Posts in reviews

Rewind: Location-Based Time Tracker for iPhone

I've always been interested in tracking my location and how I use my time. I'm a highly visual person, and the ability to see where my time is being spent helps me optimize my schedule and tweak my habits accordingly. Unfortunately, polished and full-featured time tracking apps like Hours haven't scaled in the long run for me – the time I want to track isn't spent working for clients or freelance jobs, and I always forget to launch an app and start tracking time. The time I want to track is my personal, every day routine; the Google app for iOS can track locations and times continuously in the background, but its visualization is lackluster and not optimized for mobile.

Rewind is an automatic time tracker by noidentity (makers of the excellent Next for iOS) that I've been using on my iPhone since early March. Through location tracking and an elegant breakdown of statistics, Rewind does exactly what I want from a mobile time tracker: it tracks where I spend my time automatically in the background, every single day.

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Alternote Review: Minimalist Markdown Evernote App for OS X

Alternote

Alternote for the Mac is like Evernote for the Mac, done right. It dumps many of Evernote’s advanced “features,” focusing on note-taking and note-using instead. If you ever get frustrated by Evernote’s bloat, Alternote is your answer.

Best of all, it runs on Evernote’s back end, so you lose nothing by trying it out, and it automatically integrates with all your other Evernote tools.
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Review: JamStik+ Is More Game Controller Than Musical Instrument

JamStik+

The JamStik+ is two things: a guitar learning tool, and a guitar-like MIDI controller[1]. It’s also pitched as a travel guitar, or at least, something a guitarist can use to practice when on the road, but – as we’ll see – it performs that duty rather badly. You should also know that the JamStik+ is a Kickstarter project, and follows the rules of all Kickstarter hardware/software combos. That is, the hardware is good, but the apps are not.

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Adobe Slate Review

In recent years Adobe has made a concerted effort to develop a collection of mobile apps that make it easy to accomplish various creative tasks. But rather than make one monolothic app that does everything (like Photoshop on PCs), they’ve been splitting up features into many apps that each focus on a different, and specific, creative aspect. For example, there is Adobe Brush CC, which enables you to create custom brushes for Photoshop and Illustrator based off photos you take on your iPhone or iPad, or Adobe Color CC, which will create a custom color palette from your photos. As Adobe has continued to release more and more of these apps every few months, their efforts have become more and more impressive. Adobe now has a sizeable collection of mobile apps that are some of the most technically impressive and well designed apps available on the iPhone and iPad.

Which brings me to Adobe Slate, one of the most recent additions to Adobe’s mobile app stable. Unlike many of their other apps which directly integrate and complement Adobe’s desktop apps like Photoshop or Illustrator (such as Brush and Color, described above), Slate is its own distinct product. Adobe describes Slate as a tool to “turn any document into a beautiful visual story”, which is actually quite a good way to describe it. A more mechanical way of describing Slate would be that it is an iPad-only app for creating a webpage (not a website) for situations where the content you want to share or display is a mix of text and images.

I recently had an assignment at university that permitted a more creative format and layout than the typical essay or report. Because I had heard about Adobe Slate launching a few weeks earlier, I decided to test it out. I ended up submitting my assignment as a webpage created with Slate, and I really enjoyed using it and think the result was pretty great.[1]

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Photos for OS X Review

Let me begin this review with a disclaimer: I am not a photographer. In high school I took a class called Photo Imaging, which taught me how to use Photoshop and attempted to teach me how to take quality pictures. Now I know the Rule of Thirds, and can create images of middle schoolers defeating lions in battle, but it didn’t fix the problem that I simply don’t have a natural eye for photography, nor the patience to develop one.

What I do have, however, is a world-class camera that I carry in my pocket everywhere I go. While I might not be taking world-class photos with it, I do take pictures of my family, my friends, and my life. These pictures are not thoughtfully composed, they are not shot in Raw, and I do not spend hours meticulously editing them. Despite that, they are very dear to me.

As someone who’s written tens of thousands of words on automation, you might expect me to have some crazy photo management workflows in place, or at least to be using one or two or five different services devoted to the practice. In truth, I don’t use any photo management workflows or services. I’ve always been interested in them, and I’ve tried almost all of them, but they’ve all been too much of a hassle for me.

I take all of my pictures on my iPhone, and I take a lot of them. I have a habit of hitting the shutter button at least three or four times whenever I’m trying to capture something, because often at least one or two of them are blurry, or someone’s eyes are closed, etc. Eventually I get around to going through and deleting all but one of these groups of multiple pictures, but sometimes this isn’t until days or weeks later, and any third party photo management service I’ve used will have already uploaded the duplicates. The result is huge amounts of extra photos taking up often limited space and cluttering companion apps built to let me view my stored photos. Worse, making changes to the photos on my phone won’t sync to the backups, and vice versa.

