Lust List: This stealth speaker is a Power Mac’s Mini-Me and more

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Lust List: August 2015

Each month, Lust List rounds up the gear that gives us a fever of 103. August's secret rendezvous includes a stealthy Bluetooth speaker, a smartwatch that's not made by Apple, sweet Star Wars headphones and much more.

HiddenRadio2 Bluetooth speaker

This stealthy little speaker would look right at home next to an inky-black Mac Pro. While most Bluetooth speakers go for a rugged, sporty look — hell, this year's cutest model even comes with a pool-ready float — the HiddenRadio2 will really class up the joint.

The secret is the glossy black dome that slides up an inch when you touch the top of the HiddenRadio2. A sensor in the sleek cover lets you adjust your music's volume, jump between tracks or answer phone calls, with nary a button to be seen. It's not the loudest speaker you'll ever hear, and at just 5 inches tall and 3.5 inches wide, it's not designed to pump out the bass like bigger speakers.

Instead, it's all about subtlety, clean lines and that aforementioned class. The audio is crisp and vibrant, whether you're streaming AC/DC or a Bartok cello concerto, and the utterly clutter-free design makes the HiddenRadio2 truly remarkable. Currently on sale for $179, it comes in glossy black, platinum silver and a pricier gunmetal. It'll bring a smile to your face every time you fire it up, and I can't wait till the promised apps (for iOS and Android) arrive to give HiddenRadio2 even more subtle powers. — Lewis Wallace

Buy from: Hidden

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Mission Workshop Division Chino Pants

These are some of the greatest travel pants I've ever slipped into. They're not really "travel" pants, but this is what I used them for during my recent travels to Italy. I was packing light and I wanted a pair of pants I could be comfortable in on the plane and then use for any and all occasions on the ground in Europe.

Mission Workshop's Division chino pants fit the bill beautifully. They looked the part whether I was wandering the streets during the day or getting a little dinner on a piazza at night. They were lightweight without being flimsy, and when I spilled an Aperol spritz on my lap, it just rolled right off. The addition of the zippered pocket on the leg of these $225 pants gave me peace of mind about my cash on hand. — Jim Merithew

Buy from: Mission Workshop

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Fenix 3 smartwatch by Garmin

The Apple Watch is the prettiest smartwatch I've ever put on my wrist, but when it's time to go on adventures, I've been cheating on it with the Garmin Fenix 3. It may not be much of a looker, but what the Fenix 3 lacks in the sex appeal department it makes up for it with sheer utility.

Features like GPS, altimeter and barometer make it a better fit than the Apple Watch for activities like hiking through the Grand Canyon. And it comes in a stainless steel body with a domed sapphire lens, so I'm never afraid of scratching it up.

The Fenix 3's control scheme looks slightly intimidating. Instead of featuring a touchscreen, the watch uses five side buttons to navigate to functions and control apps. Once you get oriented, though, it's actually easier to use than Apple Watch's UI. For instance, you just press the Start button twice to start recording a run, hike, swim or bike ride. It doesn't boast 8,000-plus apps like Apple's wearable, but I've found that to be a positive — it's a less-distracting piece of tech.

Yes, you can connect the Fenix 3 to your phone and get all the email and text alerts you're accustomed to from other smartwatches. It even has music controls and some cool fitness features that Apple Watch doesn't, like the ability to estimate the maximum volume of oxygen you can consume per minute, a recovery advisor and running dynamics metrics.

The Fenix 3 isn't necessarily the smartwatch you want to wear all day, every day, but its bigger-than-big battery can keep it running in watch mode for six weeks, just in case you want to. It's also great for when your Apple Watch dies and you're a three day's hike away from the nearest electrical outlet. — Buster Hein

Buy from: Amazon

Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

My 2nd Brain bags by ThinkTank Photo

Camera bag makers ThinkTank Photo have a knack for making your brain work better. The construction of ThinkTank bags, the way the company designs every little compartment and pocket, seems to gently guide you into organizing your digital life on the go.

