(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.
About Charlie Sorrel
Dream your way into space with the new IFTTT NASA channel, put notifications and widgets on your desktop with Übersicht and make the perfect cup of coffee with the latest AeroPress timer. This week we even have an app just for processing B&W photos.
Listary, my favorite iPhone list app, now syncs with Dropbox instead of Simplenote (which in turn means no easy nvALT syncing), adds smart lists, a URL scheme that lets you ad tasks from apps like Drafts, icon badges and sharing. It’s also free, with an in-app purchase to unlock advanced features. $Free
IFTTT Space Channel
Now you can get an iPhone notification eery time an astronaut enters space. This radness is thanks to the new NASA IFTTT channel, which offers seven triggers that can feed their info into other IFFFT actions. Want to flash the Wi-Fi-controlled lights in your house every time the International Space Station passes overhead? No problem! And best of all it’s free – you just need an IFTTT account. $Free
Now Vox, the Mac app that streams music from internet radio along with pretty much any music format stored on your Mac (it integrates with your iTunes library too), now works with SoundCloud, which is the place all the cool kids publish their music these days. It supports SoundCloud queues and Collections, and grabs the highest-quality stream available. It’s free, with an in-app purchase to unlock the good stuff. $Free/$3
MediaFire for iOS
MediaFire, the service that forces you to click and load way too many web pages just to get an image from your email, has relaunched its iOS app as a photo-sharing, media-streaming powerhouse. v2.0 now auto-syncs your iPhone and iPad photos to its servers, along with improved streaming of audio and video. The service also adds a new pricing plan, starting at $25 per year for a terabyte of storage. Take that, Dropbox! $Free
JoliCloud’s Drive is both a front-end for the privacy-focussed Norwegian cloud storage service (which I use and love), as well as a place to combine all your other cloud accounts. You can access Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, MediaFire and more, plus the amazing cloud torrent service Put.io. You can also use it to view and edit photos, watch movies, edit photos, listen to music and even read ebooks. Now the web app is even better thanks to a new large-icon grid view for your files. How much? Amazingly, it’s $Free.
Tonality takes your boring old color photos and turns then into amazing B&W images. It works with most images, RAW and JPG included, and does most of what Adobe’s Lightroom does, only it’s focussed on monochrome images and doesn’t do anything for color. You can tweak the color channels to really play with the B&W result, and there’s even gimmicky a one-touch-HDR feature. But the best part is layers, letting you save yourself to a bigger app like photoshop. I like it quite a lot, but I miss Lightroom’s built-in cataloging features. Regular or Pro for $20/$60
Learnist for iPad
You know how cool the TED talks are, where super-smart folks tell you about awesome things? Well Learnist is kind of like that, only instead of lectures it curates lessons, and now it comes on the iPad too. People like Gus Van Sant add lessons, along with qualified teachers concentrating on specific subjects. It’s also free to download and browse. $Free
If you don’t have an AeroPress then go out and buy one right now. Pick up a burr grinder while you’re at it, and some delicious, freshly-roasted beans. Got it? Good. Now you can enjoy the free AeroPress Timer app, new and improved and at version 2. The app provides a whole slew of recipes, with extra recipe packs for $2, available as in-app purchases. Choose a recipe, get your gear set, your water hot and your coffee ground, and hit Go. The timer will count you down to the perfect cup. $Free.
Yet more traveling gear this week with a super-stylish camera bag, fake backgrounds to make your photos look like they came from a better camera, an all-in-one iPhone case and bike toolkit, plus an all-new old-school Super 8 film (yes, film) camera. Delightful.
This might sound like a skateboard trick done in Johnny Rad’s place, but it is in fact a clever little widget that adds a permanent kickstand to your MacBook. The Kickflip sticks to the bottom of the Mac with an adhesive strip and stays out of the way until you need it. Then it flips (folds) open to lift the rear end up a few centimeters. This promotes air flow and raises the screen. Available in two sizes for 13 and 15-inch MacBooks. €18
Logmar Super 8 camera
Ever use a Super 8? It’s simultaneously amazing (great retro-style footage!) and terrifying (only a few minutes per reel!). And it’s also back, in the form of the Logmar, a modern-day take on old-school home video. The film itself is stabilized in the camera, and can be shot at anywhere from 18-54fps. It also has a flip-out LCD viewfinder screen, and records sync sound onto an SD card. How much? $5,000, once the initial run of 20 has been delivered.
