Posts in reviews

Craft Review: A Powerful, Native Notes and Collaboration App

Note-taking apps on Apple platforms have never been in a better place. Apple Notes is a fantastic built-in option with deep system integrations. Bear offers an elegant Markdown experience and powerful note linking features. Agenda takes a unique date-based approach to note-taking. Evernote just launched its long-in-the-works redesign, and Noto provides a great mix of style and substance. There are quality Pencil-based note-takers like Notability and GoodNotes. And certain web-based tools like Notion are starting to put a higher priority on their app experience.

But for all the excellent options already out there, it can never hurt to have another. Especially when that new option is as well done as Craft.

Craft is launching today across iPhone, iPad, and Mac as a new note-taker that blends the block-based approach of Notion with a thoroughly native experience, taking advantage of all the OS technologies you would hope for and throwing in valuable features like real-time collaboration. It’s the most exciting note-taking debut I’ve seen in years.

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AirBuddy 2 Review: Fine-Grained, Customizable Control of the Wireless Headphones and Devices Connected to Your Mac

AirBuddy is one of those handy Mac utilities that you don’t know how you’ve lived without until after you’ve tried it. The initial release that I reviewed in early 2019 was primarily designed to manage Bluetooth headphones connected to your Mac and report the status of your headphones’ batteries; something iOS and iPadOS does better than macOS. With AirBuddy 2, developer Guilherme Rambo has added a bunch of new features, including new ways to customize the app and interact with Bluetooth devices other than headphones.

AirBuddy 2 can manage a variety of wireless headphones.

AirBuddy 2 can manage a variety of wireless headphones.

As with the original version of AirBuddy, when you open your AirPods or Beats headphone case near your Mac, a window opens, showing you the status of their batteries and connection. The app also works with Bluetooth headphones that rely on an on/off switch like the Beats Solo line. From AirBuddy’s status window, you can click to connect the headphones to your Mac or swipe to connect and set their listening mode in one gesture.

AirBuddy 2’s listening modes allow you to adjust multiple headphone settings all at once when the app connects your headphones to your Mac. For example, you can turn your headphones’ microphone on for meetings or off for listening to music and set the volume and whether AirPods Pro play audio in Normal, Transparency, or Noise Cancelling modes. The combinations you pick for your listening modes are saved as profiles in the app’s settings.

AirBuddy 2's menu bar app.

AirBuddy 2’s menu bar app.

AirBuddy 2 is also a menu bar app. Clicking its menu bar icon opens a window that shows all your connected devices and their battery status, including Macs, iPhones, and iPads. The devices are grouped, so, for example, your Apple Watch shows up as connected to your iPhone as would any AirPods you’re currently using with your iPhone. If you run AirBuddy 2 on a second Mac, that Mac will show up here, too, along with any Bluetooth peripherals connected to it.

Transferring a connected Magic Trackpad from my Mac mini to my MacBook Pro.

Transferring a connected Magic Trackpad from my Mac mini to my MacBook Pro.

My favorite part of having AirBuddy 2 running on multiple Macs is the ability to transfer Bluetooth connections from one Mac to the other using the app’s Magic Handoff feature. I spent a lot of the summer with separate trackpads connected to two Macs as I switched back and forth, testing Big Sur. AirBuddy 2 provides an alternate desk-clearing option by letting you right-click the AirBuddy entry for a trackpad, mouse, or keyboard connected to the Mac you’re currently using and switch it to the other Mac. For anyone who runs multiple Macs, especially connected to the same display, this is a terrific feature.

AirBuddy 2 includes extensive settings to customize its behavior to suit your tastes.

AirBuddy 2 includes extensive settings to customize its behavior to suit your tastes.

AirBuddy 2 is highly customizable too. In addition to setting up custom listening modes, which I covered above, you can open the app’s settings from the menu bar and assign keyboard shortcuts to display the headphone status window and to quickly connect to a favorite device, switch listening modes, toggle your microphone on or off, and take other actions. Settings also lets you specify the devices that are shown in the menu bar app, your favorite headphones for quick connection purposes, the status window’s size, and where it appears onscreen, among other things. You can even view historical battery and usage data from the Devices section of the app’s settings.

AirBuddy 2's Catalina widget (left) and Big Sur three sizes of widgets (right).

AirBuddy 2’s Catalina widget (left) and Big Sur three sizes of widgets (right).

It’s also worth noting that AirBuddy 2 also includes a widget that works with both Catalina and Big Sur to display the battery status of each of the devices it tracks.

AirBuddy started as an app that brought an iOS feature for headphones to the Mac. With AirBuddy 2, the app’s functionality has been greatly expanded beyond anything Apple offers, making it indispensable for anyone who connects multiple wireless devices to their Macs. Not only can you quickly connect headphones, so they’re immediately ready for a meeting or for listening to music, but the app helps keep you on top of the battery status of every connected device.

