Art of the iPhone

Review: RHA MA450i iPhone-Compatible Earphones (with Video Review)

RHA MA450i eartips of iPhone friendly earphones

Review Summary

Price: $50

Art of the iPhone’s Rating: ★★☆☆☆
(2 stars out of 5)

Review Summary: The iPhone-compatible RHA MA450i are packaged like premium earphones with 7 different sized sets of eartips, a gold-plated jack, and an extra-long, fabric-covered, reinforced copper cord. Too bad sound quality doesn’t match up with the rest, with weak performance across the sound spectrum, and excessive cord noise ruining the listening experience.

When Apple introduced their excellent new earphones, the $29 EarPods, in 2012, they changed the dynamics of the iPhone earphone market. The EarPods sound so good for their price point, affordable earphone makers must find another way to compete. Premium build quality, comfort, and lots of accessories could be one way, and the RHA MA450i ($49.95) seem to follow that strategy, with seven(!) sizes of eartips to help find the perfect fit, an extra-long fabric-wrapped, reinforced copper cables, and gold-plated plugs—all at an affordable price point. The premium build quality and accessories of the MA450i’s seems like an incredible value…until you get to the sound quality, which disappointedly doesn’t match up with the rest.

As with all earphones, everything starts and ends with sound quality, and here the MA450i are severely lacking. They earphones produce a weak, thin sound across the sound spectrum, and the quality becomes harsh and unpleasantly sharp when the volume is cranked to compensate—there is nothing warm about the sound of these earphones. The MA450i’s advertise themselves as delivering “full bass,” but in fact, the bass performance is quite poor. In multiple hip hop songs I tested, there was almost no “thump” to the bass drums, and the overall bass wasn’t rounded. For songs in the rock music genre, power chords had no chunkiness. With Apple’s $29 EarPods, you’ll feel bass in your ear as well as hear it, with the MA450’s, you’ll barely even register it. This is less true when the iPhone’s equalization is changed to a bass heavy setting (which can be done in the iPhone Settings under the Music app), but even then, the bass performance is barely adequate, and the rest of the sound spectrum suffers for it.

The MA450i’s also lack the ability to deliver decent mid to high-range detail. With acoustic music, the intricate details that make the genre so human and pleasant sounding (the click of pressed piano keys, the chunk and reverberation of a plucked acoustic guitar string, etc) are completely lost with the MA450i’s. In describing the sound quality, I don’t want to go too far into the negative here, as the MA450i’s aren’t the worst sounding earphones I’ve heard—they are adequate enough for podcasts, audiobooks, and other audio, but you will not receive fully rounded sound quality, and it’s most noticeable with music, where performance is poorest.

RHA MA450i eartips

The MA450i’s go out of their way to make sure you get the right size eartip, as 7 different sizes of silicone eartips are included, including one double-flanged set, which I found to be the most comfortable and best performing. The eartips come in a small plastic box, with each eartip getting its own slot, which makes it easy to pick out just the right size. Also included is a small cloth pouch for storing your earphones in.

The construction of the earphones is good and has a general feel of quality. Most impressive to me was the fabric-wrapped cord, which I found to be durable (the copper inside is reinforced) and good looking. The cord is extra long, being 59 inches (5 feet) in length (for comparison, Apple’s EarPods are about 3 feet in length). However, I did notice a lot of “cord noise,” meaning when the cord rubs against my shirt or jacket, I can hear it directly in my ear. It’s actually quite loud and can ruin a listening experience, especially when you’re doing an activity. I’ve experienced this in cheaper earphones as well, and it’s disappointing to find in the MA450i’s.

The earphones do come with an iPhone-compatible, three-button dongle, with volume controls, play/pause, call answer/decline, etc, functionality—basically, everything the default Apple earphones can do. While I like the smooth feel and slick looks of the MA450i’s dongle, I found it a little harder to press than Apple’s default earphones.

RHA MA450i dongle buttons

RHA also says the earphones are machined out of aluminum. To me, the earbuds feel and look like plastic. Still, I found the MA450i’s to be good-looking but definitely not in the realm of high fashion—just simple and tasteful, not flashy. The earphones are also available in white, too, if you want to maintain the Apple aesthetic.


The RHA MA450i ($50) are packaged like premium earphones, coming with 7 different-sized eartips, a carrying pouch, and a fabric-wrapped reinforced copper cable. But poor sound reproduction spoils the party—the earphones sound weak and tinny, and lack the ability to deliver thumping bass. Apple’s $30 EarPods easily outdo them in every aspect except perhaps fit, cord length, and looks.