The company's line of laptop and tablet briefcases called My 2nd Brain includes a number of sizes to give you the right amount of bag. I walk a mile to my office (um, coffee shop) and carry my 13-inch MacBook Pro, charging cord and a few other tools comfortably in the 2nd Brain bag designed perfectly for the size computer I carry. Sometimes, I don't need that much computer, so I switch to the vertical tablet bag, which easily carries my iPad mini, a camera and a few extras.

One bonus: Of all the bags in my life, these seem to stay put on my round right shoulder. — David Pierini

Buy from: Amazon (13-inch briefcase) and Amazon (tablet)

Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

Jawbreaker sunglasses with Prizm lens by Oakley

I feel like a freaking superhero every time I put on these sunglasses. Oakley's Jawbreaker frames were designed in partnership with professional cyclist Mark Cavendish, and while they're the perfect eyeball shields for mountain biking and street riding, I've found they're also great when hitting the trails on foot.

The frames are built with the same durable plastic frame and impact-hesitant lenses we've come to expect from Oakley, except they're way bigger than any pair of sunglasses I've ever worn. That proves to be incredibly beneficial because you don't have the frame obscuring your peripheral vision, and it almost makes you forget that you're wearing glasses.

The Jawbreakers look like a pair of shades from the '80s, only they boast some fancy tech that sets them apart as more than just futuristic goggles. The added ventilation keeps sweat from fogging up your vision on a jog. They also use Oakley's Switchlock lens-changing technology that lets you swap out lenses on the fly.

I tested the Jawbreakers with Oakley's Prizm lenses, which were a revelation for my vision. The world looks sharper when donning the Jawbreakers, thanks to Prizm tech that emphasizes colors where the eye is most sensitive to detail. Adjusting to the orangey sepia tone can take a minute, but once your retinas adjust it's like upgrading your eyeballs to 4K after living in HD for 20 years. With a $220 price tag they're definitely expensive, and they will draw some strange looks from your friends, but it's impossible to beat these large lens' performance. — Buster Hein

Buy from: Amazon

Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

Star Wars second-edition headphones by SMS Audio

While we wait for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens to blow us out of the water in December, we want to show our true fan colors with these fantastic over-the-ear wired headphones from SMS Audio. These second-edition designs come looking like R2-D2, Chewbacca, Darth Vader or a TIE fighter.

Nothing says "Star Wars nerd with audiophile taste" like these high-performance headphones. They just scream Star Wars, letting all around you know whether you've chosen the dark side or the light.

The oval ear cups are simply amazing at filtering out external sounds, even without active electronics, and their unique shape makes sure you'll be able to listen to hours of your favorite cantina songs without discomfort.

The $179.95 Star Wars headphones fold up into an easily transported, themed carrying case, and come with a detachable cable with an in-line mic and pause/play button. The 40-mm drivers ensure brilliant highs, solid bass and clear midrange sound delivered at astonishing volume and clarity. There's some sweet extras in the box like a hologram card, certificate of authenticity and (in my set) a TIE fighter pilot sticker. Heck, even the box itself is a collector's item. — Rob LeFebvre

Buy from: Amazon

Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Square water bottle by Clean Bottle

"Hey what is that bottle?" asks the animated woman in the queue at San Francisco International Airport.

"It's called Square," I respond.

"That is so awesome," she replies. "It will never roll away on the floor of the plane."

So true, so true. The form factor is perfect for people constantly chasing their water bottle around the floor of the car. And the Square Water Bottle was an excellent companion while in Rome, saving us a ton of money on bottled water as we filled up at all the amazing public fountains spewing delicious, cold and free water.

The handle is awesome and the bottle is easily cleaned and rinsed from both ends. At $49.95 list it's a bit on the pricey side, but when it looked like we had lost our Square Bottle forever in a tiny church in Tuscany, my wife went to spectacular lengths to get it back.

