The Things We Bling: Swarovski Edition

Though trends are turning to simpler, earthy designs among the general populous, the obscenely rich seem never to abandon their flare for the extravagant.


Swarovski crystal covered Mercedes

This Mercedes, encrusted in more than 300,000 Swarovski crystals apparently listed at something like $4 million.

By now, we’ve all seen photos of the “diamond-encrusted” Mercedes reportedly owned by Saudi Prince al Waleed bin Talal.  Of course, as it turns out, the car is actually encrusted in Swarovski crystals – not diamonds – and the Saudi prince has pretty resolutely denied ever having owned the now-legendary vehicle designed by Garson/D.A.D.

But lately, we’ve been more interested in some of the other extravagant, and often downright bizarre, things absurdly wealthy people are covering in these fine crystals.  Cases in point:

Swarovski crystal encrusted bottle of Dom Perignon

Swarovski encrusted bottle of Dom Perignon

As if Dom Perignon, an upscale champagne that start around $250 a bottle, were’n’t fancy enough, someone took it upon themselves to cover this bottle from base to neck in Swarovskis, a service quickly made available to the masses by any number of entrepreneurs eager to take advantage of celebrity-envy on E-Bay and Etsy.

Bottles of Goût de Diamants’ Taste of Diamonds

Goût de Diamants’ Taste of Diamonds is the most expensive champagne in the world

But that’s just the tip of the champagne and crystals iceberg. There is, in fact, a whole line of fine champagne, called Goût de Diamants, decorated with fewer, but larger Swarovski crystals, the most expensive of which, Taste of Diamonds, goes for a little north of $2 million a bottle.  You can’t really find a downgraded version on Ebay. 

Swarovsky Starbucks cupOf course, if you need crystals to help you get through the daily grind, you may be more interested in this crystal-encrusted Starbuck’s cup.  You can sip your iced latte in style while you listen to your crystal-covered Beats headphones.  Yup, both available on Etsy.  In fact, one of the vendors on Etsy will cover pretty much anything in crystals, from Ice-T’s license plate frame to your hair dryer.

While these may be bizarrely expensive and unnecessary adornments, they are not really, in themselves, bizarre items to make fancy.  Except maybe the Starbucks cup. But let us move on. To the bathroom.

We thought it was a little odd and certainly excessive to cover an entire bathtub in crystals.  But Catchpole & Rye, “Purveyors of fine sanitary ware” have made one, retailing at about $200,000.

Crystal encrusted bathtub

swarovski crystal covered toiletBut as fine as their sanitary ware might be, Catchpole & Rye cannot be held responsible for the remarkable piece of work on the right. At a bargain $75,000, this is not the most expensive crystal-encrusted toilet on the market (there was another, by Satis, below, that retailed at $130,000 back in 2011), but we thought it was the prettiest.  Statis crystal encrusted  toilet




AND  we even found the perfect toilet paper to go with it.:24 karat Gold toilet paper


As you can see, it is possible to get just about anything decked out in bling.  But if your tastes run more towards the, well, tasteful, MightySkins can help you out with Chevron phone cases, geometric laptop vinyls, and classy wood-look vape wraps, for the discerning (and budget-conscious) lover of luxury.


2015 Vape Store Survey

Vaping has been one of the fastest growing trends of the last few years. Online and brick and mortar stores selling everything from e-liquid to customized MOD vaporizers are popping up across the country, and business is booming. To get a better idea of where the trend is heading and who is getting on board, we recently surveyed more than 100 purveyors of all things vape.  The results? It turns out vaping isn’t just a mundane habit taken up to replace traditional cigarettes. Every one of the vendors we asked said that style at least sometimes plays a role in the choices vapers make, and more than half said that style is absolutely a consideration for their customers. This accounts for the huge variety of products available to e-smokers and the hundreds of ways vapers can customize personal vaporizers and e-cigarettes.

So who are these customers? We were surprised to find that only two of the 106 owners and managers we talked to had a customer base that consisted of more women than men, and only 34% said that their customers were evenly balanced between the genders. Apparently, dudes are a little more into vaping than chicks.

It came as no surprise, though, that the majority of  vapers are on the younger side, with 69% falling between 26 and 35 years of age.  Still, we gotta hand it to the older generations – 6% of our respondents reported that the average age of their customers was over 45.

Check out the infographic below to see what other trends and preferences vape stores are seeing as vaping culture becomes more mainstream.

2015 Mighty Skins Vaping Infographic

Where Vapers Buy Vaping Accessories

In the vaping world, once you get past your basic gas station e-cig, which most vapers do pretty quickly, you enter a vast and complex land of customization.  Nearly every part of a vaporizer can be changed out for another, better part or one specially selected to fit your particular style.

There are hundreds of brands of vaporizers and e-liquids, and there are hundreds of retailers of both.  Figuring out where to buy your vaping accessories, or “eccessories”, as some have charmingly come to call them, can be a bit intimidating.  This is especially so when you realize that, like anything else, there are a lot of knock-offs on the market. Where an off-brand purse might wear out before you think it should, though, a low-quality vaporizer can actually pose risks to your health.

To help you out, we scoured the forums of the robust and rapidly growing vaping community to find out which online retailers of vaping accessories came most recommended.  While there were dozens of e-shops that were recommended by someone, only a handful showed up over and over again.

Here, the most recommended sites for ordering vaping accessories online:

Forum Favorites

DiscountVapers logoDiscountVapers popped up on every forum several times in answer to questions about where to buy vaping accessories of all kinds.  Vapers seemed generally pleased with their selection, prices, and shipping, as well as customer service and return policies.  They have thousands of accessories for something like 75 brands, plus helpful advice for both new and seasoned vapers.  They even have a loyalty program for frequent buyers.  The one thing they don’t have, unfortunately, is e-liquid.

MadVapes_logoMadVapes came almost as frequently recommended as DiscountVapers and has the added bonus of also being a source for e-liquid.  They carry e-juice from about a dozen different suppliers as well as mod kits, starter kits, EGo accessories, and a bunch of other stuff. They also have brick and mortar shops throughout North and South Carolina, as well as one in Atlanta and in random cities in Texas, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.

