Logitech Slim Combo

The Logitech Slim Combo is a case for the iPad Pro that comes with a magnetically attachable keyboard. The keyboard uses the smart connector for communication with the iPad.

This comes with the benefit of not having to care for another set of batteries that – sooner or later – needs charging. Another benefit is that Bluetooth is not involved.

The obvious drawback is that the keyboard can only be used with an iPad in landscape orientation.

The Slim Combo also sports a handy loop for the Apple Pencil. The Pencil fits safely in the loop, no worries about accidentally dropping the expensive piece of periphery while walking around with the iPad attached to the Slim Combo.

So far, so good.

That name, though. If this is seriously considered the “Slim” Combo I really don’t want to see what Logitech would sell as the Bulky Combo.

That’s not to say that I dislike the solution. The case has to be thicker than other cases to house the surprisingly sturdy kickstand. I have used the Slim Combo every day for more than 5 months now and that kickstand didn’t get all wobbly at all and feels as new as on the first day.

The keyboard is OK, the keys are small and not exactly grippy, but I manage to do surprisingly good most of the time. The only thing that is really wrong with this piece of hardware is that fact that the lock key has been placed directly above the backspace key.

It is inevitable that the lock key gets hit from time to time. Put me down as not a fan of this design decision.

That said, I am a fan of the magnetic attachment to the smart connector. It is nice to be able to just rip the keyboard part off the iPad if it is not needed. And when reattached, there is no waiting period for the keyboard to reconnect.

In some cases I’ve witnessed weird behavior where I took the keyboard off the iPad and after some time wanted to quickly type something using the on-screen keyboard.

Which. Would. Not. Appear.

Whatever I tried.

The iPad clearly was under the impression that the keyboard was still attached and acted accordingly. I‘ve heard stories about weird behavior of the Smart Connector, however this particular behavior was never mentioned.

Thankfully, backlit keyboards are the new normal. And the Slim Combo does not make any exception. In theory, the backlight can be deactivated. But I never seriously used that option.

Most of the time I wish that the grace period between the last keystroke and the light switching off were a bit longer.

While considering the purchase of an external keyboard, I wondered whether I would really use it or whether this was one of the things that I “needed badly” only to discover after more or less short period of time that I’m actually better off without it.

However, these concerns are unwarranted. I use the keyboard nearly every day1 and I don’t foresee any change of this habit. I don’t even care about the added weight any longer.

In comparison to the other2 (Bluetooth) keyboard I bought a couple of years ago in combination with my iPad 4 the Slim Combo has already unlocked veteran status.

That other keyboard got returned to the Apple Store, mainly out of a concern that it sat very tight to the iPad during transport and might slowly but inevitably put scratches on the surface of the display.

There must have been a lot of complaints about real or assumed display damage in reviews of former products. There is no other explanation for the fact that the Slim Combo‘s keyboard keeps an almost laughably articulated distance from the surface of the display during transport.

Buying the Slim Combo was meant to be an experiment, after years of using the on-screen keyboard only. The (unexpected) outcome is that I don‘t want to use my iPad without an external keyboard for the foreseeable future.

  1. Even if it is only for cmd-tabbing through my apps. 
  2. I don‘t really remember the product name, only that it was also a Logitech design. 

Castro 3

For me, the podcast app Castro has flown mostly under the radar1. I’ve given it a try here and there because I really like the idea of building a podcast app around the central concept of a queue.

And yet, in each of these cases I dismissed it pretty soon because of a missing feature2 that other podcast apps offered and that I believed I couldn‘t live without.

According to Ryan Christoffel‘s review over at MacStories there is no need to worry about features any longer:

If an absent feature ever kept you from sticking with Castro 2, that almost certainly won’t be a problem anymore. Castro 3 addresses nearly all of those “one missing feature” requests in a single release. Trim Silence is Castro’s take on Overcast‘s Smart Speed; full chapter support is now present, as is a new Apple Watch app; the player screen has been fully redesigned; Mix to Mono improves stereo mixes that are hard to hear; and finally, there are excellent new per-podcast controls in a variety of areas. Perhaps the only thing still missing is an iPad app.

It is true, Castro 3 has caught up technologically with the more powerful podcast apps like, e.g. Overcast. On the other hand, Castro does have a few tricks up its sleeve that clearly sets it apart from a mere follower.

First and foremost, Castro is built with a focus on episodes rather then subscriptions. This is a, if not the fundamental difference to my currently preferred podcast player Overcast.

If you launch Overcast it displays a list of subscriptions.

If you launch Castro it displays a list of episodes in the so-called inbox.

From there it is possible to easily triage through the list of episodes and make an individual decision for each episode.

  • The episode can be played. This automatically adds the episode to the queue
  • The episode can remain in the inbox.
  • The episode can be moved to the queue, in which case there is the ability to decide whether it shall be added to the end of the queue or at the place below the currently playing episode. The queue is where the actual playing of the episode happens but moving an episode to the queue does not mean that the episode is starting to play in response to the move.
  • The episode can be moved to the archive. The latter has two roles, it represents the list of subscriptions3 and it also represents the back catalog of episodes.