Turns out there is such a thing as water bottle romance in Chianti. — Jim Merithew

Buy from: Amazon

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

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Betrayal at House on the Hill

I'm a sucker for a good — or even bad — horror movie. So $49.99 board game Betrayal at House on the Hill, which has you and your friends exploring a spooky haunted house, is a pretty easy sell. And you really do explore it — each room in the mansion is on its own, separate tile, and you establish the layout as you uncover more rooms.

But exploring is only the first half of this $49.99 game from Wizards of the Coast. Eventually, you'll activate one of 50 different end-game scenarios. At that point, things transition from cooperative to competitive as one player becomes the "traitor" and everyone else has to stop them.

I wanna play this game right now, actually. — Evan Killham

Buy from: Amazon

Photo: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac

AliveCor ECG iPhone case

If you've got heart issues, like my friend who experiences premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) fairly regularly, you need to keep track of your blood-pumper.

If your cardiologist agrees, you should give the AliveCor ECG iPhone case a try. It installs on your phone with a snap, and adds very little bulk to your Apple smartphone. The case itself protects from most drops and other dangers, and it includes two metal plates on the back of the device. You simply place your finger tips on the two plates and the free app will measure your heart rate using this single-lead electrocardiogram device.

The app is fantastic, keeping track of your heart over time and letting you email results to your heart doctor (or anyone else, really). My friend was able to show her cardiologist a few weeks of PVC activity so he could interpret the results. In fact, the cardiologist's own father uses a similar device to send his heart data to his doctor son. D'awwww.

At $74.99, the AliveCor mobile ECG system costs a relative pittance, considering it gathers the data your doc needs and delivers serious peace of mind (since you'll be able to check your own heart as needed, possibly avoiding pricey emergency room visits). It's a pretty darn fantastic way to keep tabs on your beating heart, arrhythmia or no. — Rob LeFebvre

Buy from: AliveCor

Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

6 lessons Apple Watch could learn from rival fitness trackers

Apple Watch's Activity app
What would it take for Apple Watch to lap competing fitness trackers?
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

I’ve started cheating on my Apple Watch. It’s not that I don’t love it. It’s amazingly beautiful. It does stuff I didn’t even know I’d like. But when it comes to running wild in the outdoors, I’ve found a smartwatch that satisfies me more than Jony Ive’s wearable does.

For the past week I’ve been testing the Garmin Fenix 3, a top-of-the-line smartwatch from a company that’s made a name for itself by providing runners and outdoorsmen with some of the best wrist-worn fitness tech. I hate wearing the Fenix 3. While Apple Watch gently caresses my wrist, the Fenix 3 feels like I’ve strapped a tank to it. Yet it boasts features Apple Watch doesn’t have that I’m starting to think I can’t live without on runs and hikes.

I don’t plan to completely break up with the Apple Watch anytime soon, but I’m ditching it during my four-day trek through the Grand Canyon this weekend because there are still a couple things it needs to learn before it can truly be the best all-around fitness tracker.

How gadgets helped me go from dad bod to six pack

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Fitness gadgets saved my life. Sort of.
Fitness gadgets saved my life. Sort of.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

I used to live the classic geek lifestyle, forever hunched over a MacBook, munching on comfort food. Until one day cancer forced me to take my health more seriously.

Now I run marathons and lift weights for fun. But the geek is still strong in me. From GPS watches to bioelectrical impedance analyzers, I’ve used pretty much every kind of fitness gadget.

Here’s the story of how fitness gear helped me get in shape for the first time in my life and swap my middle-aged dad bod for a six pack.

What? Us? Scared? Garmin shows no fear of Apple Watch

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Garmin watch. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Garmin's chunky new Fenix 3 Sapphire sport watch faces stiff competition from Apple Watch. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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LAS VEGAS — When Garmin launches a $600 smartwatch just a few weeks before Apple is about to introduce its category killer, the company must be pretty confident.

Cult_of_Mac_CES_2015Here at International CES, Garmin is showing off its new line of Fenix 3 Sports Watches — multisport fitness trackers with built-in GPS that can pair with a smartphone to show various alerts and notifications. It comes in three models, including the handsome Sapphire, which has a hard sapphire crystal face. It’s a beauty, but surely doomed, right?

