Another look at mobile workflow – iPad Air keyboard cases

I have a bad habit of buying lots of accessories for an electronic device I’ll have for a year or so, and then they pile up because people don’t want to buy them with the old device. This is usually the case with mobile phones and laptops, but it also comes up with tablets. I have three keyboard cases and at least three regular cases for my iPad 3rd gen, including a Hello Kitty keyboard.

During a particularly nifty Target promo around their Cartwheel app, I got a 15% discount off any electronic device over a two day period. This included iPads, and since my 16GB 3rd gen iPad was full, I got a 64GB Air at nearly 20% off (with redcard discount). Then I went about looking for a case.

I need a case, just in case, you know

An article someone pointed me toward said the Case Crown Omni was the best on the market. I bought it to use while I searched for a keyboard case that would work. I don’t have a lot to say about it except that it was indeed a good case, better than any I found at local retail in a few days of looking.

Among the recommendations that came in was one from Kieran Hannon, the CMO of Belkin (who also own the Linksys brand, in case you’ve been under a WRT54G for the past year).

He unsurprisingly recommended his firm’s “Qode” (pronounced as “Code”) line of keyboard cases, with the top-of-the-range Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case being well rated (albeit a bit pricey at $130). There’s also a Slim Style model (msrp $80) with a kickstand on the iPad holder, and a Thin Type model (msrp $100) that works as a stand when in use and clips over the iPad when not in use.

61gBQETEYkL._SL1500_[1]As an aside, the Belkin product I use the most (up until now, at least) is their swivel power adapter with USB and AC outlets. The SurgePlus model is the current one, with 2.1A charging on USB. I suspect the 3-4 of them I have are old enough to be the 1A versions (time to upgrade!). Great for travel, especially if you’re at an event where they think one power outlet per table is generous.

The Belkin Slim Style

I bought a Slim Style at Target, marked down from $80 to $71 and further discounted 5% via redcard (I think this was after the Cartwheel deal). I used it for a day or so before mentioning on Twitter that it was nice, but the kickstand design wasn’t very lap friendly. This is what you could call the Surface Dilemma, after Microsoft’s almost-there laptop-replacement tablet which hasn’t yet wowed everyone with its lap-friendliness.

71Swm5JrNTL._SL1500_[1]

My assessment of the Slim Style was that, on a desktop (or probably even on a roomier airline tray table), it would be good. The keyboard and its layout felt reasonable, and I felt it protected the iPad well enough that I could just drop it into my laptop bag without fear.

But I returned it, because of the lapability factor, and mentioned this on Twitter.

The @belkincares account asked if they could help, and were very courteous even though they (luckily) couldn’t make my lap resemble a tabletop more. I’ve had a few good exchanges with @belkincares over the past year or so, from stacking cable inquiries around their older KVMs to some arcane questions about the wireless bridge line.

This keyboard case goes to ULTIMATE

About a week later, Belkin had generously provided a Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case for me to try out at no cost.  I plugged it in to charge and then started using it the next morning.

The Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case

The Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case in use

The Qode Ultimate has a more contained layout, in that rather than a kickstand, the iPad shell magnetically “sticks” to the keyboard shell. It has three positions, as with the Slim Style, but they’re within the footprint of the keyboard, and thus much more convenient on the lap or on a tray table.

ipad-qode-shellThe keyboard shell is sort of a dark blue “aircraft-grade aluminum alloy” that I didn’t recognize as blue at first. It does pick up fingerprints and the occasional light scratch, but I only notice that when getting the iPad out or putting it away, since this part is on the bottom when in use, and also hidden when you’re using it in “reading mode” (i.e. folded back).

The iPad shell piece is black plastic with a leatherish inset that incorporates the kickstand “hinge.” The Belkin logo is on the “front” (i.e. bottom of the keyboard) and the Belkin name is on the leatherish hinge section and on the front of the keyboard.

The keyboard turns itself off unless the iPad is “connected” to one of the three kickstand positions. So if you flip it back so that the keyboard is behind the screen, it’s automatically powered off. Same with closing it up; the keyboard is off and the battery life is extended.