  • Driver Size: 10 mm
  • Drivers: 2
  • Frequency Response: 16 Hz – 22,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 16 ohms
  • Driver Type: Diaphragm
  • Cable Length: 150 cm

Review: Incipio LGND Folio Case for iPhone 5 (with Video)

Incipio LGND Folio glamour shot iPhone 5

Review Summary

Price: $35

Art of the iPhone’s Rating: ☆☆☆☆
(1 star out of 5)

Review Summary: The LGND Folio, with its floppy cover, poor fit, and lack of protection, is more trouble than its worth.

Upon a superficial glance, the Incipio LGND Folio for iPhone 5 ($35) is a slick-looking case, and its built-in flip cover offers some protection and privacy for your iPhone’s front screen. But that’s about the sum total of positive things I have to say about this case. The LGND Folio is simply one of the most frustrating iPhone cases I’ve ever used.

The multitude of problems I had with the LGND Folio start with the poor, sloppy design of the flip cover. The cover comes without a way to secure it in place—there is no latch or magnet. As you carry the iPhone, the folio cover flops and slides about, looking and feeling like it’s half broken. When you want to use the iPhone for, say, a phone call, the cover is awkward to deal with. If you bend it all the way back, the cover creates an uncomfortable wedge shape that is unpleasant to hold. Imagine holding a triangular wedge of cheese to your ear as your phone, and you’ll get the idea.

ncipio LGND Folio Case for iPhone 5

Another huge problem area is trying to take photos with the case on. Dealing with the case’s flapping cover trying to snap a photo is quite an adventure. You can’t pin the cover to the iPhone’s back because it blocks the camera. You can’t keep the cover closed on the front because it blocks the screen and you can’t view what you’re photographing. The only option is to let the cover flap awkwardly open, where you’ll have to maneuver it just so and finagle a way so it doesn’t interfere with the shot. The best option is to remove the entire case (or perhaps just not buy the case altogether, which is what I recommend).

The fit of this case is also one of the worst I’ve seen. The iPhone 5 slides in and out of the case easily…which is not a good thing. The fit is extremely loose—the iPhone is not held securely in place when in this case—and I constantly battle against the iPhone accidentally sliding out and smashing on the ground. Just what everyone needs, a case that increases the chances of your iPhone breaking.

Incipio LGND Folio Case for iPhone 5 guts

Not everything about case was bad. The materials used for the cover were quite good. The inner lining is a microfiber cloth that cleans the iPhone’s screen when closed. The exterior is a silicone rubber with a modern, visually appealing texture with a subtle pattern of pentagons. Unfortunately, the rest of the case is not so good quality. It’s made out of thin hard plastic, which offers almost no shock absorption. Since hard plastic cases can scratch the very iPhone they are supposed to be protecting through subtle abrasive rubbing over time, combine that with how much your iPhone will slide around in this case, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Incipio LGDN volume buttons

The LGND Folio can double as an iPhone stand of sorts. There is a groove built into the inner lining of the cover where you can prop up the edge of the iPhone, holding it up in landscape at about a 70-degree angle. Unfortunately, this process is frustrating, as it takes a delicate hand to get the iPhone propped up just right, usually after a bit too much fussing.


The LGND Folio for iPhone 5 ($35) is one of the most frustrating cases I’ve ever used. It feels like no thought went into designing the case’s folio cover; specifically, what to do with the cover when you’re actually using the iPhone. It flops about with no way to secure it in place, and the cover gets hopelessly in the way when trying to take photographs and when holding it up to your ear for phone calls. There may be a great folio case out there somewhere, but the LGND Folio shows all the issues that must be overcome when creating one.


  • Superficially good looking.


  • Floppy cover lacks a way to secure it in place
  • Makes taking photos extremely difficult.
  • Frustrating to take phone calls with the floppy cover
  • Very little shock absorption.
  • iPhone slides out of case easily, creating a danger to the iPhone itself.

Basics: How to Schedule Do Not Disturb Mode on the iPhone

Do Not Disturb mode is a useful feature of the iPhone and iPad that silences calls, ringtones, notifications, and alerts when turned on. You can turn on Do Not Disturb manually, or you can schedule it to turn on and off automatically during a certain period of the day, say, when you are sleeping or trying to go to sleep. For example, mine is set to turn on at 10 PM and turn off at 5:45 AM. Note that your iPhone’s screen also won’t light up from notifications when Do Not Disturb mode is turned on. Here’s how to schedule Do Not Disturb mode.

