Reviews

iPod shuffle Review: Where We're going, We don't need Clicks

The third-generation iPod shuffle has caused quite a stir thanks to its lack of buttons and the inclusion of a proprietary headphone controller chip. At the same time, Apple fans are loving the even-sleeker music player. Ars takes a look in its latest review to see whether the pros are worth the cons.

The third-generation iPod shuffle is here, and not a soul saw it coming. (These days, that's a rarity.) Apple's new buttonless wonder has been making waves and ruffling feathers in the days since its introduction, so we took some time with it to really see whether the hype—and the hate—was warranted.

Sponge for Mac OS X

I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to accumulate junk on my Macs. I start off with a nice, fat, clean hard drive, and before you know it I'm starting to panic about running out of space.

Sponge, from Dare to be Creative Ltd., is a US$26 program designed to look for the space-wasters on your Mac and help you get rid of them cleanly. There are other applications that do the same thing, Smith Micro's Spring Cleaning being the primary example of this. I actually shied away from cleaner applications since an earlier version of Spring Cleaning did a little TOO good a job a few years ago and rendered a Mac unusable until I reloaded the OS.

So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I decided to use Sponge to try to clean up my MacBook Air. It's a first-generation model with an 80 GB hard drive, of which 74.1 GB are actually usable. Since I was down to 16 GB of space, I figured that a quick cleaning might be in order.

Laying Tracks with GarageBand

The latest version of Apple's GarageBand music software boasts a number of new features, including downloadable music lessons for piano and guitar. In this review, Ars writer, musician, and professional music teacher Jeff Smykil puts the app through its paces, to see if this version is worth the upgrade.

In all, the $79.99 price tag for the iLife suite really is ridiculously cheap, and GarageBand's DAW functionality alone is worth the price. But this doesn't mean it's problem-free. The application needs to get back to basics and stop trying to cram four different applications into one annoyingly cramped window. That said, GarageBand '09's combination of affordability and ease-of-use can't be beat.

Things for Mac and iPhone

For a while now, I've been looking for a way to better organise my life. Between meetings at work, socialising with friends and writing articles, my life can become pretty difficult to keep track of. Although push synchronisation between my iPhone and iCal has certainly proved to be a necessity for those essential appointments, every day chores are usually forgotten. Whether it's remembering to pick up some milk or to even just put out the trash, I often need the occasional reminder for even the smallest task. I was beginning to come round to the idea that nothing could possibly save me.

Then along came Things.

iPod shuffle (Third-Generation)

Pros: Apple’s smallest, lightest iPod yet, and first iPod shuffle with remote control functionality. Offers modestly better transfer speeds and audio quality than prior shuffle, replaces prior dock with simpler USB sync and charge cable. Adds VoiceOver feature to let you switch playlists, identify certain tracks, determine battery levels.

Cons: Needlessly and seriously complicates controls by switching to a buttonless body, which cannot be controlled without Apple headphones or not-yet-manufactured third-party proprietary remote control solutions; presently next to useless with car or home stereos. Confusing interface will be hard for many users to totally grasp and use. Poor value as either a 4GB media player or 4GB flash drive. Very slow at file transfers by current iPod standards. Battery power diminished considerably from prior model. Boring design.

Publishing Online with iWeb

iWeb occupies a strange place among its iLife brethren. As a truly WYSIWYG, theme-based web design tool, iWeb enables the creation of gorgeous sites in record time, and it is the go-to, well-integrated app for presenting your iLife to the internet. But iWeb has suffered a fair share of criticism since its introduction in 2006 for being too handicapped and limiting. It offers virtually no access to the actual HTML it creates and, in previous versions, was really only useful for publishing to Apple's MobileMe (previously known as .Mac) web service.

iWeb '09 brings a handful of new features and improvements, but it clearly received much less of Apple's attention than the other members of the iLife '09 suite (except for, of course, iDVD, which Apple has pretty much stopped updating). Unlike iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand, iWeb got neither keynote stage time nor banner space at Macworld Expo 2009, and some of iWeb's worst drawbacks and basic annoyances persist in what is now technically a 3.0 offering. Still, can Apple—a hardware and software company—tackle the Web any better with this latest update?

Painter 11

Pros - Faster performance; new Real brushes; enhanced selections and transformations; improved color management; resizable color palettes; PNG support; e-mail within the program.

Cons - Large size brushes still slow to load.

NeatReceipts for Mac

Pros - Scans and stores important data; automatically extracts data from receipts and business cards; integrates with Address Book.

Cons - Information extracted from business cards not 100 percent accurate; doesn’t always recognize the difference between documents and receipts.

RouteBuddy 2.3

Pros - Works with a wide range of GPS devices; slick, easy user interface; great route creation and editing; supports many geographical data formats.

Cons - Can’t link waypoints or tracks to iPhoto events; doesn’t support finding the street addresses of points of interest or waypoints.

