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Mini-Review: Burkley Snap-On Leather Case for iPhone XR

I got an iPhone XR in blue on launch day, and in the weeks leading up to that I’d been on the lookout for just the right case (I’m normally a case-less guy, but with an all-glass back, I’m not messing around). Apple had been, and to this day remains silent with regard to any sort of first-party cases, so I was obligated to look elsewhere.

I looked at a bunch of different options, including:

In the end I landed on this leather case by Burkley (Saffiano Navy Blue version linked; mine is in distressed coffee brown), and it’s just beautiful. At press time the case is absent from Burkley’s online store as they are making a few design tweaks for re-release.

Burkley iPhone case
The Burkley Full Leather Case for iPhone XR.

Okay, I’ll be honest, I didn’t love the texture of this leather case at first. I guess I’m a bit sensitive to texture (looking at you, Fast Company cover stock), and out of the box I found the overall feel of this Burkley case a bit rough/off-putting in contrast to an iPhone’s typical smooth metallic or glass surface.

However, after a few weeks of wear and some further review, I’m loving how this case looks and feels. The sides where I hold the phone have already started to pick up a rich patina from my finger oils (is there a better way to say that?) and the back has gotten some nicks and scratches that give the case some truly unique character. Any roughness seems to have faded away, leaving a smooth, clean finish.

The coffee brown color of this Burkley leather case complements the iPhone’s blue finishes, both on the camera/flash cut-out on the back and the buttons/speaker inlays on the side and bottom. And I love the Burkley buffalo that’s stamped into the leather at the very bottom of the case.

At $50, this was not an inexpensive option, but to me it was well-worth the purchase. I plan to keep this phone for at least three years, and this Burkley case is both protective and stylish.

Creating and Organizing My Little Office Library

As I mentioned in my post last week, I recently added five new physical books to my library. Once they arrived, I thought it would be fun to gather up all the business-y type books that have been gathering dust on the bookshelf in our basement at home, bring them into the office, and display them as a “Little Office Library,” of sorts.

And here is the result:

No one’s taken me up on it yet, but I’ve offered all of the books up to my colleagues for borrowing (even the ones I haven’t read yet).

The Master List (Organized by Height)

‘Homecoming’ Is Too Good

A couple weeks ago my wife and I binge-watched a TV show for the first time since our kids were born: Homecoming, an Amazon Prime Original.

Homecoming was based on the Gimlet Media podcast of the same name (is this the first time that’s ever happened?), and it happens to be Julia Roberts’ television debut. And it’s fantastic.

It’s not scary. It’s not gory. It’s not gratuitous. But Homecoming is pretty darn unsettling. Much has been said about director Sam Esmail’s directing style, and without spoiling anything, I can say that Homecoming is as Hitchcockian as it gets in 2018.

The camera angles. The spooky orchestral soundtrack (man, there are so many trombones). I even found the main title and credit sequences a bit off-putting. Homecoming is so good.

There are 10 episodes, each somewhere around 25-35 minutes long. We watched the first five without batting an eye, and if it hadn’t been for the threat of children waking us early on a Saturday morning (let’s face it: every morning), we might have watched all ten right in a row.

You are going to love this show.

Save a Few Bucks with Boosts on the Square Cash Debit Card

I stumbled across this the other day and thought it was pretty cool. I’m a long-time Square Cash user (now called Cash App), but I didn’t know much about the Square Cash Card, a debit card that’s tied to the funds in your Square Cash account. Using a Cash Card could be convenient, but we typically empty our Cash account balance after each incoming transaction.

Now I have a reason not to do that. Square is offering “Boosts” on the Cash Card that give discounts at participating stores & restaurants — Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, and Whole Foods, to name a few.

One boost in particular caught my attention: $1 off at coffee shops. Um, yes please! I don’t typically go in for $5 lattes, so $1 off goes a long way for me. And with a minimum spend of only $1.50, I could be sipping someone else’s java for less than a buck.