For some reason, Belkin have swapped two of the keys on their keyboards. I believe the Slim Style and Thin Style place the colon/semicolon key between “L” and “Enter” whereas the Ultimate places the quote key there. In each case the other key is to the right of the space bar.

Kensington to the semicolon’s rescue?

I’m slowly getting used to the keyboard layout. It’s very typeable except when I need a semicolon or a colon. However, I decided that if I was going to write a review, it would be good to make sure that I liked the Belkin keyboard case for reasons other than it being given to me at no cost.

So I picked up a Kensington KeyFolio Exact case, which I found on clearance at Marshall’s for $40. It includes a Google Drive offer (which is apparently processed manually by Kensington, as I haven’t received the code for the offer in the past week), so it was an inexpensive experiment.

The KeyFolio is bulkier, with a detachable bluetooth keyboard, a stylus holder in the hinge, a wider range of color options, and a lower price if you’re going to buy it at retail.

The Kensington Exact and Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboards

The Kensington Exact and Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboards

I found that the keyboard itself was brilliant, managing to fit both the semicolon and the quote key between “L” and Enter by making the keys a little bit smaller. And since the Kensington had a fixed “kickstand” mounting point in the case closer to the hinge, they had room to put separate number and function key rows on the keyboard. The Belkin Slim Style also does this, since it has most of the surface area to spend on keyboard real estate. And I actually found myself using the function keys on the Kensington, which I hadn’t done on the Belkin.

(Above photo is of the actual keyboards, Kensington Keyfolio Exact on the top and Belkin Qode Ultimate on the bottom.)

I used the Kensington for just short of a week, and while I loved the keyboard and almost got used to the stand layout, I found I had to go back to the Belkin Qode Ultimate. Why?

I preferred the Qode Ultimate’s ease of turning off the keyboard, the lightness and grace of the entire case, and its turning off the iPad screen and locking it when I closed the case.

I expect I will hold onto the Kensington in case someone I know needs a super-cheap case for their Air and doesn’t need lapability. I am tempted to try the Thin Style just to see how that style of keyboard feels as a case. But the iPad is back in my Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case, just in time to head off for a company sales meeting out of town next week. And maybe I’ll have to write with fewer semicolons.

Summary:

All keyboards tested charge with standard micro-USB cables (included), and paired very easily with the iPad Air via Bluetooth. Battery times are based on the manufacturer’s website or packaging (YMMV of course). Prices found on 8/22/2014 online.

Belkin Qode Slim Style keyboard case – $34 at Belkin or Amazon.

Good design, great keyboard, excellent value for the cost, but suboptimal for lap work.
2.5 days working time, 60 days standby time

Kensington KeyFolio Exact keyboard case – $29-39 at Amazon, $40 at Marshall’s, includes a 65GB 1 year Google Drive credit (~$15 value)

Great keyboard, kickstand design could use some work, doesn’t seem to lock the screen when closed.
40 days working time, 180 days standby time

Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboard case – $129 at Belkin, around $90 at Amazon.

Slim and sturdy case, very lap-friendly, no dedicated function key row, semicolon key is on the bottom row.
11 days working time, 180 days standby time

The final word:

The Qode Ultimate turns your iPad into a laptop, although it comes at a premium (which I feel is worth it). The Qode Slim Style and Kensington KeyFolio are good keyboards for tabletop use, and come in at a lower price.

Disclosure: Thanks to Kieran Hannon and Belkin for providing the Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case at no charge to me. Other than a twitter inquiry of “and the verdict?” they did not require or request a review, blog post, or any other consideration.

The cloudy nature of cloud and big data – with Gan Sharma at Asigra Summit

Last month, during a week off between jobs, I did what anyone would do on their vacation… I went to Canada for a software vendor’s partner summit.

What, you don’t do that sort of thing on your time off?

Well, the fine folks at Asigra invited me to attend their partner summit (disclosure: travel and accomodations were provided by Asigra) and, having been impressed with their technology and their history in the past, I accepted the invitation and made my first visit to Canada in about ten years.

First, the videos.

