(You're reading all posts by Charlie Sorrel) Charlie Sorrel is the Reviews Editor here on Cult of Mac. Follow Charlie on Twitter at @mistercharlie.
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App Watch: July 29, 2014
We've got lots of creative apps in the hopper this week, from the comic-book-artist-friendly Procreate 2.1 to the art-sharing app August. There's also stuff for metadata-hungry photographers, as well as a note-card app for screenwriters. Get to work.
Procreate, already my favorite painting app on the iPad, just got a huge update. A few highlights are the new color wheel for selecting shades, with pinch-to-zoom for even more accurate picking; ColorDrop, which auto-fills color areas for you; and a new Reference Layer, which lets you designate a layer as a kind of template for filling other layers. Thus, you can make a color-fill layer under your line art, still using that line art as the reference for the fills. I love Procreate, and it keeps on getting better. $6
Together for iOS
Together for iOS syncs with the venerable OS X version, giving an Evernote-like everything-bucket that you can use and access anywhere. Create text files, add photos and import documents from other apps, then tag them and let them sync with the Mac version (and other iOS versions) over iCloud. iCloud sync means you’ll need the Mac App Store version of Together to make it work. It looks fantastic, and way easier to use than Evernote. The only problem is that it can’t search inside any of your documents. $10
Slick, secure and open messaging app Telegram has just been updated with a native iPad version. The already-impressive app now brings GIF support, broadcast lists and an iPad-friendly interface, along with the same great cross-platform access, letting you read your messages anywhere, even on the Web. Free
PhotoMeta shows you everything about your photos that the iOS photos app doesn’t. You can view all EXIF data, from shutter speed and aperture to the direction you were facing when you took the shot. You can even browse photos from your Dropbox, and this latest update to the app lets you view the focus points your camera used. $3
Summbot summarizes the news for quick reading. That is, it takes a link as input, parses the page and gives you a processed summary, a short version. I can think of a few sites I’d like to try this on. The problem is that you need to paste a link into the app for every page, easily wasting any time you might save from reading the condensed view. With any luck, this will be turned into a fuller-featured app in a later version. $1
Matter is a 3-D version of Pixite’s other amazing photo apps. Instead of adding stripes and patterns to your pictures like LoryStripes or Tangent, Matter adds 3-D objects to your 2–D photos. You can even animate them, and the objects reflect the lighting around them. I don’t often add strips and patterns to my photos, but when I want to, I reach for the Pixite folder on my iPad or iPhone. $2
If you’re already in the (minimum $10-per-month) world of Celtx screenwriting apps, you’ll want to take a look at the new Celtx Cards, an ultra-simple index card app for the iPhone and iPad. Each card gets a title, a big text field and tags. You can color code the cards, and drag to rearrange them. And – if you have a Celtx account – you can sync them with your other Celtx apps. Seeing as sync is the biggest hurdle for all other index card apps I’ve tried, the fact that this integrates closely with other apps is a huge selling point. Free
August is a new kind of social network, kind of a hyper-focused Tumblr or an Instagram without the cute cats. With added music and film. The idea is that artists posts their photos, music and videos to their August streams, and followers can either save that stuff to their own streams or share to other places (Twitter and Facebook etc.) Thus you might follow someone who has great taste, but produces nothing of their own. The service is currently accepting requests for invites.
Islander is Norwegian musician Jarle Bernhoft’s new take on the music album for 2014. The app contains 48K 24-bit versions of the tracks, but that’s not all. You can also interact with the music using a virtual mixing console, and even add your own percussion. This combines with liner notes and all the other ephemera a music nerd could want. Plus, if every musician goes in this direction, you will have the added problem of finding an album on your iPad – just like finding a vinyl record in a stack on the floor. It’s so damn authentic. $20
This is Waterfield’s Franklin Tote and I l-l-love it. It’s an open-topped leather bag with hand/shoulder straps and a bunch of pockets inside and out, and it’s just about the most practical daily carry-around I’ve ever used. Does is replace a backpack? Of course not.