1. Open Settings:

iOS Settings Icon

2. Tap Notifications:

Tap Notifications in Settings

3. Now tap Do Not Disturb:

Tap Do Not Disturb in Notifications Settings

4. Slide Schedule to On:

Swipe Scheduled to On

5. Tap the time range below to set a range of time:

Tap time range below Schedule tab

6. Set a range of time by first tapping the From field to create a start time, then tap the To field to create an end time:

Tap From and To fields and set time using the slider below

And that’s it, Do Not Disturb mode will turn on/off automatically during this period of time. Now, you can do something else kind of neat. You may still want some important people to be able to ring your phone when Do Not Disturb mode is on. After all, who is going to bail Junior out of jail at 3 AM? Check out our instructions for How to Allow VIP Contacts to Call You When Do Not Disturb Mode is On, and also, How to Create Groups of Contacts.

iPhone & iPad Tip: Why You Shouldn’t Change Siri’s Speaking Voice in the Settings

Siri icon

One fun thing you can do with Siri’s voice is change her accent and even gender in the settings. You can do this by going into Settings –> General –> Siri –> Language, and choose from over a dozen new accents, even giving her a male British voice. It’s fun, but here’s the thing, you should always change Siri back to your native language…“native” meaning, if you’re American, set it to English (United States), not English (United Kingdom).

Why? Because Siri’s ability to understand you will diminish greatly if she’s set to anything but your native language. Siri is designed to understand a specific accent that is designated in your iPhone’s settings. So if she’s expecting to hear a British accent but you’re a speaking with an American accent, she will be confused and translate your words into crazy things. While it’s funny, it’s not very useful.

Review: Targus Wallet Case for iPhone 5 (With Video)

Targus Wallet case for iPhone 5

Every modern male knows the hassle of overstuffed pockets from carrying a smartphone, wallet, keys, and other necessary items. The Targus Wallet case for the iPhone 5 ($25) is designed to be a remedy of sorts, combining an iPhone case with a wallet. Where once there were two, now there is one.

Review Summary

Price: $25

Art of the iPhone’s Rating: ★★★☆☆
(3 stars out of 5)

Review Summary: The Targus Wallet case is useful and convenient as a wallet, but below average as a protective iPhone case.

As a wallet, the Targus works well, if, that is, you can get by with carrying only 2-3 credit cards and a few bills with you. The case has a built-in, faux-leather flap on its back with two slots inside that can barely fit 4 credit cards in total (3 cards is the best fit), or two cards and a few bills. This flap, when closed, completely conceals the cards/cash from view. “Conceals” is a key benefit of this case, as most other wallet-style cases don’t hide your cards/cash from view. If the iPhone is already an attractive target for thieves, just imagine cash and credit cards attached to it.

I was very impressed with the design of the wallet flap. It has a magnet inside that keeps it closed shut tight—I never experienced it accidentally flapping open. It actually takes a little bit of effort to open—a good thing, as it keeps the cards/money inside secure. When closed, the flap lies flat against the iPhone’s back…well, flat, as long as you don’t overstuff the wallet with cards and cash.

Targus Wallet Case for iPhone 5 inside with credit cards

Replacing my wallet with the Targus Wallet case really was liberating. Where before I had to remember both my iPhone and wallet–now it was just my iPhone, a small but big simplification of my life, as I carry both of these items on me at just about all times. And, at the cash register, I no longer had to check my pockets to see which had the wallet, and which had the iPhone. I just had to reach for my iPhone. Again, though, the key to this case is, can you get by with just 2-3 cards and a little bit of cash? At times, I wish I had more room for a few more cards.

As an iPhone Case, the Targus Wallet is flawed, but not fatally so. The case is incredibly bulky—it more than doubles the thickness of the iPhone. It feels like holding…well…a really thick wallet. And it’s not much of a protective case, despite its thickness.

Protection. The Targus Wallet is made of two different materials: thin hard plastic for the section that holds the iPhone, and faux leather for the wallet part. The problem is that, for the iPhone’s impact areas, which are the four corners most likely to hit the ground first, there is only this thin plastic section for protection. The thicker faux-leather wallet protects the flat back section of the case, but that section of the iPhone is unlikely to hit the ground initially after an accidental drop. In total, this is a poor case for shock absorption. There is no protective lining inside the hard-plastic case to separate it from the iPhone, which means the case itself could scratch the iPhone over time through subtle abrasion.