Here’s another awesome Cash Card detail: you get to create a design that’s laser-etched on the card itself (I’ll post mine here when it arrives). I used my Studio Neat Cosmonaut to write my initials, and then I selected a coffee cup graphic to go with them. Super cool.

Want $5 free to load up on your Cash Card when you give it a try? Sign up for Square Cash and we’ll each get $5.

Try Cash App

Five Physical Books I Just Bought On Amazon (And You Should, Too)

books on a windowsill

We don’t have a huge house, nor do I have a giant bookshelf at work, so buying physical copies of books is something I have to be a little thoughtful about.

Don’t get me wrong, I love physical books. To me there is something so special about opening a book whose cover and content have been well-designed and conceived.

(I will concede that reading ebooks on a Kindle is both enjoyable and practical, plus you can find awesome deals on great books — all the time.)

But when I spend money to own physical books, they must have been recommended in multiple places or have such an intriguing subject matter that I feel I just have to own them.

And there’s been a glut of such books lately! I’ve been keeping an Amazon Wish List this summer/fall, and recently I went ahead and bought them all.

So without further ado, here are those five physical books I can’t wait to dive into right now (in no particular order):

1. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

If you’re not reading James Clear’s weekly posts, what’s wrong with you? His writing is so well-researched, clear, and concise — it’s very impressive. Don’t believe me? Take less than a half hour and watch this video. You’ll get what I’m talking about.

2. The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King

No public figure has had a greater impact on my life than Mr. Rogers. His gentle demeanor, quiet leadership, and considered speech are something I aspire to every day. But all I really know of Fred Rogers comes from the episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood I watched on PBS as a kid. I know there’s much more to his life, and I’m so excited for this one.

3. Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp & John Zeratzky

To be honest, I can’t remember where I stumbled across Make Time, but I joined the authors’ email list and have been waiting for the release ever since. I know I shouldn’t, but I do judge books by their cover. For the topics I read, a book’s cover says a lot about what the author values, so I find them helpful. This one fits the bill.

4. Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers

This one was a Shawn Blanc pick for his Focus Course Book Club, and Shawn continues to reference this one again and again.

5. It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

Yes, yes, I’m a Basecamp fan, so if its founders write something, I’m probably going to read it. Thankfully I don’t work in a crazy office — we have pretty good work-life balance here at Hope — but I also want to make sure we don’t get that way! Looking forward digging into Jason and David’s latest.

One-Click Bluetooth with ToothFairy by C-Command Software

I’m a sucker for inexpensive, well-conceived macOS utilities, and at $3, ToothFairy by C-Command Software certainly fits the bill. I learned about the app from the show notes of this week’s episode of Mac Power Users.

I’m always switching between Bluetooth audio devices on the Mac, usually sending music to my AirPods, Bose SoundLink II over the ear headphones, or even my Amazon Echo Dot. Unfortunately macOS doesn’t always do a great job of connecting and switching between them.

ToothFairy lets you create little menubar icons for each of these devices and then toggle them on and off as you wish:

Device Icons in ToothFairy
Customizing your device icon in ToothFairy.
AirPods icon in the menubar.
ToothFairy fills in the AirPods icon to let you know it’s active.

And ToothFairy works great. I’ve been testing it for the past few days and it’s been super solid. Snag it on the Mac App Store for around $3.

The Doxie Go SE

In the past I had the opportunity to review both the Doxie Go WiFi and the Doxie Q, and this time the folks at Apparent sent me their newest scanner, the Doxie Go SE, for review. As the name implies, the Go SE represents an incremental evolution over the Go WiFi design.

But it’s more than that. Simply put, the Go SE my favorite Doxie scanner yet. Let me tell you why.

Hey There, Good Lookin’

First off, I do prefer this form factor over that of the Q:

I particularly like Go SE’s rounded corners and edges. There’s a certain warmth and friendliness to that style of industrial design which feels right at home here in 2018.

