Phone Rebel Crystal iPhone Case

I don’t remember exactly where I saw a picture of the Phone Rebel Crystal case for the first time. It caught my attention because the case design is very distinct, I haven’t seen any iPhone case that looks like this before. The most prominent feature, at the first sight, is that the case leaves the left and right side (except for the corners) of the phone entirely exposed.

In stark contrast to the left and right side, the four corners and and rim around the lenses are (according to the Phone Rebel website) protected by “aggressive guards”. The obvious assumption behind the case design is that phones are mostly dropping on corners.

This is the first case (to my knowledge) that lets me directly use the phone’s buttons. I’m not a big fan of the mushy haptics of buttons integrated into one of the cases I have been put on my phone in the past and the ability to use the iPhones buttons directly is a nice improvement.

What really sold me on the case is that (as mentioned before) protection focuses on the corners of the phone while the raised edges on the corners are taken back in the space between the corners so that the case is more or less level with the display.

In combination with the exposed side this makes swiping from the edges in all directions so much easier. On a typical case that has raised edges around the entire display you have to start the swiping movement on the edges and continue on the display. This issue has been solved very well by Phone Rebel, even for the invocation of Control Center.

As of now, the Phone Rebel cases can’t be ordered from big retail. I’ve ordered mine from the website of a company in (I think) the USA, and the case shipped from China to Germany in eight days. The case is not cheap, but still less expensive then cases sold by Apple.

The case ships with an additional screen protector and vinyl stickers to keep the exposed edges of the phone free from scratches. I haven’t applied neither the screen protector nor the vinyl stickers so far.

Overall, what I like about the case is that it tries to take itself out of the way as much as possible in terms of operating the phone. This is the closest thing to carrying a case-less phone while still enjoying a non-negligible level of protection against dropping.

QWERTY

While seting up an 10.5″ iPad Pro in combination with the Logitech “Slim” Combo, I noticed something weird. Although the keyboard layout in Settings.app was clearly set to “German” and “QWERTZ”, the keyboard behaved as it I had configured it as “QWERTY”.

I tried switching the layout in Settings.app between “QWERTZ” and “QWERTY”, and back. No luck. I tried removing the keyboard in Settings.app.

After I set it up again, the layout was still set to “QWERTY”. Positively weird! This issue even survived several reboots. I had never experienced anything remotely like that.

In an act of desperation, I hooked up a spare (Mac) Magic Keyboard to the iPad via Bluetooth. And yay, “QWERTZ” was back in town. But still, why does the Logitech keyboard behave so weirdly?

Let's check again. And thus, I engaged the magnetic connection between the Slim Combo's keyboard and the iPad again.

Guess what? It worked. Just like that.

Frankly, I have no explanation for why I had to hook up the Magic Keyboard to make the already installed keyboard work in the intended way. But that's exactly what happened.

Keep It, Take 2

Today saw the release of DEVONthink 3.5, at a time where, admittedly, I was personally hoping the company would be in the process of significantly overhauling DEVONthink To Go for several months now. That does not seem to be the case, at least not full steam ahead.

Don't get me wrong, DEVONthink To Go is a really good product. However, there are some things that bug me for a while already, for example the seeming inability to customize the preview of markdown content. Yes, there are documentations of some quite hack-ish solutions that are
1. ugly
2. never worked for me

At the same time, markdown preview works very well in DEVONthink on the Mac.

A couple of weeks ago, as part of my habit of keeping up with products I've had an eye on before I had a closer look at Keep It. My first impression of the app, two years ago, was rather disappointing. At the time, Keep it had so many issues for me that I was eager to see what improvements have been implemented since my first contact.

In short, I'm impressed. Very impressed. The list of issues I documented in my last article about Keep It is entirely resolved.

Contrary to last time, importing my stuff (approximately 4000 Documents of various file types) went very well. Initial sync between devices took some time, but after that everything was fine.

Scrolling through even long lists is very smooth. It is possible to display the number of items in a folder, and (very much appreciated) it is possible refrain items in subfolders to also appear in the list of the parent folder.