Targus Wallet Case for iPhone 5 volume buttons

Targus Wallet Case for iPhone 5 sleep and wake button

Targus Wallet Case for iPhone 5 bottom of case

The Targus also makes accessing some of the iPhone’s buttons a tad more difficult. Particularly problematic are the volume buttons. A rim around the volume buttons makes it so you have to dig in slightly with your fingertip to press the button. Similarly, the thickness of the back of the case makes it a bit more awkward to press the sleep/wake button, as your fingertip has to reach over the back rim and them down onto the button (see the video review to see a clarification of what I mean).

The iPhone’s headphone and lightning ports can be used as expected, as can the iPhone’s front and rear camera. The iPhone rear’s camera, however, is buried inside about a centimeter-long tunnel, which can effect the amount of light that reaches the lens.


If the Targus Wallet ($25) were merely an attempt at a protective iPhone case, I’d say, don’t bother. But its wallet functionality is so useful that I can give it my conditional recommendation, the condition being that you can get by with only carrying 2-3 cards and a little cash. As a wallet iPhone case, it’s really good. Sure the case has its annoyances—it’s incredibly thick and the iPhone’s volume and sleep/wake buttons are slightly harder to press—but the case’s wallet functionality more than makes up for those flaws.


  • Simplifies your life by combining phone with wallet
  • Flap hides your cards and cash
  • Flap stays shut tight and won’t accidentally flop open


  • Thick
  • Little to no shock absorption
  • Only holds a few cards or a little cash
  • iPhone buttons are slightly harder to press with the case on

Apple Officially Says Do Not Disturb Mode Will Be Broken From Jan 1 to Jan 7

Do Not Disturb Mode for iPhone

My iPhone is currently in Do Not Disturb mode, despite the fact that I scheduled it to turn off at 5:45 AM this morning. Why? Because of a bug in Apple’s iOS 6 software that breaks the feature and prevents it from turning on and off. The Mayans were right, the Mayans were right!

Apple has officially acknowledged the bug by releasing this official support document saying the problem will last from January 1 through January 7. Until then, you have to manually turn the mode on and off in the settings. The entire doc reads:

Products Affected:

iPad, iPhone, iPod touch


After January 1st, 2013, Do Not Disturb mode stays on past its scheduled end time.


Do Not Disturb scheduling feature will resume normal functionality after January 7, 2013. Before this date, you should manually turn the Do Not Disturb feature on or off.

To turn off the scheduling feature, tap Settings > Notifications > Do Not Disturb and switch Scheduled to Off.

This document will be updated as more information becomes available.

Do Not Disturb mode is one of my favorite features of iOS 6, as it stops all alerts, notifications, calls, etc, from ringing your iPhone and lighting up the screen during a period of time you set (best used for when you are sleeping or trying to go to sleep). You can still let important people call you during this time however (like family members, girlfriends, etc). Check out our instructions for setting it up.

My 20 Most-Used iPhone Apps of 2012

Agenda Calendar app icon

Way too often I fall for the hype over the latest and greatest iPhone apps—apps that make me go Wow, that’s the coolest thing ever!, and then…I never use them again. Their icons sit untouched, clogging up my home screen. That’s why the following is not a “best of iPhone in 2012 apps” list. This list is composed solely of the iPhone apps I used the most in 2012, and therefore have been the most useful to me. I’ve excluded some obvious apps, like Mail, Safari, etc.

1. MyFitnessPal (free). This calorie tracker is simply the most powerful iPhone app you can have to improve your overall health. A huge database of foods means you’ll always know exactly how many calories, grams of fat, etc, you are putting in your body. You can track calories burned from exercise, then see what your daily +/- for calorie intake is. Losing weight is simply burning more calories than you consume, and this app makes it easy to see that you are doing just that. I seldom use this app everyday (as I’m currently not overweight), but rather to check up on my eating habits over time and know when to scale back on the french fries.

2. RunKeeper (free). I’m a runner, and I’ve used this app for the past few years to track my runs. What’s cool about any of these run-tracker apps is that you can run unfamiliar routes and still know the exact mileage you’ve run. For example, I can go on a vacation in Hawaii, take a run along the beach in the morning, and still adhere to a training regimen where I need to run X number of miles.

