Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

GigaOM: Busycal is what iCal for Lion should have been

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I review BusyCal and tell why it's a better iCal replacement for Lion.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

GigaOM: 7 apps for conquering Black Friday

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I review shopping apps and in particular ones related to Black Friday

Sunday, December 25, 2011

GigaOM: Spanning Tools review: Cure your cloud syncing woes

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleblog, I review Spanning Tools and how it can help with your sync problems

Friday, December 23, 2011

Software Review: Log Leech

While your Mac may not have a secret black box that records every crash, the logs that are typically accessible via the Console app comes darn close to recording anything and everything that goes wrong in your Mac. The problem is being able to read it. Even advanced technicians have trouble parsing the voluminous amounts of data locked in those logs. Mere mortals rarely have a ghost of a chance understanding it. Log Leech bridges that gap and makes us look like heroes.

Log Leech won’t necessarily explain these logs but will help you at least find those nuggets of information locked in the haystack. Once installed the program will take all the log entries and sort them attractively by program (and associated icon) as well as by date. You can then use the icon to hone in on the specific information you want.

When problems develop with your Mac and you aren’t sure what could be the program, a look at Log Leech might help you find the answers. More than once opening Log Leech revealed the reason problems were occurring that I couldn’t easily find by looking at the console. Console lumps all your program information together. You can’t always see what you need when you are faced with an overwhelming screen of random code.

Log Leech take the copious amounts of trivial information in the console and organizes it into an easy to use and read fashion. The Console App reminds me of DOS and the Unix world while Log Leech reminds me of a Mac.

Pros: Great for reading logs and deriving information from
Cons: Apple will buy this app and include it in the OS if they are smart

5 out of 5 Dogcows

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Software Review: Office Time for Mac and iOS

They say time is money, and well it is. When you bill your time, it is money and when you fail to bill properly it’s money down the drain. For others, there may not be a 1 to 1 translation between time and money, but knowing where your time is going and what you are doing is important. Productivity experts always say: know where you time is going. Office Time lets you do that and much more.

Office Time for the Mac and iOS makes sure none of those valuable dollars and cents slip through your fingers, and more importantly helps you bill that to a third party.

Office Time for the Mac starts off as a general time tracking program. You can set a series of projects and categories to figure out exactly what you are doing and whom you are doing it for. For example, if you are working on a website project, you might put the website as the project name, coding as the category and then put in notes about exactly what you are coding. You can even specify what your billable rate is. With this level of detail available, you’ll be able to tell the client exactly how the bill was derived and where their money is going.

For professional management, you can use advanced reporting such as graphs and spreadsheets to determine where you time and money are going. In particular I used the program to make detailed reports of exactly how much I spend on different types of projects to know if I should hire additional administrative or technical staff. Office Time also allows exporting for more advanced analysis.

In order to prevent you from missing out on any missed time, Office Time uses a menu bar icon to quickly log a specific project and begin tracking the information. Switching tasks is as easy as choosing from the menu. Should you walk away from the computer or get distracted (dog barking, phone call etc), Office Time will recognize no activity and offer to remove that time from billing or place it in another category (which typically isn’t something you can bill).

Since so many of us are on the road and may not be at our main computer, Office Time also has a separate iOS application that works great on both the iPhone and iPad (full screen on the iPad). The iOS application will sync on demand when both your main computer and iOS device are on the same wireless network. Over the air syncing on wifi or 3G would be great, but I fully understand why these limitations exist.

No stone was left unturned in the design of this program. Since expenses often go along with billed time, Office Time for both MacOS and iOS includes expense tracking that can be directly integrated with the projects and categories. You can sync the information with iCal so you can visually see your projects and where your time is going.

Best of all, from right in the program, you can set custom invoicing to send our your bills, or export the data into your favorite accounting program. The program is not for accounting so it won’t track whether you’ve been paid or if an item is past due, but you can still get your invoices out quickly. International users will appreciate the ability to track in multiple currencies. If you don’t know what an invoice is and you bill your time, this program is a great place to start.

Now, you have absolutely no excuse not to track your time and billables. Except, of course, your own laziness. At least with Office Time, you can’t blame your tools but only your actual productivity. Office Time will save you time and help you bill it better than any program I’ve seen.

9 out of 10

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Review: The Mac OS X Lion Project Book

The Mac OS X Lion Project Book, despite it's title, isn't as much a book about Lion, as a book about how to use a Mac with Lion to do certain neat projects. Most Mac users can figure out email and surfing the web, but what about taking your DVD collection and putting in on your Mac.

Before purchasing this book, read through the projects. Even if one of them interest you, the book will be a great value. If you aren't interested in any of this, then it's rob ably worth taking a pass on this one. Projects are as follows

1) Organizing your files
2) Mastering Spotlight searches
3) Printing to save paper
4) Installing applications purchased at teh Mac App store
5) Providing Remote Technical Support
6) Remote controlling a Mac in your home
7) Accessing your files remotely from another Mac
8) Using DropBox
9)) Copying DVD content to your Mac
10) Basic photoshop editing and touch ups
11) Creating a slideshow
12) Using rapid weaver for a fmaily website
13) RSS Feeds
14) Configuring TextExander
15) Full screen mode to avoid distractions
16) Audio Podcasting
17) Setting up Time Machint alongside a cloning solutions
18) Using your signature in a PDF

Each of these projects are short--just four of five pages. The book is easy to understand and the projects are fun and relevant. They assume a basic to intermediate knowledge of Lion. No explations of files or how to click a mouse is included. This is direct an to the point weekend projects.

Since I knew how to do all of this or the things I didn't know didn't interest me, I didn't find the book that valuable. I learned this stuff the hard way through trial and error. However if someone asked me how to do any of these small projects, you bet I'll suggest this book.

New Mac users that simly want to feel more comfortable with their Mac and need some ideas of projects on how to achieve that comfort this book would be ideal. If I did Macintosh tutoring this would be a great companion manual.

Overall, a fun book for intermediate Mac users with relevant and interesting projects.

Pros: Excellent digest of fun projects to get to know Lion and your Mac better
Cons: Limited scope if you already know how to do these things or if they don't interest you.

Five out of Five

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Spanning Tools review: Cure your cloud syncing woes

In for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I review Spanning tools and how it can help you with your cloud sycning problems

Friday, December 09, 2011

Book Review: Facebook Me

Amazon Review Facebook me!

Title: Perfect for absolute beginners and great for intermediate users

If your parents are finally wanted to get on that "Facebook thing", then this book is ideal for them. This book walks you through the absolute basics of Facebook in a fun and relevant way. Rather than being a technical "how-to" book, this reads more like a tour guide of the Facebook universe. No technical knowledge or computer is required as the book is vividly annotated with screen shots of what you'd see on the computer.

Starting with the geography and setup of a Facebook account, the tour continues with each aspect of the Facebook world such as creating friends, privacy/security, applications, groups and pages. Along the way tips and tricks are given for navigating the tricky social and moral issues that come up such as how to properly "defined" and the risks of friending coworkers and the boss. If Facebook actually had a printed manual, this would be it!

Throughout the book, strong and practical advise is given on how to protect yourself and your privacy for what you post and ultimately explaining that anything you do put on Facebook can end up with untended consequences.

Intermediate Facebook users will find the advanced topics such as groups, pages and advertising extremely valuable. Don't skip the first part of the book because you may have missed a few interesting things in your Facebook journey and this book leaves no stone unturned.

If you, or someone you love is new to Facebook, this book will get you up and running and make you the master of Facebook, until it changes. Even when it changes (and some info in the book is already out of date), the principles of usage remain the same. I recommend giving it to anyone that is new to Facebook.

Pros: Easy to read with details practical tips throughout
Cons: Like any book about Facebook, some information is already out of date

Five out of Five Dogcows
Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Software Review: Logo Design Studio Pro

Logo Design Studio Pro is a great program for those of us who have very little design skills. In fact, its name only scratches the surface of what this handy little program can do.

Apple came out with iPhoto for those of us who needed basic, powerful and intuitive ways of managing our photos and then took that iEthic to movies, DVDs, music and more. Unfortunately design was left out of the picture. Sure iWork can help you create and manage presentations, but graphic design is not its strong suite.