The share sheet allows for storing items in arbitrary folders, as opposed to DEVONthink where imports go the “Inbox” folders of each data base, from which they have to be moved to their final location.

Preview of markdown content is fully (and very easily) customizable, but the developer did not stop at the customization of the preview. It is also possible to (again, very easily) customize the color scheme of the plain text editor within Keep it.

Search is fast and generally effective, saved searches allow for setting up a similar experience to the landing screen in DEVONthink To Go. There's plenty of meta-data (source, tags, comments) for items in Keep It.

My only complaint is that it is sometimes hard to find the settings dialogs for various aspects of the app. In the list view, for example, it is necessary to switch into “edit” mode before a settings cogwheel appears for customizing the experience.

I'd probably prefer a central settings dialog to Keep It's decentralized approach, but maybe that's just my personal preference.

Also, the app crashed on me several times, but at least for now, I never lost any data in response to a crash.

In summary, my impression is that DEVONthink on the Mac is still ahead of Keep It, but not by a large margin. On iOS, I actually prefer Keep It over the somewhat dated DEVONthink To Go experience.

On the other hand, I'm still on the fringe about whether or not I should flip the switch and use Keep It instead of DEVONthink. Document management is a big deal, and I cannot afford data loss1.

I'm still holding out my hopes for DEVON Technologies to release a redesigned version of DEVONthink To Go at some point in time, although maybe not in the near future2. And I expect this redesigned version to be good.


  1. DEVONthink for Mac supports an “Export” of data bases as a way to create backups. 
  2. Frankly, until today I was expecting the new version of DEVONthink Tp Go to be released shortly before WWDC, but I'm less confident now. 

Arq 6

As a long-time user1 of the backup software Arq, I did not hesitate to upgrade to the new version 6 on the day it was released. So far, I’ve had nothing but the best experience with the software.

That changed with Arq 6. As an early adopter, I still got the chance to migrate my existing Arq 5 to the new version. This process went relatively smooth. Not for everyone, apparently. The migration has been removed from the app in the meantime.

Next thing, I wanted to trigger a backup. But it is no longer supported to manually trigger a backup. It is only possible to define a schedule and stick to it. Hm.

One of the most often used features in the previous versions was the ability to check whether the app regularly updated a computer (especially on the ancient 13″ 2011 MacBook Pro that is still in use as the kid’s computer) by attempting a restore and get the list of existing backups to choose from. Guess what, no longer possible.

But the shortcomings do not only extend to features. Yesterday, the fans of my iMac spun up heavily for a longer period of time. Curious, I went to iStat Menus and checked the CPU utilization, only to find out that Arq was at 500 and change percent of my CPU. I don’t remember any similar incident with Arq 5.

A couple of days earlier, I tried to upgrade the trial version of Arq 5 for Windows on the only Windows Machine in the household. This was already at a time when the migration was disabled. So I tried to set up a new schedule and made sure to provide Arq with a password for encryption.

After the creation of the schedule was completed, Arq 6 presented me with the result that was, according to Arq, creating unencrypted backups, with no apparent way top fix this. Finally, I managed to downgrade back to version 5 and let that one take care of doing backups for the remaining days of the trial period2.

But although I’m pretty sure that not all is bad about Arq 6, I’m no longer sure if Arq has a future in our household. It used to be the perfect solution for backing up to an off-site destination. I never saw the need to even casually check possible alternatives3. This has changed now. I still hope that Arq 6 can be fixed, but the fix better be fast.


  1. I started to use Arq at version 3. 
  2. I would actually consider going back to Arq 5, but I fear that this would not be a sustainable solution. I don’t expect a lot of maintenance for Arq 5 going forward. 
  3. That are very likely still inferior to Arq 5. 

