Microsoft Surface vs. MacBook: A Head-to-Head Comparison

Microsoft is making a big splash with its latest gear, the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book. These pricey products are designed to compete directly with Apple’s traditional hegemony on premium gadgets. But just how well do these latest offerings measure up against Apple?

Read more…



4 Design Tweaks That Make El Capitan Worth the Upgrade

I’ll come right out and say it: OS X El Capitan isn’t that exciting. However, Apple’s newest operating system wasn’t meant to be a revelation but rather an under-the-hood upgrade full of little improvements. I will admit that a handful of the design tweaks are downright delightful.

Read more…



OS X El Capitan Is Here, Go Download Right Now

As promised, the lastest version of OS X is available for download now. You should probably update as soon as you can!

Read more…



Forecast Bar Review

This really useful weather forecast utility sits in the menu bar, giving you an at-a-glance idea of the weather, unless you open it up for more detail. By default, what you get in the menu bar is the temperature and an icon showing you the prevailing weather type (sunshine, clouds, rain and so on), though you can customize this. Click this icon, though, and you open a full five-day forecast.

The next eight hours are shown in detail, with graphs covering temperature, chance of rain or heaviness of rain. The five days after that have icons and a bit of detail for each, along with high and low temperatures. It’s really well designed, accurate thanks to its use of the excellent Forecast.io system, and useful — pretty much the OS X version of Mac|Life-favorite iOS/Watch weather app Dark Sky. Lots about it can be personalized too — from new locations to get info on, to different iconography options and temperature scale customization.

The bottom line. It’s not the cheapest option, but this is a great-looking, useful, and customizable OS X weather utility.

Review Synopsis

Product: 

Forecast Bar

Forecast Bar Review

This really useful weather forecast utility sits in the menu bar, giving you an at-a-glance idea of the weather, unless you open it up for more detail. By default, what you get in the menu bar is the temperature and an icon showing you the prevailing weather type (sunshine, clouds, rain and so on), though you can customize this. Click this icon, though, and you open a full five-day forecast.

The next eight hours are shown in detail, with graphs covering temperature, chance of rain or heaviness of rain. The five days after that have icons and a bit of detail for each, along with high and low temperatures. It’s really well designed, accurate thanks to its use of the excellent Forecast.io system, and useful — pretty much the OS X version of Mac|Life-favorite iOS/Watch weather app Dark Sky. Lots about it can be personalized too — from new locations to get info on, to different iconography options and temperature scale customization.

The bottom line. It’s not the cheapest option, but this is a great-looking, useful, and customizable OS X weather utility.

Review Synopsis

Product: 

Forecast Bar

Boom 2 Review

Boom 2 is an application that intercepts your system audio and modifies it to squeeze more gain and clarity out of whatever sound you are playing. The idea is to make movies, music, conversations, or YouTube playback louder and clearer without having to add external speakers. If you do plug in external speakers, the application adapts itself to those as well. 

Boom 2 uses audio processing to achieve its aims: the same kind of processors that musicians might use in Logic or GarageBand, only here they’re mostly hidden from view. There’s a volume slider that shows the normal maximum volume and then the amount by which you can boost it, and an equalizer section complete with presets for different kinds of music or different uses. Each band can be adjusted and you can save your own presets. There are also effects, which include the ability to add “ambience” or “fidelity.” The EQ section also lets you fine-tune any particular movie or radio stream to get better bass or clearer vocals.

Boom 2 works in real time, but there’s also a section that lets you process batches of files using the current boost settings. You can use various audio and video file formats and it works by analyzing and processing the audio in the files then re-saving them. Whether you’d want to permanently re-process movies and music using the conversion option is maybe less clear — we probably wouldn’t. This is perhaps better for old recordings you have digitized as it basically provides you with the same set of tools you’d get in an audio wave processor, albeit with more basic controls. 

The bottom line. A good way to boost and fine-tune your Mac’s audio output for music and movies.

Review Synopsis

Product: 

Boom 2

Curio Express Review

For nearly a decade, Zengobi’s Curio has been praised by users and critics alike as one of the best Mac notebook applications on the market. But not everyone is willing to spend $99.99 for such software, especially when there are so many free alternatives.