Logo Design Pro might as well be called iDesign because it takes the ideals of the iLife suite and brings it to graphic design. The foundation of the program is Logo Design. A series of templates don’t just give you ideas of logos based on your industry and what you do, but include a series of tasteful graphics and “taglines” for your business.

Being a extreme novice (I hate the word “dummy”), I was still able to great some pretty nice logos in just a few minutes. Moreover I was able to create designs for a wide variety of settings, including a Keynote presentations (see how well this works with iLife!). Open an existing template, add some of the included art objects, some fonts and color and there you have it!

The designs created by the program are “vector” based which means they can be shrunk and enlarged without any loss of resolution or quality. This is the accessible equivalent of FreeHand and Illustrator and for those that remember, MacDraw.

Even if you have a logo, you’ll still love this program. Presentations, web graphics, and flyers can all be enhanced with the tools this program gives you. Import your logo and jazz it up a bit with some graphics and wrapped text. Create a business card on the fly or just enhance a iWork or Microsoft Word document with some easy pizzazz.

My only major complaint with the program was skimpy documentation and included help (the help is virtually identical to the included program guide). The help didn’t conform to the typical Apple design and actually used icons from Windows help. Uggh.

Pros: Easy to use, powerful, and very intuitive
Cons: Skimpy help

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Hardware Review: Logitech K750 Solar Wireless Keyboard for Mac

Apple’s wireless Bluetooth keyboard is a natural and elegant compliment to iMacs, Mac Pros and really the entire product line. However, for serious typists, it often has us wanting more and the Logitech K750 for Mac fulfills many of those needs.

First, batteries are so 20th century. With the ample amount of light in most homes and offices, the constant swapping and charging of batteries is wasteful and annoying. The K750 is solar powered and solar charging. Once it’s fully charged, the specifications indicate you can use it in total darkness for 3 months. A handy app allows you to check the exact charge left in the unit. After using it for a few months the keyboard has always tested at 100%.

The keyboard is sleek and comes in five different colors (including Apple’s standard aluminum). I like the black because, hey, black is the new black. This is a full keyboard including a numeric keypad and a full set of function keys across the top. The Mac version of this keyboard has the command keys in the correct place as well as the function alternatives for Mission Control/Dashboard at the top. The typing was extremely responsive with a soft and smooth touch. “Delightful” is the word that comes to mind.

The wireless technology uses the “Logitech Unifying receiver” which is a USB dongle for all of Logitech’s wireless peripherals. All things being equal I would have preferred Bluetooth based technology. Bluetooth wouldn’t use one of my USB ports and would allow me to use the keyboard with iOS devices. Annoying, but I understand sacrifices have to be made.

The Logitech K750 for Mac is a great wireless keyboard for users that type often and don’t like constantly changing batteries.

Pros: Save money and hassle’s using solar technology, full featured keyboard that is easy to type on

Cons: Requires a proprietary dongle, doesn’t support Bluetooth

Five out of Five Dogcows

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: Lion Pocket Guide

For those of us familiar with previous version of the Mac operating system who simply want to know the new and exciting features of Lion, this book is a great companion. The book focuses on just what you need to thrive under this new feline.

The writing style is direct and straightforward and assumes familiarity and comfort with previous versions of MacOS such as Leopard or Snow Leopard. This is not a beginner's book and lacks the handholding and screen shots you'll find in a "non-technical" book.

Starting with the installation process, the book walks through the key features the average user needs to know about and ends with a great troubleshooting and short-cut guide. If you aren't a manual reader, this book is for you. It gives you just enough information to explore the features quickly without being bogged down by long explanations or tutorials. Consider this more of an outline and a getting started than a extensive manual on all things Lion, which is just what some of us need!

Pros: Short, succinct and just what you need to get started
Cons: Requires basic knowledge of MacOS, not for beginners.

Five out of Five

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Review: Head First WordPress: A Brain-Friendly Guide to Creating Your Own Custom WordPress Blog

“Head First Wordpress” is a funny and iririrreveren guide to getting yourself up and running with Wordpress in a engaging and dynamic way. This is part technical manual, part exercise guide and part comic book - a weird amalgamation of learning modalities that keeps the reader from skipping over critical sections and avoids talking down to the user or above their head. This is a excellent intermediate to advanced guide.

This isn’t a reference guide but a how to book not just about the technical aspects of Wordpress, but how to create a really great site using Wordpress as an example. The book gives varying viewpoints on the nuances of a site such as ftp clients, themes and most importantly, security. You’ll learn how to use categories and tags effectively (they always confuse me). After completing the exercises in this book you’ll have a rock-solid site designed via Wordpress and know how to fix and modify it. You’ll know which functions are important and how to incorporate them into your site. Kick your consultant to the curb because after this you won’t need ‘em.

Even though I’ve read multiple books on Wordpress and have many sites already up and running, I wish I read this book from the beginning. I learned way too much the hard way and this book covers it all. The format made it a quick and easy read and although they say don’t skip the exercises, I did because I already have a site up and running. An excellent table of contents and index made it easy to find the features I wanted to learn about and skip the stuff I already knew

Pros: Outstanding how-to guide to creating a Wordpress site and optimizing its features as well as taking your site to the next level.

Cons: Not for beginners or those that don’t like cute fun. If you think a mullet is unprofessional or are afraid to rip the tags off your mattress, this book isn’t for you.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

GigaOM: Review Roundup: Bluetooth car stereo iPhone adapters

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I examine the relatively small field of Bluetooth AD2P audio accessories for the iPhone

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

GigaOM: 3 tips for taking your Mac in for service

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I talk about 3 key tips for taking your iMac in for service

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book Review: Microsoft Outlook for Mac 2011 Step by Step

The joke has always been you can’t spell Entourage without “rage” and Microsoft finally retired that product and re-introduced Outlook for the Mac, which hasn’t been around since the classic days! This book is a great overview of all the features of the product including both beginner and intermediate concepts.

The Step by Step series is a lesson-based training program, but you can easily avoid the actual lessons in order to use the book as a reference guide. In this case the actual training exercises are pretty minimal and could have easily been omitted and still retain the book’s value.

The book is extremely well-laid out with a great table of contents and index. Each chapter introduces the concepts it covers and the key points and then reviews them at the end. For users of an Exchange server, the lessons cover both Exchange-based accounts as well as traditional IMAP/POP email systems. Users new to Microsoft products as well as seasoned Entourage and Outlook for the PC users will still find the book’s lessons accessible and of value. If you already know a concept, the book makes it very easy to skip that section.

Unfortunately since the book was printed, Microsoft made significant changes to the sync functions and now that Apple is retiring MobileMe, these sections will be subject to additional changes. Such is the nature of tech books.

Pros: Easy to understand lessons and comprehensive review of features
Cons: Lessons not terribly substantive

4 out of 5

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review: Going Corporate A Geeks Guide

The only book I’ve ever seen with a more misleading title was “The Neverending Story,” which, contrary to its title, actually ends. While “Going Corporate” is about corporations, it has very little to do with moving ahead in corporate America. It is a hodgepodge of anecdotes and tidbits of information loosely strewn together lacking any coherent purpose or mission.

The title and description led me to believe the book would be about learning how the corporate world works and advancing your career from entry level to CIO and everything in between. It’s not. This book is generally geared for an international audience, towards a programmer or software developer working for an outsourced firm in IT. The business examples and case studies focus on million and billion dollar projects dealing with the Fortune 500 and up.

The writing style is short, choppy and stilted and it’s clear the author’s primary language is not US English. In many parts of the book the language is archaic and inappropriate making references to someone's superiors and “class”. These terms are generally avoided in the US and we prefer to describe a person’s supervisor. While Kadre was the primary author, outside writers were used for some chapters and portions making for a inconsistent theme and style between chapters.

The content of the book is difficult to comment on because it was so difficult to understand. Multiple case studies with diagrams that had nothing to do with IT and computing made it easy to skip some parts and it was a quick read. Simplification of microeconomics, macroeconomics and investing were not useful or relevant to IT (and how exactly does understanding economic theories help you move up the corporate ladder?) I was particularly annoyed that Wikipedia was used as a source for information. I expect better footnotes from a book produced by a technical press.

