IRL: the accessories edition

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IRL: the accessories edition
Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: the accessories edition

Darren Murph is the Tupac of our time. Kind of like a West Coast rapper releasing albums 10 years after his death, Darren Murph's byline is still appearing on Engadget a month after he left the site. After the break, we've got all his unpublished work: a series of four mini-reviews for various accessories. And be warned: there's a lot of iPhone and Mac stuff here, so if iDevices aren't your thing, you might want to show yourself out now.

iFrogz Cocoon cases for the iPhone 5s

I know, I know -- another look at another iPhone case. But look, I finally ditched my cherished iPhone 4s for a 5s, and try as I might, I can't get any of my old cases to fit. Ugh. It's terrible! For more nonsensical days, I've resorted to iBattz's insanely oversized, incredibly secure Mojo Refuel cases. For day-to-day, I've been leaning on iFrogz's $30 Cocoon. It's a lovely balance of protection and svelteness -- you see, it's a two-piece arrangement which wraps the phone in a rubber sheath, and then encases that in a hardened plastic shell. I'm a huge fan of the rubber portion wrapping around the lip of the display, which helps protect the LCD in the event of a face-first dive.

I'm the kind of guy who frequently launches my iPhone from lap to the pavement when exiting my car, so a certain level of protection is a must. The hardened plastic actually has a lovely texture to it, which makes it grippier without making it impossible to peel out of my pocket. It's also stupendously thin, and it works perfectly with my assortment of docks and in-car mounts.

I installed an invisibleSHIELD before slapping the case on, and was delighted that the rubber sheath isn't so tight that it peels up the edges of the screen overlay. My iPhone 4s Case-Mate had a bad habit of ruining screen protectors, but the Cocoon isn't causing me such grief. I had initially expected to need iFrogz's bulkier Bullfrogz, but the Cocoon has already taken a few inadvertent spills and lived to talk bout it. Phew.

MintCases Rustic MacBook Air sleeve

Remember that manila envelope case that comically covered the original MacBook Air from the cruel, harsh, unforgiving world of travel? We've come a long way since then. I'll confess that my ColcaSac sleeve has been a total trooper for the past year or so, and I've had little reason to look for anything else. I'm a huge fan of its soft, flexible construction, but there are times when the business set may yearn for something a bit sleeker.

Recently, I had the opportunity to try out a Rustic MacBook Air sleeve from the folks at MintCases. Much like ColcaSac, these guys and gals assemble their wares right here in the United States, and while plenty of companies claim to use best-in-class materials, the Rustic backs that up. At $49 for the 11-inch case and $59 for the 13-inch version, neither is particularly cheap. That said, you're buying a quality product to wrap around a premium machine, so it comes with the territory.

As you'd expect, the sleeve is simplistic in nature. It serves but one purpose: to protect your MBA from bumps and bruises. There are no external pockets, no graphics and no frills. If you're looking for understated and classy, this one has both in spades. The leather itself is predictably luscious, and adds minimal bulk to the overall package. The company only builds sleeves for two products at the moment (the MacBook Air and the iPad), but I'm guessing that'll change as more people begin to snap these up. If you're really, really into leather, you'll be quite satisfied with the Rustic; if you're looking for something softer and more playful, I'd still give ColcaSac the nod.

Twelve South HiRise Stand for iPhone

SONY DSCIn all likelihood, we all have one of those things that we didn't know we needed until we tried it. For some, it's the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser -- which is perhaps the most amazing marvel of home cleaning to ever grace the human race. For others, it's Twelve South's HiRise for iPhone. In a nutshell, this $35 stand is a bantam version of the $70 HiRise for MacBook stand. Instead of holding your laptop, it's engineered to hold your iPhone or iPad mini -- assuming your iDevice sports a Lightning port. For those who appreciate matching accessories on their desk, these two present a perfect 1-2 punch.

I've been testing this guy out with an iPhone 5, and I've become strangely attracted to it. At first, I felt completely comfortable just having my iPhone lying flat on my desk. After all, viewing angles are such that I can see notifications even when it's resting on its back. But having a stand has created a new wrinkle in my workflow. I've now enabled far more iOS notifications than before, and rely on it as a second screen alongside my MacBook to keep up with whatever glanceable information should come my way on a given day. (My only wish was that iOS allowed for "Work" and "Away" profiles, so that those screen notifications would taper off once I left my desk and began to conserve battery life.)

I appreciate that Twelve South built this as an adjustable device. It comes with a number of clips that support even the bulkiest of cases. Most iPhone stands require the device to be free of all clothing, but this thing works swimmingly even if your iPhone is wrapped in an Otterbox Defender. The pedestal and back rest are also adjustable, and assembly took around five minutes. For those sitting at a desk for hours on end, this is a worthwhile purchase. It's actually allowed me to use my iPhone much more while I'm sitting, which has subsequently freed up a bit of screen real estate on my MacBook that I had previously reserved solely for notifications.

Twelve South GhostStand for MacBook

I gave up my desktop around two years ago now, and decided to go all-in with a laptop-based desk arrangement. What that meant was pairing a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to my MacBook Pro, but I soon found that having the laptop flat on the desk was killing my neck. I turned to Twelve South's HiRise for MacBook, and it's served me well. So, when I had the chance to test out one of the company's newer stands, I swapped one out for another to see what difference it made.

For starters, the $35 GhostStand for MacBook is half the price as the aforementioned HiRise. Then there's the fact that the overall design harkens back to the days of the Power Mac G4 and the original Cinema Displays -- a time when Apple and translucence went together like unicorns and rainbows. While the GhostStand isn't aluminum in any way, it still looks mighty classy sitting underneath one of Apple's portable machines. Speaking of which, it's designed to handle just about any of them. I tested the stand with a 13-inch MacBook Air, a 15-inch MacBook Pro and a 17-inch MacBook Pro, and it held 'em all with plenty of stability.

In fact, I'd argue that the GhostStand is more stable than the more expensive HiRise. The footprint is wider, which helps it to maintain its position and eliminate wobble even with heavier machines. There are rubber grips lining both the top and bottom, so you can rest assured that nothing's going to slip or slide if an inadvertent bump occurs. Twelve South markets itself as "Mac-only," but honestly, any modern Windows-based Ultrabook would look delightful sitting atop this stand. Perhaps my only niggle is that you can't adjust the height of this unit as you can with the HiRise. Even so, I found it to be an ideal height for me. Plus, if it's too low, just stack a few phone books underneath it -- we won't judge.

-- Darren Murph

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