AirBuddy has been available for pre-order since last month, but today is its official release date. You can purchase the app directly from the AirBuddy website for $9.99 for new users, $4.99 as an upgrade from the first version of AirBuddy if you bought it in 2019, and for free if you purchased the app in 2020.



Managing the Internet Access of HomeKit Devices with the Linksys Velop Mesh WiFi Router System

At WWDC 2019, Apple announced that HomeKit support would be coming to WiFi routers. Not a lot was known about what that would entail, until recently, when new and updated routers with HomeKit functionality began to hit store shelves. A few weeks ago, Linksys sent me its Velop Tri-Band Mesh WiFi Router System that added HomeKit support late last month. I’ve been using the system for a few weeks now and want to share the setup process and explain what HomeKit-enabled routers offer that other routers don’t.

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Halide Mark II Review: The Convenience of Computational Photography and Flexibility of RAW in an Elegant Camera App

iPhone photography has come a long way in the past 13 years. The original iPhone had a 2 MP camera that produced images that were 1600 x 1200 pixels. Today, the wide-angle camera on an iPhone 12 Pro has a 12 MP camera that can take shots that are 4032 x 3024 pixels.

Hardware advancements have played a big role in iPhone photography, but so has software. The size of an iPhone and physics limit hardware advances, resulting in diminishing returns year-over-year. Consequently, Apple and other mobile phone makers have turned to computational photography to bring the power of modern SoCs to bear, improving the quality of images produced by iPhones with software.

Computational photography has advanced rapidly, pushed forward by the increasingly powerful chips that power our iPhones. Every time you take a photo with your iPhone, it’s actually taking several, stitching them together, using AI to compute adjustments to make the image look better, and presenting you with a final product. The process feels instantaneous, but it’s the result of many steps that begin even before you press the shutter button.

However, the simplicity and efficiency of computational photography come with a tradeoff. That pipeline from the point you press the Camera app’s shutter button until you see the image you took involves a long series of steps. In turn, each of those steps involves a series of judgment calls and the application of someone else’s taste about how the photo should look.

Apple has made great strides in computational photography in recent years, but it also means someone else's taste is being applied to your images. Source: Apple.

Apple has made great strides in computational photography in recent years, but it also means someone else’s taste is being applied to your images. Source: Apple.

In many circumstances, the editorial choices made by the Camera app result in great photos, but not always, and the trouble is, your ability to tweak the images you take in compressed file formats is limited. A more flexible alternative is to shoot in a RAW file format that preserves more data, allowing for a greater range in editing options, but often, the friction of editing RAW images isn’t worth it. The Camera app is good enough most of the time, so we tolerate the shots that don’t look great.

However, what if you could have the best of both worlds? What if you could capture a lightweight, automatically-adjusted photo and an editing-friendly RAW image at the same time, allowing you to pick the right one for each image you take? If you like the JPEG or HEIC image produced by Apple’s computational photography workflow, you could keep it, but you could always fall back to the RAW version if you want more editing latitude. That way, you could rely on the editorial choices baked into iOS where you like the results but retain control for those times when you don’t like them.

That’s what Halide Mark II by Lux sets out to accomplish. Halide is a MacStories favorite that we’ve covered many times in the past, but Mark II is something special. The latest update is an ambitious reimagining of what was already a premier camera app, building on what came before but with a simpler and easier to learn UI. Halide Mark II puts more control than ever into the hands of photographers, while also making it easy to achieve beautiful results with minimal effort. Halide also seeks to educate through a combination of design and upcoming in-app photography lessons.

By and large, Halide succeeds. Photography is a notoriously jargon-heavy, complex area. It’s still possible to get bogged down, fretting over which settings are best in what circumstances. However, Halide provides the most effective bridge from point-and-shoot photography to something far more sophisticated than any camera app I’ve used. The result is a camera app that gives iPhone photographers control over the images they shoot in an app that’s a pleasure to use and encourages them to learn more and grow as a photographer.

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Reeder 5 Review: Read Later Tagging, iCloud Sync, and Design Refinements

Last year we named RSS client Reeder 4 the Best App Update as part of the MacStories Selects awards for a good reason. Reeder has been one of the best-designed RSS apps available for a very long time. With the release of version 4, developer Silvio Rizzi rebuilt the app on a modern foundation from the ground up. Roughly one year later, version 5 is out as a brand new app that takes what Rizzi began last year and extends it further with a host of excellent new features and design refinements.

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Timery Debuts Powerful Time Tracking Widgets for iOS 14

Timery’s iOS 14 widgets in light and dark mode.