Little to no career advice was included, but the chapters tried to cover every aspect of modern corporate systems and internal software development from a hierarchical perspective: how do you as a programmer fit into the big picture? The international focus made it difficult for US readers to relate, but numerous mentions were made to Satyam computer services. A quick search reveals this is a company that was involved in a major corporate accounting scandal, so I’m less likely to trust a book written by an author (and guest authors) with such a background. In the US, that would be like Bernie Madhoff writing a book on investing.

What was the book about? It’s hard to say. As someone working in the US, I simply couldn’t relate. Programmers working in outsourced multi-national corporations could find some value. The book will not help you “understand the larger business environment” nor will it help you at all in “starting your own” business. Unless that business is a multi-billion outsourced IT firm located outside the US. Then this book might be helpful. For the rest of us, I suggest you take a pass on this book and look elsewhere for career advice.

Pros: It’s a quick read.
Cons: I have no idea what I read. Little to no bearing on getting ahead in corporate America and moving up the ladder.

1 out of 5

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

GigaOM:Tested: SSD brings new life to an old MacBook

In this article for GigaOM, I cover my replacement of my Macbook's mechanical drive with a solid state one

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sunday, October 09, 2011

GigaOM: Mac Malware and the App Store Coming of Age

In this article for GigaOM, I cover new Mac malware and how it may increase usage of the Mac App store

Friday, October 07, 2011

3 ways to use your iPhone to lose weight

In this article, for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I cover 3 apps I used to help me lose over 70 pounds.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Book Review: Microsoft Office 2011 Visual Quickstart Guide

Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac Visual Quickstart Guide is an outstanding book to teach you the ins and outs of this definitive suite for the Mac. The book is well organized with excellent illustrations and explanations of key concepts.

The book starts with explaining exactly what is new in each part of the Office Suite and previews what experienced users might want to focus on. The book leaves no stone unturned, covering not just the PowerPoint, Excel, Word and Outlook but includes the esoteric extras such as My Day, Sky Drive and Office Web Apps.

In particular this book handles both beginner and advanced topics. Those users experienced with Office basics can look at the table of contents and quickly jump to the function they are most interested in. Don’t know what Sparklines are in 2011? Quickly jump to a great explanation on the subject. While the book is larger than the typical Visual Quickstart guide, the information was very accessible

As an experienced Office user on both the Mac and PC, I found this an invaluable resource to optimize my investment in this new version. The final chapters were golden as they really tied all the programs together and focused on interoperability between them.

Overall this is a great book for anyone using Microsoft Office 2011!

Pros: Covers all aspects of the suite in detail in a manner beginners will understand and advanced users will be able to master

Cons: None!

5 out of 5 dogcows

Friday, September 30, 2011

GigaOM: How to manage your privacy with Lion’s “Resume” feature

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I cover some of the privacy concerns with Lion's Resume feature and how to protect yourself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: Microsoft Office 2011 Portable Genius

The Wiley Portable Genius series is designed to be a quick comprehensive guide for a experienced computer user trying to learn a new program. Instead of focusing on all functions, this book attempts to focus on those 20% of the features you'll use 80% of the time. This book is great for someone familiar with computers who has never used an Office Suite before.

Each major program of the Office Suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Outlook) is given an introduction and then a series of in-depth analyses. At the beginning, the geography of the program screen is introduced along with a survey of major menu items and preferences as well as keyboard shortcuts for these functions. For intermediate and advanced users, these intros can easily be skipped. Ideally these menu and shortcut guides should be in the last chapter of the section because new users might get intimidated with the twenty or so different ways to do a simple task.

The book's style is highly visual and focused on functions, answering "How do I" questions. Unfortunately there is often no designation between which functions are new to Office 2011 and functions that have been there since the beginning (Outlook excluded since it hasn't been on the Mac platform for a long time). In particular, Excel's new Sparklines function wasn't covered nor were the collaboration aspects of the Skydrive. While these aren't as important as printing emails or creating formulas, users upgrading from previous versions might have found some coaching useful.

The final chapters of the book briefly cover Microsoft Communicator, Remote Desktop Connection as well as using Microsoft resources to get help with the program.

Experienced users of previous versions of Office for the Mac or PC won't find much value in this book, but for novice users new to the Microsoft family of products, this book will help them transition nicely.

Pros: Adequate guide to Office 2011
Cons: Lacks coverage and specificity of new features

3 out of 5 Dogcows

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Roundup: iPhone accessories to help you get a better night’s sleep

In this post for GigaOM/TheApple Blog, I discuss iPhone devices that help you get a good night's sleep

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hardware Review: PadDock 10

Although the iPad has excellent sound, it will never fool you into thinking it’s a true stereo system. However, wiith the PadDock 10 you get a rich full sound you’d expect from a set of standalone speakers. Unlike many other products, the PadDock was designed for the iPad rather then retrofit from an iPhone solution. This device serves three main purposes: iPad stand, charging dock, and stereo speakers, and does all of them well.

As an stand, the iPad fits securely and snugly into the unit. Other stands for the iPad generally hold the unit in place via gravity or a few clips. Since this is an actual dock, the dock connector holds it in place and the top of the unit has a firm clip that ensure the iPad isn’t going anywhere when the unit rotates. This snug fit does get some getting used to when placing the iPad into the dock or removing it. The rotation of the stand is 360 degrees, but at each 90 degree interval the stand has a soft lock making sure the rotation doesn’t stray. Clips at the four corners prevent you from having to put pressure on the iPad to rotate it. An elegant and stylish black and grey design matches the aesthetics of your iPad.

As a charging dock, the unit allows you to expand the type of cables used to charge your iPad. Included is USB power cord that uses a type A male connector to power the unit instead of the standard charging cable that came with your iPad. The PadDock also comes with a USB to USB Mini cable creating a more standardized solution. To charge, I was able to use a variety of USB chargers including the stub charger that came with my iPad. I liked keeping my original iPad cable connected to my Mac for syncing and using the PadDock to charge my iPad. To sync your iPad to your computer via a PadDock, you’ll need to flip a switch to go from charge to sync.

As stereo speakers, the dock’s sound was outstanding for its size. Compared with other bedside and table solutions that sound tinny, the PadDock had substantial bass and was able to achieve fairly high volume that let me listen to music and watch videos while working out on a treadmill at my home gym. I keep the PadDock in the kitchen to listen to music while cooking and keeping the iPad up out of harm’s way.

Eventually, my PadDock ended up in the kitchen so I could listen to music or view instructional vidoes, keep the iPad safe, and charge all at the same time. Overall this is an outstanding product that serves many functions. If you’ve upgraded to an iPad 2, the PadDock is a perfect way to extend the function and flexibility of your original iPad as an entertainment station.

Pros: Flexible stand and dock charger, quality stereo speakers
Cons: Tricky to move iPad in and out

9 out of 10

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hardware Review: dockStubz and dockXtender


While I’m a huge fan of extreme case protection for the iPhone 4 (my current favorite is the Griffin Survivor), one of the problems is that this extra protection frequently prevents my iPhone from fitting into various docking solutions and cable connectors. Fortunately, two products from CableJive solve this problem. You can have your protection and still keep your existing accessories.

The dockStubz is a simple yet effective 1.3 inch tall adapter that sits between your existing dock and the iPhone (or iPod touch and iPad depending on the situation) The svelte 30 pin male connector is designed to slip through most bulky cases without encumbrance providing a vital link to your existing investments. I’ve used it effectively with the entire Otterbox product line as well as select cases from Ballistic and Griffin. Just in case you need some extra power, the dockStubz also has a mini USB jack that can be used to provide power directly. Great for users who have existing devices that charge via mini USB: no need for an Apple iPhone charging cable.

For situations in which you need not just a more compatible male connector, but a bit of reach, the dockXtender has the same style connector as the dockStubz, but also provides two or six feet of cable extension. I’ve tried other cable extenders but run into the problem of fitting into my case. I could use my dockStubz with an existing cable extender, but why do that when CableJive provides an all in one great solution that protects the integrity of the signal? The dockXtender was a handy tool for using my existing iPhone accessories with my iPad, a total win-win device.