And the stickers. Now I don’t mind if you want to adhere labels on your product to help educate the user on unboxing, but those dang things better come off when I need them to. Thankfully that was my experience with Go SE: they came off clean as a whistle.

A Quick Scan

We don’t often have huge stacks of paper to scan in — thank goodness for statement PDFs delivered via email — so a single-sheet feeder works just fine for our needs (compared to the Doxie Q’s tray feed system).

With Go SE you’ll be scanning in documents face up, and they go through the rollers fast. I also appreciate the nice, but firm tug you experience when pre-feeding your paper into the scanner.

In terms of transferring scans to the desktop, I’m always partial to using an SD card because my MacBook Pro still has an SD card slot (that will not always be the case). Thankfully one version (in this case, the one Apparent sent to me) of the Go SE offers a WiFi transfer option like its predecessor.

What’s New?

Here are a few additional changes I noticed with Go SE, as compared to the previous models:

  • Go SE has a replaceable battery (🙌🏻) and it no longer requires a power block/brick for charging. Just plug the included cable into any USB port and you’re good to go.
  • The scanner will take a wider sheet of paper, possibly even the A4 format used for sheet music, which is a big bonus for me. I’d love to go all digital with my sheet music.
  • There’s an SD card in the box, and it packs 8 GB of storage.
  • You can transfer scans via a new USB tethered mode.

Wrapping Up

As I mentioned earlier, Doxie Go SE comes in two models ($199 and $219). Both can transfer scans over USB or via an included SD card, but only the more expensive $219 model can communicate with your computer (or iOS devices) over WiFi.

(I should also note the current Doxie promotion on Amazon. At press time your Doxie Go SE will ship with a bonus pair of Doxie socks, so that’s fun.)

For the moment I don’t need the WiFi option, but I can see it coming in handy as laptops (Apple’s machines, anyway) continue to abandon everything but the latest USB-C ports. And at only $20 extra, I think it’s a solid investment in future-proofing your Doxie Go SE.

C’mon people, go paperless! With the exception of just a few legal and other important documents, there’s just no reason to keep stacks of paper lying around and cluttering up your home. Good luck, and happy scanning!

The kind folks at Doxie were gracious enough to provide me with a complimentary Doxie Go SE unit for the purposes of this honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Panobook by Studio Neat

I’m back with my review of another brainchild from Tom & Dan, the good guys at Studio Neat in Austin, TX. This time it’s the Panobook ($20), their latest Kickstarter success and the first notebook from SN.

The Panobook first caught my attention for its form factor — depending on how you’ve got it set up, it’s both taller than most notebooks in “portrait mode”, and its girth in landscape surely suggests the origin of “pano” prefix in its name.

In short, the Panobook is exactly the note pad you’d expect from Studio Neat, as it is both beautiful and functional. Let’s take them each in turn.

Hey There, Good Lookin’

First things first: according to the specs documented on Panobook’s insert, the front & back covers are Neenah LaCrema 617 Charcoal on 50 pt Black Chipboard. I’m no printer by trade, so I won’t confess to know much about what that paper description means, but I can tell you how it looks & feels: dang good.

The cover stock is smooth to the touch, like a soft leather. And it’s thick. You won’t worry about throwing Panobook in your backpack — it’ll be just fine.

cover the Panobook

The insert itself is a sort of minty green, replete with suggestions for how to use the dot grid paper (more on that in a moment), a type size reference to help with sketching layouts, and as I noted before, list of specifications for the notebook.

And lastly we have the dot grid itself. You get 50 sheets for a total of 100 pages, and at 71 in.² per page, you won’t be hurting for writing space. The grid paper itself reminds me a lot of my favorite bound journal/notebook, the Baron Fig Confidant.

