Daily iPhone App: Grand Theft Auto San Andreas is just as fantastic as you remember

Oftentimes, older video games are looked upon with rose-colored glasses thanks to the magic, memory-altering powers of nostalgia. I was a bit worried that today's release of the PlayStation 2 classic Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas -- which, upon its release in 2004, quickly became one of the most popular games of all time -- wouldn't be quite as fantastic as history would have us believe. Fortunately, that's not at all the case.

Like the rest of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, San Andreas is set in a fictional region modeled heavily after real-life counterparts. In this case, you'll be exploring various cities and suburbs drawn from the cultural memory of early '90s Southern California and Las Vegas. The story is long and winding, touching on everything from gang rivalries and police corruption to the street car-tuning scene.

Just like in the original console release, there's really nothing you can't do within the confines of the game's setting. Want to grab a burger, hit the gym, start a police chase or simply take a scenic drive? Go for it. San Andreas is yours to explore, and it looks fantastic on a Retina display.

The game is compatible with iPhones starting with the 4s, and tablets starting with the iPad 2, so there's a chance you may not be playing this on a Retina device. But if you are, you're in for a treat. The buildings, vehicles, foliage and just about everything else look quite good and remarkably sharp. Unfortunately, the character models -- which, keep in mind, were designed for the PlayStation 2 -- can appear a bit awkward at times, and this is only magnified by the HD resolution we are now treated to. This isn't anywhere close to being a deal breaker, but you may occasionally get a laugh out of a strange gait or goofy facial expression.

Music is another high point, with classic '90s tunes filling the fictional radio stations. There are almost too many songs to even keep track of, but if, for some reason, you want to listen to your own tunes, you can do that as well through the game's custom playlist feature.

San Andreas offers a few different control options, including virtual analog sticks, virtual digital buttons and so on. The game also features MFi controller support for devices like the Logitech PowerShell and MOGA Ace, though I haven't yet been able to test this feature (we'll be running some comparisons soon, so stay tuned). The virtual analog method feels the most comfortable of the options available, and with a little practice, it's easy to replicate the feeling of using a proper gamepad.

Whether you're a seasoned GTA veteran or you've never touched the franchise before, GTA San Andreas is the perfect place to start, and it's practically flawless on iOS. The game is US$6.99, which is a bargain considering you could play the game for well upwards of 50 hours.

Daily iPhone App: Grand Theft Auto San Andreas is just as fantastic as you remember originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 12 Dec 2013 17:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Mac App of the Week: Hourly News delivers the latest news updates to your Mac

Whether you're a news junkie or trying to limit the amount of media you consume, Hourly News is worth consideration. It parses different sources and delivers hourly updates that keep you up-to-date with what's happening, domestically and internationally.

Hourly News lives in your menu bar. With the click of a button, you get the most recent news updates from a variety of sources including NPR, BBC News, Fox News, ESPN SportsCenter and a number of other news outlets throughout the world. A US$0.99 in-app purchase nets the ability to add a custom source beyond the 16 provided with the app.

The news updates last from two to five minutes each and are usually updated every hour, though a few are updated less often. You can toggle settings to automatically advance to the next item in your feed and to store settings on iCloud.

I use Hourly News to keep on top of national and world news at work, especially when I'm busy doing other tasks. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the deluge of media in your day-to-day activities, Hourly News is great for making sure you're still on top of things without constant media exposure.

Hourly News is $2.99 in the Mac App Store and also has an iOS version for $0.99.

Mac App of the Week: Hourly News delivers the latest news updates to your Mac originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 12 Dec 2013 08:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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The Monkey Kit adds a tail to your iPad so you can go hands-free

The Monkey Kit (US$69) from Octa is essentially a long, posable tail for your iPad plus a small handle accessory. Like a monkey's tail, the Monkey Tail (also sold separately) allows you to hang your iPad or merely provide support when propping it up. While not everyone will have a use for the thing, the Monkey Kit might come in handier than you think, whether you appreciate prehensile tails or not.

Design

The tail is a flexible metal neck sheathed in nearly 3 feet of grippy silicon, with a locking mount on one end and a rubber tip on the other. When you attach the Vacuum Dock (which should have been called Monkey Head, but I digress), the dock attaches to your iPad using suction.

The dock is very sturdy, and the button used to pull a vacuum gradually shrinks into the handle so you know when you've applied enough suction for a secure grip. As you can imagine, the dock will work with any nonporous, smooth case or tablet, so this isn't just for iPads.

The tail provides that mythical balance of stiffness to flexibility -- mostly. That is to say, it will often stay put as needed, even with an older, heavier iPad. It is reasonably flexible, allowing you to make a "spring" configuration to rest upon your lap, a table or the floor. I had success mounting it to wire shelves and an office chair. All that said, I'd love to see a way to pull tension in the tail, firming up the grip. Over time and with repeated, er, monkeying, it does get looser. Not so much as to be useless, just needing more adjustment when used and abused.

The Monkey Kit can be used without the tail, however. That dock can be removed and secured to an iPad so it can be used as more of a handle or smaller prop for the device. That's handy, but I preferred having it attached to the tail most of the time. It also means I have to keep up with the little rubber piece that's used to hide the hole where the head unit attaches to the tail. Not a huge deal, and that dock can be used with the company's Whale Tail product, which is a firmer plastic attachment for basic positioning and support.

Functionality

As an additional handle for your iPad with just the smaller head unit applied, the Monkey's vacuum dock is sturdy and cool, but there are other products to help you hold your iPad in your hand. If you're doing handheld product shots, for example, the Monkey is a good way to keep one hand out of view while still holding the iPad. I used to use a sort of rubber band (reviewed here), but the Monkey attaches quickly and securely and out of sight.

As a way to hang your iPad, or prop it up with the tail, the Monkey is a great accessory. Of course, that's if you need it. Ask yourself how often you need to be able to prop up your iPad from an overhead bar, or maybe lift it up a foot or so off the table or ground. The Monkey Tail allows you to do this, and a lot more.

The Monkey Tail can't cheat physics, however, so there are some limits. You have to be careful about balance, so the iPad doesn't tip over when you position it. Also, the adjustable neck in the tail isn't magic, so it is limited to a certain amount of bend. My son was clever enough to figure out a way to jam it into an office chair's hand rests, for example, but I can see how that would be a little dangerous if you were scooting around on a hard floor. After spinning around like Captain Kirk, however, I felt pretty confident in the ability of the silicon coating to hold firm. I think we probably bent the tail almost too far, however, as the bend was pretty severe to wedge it into the chair's armrest, but the Monkey Tail has thus far showed no signs of breakage.