Gan Sharma, Asigra’s Director of Business Development, sat down with me before the event to talk about a couple of technological topics of broad interest, that both he and I are “a little bit obsessed with” (in my words). We had our friends at Prime Image Media, also known as the team behind Tech Field Day’s videos, there to record our conversations. I’m pleased to be able to share them with you here.

First, we talked about balancing the budget impact of backup and recovery with the risk factors of not having a backup and recovery strategy.

To be honest, backup and recovery can be a serious investment (some might call it a money pit, especially if it’s not planned and executed properly). But having to recover your data from pre-data-pipeline sources, or not being able to recover it, can be a far more financially draining experience.

Second, we talked about two very cloudy topics–“The Cloud” and “Big Data.”

One of the biggest sources of confusion, fear, uncertainty, and doubt around both The Cloud and Big Data is the lack of a clear and unassailable definition for either. As I mentioned, nobody has come up with one answer to what The Cloud is, or what Big Data is… because there isn’t exactly one complete and true answer.

But wait, there’s more… soon…

Stay tuned for another post or two around the Asigra Partner Summit. I need to write enough about the Partner Summit at least long enough to be able to not spell it “parnter” the first time I type it.

 

Disclosure:

I attended the 2014 Asigra Partner Summit at Asigra’s invitation, as an independent blogger, and the company paid for my travel and lodging to attend. I have not received any compensation for participating, nor have Asigra requested or required any particular coverage or content. Anything related on rsts11.com or in my twitter feed are my own thoughts and of my own motivation.

 

Brain power and device power for your holiday weekend and beyond

As some of you know, I’ve recently moved across town (why did I want my own yard again?) and flipped my commute from northwest to east-northeast by way of joining Cisco Systems. I will still be blogging here, and possibly more on other sites (like the Perspectives Blog at Cisco) but it’s been a period of resettling lately.

I do want to bring a couple of promotions to your attention… things I like and want to share (see disclosure below).

Packt Publishing $10 for 10th Anniversary

First, if you’re heading into the holiday weekend and looking for some development reading, Packt Publishing is celebrating their 10th anniversary with a $10 deal on all of their eBooks and videos through July 5 (Saturday).

Packt is a smaller publisher of tech materials… they engage writers from the community and bring out books on new and updated topics a bit (or sometimes a lot) faster than the larger and more official tech presses. They cover a broad range of topics and most likely have something you’ll enjoy reading. And if you have unique expertise on your social media or LinkedIn profile, you may hear from them about writing and reviewing opportunities as well.

One of the books they released recently that I’ve been looking forward to is Implementing Cisco UCS Solutions. There is a reliable rumor that Cisco Press is coming out with an updated official UCS tome in the next year (the previous version is about 4 years old now), but in the meantime, you may find this book useful for learning in more detail about Cisco UCS.

So check out this link and see if they have anything you like. The deal goes through Saturday, and their eBooks are DRM-free so you can read them almost anywhere (maybe not your 90s Nokia phone, but hey) and even print from them if you like.

PowerQube Mini portable power strip and charger

Second, for those of you who travel, or like unique outlet strips… take a look at the PowerQube Mini that’s on Kickstarter for the next week.

pqmaxi

About a year ago, these folks from Indianapolis came out with the original PowerQube. This is a stylish power cube (in the 2d sense, it’s an inch or so tall) with six regular AC outlets and three full power USB charging ports. The PowerQube has integrated electronics letting it send the right power to your devices, whether a little rechargeable speaker that needs 300mA or your iPad or Transformer T100 that wants the heat of a thousand suns. Or 2A. Whichever seems more practical.

I backed the project and got one of the white PowerQubes for $30. It’s a little bit big for solo travel, although I’d bring it with me if I were spending a weekend or a week in a vacation home. And as far as home use, well, it powers my home office desk, and I’m going to get another to power the home network from.