Although I did not test this aspect of the product, Cablejive proactively reports that the dockStubz does not work with the Apple VGA or HDMI adapters.

Both the dockStubz and dockXtender are necessary tools for anyone with a bulky iPhone case who still wants to interact with the existing iPhone accessories, cables, and adapters. Viewing their website, I appreciate their proactive warning to consumers and generous return policy for those with incompatible adapters

Pros: Effectively adapts existing 30-pin devices to practically any case
Cons: Problems with some Apple adapters

Five out of Five Dogcows

Friday, September 16, 2011

Software Review: Disk Tools Pro

Macware’s Disk Tools Pro is an excellent all-around utility for maintaining, optimizing and protecting your Macintosh hard drive. The suite of modules is an excellent addition to the market and possibly your own hard drive, especially older ones.

The primary focus of the program is to test the integrity of your hard drive’s structure and data integrity. Unlike Apple’s Disk Utility and other programs, Disk Tools Pro will proactively monitor your S.M.A.R.T. status and disk space and will allow you to schedule a battery of tests and procedures.

For hard drive testing, some functions such as optimization, volume repair, and scan/reassigning (they call this repair but that is really inaccurate) of bad sectors can be on a boot volume, but may be limited in scope. Full testing and repair requires the drive to be dismounted, which obviously can’t be done on a boot volume. Others tests such as preference file testing, file analysis, backup, broken alias/symbolic link files, and benchmarking can all be done on the primary drive.

Where Disk Tools Pro shines is its ability to schedule most of its tasks, so you can easily backup or clone a drive on a set

schedule or do regular maintenance during off times. Another great feature of this program is the fact it works on older systems running 10.3.9 as well as Apple’s latest systems as of this writing.

Overall the suite has a clean and easy to use interface with sufficient animation and graphics to explain its functions without being confusing or too technical. Each function is presented in either a “cover flow” style fashion or easily accessible from a menu.

The price for all these features is steep at $79.99 and most of functions of this suite can be found in other shareware or freeware programs, but the convenience of having it all in one place and having scheduling is of great value.

Pros: Comprehensive utility suite in a well designed package compatible with older systems
Cons: Cost

7 out of 10

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hardware Review: SleepPhones

If you’ve ever tried to sleep while listening to music on your iPod, you may have realized it was an exercise in futility. The earbud style connectors too often fall out and headphones with a band are incredibly uncomfortable. While you could use a speaker, if you sleep with others, this will surely disturb their sleep.

Enter the SleepPhones: a great way to listen to audio while you are sleeping. As someone who suffers from chronic insomnia, I frequently listen to mp3s designed to help me relax and fall asleep. In order to do this I either need to sleep in a separate room or use headphones. The problem, of course is that headphones are uncomfortable and interrupt or prevent sleep. The SleepPhones have found that balance of a comfortable solution that stays in place and doesn’t get in the way.

The soft fleece headband can be worn over the forehead or, as I often do, use it as a sleep mask to protect your eyes and block out the light. Two adjustable speakers are encased in the headband and can be moved to an exact position on top of your ears. At the beginning I didn’t quite realize this and found the volume too low and disruptive to my sleeping companion. Once I found the proper placement, volume issues were resolved. Note that as you sleep they may move so each night that I have to use them, I have to spend a minute or two to find the proper placement. The long headphone jack allows me to clip the iPod onto the side of the bed or pillow case without encumbrance.

The headband is machine washable with the speaker buds removed, but I’d suggest hand washing as the fleece headband probably is not sturdy enough for continued run-ins with an agitator. I was disappointed the product only had a six month warranty, but I’ve used it for over four months without incident. I’m a bit wary of any product with such a short warranty.

If you are looking for a great solution for audio on your way to dreamland, SleepPhones delivers on its promises. The headband speaker combination allows you to fall asleep and not disturb others in the room.

Pros: Works great as part of a sleep solution
Cons: Speakers frequently fall out of alignment, paltry six month warranty

7 out of 10

Sunday, September 11, 2011

GigaOM: Bandwidth Diet 10 Tips for Managing Your Capped Bandwidth

In this article for GigaOM, I cover tips and tricks for living under bandwidth restriction in light of ATT's new policies

Friday, September 09, 2011

Hardware Review: Otterbox Reflex Case

Although I’m usually a huge fan of Otterbox products, the current iteration for the iPhone 4 has been disappointing. The new “Reflex” case for the iPhone 4 leaves me bored and unimpressed.

The Reflex offers slightly more protection (and a slightly higher price) than the Commuter line in some areas. Similar to the Commuter, it’s a hard shell bumper case combined with some silicone to help with grip and to add some style. Instead of an integrated screen protector, both the Commuter and Reflex use screen overlays. I personally hate those as they almost always show bubbles for me. These bubbles are a greater risk with the Reflex, though, because the case didn’t fit right over the iPhone unless you place the screen protector absolutely perfectly.

Unlike the Commuter or Defender, the Reflex case offers no port protection. The headphone and dock connectors are completely exposed. That is a disappointing and annoying modification to a very important aspect of protection. Both those areas include a moisture sensor that can easily get tripped.

The Reflex’s namesake is a design that absorbs shock along the corners of the case resulting in a slight bounce when dropped. That’s cool and in my brief testing, the case nicely bounced when dropped on those corners. How often does the iPhone drop perfectly along one of those corners? Not very often from what I could see.

Another feature of the Reflex is easy separation and removal of the case. One problem with iPhone cases is that they get in the way of docking station solutions. The Reflex allows you to remove the bottom portion of the case to insure compatibility with devices that use the dock port. This was a handy feature, but I’ve been using a dockstubz to solve that problem. Occasionally as I pulled the Reflex out of my pocket, the case inadvertently separated which kind of defeats the purpose of having a case.

Overall this case offered a few gimmicks that might appeal to some iPhone 4 users, but overall the Commuter or Defender offer better value and protection.

Pros: Nice bounce on the corners, separation of case makes for easier docking
Cons: Difficult to use screen protector, case separates unexpectedly, no port protection

3 out of 10

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hardware Review: Doxie Scanner

The Doxie sheet-fed “cloud-based” portable scanner is useful, but has some noticeable flaws that may make you think twice before buying it. Reminiscent of the Visioneer Strobe XP, this is a cylindrical scanner that derives power from USB. Unlike the other Visioneer products, Doxie supports both Mac and PC and the key feature of the product is it’s ability to scan directly to the cloud.

After downloading the driver software (no CD is included), the Doxie allows you to scan directly to online service such as Google Documents, Flickr, and Evernote as well as workstation based solutions such as iPhoto and PDF. The software must be running in the background in order for scanning to work, but does not need to be the currently running application.

Pressing on the “heart” button after loading a document begins the scan process. One very annoying aspect of the product is the over-the-top cuteness of that starts with the heart motif. Not only is the scan button a heart but hearts dot the logo on the scanner as well. Even the name Doxie screams cuteness and can either be a miniature dachshund or slang for a lady of the evening: neither of which evokes serious professional work. This is not the type of product I’d pull out at a business meeting.

The software uses a anthropomorphized female version of the scanner complete with a pink (or blue) background as well as fishnet stockings and high heels. I don’t know why Doxie thinks a scanner needs gender, but my British friends tell me that Doxie is slang for a woman of ill repute, so maybe this all makes sense. Fortunately this “feature” can be turned off and you can opt for a simple interface.

The Doxie scanned documents well. In order for the scanner to engage, the item being scanned had to be flush with the right hand side of the scanner and if the item was an irregular size, the scanner might stop in the middle of the scan. The scanner path was slightly curved which caused problems with stiff or irregular documents-I wouldn’t put anything precious through this scanner as I’d often have problems with it jamming.

The scanner software does not include optical character recognition (OCR) but relies on third-party options such as Google documents’ built in (but limited) option or other programs.

For pictures, the software included only basic preset options such as dpi and color vs greyscale. Selecting more esoteric options such as descreening and color depth were limited. The sheet fed aspect of this scanner doesn’t allow you to specify scan area.