Hanging the iPad can be frustrating if you've ever tried one of those wraparound flashlights which seem to have waned in popularity. If you've ever wrapped something around a pole only to see it wiggle down to the floor, you know what I mean. This isn't the Monkey's fault, but I'm just telling you the accessory isn't magical and doesn't contain anti-gravity functions. You'd think this was obvious, but my hilarious attempts to secure my iPad on these shelves make a reminder necessary. I wasn't willing to commit to duct tape, either, but once you get the hang of it (groan) you'll find the Monkey Tail is great for securing your iPad to certain structures.

The Monkey Kit, with dock and tail, is very well constructed, and I have already found a dozen useful placements for the thing. Some examples: In the morning when I shave I'm able to bring the iPad closer to eye level. When I jog on my treadmill I'm able to quickly secure the iPad at a comfortable location. In the kitchen the iPad no longer sits on the counter, but is closer to eye level and further away from where I'm chopping ingredients. I've even watched a weather forecast while shaving. Octa's website has a gallery of more uses like watching movies in bed and reading ebooks on the couch.

Be sure to read the instructions on how to lock and unlock the dock from the tail, too. You can separate the two for easier traveling.

Conclusion

The Monkey Kit is useful for anyone who needs a rear handle for their iPad, but its real feature is the Monkey Tail which gives your iPad a flexible neck for an almost endless array of secure positioning options. If you know someone with any flavor of iPad who uses it while lounging, the Monkey Kit is a good deal for a gift.

The Monkey Kit adds a tail to your iPad so you can go hands-free originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 11 Dec 2013 21:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Vellum: Taking the pain out of e-book publishing

As someone who has gone through the fun of self-publishing e-books for use on everything from the Amazon Kindle to Apple's iBooks, I know what a pain in the neck it can be to get everything formatted and set up properly for publishing. Even Apple's iBooks Author has limitations once you've actually created your book, since you need to have a developer account and know how to use iTunes Connect to get everything uploaded. Vellum (free) is a new Mac app released today from 180g that turns book publishing into a pleasure instead of a chore.

The company was founded by a pair of Brads -- Brad Andalman and Brad West -- last year. Before they made the leap to app development and electronic publishing, they worked at Pixar Animation Studios, both on the feature films and the animation software used to create those blockbuster movies. The idea with Vellum is to let people download the app for free, import their manuscript, play with styling and then view a preview that shows how their book will look when loaded onto certain e-readers.

Once authors are happy with the e-book's appearance, they can send the preview to "beta readers" for feedback and last-chance editing. When the e-book is ready to go, the authors make an in-app purchase -- US$49.99 for one book, $99.99 for three books or $149.99 for five books -- to generate a file that's ready to be uploaded to the appropriate e-book store.

That makes life a lot easier for author/publishers. Both Amazon and Apple have eliminated the requirement and expense to purchase an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for each title, at least for domestic publishing. You'll still need to get an account for the publishing portals -- iTunes Connect for iBooks and Amazon Author Central for Kindle books -- and know how to submit the e-books.

Let's take a quick look at Vellum and how it works. To begin with, authors can write their manuscripts and save them in a Microsoft .docx format. Vellum opens the document, analyzes it to find where it thinks chapters are and then converts it to Vellum's native format. You can edit the documents in Vellum, so typos that have made it past previous editing can be corrected without the need to re-import the document. If you're starting from scratch, it's possible to create an entire book in Vellum without resorting to using another product.

Before you go further, you might want to add front- and end-matter to the book, which is a cinch -- you just add an element, whether that's a copyright, dedication, foreword or any other standard publishing item.

Once the contents are set, you get to select the style of the book. At this time, Vellum includes eight "themes" plus a number of choices for heading, first paragraph, block quotation, ornamental break and paragraph after break. They're all very nice and professional-looking styles, and it's possible to preview what the book is going to look like at any time just by clicking the preview button. If you don't like what you see in the preview (for iPhone, iPad, Kindle Paperwhite and Nook Simple Touch), it's easy to change what you're doing.

There's a tool for adding a cover image by dragging and dropping it onto a specific spot, and your entire book can be previewed for white, black or sepia pages if the e-reader supports those. You can also see how the layout will appear if the reader changes the font or font size.

When you're ready to test the book in e-reader software or on a specific device, you click the Generate button. Kindle publishing requires the free download of the "kindlegen" plugin, which Vellum thoughtfully provides an in-app link to. I generated the sample book for both Amazon (.mobi) and iBooks (.epub) formats, and was able to open both of the formatted files immediately in the native Mac apps.

All in all, I found Vellum to be an amazingly robust app for a 1.0 version, and I look forward to giving it a workout in real life. If you're interested in trying it out, I recommend downloading the free app and giving it a try.

Vellum: Taking the pain out of e-book publishing originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 11 Dec 2013 13:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Vellum: Taking the pain out of e-book publishing

As someone who has gone through the fun of self-publishing e-books for use on everything from the Amazon Kindle to Apple's iBooks, I know what a pain in the neck it can be to get everything formatted and set up properly for publishing. Even Apple's iBooks Author has limitations once you've actually created your book, since you need to have a developer account and know how to use iTunes Connect to get everything uploaded. Vellum (free) is a new Mac app released today from 180g that turns book publishing into a pleasure instead of a chore.

The company was founded by a pair of Brads -- Brad Andalman and Brad West -- last year. Before they made the leap to app development and electronic publishing, they worked at Pixar Animation Studios, both on the feature films and the animation software used to create those blockbuster movies. The idea with Vellum is to let people download the app for free, import their manuscript, play with styling and then view a preview that shows how their book will look when loaded onto certain e-readers.

Once authors are happy with the e-book's appearance, they can send the preview to "beta readers" for feedback and last-chance editing. When the e-book is ready to go, the authors make an in-app purchase -- US$49.99 for one book, $99.99 for three books or $149.99 for five books -- to generate a file that's ready to be uploaded to the appropriate e-book store.

That makes life a lot easier for author/publishers. Both Amazon and Apple have eliminated the requirement and expense to purchase an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for each title, at least for domestic publishing. You'll still need to get an account for the publishing portals -- iTunes Connect for iBooks and Amazon Author Central for Kindle books -- and know how to submit the e-books.

Let's take a quick look at Vellum and how it works. To begin with, authors will want to write their manuscripts and save them in a Microsoft .docx format. Vellum opens the document, analyzes it to find where it thinks chapters are and then converts it to Vellum's native format. You can edit the documents in Vellum, so typos that have made it past previous editing can be corrected without the need to re-import the document.

Before you go further, you might want to add front- and end-matter to the book, which is a cinch -- you just add an element, whether that's a copyright, dedication, foreword or any other standard publishing item.