Nikon D90

Pros: Excellent stills with low noise, solid build, excellent viewfinder and AF system, responsive with 4.5fps burst option

Cons: Rolling shutter is prone to skew and wobble, video compression artefacts, mono sound with no additional input option

Livescribe Pulse Pen Innovative though not for Everyone

If you need a combo pen/audio recorder/mini-computer and don’t mind the learning curves and expenses, it’s worth investigating further.

The Pulse smartpen is available in two models. Priced at US$149, the 1GB model provides storage for over 100 hours of recorded audio. At $199, the 2GB model doubles the storage capacity and provides more flexibility for adding future applications. Accessories for the Pulse smartpen including leather cases and two-packs of journals in black and red are also available.

iLife '09

Pros: Apple iLife '09 sees several improvements over iLife '08: iPhoto now has face recognition, geotagging, and social network integration; iMovie regains a few advanced tools; and music lessons come to GarageBand.

Cons: iPhoto's face detection isn't perfect and the social network integration needs some work; iMovie's great for simple editing, but advanced users might find it lacking.

Books help users learn new Adobe CS4

For Photoshop users, O'Reilly Media has a new book out in their popular "Missing Manual" series with the recent introduction of "Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual" by Lesa Snider King.

I'm a big fan of the "Missing Manual" series and this one lives up to the strong reputation. As their press release stated, it's the book for "Tips, Tricks and Practical Advice on how to use Photoshop CS4."

The book is designed for beginners as well as Photoshop power users. Other features include instructions on how to work new masks and adjustment panels, the new revamped workspace, and the enhanced Adobe Bridge process. Users will be shown how to edit photos as well as creating photo related documents with Photoshop.

Photoshop CS4 Missing Manual

Lesa Snider King is at it again!

This time, she has written an incredible tome with Photoshop CS4 - The Missing Manual. When you are looking for books on Photoshop, they usually run a couple of different varieties: The ‘let me teach you step by step’ Book, The quick down and dirty book, and the Reference book. At over 800 pages, the book is definitely one of those Reference books, but what excites me about it is the level at which Lesa’s commited to explaining everything out for you.

She’s got a great style, the book looks really impressive, and I think is going to be one of those invaluable resources you have to take Photoshop to the next level. Congratulations Lesa. This one looks brilliant!

Give the Gift of Lesa Snider King for Christmas

If you’re looking for the last minute Christmas gift for the photo enthusiast who really wants to learn more about Photoshop Elements, consider the gift of a tutorial video by Lesa Snider King. It’s a very simple way to learn the essence of what Elements is really all about.

Just try it for one month. The cost is $20 per month or $200 for the year for Scott Kelby's video training to gain access to so many great photo tutorials. Besides getting Lesa’s insightful Photoshop Elements’ tips, you get her explaining image resolution wearing a chef’s outfit as she uses brown sugar in her demonstration. It’s definitely my favorite of all the Kelby training videos

Sensors, Shutters, Lenses: Camera-Rating Time!

It’s time once again for the wintertime stunt I’ve been conducting since 2001: a research project I like to call, “How much digital camera can $300 buy you?” The main thing we care about is image quality, not bells and whistles. We want you to send us the best camera you have with a street price under $300. And may the best cam win!

With only one exception, the cameras submitted for this roundup cost around $250 or less. Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s some quirk of consumer psychology — but there’s no such thing as a $300 camera anymore.

Quite a bit has changed in the camera landscape since this survey began in 2001 — and even since last year.

Griffin WindowSeat for iPhone 3G

Pro: Well designed, provides a real stable platform for your iPhone 3G and stands up quite well to daily use. Pricing is very reasonable for what you get in the box. The ability to switch to a regular iPhone or iPod Touch cradle, or expand the arm out more is a definite plus. Being able to also mount the WindowSeat unit to your dash or console area, based upon your needs or jurisdictional restrictions is also a plus here. Unit tilts for landscape or portrait viewing capability.

Cons: WindowSeat is not designed to seat an iPhone in any type of case. For those users who have their iPhone in a case, this may be a turn-off.

Review: Canon EOS Rebel XSi

The original Canon EOS Digital Rebel () was the first digital SLR (DSLR) to break the $1,000 price barrier. Since then, Canon has released other Rebel models with smaller bodies and larger feature lists, with the latest being the EOS Rebel XSi.

Pros - Great image quality; excellent low-light performance; improved body and control layout; Live View; big LCD screen; very good kit lens.
Cons - No top-mounted LCD screen; limited customization.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 and CS4 Extended

Pros - Streamlined, less-cluttered interface; Masks and Adjustments panels make the tools easy to find; Kuler integration helps you choose color schemes; OpenGL enabled features improve user experience; selective editing in Camera Raw.
Cons - Missing Extract Filter, Contact Sheets, Picture Package, and PDF Presentations.

Matias Folding Keyboard

If you spend a lot of time working on the road—for example, in hotel rooms or at a remote office—bringing along a portable keyboard, a mouse, and a laptop stand lets you position your screen, keyboard, and mouse at proper heights, making for a more ergonomic workspace. Matias’s Folding Keyboard may work as part of your on-the-go setup, but a couple of quirks keep it from being all that it can be.