Eventually I’ve grown tired of every third party service I’ve tried and reverted to just cramming everything into iPhoto (so that I at least had some sort of backup) and ignoring it. iPhoto is outdated, slow, and ugly. Any time I’ve wanted to look through my photos, I just go to my iPhone and look there. Any necessary edits are similarly completed on my phone, and the extra features that iPhoto may have offered (smart albums, faces, etc.) I’ve simply gone without.

Enter, Photos for OS X.

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Todoist 10 Brings Intelligent Input, Themes, and New Gestures

Last November, I wrote about my decision to switch from iCloud Reminders to Todoist as my task management app of choice. I concluded:

Todoist strikes a good balance of powerful features and clever implementation that doesn’t push me to customize everything all the time. I’m not writing scripts for task management, I’m not changing icons and themes – I set up a few filters and I’m just focusing on doing stuff. The Todoist app for iOS integrates well with iOS 8, and, overall, I’m thoroughly satisfied with my decision to switch from Reminders to a professional-grade todo system to manage my life.

Over the past five months, I've kept using Todoist every day and I've enjoyed its reliability and integration with other apps and services. Everything from my original review still stands: while I don't rely on all of Todoist's features, its flexibility allows me to scale my tasks and projects at any time. If a big new project comes in and I need to take care of it with my team and have a deeper visualization of my responsibilities, I know I can count on Todoist. If I have to jump from a couple of tasks each day to a few dozen, I can rest assured Todoist can do it.

In spite of my appreciation, though, I've been critical of Todoist's iOS app before, and I'm happy to see the company addressing some of my major complaints in Todoist 10, launching today for iPhone and iPad.

I upgraded to a beta of Todoist 10 a few weeks ago, and, while it doesn't profoundly change the capabilities of Todoist on iOS, the new version brings some powerful (and long-needed) functionality that will help users be more efficient and spend less time managing todos.

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Fantastical 2 for Mac Review: Reinvented

Fantastical for Mac, originally released in 2011, redefined calendar apps for OS X and my idea of a modern calendar client.

Developed by Michael Simmons and Kent Sutherland – together known as Flexibits – Fantastical pioneered features and design choices that, with time, have become a staple of other calendar apps and OS X utilities: natural language input is now expected in popular todo apps and services; the OS X menu bar has grown into a popular destination for desktop utilities; integration with multiple calendar services in a single app is now a de facto standard.

Fantastical was a powerful calendar assistant. Four years later, Flexibits wants Fantastical 2 for Mac – their latest creation years in the making – to be the only calendar app you'll ever need. While the original Fantastical was a companion to the full Apple iCal experience, Fantastical 2 reinvents itself as a full-blown calendar client that retains the most important aspects of the app's debut and adds a whole new calendar interface to the mix. And in the process, it exudes the finesse and attention to detail that Simmons and Sutherland are known for.

In 2011, Fantastical raised the bar for modern calendar interaction. Fantastical 2 builds on that solid foundation, bringing design changes and new functionalities that will define the evolution of the Fantastical family.

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Das Keyboard 4 Pro for Mac Review

The Das will totally dominate smaller desks

The Das will totally dominate smaller desks

Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac

Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac on Amazon

I like almost everything about the new Das Keyboard 4 Pro, but what I like best is the big volume knob on the top right corner. Not only is it way funner to use than boring old keys, but it’s also easier and quicker. You can lean in from anywhere and quickly adjust the volume without decoding your keycaps from upside down.

In fact, the whole top-left media control panel is pretty sweet. But more on that in a moment. First, what is this thing?

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Blink: Effortless Affiliate Link Generation on iOS

Launching today, Blink is a new Universal iOS app from Squibner that quickly generates affiliate links for content from the App Store, Mac App Store, iTunes Store and iBooks Store. If you’re a member of the iTunes affiliate program you’ll know that you don’t want to be manually editing iTunes links with your own token and campaign tag – Blink automates that process on iOS, making it quick and effortless.

A Brief Introduction to Affiliate Links

Before I continue, a quick introduction to the world of affiliate linking for those that are unaware. Essentially, anyone can register for the iTunes affiliate program and they will receive their own affiliate token (a series of letters and numbers). If they generate an iTunes URL that includes this affiliate token and share that link with others that click on it, they will receive a (small) percentage of any iTunes sales that flow from any clicks. For many small and independent sites, such affiliate programs are a valuable source of income (and yes, MacStories uses affiliate links). Apple’s website has more details if you’d like to learn more about the technical details of affiliate linking and perhaps even sign up.

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