3. GymBuddy ($2.99). This app makes it a snap to track how much weight you lifted in the gym, so the next time, you can try to do just a little bit better—the key to adding muscle. The app also has a built-in countdown timer that will start immediately after you enter in your weight/reps and make a dinging sound when it finishes, so you’ll know when you’ve rested enough to do your next set—this can be a huge timesaver as it prevents you from waiting too long between sets. I also love just having a list of exercises to do in the gym—without this app, I’d frequently forget to do certain ones. You can also add your own exercises into the app, and create different lifting routines, adding and subtracting new exercises. When you bring an old exercise back into your routine, you can see where you left off. I reviewed this app a few years ago, and, yes, it is ugly as sin and hasn’t been updated in years, but is still the best app I’ve seen for use in the gym.

4. Reeder ($2.99). This app lets me follow my favorite RSS feeds (I use it with my Google Reader account). While it has been replaced my Mr. Reader on my iPad, Reeder is still one of the better RSS readers for the iPhone. It’s easy to read, easy to use, and just works. What else do you need?

5. News360 (free). I’m a fan of Google News and its thousands of news sources, and this app is basically Google News, except better. This app lets you quickly browse through the day’s headlines from thousands of sources. You can customize the topics you see down to very specific things (like, news stories about knitting or the iPhone 5). It also has a ton of other subtle features, like a Reader view that strips away the ads. I also love the swipable image at the top of news stories that brings up more relevant images from other news sources.

6. Instapaper ($3.99). There is way, way too much interesting stuff to read on the Internet, and I often come across it at inopportune times where I can’t read more than just the headline. Instapaper is a way to save that stuff to read later. You come back later, and the articles are organized all in one place, stripped of ads and annoying formating, and placed in a highly readable format. Instapaper is a free service that you don’t necessarily need an iPhone/iPad app to use, but the app is where it really shines.

7. Grocery IQ (free) is simply the best way to maintain a grocery list. It makes creating a list a snap through autocompletion tools and maintaining a history of past items. It also has “cloud” sharing where you can maintain a single master grocery list amongst several people (perfect for husband/wife shared grocery lists).

8. TV Guide Mobile (free). Quick and easy TV listings. Simply enter in your local TV provider (cable, satellite, over-the-air) and it will show you what’s on now and later. It has some other tools, like push notifications for your favorite shows, but I mainly use it to for the quick-and-easy TV listings.

9. The Weather Channel (free). It seems like every other week there is some new fancy weather app with a sparse interface or other tricks. This app has been my main weather app since forever, and I’ve never seen a reason to change.

10. Agenda Calendar ($0.99). Sometimes an app that’s best on the iPhone isn’t necessarily the best on an iPad. Agenda Calendar is my favorite calendar app for the iPhone. What I like about Agenda is that it has the quickest and easiest user interface for browsing through a long range of dates on your calendar. The weekly view is my favorite. Swipe up or down for a superfast, scrolling, 7-day view of your calendar. You can quickly maneuver between month, week, and day view by swiping right or left.

11. McTube Pro ($1.99). This app saves YouTube videos to the iPhone/iPad for offline viewing. Initially, I used it for music videos, but then I found all sorts of uses. For example, saving how-to videos for cooking, weight-lifting, and other odds and ends. Why re-stream a video every time you want to view it (especially if you want to view Gangnam Style 15 times)? The app lets you stream saved videos via AirPlay and to the AppleTV.

12. Brownees ($1.99). Here’s another app that saves YouTube videos to the iPhone, but this one saves only the audio from videos. Brownees focuses on collecting music—basically, it’s a way to collect tons of free music from YouTube as audio files for offline playback. Download songs for free and play them back almost as if you bought them from iTunes. I bet Apple and the music industry love that! Ah, who cares.

13. Figure ($0.99). I dabble in making music, and Figure is my favorite iPhone app to whip out a quick tune on the go (for the iPad, I like more complicated apps like Animoog and GarageBand). You can quickly create a beat, bass line, and lead melody, and save it or export it to flesh it out in another app. Figure is more of a music idea app that a way to create full songs, but it’s a lot of fun and simple enough that anyone can use it.

14. MLB At Bat (free). I’m a Cincinnati Reds baseball fan who lives in Chicago, so in order to follow my favorite team, I subscribe to While I usually watch streaming video of baseball games on my AppleTV, I use this app to listen to the radio coverage when I’m not at home (the subscriptions comes with access to radio coverage of every MLB game. Basically, this app is indispensible for baseball fans who no longer live where their favorite team plays.