Does it do the job of a messenger bag when on the bike? No frikkin’ way. But can I reach into my backpack as I walk to grab sunglasses, or drop in that sweet cantaloupe I just bought from the fruit store on the high street? I think you know the answer to that one.
Gadget Watch: July 24, 2014
Party on your bike with an iPhone speaker and a bottle cage for a hip flask, or protect your camera from water and dirt with dust-repellent filters and a great roll-top backpack. Or just forget everything and take your frustrations to the beach, with the SBOD tote bag.
Evo antistatic filters
Like to protect your camera’s lens? Hate dust? Of course you hate dust. So you might like Hoya’s new antistatic UV, polarizer and plain old nothing-but-protection filters, the Evo range. The glass of all these filters has an antistatic, dust-repelling coating that “acts like a force field around the filter,” which sounds pretty neat. They’re also scratch resistant and easy to clean. From $28
Allo bike speaker
Allo allo! This little iPhone case mounts up on your handlebars and adds a convenient speaker to your bike’s “cockpit.” The quick-release case coddles the iPhone 5/s inside and hooks up via a good old-fashioned 3.5mm jack. No pairing or Lightning certification required. Slot in a pair of AA batteries, cue up The Archers and you’re off. $45, for pre-order.
Macro Beachball Totebag
GothScreenShots will sell you this amazing Macro Beachball Totebag, featuring everybody’s favorite Finder frustration, the Spinning Beach Ball of Death. Less common in recent years, the SBBOD likes to spin up whenever your Mac chokes on the task at hand. I still see it regularly when using iTunes, but if you were to say, “That’s your own damn fault for using iTunes,” I would have to agree. $60
Desktop Chair v2
Nope, it's not a chair for sitting on your desk, but yet another desk stand. This one, though, is clever and versatile. Thanks to the shape of the bent plywood stand, with a lip at either end of the curve, it can be set two ways. This means your iPad can be set at a high or a low angle, and if you use the more-stable low angle, the Desktop Chair v2 will also prop up a MacBook Air. It’s also dead-handsome and fairly cheap at $60.
Emergency Go Bag
The Emergency Go Bag contains everything you need to survive not only an apocalypse, but also a far more likely “several days without power or food” scenario, like if your corner bodega shuts down for vacation. And when I say “everything,” I mean everything, from tools to food to medical supplies to a stove to a survival manual, printed on paper. The idea is that you don’t have to worry about getting it all together yourself, which would cost a lot more anyway. The other neat part of this Kickstarter is that you’ll get email reminders whenever anything in the pack is about to expire – food and batteries and that kind of thing. You can even choose to have replacements sent to you automatically. $225
Lathr shaving set
Even the name of Flyn O’Brien’s Lathr shaving set is minimal. The wooden kit comes in two pieces, a brush and a bowl, and the brush fits into a slot in the bowl when you’re not whipping up a soapy lather to slather on your skin. These days I use a variety of electronic and manual devices to maintain my frankly over-elaborate facial hear (think Tom of Finland meets Mad Max and you”ll be in the ballpark), but I long for the skin-scraping days of a safety razor and a bowl of sudsy soap. Not for sale
ApeCase Maxess DSLR Backpack
Every bag should be a roll-top bag. Not only are they waterproof, the roll-top design lets the bag expand, and lets you use it while open without spilling the contents everywhere. ApeCase’s new lineup includes this roll-top backpack with a lower section for camera gear and an upper, expandable, roll-top section for everything else. It even has places to hang a flashlight and a water bottle. $180
Oliver Flask Cage
Back when I liked drinking a little too much, I’d just fill a mini-size SIG water bottle with Vat 69 and toss it in my bag. It would even fit a standard bottle cage pretty well, which was handy for playing bike polo on those cold winter nights. Seeing as the whole point of a booze-filled hip flask is discretion, I don’t really see the point of the Oliver Flask Cage (which holds a Stanley flask), but as now I don’t see the point of drinking, either, maybe I can’t be trusted to judge. $22
Wharfedale DS-1 speakers
I’m sick of small speakers. I realized it when I visited a friend who has a pair of wooden floor-standers hooked up to a proper amp, and even a record player. I have some great AirPlay speakers, but nothing beats the bang of a big bookshelf boom-box. Enter the Wharfedale DS-1, a Bluetooth speaker pair with a built-in 14-watt amp and a nice big wooden cabinet to let the sound rebound around. Just £150.