Pros - Compact folding design; includes number pad; good key feel; navigation keys overlay right hand’s home area; tab key on number pad.
C0ns - Doesn’t fully lock into open position, which is bad for lap use; no dedicated caps lock key; odd layout of some keys.

Ars reviews the 2008 MacBook Pro

A redesign of the MacBook Pro—Apple's professional level notebook—has been a long time coming. The machine's physical design has not changed at all since the MacBook Pro was originally introduced in early 2006 (which, in itself, was barely different than the PowerBook G4 before it), and its internals have only evolved over time. But as of last week's special launch event, Apple has finally answered the call for an updated MacBook Pro, giving its flagship mobile an overhaul on both the outside and the inside.

And boy, are there a lot of changes.

Bento 2

Pros - Inexpensive, easy-to-use database program that takes great advantage of Mac OS X technologies; dynamic access to Address Book, iCal and Mail data, and easy import and export of spreadsheet data; on-the-fly customization of forms; saved searches library (database design) templates can be shared.

Cons - Somewhat limited design options for printed reports; can’t password protect libraries; no network sharing with users on other computers.

First Look: Photoshop CS4

Typically a first look at a newly-updated product starts out with phrases like, “the long awaited” or “the much anticipated.” Not so with Photoshop CS4. The truth is that latest version of Photoshop will hit the streets practically on the heels of Photoshop CS3, its predecessor which debuted a little less than 18 months ago.

What kind of features could Photoshop CS4 have now that it didn’t have slightly over a year ago? As it turns out, the Photoshop product managers have barely slept since herding CS3 out the door and the answer is, “Quite a lot, thank you.” Photoshop CS4 sports an overhauled workspace, OpenGL features like a rotating canvas, new panels for Masks and Adjustments, on-image controls for some adjustments (a la Photoshop LightRoom), a 3-D engine, and that’s just for starters.

Here’s what to expect from the latest version of Photoshop when CS4 ships in October.

NetNewsWire 3.1.7

Pros - Great interface; handles hundreds of subscriptions with ease; useful feed-organization features; lots of feed- and article-viewing options; Clippings feature; Smart Lists; can sync feeds, clippings, and article statuses across multiple devices; built-in Web browser with tab support; excellent keyboard-based controls; can track changes to published articles; useful reports.
Cons - Occasional (infrequent) sync/refresh issues; custom column widths occasionally forgotten.

ContentBarrier X4

Pros - Easy-to-use interface; can create custom filters; flexible scheduling features.
Cons - Can’t edit preset keyword category lists; buggy scheduling behavior.

NetBarrier X5

Pros - Easy to configure, extra privacy tools
Cons - Sometimes blocks legitimate network traffic.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2

From DigitalArts
Pros - Fast, intuitive workflow for previewing, sorting, and processing digital photographs; now with 64-bit processing; improved keywording; remote volume access and localized retouching; available for Windows.

Cons - Handover to Photoshop Camera Raw is inconsistent; brushes are circular only; Apple’s Aperture is less expensive.

Click here to read more "Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2"

Delicious Library 2.0

From Macworld UK
Pros: Barcode scanner works quickly and easily, categories automatically generated

Cons: You can’t choose which Amazon site to sell to, no direct eBay support

Click here to read more "Delicious Library 2.0"

Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 Review

From Macworld UK

Photoshop Lightroom, Adobe’s first attempt at a photo-management and -editing tool specifically for photographers, was a solid application when it was first released in 2007. And Lightroom 2.0, which is available now, comes with a large list of new and enhanced features. Many of the improvements are small ones that focus on usability and productivity, but they add up to real improvements that make it easier to manage photos. Adobe has also expanded Lightroom’s editing functionality significantly, making it less likely that you’ll need an external photo-editing program (such as Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to work on your photos.

Pros: Lots of productivity and user interface improvements; Library Filter makes finding images easier than before; new Adjustment Brush and Graduated Filter tools let you create localized edits; improved integration with Photoshop; support for multiple monitors

Cons: Clone and Heal tools not upgraded to brushes; no links to online photo books; no soft proofing

Click here to read more "Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 Review"

Every Voice Recorder, Reviewed

From iLounge
Voice recorder technology first appeared on iPods back in 2003, when Belkin released the original Voice Recorder for iPod. Since then, additional full-sized iPod and nano models have offered basic voice recording capabilities, using software that Apple included in the devices’ firmware. All you needed was one of several microphone-laden accessories from Belkin, Griffin, XtremeMac, or others.

Then something changed: the iPhone came with a built-in microphone. Yet it didn’t have any voice recording software to take advantage of that feature. Today, less than a month after the opening of the App Store, there are 13 different pieces of voice recorder software—a lot to choose from—so we’ve tested them all, and created this iPhone Gems feature to help you figure out which is best for your needs.

Click here to read more "Every Voice Recorder, Reviewed"