Once the contents are set, you get to select the style of the book. At this time, Vellum includes eight "themes" plus a number of choices for heading, first paragraph, block quotation, ornamental break and paragraph after break. They're all very nice and professional-looking styles, and it's possible to preview what the book is going to look like at any time just by clicking the preview button. If you don't like what you see in the preview (for iPhone, iPad, Kindle Paperwhite and Nook Simple Touch), it's easy to change what you're doing.

There's a tool for adding a cover image by dragging and dropping it onto a specific spot, and your entire book can be previewed for white, black or sepia pages if the e-reader supports those. You can also see how the layout will appear if the reader changes the font or font size.

When you're ready to test the book in e-reader software or on a specific device, you click the Generate button. Kindle publishing requires the free download of the "kindlegen" plugin, which Vellum thoughtfully provides an in-app link to. I generated the sample book for both Amazon (.mobi) and iBooks (.epub) formats, and was able to open both of the formatted files immediately in the native Mac apps.

All in all, I found Vellum to be an amazingly robust app for a 1.0 version, and I look forward to giving it a workout in real life. If you're interested in trying it out, I recommend downloading the free app and giving it a try.

Vellum: Taking the pain out of e-book publishing originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 11 Dec 2013 13:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Daily iPhone App: Hailo is a no-fuss way to hail a cab

Trying to catch a cab in London can be a challenging feat. That's why I've started testing out the Hailo app. Instead of standing around for 20 minutes, I had a black cab respond to my e-hail via the Hailo app. It arrived five minutes after I told the app I wanted to be picked up. It's also why Hailo is today's Daily iPhone App.

Hailo began in London in 2011 and helped usher in the age of e-hailing. The app is simple enough to set up. You download it from the App Store and create a free account by entering your name, email and phone number. A code is then sent to your phone via text message to confirm you are the owner.

To use the app, you simply drag and drop a pin representing your location or wherever it is you want to be picked up. By default, the pin is set at your current location, but you can move it anywhere on the map. As you place the pin, the estimated time of the closet cab to you appears. If you'd like to hail the cab, simply tap the "Pick Me Up Here" button and a message will be sent to the driver, who can then accept the hail and travel to you. As the cab nears your location, you can track it in real time on the map, and when it's one minute away, Hailo will send you a push notification so you can be ready.

Paying for the cab is simple enough. If you want, you can save your credit card details within the app and pay with the touch of a button. However, Hailo doesn't require you to do this. If you want to pay the driver in cash, that will work just fine. After your cab ride ends, you'll get a receipt emailed to you and have the chance to leave feedback about your driver on his Hailo profile.

The app is a lifesaver in a big city like London, where trying to hail a cab can be a nightmare, and calling a cab company to come and pick you up is hit or miss as you never know if the cab will actually arrive. Though Hailo started out as London-only, it's also now in Dublin, Boston, Toronto, Chicago and trying out betas in New York City and other locales.

Hailo isn't without controversy, however. There are lawsuits to try to stop the service in New York City, and in London, multiple Hailo cab drivers told me that since Hailo raised its minimum fee to £10, many users have stopped using the app. The cab drivers told me they knew this because as soon as the limit was raised from £5 to £10, the number of jobs they got through the Hailo app went down 80 percent. What's more annoying is that at busy times, Hailo sets the minimum cab fare to £15 - something London's transport authority is looking into the legality of, as the minimum fare normally hailed cabs can charge is only £2.40.

Local transport laws aside, however, Hailo is a great app if you live in one of the larger cities the company operates in. Hailo is a free download in the App Store.

Daily iPhone App: Hailo is a no-fuss way to hail a cab originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 11 Dec 2013 12:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Daily iPhone App: Hailo is a no-fuss way to hail a cab

Trying to catch a cab in London can be a challenging feat. That's why I've started testing out the Hailo app. Instead of standing around for 20 minutes, I had a black cab respond to my e-hail via the Hailo app. It arrived five minutes after I told the app I wanted to be picked up. It's also why Hailo is today's Daily iPhone App.

Hailo began in London in 2011 and helped usher in the age of e-hailing. The app is simple enough to set up. You download it from the App Store and create a free account by entering your name, email and phone number. A code is then sent to your phone via text message to confirm you are the owner.

To use the app, you simply drag and drop a pin representing your location or wherever it is you want to be picked up. By default, the pin is set at your current location, but you can move it anywhere on the map. As you place the pin, the estimated time of the closet cab to you appears. If you'd like to hail the cab, simply tap the "Pick Me Up Here" button and a message will be sent to the driver, who can then accept the hail and travel to you. As the cab nears your location, you can track it in real time on the map, and when it's one minute away, Hailo will send you a push notification so you can be ready.

Paying for the cab is simple enough. If you want, you can save your credit card details within the app and pay with the touch of a button. However, Hailo doesn't require you to do this. If you want to pay the driver in cash, that will work just fine. After your cab ride ends, you'll get a receipt emailed to you and have the chance to leave feedback about your driver on his Hailo profile.

The app is a lifesaver in a big city like London, where trying to hail a cab can be a nightmare, and calling a cab company to come and pick you up is hit or miss as you never know if the cab will actually arrive. Though Hailo started out as London-only, it's also now in Dublin, Boston, Toronto, Chicago and trying out betas in New York City and other locales.

Hailo isn't without controversy, however. There are lawsuits to try to stop the service in New York City, and in London, multiple Hailo cab drivers told me that since Hailo raised its minimum fee to £10, many users have stopped using the app. The cab drivers told me they knew this because as soon as the limit was raised from £5 to £10, the number of jobs they got through the Hailo app went down 80 percent. What's more annoying is that at busy times, Hailo sets the minimum cab fare to £15 - something London's transport authority is looking into the legality of, as the minimum fare normally hailed cabs can charge is only £2.40.

Local transport laws aside, however, Hailo is a great app if you live in one of the larger cities the company operates in. Hailo is a free download in the App Store.

Daily iPhone App: Hailo is a no-fuss way to hail a cab originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 11 Dec 2013 12:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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PhoneSuite Elite 5 is a beautiful battery case that keeps your iPhone running for days

I've been a fan of PhoneSuite's products for a few years now, which is why I was excited to get my hands on its latest PhoneSuite Elite 5 battery case that powers the iPhone 5 and 5s. Before I get to the main function of the case -- keeping your iPhone charged -- let me talk about design, because that's where this case really shines.

Most battery cases I've tried are capable, but ugly. The PhoneSuite Elite 5, on the other hand, looks great. It's only 15.5mm thick, which means it doesn't triple the bulk of the iPhone 5 and 5s like many other battery cases do. It weighs 79 grams. The case itself comes in two colors, metallic black and ice silver, and is made of a polycarbonate composite with a scratch-resistant coating. With my iPhone in the case, I felt like it could take a beating. I wasn't brave enough to drop my US$600 phone on the ground, but part of me was confident that if I did, it would be protected.