You can find the original PowerQube at Fry’s for $69.95, or order one from Amazon for $59.95. But if you compare what I paid for my Kickstarter model, with the retail price, you may be thinking “how can I get in on this kind of deal?”

pqmini-ac

Well, that’s where the PowerQube Mini Kickstarter comes in. The Mini is a lot smaller, with two AC outlets and three full-power smart USB ports. It also has a detachable IEC power cord, so you could hang this off an underused datacenter PDU or just replace the cord if you need shorter or longer drops.

pqmini-usbIf you pledge, and if they make the goal, you can get one Mini for $35 (estimated shipment is September 2014). I went for the silver bundle to get 3 of the Minis at $100 total. But they’d appreciate the support at any level, and I think a lot of my readers would benefit from something like this.

But wait, you’ll get a charge out of this…

Ever wonder what you’re plugging into when you use a public charger? Feel a little paranoid at trade shows or airports but your phone is at 5% and you can’t put it in B&W mode like the new Samsungs?

It turns out there are some unique cables out there that don’t have data connectivity at all. They bridge the lines so you get as much power as your phone or tablet can handle, which means pretty much no risk of having your data accessed surreptitiously, and your phone or tablet may charge in half the time to boot.

I’ve recently stocked up on PortaPow cables from Amazon. PortaPow is a UK company that uses what they call the “Dumb USB specification” to provide charge-only cables in various lengths for MicroUSB devices.

Got an iDevice? Get the MicroUSB to Lightning (or 30pin) adapter from Apple and use it with this. Alternately, PortaPow has a Fast Charge USB Adapter (some people call it a USB Condom) that you put between the source and your existing USB charge cable. Apparently you need the Apple version to get 2A charge through the adapter; I would expect either to work with Android and other standard USB devices.

There are other brands, including Mediabridge (I have three of their cables to test with as well), and if you look for “fast charge usb” you should find others as well. But most of my experience, since buying an ASUS Transformer T100TA with its quirky USB charge requirements, has been with PortaPow, so that’s what I recommend.

So where do we go from here?

I recommend a safe and relaxing weekend of course. That’s my goal as well. Happy Fourth of July to all of you who observe a calendar, whether it’s a holiday or not.

But check out the links above and see if any of this can help with your brain power and device power needs.

Disclosures:

I’ve bought some PacktPub books on my own, and received others on promotion. I will be getting a promo copy or two of their books for this post and related social media excursions.

My PowerQube was purchased through generally available channels (Kickstarter) with my own money, and my pledge for the Mini is out of my own pocket as well, although they may provide promotional consideration in the future.

And the fast-charging USB cables are not a promotion of any sort; I’ve paid out of my own pocket for the dozen or so I have from PortaPow and MediaBridge and others, and I’ll probably buy more since (like scissors and tape) they tend to disappear.

Introducing (and Expanding) the Asigra Cloud Backup Connector Appliance (from the Asigra Partner Summit)

As some of you know, I’m starting a new job soon working with software vendors integrating their products around Cisco platforms. While it’s not my day job yet, I’ve been pondering some less explored options to look into when I do get settled in.

This week I’m at the Asigra Partner Summit in Toronto, with my blogger/technologist hats on. I was a bit surprised to run into a Cisco 2900 ISR (Integrated Services Router) with a UCS E-Series blade module in it, in the hands-on-labs area of the Summit. For me, at least, it’s the unicorn of Cisco UCS; I’ve seen an E-Series system twice now, and once was in the Cisco booth at Cisco Live this year.

What’s this Cisco UCS E-Series all about?

284666[1]The Cisco UCS E-Series blade gives you a single Xeon E5 processor, three DIMM slots, 1-2 2.5″ form factor drives, a PCIe slot, and the manageability of standalone UCS servers without the infrastructure overhead that would be cost- and space-prohibitive in a single or dual node B-Series or C-Series deployment. It does not integrate with UCSM, although you can run multiple blades in an ISR. It’s an intriguing platform for remote office/branch office (ROBO) environments, with the capability to integrate your routing/switching/firewall/network services with your utility server needs, including backup and recovery.

But what’s it doing at the Asigra Partner Summit?

As it turns out, this “Asigra Cloud Backup Connector Appliance” deploys the Asigra Cloud Backup software with the ISR and E-Series platform. It makes sense, and while I wish I’d thought of it sooner, or they’d thought of it later, it is a pretty cool idea.