Overall the scanner was a great value at $149 even with its saccharine image. For basic document and picture scanning, Doxie is a great choice and the cloud approach is a neat angle to the product. Irregular, precious, or stiff documents should be avoided with this scanner though.

Pros: Value, portable usb-powered, cloud scanning options
Cons: Too cute, sometimes jams

Two out of Five Dogcows

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Hardware Review: Kensington PowerLift™ Back-up Battery

The Kensington PowerLift™ Back-up Battery is an exciting, convenient and portable way to charge your iPhone at a desk or on the road. Its unique stand allows for easy use of FaceTime while charging and a nice boost of power when away from a computer.

It’s compact design folds to 2.5" (L) x 2.3" (W) x 0.7" (D), and weighs 1.76oz - perfect for slipping into your pocket or a laptop bag. The USB connector recesses into the unit and the stand and dock connector folds in as well. No exposed parts means less problems in the long run. No wonder it won a 2011 CES Innovations and Engineering Award!

Although the battery is relatively small at 1200 mAh, Kensignton claims it provides an additional 3.5 hours of talk time. Not a full charge by any means, but a nice little boost as well as an easy way to use FaceTime with its built-in stand. A battery status button has four blue lights to indicate how much of a charge you have. At a retail of $49.99, it’s a pretty good deal for a nice compact external battery charger.

The only negative is that the compact design is hard to figure out at first. It’s easy to fold it out incorrectly and insert the iPhone incorrectly. It takes some getting used to, but otherwise it’s so darn handy!

Pros: Compact and portable, built in usb cable
Cons: A bit tricky to learn

8 out of 10

Friday, September 02, 2011

Hardware Review: Richard Solo 9000 Mobile Charger

When you are looking for true charging power on the road, few external batteries can beat the RichardSolo 9000 Mobile Charger. The 9000 mAh battery will keep your iPhone or iPad charged for a long, long time!

RichardSolo has been an industry leader for iPhone chargers and the 9000 continues that tradition. The device comes in an attractive carrying case that contains a retractable USB charger as well as a standard USB charging cable (to be used as a spare). It does not come with any wall charging unit so you’ll either have to use the AC to USB adapter that came with your iPad or iPod or purchase one from RichardSolo (I’ve been using their dual USB car charger for years). There’s room for it in the case. I’m slightly annoyed that the device doesn’t charge via more standard USB Mini or Micro chargers, but obviously with 9000 mAh some concessions need to be made.

The device charges in about 8 hours and has indicators for 100%, 70% and 30% charge. In actual usage I got almost a full charge for my iPad. The charger is smart enough to know what type of USB charge to provide. It comes with no charging cables so you will have to bring your own and it can charge any device that uses a USB port. I did notice the smart charging was a bit more particular about the cables I used. Not all my USB cables worked on the device, but that wasn’t a real problem. I was delighted to have so much power on the road. I used it to charge a wide variety of USB devices such as my iPad, my iPhone, my personal hotspot, my bluetooth headphones and more. My laptop only has two USB ports so the Richard Solo 9000 allowed me to be truly mobile without sacrifice.

Of course with that much capacity, the device is going to be heavy. It weighs in at about 10 ounces and is a bit bulky, but the case makes it much easier to travel with. The black and silver accents match nicely with Apple’s current design aesthetic and if you didn’t know better you’d think Apple made it.

If you are looking for maximum portability with your iPad or iPhone, Richard Solo’s 9000 mAh mobile charger will keep your going on the road! Excellent capacity and compatibility make this an ideal choice for road warriors like myself

Pros: Outstanding capacity and compatibility with thoughtful accessories.
Cons: Non-standard USB charging cable, bulky

8 out of 10

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hardware Review: Miccus Chargeblock for iPad

When you want true power, power to dominate your iDevices, look no further than the ChargeBlock for iPad. Not only will it charge your iPad (1 or 2) or iPhone but practically any USB devices and does so with a size and dimension not much different than previous generations of iPhones. This is simply a must-have device for power on the road.

With its 8200 mAh capacity, Miccus claims it can provide 13 hours of use and for the iPhone 4 it can provide 61 hours of talk time. Wow. The amazing part is this power fits into a stylish eight ounce package. Included with the ChargeBlock is a USB cable and interchangeable tips for USB powered devices: Mini & Micro USB, Nokia, LG, Motorola, iPod, and iPad. It also includes a 12VDC cable with changeable tips for PSP, DVD, smd GPS. It includes a wall charger as it cannot generally charge via a standard USB port.

Style and aesthetics were clearly at play here because not only is it powerful, but simply gorgeous. Capacity is indicated by three neon blue lights so you have a good idea how much of charge you have left. It can pass through charge any devices connected via USB making it an ideal travel charger. When not charging, a rocker switch turns off the battery. The black mirror finish and silver accents match your iPhone or iPad’s design perfectly.

At $99 retail, the device isn’t cheap but gives great value with its high capacity and ergonomic design. Why pay a little bit less for half the capacity?

The ChargeBlock for iPad is the perfect mix of power, style, and function for effective charging of any USB device on the road, but especially an iPad.

Pros: High capacity, well designed
Cons: None I can find

10 out of 10

Sunday, August 28, 2011

GigaOM: An Extreme Case: iPhone 4 Rugged Protection Roundup

In this article for GigaOM, I review a variety of "extreme" style case for the iPhone 4, ultimately deciding the best case scenario for ultimate protection

Friday, August 26, 2011

Three ways to keep running your Rosetta apps with Lion installed

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I cover ways to run Lion and Snow Leopard applications such as Quicken 2007 or Office 2004 on a computer with Lion installed

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hardware Review: Mophie Juice Pack Reserve

Mophie’s Juice Pack Reserve gives you a few extra ounces of courage, or in this case battery, to top off your day, but lacks the power and flexibility to be a reliable external battery charger.

Although it’s the size is somewhat large at 1.60 in x 3.15 in x 0.63 in it only contains 1000mAh of battery power. That’s inconsistent with its size. Batteries with higher capacity come in a smaller size and I really expect more from such a large device.

This external charger has a unique feature I found quite annoying. It has a retractable dock connector which makes for easy travel but for difficult use. The connector wouldn’t stay in place. It would come out while carrying and would fall out of the iPhone during use. This is simply poor design that lacks the real world testing that would have shown what a terrible idea this was. A locking mechanism (most retractable pens have this) would have gone a long way to improve this product.

It does have two interesting pluses. First it has a carabiner keychain to attach to a purse or laptop bag. Additionally it has a handy-dandy flashlight, but its power was meager at best. Good for finding a lock in the dark and not much more.

Most users of external battery chargers would be best off with another product, but if you don’t mind the retractable connector and need a small boost of power you can carry on a keychain or attach to a bag then this product might be a good choice. Otherwise move on to either another Mophie product or a external charger from someone else.

Pros: flashlight and carabiner keychain
Cons: meager capacity and flashlight, awkward connector

2 out of 10

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hardware Review: Super-Juice Power case

The Super-Juice Power case by Dexim is an external iPhone 4 case combined with a 2000 mAh battery. Unlike other cases I’ve seen in this style, Dexim has thought of everything and this is the battery case I’d recommend above all others currently on the market.

The battery power is similar to that of the Mophie Juice Pack Plus and claims to supply an extra 2000 mAh to your device to allow for 6 hours of talk time, 10 hours of video, or 40 hours of music. It uses a micro-usb cable to charge itself and to provide pass-through charging to the iPhone. Three blue LED’s in the back indicate the level of charge the device is providing and a small button in the back can turn off the battery boost when not in use.

The Super-Juice’s strength is in its design particulars. Unlike most other cases I’ve seen in this category, the iPhone 4 is easily removed from the Super-Juice. Release the top hood and the iPhone slides out. However, the hood stays attached to the case so you can’t lose it. Why other manufactures haven’t taken this step really surprises me. More than one external battery case I’ve had in the past was rendered useless by losing a critical part.

The back of the Super-Juice has a little “kickstand” that can keep the iPhone in landscape mode on a table or another flat surface. This is perfect for watching video on a plane and is a simple little extra that makes all the difference.