Mt.BakerVapor_logoMount Baker Vapor was the only other site that came close to MadVapes and DiscountVapers in recommendations on the forums.  The company was started by a couple of vapers in Washington State, and they’re still running the place.  They have e-cig and vaporizer accessories as well as e-juice and are known for fast shipping (which is free on orders of more than $50) .  They even have an app.

Frequently Mentioned

GotVapes has all kinds of vaping accessories and was often recommended as a place to check when you can’t find what you want at one of the three sites mentioned above.  They ship internationally and you get a 5% “VIP” discount by subscribing to their newsletter.

Hoosier E-cig started out as brick and mortar store in Greensburg, IN, but now ships all over the country and, through Bongo International, a service that provides users with a U.S. address, internationally as well.  Hoosier is also touted for fast shipping and delivery, even, one commenter noted, for custom juices.

MyVaporStore carries products from some two dozen vaporizer manufacturers and about 25 e-liquid companies.  They also offer free shipping for orders over $75.

The Veteran Vaper is pretty comparable to MyVaporStore in recommendations but has a smaller selection (about 16 brands of vaporizers and e-cigs and only 4 e-liquid suppliers).  They only ship to U.S. addresses, but will ship orders of more than $75 for free.

VapeDudes, though they carry a few accessories and hardware products, is mostly recommended for their e-juice, of which they have more than 300 varieties.  As the name suggests, it is run by a group of vaping enthusiasts that, in their words, “eats, sleeps and breathes (especially breathes) all things eJuice.”

Several Mentions


Once you’ve got your gear, come on over to us to make it truly yours.

Fuzion Vapor (e-juice only)
FastTech (hardware only; ships from overseas, so can be a bit slow in arriving)
Canvape (Canada only)
Ecigexpress (more than 1000 flavors for DIY e-liquid mixing)

One other bit of advice that showed up over and over was the caveat that, so far, no one store always offers the best prices on everything.  While one may have the best deals or selection on atomizers and coils, another may blow everyone else away when it comes to e-liquid or tank systems.

If you’re still not sure what all the parts and pieces are, you can check out our post on e-cig and vaping basics and visit The Vaping Forum’s evolving vape glossary or Guide to Vaping’s A-Z e-cig glossary (with pictures).  You can also get specific recommendations on brands and retialers, or general advice on where to start, from others in the vaping community at sites like VaporTalk (which also sells accessories), VapingUnderground (which is not as subversive as it sounds), E-Cigarette ForumThe Vaping Forum or the other Vaping Forum. Vapers are a friendly bunch and eager to share what they’ve learned and talk about their hobby-turned-lifestyle, so don’t be shy.  They’re always glad to welcome new members to their community.

Otterbox or Lifeproof: Choose!

Thrill-seekers, water-lovers, child-havers, grace-lackers – pretty much anyone who might find their mobile device outside of its ideal environment is eager to protect these increasingly valuable possessions from the many dangers that may assail them throughout the day.  It’s now become pretty clear that two major contenders have emerged in the “protect-your-device-from-all-the-things” market: Lifeproof and Otterbox.  Both of these companies have proven they know how to make smartphone and cell phone cases that can take a beating.  And, in the case of Lifeproof, a drowning.  So how do you, the wary traveler, swimmer, parent, or klutz, chose the right case for your device?

Let’s start with the basics: what do these two companies have to offer?  This is not always a simple question to answer.  Both Lifeproof and Otterbox, but especially the latter, frequently introduce and discontinue products, based on what devices are most popular.  Here is a chart of their current series and what they can and cannot protect you from:

Otterbox_Lifeproof series features chart



We bet you noticed that only one of the Otterboxes is waterproof.  And guess what?  That series is actually only available for the Galaxy S5.  So, if what you’re looking for is an anti-drowning case, you’ll want to go with Lifeproof.  You may also notice that only three of the cases have built-in screen protectors.  There are a few of the Otterboxes that come with an adhesive screen protector, but if you’re looking for serious, certain protection from the elements, you probably want either a Defender, a Preserver, or a frē.


The other thing to consider is whether either case maker actually makes a case for your device.  On this front, Otterbox really kind of kills Lifeproof.  Where Otterbox at any given time generally has cases for 40-50 different devices from 8 or 9 different manufacturers, Lifeproof pretty much caters exclusively to Apple and Samsung.  Right now they also of have one case for the Motorola Droid Turbo, but otherwise you’re out of luck if your device doesn’t have an “i” or a “Galaxy” in its name.  We learned this by creating this chart of all the Otterbox and Lifeproof cases currently available on each company’s website, listed by device.  Of course, in many cases, earlier and discontinued models can be found from other retailers, like Amazon or Best Buy, but you should be careful shopping around—there are a lot of knock-offs out there that are not guaranteed to produce the same results as the genuine article.  In fact, if you think you may have purchased a fake, you can report it to Otterbox or Lifeproof.  They may not be able to do much, but maybe you can feel better that at least whoever you bought it from could get in big trouble and maybe be prevented from defrauding anyone else.

Otterbox and Lifeproof_devices covered_April 2015_Screenshot

Cases currently available from Lifeproof and Otterbox. Otterbox letters correspondence to the series in the chart above. Click to download the Word document.

Agile Tablet System

This is a series particular to Otterbox.  It comprises several pieces designed to add functionality to your tablet case.  We’ll let Otterbox explain:


Otterbox Agility Tablet System graphic

We think this is pretty cool.  And while there is a decent variety of Lifeproof accessories, nothing they have really compares.


This is really another area where Otterbox kind of wins, but not by a lot.  Neither Lifeproof nor Otterbox cases are primairly designed to be sexy.  However, Otterbox has made an effort.  For the more popular devices (iPhones, Galaxy S-series), they offer many of their cases in a variety of colors and have created the Symmetry series specifically to look more like a smartphone case and less like a portable bunker.  Fortunately, MightySkins has decided to pick up the slack in this particular area and offers hundreds of options (instead of ten) to make your Otterbox or Lifeproof case look super great.  The most popular?  For both Lifeproof and Otterbox cases, it is hands down the tree camo.

tree camo_otterbox_armorpink tree camo-otterbox preserverpurple tree camo-otterbox commuter_droid

So, for swag, we’ve got you covered.  Even if you’re not into tree camo.