PhoneSuite also seems to have given a lot of thought not to just the design of the case, but also to the design of the iPhone itself. The PhoneSuite Elite 5 doesn't block the headphone jack, the Lightning port (due to the pass-through port) or the camera and its flash. Matter of fact, it doesn't even make it hard for one to plug in the included USB cable that allows pass-through charging to the Lightning port, or a headphone cord -- something that can't be said for a lot of cases. As for the opening around the iSight camera, the PhoneSuite Elite 5 was designed so that it doubles as a lens hood, which helps eliminate flares from the sun and other lighting sources when you are snapping pics.

But the real point of a battery case isn't its looks. It's to prolong the use of your iPhone between charges. At that, the PhoneSuite Elite 5 performed exceedingly well. For the first time ever, I used my iPhone 5s for 36 hours straight without plugging it in. It was a totally different experience for me because, as a heavy iPhone user, I find myself usually looking for a power source by the afternoon. The power benefits come courtesy of the integrated high-capacity, 2,100 mAh battery found in the rear of the case. PhoneSuite says it can provide a full 100 percent charge to the iPhone 5 and 5s in less than two hours and in my tests, I found that accurate. The company also advertises up to 20 hours talk time, up to 20 hours video time and up to 80 hours music time with the case. I didn't have the time to test each of those metrics individually, but as I said, doing a mix of all those things and more with this case on gave me a running time of 36 hours on my iPhone.

If you're looking for an iPhone battery case for yourself or your loved ones this holiday season, I highly recommend you check this one out. The PhoneSuite Elite 5 costs US$99.99.

PhoneSuite Elite 5 is a beautiful battery case that keeps your iPhone running for days originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 11 Dec 2013 09:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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PhoneSuite Elite 5 is a beautiful battery case that keeps your iPhone running for days

I've been a fan of PhoneSuite's products for a few years now, which is why I was excited to get my hands on its latest PhoneSuite Elite 5 battery case that powers the iPhone 5 and 5s. Before I get to the main function of the case -- keeping your iPhone charged -- let me talk about design, because that's where this case really shines.

Most battery cases I've tried are capable, but ugly. The PhoneSuite Elite 5, on the other hand, looks great. It's only 15.5mm thick, which means it doesn't triple the bulk of the iPhone 5 and 5s like many other battery cases do. It weighs 79 grams. The case itself comes in two colors, metallic black and ice silver, and is made of a polycarbonate composite with a scratch-resistant coating. With my iPhone in the case, I felt like it could take a beating. I wasn't brave enough to drop my US$600 phone on the ground, but part of me was confident that if I did, it would be protected.

PhoneSuite also seems to have given a lot of thought not to just the design of the case, but also to the design of the iPhone itself. The PhoneSuite Elite 5 doesn't block the headphone jack, the Lightning port or the camera and its flash. Matter of fact, it doesn't even make it hard for one to plug in the Lightning cable or a headphone cord -- something that can't be said for a lot of cases. As for the opening around the iSight camera, the PhoneSuite Elite 5 was designed so that it doubles as a lens hood, which helps eliminate flares from the sun and other lighting sources when you are snapping pics.

But the real point of a battery case isn't its looks. It's to prolong the use of your iPhone between charges. At that, the PhoneSuite Elite 5 performed exceedingly well. For the first time ever, I used my iPhone 5s for 36 hours straight without plugging it in. It was a totally different experience for me because, as a heavy iPhone user, I find myself usually looking for a power source by the afternoon. The power benefits come courtesy of the integrated high-capacity, 2,100 mAh battery found in the rear of the case. PhoneSuite says it can provide a full 100 percent charge to the iPhone 5 and 5s in less than two hours and in my tests, I found that accurate. The company also advertises up to 20 hours talk time, up to 20 hours video time and up to 80 hours music time with the case. I didn't have the time to test each of those metrics individually, but as I said, doing a mix of all those things and more with this case on gave me a running time of 36 hours on my iPhone.

If you're looking for an iPhone battery case for yourself or your loved ones this holiday season, I highly recommend you check this one out. The PhoneSuite Elite 5 costs US$99.99.

PhoneSuite Elite 5 is a beautiful battery case that keeps your iPhone running for days originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 11 Dec 2013 09:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Daily iPad App: The Wolf Among Us turns the comic into a "choice and consequence" game thriller

If you enjoyed Telltale Game's masterpiece (and 2012 Game of the Year) The Walking Dead, you're going to want to check out its latest "choice and consequence" game thriller, The Wolf Among Us. Like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us is not an original property. It's also based off of a comic book by DC/Vertigo called Fables. And like The Walking Dead, the game's brilliance lies not so much in its action or gameplay, but in the choices one is forced to make and the consequences that result.

In The Wolf Among Us you play Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown, a fictional city much like New York except that characters from classic fairly tales live among normal human beings in a disguised form. In a game where the story matters leagues more than the game mechanics -- not to mention the story changes based on the choices you make -- it's hard to talk about the plot without ruining it for those that haven't played it. Given that, let me just tell you that the game starts with Sheriff Bigby being called to a run-down apartment by Mr. Toad because something is going on in the upstairs apartment of the Woodsman of Little Red Riding Hood fame. Then things get weird...

The game eschews 3D graphics for cell-shaded animation that works perfectly in this creepy world where things just aren't quite right. But it's the voice narration on the writing that make this game a serious contender for Game of the Year.

The Wolf Among Us, again, just like The Walking Dead, is not a one-off. The entire game will consist of five episodes, the first of which is called "Faith" and is available now. The remaining four episodes: Smoke and Mirrors, A Crooked Mile, In Sheep's Clothing and Cry Wolf will be made available on a sequential basis throughout 2014.

The Wolf Among Us is a universal app and costs US$4.99 for the first episode. Each following episode will cost another $4.99 via in-app purchase, or you can buy the Multi-Pack purchase which includes Episodes 2-5 for a total of $14.99, or 25 percent off the individual price.

Daily iPad App: The Wolf Among Us turns the comic into a "choice and consequence" game thriller originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Tue, 10 Dec 2013 19:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Looking for a gift? TUAW reviews three iPad Air cases

Christmas Gift

Can you believe there are only two weeks left before Christmas? If you haven't finished your shopping, there's still time to get some great gifts for the iPad Air owners in your life. In this review, we take a look at four different iPad Air cases that might be perfect for someone on your list -- and you'll have a chance to win one of the cases we're reviewing.