My only major complaint is the fact that the plastic of the case has a glossy finish which can become slippery in sweaty hands. I intend to attach a few grip slips to prevent the case from slipping. Since it comes only in white, I might use the grip strips to jazz the color up a bit.

Overall, the Super-Juice Power Case by Dexim is a high capacity external battery and case that keeps you going all day with your iPhone 4 and has subtle design features and extras that make it best of class.

Pros: 2000vmAh battery, kickstand, integrated design so nothing gets lost
Cons: Only comes in white, glossy finish to the plastic.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hardware Review: Ballistic HC iPhone 4 case

With a name like Ballistic, you’d think this iPhone 4 case is bulletproof. It isn’t, but it’s darn close. Its 3 layers of protection combined with a great belt clip could make the user feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof. The Ballistic HC (Hard Core) Series is great protection without adding bulk.

Similar to other cases in its class, this provides multiple levels of protection. A hard plastic shell is protected with integrated silicone bumpers and a screen overlay. An optional extra wrap around bumper is included that provides another layer of protection as well as covers the headphone, mute/rotation lock, and the dock port.

The port protection had some minor problems. The mute/rotation lock would often fail to stay closed and I had a rough time getting any connectors to fit into the dock port. To get the sync cable from Apple to fit I had to use more force than I’d feel comfortable and it made a loud snap when put in place. I got used to this, but it still made me nervous I’d break a cable. The only part of the phone that remains unprotected are the speaker ports at the bottom and the rear facing camera. Not a big deal, but it’s not full and complete protection for your iPhone. Of all the extreme-style cases I tested, this was most compatible with dock style devices such as the iHome.

This Ballistic HC provides multi-layer protection without the bulk of some other cases and is an excellent value for someone wanting a higher level of protection without sacrificing the size of their iPhone

Pros: Svelte design, multi-layer protection
Cons: Port didn’t always stay closed, tight dock connector

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hardware Review: ZAGGMate iPad Case

The ZAGGMate iPad Case and keyboard combo upon first glance is a brilliant idea: a combination bluetooth keyboard and iPad protective case. Unfortunately, the implementation of the design is flawed and for many this product simply won’t be a good fit.

The first serious flaw in this product is the way the iPad fits into the case. The fit is extremely tight with padding on the edges in order to make sure the iPad doesn’t separate from its keyboard case. This tight fit makes it difficult to remove. You need to use both hands as well as your fingernail. Be careful though, that brushed aluminum can have sharp edges and if you apply too much pressure, you find your iPad flying across the table. I was constantly afraid of injuring myself or the iPad.

Using the keyboard was quite difficult. In order to accommodate the physical size of the iPad, the keyboard was significantly smaller than the typical keyboard and was almost exactly the same size as the iPad virtual keyboard (which is logical if it’s the same size as the iPad). The ZAGGMate metal edges did not allow me to put my hands in a natural position: I had to type at an angle since the edges of the keyboard had a ridge that prevented you from laying your palms on a flat surface. The only way to type was to keep your palms raised in an awkward and painful position. I could only type a few minutes at a time before my wrists got tired or the pressure from the case edges cut into my wrists. Ouch.

The iPad was held in the case while typing with a small valley and a plastic stand. The stand didn’t always fit into the grove properly and my iPad would fall down. If you purchase this, make absolutely sure to put some pressure on the stand to confirm it’s aligned properly. Even while properly put in its stand, any movement of the surface would knock the iPad out of alignment. I was in constant fear of it dropping yet again out of the ZAGGMate.

The actual case did nothing to protect the sensitive back of the iPad which was yet another disappointment with this product. The padding around the sides is minimal and I actually scratched the front of my iPad while putting it in the case (ironically, I had a screen protector so it was fine).

The only positives I could find about this keyboard case combo was that it is extremely light and adds little weight to your iPad. It also allows for charging the iPad while in the case. Charging the internal battery of the keyboard is done by the less popular Micro USB cable.

Pros: Minimalist keyboard that integrates a case
Cons: Case very difficult to use, provides minimal protection, keyboard small and awkward to use

2 out of 10

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hardware Review: Mophie Juice Pack™ Powerstation

The Mophie Juice Pack™ Powerstation is the same size as an iPhone, but provides an iPhone, iPad or any USB device with hours of power. It’s impressive 3600 mAh should provide at least 10 hours of talk time for most iPhones: enough to keep you going an extra day and then some. At only ounces, it’s light enough to carry around with you most places.

The JuicePack comes with a USB charging cable in order to charge the battery, but requires the user to bring their own charge cable for their devices. This is a bonus in my book since I have a plethora of iPhone charge cables. The JuicePack will also provide a passthrough charge to any device connected to it.

For portability, I use the Scoche flip-sync cable which fits nicely on my keychain so I’ve always got an iPhone cable handy. The fact you can use the Powerstation for a variety of devices is a great feature. I was able to provide top-off charges to my iPhone, iPad, and my MiFi all from this device and still had some power left over

Unlike other external batteries, the Powerstation will provide a 2.1A charge for the iPad, though it won’t fully charge the iPad. To track how much charge is left it uses a series of six white lights. A status button is located on the top of the battery to quickly check how much is left. An additional switch allows you to turn off the battery’s output once you’ve got enough charge.

At $99 retail, this is a bit pricey, but will be of great value if you have multiple devices needing a charge. Lightweight, powerful and ergonomic is a win in my book

Pros: Lightweight with substantial capacity
Cons: A bit expensive

8 out of 10

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Hardware Review: Dexim BluePack™ S8

The Dexim BluePack™ S8 is an absolutely outstanding all purpose external battery charger, not just for iPhone and the iPad, but any device that charges via a USB port. In particular this device is great for anyone who travels.

The capacity is rated at 3000 mAh, which claims to add 11 hours of talk time for your iPhone. While I could not fully test that, I was able to take a almost dead iPhone 4 to a full charge.

The most surprising feature of the BluePack was its weight. Even though it is high capacity, the device only weights 3.2 ounces and is similar shape and size to the iPhone 4.

Another feature of the BluePack S8 is a built-in flashlight. At first I thought that was a silly feature, until I travelled with it (which would be a common use of an external battery pack), and needed a flashlight in the middle of the night. Then I saw the light, literally

The accessories the BluePack comes with are also quite handy. For one, it does a fast charge with a dual USB AC adapter. While you can use this for the S8, it works well for other devices. Additionally it has a USB to 30-pin iOS adapter, a USB Mini and a USB Micro cable. Since the charger provides a standard USB port, you can use either the included USB adapter or bring your own if you have a speciality one.

A great feature not always found in external batteries is the ability to charge your USB device while the S8 is charging. Plug the S8 into the wall and then your iPad or iPhone into the S8. Both devices get the necessary charge.

Overall, the BluePack S8 is a perfect balance of price, performance and features and I strongly recommend it as an external battery charger.

Pros: Great capacity, very portable, flashlight and adapters
Cons: Carrying case, cable length

10 out of 10

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

GigaOM: Controversy: There’s an App for That

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I examine apps that have caused controversy and how these are great exposure for these apps and the App store

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hardware Review: Kesington PowerGuard for iPhone 4

Kensington’s PowerGuard case with integrated external battery has great potential but fails to deliver in critical areas. However, it is one of the least expensive out there, so it might be a good option for those who are price conscious.

While priced similar to other integrated battery cases, the case weighs more ,yet has the least capacity of the cases I reviewed: 1200 mAh. Kensington reports for an iPhone 4 use this adds 4 hours of extra talk, 5 hours of video, or 22 hours of music. My experience is consistent with that claim.

One of the key flaws of the PowerGuard case will be encountered immediately: opening the darn thing. Unlike other cases that have easy hinges, the PowerGuard requires a coin or flat-head screwdriver to separate the bumper from the battery. Apply too much pressure and you’ll crack the plastic tabs like I did! If you are out in the field and need to change to another case--good luck.

Another flaw is lack of a capacity indicator. Most external battery chargers include LEDs or other indicators to know how much capacity is left in the battery. The PowerGuard has one light that indicates whether or not you have a charge.