15. Spotify (free) recently added Pandora-like radio functionality to this app where you can vote songs thumbs up or thumbs down, and the station learns your tastes over time and plays more of the type of music you like. The audio quality of Spotify is second to none (make sure you choose higher quality audio in the settings), and it has an impressive song list. Spotify is known for its premium all-you-can-eat music service that costs about $10 a month, but I mainly use it for the free customizable radio.

16. Pandora (free) is the popular free radio service that customizes its music streams to your tastes. Not many people know that it also offers comedy, my current favorite use for the app.

17. TuneIn Radio Pro ($0.99). Simply the best radio app for local radio stations on the iPhone. I use it to listen to some local Chicago stations (specifically, ESPN Chicago). The Pro version of the app lets you record live radio, but the free version works just fine as well.

18. TripIt (free). This app puts all your travel details in one central place. It will really revolutionize your traveling (and save you tons of stress). You simply forward any travel-related confirmation emails (flights, Priceline wins, hotel arrangements) to your special TripIt email address, and the info will be stripped out and gathered in once central place for easy and quick viewing. TripIt is an indispensible, powerful tool for any modern traveler. This is what the iPhone is all about, people!

19. TripAdvisor (free) is a review site for travelers, but it’s not just reviews of hotels. It includes restaurants, sightseeing tours, etc. I even use it when I’m not traveling, as I find the reviews better than Yelp.

20. ScoreCenter from ESPN (free). This app was recently did an update that leaves it with an average 1.5-star review, basically because it dramatically changed the interface. I don’t think it’s that bad, and I continue to use it. The update added a better way to read ESPN news inside the app as well.

Review: Ballistic Smooth Case for iPhone 5 (With Video)

Ballistic Smooth iPhone 5 case

Review Summary


Price: $30

Art of the iPhone’s Rating: ★★★★★
(5 stars out of 5)

Review Summary: The Ballistic Smooth is a slim case with a clever design that adds shock absorption while keeping the case thin and lightweight. It’s simply the best slim case for the iPhone we’ve seen.

Slim-style iPhone 5 cases are appealing because the iPhone 5 itself is so thin and lightweight, you hate to lose those attributes to a chunky case. The problem is, the slimmer the case, the less protection for your iPhone 5 inside. The Ballistic Smooth ($30) is a cleverly designed slim case that attempts to shirk that rule. It uses bulging rubber corners for extra shock absorption for the iPhone 5’s impact points—the areas most likely to hit a surface first after you drop your iPhone. In total, the Ballistic Smooth is simply the most impressive super-slim case for an iPhone we’ve seen yet.

Protection. I should start by cautioning that the Ballistic Smooth, despite its bulging silicone-rubber padded corners, is still just a slim case, meaning this is not a throw-it-against-the-wall kind of protective case (check out the Otterbox Defender for that). But for its category, the Smooth does offer best-in-class protection for most normal everyday drops. The Smooth comes with 4 sets (4 pieces each, 16 in total) of interchangeable silicone rubber corners that you can remove and replace. These little rubber chunks fit into the protruding corners of the case—they take a little work to switch in and out, so it’s not something you’ll do often. The rubber corners are the case’s primary source of shock absorption (rubber is a great shock-absorbing material). When you lay the iPhone down on a table, these protruding corners stick up enough to prevent the screen from touching the surfaces of tables, desks, etc. Overall, the Smooth makes a good compromise between protection and maintaining a super-slim profile.

Ballstic Smooth iPhone 5 case Sleep button

Ballistic Smooth bottom lightning port

Accessibility to the iPhone’s Features. We here at Art of the iPhone consider it an unforgivable sin for an iPhone case to interfere with any of the iPhone’s features. If you’re making an iPhone case, that should be a basic pillar of design, and it’s surprising so many cases do fail at this endeavor. The good news is that Ballistic Smooth makes no big mistakes—you can use all the iPhone’s buttons, cameras, and ports, as you’d expect. But the Smooth isn’t perfect either: with the case on, you must press about twice as hard to operate the iPhone’s sleep/wake button on the top. This may be something to consider if you’re giving the case to a very young child, who might not be able to press the button, but for most adults, it’s not really a problem.

Ballistic Smooth Inside

Ballistic Smooth interchangeable rubber corner

Fit & Fashion. The Ballistic Smooth is, as its name suggests, smooth to the touch and generally feels good to hold in the hand. The case is made of a polycarbonate that is a bit softer than most hard-plastic cases, giving it a little bit of give. Its edges are rounded and feel much better to hold the sharp edges of a naked iPhone 5.