Unread 2 released

Surprise appearance of Unread 2 on the iOS App Store! It’s here, and that means it’s time to check the new features against the wishlist I have created a while ago. If you’d like to read a full review, I’d recommend the Macstories review by Rian Christoffel

In short, a surprising number of my wishes became reality:

  • filter all and starred articles: there is some support for it, but not on the level of single subscriptions. Check-ish.
  • Keyboard shortcuts: check.
  • Readability on a per-feed basis: the new Unread extracts the full text for all subscriptions, server-side, by default. Not bad. Check.
  • Administration of subscriptions: check.
  • Change font size in smaller increments: no, and this is actually a big disappointment. The increments are way too big for an app that puts the reading experience front and center.

To drive this point home, I have created two screen shots on my iPad. The first was taken while using the smallest font size, called “Atomic”:

Screenshot of fontsize "Atomic"

The second screenshot was taken after increasing the font size by one stop. This setting is called “Tiny”1:

Screenshot of fontsize "Tiny"

As much as I appreciate the other features shipped with version 2.0, the unsolved fontsize issue gives me pause with respect to buying a subscription to the app.


  1. I kid you not, the biggest font size is called “Galactic” and people with more or less normal sight can comfortably read it from 3 meters distance. 

Ars Technica reviews the Galaxy Fold

Ron Amadeo from Ars Technica has written a scorching review of the Samsung Galaxy Fold. I don’t remember ever reading a review of any product that comes even close to this.

And that brings us to today—the Ars review. This one is going to be a little different, since I don’t think the Galaxy Fold has any viability as a serious device anyone should consider purchasing. Should you buy a Galaxy Fold? NO! God no.

Amadeo leaves not doubt that the Galaxy Fold is an outright embarrassment in literally every single discipline. Not even the tiniest ray of light is visible at the end of the tunnel. And the only credit handed out to Samsung at the end of the text is for trying.

The Galaxy Fold fails at everything it sets out to do. It’s a bad smartphone and a bad tablet. The front screen is too small for phone duties like typing and reading. The interior screen is too small for tablet apps and split-screen apps, and it’s the wrong aspect ratio for media.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had any opportunity to get a first-hand impression of the device and therefore can personally neither confirm nor deny any of the observations. However, the rationale provided by Amadeo for rating the device a failure makes sense to me.

The launch of the Galaxy Fold was a disaster, and while Samsung fought through and got to market, that doesn’t mean the disaster is over. I’m still enthusiastic about the idea of a phone that converts into a tablet, but the Galaxy Fold puts on a master class of how not to do it.

Nevertheless, I feel sorry for the people who worked on this project. They must have been aware of the situation and the inevitable outcome. But apparently management put the priority on being first to the market rather than delivering a solid and mature product.

JetBrains Mono

Today, news broke to me that there‘s a new monospace and ligature-capable font specifically for developers out there: JetBrains Mono.

I have given it a try, and instantly liked it very much. My first impression is that it‘s very smooth and balanced, no extravagances.

The font comes in four weights plus italics for each weight. It supports code-specific ligatures1.

And it‘s free.


  1. I‘m a big fan of ligatures in my development fonts.  

Paperlike 2 Screen Protector

I really like the idea of devices that accept touch input, but at the same time touch input is a huge bane because of the inevitable fingerprints. Especially the iPads1 that work with the Apple Pencil are real fingerprint magnets2. Cleaning the display is possible, yet pointless.

A couple of weeks ago, Marco Arment mentioned the product Paperlike3 in passing during (I think) episode 353 of the Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP). According to the discussion on the show, the product was considered promising, but had some significant shortcomings in terms of refraction artifacts that might have been fixed in a newer version that was about to hit the market soon.

A couple of weeks later, the topic came up again and was concluded with a recommendation for the new product, Paperlike 2. This was enough for me to place an order that arrived shortly before Christmas at my home.

I appreciate that the people behind Paperlike 2 have put effort into the creation and documentation of a multi-step workflow for applying the screen-protector to your device. I was able to apply the Paperlike 2 just fine at the first try.

After one week of using my iPad several hours a day, I do not regret the purchase nor do I feel any desire to remove the screen protector from my iPad again. The effects of finger oil on the display are drastically reduced while the reduction in display quality in comparison to the „unprotected“ display is very minor and – so far – absolutely tolerable. In particular, I did not recognize a meaningful amount of refraction artifacts on the display.