OtterBox Defender Series Case for iPad Air

Many people equate OtterBox with smartphone cases, but ignore the fact that the company builds some amazingly tough iPad cases as well. The OtterBox Defender Series Case for iPad Air (US$89.95) upholds the reputation of the company's rugged cases, using two layers -- hard interior polycarbonate and exterior silicone -- to keep your baby safe from accidents. Literally topping it off is a clear screen protector to keep your touchscreen clean and scratch-free, even in the worst conditions. It's not waterproof or even water-resistant, but if you or the gift recipient use the iPad Air in some tough places, you'll be glad you got this case.

That's not all -- there's a snap on polycarbonate cover that goes over the display. When you pull it off, it can be attached to the back of the case to provide a multi-angle stand for the device. There are small silicone anti-slide bumpers on the bottom of that cover and the back of the case as well, to make sure that your iPad Air stays in one place.

I found the case to be a little difficult to install and remove, but chances are that once you've installed the Defender Series case onto the iPad Air you're not going to want to take it off. On the negative side, it also adds quite a bit of bulk and thickness to your very thin iPad Air, so if you're in love with the thinness of the Air, you might want to look elsewhere for a case. If, on the other hand, you're more worried about the safety of your iPad, you've come to the right place.

Saddleback Leather iPad Air Case

While the Otterbox Defender uses tough manufactured materials to keep your iPad Air from destruction, you or your gift recipient might prefer something more natural like the feel, look and scent of real leather. Saddleback Leather makes a wonderful iPad Air case ($111.00) completely out of leather -- there is no other material (except for the stitching) used to construct the case. This is a brand-new product, so at the time of publication the case was not yet listed on the Saddleback Leather website. The image above is of the iPad 2/3/4 case, which is similar to the iPad Air case.

Two leather buckles fold over onto the cover to keep the iPad Air in place when you're in motion, and it's held into one side with a stitched leather bezel. The leather is thick and stiff enough to protect your iPad Air, but thin enough not to make the case overly thick and heavy.

As with any item made with leather, the finish and look of each case is unique. The Saddleback Leather case will also age nicely with time, and it has a 100-year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship if you want to keep it for a long, long time. This is definitely a classy case that would be a highly-prized gift.

Pad & Quill Contega Case for iPad Air

And speaking of classy cases, Pad & Quill has released an iPad Air-specific version of their beautiful and functional Contega Case ($99.99). We've covered Pad & Quill's products enough in the past for just about everyone who reads TUAW to know how well-crafted and well -- beautiful -- they are.

The Contega comes in a choice of two exterior leather cover colors -- black or chocolate -- and with an interior cloth lining in deep sea blue, forest green, onyx black, praline tan, or slate gray. Holding the iPad Air into place is a handcrafted Baltic Birch frame that can "tilt" into one of two positions should use wish to use the Contega as a stand.

Holding it all closed while in transit is a matching elastic band, so it looks just like a really nice Moleskine. This case just oozes style, and you'd have one happy gift recipient on your hands if you gave them a Contega.

Giveaway

Now you have a chance to win one of these three cases for yourself or to give away as a gift. Here are the rules for the giveaway:

  • Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
  • To enter, fill out the form below completely and click or tap the Submit button.
  • The entry must be made before 11:59 PM December 14, 2013 Eastern Standard Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Three winners will be selected. One will receive an OtterBox Defender Series Case for iPad Air valued at $89.95, one will receive a Saddleback Leather Case for iPad Air valued at $111.00, and one will receive a Pad & Quill Contega Case for iPad Air valued at $99.99.
  • Click Here for complete Official Rules.

Looking for a gift? TUAW reviews three iPad Air cases originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Tue, 10 Dec 2013 17:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Daily iPhone App: Snapguide helps you dye your hair, fix your car or chef up a great meal

The next time you need help to accomplish a specific task, it might be worth your while to check out Snapguide. Not only are there hundreds of different tutorials available for DIYers, Snapguide also allows you to easily create your own guide for someone else to follow.

Snapguide is a companion app for the Snapguide.com website, which is home to thousands of guides on everything from cooking, fitness, tech and more. Though you can browse the site using mobile Safari, the iOS app provides a much better experience than the mobile website. You get niceties like search and categories, and you don't have to deal with the "Download the Snapguide app" nags in the mobile web version.

The Snapguide app is an all-in-one solution that allows you to view full Snapguide tutorials without ever leaving the app. You can browse through the guides by category or search for a specific topic. Unlike most apps that require a login at launch, you can search or browse through guides without a Snapguide account.

Each guide is broken down into steps that include text, photos or even video. At the beginning of the guide, there is a list of the items required (i.e., the ingredients) as well as a list of the number of steps in the guide. You can skip to any one of these steps via a convenient grid of numbered thumbnails representing each step. If you like a specific guide, you can flag it as a favorite (free account signup required) or choose from several options to share a link to the guide. There are also comments, allowing you to chime in with your own advice or read others' opinions.

Besides reading guides, the Snapguide app also allows you to create your own guide using photos, videos and written instructions. Snapguide "guides" you through the creation process, allowing you to assemble and upload the final project up to its website using your iPhone.

I found Snapguide to be one of those apps that I open up on a regular basis when I have some free time. I regularly scan the latest guides and mark those I want to check out later. It is convenient to have on the iPhone, especially when you are in a store searching for ingredients for a guide. Though not as portable as the iPhone version, Snapguide really comes into its own on the iPad. Instructions are easier to read on the large display and the images and videos really stand out.

Snapguide is available for free from the iOS App Store.

Daily iPhone App: Snapguide helps you dye your hair, fix your car or chef up a great meal originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Tue, 10 Dec 2013 12:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Daily iPhone App: Radar Cast helps you stay on top of the weather

I live in Maine, which means I get the sun before everyone else, and the weather usually later. This past week is a great example. Winter storm Dion has allowed me to track the storm's progress as it made its way from the panhandle of Texas all the way to the easternmost part of my home state. My app of choice to follow this storm was Radar Cast Elite from WeatherSphere.

The radar app is chock-full of features, but the most important one is its past and future radar images. The app shows a storm's movement by including both previous radar images and future ones to predict where a storm is headed. It plays these images back in a loop, allowing you to see the track of a storm. You can change the duration of time displayed in the radar loop as well as the loop speed to fine-tune what you see. These past and FutureCast radar images provide an excellent look at your weather conditions right now. They also show how conditions will change in the immediate future.

Besides its convenient radar images, the app has a handful of other helpful features. There are weather forecasts, severe weather warnings, hurricane tracks, real-time lightning strikes and more. The app can even show storm start and stop times on the map, which, along with the weather-based driving directions, will help you plan your daily travels around hazardous conditions.

RadarCast is great for weather aficionados looking for another radar app to add their collection. It's also perfect for folks who want to monitor the weather in real time so they can adjust their plans accordingly.