Case-specific Considerations

Besides the factors above, there are a few other factors to look for before you make a final decision:

  • Can you charge your device in the case?
  • Will you need an adapter to use your headphones?
  • If there is a screen cover, will it interfere with touchscreen?
  • What is the warranty?  Does it cover only the case, or also the device if the case fails?
    For most products, the Lifeproof warranty and Otterbox warranty posted online are all you need, but if you’re purchasing from a third party, make sure you know what’s covered.
  • Do people who have used the case like it?
    Even if you don’t want to purchase from Amazon, it’s a great place to go for customer reviews.
  • How awesome is it?
    Check out these stories of Otterbox miracles and Lifeproof cases in real life.




E-cigs and vaping: Laying out the basics

It’s official.  Smoking is out, vaping is in.  According to the CDC, the percentage of adults in the U.S. who smoke was down from almost 21% in 2005 to just under 18% in 2013, and has continued to fall.  Meanwhile, the vaping industry has gone from one of around $20 million a year in 2008 to an estimated $1 billion or more according to the Nicotine Science and Policy website.  Vape bars and retailers are popping up everywhere and business is booming.

Evaporate Los Angeles

Vape bars like Evaporate Los Angeles are popping up everywhere, giving patrons a chance to sample flavors and socialize with other vapers.

Early studies are showing that vaping is helping people ditch the smoking habit and, though data about the long-term effects of the substitute is yet to be gathered, it is pretty widely agreed that it is bound to be less harmful than its tar- and chemical-rich counterpart.  Plus, vapor is far less obnoxious to those around you and dissipates almost instantly, leaving you smelling like yourself instead of an ashtray.

So, how does one get started on the road to smoke-free bliss?  It’s really pretty straightforward, but there are a few things that it will be helpful to understand before you purchase your first “electronic nicotine delivery system”.

E-cigs vs. Vaporizers

E-cigs by Playboy

A typical e-cigarette

There are two basic configurations for portable vaporized nicotine delivery systems.  One is the familiar e-cig (e-cigarette, a.k.a. PV for personal vaporizer) that you can buy at gas stations and convenience stores.  Most of these are about the size of a cigarette and usually are designed to look like one.  This can be a comfort to those former smokers for whom the feel of a cigarette in their hands and on their lips is as much of a comfort as the nicotine it delivers.


Vaporizers come in all shapes and sizes, and Mighty Skins has them all covered.

The other option actually encompasses a huge variety of devices, all known as vaporizers.  Technically, e-cigs are also vaporizers, since they do turn e-liquid into vapor.  E-cigs, though, do this by heating nicotine-infused e-liquid directly, though convection (direct transfer of heat from the heating element to the liquid).  If the liquid were solid, it would be burning, but since it’s not, it evaporates and becomes vapor.   Most people use the term vaporizer, though, to refer to a device that heats the material (liquid or solid) through convection, meaning that it uses heated air to warm it.  This still results in the liquid turning into vapor, but this method allows for much greater variety and customization in the temperature, quantity, and quality of the vapor.   E-hookas are also vaporizers, but folks mostly seem to use this term when using nicotine-free e-liquid.

Many people who start out using e-cigs (“vaping”) fairly quickly move to a larger personal vaporizer, sometimes called “vape pens” or “mods”, depending on the degree to which they can be modified with different sized batteries, cartridge styles, etc.  Mods are usually preferred by experienced vapers for several reasons.

  • They have bigger batteries, so they hold a charge longer, often for a full day or longer.  E-cig batteries, on the other hand, sometimes last only for a few hours.
  • Mods and other larger PVs have refillable cartridges so, rather than paying for a new cartomizer (a combination cartridge and atomizer) when your e-cig runs out, you can just refill your cartridge with whatever e-liquid you prefer.
  • Refillable cartridges mean that, rather than being limited to a few flavors of cartomizer that fit your particular brand of e-cig, you have a pretty much limitless variety of e-liquid flavors to choose from, both with and without nicotine.
  • Larger PVs look less like cigarettes, so people are less likely to gripe at you for smoking where smoking is disallowed (which seems like almost everywhere these days).
  • Mods can be adjusted to deliver warmer or cooler vapor, as well as larger quantities of vapor.  The right adjustments can lead to a deeper “throat hit”, creating something closer to feeling of smoking, or a smoother hit, depending on your preference.
  • Mods area available with clear cartridges, called “clearomizer”s, that allow you to see how much e-liquid you have left.  E-cigs just run out, and the last hits tend to be significantly less satisfying than the first.
  • The separation of the atomizer and cartridge in larger PVs seems to offer a more consistent delivery than the e-cig’s cartomizer.

E-liquid (a.k.a. e-juice)

You may, by now, be wondering what the heck is in this e-liquid that is at the heart of the digital nicotine revolution.  For the most part, it is made up of nicotine, propylene glycol (an organic compound “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use as a direct food additive by the compound U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and some sort of flavoring.  Different e-liquids contain different amounts of nicotine, and some may contain ingredients other than the three mentioned here.  You can always ask your friendly neighborhood vape dealer to give you the low-down on a particular flavor or brand.  In general, 1 milliliter of e-liquid is roughly equivalent to 2 packs of cigarettes.


The only real customization available for e-cigs are a few different flavors and e-cig wraps, which are available in hundreds of different varieties.  Vape pens offer endless flavors and sometimes allow you to change out batteries or cartridges, but are also mostly customized using wraps.  With a mod, you can customize practically every part of the device, from the atomizer coil to the cartridge, as well as adding wraps, blinged out batteries, and more.
Which device you choose really depends on how much you want to spend, how much you want to customize, and how serious you are about optimizing your vaping experience.  E-cigs are cheaper initially, but must be replaced more often while vape pens and mods require more initial outlay put longer use and less future cost.  Mods offer the best overall experience and the most customization options, but are bigger and more conspicuous and can be bulky to carry.  Many vapers use a combination of both, depending on what is most convenient and what activity they will be combining with their vaping recreation.  And, with their rising popularity, there’s no telling what other incarnations we might see in the near and distant future.