In terms of style, tI found the Ballistic Smooth to be just an average-looking case. I’m not a fan of the look of the interchangeable color rubber inserts. With my black Smooth case, I prefer the black rubber inserts so they stay visually hidden. The Smooth is also available in 6 other color schemes, so perhaps a color other than black will improve its fashion appeal.


The Ballistic Smooth ($30) is simply the best slim-style case for any version of the iPhone I’ve seen yet. Its cleverly padded, bulging-corners design adds shock absorption for the iPhone’s impact points, yet still keeps the rest of the case thin and lightweight. The Ballistic Smooth is a near-perfect slim-style case; it’s also the first iPhone 5 case to receive a 5-star rating on our site. The Smooth has only one small flaw—you’ll need to press a little harder to operate the the iPhone 5’s sleep/wake button with this case on, but other than that, if you want a thin case for the iPhone 5, the Smooth is currently our top pick.


  • Slim and lightweight
  • Extra rubber padding in the iPhone’s impact points offers some shock absorption
  • Feels comfortable to hold thanks to smooth rounded edges and smooth surface
  • Cons:

  • Sleep/wake button takes twice the effort to press with case on
  • For protection, it’s still just a slim case, only with nicely padded corners
  • Good Deal: Walking Dead The Game – Episode 1, Free for a Limited Time (for iPhone & iPad)

    Walking Dead game icon

    Walking Dead: The Game, Episode 1 (free) is currently free in the App Store for a limited time. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a good zombie horror game. The game is based on the original award-winning Robert Kirkman comic books, the basis for the current TV show. This is the first of 5 episodes (the other 4 are available as in-app purchases). MetaCritic gives this game a 86/100 rating.

    Sample of gameplay:

    The 5 Best iPad Pinball Apps

    Zen Pinball for iOS icon

    Pinball is one of the best genre of games to play on the iPad. The style fits perfectly on the iPad’s touchscreen—there are no complicated controls, just tap on either side of the screen to use the flippers. The shape of pinball tables in general (long rectangles) matches well with the iPad and iPhone’s long screens. I love playing pinball on my iPad, and below are my picks for the 5 Best Pinball Apps for the iPad.

    1. Zen Pinball

    Avengers Table in Zen Pinball

    Epic Quest table in Zen Pinball

    1. Zen Pinball (free + in-app purchases) is by far the best pinball iPad app in the App Store. It has the best tables, with the best designs, best gameplay, and best graphics. There are currently 14 tables available in the app, and it comes with 1 free table (called Sorcerer’s Lair, which is just an average table, so don’t judge the app on the free table). The in-app-purchase tables are just awesome, including what I think is the best overall on iOS, called Epic Quest, ($1.99 in-app purchase). Epic Quest is a fun (and funny) table that has really deep gameplay that guarantees dozens and dozens of hours of play. It’s classic pinball, but with RPG elements where you take on monsters, hit ramps to do damage and/or defend, and collect EQ over multiple games. The table is just amazingly designed, with funny sound effects and voice acting (but a bit complicated, table guides are in our forums here).

    But the hits don’t stop there. There are several other amazing tables available as in-app purchases. For example, the tables based on Marvel Comics are incredible. My favorite is the Avengers table, but the World War Hulk and Captain America tables are awesome as well. The Tesla table is really unique. In fact, just about all the tables available in Zen Pinball are a cut above what’s available elsewhere. That’s because the pinball design studio behind the app, Zen Studios, is the best out there right now for creating digital pinball games. Their Zen Pinball tables are bestsellers on other consoles and mobile devices as well, including Xbox Live Arcade. The company keeps things grounded in classic pinball but adds just the right amount of computer/digital pinache (for example, animations like Thor throwing hammers across the table and Iron Man flying around, which couldn’t happen on a real pinball table). If you want the best-designed tables and the best pinball app, it’s Zen Pinball.

    The only bad thing I can say about this app is that the tables are so detailed and intricate, you’ll need to play them on a Retina iPad first to get the best experience. But once you learn the ins and outs of the table, they’ll play on the iPhone just fine.