Cycling Ride Pouch
This pouch carries everything you need on a ride. It’s a toolkit holder that fits in your jersey pocket, and has its own pockets for cash, cards and your iPhone. The phone is coddled in an ultrasuede-lined slot, and there’s a window on the outside so you can see and view the iPhone without taking it out first. In short, this is the perfect pouch for traveling light. $69
Lastolite Out of Focus Backgrounds
I love this low-tech solution to a high-tech problem. Instead of using a proper camera with a fast lens to achieve out of focus backgrounds, you can just buy a background that’s already out of focus. These folding, portable screens from Lastolite unfurl to give the out-of-focus highlights and blur you’d get if you used a wide aperture over a largish sensor – two things the iPhone doesn’t have.
The price? Well, you might think about buying that camera after all, because they’re $205.59 each.
Kelly Moore Kate Shoulder Bag
Kelly Moore’s Kate shoulder bag is a leather and canvas camera bag designed for men or women. The padded satchel has plenty of pockets, and also features a removable padded insert so you can safely stow lenses and cameras, or just use the thing as a big one-chamber sack when you’re not shooting. Yes, this is a camera bag so stylish that you will want to use it all the time. The price isn’t bad either, as these things go – $200
It’s no Opti-Grab, but then OptiKlip does look pretty useful. It clips to the collar of any shirt, or to the button strip if you like, and gives you somewhere to hang your specs. In the summer I’m forever swapping between my regular glasses and my prescription shades, so I’m totally behind this little widget. If it ever makes it to market that is – currently the OptiKlip is not even a Kickstarter
Catalyst waterproof case
Catalyst has ditched Griffin and is going it alone with its v2.0 iPhone case. Waterproof down to 5 meters (16.4 feet), dustproof, drop resistant and with a hard plastic lens cover to let the light get through to the camera without too much interference, it sounds like they improved on everything I didn’t like in our review of the original. $65
All the power of a Drobo, in a little portable package. The new Drobo mini takes 4 2.5-inch drives (SSDs recommended), and connects to your Mac using Thunderbolt. This makes it blistering fast, and also lets you daisy-chain it to other Thunderbolt devices with the second port. Now you can take your redundant backup with your on the road – it even has a carrying case. $650
Tall Boy Pint Cup
Do you love craft beers and home-made cordials, but hate to drink out of anything that isn’t a soft-drinks can? Then you need to Tall Boy Pint Cup, an 18/8 stainless steel vessel in the shape of a can of Coke. It holds a U.S. pint, which is 16 ounces and not the 20 ounces in Great British pint (which is the reason and Englishman can out-drink any U.S person), and costs just $12
I was supposed to get a Roost to review last year after the successful Kickstarter went into production. I didn’t, but we fixed that at the beginning of this summer, and think God we did – this stand will change the way you use your MacBook.
The Roost is a crazy collapsible scaffold that unfolds from nothing to become a sturdy stand the holds the MacBook at eye-level. Assuming you combine it with regular breaks, and set your keyboard at the right height, you will never have to experience neck, arm or back pain ever again.
Travel can be a chance to practice minimalism, or an opportunity to drive yourself nuts. What am I talking about? Luggage. You can pare down your essentials to fit in a carry-on – even if you’re away for a month – or you can throw in every item of clothing and every charger you have. The second approach will result in a broken back, and you’ll still find that you left something essential at home.
Over the years, I’ve perfected my packing technique so that I only take the bare minimum. And when I say “perfected,” I mean “struggled with.” But it works for me, and the principles can be applied even if you’re the kind of person who hires a boy to carry your trunks for you when you take a cruise on the Titanic.
So here’s the Cult of Mac Guide to Traveling Light, a roundup of strategies, product recommendations and other tips to make your next trip a breeze.
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