Reviews

DoorStop X Security Suite

Pros - User-friendly front on OS X’s existing firewall; makes troubleshooting connectivity issues easier; detailed documentation on how and why to secure your Mac.

Cons - Update may be of limited value to existing users.

Top 20 Tough iPhone Cases

How you choose to protect--or not protect--your iPhone is a matter of personal choice. Sure, plenty of people like to leave their iPhone naked, reasoning that any protective cover diminishes its sleekness. But the majority of iPhone owners realize that it's probably a good idea to give your precious device some degree of armor, particularly if you don't like the idea of seeing your iPhone's lovely finish dinged and scratched up over time.

But there's protection from cosmetic damage and then there's protection from real damage--I'm talking drops or someone accidentally sitting on your phone (maybe even you) and cracking the screen. If that's the kind of heavy-duty shielding you're looking for, this is the list for you.

Parallels Desktop 5

With version 4 of Parallels Desktop having come out less than a year ago, a lot of existing users are wondering what, other than official Windows 7 support, makes version 5 worth the $49.99 upgrade.

The bigger concern...is whether the new stuff has been put through the necessary testing with OS X 10.6. It was no secret that version 4 had many problems on release, and Parallels Desktop 5 did seem to drop out of the sky and onto our desks. There wasn't an open public beta, so no one really knew what to expect. Has Parallels learned from its past mistakes, or is this another potentially great release buried under a mound of bugs? Read on to find out.

Pentax K2000

Pros - Easy to use, with handy help button; body-based image stabilization; very good overall imge quality.

Cons - Limited control over autofocus; no auto-orientation sensor; no Live View; no video recording features.

27-inch Core i5 iMac

Pros - Impressive speed; amazingly fast Core i7 option; great image quality from display at any angle; improved speaker system; new SD card slot.

Cons - Glare and reflections from screen may frustrate some users; FireWire 400 peripherals require an adapter; Apple Remote not included.

You Win some, You Lose some: a Review of Apple's Magic Mouse

The Good:
Swiping back and forth through your browser history beats clicking or keyboarding
Momentum scrolling is extremely well-implemented
No place for palm cheese to be deposited
Pleasing heft
Tracking

The Bad:
Not the most ergonomically pleasing mouse
Occasionally interprets movement as a swipe
Secondary-click implementation could be better

Adobe Photoshop Elements 8

Pros - New Recompose tool adds intelligent cropping; Smart Brush is a nice addition to selection tools; lots of minor productivity and interface enhancements.

Cons - Lack of Organizer means no direct photo sharing or synchronization services; Photomerge Exposure feature not entirely successful; can only print centered images.

Flip MinoHD

Pros - Solid construction; stereo microphone; smooth digital zoom; good color and light balance; dead-easy to operated; 2-hour storage.

Cons - Can shoot a little too bright indoors; HDMI cable not included; no image stabilization; digital zoom looks grainy.

Olympus E-620

Olympus makes it easy to step up from a compact camera to a DSLR

Pros: Fun to use, Live View mode, low-light performance, compact size, intuitive menus

Cons: Slow high-quality burst mode, overheats if Live View is used for hours

TextExpander touch 1.1

Smile On My Mac is well known for their TextExpander application for Mac OS X, and now they've brought some of that same snippet expanding magic to the iPhone and iPod touch. The app may not be quite as full featured as it's Mac-based brother, but it's still a handy utility that's sure to save you many keystrokes, or maybe thumb taps.

TextExpander touch is designed to do one job: watch for specific abbreviations and expand them into full words or phrases -- also known as snippets. It includes a list of pre-made snippets, and you can add your own by coming up with unique combinations of letters, numbers and punctuation and then linking them to words or phrases that you use on a regular basis.

iTunes 9

Pros - Significantly improved media management and syncing features; major improvements to iPhone-app organization; Home Sharing feature lets you easily copy media between iTunes libraries; Genius Mixes feature provides automatically generated playlists.

Cons - Home Sharing's auto-transfer feature limited to iTunes-purchased media; no way to edit Genius mixes, or even view their contents; growing feature list and responsibilities add to interface clutter; occasional crashes.

8GB iPod nano

Pros - Larger display; video camera and microphone; built-in video effects; buffered FM radio with iTunes Tagging; pedometer.
Cons - Video shot indoors looks poor; FM reception adequate but not great; same old earbuds.