    2. Pinball Arcade

    Medieval Madness in Pinball Arcade

    Theater of Magic Pinball

    2. Pinball Arcade ($0.99 + in-app purchases) faithfully recreates the best real-life pinball tables of all time. This is a game for true pinball lovers looking to relive their best pinball experiences from the arcade days. Pinball Arcade is created and maintained by pinball enthusiasts, so no detail is too small. One table in the app, Medieval Madness ($2.99), is, according to pinball-enthusiast website Pinsinde, the #1 ranked pinball table of all time as voted by the site’s readers. To understand what’s so great about Medieval Madness, check out this video of the real-life table.

    Pinball Arcade has 19 total tables currently available with more coming every month, the developers even use Kickstarter to finance their porting of the greatest real-life tables to digital form. Again, the developers are more like pinball historians. For the initial $0.99 price, you get 1 table, Arabian Nights.

    If there is a complaint for this near-perfect app, it’s that not every “best ever” classic pinball table translates into a “best ever” iPad pinball table. Some special effects that dazzle on a real table fall a bit flat on the iPad. But deep, challenging, strategic gameplay knows no boundaries, and every table in this app has it.

    3. Pinball HD Collection

    AC DC pinball

    Arcade Pinball Table

    3. Pinball HD Collection (free) comes with 1 free table, Wild West, with 10 other tables available for in-app purchase. The developer, Gameprom, created one of the first pinball games for the iPhone, so they’ve had time to perfect the art of pinball on iOS. Their experience shows in the pinball physics and how great the tables look on the iPad/iPhone’s screen. Some of my favorite tables are the Navy Seals, Slayer, AC/DC, and Arcade tables. Snow Pinball, a winter-themed table, is fun to play during Christmas time. My only complaint is that the tables lack some of the depth and challenge of our top two picks—the tables dont’t feel quite as epic. The developers also confuse their customers by offering several different apps, some are standalone single-table apps, others offer multiple tables already included in this one. But what really matters is the pinball, and there is some good pinball inside this app.

    4. Pinball Crystal Caliburn II

    Crystal Caliburn II iPad pinball

    4. Pinball Crystal Caliburn II ($3.99) is a single-table app that was a classic pinball game for the Mac. The best thing about the table is that it feels like real pinball. Add to that deep strategic gameplay where you’ll love to reach the table’s various goals, like activating Merlin’s spells, achieving accolades for your knights, and ultimately possessing the Holy Grail. The graphics are beautiful and Retina-sharp, and the table has nice lighting effects and subtle details like reflections. This is one of those tables where you can spend dozens and dozens of hours unraveling the various goals and achievements of the table and enjoy every second of it.

    5. Real Pinball HD – Vampire

    Real Pinball HD Vampire

    5. Real Pinball HD – Vampire ($1.99) is a single-table app with a great pinball physics engine. It’s another app that nails the feel of a real pinball table. I also love how the pinball has a graphic on it so that the actual spin of the ball is visible as it moves around the table–a detail I wish other pinball apps would copy. Vampire has a goth/vampire theme and features some deep and challenging gameplay. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect—the frame rate feels a bit stuttery, and the sound effects aren’t that great. But overall, the table is a joy to play with a sweet realistic feel.

    Honorable Mentions

    Our number 1 & 2 picks in the list above are clear winners, and after that, the competition gets really close. Here are a few more noteworthy pinball apps that I enjoyed playing.

    Pinball Maniacs: Cartoon Pinball Adventure (free) is a pinball with freemium gameplay, meaning its free to play, but includes in-app purchases to help you progress. Like its name implies, the pinball has a whimsical cartoony feel, this is not the game for realistic pinball, even though the game mechanics are based on classic pinball. Here you collect coins, destroy moving monsters by hitting them with your ball, and achieve various goals to progress the game and switch up the table environment. Overall, it’s fun because there is a feeling of progression that most pinball lacks.

    Art of Pinball – Table Pack ($2.99) features old-school pinball that you might have found at a truck stop in the ’50s. The tables may be simple by today’s standards, but the action is fast and fun. And the tables won’t take you days to unravel like some other tables in our list. The Table Pack version comes with 6 pinball tables, but the individual tables are available as seperate apps in the App Store.

    Monster Pinball HD ($1.99) is a strange (strange in a good way) twist on pinball with deep gameplay and a monster/alien theme. There are over 500 goals to achieve in the game, so you’ll get your money’s worth out of this one. And although it’s a single game (without in-app purchases), there are actually multiple tables you’ll visit as your pinball hits different spots in the game. There are also beautiful Retina graphics and bizarre sound effects that keeps things interesting. My only complaint is that the table lacks a narrative (a clear story) to follow, or at least, it’s not easily unraveled from early gameplay.