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Swapping Dongles for a Dock: The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

By limiting its laptops to Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports, Apple has been able to continue its relentless pursuit of thinness. That’s great when you’re on the go. However, if an Apple laptop is your primary computer, the number and lacking diversity of ports is problematic. When you’re back at home or work, connecting legacy USB-A devices, SD and microSD cards, and Ethernet and HDMI cables requires an array of often expensive dongles and cables that quickly fill up the available ports on your Mac.

When I commuted to downtown Chicago for work, I carried a 2016 MacBook Pro with me. At the end of the day when I returned home, I sat the laptop on my desk and plugged in a bunch of cables and dongles, which was a pain. Because I work from home now, I don’t use my MacBook Pro that way very often anymore, except in the summertime when that laptop becomes a testbed for the latest macOS beta. I’ve been trying to work on the macOS beta from a MacBook Pro as much as possible over the summer, and the experience has caused me to revisit the frustration of unplugging cables and dongles every time I want to leave my desk and work elsewhere.

I had been thinking about ways to improve my summertime beta setup when Other World Computing offered to send me its OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock to test. I took them up on the offer, and having used it for a while now, I love the convenience of being able to connect everything to my MacBook Pro with a single Thunderbolt 3 cable. It’s not an inexpensive solution, but compared to the cost of purchasing multiple over-priced dongles, it’s not as extravagant as it might seem at first.

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StayGo USB-C Hub: First Impressions

The two devices that first got me interested in USB-C hubs were my iPad Pro and MacBook Pro. With the iPad, the attraction was a single device that could connect an external display, support Gigabit Ethernet networking, and read photos from an SD card with the promise of external storage support in iOS 13. For my 2016 13” MacBook Pro, I wanted a way to easily connect legacy USB-A devices, jump on my wired network, copy photos from SD cards, connect to an external 4K display, and leave other USB-C ports open for devices I only occasionally connect to my Mac.

One of the trickiest aspects of picking a hub is finding one with ports that fit your use cases the best. On top of that, not all connections are created equal. As Federico explained in his story on his iPad setups late last year, there are a variety of USB flavors that support different data speeds and power delivery amounts as well as HDMI ports that refresh 4K video at different rates.

Since early this year, I’ve been using the HyperDrive Slim 8-in-1 USB-C Hub, which has:

  • 1 USB-C port with Power Delivery, but that isn’t Thunderbolt-compatible
  • 2 USB-A 3.1 ports with 5Gbps throughput
  • an Ethernet jack
  • Mini DisplayPort (4K at 30Hz)
  • HDMI (4K at 30Hz)
  • an SD card slot
  • a microSD card slot

I haven’t had a need for the Mini DisplayPort connection on the Slim 8-in-1 much, but the hub has handled my other needs well as I detailed in my review. However, one of the biggest problems with the HyperDrive hub is that it has a short built-in cable that can’t be removed. The trouble is that at about 16 centimeters long, the short cord causes the hub to dangle from the side of my MacBook Pro when it’s elevated on Twelve South’s Hi-Rise stand and my iPad Pro when it’s in the Viozon stand I use to write. Both setups look messy and put stress on the cable that I worry will cause it to fail eventually.

That’s why I was intrigued when Twelve South told me they were working on a way to solve the problem. The solution is the company’s new StayGo USB-C hub, which Twelve South sent me to try.

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CARROT Weather iPad App Modernized with Multitasking and Expanded Keyboard Shortcuts, iCloud Sync for Settings

Today in version 4.12, CARROT Weather debuts a modernized iPad app that takes advantage of the features core to a great iPad experience: multitasking support, more keyboard shortcuts, and a tweaked design that better utilizes large displays. Additionally, since the iPad app is maturing in several key ways, CARROT has added iCloud sync for all of the app’s 150+ settings options, ensuring you won’t need to configure settings on both iPhone and iPad.

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Flighty: A Pro-Level iOS App for Frequent Travelers

Good flight tracking apps are few and far between. Simply by having a top-notch design, Flighty is superior to most of its competition. There’s more to the app than superior design though. Flighty combines smart design choices with traveler-centric features to generate a comprehensive picture of every flight you track. The result is a pro-level travel app that’s an excellent fit for frequent travelers.

That said, Flighty isn’t for everyone. The app is free to download and use to track basic flight details. However, much of Flighty’s value lies in its granular level of flight detail, extensive push notification options, and inbound flight tracking, which require an expensive subscription.

You can try Flighty’s pro features free for 14 days, after which the subscription costs $8.99/month or $69.99/year, which is currently $49.99/year for a limited time. That’s more than any other flight tracking app I’ve tried, but I expect many travelers who spend lots of time in the air will be willing to pay monthly or annually.

Fliers who don’t need push notifications or the level of detail Flighty’s subscription offers can still track basic flight data with the free version of the app. However, as I’ll explain in greater detail below, the prominence of banners advertising the app’s pro subscription doesn’t make that a good option.

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Pixelmator Pro for Mac Adds an Apple Photos Extension, New Zoom Tools, and Other Features

Pixelmator Pro released a significant update today that integrates the Mac app with Apple’s Photos app using a full-featured extension, adds enhanced zoom functionality, new cropping options, and more.

Pixelmator Pro is one of my favorite image editors on the Mac, but until today, I typically edited images in it that I pulled from an SD card or exported from Photos. That’s no longer necessary because Pixelmator Pro has been updated with a Photos extension that lets you use all of the app’s tools directly within Photos.

Photos extensions allow third-party developers to integrate their apps with Photos. Few of the photo editing apps I’ve used work with Photos though, which is a shame because Pixelmator Pro shows how much can be done with a Photos extension.