Image credits:
E-Cigs by Playboy” by Lindsay Fox of Ecigarette Reviewed, via Flickr some rights reserved




What Phone Specs Mean to You, Pt. 4: The Camera

iPhone 6 cameraAlright.  So now you know all about the specs for your smartphone’s CPU (its brain), screen (its face), and connectivity (its ears and mouth).  Now, we’re gonna get into the specs related to your phone’s camera, the eye (or eyes, on most modern models) that sees your world and captures it for transmission to the masses.

Many of these terms also apply to regular cameras, but with digital cameras, and especially smartphone cameras, things sometimes work a little differently.

The camera


What it
refers to

What it means to you

Megapixels (MP) Picture size/ resolution Pixels are the tiny dots of color that every picture you take is made up of.  They are also the tiny dots that capture that picture.  A megapixel is a million of these dots.  The more dots in the frame, the bigger you can make a picture without it getting blurry and the deeper you can zoom in without losing details.  A 5MP resolution is high enough to print clearly on an A4 sized page.  Nevertheless, many smartphones these days offer 13-16MP cameras, and there are some camera-focused phones that offer 20 to 40MP cameras and more.
Microns (μm) Pixel size There is no uniform size for the pixels that make up the megapixels that manufacturers use to tell you about the resolution of their cameras, but most in cell phones range from 1-1.5 microns.  In proper cameras, you’re looking at 3.5 and larger.  Larger pixels are able to take in more light, which will tend to give you a better picture.  For this reason, more pixels are not always better.  If pixels are made too small in order to accommodate greater numbers, they will not have enough light to give you a good photo.
CMOS (complementary metal-oxidesemiconductor) and
(charge-coupled device)
Image sensor The image sensor is the part of your phone’s camera that captures light, which makes it very important for picture quality.  The good folks over at C|net have a great explanation for why its size matters:  “Imagine you have buckets (pixels) laid out on a blacktop (sensor). You want to collect the most water (light) in those buckets as possible…the larger the sensor you have (blacktop), the larger the pixels (buckets) you can put onto it, and the more light (water) you can collect.”  Larger sensors are why an 8MP shot from a digital SLR camera is generally better that one from a smartphone camera; typical smartphone sensors are around .3- to .5-inch, a basic DSLR will have a sensor between .8 and .9.  This isn’t a spec you are likely to see on the list at the cell phone store, but can be a useful resource for this spec.  Naturally, slimmer, smaller phones limit how big a sensor can be.   According to GSM Arena, CMOS sensors are generally smaller, cheaper and more energy efficient but currently deliver the same image quality as CCD sensors.
Backside illumination (BSI) Image sensor This is a type of CMOS sensor designed to make it easier for light to reach the necessary part of the image sensor.  The result is that it tends to take better low-light photographs.  On the flipside, some users have noticed that photos taken with a BSI CMOS sensor in full sunlight can look washed out or slightly overexposed.  Most major camera manufacturers have models that use BSI sensors, but only a few phones are so far making use of the technology, as it is still pretty expensive.
f-number/ f-stop (f/#.#) Aperture Aperture determines the amount of light that is able to reach the image sensor.  Oddly, the higher this number, the smaller the amount of light that is being let in.  So a camera with an f/2.2 maximum aperture will be able to collect more ambient light than a camera with a maximum f/2.8 aperture.  Aperture has two primary effects: 1) A camera using a smaller number aperture will perform somewhat better with no flash in low-light situations and 2) a camera using a higher number will have a broader range of focus (so you and your beach umbrella and the hot surfer 15 feet behind you will all be in focus, if the number is high enough).  Some smartphone cameras allow you to adjust the aperture or have settings that will adjust it automatically.
Millimeters (mm) Focal length/
lens size
The focal length on any camera (and in our eyes, for that matter) is the distance from the lens to the sensor.  Increasing focal length allows a camera to focus on objects further away.  This, however, also narrows the field of view.  A wide angle lens, then, provides a very short focal length.  Most cell phones have a fixed focal length between 25 and 35, though there are a few camera phones, like the Nokia Lumia 1020 and Galaxy S4 Zoom that utilize optical zoom (see below).  This measurement should not be confused with lens size, which is also measured in mm (i.e. 35mm) but is not so relevant for camera phones.
1x zoom, 6x zoom, etc. Optical zoom On cameras with adjustable lenses, optical zoom is the highest focal possible length divided by the smallest possible focal length.  1x zoom means, essentially, that the focal length is not adjustable.  Any zoom capabilities these phones have, then, result from there being more image detail available because of higher resolution or has been added by a smartphone compatible lens kit.  The Nokia Lumia 1020, while does utilize optical zoom, has 6x zoom, while the Galaxy S4 zoom has 10x.  A Nikon COOLPIX P610 come with 60x zoom.
(light-emitting diode)
Flash single LED flash_smartphoneThis is sort of the standard flash for cell phone cameras.  It is just what it sounds like, a single LED lamp positioned near the camera lens that illuminates whatever is in its scope, which is usually not more than a couple of yards in each direction.
Dual LED Flash dual LED flash_smartphoneAs you might guess, this is a flash arrangement with two LED lamps instead of one.  It helps to make flash shots look more colorful and evenly-lit than shots taken with single-LED flashes and increases the area illuminated by about a third.  It also draws twice as much power, which is no big deal for photos, but is something to consider for video.  The iPhone 5s introduced “True Tone” technology, a dual LED flash with one amber and one white LED that it can adjust so that the color of the flash matches the white balance of ambient light, giving photos taken with flash a more natural appearance.
-xenon Flash Nokia xenon flash_smartphoneXenon flashes are not too common on phones, but they do show up on a few.  They emit a more powerful burst of light than LED-based flashes, which tends to create a more even look to a scene, rather than the spotlight effect phone cameras often produce.  However, xenon only creates a burst, so it cannot be used to illuminate a scene for video.  Xenon flashes also tend to be a bit bulkier.
Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) Image quality OIS employs a tiny gyroscope within the camera that detects tiny movements of the lens (usually caused by unsteady hands) and directs small actuators to move the lens, in real time, to compensate.  This is especially helpful in low light situations when the camera needs a little more time to take in light and the smallest movement of your hand can result in a blurry picture.  It also makes for much smoother video.
(High Dynamic Range)
Image quality Dynamic range is basically the difference between the lightest light and darkest dark your camera can capture.   Light things outside of this range tend to show up just bright white blurs and dark things at the opposite end of the range turn into just black shapes.   The HDR setting on your phone’s camera essentially takes three photos at different exposures (shifting the dynamic range to include more of the lights and more of the darks), then combines them so that everything captured in each range shows up in one picture.  This is especially good in peculiar light settings (sun shining into a dark room or something in the shadows on a bright day).
Selfies This is the camera that allows you to look at the screen and capture yourself on camera at the same time.  It usually will be lower resolution than your primary camera (2-5 MP) and typically will not have a flash function.  The HTC Desire Eye is a notable exception to both of these tendencies, offering a 13MP front-facing camera with a dual-LED flash on both sides.