If you feel like going full Mister Rogers with regard to the Panobook, check out this video Tom & Dan shot on their visits to The Odee Company, their printing & manufacturing partner in Dallas:

Making It Work

At first I didn’t really know where Panobook would fit into my workflow, but now that I’m using the Baron Fig Planner 2018 to capture my “Big 3” tasks for the day, Panobook has become the perfect “right hand man” next to the Logitech K780 on my desk. Here’s what I’m using it for:

  • Writing out checklist items for to-dos I need to finish in one sitting
  • As a tally sheet for recruiting calls & emails
  • For capturing new to-dos at meetings
  • While planning out schedules and timelines

And what’s more — I’m not even utilizing the neat little touches Studio Neat designed into each page:

  • Subtle corner guides for drawing three portrait-orientation rectangles or six smaller boxes (think storyboards or thumbnail sketches)
  • Notches at the midpoint of each side of the grid that allow you create four equal sections on the page

So I’m not going full tilt with all of Panobook’s design affordances (yet!), but I do think I’m going to grow into it. And when I’m done with this Panobook, I’ll store it safely in the included slipcover, make note of its lifespan, and move on to the next one. I’ll be happy to start a fresh Panobook in the future, and Studio Neat even offers an option for buying them in a bulk 3-pack or on a subscription basis.

Panobook in the Wild

As I was preparing to write this review, I thought it would be fun to scan Twitter for mentions of how folks are using Panobook now that it’s out. Here are some of my faves:

Putting This One on the Shelf

If you like nice things (who doesn’t?) and don’t mind paying for them, you’ll be happy with the Panobook. I’ve found it to be super versatile, and I look forward to seeing the next paper good designed by Studio Neat.

The kind folks at Studio Neat were gracious enough to provide me with a complimentary Panobook for the purposes of this honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Upside Travel

I was lucky enough to stumble upon Upside when they launched their beta back in 2016 (I came across it via a sponsored Facebook post, of all things). Co-founded by Jay Walker (Priceline), Scott Case & Jon Ellenthal, Upside’s premise is simple: book business travel packages, and in exchange for being flexible about details like airline/hotel brands, travel times and hotel proximity, your company saves money and Upside also rebates you some of those package savings in the form of gift cards.

I have the responsibility of making my own travel arrangements for work, and in total I’ve used Upside to book airfare & hotel for three different trips (two others were cancelled due to weather). While our company offers some guidelines for pricing, I also feel a responsibility to be a good steward when it comes to keeping costs low. And in comparing package costs vs. booking á la carte, Upside definitely makes sense for me & my company.

While I am partial to Delta for flying and the Hilton family of brands for hotel accommodations, booking travel through Upside has caused me to branch out a bit. I’ve had great experiences flying with United & American, and I’ve stayed at some cool hotels beyond the standard Marriott and Hilton brands (to be fair, Upside offers the most popular hotel brands as well, and some even tack on their loyalty points as well).

While airline options are limited to American & United, Upside offers many, many hotel brands.

In exchange for this flexibility and for booking as a package, I’ve earned a total of $490 in gift cards for these business trips. (To be fair, there were some big gift card bonuses for being a beta customer.) You can redeem your gift cards electronically at brands like Amazon, Target, Panera, Lowe’s, and AMC. Each of my gift card redemptions has worked flawlessly, and fast — it’s really awesome.

On top of the gift cards, Upside is all about providing incredible customer service. Here are a few examples of what I’ve experienced:

  • surprise seat upgrades from economy to economy plus
  • special booking promotions like a $200 Netflix gift card
  • awesome chat & phone support when I had to cancel and rebook a trip due to weather
  • a free $5 Starbucks gift card for you to snag coffee on every trip

All of these features are available on both Upside’s website and their accompanying apps for iOS & Android.

Upside’s iOS app lets you do pretty much anything the website can do, including redeeming rewards and chatting with customer service.

What can I say? I’m an Upside fan. The type of business travel I do varies so widely that I don’t need to book these big packages all the time, but when I do, Upside is the perfect fit. And the company has continued to improve since launch, adding features like rental cars through Hertz, one-way flights, and even loyalty points from certain hotel brands. (One upcoming feature I’m super-excited about is multi-city trips, as it would be great for some business travel I have coming up later this year.)