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Timepage 3.0: Key Refinements for a Mature Calendar App

It’s a special kind of dilemma when an app is already one of the best in its category, yet it lives on a platform that requires constant improvement. Some apps in this predicament continue adding feature after feature in a way that ends up detracting from what users initially loved, while others pursue updates that may be less attention-grabbing, but they improve the core app in meaningful ways. Timepage, the iOS calendar app from Moleskine, has chosen the latter route with version 3.0, available today. There are no headline-grabbers here, but this latest update demonstrates that Moleskine has a strong understanding of how its app is used, and how to make it better. It introduces significant improvements to event creation, a new birthday functionality, additional calendar views, and a design tweak inspired by Timepage’s sister app, Actions, among other things.

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Libratone’s Zipp 2 and Zipp Mini 2 Portable Wireless Speakers: The MacStories Review

I love my two HomePods. One sits in my living room and the other in my studio. When I finish working for the day, I can ask Siri to move my music from the studio to the living room where I continue what I’m listening to as I make dinner and relax. Most of the time, both HomePods are also within earshot for issuing Siri commands to turn lights on and off, add items to my grocery list, and kick off shortcuts.

Here’s the thing though: it’s summertime. I’m spending time outdoors and going on road trips to visit family. Meanwhile, my HomePods remain tethered to the wall by power cords. They’ll be there waiting when I return, but when I’m on the go, my HomePods are useless, which prompted me to start looking at portable speakers that could reach beyond the walls of my home.

My research led me to Libratone’s Zipp 2 and Zipp Mini 2 wireless speakers, two of the only wireless solutions I’ve found that support Apple’s AirPlay 2 audio streaming technology. Libratone sent me one of each model for testing, and I’ve spent the past few months using them in different spots around my house, in my backyard, and at the beach. Both speakers deliver on the versatility I was looking for, extending the ways and places I can play music. However, neither of the Zipp speakers was quite as simple to use or reliable as the HomePod. The few issues I ran into are balanced out in no small measure by the versatility of the Zipp speakers though, which depending on your needs makes them a worthy replacement for or supplement to the HomePod.

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Game Day: Minit

Minit is a new-to-iOS indie adventure game by Jan Willem Nijman, the co-founder of Vlambeer, Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio, and Dominik Johann. The game, which was brought to iOS a little over one week ago by Devolver Digital, first debuted in April 2018 and is now available on all major consoles, PCs, and mobile platforms. It’s a fantastic game that benefits from the high-resolution screens and excellent sound available on iOS devices but also suffers a little from onscreen joystick controls. That issue can be remedied with an MFi controller, but even playing with the onscreen controls, Minit has quickly become one of my favorite iOS games of 2019.

Minit’s hook is that the hero you control only has a minute to live, a mechanic that’s perfect for a mobile game. As you race around the game’s map, solving puzzles and discovering items, you have to move fast because when the minute is up, you die and have to start over again.

If that sounds frustrating, it really isn’t. You have to start over after you die, but not entirely from the beginning. The ticking clock certainly makes Minit challenging, but it cleverly avoids becoming frustrating by letting your character retain items, powers, and locations even after you die. For example, one of the first items you discover in the game is a cursed sword that is central to the game’s story. When you inevitably die and respawn to continue exploring, you don’t need to grab the sword again because it will already be at your side. The same holds true of powers like pushing objects and locations that become your new home, which avoids the monotony of having to restart the game from the same point over and over.

Minit strikes a careful balance with its core mechanic, allowing just enough progress to be made each time you play to keep you coming back for more. It also helps that no matter where I’ve been on the game’s map, I’ve always felt that I had multiple options each time I restarted. That’s an essential element of avoiding frustration because even when I’ve gotten stuck on a particular quest, I’ve had the option to set out in a different direction and make progress elsewhere.

The game’s art and sound design are top-notch too. The artwork is entirely black and white with chunky pixel characters and environments that convey a sense of whimsy and fun. Coupled with an excellent soundtrack and sound effects, Minit imbues its world with a personality that brings its simple environment to life in a way that transcends any one aspect of the game.

Minit’s controls are just as simple as its artwork. There’s a virtual joystick in the lower left corner of the screen for moving your character and an attack button in the opposite corner. The gameplay is simple enough that the onscreen joystick works reasonably well, but it’s still not as good as a controller with a dedicated thumbstick, especially when lining up your character to attack an enemy. Relatively few iOS gamers have MFi controllers now, but iOS 13 should give games like Minit a boost in the fall when the OS adds support for Bluetooth-based PS4 and Xbox controllers that far more people already own.

Even relying on the onscreen controls though, I’ve had a blast playing Minit. It took the game with me on a short 4th of July road trip, and it was the perfect companion for the long drive and when I had some time to myself in the evenings. Minit treads some of the same ground as similar retro-style adventure games I’ve played before, but the combination of the timer mechanic and unique black-and-white world make it stand head and shoulders above similar games.

Minit is available on the App Store for $4.99.


Miximum Review: Smart Apple Music Playlists on iOS

Leading up to WWDC last month, rumors indicated that iTunes on the Mac was being split into multiple apps, including standalone Music, TV, and Podcasts apps. It was expected that Apple might use its Catalyst technology (formerly known as Marzipan) to base the new Music app on Music for iPad, or vice versa. The hope among many iPad users was that the iPad might benefit from a more robust Apple Music client featuring power user features already available on the Mac, such as Smart Playlists.

WWDC came and went, and that wish was left unfulfilled. While macOS Catalina does introduce a new Music app, it wasn’t built using Catalyst, and as a result the iPad version of Music is light on meaningful improvements this year.

Filling the void left by Apple, however, is a new third-party app called Miximum, which is an Apple Music-integrated utility dedicated to smart playlist creation on iOS.

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