BlueAnt’s Pump wireless headphones caught my eye at Mobile World Congress. Sports gear that also looks cool? Count me in!
I’ve been giving theses waterproof Bluetooth headphones a workout since they arrived last week, and I love them. That’s not to say they’re perfect – they’re not. But they have a job to do, and they get on and do it.
App Watch: July 21, 2014
We've got lots of film-related apps this week, from a slo-mo stabilizer and an on-the-go moviemaking app for the iPhone to a video collaboration editing suite for the Mac. You’ll also get reminded to do errands when you arrive at a certain right place, and you can even tell the temperature. By crickets.
Cinamatic for iOS is like Instagram’s video recorder, only better (and not just for Instagram). It comes from the makers of Hipstamatic, and brings all the filters you’d expect because of that. I’ve been using it a ton over the weekend, and I love how easy and fast it is to make an edited video with sound – you just hold the big button down to record, release to stop, and repeat until you’re done. All video is square, and many effects are free. You can even add music from your iTunes library. Free
PlaceUs, from Google Maps developer Sam Liang, is a kind of tracking app for you and your family or friends. It uses location data to track users, and you can share your location (and even your route) with others. You can also use it to track your own movements, and it can even learn your routines and automate tasks – the example given is that PlaceUs would see you’re going to Starbucks and warn you to buy proper coffee elsewhere. Just kidding – it would automatically message your friends and ask them if they want anything from Starbucks too. Free
Aperture Exporter is a free tool for those fleeing Aperture after Apple shut it down. It’s a beta, but that’s cool because you can still use Aperture for now while you wait for the final version. Aperture Exporter will mirror your collections as folders, save the original files with XMP metadata sidecar files, and even retain your ratings, comments and other metadata. What you won’t get is your image edits, but that’s because Lightroom and Aperture are so different. Free
Ballloon is a Chrome browser extension that should really be an iOS app. It is a quick and easy way to add any pictures or files to your Google Drive or your Dropbox. Hover over an image and a Dropbox and/or G-Drive icon pops up. Click it and your image is saved to a (user-definable) folder. Links can be saved by right-clicking. This would be neat-o in Mobile Safari, but isn’t even in regular desktop Safari yet. Still, it’s free, and very handy indeed. Free
Did you know that you can tell the temperature by crickets? If you own Money Mark’s album Mark’s Keyboard Repair, and have listened to the track Insects Are All Around Us, then you do. Cricket Temperature is an app that uses the iPhone’s mic to listen to crickets and turn the pitch of their chirrups into a temperature reading. You can also do it manually: Count the number of chirrups in 15 seconds and add 40. The result is very close to the temperature on the Fahrenheit thermometer. $1
Frame.io looks nothing short of amazing. This collaboration tool for video artists lets you upload clips, view them, rearrange them on a grid and share them with others. Your collaborators can comment and sketch on your clips, and you can even check out a clip to work on, adding it back as a new version. Then these versions can be watched side by side. It pretty much replaces all the crap you’d need to do this manually with one integrated app. Coming soon
Spillo is the first OS X Pinboard app that is as clean and simple as the Pinboard bookmarking service itself. You can browse all your saved bookmarks in a three-pane window with entries for private, public, starred and unread, plus another section for community-sourced bookmarks. My favorite part is Collections, which lets you make smart collections based on tag, title, URL and more. You can even save a search of public Pinboard bookmarks, making this a great place to keep up-to-date on, well, anything. Spillo costs $10, with a free trial available.
Steady Camera is like a Steadicam for your iPhone, in app form. You can shoot stabilized video and slow-mo and preview the results instantly. The app works with any iPhone from the 4s up, and can smooth video shot even while you run along. Options are simple (square or 16:9 format, choose which clips to save to the Camera Roll), and it costs just $2.