So that’s my take on Upside Travel. It’s a fun way to earn a little extra when you’re booking business travel, and I’ll definitely continue to use it in the future.

Use this link (affiliate) to earn a minimum of $100 in gift cards on your first trip purchase of $600 or more.

The Hidrate Spark 2.0 Smart Water Bottle

We’re tracking all kinds of health data these days — workouts, steps, weight, sleep, water… you get the idea. I’ll go ahead and credit Fitbit for starting this craze. Fitbit’s premise was simple: clip a little gadget on your belt or wear it on your wrist and suddenly you have easy access to basic data about the way you’re moving (or not) throughout the day. I’m an Apple Watch wearer these days, but I’ll credit my original Fitbit Flex with getting me thinking about all this stuff. Why have these trackers become so popular? I think automation is the answer.

Sure, you could put pen to paper and take down a daily journal of your activity, but you’re not actually going to write down every single step you take. It doesn’t even matter how much Sting & The Police want you to. Yes, one distinct advantage of modern technology is that we’re being gifted more data about our lives than ever before. And the easier the data is to come by, the more we can do with it.

Side note: I studied vocal music in college, and one of the key tenets of our day-to-day was this: drink tons of water, avoid caffeine, repeat. Well, as soon as I graduated and ended up working in a more typical office setting, coffee happened to me. And as the years have gone by, I’m not drinking less coffee, but more. As a result, I’ve had some workdays in the last year where I don’t know if I drank a single drop of water until dinner. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Not good.

Enter the Hidrate Spark 2.0.

For the last couple weeks I’ve been testing what I’d call the Fitbit of water tracking. Hidrate is a smart water bottle. It’s a 24-ounce water bottle with a soft outer coating — it’s oddly nice to hold — that contains a Bluetooth-enabled sensor stick. You drink your water, and it sends that data over to the Hidrate app on your smartphone. That’s it.

Now, us humans are easily distracted, but don’t fret: the sensor stick will glow (somewhat ominously) inside the bottle when you need to drink more water. Sure, your coworkers will wonder what the heck is going on, but it’ll make for a great mid-meeting conversation starter, right?

Hidrate syncs with Apple Health, Fitbit, MyFitnessPal and more to pull in your weight, height, and daily activity, which means that it can give you a suggested water goal that’s different every day. And Hidrate’s companion Apple Watch app will help you stay on track as well.

In short, Hidrate works just as advertised. The per-swig calculations are surprisingly precise, and I’m definitely drinking more water. However, I do think it’s worth bearing a couple of things in mind:

  • The sensor stick has to be affixed to the bottle cap just so, and you’ll need to take a few minutes with the instructions to get it right.
  • Hidrate’s sensor stick runs on two of these watch coin cell batteries, and there’s a certain weirdness about dangling some batteries in your water bottle. If you follow the directions, Hidrate makes it clear that the stick will be water tight, so I guess I’ll just have to trust that.
  • The fact that the bottle lights up is fun and helpful, but slightly on the gimmicky side. Push notifications from the app would be good enough, IMO.

Here in 2017 there is no shortage for premium water bottle options. Nalgene kicked it off 20 years ago with both style and durability. CamelBak took the reins somewhere along the way. And S’well & Hydro Flask are the new hotness (and coldness). In short, consumers are willing to pay more for a bottle that brings something new to the table (literally).

At $55, Hidrate Spark is too expensive to be the water bottle for everyone. But given the current fitness tracking craze, there must be a huge market for it nonetheless. What’s more, if used properly, Hidrate Spark should last for a long time, making it a better value than its retail price would suggest. One thing is for sure: if you want to drink more water and want a little help to get there, you’ll be happy with Hidrate Spark.

The kind folks at Hidrate were gracious enough to provide me with a complimentary Hidrate Spark unit for the purposes of this honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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