened already: winter is here and so are tons of magic frozen zombies. Yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, here are some gifts for Game of Thrones fans!

The final, climactic season of HBO’s smash hit fantasy series is almost upon us. If you’re looking for some gifts to give a die-hard fan on your way to a weekly watch party, we have you covered. The choices below range in both price and application (hint: don’t buy whiskey for alcoholics and don’t buy real swords for clumsy people), but you should be able to find something awesome for almost any Thrones fan.

Licensed Game of Thrones Alcohol ($13+)

This collection of whiskeys is based on locations and armies in Westeros.
Diageo

Game of Thrones is a very Grown Up series for Grown Ups, and nothing goes with political intrigue, gratuitous violence, and hardcore nudity like hard alcohol. There’s a surprising amount of beer, wine, and spirits available to fit the theme. Diageo has no less than eight different themed whiskeys representing the show’s great houses and the Night’s Watch, and there are three vintages of wine (red, chardonnay, and pinot noir) on sale. More of a beer drinker? There are over a dozen options from different breweries, though some may not be in active production at the moment.

Game of Thrones Glassware ($30+)

This collectible stein is adorned with the mottos of the great Houses.
Game of Thrones

If you’re going to be doing a bunch of drinking for a TV show binge, you might as well make your glasses fit the theme. There are wine glasses, beer glasses, and even elaborate tankards and steins if you really want to get into the period feel of things. Note that you want to follow those links directly for the officially licensed versions: there are a lot of cheap printed glasses just grabbing quotes from the show.

Game of Thrones What Do You Meme Expansion ($12)

This expansion for the What Do You Meme card game is great for watch parties.
What Do You Meme

One of the most fun parts of being a Game of Thrones fan is sharing images and GIFs online, and the What Do You Meme game makes an excellent match with it for house parties. The base game has players matching more general images with captions, but this officially licensed expansion adds in some of the most often-shared character shots from the series. It’s a great group game, assuming everyone in your home knows the difference between Yara, Yohn, and Ygritte.

Sculpted Dragon Egg Candles ($28)

These candles are sculpted like the dragon eggs from season one.
Game of Thrones

There’s no electric lighting in Westeros, except possibly in Qyburn’s Frankenstein lab. So to set the correct ambiance, you’ll want candlelight. And what candles could be better than this matching set of wax dragon eggs (by the old gods and the new, Season One was a long time ago). The iconic eggs from the opening chapter of the series make a fun and affordable gift at under thirty bucks.

McFarlane Game of Thrones Figures ($26)

McFarlane and Dark Horse sell collectible Game of Thrones figures and statues.
McFarlane

If you prefer your dragons grown up (spoiler alert), famed action figure maker McFarlane has a series of meticulously detailed dragons ideal for a toy shelf or desk. Drogon the big black dragon is the bigger of the two, but if you’re caught up on last year’s episodes you might want (and this one actually is a SPOILER ALERT, don’t click if you’re not current) this model of Viserion sporting his 2019 regalia. McFarlane also has more conventional figures, all under thirty bucks, or you can get Dark Horse’s official statues if you want something bigger and more elaborate.

Official Game of Thrones Valyrian Steel Swords ($250+)

Yes, these are real swords. Re-enacting scenes from the show is not advised.
Valyrian Steel

For the fan who loves the visceral combat scenes of the series, only the real deal will do: screen-accurate replicas of the most famous swords in the show. Note that these are meant primarily as display pieces, but they’re also actual swords that can be sharpened and wielded, so they might not make good gifts for a recipient with children in the house (or one who lives in a country or municipality that frowns on bladed weapons). Valyrian Steel sells officially licensed swords, plus accessories like scabbards and wall mounts, armor, and even more exotic weapons like spears and warhammerers, all based on the props used by characters in the show.

Direwolf Puppy Plushes ($20-70)

Oh dear. This isn't going to end well.
Factory Entertainment

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The Best Fitness Trackers with Heart Rate Monitoring

These fitness trackers include heart rate monitoring features.

Heart rate monitoring used to be an exotic feature saved for high-end devices and serious athletes. Now a fitness tracker or a smart watch isn’t complete without it. Here are the best options on the market right now.

Most readers will probably be best served by our first pick, which is affordable, accessible, and works with FitBit’s extremely popular cross-platform network. If that doesn’t suit your fancy, we also have a selection that slides in under $100, an option for aspiring athletes who want phone-free GPS tracking, customers looking for seamless integration into Apple’s walled garden, and a chest strap pick for those who need much more precise heart rate monitoring. Check them out below.

Best Overall HR Fitness Tracker: FitBit Inspire HR ($100)

The FitBit Inspire is a simple and inexpensive entry into FitBit's system.
The FitBit Inspire is a simple and inexpensive entry into FitBit’s system. FitBit

At just $100, the FitBit Inspire HR is an excellent entry into FitBit’s popular and holistic fitness system. The band-style tracker is unobtrusive, with a black-and-white OLED display that can manage and track workouts both manually and with an automatic detection.

The heart rate monitor is on at all times, monitoring your activity level all day and tracking sleep cycles all night. The small tracker can handle basic smartphone notifications, but leaves off apps and music control in favor of a 5-day battery life.

Best Budget HR Fitness Tracker: Garmin VivoSmart HR ($72)

This Garmin tracker with heart rate tracking can be had for just over seventy bucks.
This Garmin tracker with heart rate tracking can be had for just over seventy bucks. Garmin

If you’re looking for more fitness or health information for as little dough as possible, check out the Garmin VivoSmart HR. This wearable is a little out of date (hence the $72 price at the time of writing), but it’s the least expensive option from a reputable supplier with an integrated heart rate monitor.

Even so, the design still includes a full display for managing workouts and notifications from your phone, and syncs data back to the Garmin app for tracking. It’s neither the sleekest nor best-looking option on this list, but it can still handle all of the standard fitness tracker duties with aplomb.

Best HR Fitness Tracker with Dedicated GPS: Garmin VivoSport ($175)

The VivoSport allows you to track runs and bike rides without a connected phone.
The VivoSport allows you to track runs and bike rides without a connected phone. Garmin

Need something a little more capable that doesn’t lean on your smartphone for tethered GPS tracking over Bluetooth? Then the VivoSport is what you’re looking for. This design is similar to the VivoSmart HR above, but upgrades the electronics with a full-color display and a GPS radio built into the wrist-based tracker (which is a pretty rare feature on any gadget under $200).

Note that this is a pretty battery-intensive option: if you’re frequently using GPS for running, swimming, or cycling, expect significantly less than the tracker’s otherwise excellent 7-day battery life.  

Best HR Fitness Tracker for Apple Fans: Apple Watch 4 ($400+)

The Apple Watch works so well with iPhones that it's the easy first choice if you can afford it.
The Apple Watch works so well with iPhones that it’s the easy first choice if you can afford it. Apple

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