Online Backup Services

Backups work best when you have multiple copies, at least one of which is both current and offsite. OS X’s Time Machine feature plus high-capacity, low-cost hard drives make it possible to back up regularly and to rotate drives through backup sets and store a full backup somewhere away from the data that’s on it.

But what about when the worst happens? When fire strikes, a lightning bolt fries your computers and backup drives, or a burglar runs away with the goods? A drive stored offsite helps—but the files stored on it are out of date the second it’s unplugged and lugged away. An online backup service can be the perfect addition to your backup plan.

With large amounts of storage and faster Internet connections, backing up your files online has become more viable. These hosted backup providers can also add depth to your archives, since most of them store data in such a way that you can retrieve several—or even several hundred—previous versions of a modified file.

Here’s a look at eight services with OS X software to manage automated backups.

Firefox 3.5

Pros - Easy to use; impressively extensible; superb, thoughtful privacy features.

Cons - Not a huge improvement on its predecessor; speed boost claims don’t tell the whole story.

Flip UltraHD

Pros - Good looking video under most circumstances; bright 2-inch display; HDMI output; removable battery; FlipShare software limited but convenient.

Cons - No image stabilization; digital zoom unimpressive; no included HDMI cable.

SpamX 4.0

Pros - Extensive reporting options; effective spam filtering.

Cons - Complicated setup; no IMAP support; runs as a standalone program; non-standard and confusing user interface; no full user manual.

Nikon D5000

Nikon’s D5000 strikes a great balance between price and features. It deviates from the nomenclature of its closest siblings, the Nikon D60 and Nikon D90, but no matter: It combines many of the best aspects of both while adding its own extras to the mix.

Pros - Tilt and swivel screen; compact size.

Cons - Video doesn’t autofocus; battery life unimpressive.

iPhone 3GS lives Up to its Speedy Claims

Right on schedule, Apple has introduced the third iteration of the iPhone to the public. The new model, called the iPhone 3GS, is much like the iPhone 3G introduced in 2008 but, as Apple says, the "S" stands for speed. There are a number of other improvements made to the iPhone 3GS that differentiate it from its less-speedy sibling, but the one thing that will stick out in any phone owner's mind after playing with one will definitely be its zip.

We have already reviewed the large majority of iPhone OS 3.0 that comes with the iPhone 3GS (and is available for all past iPhone and iPod touch models), so this review will mostly focus on changes to the device that differentiate it from previous versions.

iPhone 3G S

Pros - Bright, high-quality fingerprint-resistant touchscreen; extremely fast and responsive; built-in GPS and compass; voice control for phone dialing and music; decent autofocus camera with SD video capability; all the new features of iPhone OS 3.0 Software Update.

Cons - Soft-looking video; Voice Control lacks some polish; onboard video trimming is destructive; requires two-year commitment to AT&T Wireless for lowest prices.

Mellel 2.6.1

Pros - Unparalleled tools for numbering a document’s structural elements; extremely flexible note options; excellent handling of double-byte and left-to-right language fonts; clean full-screen editing mode; affordable price; new licensees get two full years of tech support and free upgrades.

Cons - Can't track changes; no macros; page-layout features less capable than those in some competing programs; not especially intuitive.

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2009)

This past fall, when the 15-inch Macbook underwent its stunning unibody redesign that added an edge-to-edge LED-backlit display, a multitouch-enabled touchpad, and dual graphics cards, we heaped plenty of praise upon it; but lamented its lack of a memory card reader, and its hefty price tag. Apple has seemingly taken our gripes to heart, and has re-introduced the 15-inch MacBook with a number of noteworthy changes, including a lower starting price ($1,699 vs. $1,999), an SD Card reader, and a long-lasting lithium-polymer battery that delivers more than 8 hours on a charge. We wish there were more USB ports on board, but you won’t find a more powerful 15-inch notebook that’s this easy to carry.

First Look: TweetDeck for iPhone

There's been no shortage of Twitter app reviews. But now, another Mac app and iPhone app have intersected in the Twitter world.

Until now, Tweetie had been my Twitter client of choice on both my Mac and my iPhone. I was pretty content with the set up, but had one issue: If I were out and about all day and checking Tweetie on my iPhone, I'd have to re-read all those tweets when I got home because the two programs had no way of communicating what had been read and what hadn't. TweetDeck has finally found a way around this issue, offering syncing between your iPhone client and your Mac client.