What it
refers to

What it means to you

1080p (Full HD) Video resolution If your specs mention that you can shoot video in Full HD or at 1080p, it means that your frames will have a resolution of about 1920×1080pixels, HD quality video.
4K/ Ultra HD Video resolution Ultra HD is an even higher resolution video than Full HD, with something like 3,840 x 2,160 pixels per frame.  4K refers to picture with a vertical resolution of 4,000 pixels, but since 3,840 is pretty close, Ultra HD is often labeled as 4K and is the 4K standard for the television industry.  The 4K standard for the film industry, however is 4096 x 2160.  In any case, if your camera can shoot in Ultra HD, you’ve got a mighty fine instrument, but your videos will take up a lot of space in your phone’s memory.
(frames per second)
Video speed This is literally how many frames your camera/ processor combo is able to capture in a second.  30 will give you a pretty quality video. Anything lower than 10 or so will appear choppy and will not be able to capture fast-moving objects properly.  Slow motion video is usually taken at at least 48 fps, but some camera phones can take 120, 240, or more.  One thing to keep in mind is that higher framerates can sometimes require a compromise in resolution, so you should look at both specs when assessing a phone’s video capabilities.

What Phone Specs Mean to You, Pt. 3: Connectivity

So, we’ve talked about specs related to your computer’s brain (the CPU) and to its face (the screen), but what about its eyes and ears?  And, well, its mouth?  After all, what’s a face without eyes, ears, nose and mouth?  And what’s a smartphone without Wi-Fi, a wireless network, and all the other things it uses to gather and dispense information?  Not that smart, that’s for sure.

There are a lot of different kinds of connections a smartphone may make use of, and a lot of different kinds of networks it connects to.  In this installment of What Specs Mean, we give you the lowdown on LTE, NFC (not the National Football Conference, though you can get that on your smartphone, too), GPS, G, and a bunch of other stuff that can make it tough to figure out just how well-connected your phone really is.