Radar Cast Elite is available in the iOS App Store for US$2.99. Some features like pilot weather data and tide charts require an in-app purchase of $9.99 or less.

Daily iPhone App: Radar Cast helps you stay on top of the weather originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Mon, 09 Dec 2013 17:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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G-Technology G-DOCK ev: Thunderbolt and two removable drives for ultimate flexibility

G-Technology's new G-DOCK ev ($749.95 with two 1 TB G-DRIVEs) is a different animal. Think of having two removable, portable USB 3.0 drives that you can take into the field with you, and then being able to plug those drives into a Thunderbolt dock for high(er) speed transfer of data when you're back in the office or studio, and you've figured out the idea of this device. Unfortunately, the concept and reality of the G-DOCK ev are two separate things.

The G-DOCK itself isn't exactly portable, measuring 7.87" x 5.12" x 3.54" and weighing 4 pounds, 5 ounces. The removable drives, however, are little self-contained units that are perfect for popping into the pocket of a jacket or a computer bag. The G-DRIVE ev USB 3.0 drives are quite a bit more compact, measuring just 5.14" x 3.29" x .65" each and tipping the scales at 10.2 ounces each. Those drives have a USB 3.0 port on the back of them for use in the field, as well as a SATA port covered by a small removable (and easily lost) plastic door. To use the drive in the G-DOCK, you remove the door and then slide the drive in until it locks. To remove the drive(s), there are two large buttons on the front of the device next to the drives.

It should be noted that you don't just push the button to safely eject the drives, something that isn't immediately obvious. One would hope that G-Technology would have figured out a way to safely dismount the G-DRIVE ev drives automatically with a push of the button; instead, you need to be sure to drag the drive icons to the OS X trash to dismount them first. Likewise, G-Technology doesn't include any utilities for setting up the two G-DRIVEs as a RAID pair, instead pointing users in the direction of Apple's OS X Disk Utility.

The G-DOCK can be set up as two individual drives or as one RAID 0 or RAID 1 array. For the purposes of testing, I used it as two individual drives for initial testing and then set it up as a RAID 0 (a stripe set of two 1 TB drives) for the final benchmark.

Benchmarks

Benchmarking of the G-Technology G-DRIVEs and G-DOCK ev was done with Intech Software's SpeedTools QuickBench 4.0 software. To ensure accuracy in testing, I performed a 100-cycle complete test. This subjects the drive to sequential and random read and write tests with file sizes from 4K to 100 MB, then graphically or textually displays that information to show the "sweet spots" for a specific drive or array. For example, if your work involves shuffling around a lot of very large files, you'll probably want a drive that has peak read/write speeds for files around your average file size.

I first tested an individual G-DRIVE connected via USB 3.0. The standard tests (first four results) use nine different file sizes between 4 KB and 1024 KB. The large tests use transfer sizes between 2 and 10 MB, while the extended tests look at file sizes between 20 and 100 MB. These test results were not compared to any other devices, as TUAW has not recently tested any non-RAID devices with the QuickBench software.

  • Sequential Read: 110.628 MB/Sec
  • Sequential Write: 113.286 MB/Sec
  • Random Read: 21.857 MB/Sec
  • Random Write: 28.756 MB/Sec
  • Large Read: 131.540 MB/Sec
  • Large Write: 125.343 MB/Sec
  • Extended Read: 135.542 MB/Sec
  • Extended Write: 135.014 MB/Sec

Next, I performed the tests on a G-DRIVE in the G-DOCK ev through a Thunderbolt connection:

  • Sequential Read: 117.730 MB/Sec
  • Sequential Write: 120.449 MB/Sec
  • Random Read: 22.769 MB/Sec
  • Random Write: 28.896 MB/Sec
  • Large Read: 134.485 MB/Sec
  • Large Write: 130.679 MB/Sec
  • Extended Read: 135.313 MB/Sec
  • Extended Write: 134.928 MB/Sec

I found it odd that the differences in speed between USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connections were negligible. Next, the two G-DRIVEs in the G-DOCK ev were set up as a RAID 0 volume approximately 2 TB in size, and benchmarks were run using a Thunderbolt connection:

  • Sequential Read: 189.675 MB/Sec (140.504 MB/Sec for Drobo 5D)
  • Sequential Write: 197.831 MB/Sec (93.245 MB/Sec for Drobo 5D)
  • Random Read: 22.432 MB/Sec (116.435 MB/Sec for Drobo 5D)
  • Random Write: 38.360 MB/Sec (70.410 MB/Sec for Drobo 5D)
  • Large Read: 272.062 MB/Sec (341.327 MB/Sec for Drobo 5D)
  • Large Write: 262.744 MB/Sec (282.060 MB/Sec for Drobo 5D)
  • Extended Read: 266.927 MB/Sec (255.953 MB/Sec for Drobo 5D)
  • Extended Write: 264.170 MB/Sec (262.864 MB/Sec for Drobo 5D)

The RAID 0 benchmarks showed some interesting results. Random Read/Write of smaller-sized files was surprisingly slow, while the G-DOCK ev performed admirably when reading and writing larger files. This indicates that the RAID configuration would work well for use cases involving large file sizes. It should be noted, though, that once you create a RAID array (either mirrored or striped) with the two G-DRIVEs, you can no longer pop them out for portable use. Essentially, you need to decide ahead of time whether you want a pair of portable drives that you can pop out of a Thunderbolt dock or a Thunderbolt RAID 0 or RAID 1 array.

That's why I think the G-DOCK ev is kind of an odd duck. For portable Thunderbolt drives, it's possible to get two 1 TB drives for about $300 -- much less expensive than the G-DOCK ev with its two 1 TB removable drives. If you're looking for Thunderbolt RAID setups, you can buy one of G-Technology's own 8 TB G-RAID arrays for about the same price as the 2 TB RAID 0 (or 1 TB RAID 1) G-DOCK ev -- but of course you lose the portability.

Conclusion

The G-Technology G-DOCK ev provides fast read/write of large files as a Thunderbolt RAID array and the removable USB 3.0 G-DRIVEs are reasonably fast as well. However, most users would be better served by selecting their most common use case -- need for large RAID storage or need for portability -- and purchasing a single solution that fits that need. The users would save money and most likely gain capacity over this odd "portable / RAID" hybrid solution.

Pros

  • Excellent construction, sturdy devices made of aluminum
  • Relatively fast performer when reading and writing large files, although no faster than competing devices

Cons

  • Expensive compared to dedicated RAID arrays or separate portable drives
  • Doors for removable drives are small and would be easy to lose
  • No speed advantage of putting the removable USB 3.0 drives into the Thunderbolt dock
  • Drives do not perform well with small file sizes
  • Removable drives should dismount automatically when the drive button is pushed; instead, the drives need to be dismounted manually

Who is it for?