Todoist location reminders
To-do app Todoist can now remind you to take certain actions when you get to a specific place. Premium users can set location-based alerts and get reminded when they arrive at or pass by that location. I use Siri for this, as it’s incredibly easy to set a reminder to do something when I get home, but I guess if you’re already a Todoist user this will be a great addition. Todoist costs €21 per year for a premium subscription.
Gadget Watch: July 19, 2014
This week's Gadget Watch has a special summer something for everyone. Fixing up the house? Laying around the house? Getting drunk and stumbling about the house? Then these toolboxes, breathalyzers and hands-free, in-bed iPad stands will serve you well.
The Flare pan looks like an oversized aluminum cupcake cup. It has heat-catching fins on the outside, like the opposite of a heat sink, and a regular-shaped inside. The idea is that the heat (not the flame – keep that turned down like you would for a regular pan) from your gas hob will stream up the sides and pump its energy into the pan through the increased surface area of those fins. The best part of all? It was designed by a real rocket scientist. $150
Excell+1 lens adapter
This magical adapter performs the seemingly impossible. Not only does it put Nikon (or Canon) lenses on your Micro Four Thirds camera body, but it also boosts the speed of the lens by one stop. That’s right – it doubles the maximum amount of light your lens can gather. It also reduces the crop factor of your lens by 0.72x. That won’t keep your wide-angle lenses wide, but it will stop them from turning telephoto. I’m in. $160
When I saw the Tablift, my first thought was “LOL.” And that was my second thought, too, if I’m honest. But as a person who uses his iPad in bed far more than is healthy, I began to see how the stable stand could help me. What’s better than hands-free viewing in the sack? Angle-adjustable hands-free viewing in the sack, that’s what. Yup, you can even tilt it down to watch while lying in bed. You might scare yourself when you wake up, but you’ll never fall asleep and drop your iPad onto your nose ever again. $60
I’m writing about this gadget mostly because of its name – Forked Lightning. It lets you charge two devices off a single USB port, which is certainly handy for those travel situations where you only have access to one power outlet (I’m looking at you, cheapskate hotels). You probably don’t want to plug two iPads 4 into one iPhone charger, but other combinations should fare better. $50
RØDE iXY mic
I don’t even care that RØDE makes great microphones, I just want the new Lightning-compatible iXY to play with. Look at those stereo mics: Don’t you just want to twiddle them? Or try to jam your finger between the barrels? No? Perhaps you’d rather record sound through the two half-inch condenser capsules and onboard analog-to-digital converter. You can totally do that. $200
These Japanese toolboxes, painted in bright blue enamel, are tough enough to use every day, but pretty enough to live in the house without anybody complaining. They go from a stackable small trunk-style box up to the big cantilever model with a double-hinged top level and movable dividers. From $20
Vio Smartphone Breathalyzer
Do you know how many drinks you should have if you’re driving? None. That’s how many. What if you had a couple and then you need to drive, for an emergency or whatever? Nope. Get a cab, or you’ll be killing a cyclist or a pedestrian to do whatever thing is so important that you’re happy to risk another person’s life doing it.
If you insist on drinking and driving, breathe into the BACtrack Vio Smartphone Breathalyzer first – if you’re not too far gone to use the keychain device. The Vio will measure your blood-alcohol content, send the result to your iPhone via Bluetooth, and even estimate how long it’ll take you to return to zero. $70
Solio Sun-Powered Charger
Let’s face it – the people you go to the beach with are boring. They either spend the whole time with their nose in a paperback, or they insist on annoying the rest of the folks on the beach by kicking a volleyball around the place, or whatever it is you do with a volleyball. So, you should either pack some weed and just get stoned, or bring along a Solio Sun-Powered Charger to keep your iPhone going in the bright sunlight, so you never have to interact with your “friends.” $70
An iPad case should:
- Add features
- Look good
- Not weigh a ton
The Logitech Hinge manages the first three of these, and were it not for the failure on point No. 4, it would be my new favorite case. As it is, the cool Logitech Hinge is my favorite case for using around the house.
The Tile is a tiny plastic widget that never gets lost. In theory anyway. It talks to your iPhone via low-power Bluetooth and lets you track the Tile itself, and anything the Tile is attached to.