One nice feature is the fact it has a slot in the back that you can use the supplied credit-card like plastic card to create a horizontal stand. I doubt if anyone will actually use the supplied card; I already carry enough of those in my wallet. Finally, my loyalty card for the grocery store has some use!

If price is the critical factor, the Kensington PowerGuard might be a good option for you if you don’t need to remove your iPhone from the case that often. Otherwise spending a bit more on another case will get you a better value with less frustration.

Pros: Inexpensive, kickstand slot
Cons: Difficult to separate the case, lack of capacity and capacity indicator

2 out of Five Dogcows

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

GigaOM: A Paperless Mobile Office: Just a Dream?

In this article for GigaOM that ran on a variety of the channels on that network, I covered sheet fed portable scanners for the Mac

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hardware Review: Griffin Survivor Case for iPhone 4

The Griffin Survivor case is a welcome addition to the line of highly-protective cases for the iPhone 4. This case was literally designed for war as it meets US Department of Defense MIL-STD-810 and UK Department of Defense Def-Stan 00-35. For civilians it means extreme protection at a great price. This has replaced my Otterbox Defender and is the case I use to protect my own iPhone.

Similar to the Defender, this Survivor provides 3 layers of protection. The first layer is a shatter-resistant polycarbonate frame interior that wraps around most of the phone. The second layer is a clear plastic overlay that protects the screen without impeding audio or the camera. Finally, a thick silicone overlay protects every aspect of your iPhone including the dock and speaker jack (where the water sensors are located).

The silicone overlay is truly unique and reminds me of the earlier Otterbox Defender 3G cases. On each of the four corners (where impact is likely) the silicone is up to a quarter-inch thick and when dropped on this corner my iPhone literally bounced (the test was an accident, but I was nonetheless impressed). The flaps protecting the dock and headphone jack actually include a plug to form a tight seal when closed. According to Griffin, the ports block blown sand/dust (up to 18 m/sec for 1 hour). Water resistance isn’t claimed, but can be inferred given this sealed design. In a video shown on their website, the iPhone is dropped in a snow pack and still continues to work.

The belt clip is a great design with a minimal clip that attaches to the bottom of the case. It can be used in a vertical and horizontal position. You need to make sure it clips properly. I didn’t one time and learned the hard way how well the silicone bounces the iPhone when dropped.

An annoying flaw exists that may be a deal killer for some users. The flap protecting the rear facing camera is normally closed, is not removable and won’t stay open by itself. If you want to quickly snap a picture you need to manually hold the flap open. More than once I got a blank picture because I forgot to open the flap before taking a picture. I got used to it, but if you rely on being able to take a quick picture with your iPhone, this may not be the case for you. I didn’t mind, but other testers got quite frustrated and said they’d simply remove the flap if they used the case long term.

Despite the camera flap, I simply loved this case. Sure it adds heft and bulk to your svelte iPhone, but this isn’t about fashion, it’s about protection. Hands down, the Griffin Survivor is the best case to protect your iPhone 4. Its three layer protection, sealed flaps, and excellent belt clip make it an ideal choice for iPhone users needing ultimate protection.

Pros: Great protection for your iPhone 4 from practically any mishap
Cons: Annoying camera flap gets in the way, belt clip can be confusing, bulky

Five out of Five Dogcows

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Hardware Review: iCapsule Keyboard Case combo for iPad

For many new iPad users, Apple's magical and revolutionary device acts as a laptop and sometimes even a desktop replacement. Many iPad users just need to check email and surf the net and a traditional laptop or desktop is overkill. For these users, the key features of the iPad are its long battery life and its simplicity, rather than its portability. These people are most likely the target market of the iCapsule.

This integrated Bluetooth keyboard and case copies the original design of the first iBook so much that more than one person asked why I was carrying a black iBook. If they ever make this in blue or orange, there will be many confused people out there.

When the iPad is placed in this case, it looks like the typical laptop: screen on top and keyboard on the bottom. Close the iCapsule just like you would a clamshell style laptop (though the iPad won't go to sleep when you close it) You'll notice there isn't a pointing device or trackpad on this "laptop", which got annoying after a while. I was so used to typing on it like a laptop I'd instinctively move my thumbs towards the trackpad rather than the screen. That's a testament to how seamless the transition from the iPad experience was.

The actual case provides no padding, but has a handle and is made of hard plastic so mishaps are less likely. The screen is somewhat protected from impact when closed because it is flush with the keyboard. Occasionally debris from the keyboard was transferred to the iPad screen when the case was closed (incidentally, this is a common problem with traditional laptops).

While the iCapsule had your typical keys including control, option and escape, it replaced the typical function keys with a variety of handy quick keys such as full volume and music controls (pause, play etc) as well as selection, copy, spotlight and keyboard toggling. This is very handy for someone doing serious work on an iPad.

iPad purists will balk at the amount of bulk this adds to the iPad and that it somehow defeats its purpose. Partially they are right. Many people replace their laptop with an iPad because they want a lightweight powerful alternative with incredible battery life. Of course, serious typing is near impossible on the iPad. Typing on the iCapsule was quick and responsive. The device takes two AA batteries, but the keyboard goes to sleep after non-use.

Unfortunately the iCapsule suffers a near fatal flaw that I hope gets fixed in later releases. While the designers left space to plug in headphones on the side, they failed to include a port for the 30 pin connector. The only way to charge your iPad is to remove it from the iCapsule. Over time it becomes a pain to constantly remove your iPad in order to charge it. Because the keyboard is bluetooth, you'll be reducing your battery life significantly and thus charging is more important. Moreover, the sleep button was difficult to access while in this case. The designers left little room for it. If you put the iPad in backwards (which you can do), the iPad will constantly go to sleep due to the pressure. Accommodations should have been made to make sure that all ports were available and you couldn't put the iPad in its case backwards.

Serious typists and those making the transition from a laptop will really enjoy how easy and natural the iCapsule case and keyboard is to use. Be prepared for the constant removal each time you want to charge the iPad though

Pros: Ideal laptop replacement with responsive and spacious keyboard
Cons: Lack of support for charging while in the case or guides to prevent the iPad from being put in backwards

Four out of Five Dogcows

This article used with permission by the Lawrence Apple Users' Group. The original article written by David Greenbaum aka DoctorDave™ or incorrectly Dr. Dave can be found here.
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Sunday, July 03, 2011

Hardware Review: Kensington Travel Battery Pack and Charger

The Kensington Travel Battery Pack and Charger provides a nice jolt of battery power while you are on the road and gives you a handy horizontal viewing stand as well. However at its retail of $70 and street price of around $40, other chargers provide a greater value.

I was generally disappointed in the design of this device. The Travel Battery Pack and Charger has an integrated USB connector, but beware, it’s quite short and I had trouble charging the pack with my USB hub and other USB charging devices. Kensington claims the integrated USB tip is a feature since it’s all you need to carry, but I found it an annoyance as its weight made it fall out of my Apple-supplied iPhone charger. The device was an awkward size of 1.50" x 2.75" x 6.00" making it difficult to carry in my jeans pocket or in my laptop bag.

As a charger it delivered 1500 mAH of power which Kensington claims amounts to 23 hours music, up to 7 hours of video and up to 5 hours of talk time. The ergonomics of the device made it near impossible to hold the iPhone and keep the battery connected: this device was simply not designed with talking in mind.

Using the Travel Battery pack while on a flat surface was completely acceptable. The dock protector was an integrated horizontal viewing stand for the iPhone which made it easy to use on the plane to catch up on my TV viewing. I also liked the 6 blue LEDs indicating exactly how much of a charge was left.

While better values exist in external battery chargers, some users might find the “kickstand” cap a neat feature for their extended video viewing needs on the iPhone and others might value the integrated USB port that eliminates the need for a cable. I certainly didn’t and after testing, this devicehas been sitting on the shelf unused. It’s a design that just didn’t work for me.

Pros: A sizable 1500 mAH of power, integrated USB port and horizontal kickstand
Cons: Bulky, difficult to use the short USB connector, difficultly using the phone while charging.