Curio Express appears to have been designed as a solution to this problem, slashing the cost by 70 percent but losing only one flagship feature in the process — the option to manage multiple pages (called “idea spaces”) within a single project. You can, however, create unlimited projects, so this won’t really be a limitation for students or home users, especially considering Express is otherwise the same as its sibling.

Although marketed as a notebook app, this version of the software is primarily a virtual whiteboard to help visualize new concepts, plans, or ideas. With built-in mind-mapping, outlining, and flowchart skills, Curio Express is capable of more than single-minded competitors can even dream of doing.

One of our favorite features is the ability to directly place content onto an idea space from an Evernote account, but the exhaustive list of other possibilities includes text, images, PDF files, Google Docs, web links, and embedded videos from YouTube or Vimeo — and that’s just for starters. In reality, just about anything can be dragged and dropped into Curio, which can even create automatic tables from CSV.

Although the exhaustive list of features are nearly the same as Curio, Express does have a handful of minor limitations due to Mac App Store sandboxing, such as the inability to open stored aliases created in the flagship application. Those accustomed to free productivity software from Google et al are likely to balk at paying even $30, but Express is an incredible value for the money.

Zengobi has also released Curio Reader, which allows anyone to view (but not edit) projects created in the full or Express versions. Likewise, the latter edition can be used in read-only mode for projects created with the former, which includes the option to view notebooks in presentation mode. One thing still missing: a companion iOS app, which feels like a glaring omission.

The bottom line. Curio Express loses little of its power or features en route to the Mac App Store, but your wallet will certainly notice the difference.

Review Synopsis

Product: 

Curio Express

Ghostnote Review

Ghostnote notes are context-aware, so you can apply them to a document, folder, or dozens of supported apps. The icon sits in your Mac’s menu bar; click on it while in an app or with a folder or document selected, and an empty note drops down. Text can be formatted, you can add tasks with tick boxes, note colors can be customized on a per-application basis, and can also be detached from the menu bar so they float on the desktop. In some apps, you can add notes to individual documents, and in Safari you can add them to specific websites.

It’s not always the most intuitive app. By default, the feature which allows you to add notes to documents and folders isn’t active. To add support, you must click on the Ghostnote menu bar item, click the gear wheel and choose Install Document Support. You’re then asked to open a folder, though which folder isn’t specified and no feedback given. On the plus side, icons at the bottom of notes means your never in doubt about what each note is attached to.

The bottom line. Anyone who writes on scraps of paper will find this useful.

Review Synopsis

Product: 

Ghostnote

CleanMyMac 3 Review

The third iteration of MacPaw’s self-descriptive cleaner is here, and it includes a number of improvements and new features. There’s a new menu bar icon offer convenient access to the main program as well as a quick summary of drive space, memory and Trash. The main interface gains an optional dashboard view offering a more detailed breakdown of key stats.

The program includes six cleaning tools and five utilities — four of which are new (Mail Attachments, iTunes Junk, Maintenance, and Privacy). We like the new Maintenance tool’s promise to fix various application errors as well as optimize disk and search index. While this version does a better job of providing explanatory notes for each cleaning tool, it still doesn’t make it mandatory that you at least review what it’s found before going further. This is especially important considering no fail-safe mechanisms are provided.

CleanMyMac 3 is a slick, fast app that will clean your Mac. Ultimately, though, the continued lack of undo or backup protection makes it hard to recommend to its target audience: less experienced users who just want a simple and safe tool.

The bottom line. CleanMyMac gets the job done — sadly, though, in many ways it’s too efficient.