When asked if Garmin was worried about the Apple Watch, due to be launched sometime this spring, a spokeswoman confidently said absolutely not. She explained that Garmin’s watches are unapologetically outdoor fitness devices built for sportspeople who want a watch to do very specific things — track workouts – and aren’t interested in beaming heartbeats or sending emojis.

“They are purpose-built,” she said, gesturing at the display. “They’re built for hiking, biking and running. Garmin has been in the wearables market for 10 years. We’re not worried at all.”

Lust List: Heart-pumping, dart-thumping gear (and a blinkin’ Apple book)

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Lust List: December 2014

Each month, Cult of Mac's Lust List reveals the products we're reveling in right now.

Garmin Forerunner 920xt

Swim, bike and run your way over to your local Garmin dealer — the multisport watch you have been waiting for has finally arrived. Adding all the good stuff from the other new computers in the Garmin lineup, the Forerunner 920xt arrives with activity tracking, a color screen that actually shows colors, cycling VO2 max, a metronome and the ability for devs to create additional apps through Connect IQ. All in a package you could wear all day without feeling like a complete goober.

Unlike its predecessor the 910xt, the new watch can actually be worn and used as a watch. And if you are willing to carry your smartphone on your workouts, Bluetooth pairing can deliver real-time tracking and push notifications from your phone to the watch (although HealthKit compatibility remains limited at this time).

The Garmin Forerunner 920xt ($449.99 list) is packed full of features designed to help you track your data better; with third parties developing apps, at some point we might see heart-rate capability while in the pool. If you unlock half of this watch's capabilities, you might also start to unlock your own. — Jim Merithew

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Philips Sonicare DiamondClean toothbrush

"Oooh, sweet toothbrush." Until recently, I could honestly say I'd never heard those unexpected words before. But that's exactly what my wife exclaimed when she spotted the Philips Sonicare DiamondClean rechargeable toothbrush sitting quietly on our bathroom counter.

It's easy to see why: The black matte finish looks and feels amazing, more like a high-end smartphone than a dental hygiene product. Luckily for our teeth and gums, the luxe brush is just as practical as it is beautiful. After my better half demanded that I hand over the spare brush head, she took the sleek sonic tooth-scrubber for a spin and declared her pearly whites felt cleaner than ever. She's hooked, and she still hasn't seen the cool travel case that holds the DiamondClean and cleverly recharges by USB.

I like the DiamondClean too, although it took a few sessions to get used to its high-pitched howl. Its polished bristles feel exceedingly gentle, and the at-home charging glass is unique (and dishwasher-safe, delivering us from the evil pool of drool that accumulates on pedestrian plastic chargers). All in all, the DiamondClean ($219.99 list)  is more delightful than I thought a toothbrush could be. — Lewis Wallace

N.B.: The DiamondClean is also available in pink – just please don't tell my wife.

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Striker Zx Xbox One Gaming Headset

These stereo gaming headsets from Polk Audio come in three gaming colors, with Skyline Blue and Black Out Black available through the company's website and the Orange Striker ZX (my favorite) only available at Best Buy.

Strap these bad boys onto your head and use the included Xbox One wireless adapter to connect to your Microsoft gaming console, or just plug the standard 1/8-inch wire into any headphone jack on your iPhone, iPad or PlayStation 4 controller. The Strikers are comfortable, sound great and look pretty rad along the way. At $89.95 list, you won't have to break open your piggy bank to afford them. — Rob LeFebvre

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Iconic Ultimate Edition

The updated edition of Jonathan Zufi's coffee-table book Iconic costs a cool $250 — but it features a cool pulsating light!

The book, originally released to wide acclaim last year, is a photographic tribute to Apple's products that’s elegantly crammed with more than 150,000 glossy photos of every single piece of hardware out of Cupertino. It also includes practically everything else, from prototypes to packaging.