Connecting to the world


What it
refers to

What it means to you

(Global System
for Mobile communications)*
Use of radio frequencies by cell service providers In North America and parts of South America, carriers use the 850MHz and 1900MHz frequencies to transmit calls and text messages. These days, most phones can also operate on the 900 and 1900 bands used in other parts of the world as well.  GSM is one of two primary technologies used to enable phone service on these frequencies.
If you see ‘GSM 850/900/1800/1900’ or ‘quad band’ in a spec list, then, it means you ought to be able to use your phone anywhere in the world, though you will probably need to get a local SIM card (which will only work if your phone is unlocked) in order to connect to a network in another country. If your phone is only dual-band, you will not be able to connect to other frequencies even with a local SIM card. This map tells what frequencies are used where.
(Code Division Multiple Access)
Use of radio frequencies by cell service providers CDMA is an alternative to GSM technology that is used by several carriers, including Verizon and Sprint in the U.S.  Though there seems to be no difference in the quality of service (this depends primarily on the network itself), CDMA phones are notably less likely to be unlocked or unlockable from a network.  Many phones support both, but you will want to make sure the phone you buy supports the technology of the carrier you want to use.  Of course, if you buy the phone from the carrier, it will obviously be compatible.
(General packet radio service)
Wireless Internet through your cell service provider GPRS allows your phone to access the internet over your phone’s GSM frequencies, even at the slowest speeds.  This is what is happening when your phone says “E” in the bar at the top instead of “4G LTE” and it takes and agonizing 15 seconds to send an email.  We know it’s painfully slow, but it’s not the phone’s fault.  Other phones would just give up at this point. GPRS maxes out at 60 kb/s (we explain kb/s below).
(Exchanged Data rates for GSM Evolution)
Wireless Internet through your cell service provider EDGE is similar to GPRS, but can run at up to 473.6 kb/s and can be used for heavier mobile data transmission like receiving email attachments and browsing complex web pages without wanting to chuck your phone off a cliff (which may well be nearby if you’re down to EDGE service).
3G Wireless Internet through your cell service provider The “G” in 3G (and 4G) just stands for ‘generation’ and is indicative of the evolution of broadband service over radio frequencies.  3G provides for faster and more power-efficient web browsing than its predecessors, which we don’t mention here because no one uses them anymore.  It does this by using a broader range of frequencies; a 3G phone is able to send and receive data on these frequencies.  Note: 3G is the slowest connection that will allow you to make video calls.
(Long Term Evolution)
Wireless Internet through your cell service provider 4G LTE logoThis is the first step towards true 4G technologies, and what the most advanced smartphones are suing at the moment.  It was widely decided that companies could market LTE as “4G LTE” in order to avoid confusion by using some term like 3.5G or 3.9G.  True 4G would have to provide maximum download speeds of 100 Mb/s while moving and 1Gb/s while relatively still (walking counts).  LTE provides maximum speeds around 299.6 Mb/s
Mb/s or Mbps
(Megabit per second)
Data transfer rate In the context of smartphones, this is a measurement of how fast data can download and upload, depending on your device and your network connection.  A megabit is 1,000 kilobits, which is 1,000 bits (mb=1,000,000 bits).  It should be noted that a bit is not equivalent to a Byte, which is represented by a capital B and is what we use to measure file size and data storage capacity (MB, GB, TB, etc.).  10 bits = 1.25 Bytes (1 Byte=8 bits).  So, downloading a 750 MB HD movie at the 100 Mb/s rate of true 4G should theoretically take about 60 seconds.  Of course, this would only be realized if the network performed consistently at top speed, which is generally not the case.
(wireless local area network)
Wireless linking between devices  and wireless Internet through wireless router (location specific) This is the wireless connection provided by a wireless router or other wireless distribution method.  It can provide a link between several devices, like a laptop, a Smart TV, a wireless printer, or a tablet, and, if it is connected to a Internet connection, it can provide wireless internet (usually Wi-Fi) service.
Wi-Fi Wireless Internet through wireless router (location specific) Wi Fi logoWi-Fi is just the name of the technology most often used to allow an electronic device to connect to a WLAN.  Most modern phones come with a Wi-Fi antenna built in. Most people take advantage of this option, especially when at home, because data sent or received while connected to Wi-Fi does not come out of their monthly data plan.
Wi-Fi Hotspot Wireless Internet through wireless router (location specific) This is essentially a public Wi-Fi enabled WLAN.  This is what you are using when you use Wi-Fi at the airport, Starbucks, the Library, etc.  Because many people are usually using the same broadband connection at a hotspot, speeds can be a little slower and these connections are notably less secure than home networks.
Wireless Tethering
(personal hotspot)
Wireless Internet through your cell service provider This is a capacity that more and more modern phones have that enable you to share the 3G or 4G LTE Internet service provided by your cell phone carrier with other Wi-Fi enabled devices like your laptop or tablet.  This can be very handy if you are in an area without Wi-Fi or if you prefer not to share a wireless network with strangers.  Be aware, though, that the data used comes out of your monthly cell phone data plan and may incur an added fee, depending on your provider.  It also tends to drain a phone’s battery very quickly, so make sure you can plug in before you fire it up.
(Global Positioning System)
Satellite positioning Wikipedia provides this concise explanation of GPS, “a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites.”  This is how your map app knows where you are and how to tell you how to get where you’re going.  You can turn the GPS on your phone on and off, though TV would have us believe that it can be activated at will by “the man”.  It also tends to suck up your battery, though not as much as it used to.


Connecting to your provider


What it
refers to

What it means to you

(Subscriber Identity Module)
Connection between phone and service provider A ‘SIM Card’ is essentially a small chip that contains the International mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) and related key that identifies and authenticates your mobile device to your service provider’s system.  It tells them what account to assign charges to, what your number is, etc.
 Locked Connection between phone and service provider If your phone or tablet is “locked” or “network-locked”, which most in the U.S. are, it means that it will only work with a particular network’s SIM card.  Most phones you buy from a particular carrier are locked, unless you request an unlocked device, which will likely cost more and will certainly not be subject to any of the common contract deals. This is usually not a problem unless you travel internationally and wish to use a local SIM card while you are abroad.
Factory unlocked Connection between phone and service provider This means your phone will work with any SIM card and that you can change these cards out as you wish.  You can usually purchase factory unlocked phones from the manufacturer (Apple, Samsung, etc.) or from distributors like Best Buy and Amazon, and they will usually be full MSRP.
(after-factory unlocked)
Connection between phone and service provider This is a phone that was locked to a particular provider network when it was manufactured, but has been altered to enable use with multiple SIM cards.  Generally, jailbreaking a phone will invalidate its warranty and can be a risky process for the functionality of your phone if not performed by someone who knows what they’re doing.  In some places, including the U.S., it can also incur a hefty fine if done for commercial purposes (i.e. resale) and is technically illegal for anyone.


Connecting to other devices


What it
refers to

What it means to you

Bluetooth Wireless linking between devices Bluetooth IconBluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that allows you to securely pair devices like a Bluetooth headset or hands-free car kit with your phone.  You can also use it to easily send small files like pictures or contacts between phones, provided they are compatible.
Wireless linking between devices NFC iconThis is a kind of radio technology that allows your smartphone, if it has the technology, to communicate over very short distances (around 10cm) to send certain kinds of information: NFC target (acting like a credential), NFC initiator (reading those credentials) and NFC peer to peer (sharing things like photos or contacts between phones).  This is the technology that ApplePay and similar phone-as-wallet services use.
Infrared Wireless communication between devices Many higher-end Android phones have infrared transmitters built in and come with a few apps that take advantage of it.  These days, devices with infrared receivers are mostly limited to TVs, DVD players, and similar devices that use a traditional remote control.
(Digital Living Network Alliance)
Wireless linking between devices Most devices made by Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, LG and Samsung are DLNA Certified, meaning they will work with each other in some capacity.  This is why Android phones and tablets can “talk” to each other, but not to Apple phones.  DLNA cooperation also allows those same phones to stream audio, photos and video to DLNA compatible TV sets or speaker systems.
AirPlay Wireless linking between devices This is Apple’s answer to DNLA.  IT enables you to connect your iPhone and iPad to various other Apple devices like speakers, AppleTV, etc.
Streaming Media Device Wireless linking between devices These are devices like Chromecast, Roku, AppleTV, and Amazon Fire TV.  They plug into the HDMI port on your smart TV and use your home Wi-Fi to connect to your smartphone. Most of these are only for watching things and do not allow for big screen gaming.
(Universal Serial Bus)
Wired connection between devices USB Type AThis is the port on your computer (and possibly your charger) that you use to connect it to your phone with a cord.  Folks primarily use this to upload music and video from their computers onto their phones.
Micro USB Wired connection between devices MicroB USBThis is a universal-except-for-Apple connection that allows you to connect your phone or tablet to other devices or to your charger.  This is what you find at the phone end of your USB cord.
(High-Definition Multimedia Interface)
Wired connection between devices HDMI connectorThis allows you to connect your phone directly to an HDTV.  Normally, only phones capable of playing or recording video at 720p or 1080p (remember “p” from screen specs?) have an HDMI connection, and not all of these do. Again, this is for watching video/ displaying pictures, not for gaming.
(Mobile High-Definition Link)
Wired connection between devices This allows you to stream HD video from your phone even if it doesn’t have an HDMI port.  Many modern smartphones are MHL enabled, which means that there are additional connectors in the micro USB port that can transmit uncompressed HD video.  To use this capability, you will need an MHL to HDMI adapter, which will connect to the HDMI cable you plug into your TV.