You can use the appliance as a standalone device, running Asigra DS-Client and DS-System software to collect and store your backups on internal storage. You can also use it as an aggregator or data collector running DS-Client, which would send the data to your DS-System server elsewhere (perhaps a standalone server on-site, or a datacenter or hosted vault).

The one catch is that you’re a bit limited on the internal storage. Cisco has certified 1TB SATA and 900GB 10K SAS drives for the E140DP blade, which means you’re capped at 2TB raw in the server. Asigra has incorporated deduplication in their backup software for over 20 years, so depending on your data you’ll probably see 8-10TB (or more) capacity, but you may still hit some limits.

How do we get around this capacity limit?

If you want to use your Cloud Backup Connector Appliance as a standalone service, I see two possible paths, but each has its drawbacks.

First, since the drive bays are standard 2.5 SATA form factor, you could install your own aftermarket 1.5TB or 2TB drives, doubling your capacity to 3-4TB raw. This means you’re managing your own disks though, and it could complicate Cisco support (although if you’re tearing into the gear you probably already know this and understand the risks).

Second, since you have a PCIe slot in the server, I could imagine either installing a PCIe flash card (such as the 3.2TB  Fusion-io “Atomic” ioMemory SX300 card just announced last week) or a SATA/SAS storage controller connected to some sort of external array.

There are two downsides to this second option. Cisco has not announced certification of anything but a quad-port Gigabit Ethernet or single-port 10-Gigabit Ethernet controller in the PCIe slot (so you’re blazing your own trail if you swap them out–they should work, but…). And if you put storage in that slot, you can no longer expand networking, and will be limited to two internal (chassis) ports and two external (RJ45) ports for Gigabit Ethernet networking. Oh, and a third concern is that you lose the encapsulation factor with your storage hanging off of the server rather than being inside the server.

As I ponder the pitfalls to the PCIe expansion option, I find myself wishing for a dual-Ethernet / SAS card similar to what Sun used to sell for Ethernet and SCSI back in the day. I think HP had a single port combo as well. Alas, both of those are antiquated and are PCI-X instead of PCIe. You could use FCoE from the 10-Gigabit Ethernet card if you have that infrastructure in place, but that might be beyond branch office scale as well.

So what are you saying, Robert?

I may be overengineering this. I’ve done that before. Dual 10-Gigabit in my home lab, for example.

For a branch office with ~20 500GB desktops, a pile of mobile devices, and a server or two, with judicious backup policies, you’re in good shape with the standard configuration. Remember, you’re deduplicating the OS and common files, compressing the backed-up data, and leaving the door open to expanding your Asigra deployment as your branch offices grow.

And if you choose to, you can run a hypervisor on your E-Series server, with Asigra DS-Client/DS-Server VMs as well as your own servers, to the limits of the hardware (6-core CPU, 48GB RAM). The system can boot from SD card, leaving the internal disk entirely for functional storage and VM data stores.

Where do we go from here?

Even with the 2TB raw disk limitation (which will probably be addressed eventually by Cisco), you have a very functional and featureful option for small offices, remote offices, and even distributed campus backup and recovery aggregation.

You get all the benefits of Asigra’s software solution, including agentless backup of servers and desktops, mobile device support, dedupe and compression, FIPS 140-2 certified encryption at rest and in flight, and Asigra’s R2A (Recovery and Restore Assurance) for ongoing validation of your backed-up data.

And you get the benefits of Cisco’s ISR and E-Series platforms for your networking services and server implementation. You can purchase pre-installed systems through an Asigra Service Provider, or if you already own an ISR with an E-Series server, your Service Provider can install and license Asigra software on your existing gear.

Disclosure:

I am attending the Asigra Partner Summit at Asigra’s invitation, as an independent blogger, and the company has paid for my travel and lodging to attend. I have not received any compensation for participating, nor have Asigra requested or required any particular coverage or content. Anything related on rsts11.com or in my twitter feed are my own thoughts and of my own motivation.

Also, while I am a Cisco UCS fanboy and soon to be a Cisco employee, any comments, observations, and opinions on UCS are my own, based on my personal experience as well as publicly available information from Cisco and other vendors. I do not speak for Cisco nor should any of my off-label ideas be taken to imply Cisco approval or even awareness of said musings.