Review Synopsis

Product: 

CleanMyMac 3

F.lux for Mac Adds “Backwards Alarm Clock” to Show How Much Sleep You’re Missing

Mac: F.lux is a great app for changing the temperature of your display when you’re working late at night , but working late at night also tends to mean you’re skipping sleep. The Mac version of the app now has a new “Backwards alarm clock” that counts down the time until your alarm goes off. http://lifehacker.com/5899079/how-ca…

Read more…



SmartDown Review

SmartDown is a full-featured Markdown text editor with syntax highlighting and HTML previewing, offering export to RTF, HTML, and PDF. Plain Markdown is supported, along with MultiMarkdown for things like tables, and Critic Markup for tracking changes. Light/dark themes are available, as well as your own; every aspect of syntax highlighting is customizable, and you can add your own CSS for Markdown preview.

Writers are well served, with statistics on words, sentences, pages, and reading time; you can even specify a word-count goal, and SmartDown will show your progress. It takes Markdown syntax into account when counting words, and it offers a Highlight Mode, where all but the current sentence or paragraph is dimmed. You can also do basic outlining in your Markdown file. Headings can be collapsed/expanded, using arrows in the document gutter, and there’s a floating tooltip marking the section. You can even export your work as an OPML file.

There are some handy editing tools, like shortcuts to move lines and a right-click palette of Markdown-insertion options. 

The bottom line. SmartDown is ideal for planning, organizing and writing documents in Markdown. Extensive customization options add to the appeal.

Review Synopsis

Product: 

SmartDown

In Defense of the Clean Install

These days a new operating system can be downloaded from the web and installed in a couple of reboots, or “purchased” for free from an App Store. It might seem like a clean install isn’t worth the time and effort. Nothing could be further from the truth. Upgrades may be convenient, but sometimes it’s better to give yourself a clean slate, and not just for that “fresh out of the box” feeling.

Read more…



Photoflow for Mac Is a Beautiful Desktop Client for Instagram

OS X: If you’re an Instagram junkie, love following photographers, exploring hashtags and photos in your area, or just have lots of friends or followers on the service, Photoflow for Mac might be worth its price tag for you. You get most the features of the mobile apps or web site, and some additional ones you may not be expecting.

Read more…



PowerPhotos Review

With the release of OS X Yosemite 10.10.3, Apple’s venerable iPhoto and Aperture are essentially dead and buried, replaced by a more efficient, iOS-like, iCloud-connected solution. Unfortunately, the built-in Photos application does little to eliminate some of iPhoto’s long-standing limitations, such as managing more than one image library.

Thankfully, Fat Cat Software comes to the rescue with PowerPhotos, a third-party companion to help create, organize, duplicate, and even search between multiple libraries. While it appears to work directly on libraries, PowerPhotos actually works in conjunction with Photos, launching or quitting the main application as needed.

Essentially the next generation of Fat Cat’s insanely handy iPhoto Library Manager, PowerPhotos offers a better way to view basic metadata without having to summon Photos’ pesky Info window, and you can quickly hop between different libraries by selecting one in the sidebar. There’s a convenient list view to sort or display photos by date, file name, keyword, and other criteria without thumbnails slowing down the process.

As the name implies, PowerPhotos only works with new or migrated Photos libraries. The software streamlines the migration process for existing iPhoto or Aperture libraries by reducing it to a few clicks of the mouse, rather than having to open each one manually.

PowerPhotos can also be used to identify duplicates hiding inside a photo library, with full control over how such copies will be dealt with. By default, the software marks a single keeper, but unchecking this option offers more granular control over intentional duplicates, such as variant photos that have had filters or other effects applied outside of Photos.

After clicking apply, duplicates are placed in a new album, from where they can be deleted or have a keyword assigned to them instead. Purging dupes worked like a charm on migrated Aperture libraries, with the exception, oddly enough, of our main iCloud Photo Library – PowerPhotos appeared to go through the motions, but completed with an error despite creating a duplicates folder without any actual photos inside.

PowerPhotos is also currently missing some of iPhoto Library Manager’s more advanced features, such as the ability to merge, rebuild, and copy photos between libraries. As a result, PowerPhotos is free for new and existing iPhoto Library Manager 4 owners, but hopefully the developer will find a way to restore this missing functionality in a future update.

The bottom line. PowerPhotos may lack the punch of its predecessor, but it’s indispensable for those making the transition to Photos.

Review Synopsis

Product: 

PowerPhotos 1.0.2