Micro USB image By masamic via Wikimedia Commons
HDMI image By D-Kuru via Wikimedia Commons

The Best “Best of 2014” Lists

As another year draws to a close, experts in every field have compiled lists of their favorite things from 2014.  Well, here at Mighty Skins, we decided to compile a list of our own.  We’ve rounded up our favorite lists in all our favorite categories for the Best “Best of 2014” Lists List.  Enjoy.

Best “Best Apps” Lists

The Guardian’s collection of The best apps of 2014 for Android, iPhone and iPad (demo videos!)
Gizmodo The Best Apps of 2014
Fast Company The Best Mobile Apps Of 2014
Android Authority 15 best designed Android apps of 2014
Google Play’s Must-Have Apps
PhoneArena Best replacement apps for iOS

Best “Best phone” Lists

Abstract Wood-Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen 2014)

Moto X

Aztec Blocks-Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

Cross Hatch-Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Galaxy Note 4

No surprise, the Galaxy Note 4, iPhone 6 , and Moto X
made it the top of almost everyone’s list.

C|net Best phones of 2014
Digital Trends Best Cell Phones
Know Your Mobile The 10 VERY Best Smartphones of 2014
uSwitch Best cheap mobile phones of 2014

And looking into the future: Phone Arena’s The 7 best phones to expect in the first half of 2015 and Geek’s 5 upcoming Android phones that are worth waiting for


Best “Best Tech” Lists

Burnt Stripes - Pebble Watch

Who does’t love a good bit of gear?

Mashable Best Tech of 2014
Fortune 26 coolest gadgets of 2014
PC Magazine The 15 Best Fitness Tech Gifts
Gotta Be Mobile Best Tech of 2014
Paste Magazine The 10 Best Technology Advances of 2014 (a glimpse at our awesome near future)
TopTen Reviews 2015 Best Smart Watch Reviews and Comparisons

Best “Best Games” Lists

Kotaku’s twins The 12 Best Games for Android and The 12 Best Games on the iPhone
C|net The best games of 2014 (with pictures!)
The Verge staff picks The best video games of 2014
The Guardian The 25 best video games of 2014 (with video!)
IGN The Best-Reviewed Games of 2014
GamesRadar Game of the Year 2014 (pictures AND video!)
PCGamer Game of the Year Awards 2014

MarioKart 8

MarioKart 8 for the Nintendo Wii U was a popular game this year

Best “Best Laptops” Lists

PCWorld The best PC laptops of the year
PC Magazine The 10 Best Laptops (all laptops, not just PCs)
Digital Trends Best Laptops
Expert Reviews The 11 very best laptops to buy in 2014
Paste The 10 Best Laptops of 2014
Tech Brij 10 Best Laptops under 400 Dollars (December 2014)

Birch Wood Grain - Apple Macbook Pro 15

Apple MacBook Pro with Birch Wood Grain skin

Cherry Wood - Apple Macbook Air 13

Apple MacBook Air with a Cherry Wood skin

The Macbook Pro and the MacBook Air
are still making all the lists

What Phone Specs Mean to You, Pt. 2: The Screen

Nokia color screenRemember how exciting it was when cell phones were first able to show us pictures in color? Remember when we called them cell phones instead of smartphones because all they could really do was make calls and send text messages? Oh, you don’t, huh. Well, back in early 2000s, phones were just starting to show their colors and it seemed like magic. They had something called LCD screens (just LCD, no super) and their resolution was about 640 x 200 pixels with a pixel density of about 150 ppi and a palette of just over 4000 colors. We thought it was phenomenal.

Fast forward to today. SLCD, AMOLED, Retina display. Not quite 15 years later, we’re looking at screens with 2,560 x 1,440 pixels at 576 ppi (for perspective, the human eye is thought only to be able to see about 460ppi) and color counts in the millions.

But with all the advancement has also come some complication, especially for the layman who doesn’t really know what most if that stuff we just said really means. Well, sit tight, layman. We’re about to lay it out.

When you’re talking about cell phone screens, there are a few main things you’re really concerned with—size, clarity, brightness, and color. Size is pretty straightforward. It’s generally measured in inches here in U.S., from one corner of the screen to the opposite corner of the screen. If you remember a2+b2=c2 from basic geometry, we’re talking about c here. The other aspects require a bit more explanation, for which purpose we have created the following handy dandy chart.