The triaging of episodes does not necessarily have to be done manually. It is possible to decide for each individual subscription4 whether new episodes shall remain in the inbox and await triaging or whether they should be added to the queue (and if yes, whether they should be placed at the next position or at the end of the queue).

It is also possible to decide that each episode of a given subscription shall immediately be sent to the archive. This sounds weird, why should you subscribe to a podcast and at the same time decide to not care and send each episode automatically to the back catalog?

But that‘s exactly the use case: you may be subscribed to a podcast to which you don‘t listen regularly and only now and then skim though the back catalog if your queue is empty and there‘s nothing to listen to5.

Back to Overcast: I have defined only one playlist that (surprise, surprise) goes by the name „queue“. The subscription view in Overcast is segmented into subscriptions that have new episodes (titled “Podcasts”) and subscriptions without new episodes (titled „Played Podcasts“).

The existence of rules for the automatic placement of episodes into my „queue“ aside, I would then tap a subscription and then then decide whether to pick a new episode or one from the back catalog and add this episode to the playlist „queue“.

This procedure would typically be repeated for every single subscription, building up the „queue“ successively. However, my next step would then be to open the playlist “queue” and rearrange episodes in the preferred way6.

That’s right, Overcast does not offer a way comparable to Castro’s approach to influence the position of an episode in the “queue” right at the place where the decision about moving the episode to the “queue” is made.

If I decide to dismiss a given episode it is necessary to apply special care: Overcast uses the same trashcan icon for dismissing new episodes of a podcast subscription as well as for unsubscribing from the podcast altogether.

You have to be aware whether you’re in the list of subscriptions or in the list of episodes of a given subscription. I admit that I happened to confuse one with the other and accidentally unsubscribed from a podcast.

In Castro, you manage your subscriptions exclusively in the archive and there is hardly any chance for confusing the dismissal of an episode with unsubscribing from a podcast.

For someone who is subscribed to a larger list of podcasts the usage model implemented by Castro makes a lot of sense. In my personal opinion, Castro removes the friction in managing a large list of subscriptions according to individual preferences much better then Overcast can ever be hoping for in the current set-up.

Consequently, it should be easy to decide about making the switch and move over to Castro. In reality it is not that easy. And the reason for that is again a technological one.

Castro does not have any built-in sync mechanism7 and there is, as mentioned in the MacStories review, no iPad app. Personally, I use my iPhone to listen to podcasts between 90 to 95% of the time. Currently, I still have Overcast installed on my iPad and I use the ability to play podcasts on my iPad from time to time.

For all intents and purposes, it would not be a big deal to dismiss the lack of an iPad app and go iPhone only for podcast listening. But it still leaves the nagging feeling of missing out on something. Therefore, I’d personally like to see the advent of Castro for iPad.

To summarize, Overcast clearly is where the innovation happens in terms of podcast player technology.

But Castro innovates on its own turf while still providing state-of-the-art player technology.

In writing this article I think I have managed to convince myself to at least give Castro a longer period of time to see whether it sticks.

  1. Admittedly, it took me some time to stop wondering about the name. Maybe that’s becaue the name of most other podcast apps end with cast, and you might expect this pattern to apply of all of them. Castro makes a difference. 
  2. Last time, if I remember correctly, it was the missing support for chapters. 
  3. This is where you have to wrap your head around as a user of Overcast
  4. In Overcast, it is similarly possible to decide on a per-subscription basis whether new episodes of a given subscription are automatically added to a given playlist. 
  5. I subscribe to some podcasts that can have very long episodes of diverse topics. I am typically interested in at most a third of the episodes. But I appreciate the ability to easily access the back catalog and listen to one or the other episode whenever I like. 
  6. The rearrangement of episodes in Overcast can be finicky and I often need more than one try to finally achieve the intended placement. 
  7. There is the ability to create a backup and the app will (unless deactivated) create this backup automatically once a day. 

You want it darker

I like apps that provide me with the ability to activate a dark mode that goes easy on the eyes when it is really dark around. Thankfully, there is no shortage of apps on iOS that support the switch to a dark(er) theme.

There are, however, differences as to how the actual switch between themes is triggered. The general approach for controlling the switch between themes can be subdivided into three groups:
DYI: the user is expected to explicitly decide when to switch between light and dark mode and then perform a gesture or go to the settings and flip a switch that toggles dark mode (Overcast, Pocket Casts, Editorial, Fantastical).
GPS: The activation of the dark mode is computed out of the geolocation of the device (Twitterrific, Hello Weather, Instapaper).
– The dark mode is activated when the screen brightness falls below a certain (in ideal cases, user-defined) threshold (OmniFocus, Drafts, Tweetbot, Pocket, iBooks).

In some (rare) cases, apps implement a mixture, i.e. support a brightness-based and an explicit switch between light and dark mode.

In terms of my personal ranking, I like the brightness-based approach most, followed by the explicit switching.

The GPS-based switch really puzzles me. I mean, It’s not that we don’t have light in our homes after sunset. So why would you want to switch from a light to a dark theme just because that big glowing fusion reactor is no longer visible for the rest of the day?