The updated version of Zufi's good-looking book — with 16 new pages — comes in plainer, cheaper editions (the Classic Edition costs $75, while the $99 Classic Plus Edition adds a black slipcase), but you’ll want the Ultimate Edition. That’s the one with the LED embedded in its classy Cromwell Aristo Grain-White clamshell case. When you pick up the book, the LED gently pulses in homage to MacBooks of yore. Now that’s iconic. — Leander Kahney

Photo: Ridgewood Publishing

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Omega J8006 Nutrition Center Juicer

With Thanksgiving in the rear-view and Christmas eggnog in the offing, perhaps it's time to consider – just consider, mind you – a little dietary moderation. I've never been a giant fan of fruits and vegetables (especially the really healthy green stuff), and I certainly don't get as many daily servings as I should, but after seeing lard-ass fright flick Fact, Sick and Nearly Dead and taking a realistic look at my waistline, I got nudged in the direction of juicing.

And by "nudged" I mean my wife bought me a fantastic Omega J8006 Nutrition Center Juicer ($240 from Amazon). This chrome-and-black masticating monster uses a single menacing augur to crush and squeeze every last delicious drop out of fruits and vegetables. I especially love what it does with carrots, turning a pile of orange root vegetables into a nutrient-rich thirst-quencher. Toss in a few bits of ginger or a couple handfuls of kale, and you've got a surprisingly delicious drink that's guaranteed to give you a boost.

It's not all about health, either. Fresh fruits like cantaloupe and pineapple make shockingly good additions to fanciful drink recipes. And that ginger juice? Unbelievably potent and awesome for kicking cocktails up a notch. I'm still fat, but I don't feel nearly as sick or dead. — Lewis Wallace

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

iRig Mic HD

If you've ever tried to record your own vocals, you know that the built-in microphone in your Mac or iPad,  while competent, isn't something you'd want to use to create a world-class song demo. IK Multimedia knows iOS audio, and their iRig Mic HD ($129.99)  is an incredibly good condenser microphone that will let you unleash your inner rock star (or podcaster).

It connects easily to your Mac or iOS device via the included standard USB or Lightning cable. And it's serious business, as the iRig Mic HD has a 24-bit audio-to-digital converter, a 44.1/48 kHz sampling rate and a fantastic pre-amp to reproduce your vocal performances at a rate of stunningly high fidelity. — Rob LeFebvre

Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

iCarbons MacBook skin

Here's something to be worried about when you buy a used MacBook on eBay. Photo: Alex Heath / Cult of Mac

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Nodus Access case for iPad mini

If you are going to cover up your beautifully sleek new iPad mini, it might as well be with Italian leather and microfibers. The Nodus Access case (89.99 pounds) exudes an elegance and simplicity that can’t be overstated. Or is that understated. Either way, it is beautiful.

Using micro-suction technology to hold your iPad firmly in place, the case couldn’t be any simpler. — Jim Merithew

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Bandit Plus ProTrainer dartboard

If you play darts, you know it's all about the doubles and triples. Landing your pointy projectile in those choice slivers of bristle board real estate make all the difference when you are playing to win.

The Bandit Plus ProTrainer ($65 from A-ZDarts.com) can help. On this fiendish and well-constructed training tool, the double and treble beds are just half the size of a regulation steel-tip dartboard. Practicing with this demanding mistress is the darting equivalent of running in ankle weights or sliding a doughnut on your bat while taking a few cuts in the on-deck circle. Spend some quality time with the ProTrainer at home, and those precious moneymaker slots will look gigantic when you step up to the oche during your next pub match. — Lewis Wallace

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

SteelSeries Stratus XL Gaming Controller

Available just in time for the holiday gift-giving season, the SteelSeries Stratus XL is the first full-size wireless controller for iOS. It mimics larger home controllers, with a button layout that will be familiar to most console gamers and a 40-hour window of battery life eked from only two AA batteries.

The build quality is insanely good, making this an ideal choice for anyone who wants the comfort and style of a full-on gaming controller for the hundreds of iOS games that utilize Apple’s new made for iPhone (MFi) controller system. The Stratus XL will be available starting December 9 from the SteelSeries website and other fine retailers. — Rob LeFebvre

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac