iPhone5mod’s EX Hybrid Controller

Earlier this month, Chinese firm iPhone5mod launched its innovative EX Hybrid Controller for the iPhone 5. As I noted in my coverage at MacRumors, the product consists of a thin magnetic cover for the back and sides of the iPhone, with separate 2-mm thick plates offering keyboard and gamepad options for users.

We don’t really do reviews at MacRumors, but iPhone5mod sent me a sample of the accessory set after I wrote about it and I thought it was worth a post to give a quick hands-on impression of the product.

First, the positives. The plates really are thin. Extremely thin, and yet the keys and buttons are clickable under the aluminum surface of the plate and raised ridges between them help you stay on target. Each plate of course also contains a battery and Bluetooth hardware inside, and it’s really remarkable that it all fits in such a slim profile.

Key responsiveness is about on par with what I expected for such a thin device. You simply can’t generate significant key travel in such a thin profile, but the keys do generate a distinct clicking or popping as they are pressed. As with similar keyboard add-ons for phones, the key layout is more compressed and in a different alignment from traditional keyboards, but with a little practice typing becomes fairly natural.

iphone5mod_iphone_keyboardThe magnets are pretty strong. I felt comfortable holding my iPhone by the magnetically-attached keyboard in both landscape and portrait orientations, although it is obviously still more prone to being knocked out of your hand if you bump it against or get bumped by something.

iPhone5mod’s promo video on the product page shows a user stacking both the keyboard and gamepad plates on the back of an iPhone, and if you choose to use the device with both plates attached, it is advisable to keep the two plates together when moving into active mode. Leaving one attached squarely to the back of the phone and only moving the other one of them into the usable position results in a significant weakening of the magnet attraction, increasing the possibility of the device being knocked loose.

There are a few negatives as well, most notably that the charging station for the plates suffers from some quality control issues. I received two charging stations from iPhone5mod, and one of them simply doesn’t work. Plugging in the micro-USB cable to the station yields a brief flash of the red power light, but then it fails to charge. The other charging station works fine.

It is also quite difficult to remove the keyboard and gamepad plates from the charging station. They sit down in a depression and are held in by magnets in order to ensure proper alignment of the charging contacts. There is a cutout at one end of the charging station that is intended to facilitate removal of the plate, but it is not deep enough to allow you to get a finger under the plate and pry it loose. Some flexing of the charging station will let the plate be removed, and it helps if you stick the rear shell of the case (with or without iPhone) to the plate first to help free it from the charger.

Overall, the EX Hybrid Controller is an interesting product to evaluate. I don’t generally have a need for a physical keyboard or gamepad on my iPhone, but I can see how it might be an appealing option for those that do, offering a remarkably thin keyboard that also includes a shell to give some protection for the iPhone. At a current price of $59.90, it is a significant investment and pricer than some other options, but it does seem to offer a much thinner and lighter profile than the competition, an important consideration for a device that most people keep with them throughout the day.

By Eric Posted in iPhone


I was filing away some 12,000 emails that had piled up in my inbox over the past nine months and came across this one sent by a reader back in March:

I love your site. I have been visiting every day since I was in high school. You are great and I love what you do.

One thing that irritates me however, is the fact that you keep referring to the next iPhone as the iPhone 5. This is illogical for anyone who actually follows Apple in the way you or I do. The iPhone 4 was given this name because it was the 4th iPhone! The 4s was the next model and therefore the 5th. Following this logic the next iPhone will be the iPhone 6 because it is the 6th iPhone. There is no understandable reason why Apple would name their 6th model the iPhone 5. It is hard on readers for you to keep making this mistake.

1. iPhone
2. iPhone 3g
3. iPhone 3gs
4 iPhone 4
5 iPhone 4s
6. iPhone ?

It’s fine for the average joe to make this mistake. For a tech site, specifically one that tracks Apple, it is unacceptable.

I must fess up though…I did plenty of hedging in my writing, generally referring to the 2012 iPhone as "the next-generation iPhone". Credit does, however, go to Arn, who stood behind the "iPhone 5" name in the face of all of the "Apple would never do that" ridicule.
And now on to the iPhone 5S.

By Eric Posted in iPhone

AT&T Comes Through

There have been a lot of anecdotal reports of iPhone users switching from AT&T to Verizon, driven in part by AT&T’s unwillingness to allow launch-day iPhone 4S purchasers to upgrade to the iPhone 5 at fully-subsidized prices given that it has only been 11 months since the last iPhone launch. Andy Zaky of Bullish Cross even details how AT&T effectively paid him $173.82 to switch to Verizon.

Upon discovering that I had to pay $250 for both my wife and sister to get them iPhone 5′s, I inquired as to how much it would cost me to essentially cancel my account at AT&T and go to Verizon instead. I wasn’t seriously considering leaving, but just sort of wanted to know out of curiosity what it would cost to not be under contract.

And this is precisely where AT&T completely and totally fails. This is why Apple is Apple and why AT&T is AT&T. For me to cancel the entire family plan and move to another carrier, it would only cost me $320.00.

AT&T then proceeded to give Zaky a service credit of $173.82, ostensibly to offset the amount of money he would save if he switched to Verizon for his iPhone 5 purchases over sticking with AT&T. But the service credit comes with no strings attached, and Zaky is still free to switch to Verizon and pocket the AT&T service credit.

I was very nearly in a similar Twilight Zone of pricing rationale with AT&T, as the carrier was initially quoting me full retail price on an iPhone 5 upgrade. I purchased the iPhone 4S on launch day, but had a relatively low-cost $69.99 monthly plan for most of that year and my “early upgrade” pricing was not scheduled to kick in until early November and a full subsidy wasn’t in the cards until May 2013. So, for the 32 GB model I wanted, AT&T was telling me I needed to shell out $750.

I contacted AT&T customer service to ask about the issue, noting that I could simply pay my early termination fee (currently $215) and switch to Verizon, where I could purchase the 32 GB iPhone for $299 and save roughly $235 over staying with AT&T. I was initially told that there was nothing they could do, but the agent eventually relented and agreed to escalate my case. I’d be receiving a response within 72 hours, which wasn’t a ton of help given that iPhone 5 pre-orders were going live roughly 12 hours later.

Not expecting AT&T to come through, I placed a pre-order for a Verizon iPhone 5 as they went live at 3:00 AM last Friday and prepared to have my number ported from AT&T. Later on Friday, I did receive a phone call from AT&T, but I wasn’t available to take the call, and the voicemail simply said that they would call back the following day.

Later that evening, I checked my AT&T online account and to my surprise saw that I was eligible for full subsidy on the iPhone 5: $299. I then canceled my Verizon pre-order and resigned myself to camping out this Friday to buy my iPhone 5 on AT&T because pre-order shipping estimates had long since moved out to 2-3 weeks. AT&T did call back on Saturday to confirm with me that due to my status as a valued customer I was eligible for full subsidy, and I thanked them while sharing just how close they’d come to losing me as a customer.

I’m not seeing many reports of people receiving similar treatment from AT&T, but then again I’m not seeing many reports of people who were initially being told that they needed to pay full price for their iPhone 5 upgrades. Whatever the reason, I was pleasantly surprised to see AT&T come through and offer a deal that would keep me with them rather than sticking with ridiculous pricing policies that make it considerably cheaper for customers to switch carriers than to stay.

The China Telecom iPhone

From an IDG News report on Sunday:

IPhone Built for China Telecom Gains Regulator Approval

A version of the Apple’s iPhone built for China Telecom’s networks has received approval from a Chinese regulator, putting the iconic smartphone closer in the hands of customers of the mobile operator.

It’s not clear if the device is the iPhone 4S, the latest version of the iPhone. The China Radio Management office said on its website that it gave approval to an Apple smartphone built for China Telecom’s CDMA2000 network.

While the report states that it is “not clear if the device is the iPhone 4S”, it most certainly is. A quick search on the database of approvals reveals the device to be model A1387, which is in fact the same iPhone 4S released in the rest of the world and the one that GSM provider China Unicom will begin offering on Friday.

Oddly enough, the report has been picked up without question by a number of different outlets, including mainstream publications such as The Wall Street Journal, CNET, and Bloomberg.

All of the reports seem to leave the incorrect impression that this mysterious A1387 iPhone (if they even identify the model) has been developed by Apple specifically to run on China Telecom’s network. What none of them consider is the fact that the device was approved so that China Unicom can offer it beginning on Friday.

The iPhone 4S approval really says little about China Telecom’s prospects for offering the device. It’s been clear since the iPhone 4S launch last year that it would run on China Telecom’s network, just as the now year-old CDMA iPhone 4 would. Yes, technically the iPhone 4S approval is one less hurdle for a China Telecom iPhone, but that approval was essentially a given and was driven by China Unicom’s needs, not China Telecom’s. The absence of a China Telecom iPhone has been and continues to simply be due to a lack of an agreement between Apple and the carrier.