  • Due to the cost of the G-DOCK ev, it's relatively common performance, the fact that the removable USB 3.0 G-DRIVEs aren't any faster when placed in the Thunderbolt dock, and the fact that it's really an either/or solution (RAID or portability), we cannot recommend purchasing this product.

G-Technology G-DOCK ev: Thunderbolt and two removable drives for ultimate flexibility originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Sat, 07 Dec 2013 16:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Olloclip's Macro 3-in-1 Lens is a powerful little stocking-stuffer

TUAW's staff is made up of a lot of fans of the accessory lens products from Olloclip. They're designed to work perfectly with various models of the iPhone, and are nicely designed and well built. Now the company has announced the Macro 3-in-1 Lens kit (US$69.99 SRP) for the iPhone 5/5s, made specifically for taking those really close-up shots of everything in the world around us.

Things start off with a 7x macro lens, bump up to a 14x lens and then go into the realm of the microscope with a 21x lens. Since it's often difficult, if not downright impossible, to get properly focused on your subject when using macro lenses, Olloclip includes a pair of translucent focusing cups that make it much easier to hold the lenses the correct distance away.

As usual, Olloclip machines the lens casings out of aluminum and uses ground-glass, multi-element lenses. A small bag for the lenses is included, as are lens caps to keep everything dust- and smudge-free.

On one side of the Macro 3-in-1 Lens is the 7x macro, while the other side has the fixed 21x macro. To bump the magnification of the 7x side to 14x, you simply screw on the 14x lens and its included focusing cup if desired.

Rather than talking about how this lens works, I decided to put it to the test taking photos of two objects -- an Icelandic 1000 Kroner note and a euro coin:

In each case, the images are taken first at 7x, then at 14x and finally at 21x. As you can see, the amount of detail that the lenses can pick up at the higher magnifications is nothing short of remarkable. The images are razor-sharp at the center, but do have a tendency to lose focus at the periphery of the photos.

Conclusion

Dedicated iPhone photographers will find a lot to like in Olloclip's Macro 3-in-1 Lens. It's extremely well constructed, includes the novel focusing cups to aid in focusing on subjects and, all in all, works beautifully as a set of three macro lenses.

Pros

  • Reasonable price point, considering the quality of the lenses
  • Translucent focusing cups are useful in holding the lens at optimum focus point
  • Includes lens caps for protection

Cons

  • Focus is a little off on the periphery of images

Who is it for?

  • Anyone who uses the iPhone 5 or 5s as their primary camera and wants to have the ability to take macro shots with the device

Olloclip's Macro 3-in-1 Lens is a powerful little stocking-stuffer originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Fri, 06 Dec 2013 21:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Daily iPad App: Deer Hunter 2014 allows you to hunt even when hunting season is over

Deer Hunting season may be drawing to a close, but Dear Hunter 2014 aims (pun intended) to keep you hunting game even in the off-season. You'll get a chance to own firearms you could only dream about and can travel to locations around the world.

This hunting simulator has impressive graphics that look great on the iPad Air. The scenery and animals are very well rendered and their movement is fluid and fast, especially at the more difficult levels. I even played it on the iPad 2 and performance was still very good.

You play the game as a stationary hunter who is aiming for animals as they run or fly by you. You can move left or right to get a better angle, but you can't track an animal like you can in some simulations. You have controls to zoom in on an animal, reload your weapon or swap between weapons. Deer Hunter 2014 not only has you hunting deer as its name implies, there are a wide assortment of animals from varying locales.

Currently featuring six different locations, the game requires you to hunt trophy animals for each locale before moving on to the next one. There are about 10 trophy hunts per level. Each trophy hunt will earn you the most money in the form of hunter's bucks, which can be used to buy new firearms, energy drinks and other items. There are also regular hunts, contract hunts and club hunts that come with a smaller bounty. During the holidays, there are holiday hunt campaigns that bring new weapons and animals to the game.

There are a wide variety of firearms from which to choose including rifles, assault rifles, shotguns, and pistols. As you progress through the game you will need to purchase various upgrades to your weapons including sights, barrels, stocks, and ammunition. The more you hunt, the more money you earn and the better weapons you can buy. Having the right weapon makes all the difference in some of the upper level hunts, so it behooves you to buy the best gun you can afford.

Those interested in a quicker way to get through the game than "hunt all the time" can buy additional hunter bucks and gold via in-app purchases. Gold is a commodity in the app, used to purchase high-end weapons, add upgrades to your weapons and replenish your energy supply. You earn gold when you level up, or by watching promotional videos. There's also a promotional page that'll give you gold when you sign up for a new service. If you have some real-life cash, you can buy gold via an in-app purchase, but it is expensive.

This brings me to one of the biggest detractors for the game. Playing time is limited. You cannot just hunt for as long as you want. Deer Hunter has an energy meter that decreases every time you begin a hunt. Once the meter is depleted you must wait a certain amount of time before your energy meter fills up again and you can continue playing. It takes about 15 minutes to drain your energy and an hour to fill it up. You can instantly replenish your energy meter with gold, but that gets expensive fast.

Another aspect I did not like about Deer Hunter 2014 is that some weapons can only be purchased with gold forcing you to make an in-app purchase or spend a huge amount of time watching video ads or filling out online surveys. As much as I would like the Grantham Model 2200x, I'm not going to pay 350 gold via a US$19.99 in-app purchase to buy it. Also, there are ads for other games that pop up intermittently when you play.

Even with the above complaints, Deer Hunter 2014 manages to draw me in for short periods of time each day. The stand-out graphics and sound are some of the app's best assets. I only wish the game was not so deeply integrated with the "pay to play" revenue model. I would have preferred to pay a reasonable price for the game and progress though it without the ads and the temptation to buy gold.

Deer Hunter 2014 is available from the iOS App Store for free and is provided as a universal app for both the iPhone and iPad.

Daily iPad App: Deer Hunter 2014 allows you to hunt even when hunting season is over originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Fri, 06 Dec 2013 16:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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NeatConnect Cloud Scanner: Computerless scanning and digital filing

You've probably seen Neat's TV ads touting their new NeatConnect Cloud Scanner (US$499.95). They show someone with a desk somewhat neater than mine quickly scanning in receipts, bills, and business cards with nary a desktop computer in sight. The company sent one to TUAW for a review, so read how this latest scanner from Neat might just change your thinking about scanning ... and keeping a desktop computer around.