I’m curious to find out how the Paperlike 2 performs in the long run and how durable it turns out over time. So far, the screen protector has suffered from some superficial scratches caused by using the Apple Pencil for writing and drawing. And the product does what it says on the tin, the feedback from the surface while using an Apple Pencil has improved without question. Plus, the matte finish reduces glare significantly.

In summary, I’m impressed by the results so far. I would not have expected such a good job from any screen protector on the market4.

  1. There‘s a whole range of iPad models that are compatible with either generation 1 or two of the Apple Pencil.
  2. Apple‘s marketing parlor is all about „oleophobic surfaces“. But in reality, the term „oleophilic“ would almost certainly be more accurate.
  3. The product is sold in reference to being as close as possible to the haptics of real paper. The topic of being less of a fingerprint magnet is seemingly not considered a selling proposition.
  4. I’ve had some experience with screen protectors already, and none of them really made me want to continue using it.

6502

Around mid of December, news broke that Chuck Peddle had passed away. He was known for being the lead designer of the 6502 microprocessor. The 6502 was used to power, e.g. the VIC-201, the C64, and the PET, all made by Commodore International.

I still have my VC-20 stored in the basement. I bought in the summer of 1983 with nearly the entire money I had earned from 6 weeks of work during the school summer break. This purchase not only made my parents become seriously angry at me, it also set the early foundation for my future career.

Like everyone else who did not buy such a machine for gaming, I started to program the VIC in Basic. And that might have been the end of it because the very limited resources of 3.5 KB of RAM2 probably wouldn’t have given me much excitement in the long run.

Time passed, and I ended up with a ROM listing3 and instructions about programming the thing in machine language. That‘s right, machine language. I don‘t remember exactly whether an assembler existed for the VC-20. I, at least, had to put the machine instructions in the correct order manually. Oh, such fun.

Years later, when working on the implementation of some very time-critical, driver-level routines in 8086 assembler on a PC, I was finally able to understand the genius of the 6502 design in comparison to 8086 and how much it had lowered4 the barrier of entry for me.

Thanks, Chuck Peddle. RIP.

  1. In Germany, the VIC 20 was marketed as VC-20.
  2. Later, I bought a memory extension cartridge worth of 32 KByte.
  3. The book is titled „VC-20 Intern“ and is also still in my book shelf.
  4. I honestly don‘t know what might have happened if I had been confronted with the 8086 architecture in the first place.

Reboot to Update

I have to say that — until now — I have been1 among the lucky ones that haven‘t been plagued by any weird iOS or iPadOS 13 bugs. But now, my iPad suddenly requires a restart prior to being able to update any app from Apple‘s app store.

That‘s right, I have to do the „press sleep and home2 at the same time until the bright apple logo shows up“ dance.

Every. Single. Time.

In hindsight, I‘m not sure really when the issue started to show up. It may just as well have been caused by the update to iPadOS 13.2.2. My iPhone3 in most cases, but not always, also requires a reboot before successfully managing to install updated apps.

What happens is that, after pressing the update button, the App Store app shows the spinners as an indication that the update is about to start. Then, the familiar circle (drawn with a thin line) with a square in the middle shows up. And then, nothing. The App Store app can keep this status all day, it I let it.

I tried updating apps individually, or in concert. I tried disconnecting the data communication, and then connect again before repeating my attempt to update. I tried touching the central square to abort the update procedure.

Nothing works, a restart is required in 100% of such cases. I haven’t read about this behavior or listened to people talk about it anywhere. But it’s there, and I guess it won’t leave me alone on its own.

Therefore, I sincerely hope that the next update down the road fixes the issue, because this really sucks.

[Update]: After a couple of days running iPadOS/iOS 13.2.3 it seems that the issue has indeed be fixed with a software update. I can update my apps just fine again.

  1. Even during the beta phase of iPadOS.
  2. My iPad is a 10.5” Pro model.
  3. Which is also on 13.2.2.