I’ve been using one for the last couple of weeks, and it works just fine. But so far it doesn’t seem to be much more useful than one of those keychain finders that beeps when you whistle. Why? Because to be truly useful, the Tile needs to reach a critical mass of users.
App Watch: July 14, 2014
Whether you're watching the weather or making music, clipping notes or snapping photos, this week's selection of new and updated apps should have something for you.
Hate iTunes? Of course you do – you’re only human. Equilibrium lets you ditch it (or its interface at least) by putting a control and popover window up in your Mac’s menu bar. Control iTunes, Spotify, Rdio and Vox, scrobble to Last.FM and set custom keyboard shortcuts so your can skip and play/pause tracks even without dedicated media keys. $3
Great self-leveling video app Horizon will take horizontal video however you hold your iPhone. Version 2.0 adds to the non-vertical-video action with still-image support, 2K-resolution video, 60fps (at 720p), plus updated live filters and a revamped UI. It’s my favorite video app for iOS. $2
Take Creative Vocal Recorder
Take Creative Vocal Recorder is like Drafts, only for musicians. Tap the red button and you’re recording, making an audio note. Then, you can loop that sound and add another couple of tracks alongside it, add effects and sketch out a track, right there in the app. It looks way better than the built-in Voice Memo app, and it even has processing to make your iPhone’s mic sound better. Free
Polymo for iPhone wants to replace not just your iPhone camera but your iPhone Camera Roll. It lets you pre-tag your pictures before taking them so, say, every snap snapped at a party will be tagged on the go. This makes finding and organizing way easier.
It has a beautiful interface, plus some features that iOS should have as standard, like swiping across multiple photos to select them all. $2
Photo Book Flip
Photo Book Flip builds faux paper books on your iPad. Import pictures from your Camera Roll or Photo Stream and “curate” them into books with a 3-D flipping effect on the pages.
I like the idea of making photo books for sharing pictures with friends. It’s far better than forcing them to see every damn photo you took on your vacation. $1
Hit ⌘-space on your Mac and a window pops up asking for instructions. If you don’t hate yourself, the window is from an app like Launchbar or Alfred, and not from OS X's built-in Spotlight. Launchbar does everything Spotlight does, and then some, letting you browse inside text files, mail search results and browse your iTunes.
And now it brings something called Staging Area, which is just like Quicksilver’s old “comma trick.” Search for an item, and instead of telling Launchbar to act on it right there, you hit the comma key and it is added to a buffer. Add more items every time you hit the comma, and then act on them all at once. Currently only available in a nightly build of v6.1, this should be coming soon. €24
Everclip 2 is an update to the fantastic iOS Evernote clipping app, and does more of the same, only cleaner. Like the original Everclip, Version 2 runs in the background and watches the system pasteboard. Whenever you copy a link, image, chunk of text or pretty much anything, it clips it to the app. Then, you can gather these snippets into one big document, or send them individually to Evernote. You can pre-specify a notebook and tags, edit snippets before sending and – best of all – the URL of the original webpage (if you clipped from the Web) is preserved. It’s a great research and scrapbooking app, and v2 runs way longer in the background than v1. $7
My favorite weather app, WeatherPro, has gotten a new companion app that focuses on weather alerts. Appropriately, it’s called AlertsPro, and it sends push alerts for extreme weather conditions, based on location. It monitors your current location by default, and you can add others for anywhere in the world. You can also see the warnings displayed on a map. $2
Gadget Watch: July 12, 2014
Whether the weather is wet or dry, we've got you covered this week. Waterproof headphones and speakers, and some nonslip bike pedal covers, will let you carry on in the rain or in the lake. And a flash-booster, replacement keycaps and a big twisty knob will keep you entertained indoors. Don’t forget your umbrella (or sunglasses)!