Timery’s iOS 14 widgets in light and dark mode.

Widgets in iOS 14 are a genuine hit, in large part because of the visual customization advantages they provide and the ability to be placed on the Home Screen. Back when they were first announced in June, however, there was concern about one way these new widgets would be a downgrade from their predecessors: widgets in iOS 13 and earlier could offer more interactivity, even to the point of acting as mini-apps.

Due to limitations imposed by Apple on iOS 14 widgets, I was afraid one of my most-used widgets would become far less useful. That widget is for Timery, the Toggl time tracking app. Timery’s iOS 13 widget enabled not only starting and stopping timers right from its widget, but you could also see a real-time view of your current running timer. With iOS 14’s widgets, I feared Timery wouldn’t be able to update its widget’s data often enough to provide a real-time timer view, and I wasn’t sure how convenient the widget would feel when starting a timer would require launching the full Timery app.

Today Timery’s iOS 14 update has arrived, and I’m thrilled to report that my concerns were entirely unfounded. Developer Joe Hribar has managed to work around Apple’s API limitations as well as could be hoped, and deliver new widgets that actually provide more functionality than before.

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FoodNoms’ Widgets Thoughtfully Combine Goal Summaries with Actions to Make Food Tracking Easier Than Ever

I first reviewed FoodNoms late last year when it launched and was impressed. The app is a privacy-focused food tracker to help you keep up with your nutritional goals. FoodNoms sets itself apart from its competitors by proving that logging and tracking can come in a user-focused, elegantly designed package. The result is an app that makes forming good eating habits a simpler, better experience than most food tracking apps I’ve tried.

In the months since its launch, FoodNoms has received a long list of useful updates. For instance, there are more ways to save and access the foods you track than ever. Items can be marked as favorites and saved along with other foods as reusable recipes or meals. Also, the app’s search functionality lets you search foods, meals, recipes, and favorites.

One of the shortcomings of FoodNoms that I pointed out in my initial review was that it only included short-term graphs, which made it hard to track trends. That’s been remedied with the inclusion of weekly and monthly charts. The database of foods has also been improved, and a community-driven food database was introduced to allow users to contribute foods. FoodNoms’ Shortcuts actions have been expanded, and alternative icons added too.

FoodNoms' four widget types in action.

FoodNoms’ four widget types in action.

Most recently, FoodNoms added widget support, so users can get an overview of progress towards their goals throughout the day and quickly access the app’s functionality. FoodNoms includes four types of widgets: Goal, Goals Summary, Log Food, and Quick Actions.

The Goal widget, which comes in the small size only, is a simple widget that can track a single goal you’ve set for yourself. Perhaps my favorite option that it and the Goals Summary widget share is the ability to pick what happens when the widget is tapped. For the Goal widget, the options are opening the app, going to the Today view, searching, scanning bar codes and food labels, logging a drink, and viewing goal details. The Goals Summary widget includes the same options, with the exception of viewing goal details. Goals Summary also allows two separate nutrient goals to be tracked instead of just one.

Log Food, as you’d expect, lets you pick foods to log. The widget can be set up to offer smart suggestions based on recently-logged foods or show foods of your choice instead. The medium version can fit two foods, while the large version supports four. Tapping on one of the foods takes you directly to it in FoodNom’s database, where you can adjust amounts and other settings before logging it. Of course, if you want more food items on your Home Screen, you can use multiple instances of the Log Food widget and stack them.

The final widget is a medium-sized one that includes six Quick Actions that remind me a little of Anybuffer or Drafts’ quick action widgets. FoodNoms includes actions to start a search, view your library or favorites, access the app’s Quick Entry feature, scan a barcode or nutrition label, and log a drink. The widget is a great way to jump to exactly where you want within FoodNoms with minimal effort.

Between multiple options for tracking your goals and the thoughtful use of actions tied to widgets, FoodNoms offers users a ton of flexibility on their Home Screens. FoodNoms is also a fantastic example of a subscription model that supports ongoing development. The subscription allows developer Ryan Ashcraft to update and refine the app throughout the year with new functionality. In return, users get an excellent food tracker they’ll use multiple times every day that is ad-free and won’t sell their data, which is well worth the app’s $4.99/month or $29.99/year subscription.


Ulysses 21 Brings Revision Mode to iPhone and iPad Alongside Updated Design

Today the latest version of Ulysses, the excellent Markdown text editor, was released for iPad and iPhone. Ulysses 21 comes with two main changes: it brings the previously Mac-exclusive revision mode to iOS and iPadOS, while also introducing design updates that take advantage of new iOS 14 design elements, such as pull-down menus. It’s not a huge update, but it’s a nice one nonetheless for iPhone and iPad users.

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