5 out of 10

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hardware Review: Dexim P-Flip™ Foldable Power Dock

Sometimes your iPhone needs a bit of a power boost to make it through the day, just like it’s owner might need a cup of coffee or a shot of the latest energy drink. The Dexim P-Flip™ Foldable Power Dock is small, powerful external battery that will get you to the end of the day and then some, with a few extras to make it a great value.

The P-Flip is an external 2000 mAh battery charger and claims to provide up to 6 hours talk time, 10 hours video/gaming or 40 hours music. My real world tests were consistent with this claim. Folded up it’s about the size and thickness of a business card holder, 2”x3” and weights about 9 ounces.

It’s designed to be used as an iPhone 4 stand for Facetime conversations or simply a convenient way to use the phone while charging via its USB mini cable since it can provide power to the iPhone 4 while charging. I was able to use the P-Flip while holding the phone up to my ear, but it was a slight bit awkward. I kept this in my pocket and used it for an extra power boost while taking a break for lunch or dinner while on the road.

Included with the P-Flip™ is a clear bumper case to provide a tight fit in the stand for an iPhone 4, but the device works fine to charge a naked iPhone or while using some of the other popular iPhone cases. However, if you use a full wraparound case for your iPhone you’ll most likely need to remove it while using the P-Flip. No big deal given the number of naked iPhone 4s I see in the wild.

Dexim boasts that they also provide a free alarm clock iPhone app that’s designed to compliment the P-Flip. The idea is with the P-Flip you can use it as a replacement for your standard beside clock. The app works fine but doesn’t really take advantage of any special feature of the P-Flip. Nothing negative, but it’s more a marketing gimick than providing anything useful.

If you need a bit of a power boost throughout the day and run your iPhone 4 naked or with a minimal bumper, the P-Flip™ Foldable Power dock is a great option.

Pros: Powerful, lightweight and easy to use.
Cons: Need to use either their bumper or a minimal case

8 out of 10

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hardware Review: Chargeblock XL

When you need an extra boost of power for your iOS device during the day, the Chargeblock XL delivers with a classy balance of form and function at an excellent price. In the short time I’ve had this product to review, it has become my go to charger that I seem to carry everywhere with me, and so should you if you ever need a little something extra to make it through your iOS day.

The Chargeblock has an impressive 1500 mAh of power which provides up to 19 hours of audio and up to 5 hours of talk time, yet weights a little over an ounce. The ergonomics of the device are outstanding. The shape and size of the charger is similar to that of a cigarette lighter and fits easily into a pocket, purse, or laptop bag. Unlike a cigarette lighter, the top case that protectors the 30-pin connector is detachable and might get lost over time, which is a minor annoyance.

Unlike any other external battery charger for the iPhone I’ve ever tested, the Chrgeblock was 100% usable while talking on the phone. It unobtrusively added a curved bottom to the phone and didn’t fall out during conversations. More than once I forget that it was an add-on to my iPhone and not part of it. Incidentally it worked great with my iPad as well.

The charger uses a series of 3 red lights to indicate the charge status. Around the edges is six blue lights that “dance” around the device while charging. This was a cool sci-fi feature but did get somewhat annoying while charging in a small hotel room. I had dreams of Cylons and Colonial Vipers.

This charger has become a trusted companion that I carry with my practically everywhere! If you’re looking for a few ounces of iOS power to get you through your day, the Chargeblock XL is all you need.

Pros: Excellent capacity, balanced design and affordable
Cons: Wish they made an energy drink to help the iOS device user get through the day

Five out of Five

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Software Review: Cloud Pull

When Google suffered a major outage recently and temporarily lost customer files, I, like others, saw the signs of a storm coming. Cloud Pull helps you weather the storm and keep your cloud-based information backed up. It is a simple program that is simply indispensable.

Cloud Pull by Golden Hills Software is available directly from the developer and from the App Store and will backup both your Google Documents and your Google Calender for up to 10 different Google Accounts. It’s like Time Machine for Google. At any interval you select (every hour up to every day) Google Pull will download all your Google Documents and Google Calendar and keep them on your computer for a minimum of 30 days and indefinitely if you wish. Not only does it backup the current version but it also backs up any revisions. The folder structure is identical to that within your Google account, respecting which items appear in home and which are hidden.

Once downloaded to your Mac, you can then restore them directly from the off-line database Cloud Pull utilizes. This was great for when I was working offline on a plane. I had my entire Google Document collection available to me. Because Google Pull supports multiple accounts, you can have your browser open to one account while still reviewing documents in another account. It even supports QuickView so you can easily find the document you need. If you work offline with your documents, the program can’t put the document back into Google, however. You’ll have to upload the file to Google manually or copy and paste your changes. This isn’t the end of the world, but something to consider when you restore a document via Cloud Pull.

The UI is straightforward and includes a menu icon that uses green indicators to show your accounts are safely backed up and used a red indicator and exclamation point to warn you of problems. Usually it’s a temporary glitch, but I appreciate the early warning system and how similar it is to Apple’s Time Machine.

At $24.99, the program is a bit pricey, and of course you can manually download your Google Documents to back them up, but Cloud Pull makes it automatic so you are much less likely to lose data. While Cloud Pull doesn't back up your Gmail, this can easily be done via a third party email client and contact synchronization is built into Address Book. Cloud Pull fills a gap for those of us wanting easy backups of the "office style" documents we create on the web. If you use Google Documents for serious work, then you owe it to yourself to get this program. $24.99 is a small price to pay for piece of mind for when the cloud leads you astray.

Pros: Backups up your Google Documents and Calenders automatically and protecting your information in the cloud.
Cons: Can’t restore files back to Google

10 out of 10

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hardware Review: Technocel PowerPak XT

The Technocel PowerPak XT is a combination USB charger and external battery pack that I highly recommend as a great combination for anyone who travels and needs a little extra power boost now and then. Because it has a USB port and a AC power plug, you can charge your iPhone (or iPad in “slow-charge “mode) and charge the device’s own battery at the same time.

Ironically, the device comes with a variety of USB adapters to charge mobile phones but not those made by Apple--you’ll have to bring your own cable for that. The PowerPak has a 1600 mAh internal lithium ion battery which claims up to 4 1/2 hours of extra talk time. Actual usage was consistent with this claim as my iPhone charge went up by 50% after the Technocel was drained.

The device is about the size of a Macbook charger (sans cables) and can easily fit into most pockets. It has a matte finish and curved edges making it powerful and visually pleasing (and won’t grind into your leg while in your pocket). Carrying an iPhone charge cable with you could be annoying though - I used the Scosche Flipsync portable charger to avoid this problem.

Technocel claims the device can hold its charge for a year. While I couldn’t test that, I did leave it fully charged and unplugged and still got the 50% increase in my iPhone 4’s battery when I plugged it into the PowerPak XT.

Four red LEDs indicate the current capacity left in the battery or whether the device is charging, depending on the situation. Knowing how much of a charge is left in the external battery is always helpful

This is a smart design as it replaces the standard iPhone charger but also provides you a extended battery pack for just a bit more space and size. Because it’s a pass through USB charger, you can use it in a variety of combinations to charge other devices either with the included USB cables or those provided by the manufacturer.

Pros: Universal design provides charging and battery backup at the same time
Cons: Doesn’t come with iPhone charging cable

8 out of 10

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

GigaOM: Why Square Has the Credit Card Industry on the Run

In this article for Gigaom/TheAppleBlog, I review Verifone's recent claims about Square's security and how I'm not worried about it

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Gigaom: Apple’s Joint Venture and the Plight of the Third-Party Partner

In this Gigaom/TheAppleBlog article, I examine Apple's continuing tenuous relationship with third party providers of service and content

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

GigaOM: In-App Purchases and The Smurfberry Affair

In this post for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I address concerns about in-app purchases and children and accurately predict federal inquiry into the problem

Sunday, May 29, 2011

GigaOM: How the Mac App Store Can Become Truly Transformative

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I suggest and possibly prediction Lion's distribution via the App Store.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

GigaOM: Dining Out With Your iPhone for Valentine’s Day

In this article I wrote for GigOM/TheAppleBlog, I cover a list of apps for dining out and focus on Valentine's day