Bad behavior isn’t the right response to bad behavior

tl;dr:

And now on with the show…

Earlier this week Nutanix put out a video campaign against VCE. Many people found it inappropriate or unacceptable. Many people didn’t find it inappropriate or unacceptable. But it offended a very visible contingent of the Internet tech community.

And a bunch of people on Twitter decided to fight inappropriate and unacceptable with the same. For example:

delpo

I was told on Twitter last night that “as a father” made this comment acceptable and respectable. Reminded me of the Jenny McCarthy “as a mother” fiasco a few years ago.

There was another tweet telling Nutanix execs that they’d better plan to work in fast food soon… but it looks like that was deleted since last night. If that’s the case, kudos to the poster for thinking better of it. And kudos to Howard Ting, Nutanix’s marketing SVP, for his creative response to that particular tweet.

I was also informed last night on Twitter that being disappointed with this sort of discourse meant I was “white-knighting,” and that an offensive ad campaign was perfect justification for immaturity in return.

The “white knight” term seems to be a popular way of dismissing any disagreement these days, although I hope that ceases to be the case someday. The fellow who made that accusation also accused me of not having a leg to stand on in my position because I stopped arguing with him. Sometimes you just can’t win.

So what’s your point?

Is it really too much to ask, that we keep the level of discourse a bit above what we’re allegedly (i.e. when it’s convenient or attractive or beneficial to us) trying to discourage in others? I don’t think so. As a father, as a technologist, as a human, I don’t think so. And if I’m in the Internet Minority on this, I’m disappointed but okay with it on my side.

I was impressed with a couple of the responses that came from people who missed the memo that they were expected (or even required) to be offended.

The blog post linked in that second tweet is a worthwhile read, although I expect it will be attacked promptly by Nutanix’s competitors and various other people who thrive on feeling outraged.

Nutanix could have done a milder campaign, and I understand they’ve done so already. Should they have started with that? Maybe. Would it have had the same impact? Probably not.

Would it have inconvenienced people looking for something to be outraged about, if they’d started with the new version? Not for long; this is the Internet as you know. Are there hidden (or not-so-hidden) agendas at work in the outrage? I’ll let you decide on that. Will anyone remember this in two months? Other than the folks who are now setting a calendar reminder to stir the pot in two months… probably not.excellent

But those of us with genuine concern about the impressions and realities of sexism, racism, and anythingelse-ism in tech need to take the high road whenever possible. Having a proven history of fertility and/or adoption does not exempt us from being civil. Nor does having a certification, a job, or a social media account. It may not be easy at all times, but change is rarely easy.

Didn’t you have a booth babe thought to share too?

Yes, thanks for reminding me while I still have my asbestos Speedo(tm) on. For that image, you’re welcome.

The blog linked above suggests that people should express outrage about promotional models or “booth babes.”

While I agree with that concern, and I don’t stop at booths that are overwhelmingly ‘babed, there’s a right way and a wrong way to address this issue as well.

I was disappointed to hear some folks at a recent professional trade expo cheerfully and proudly insulting the models themselves, some even claiming knowledge of the models’ alleged (unlikely) alternate professions and sexual proclivities. One or two people I overheard were even thrilled to insult a technologically aware person in a booth who simply made the mistake of being an attractive woman in tech.

The white-knight-decrying fellow can pipe up here if he likes, but insulting or attacking the models themselves–or anyone at a trade show for that matter–will not help your cause or do anyone else any good. Complain politely and professionally to the vendor in question if you want change to happen. Calling the model something you wouldn’t call a person in your family (or that you wouldn’t want someone in your family called) just puts you farther in the wrong than the vendor you’re trying to be outraged at.

Disclosure: I have some people I consider friends over at Nutanix, and I have been a guest at their office for Tech Field Day and just as a friend of the company. However, I don’t have any pigs in the fire on this market at the moment, and nobody has asked or enticed me to write this or given any consideration for this post. And I do have a relative who is a part-time promotional model, albeit in the fashion/club/media world, not the tech world.