In reality, apps require access to location services for the sole purpose of being able to switch themes sometimes around dusk or dawn. Not great news for the battery.

Alto’s Odyssey

It took a while, but I finally completed Alto‘s Odyssey. It‘s a fun game with a stunning design — in terms of gameplay mechanics and the beauty of the scenery1.

  1. This aspect is what finally kept me playing, although mastering the the higher levels requires skill and patience that is almost beyond me. 

iOS Wishlist

I think I‘d be fine if there was only one new feature in the next major iOS version an this feature is that they finally fix the way how icons are moved, especially across home screens.

Please, Apple, just this.

Email on iOS – revisited

In stark contrast to my conclusion of the state of e-mail on iOS from nearly a year ago, I have switched to Newton as my preferred client app on iOS.

It seems that a lot of under-the-hood work has happened between my dismissal of the app one year ago and today. The look of Newton didn’t change at all, but the app is much snappier and none of the bugs I have experienced last time is visible any longer.

For background, I stopped using the other contestants from my piece of last year — Spark and Airmail — mostly out of frustration about bugs and usability issues.

I also had an easier time to embrace the visual minimalism in Newton. I was using Spark before the switch and was getting tired of the pronounced design language embedded into Spark.

To be sure, Newton is far from being the app that does everything I want from an e-mail app. But the features that are supported are — so far — rock-solid. That alone makes the app a joy to work with.


I‘m pretty sure this is new in iOS 11.3: if you tap on „more“ in the description of an app‘s release notes in the iOS App Store the updated version of the app as well as the download size is listed at the bottom of the release notes.

This seems like a minor detail but for me this is a nice improvement over the previous status, a flashback of the proverbial „attention to detail“.

Beats X – Four Months after

After using the Beats X for hours every day for the last four months:

  • Sound quality improved dramatically after I started using earpieces made from memory foam. Highly recommended. The only downside of this setup is that phone calls sometimes become uncomfortable because the ears are tightly sealed and (at least for me) pressure inside my ears gets out of balance and blurs the audio. What is clearly a boon for listening to music can be a bane for making phone calls.
  • Bluetooth range is still outstanding. I’ve read reviews of Bluetooth headphones that dropped connection if you put your phone into the jeans pocket. The Beats X easily tolerates several meters1 without dropping the connection.
  • Pairing with iOS devices keeps being unbeatably fast and comfortable, best I’ve ever experienced in any Bluetooth peripheral so far.
  • No visible wear of cables or buttons. I originally didn’t have much confidence in the cables. They seemed very frail and, after all, my last two pairs to headphones had died primarily because of failing cables.
  • Battery life is stable, no perceptible degradation so far. There was this one anecdote where the Beats X died after just five minutes out of the house. But that could easily be explained by the temperatures (less than -10 degrees Celsius) and the fact that the part of the cable that houses the batteries was directly exposed to the cold. After I put the cable into my jacket the headphones came back to life.
  • The cable is a bit too long. It’d be good if Apple had shortened the cable by a couple of cm.
  • While traveling, I’ve been increasingly happy to carry a pair of headphones that can be charged by a Lightning connector. I’d hate to carry an extra micro-USB cable solely for this one purpose.

  1. I never really felt the need to find out at which distance exactly the connection would break. Let’s say: it’s generous. 

App Store Gripes

Alto’s Odyssey is out today.

As a big fan of the predecessor game, I pre-ordered Alto’s Odyssey the moment pre-orders went up.

Today, I got a notification that the game is out and it even appeared magically on my iPhone1.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to play the game on my iPhone. I never play games on my iPhone. If I play a game at all I play it on the iPad.

But the App Store app on my iPad insists that there is no download available and just indicates the “pre-ordered” status.

There are reviews available, and the game seems to have made it to number 5 in the “sports”2 download charts already. So it must be available for download, right?

And yet, it’s not available to me. Because I pre-ordered. I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t pre-order I could just go ahead and download the game.

I guess I should take a moment to think twice before I ever pre-order anything again from the App Store.

Update: courtesy of @AppleSupport, it helps to sign out of iCloud, restart the device, and sign back into iCloud. Don’t ask.

  1. It got downloaded over LTE, without asking, although I have deactivated automatic downloads. 
  2. WTF? 

Accidental App Store Ratings

Today marks the third time in less than a week where I have accidentally submitted a rating for an app while idly browsing the iOS App Store on my iPad.

I just takes – while scrolling vertically in an app’s description – an accidental tap on the outlined stars located somewhere mid of page and then a rating is submitted to the App Store without any further confirmation.

Well, you get this semi-translucent pop-up that offers a “thank you” after the fact. Without it, I would probably not even take notice of the inadvertent feedback caused by my own carelessness.

Sure, it is possible to correct this mishap1, but I wonder how many people actually take the trouble to correct their mistakes.

I understand that Apple wants to make it easy for people to submit their feedback. Maybe I’m just clumsy, but should it really be that easy?

  1. Go to the “updates” tab and tap on your account’s avatar in the upper right corner. In the pop-up, tap your avatar again, and in the next pop-up scroll down to “ratings and reviews”. Give it a tap and you’re ready to undo potential accidents in rating.