Got slippery bike pedals? You need Grippine, a silicone sleeve that slips onto any old platform pedal and sticks to your soles. These colorful covers stretch over the pedal and stop it from getting slippery in wet or dry weather. They’re also soft on shoes, but I’d like to test some to see how long they last. €26
Myro:Air AirPlay speaker
AirPlay – who doesn’t love it? It always, always works, never dropping out or requiring that you set the speaker so close to the wireless router that you may as well have just used a cable. And who won’t love the Myro:Air, an AirPlay speaker whose only fault is that colon in the middle of its name? Even that is a totally cool and positive thing, because we all have a colon inside us, right?
The Myro:Air packs optical output, two-way AirPlay control, RCA outputs and even an RS-232 port for connecting up to – well, anything. It’s also pretty reasonably priced, as these things go. Oh, and the thing looks frikkin' awesome. $600
Rogue Safari Pop-Up Flash Booster
The pop-up flash on your DSLR is only good for one thing — triggering bigger, better flashes. But what if you really want to use the weak little unit that Canon or Nikon grafted on there as an afterthought? Then you need the Rogue Safari Pop-Up Flash Booster from ExpoImaging.
It’s a 2-ounce polycarbonate widget that clips into your hotshoe and puts a lens in front of the pop-up flash unit, concentrating the beam for up to 8x more light (you’ll need to use it with a lens of 100mm or longer thanks to the narrow, concentrated beam). $35
A few years and 90 degrees at a time, Apple is slowly moving the iPad’s speakers into a spot where you can hear them. Right now they are located on the bottom edge of the iPads Air and mini, but the SpeakerSlide skips an evolutionary step and points those stereo speakers forward.
The polycarbonate peripheral sticks onto the bottom of the iPad, by shoving a proboscis into the Lightning port, and then reflects the sound forward. If you want to charge the iPad while using the SpeakerSlide, you just pop out its plug and thread the cable through the hole. It’s ingenious, and has an advantage over other options because it works in stereo. $20
MindShift Filter Nest
Protect your camera filters with the new Filter Nest from MindShift, a two-part nylon case that mounts on your belt so you’ll look really cool. Really, really cool. The padded, zippered outer shell protects the removable inner, which has color-coded slots for your filters. The design lets it mount to several of MindShift’s camera bags, but the belt-mounted option is both the easiest and – by far – the coolest-looking option. $45
Double-shot Filco keyset
The best keyboard I’ve ever used is the keyboard I’m typing this post on right now. It’s the Filco Majestouch with Cherry Blue keyswitches, and it clicks and clacks reliably every morning and every afternoon of every day. But apparently – eventually – the letters wear off the keys, and some folks don’t like that. This replacement set of keycaps (the plastic parts you hit with your fingers) is a “double-shot” set, which means the white lettering runs all the way through the plastic, like the letters in a stick of rock.
The caps are also taller, heavier and rounder than the standard caps, and will only fit Filco keyboards. £39
Griffin DJ Connect
It’s a knob! A $100 knob that turns your iPad or iPhone or even your Mac into a lean, mean, dual-output DJing machine. The DJ Connect packs a pair of line-level RCA outputs on the back and a mini headphone jack on the front. Hook it up to your iDevice via Lightning or your Mac via USB and fire up Algoriddim’s djay app, and you can cue up tracks through the headphones and blast them out the back through the line output. That big knob on top lets you control the headphone volume. $100
It used to be that if you saw some ill-kempt man in the street muttering to himself, you could be sure you’d just seen a crazy person. Now, in the age of Bluetooth headsets and in-line microphones, you can never know. So how do you spot a nutter? That’s easy: transistor radios. Next time you see the local nutjob cruise by on his bike with like 50 rear-view mirrors on the bars and his dog in a basket, check to see if he has a battery-powered tranny on his dash.
What he won’t have is a Divoom Voombox-Ongo, which is a Bluetooth speaker for sane people: a water-resistant, shockproof speaker with an eight-hour battery life, two 1.5-inch drivers and an included bike mount. $70
BlueAnt Pump HD
Even if you sweat like Steve Ballmer working himself into a developer-devoted lather, you won’t break the BlueAnt Pump HD headphones. These waterproof Bluetooth buds wrap over your ears and play for up to eight hours in even the wettest conditions, and on-ear controls let you leave the iPhone safe in a pocket. $130