 Specs related to your smartphone screen

Term What it refers to What it means to you
(Liquid Crystal Display)
Screen technology LCD screens have been around since the early 1970s, first in watches and calculators, then in TVs and smartphones as color was added.  LCD screens are backlit, in contrast with LED and OLED displays, which leads to greyer blacks and somewhat higher power consumption.  They tend to be less expensive and sometimes have sharper detail since they do not require the same kinds of pixel formations as LED and OLED screens.
Super LCD Screen technology Super LCD is a version of LCD technology in which an air gap between the outer glass and the display element has been eliminated, creating less glare and a “closer” feel.
(In plane switching)
Screen technology This is an upgrade on LCD technology that provides more uniform color reproduction and greater viewing angles than traditional LCD screens.
Retina display Resolution Retina display, which has nothing whatsoever to do with your actual retina, is an LCD technology that miniaturizes pixels in order to cram in more pixels into each inch of a display.  This allows for higher resolution and greater high-contrast crispness, making for better reading.
(Organic Light-Emitting Diode)
Screen technology OLED screens use organic carbon-based compounds that emit colored light when stimulated by an electric current.  They generally produce darker blacks and sharper contrast, since pixels actually turn off to create them, as well as more saturated colors, making videos and images appear clearer and more vibrant.  Also, since organic diodes emit light immediately when current is applied, OLED displays can have faster response times.  Because they do not require a backlight, they are also thought to be more energy efficient.
(Active-Matrix OLED)
Screen technology The important part of AMOLED, the Active-matrix, is actually a technology that is applied to most smartphone screens these days.  It means that each pixel is attached to a transistor and a capacitor that actively maintain the pixel state while other pixels are being addressed, as opposed to older passive matrix technology in which each pixel must maintain its state, well,  passively.  The take-away is higher refresh rates and lower power consumption.
Super AMOLED Screen technology Super AMOLED screens are said to be 20% brighter, 80% less reflective, and use 20% less energy than regular AMOLED.  Samsung claims that its Super AMOLED display also reproduces colors that match to more than 90% of the colors visible in nature, compared to 70% on LCD screens.  They use a two- rather than three-subpixel configuration (see subpixel below).
(from picture + element)
Resolution Every image on your display is made up of tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of pixels.  Each pixel on a given screen is the same size as all the others and displays a tiny part of the whole picture.  It is the smallest controllable element represented on the screen. The more pixels, the more pixels the more visual information can be displayed, resulting in greater clarity and more detail.  Measurements like 1080p and 1440p refer to standards of this measurement, 1080p indicating a resolution of 1920×1080, or “Full HD”, and 1440p indicating 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, or “Quad HD”.  Ultra HD, or 4K,  is something like 3,840 x 2,160.
Subpixels Color In digital screens, pixels are made up of red, green, and blue subpixels.  Most often, each pixel has a red, a green and a blue subpixel, but, as noted above, Samsung has recently created a screen that instead use pixels made up alternately of one red and one green or one blue and one green subpixel.  The configuration of subpixels affects primarily the range and exactness of color a screen is able to produce.
(Pixels Per Inch)
Resolution This tells you essentially the number of pixels you could count across one inch of your screen.  If your resolution is 100 PPI (and we sincerely hope it is not), then one square inch of your screen is 100 pixels wide and 100 pixels high, or 10,000 total pixels.  For a decent picture, you want at least 300 PPI, but higher end phones these days have upwards of 500.
Gamut Color reproduction The color gamut is what one might expect if one has ever used or heard the term “run the gamut”.  It refers to the range of colors that can be represented.  The gamut of a particular device is generally compared to the gamut of colors that can be seen by the eye or to those that can be reproduced by other devices (see Samsung’s claim above).
Candela (CD) Brightness (technically, luminance) This is the unit used to indicate the light power emitted by a source in a particular direction, weighted according to a standardized model of the sensitivity of the human eye to different wavelengths.  In practical terms, it is a measure of perceived brightness, with 1 candela being equivalent to about the amount light emitted by a common wax candle.
Nit Brightness (technically, luminance) A nit is the slang and much-used term for the unit cd/m2, the measurement of light (candelas) on a surface area (1 m2).  Nits vary depending on what is displayed on the screen, so usually manufacturers provide a “maximum nits” measurement, which is what the phone gives off when the screen is all white.  LCD phones tend to be brighter by nits than OLED, measuring sometimes more than 500, but really anything more than 250-300 should give you a fine experience.
Viewing angle This refers to the maximum angle at which the variation of brightness, contrast, and color remains acceptable. A one-sided, flat screen has a maximum possible (though practically impossible) viewing angle of 180°, measured from looking flat on from one side to flat on from the opposite side.  The average smartphone has a viewing angle around 30°.  A good viewing angle is particularly important if you tend to set your phone down on the desk or table rather than holding it in your hands.
(Graphics Processing Unit)
Rendering power Though not actually a quality of the screen, a good GPU is what makes a good screen worth having.  Without it, the phone will caught up trying to actually get images up on its fancy screen, causing lag and sometimes even crashes.
Resistive touchscreen Input method Resistive touchscreens sense direct pressure applied by the user. They can be activated by your finger, a basic stylus, or a carrot stick, whatever you want to use to apply that pressure. The touch layer of these screens is usually made up of two transparent electrical layers separated by a small gap; when the layers come into contact, the contact is registered and voila.  The drawback of resistive touchscreens is that they do not have the multitouch capacity that allows things like pinch-to-zoom.
Capacitive touchscreen Input method Capacitive screens work by sensing the electrical properties of the human body rather than pressure.  Consequently, you need a specially designed stylus (like the Galaxy Note’s S-pen) that can replicate these signals if you want to be able to write on them with anything but your finger. Capacitive touchscreens often seem more sensitive than resistive screens and tend to be more durable.
Multitouch capability Input method Multi-touch is the capability some touchscreens and touchpads have that enable them to recognize two or more points of contact at once. This is what allows your smartphone or touchscreen laptop to recognize gestures like pinch-to-zoom.

WOndering about what’s under all this brightness and beauty?  Check out the specs on your smartphone’s tiny (but powerful) brain.

Phone or Tablet?  What kind of user are you?

We recently came across this infographic from Rishabh Software illustrating how iPhone users compare to iPad users, from a sample of about 44,000.  We weren’t too surprised to see that small business owners tended towards iPads (handy for use at checkout) or that fitness enthusiasts were overwhelmingly inclined toward iPhones (who wants to carry  tablet on a run?), but we were left wondering a little bit what pet owners are getting up to with their iPads.  And where do pet-owning fitness enthusiasts fit in?  Alas, these are questions we must leave to science.  And to pet-owning fitness enthusiasts.

Don’t worry if you don’t find yourself on the list.  Whatever your preference, iPad or iPhone, football or poker, we’ve got a MightySkin for you.