Circus Ponies NoteBook 3.0

However you use your Mac, a little more organization probably wouldn't hurt. Circus Ponies' NoteBook 3.0 gives you astounding powers to manage your digital life—provided you’re not initially terrified by its mind-boggling scope. NoteBook, a premiere notetaker and organizing tool, isn't unfriendly by any means. Multiple paper and binding types (including legal pads, three-ring binders, and graph paper) and virtual sticky notes and tabs give the program a welcome touch of whimsy. Still, the sheer extent of its features can seem intimidating at first.

Pros - Tons of useful features; beautiful design; fun, whimsical details.

Cons - Huge feature set; customizing the app can be brain-meltingly intimidating; some minor usability quirks.

First Look: Postino adds eCard Options to iPhone Postcard App

The ability to send physical postcards from your iPhone is not a new concept, but the just-released Postino from AnguriaLab adds a new twist to an old favorite -- having the option to send e-cards for those who want to send a postcard, but not bother with the hassle of a paper card.

Launching Postino takes you to a simple navigating screen: Photo, Message, Signature, Address, then the almighty Send. You can either select a photo from your camera roll or take a new picture.

You can either type in the e-mail or address, or choose from your contact list. Physical postcards can be sent worldwide, which is a feature lacking in the other postcard applications that we've reviewed in the past. All you need to do is purchase a virtual stamp through the app, which costs $1.99USD with up to 20% discount with bulk purchases, via PayPal. After you send the postcard, you can use the Recents tab to check on the status of both the e-cards and the physical ones.

Postino is currently available for free through the App Store, but will soon cost $.99USD. If you want to give it a try, now's your chance.

Olympus Stylus Tough 8000

Pros - Rugged and waterproof up to 33 feet; excellent LCD; handy Tap Control; pixel mapping option can compensate for a dead pixel if it occurs.

Cons - Separate battery charger not included; image detail can be soft on edges.

HP Officejet 6000 Wireless

Pros - Multiple connection options; inexpensive cost per page.

Cons - Colors appear muted on plain paper; lack of shadow detail in photos.

"Prepare for Ludicrous Speed": Ars reviews the 8-core Mac Pro

After what has seemed to so many of us like an eternity, the wait for the Nehalem Xeon Mac Pros is finally over. When Macworld 2009 passed without any i7 or Nehalem Xeon announcement, I was worried that it would be a while before the dual-socket boards would be released. But Apple finally came through with eight cores, hyper-threading, and a speedy new frontside bus to make us masters of the deadline. It's safe to say that not everyone needs (or can afford) these new eight-core machines, but I've done some serious high-end grind-work to see what sort of user might be able to justify tossing his pocketbook into the juicer for this potential monster.

The Good
Ridiculous speed for multi-threaded 3D rendering in certain applications
Even better internal layout than previous models
Still a very quiet workstation overall
Good power consumption-to-speed ratio

The Bad
Eight-core machines are very expensive
RAM slot count not well matched to triple-channel memory
No adapters included for mini DisplayPort to DVI
No workstation-class 3D card option and GT 120 graphics card is painfully underpowered
Currently, very few applications make full use of eight cores and sixteen threads

Am I really One of Them? A Review of the MacHEADS Documentary

If you’re a veteran Mac user, and particularly if your loyalty traces back to the earliest days of the Mac, the documentary film MacHEADS is about you. The mirror that Israeli filmmakers Kobi and Ron Shely hold up to the Mac community is at turns flattering and embarrassing as it examines its subject from many angles.

The film premiered at Macworld in January and was released to the public Jan. 27.

Much of the footage was shot in 2007, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone at Macworld. They came from all over the world, a testament to the fervor of the most devoted members of the Mac community. It’s simultaneously inspiring and vaguely disturbing.

Perhaps the wackiest of the lot is a bearded man wearing a t-shirt bearing an image of Steve Jobs. After showing off a belt buckle with a scrolling light message that reads, “Thanks Steve,” he proudly points out he’s wearing something he calls a “Utilikilt.”

Fortunately, the filmmakers also spend a lot of time with many well-known personalities in the Mac community, such as former chief Mac evangelist Guy Kawasaki, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Andy Ihnatko and Shawn King of the Internet audio show “Your Mac Life.”

King in particular delivers much-needed perspective throughout MacHEADS. “It’s just another company,” King observes, warning those who believe in Apple’s beneficence to keep in mind it remains a for-profit enterprise.

Panasonic HDC-SD100

Pros - Great manual controls; 24p video support; works with iMovie ‘09; good focus assist; good audio quality.
Cons - USB, mini HDMI, and power ports placed behind the battery; poor video image quality.