I have a love/hate relationship with scanners and the entire "paperless office" concept. While I'd love to get rid of every piece of paper that comes into my home and office by scanning everything and storing it in the cloud, every solution I've tried so far has at least one failing. Take, for example, my great idea of using my Epson WF-3540 all-in-one printer/scanner (it has a sheet feeder!) to grab handfuls of bills, receipts, and other paper detritus and bump them up to either Dropbox or Evernote ... or both. That sheet feeder works a lot better in theory than in practice -- it often jams if I scan documents that were folded into envelopes or if I try scanning sheets of different sizes. The software included with the Epson scanner wasn't that great, so I tried PDFScanner for Mac ($14.99). The app helped a lot in terms of turning the scans into PDFs that I could send to Dropbox and Evernote, but lacks a way to automate a lot of the process.

The NeatConnect Cloud Scanner is designed to remove the personal computer from the loop, allowing direct wireless scanning to a number of cloud services. It does this by putting a small color touchscreen onto the front of the scanner not only for entering commands, but for cropping scans if needed.

Neat's business plan appears to be oriented towards selling the Neat services rather than the scanners, but if you're averse to spending anywhere from $60 to $240 a year for their cloud storage, you can still use Dropbox, Evernote, Box.com, Google Drive or even Microsoft SkyDrive.

The scanner features 802.11b/g/n compatibility, and also has a USB port if -- for some reason -- you want to scan to your Mac. An SD card slot makes scanning directly to removable storage a possibility, perfect for situations where you may want to do scanning off-network. The scanner can do single- or double-sided scanning with a maximum resolution of 600 dpi, while scans of up to 8.5" x 30" can be done at the lower resolution of 300 dpi.

The sheet feeder on the device can take up to 15 business cards, 15 receipts, and 15 letter-size documents at one time. Take out the paper tray, and you can slam in up to 50 letter-size docs. Dimensions-wise, the scanner fills a volume of 11" width x 8.7" depth x 7.5" height, and it weighs in a 5.3 pounds.

Test Drive

For me, the proof of how good (or bad) a scanner is lies in how it works in real life, so I unboxed the review device and set it up. My first complaint? The way that the prongs are set up on the power brick insures that unless you plug it in on the end of a power strip, it will cover up three other outlets...

That aside, setup is dead simple -- plug it in, turn it on, and follow a tutorial that appears on the screen. That color touchscreen, which measures about 2" wide by 3" tall, takes you through accepting the terms and conditions of use connecting to your Wi-Fi network, connecting to NeatCloud (a subscription is included), and then using the device.

Entering the password for the network is made easy through the use of a tiny on-screen keyboard, which is smaller than what you may be used to on an iPhone. Next, the device lets new users of NeatCloud sign up for the service or existing users sign in. A few more steps, and the scanner lets you do a sample scan.

Pages and/or cards are put into the three slots on the Cloud Scanner, you are prompted for whether you'd prefer a grayscale or color scan, if the pages are single or double sided, and if you'd like scans combined into one document, and then you press a large orange button on the display. I was quite surprised at how fast the scanner whipped through a few double-sided pages, as I'm used to watching my existing scanner try to (and usually failing) pull the paper back through. Not so with the Cloud Scanner, which did both sides of the pages at once.

The scanner is even smart enough to realize if you've accidentally turned on double-sided scanning for single-sided documents, and eliminates the blank pages. That's quite impressive.

So what happens once your scans are done? They're stored on the device in an "outbox" and you just tap a "Send" button on the touchscreen to send them to the cloud. Once the documents are happily spending their time in the cloud, you can choose to do any number of things with them from either the website, the Neat desktop software, or a free iOS app.

I consider business card scanning to be the litmus test of scanners, as they usually jam or the text isn't recognized properly. I took nine different cards -- some "traditional" and some that were just plain odd -- and plopped them into the card slot. Scanning took just 12 seconds for all of those cards, with the cards being properly oriented on the touchscreen once they had been scanned. Within seconds and without any prompting on my part, those cards started appearing in the NeatCloud inbox -- not only the image, but where possible, with the data extracted into the proper fields of a contact page.

How accurate was the recognition? As you'd expect, business cards that had a traditional portrait or landscape layout worked quite well, especially those with dark type on a white background. One card (from Apple co-founder Ron Wayne!) had a photograph in the background, but still picked up important information like street address and name. Three of the cards could not be processed -- a look at them showed that they either had very odd layouts or typefaces.

Receipts scanned amazingly well and moved data into the proper fields of an expense form. The only receipt I had an issue with was one from a thermal printer that was from February -- it was faded quite a bit, but the recognition still picked up the card type, the charge date, and the type of charge (it was for a restaurant).

Next, I connected to two other cloud services: Dropbox and Evernote. Once the Dropbox connection was made, I was informed that scans would appear in the root folder... not exactly where I would have put them. I have a folder specifically for scans, and it would be nice if it was possible to direct the Cloud Scanner to drop my scans in that place. It was the same for Evernote -- scans go straight into the top level of that service.

To select between NeatCloud, Dropbox, and Evernote, you simply swipe across the touchscreen until you see the destination you desire. It's fast and easy to change destinations between scans. As you'd expect, the documents appeared in their proper cloud within seconds.

Did I ever have issues with sheet feeding? Yes -- one set of documents had been folded, and I found that I had to "counter-fold" the pages to get them to feed properly. But considering how fast the NeatConnect Cloud Scanner is, it wasn't a hassle to tweak the pages to try again -- successfully. Seriously, six pages of double-sided documents from scan to Dropbox in less than 30 seconds? Nice.

If my testing of the NeatConnect Cloud Scanner has done anything, it's made me regret buying an all-in-one device. For the type of scanning I need to do -- in other words, getting from under the avalanche of paperwork that shows up on a regular basis -- this device rocks. Side note: As I tested the scanner, I ended up clearing up a lot of paperwork that I was dreading sending through the scanner on my Epson all-in-one.

Large businesses and even small businesses with a lot of paperwork would probably be best served with a document management system that can handle a large amount of incoming paper, but for those who are self-employed or small businesses with a couple of employees, this is an almost perfect solution.

Conclusion

For small businesses or individuals and families that want to digitize their lives by turning bills, receipts, and business cards into their electronic equivalents, I can't think of a better solution than the NeatConnect Cloud Scanner. It's fast, amazingly easy to set up and use, and works seamlessly with the major cloud services. If you require the ability to have business cards and receipts entered automatically into a contact list or expense report, then the ability of the Neat services to extract that information will be well worth the cost.

Pros

  • Bright color touchscreen makes setup of network and cloud accounts fast and easy
  • Scans business cards, receipts, and documents (single- or double-sided) in seconds
  • Doesn't require a Mac or PC
  • Works with all major cloud services plus NeatCloud
  • Small footprint ensures that it won't take up a lot of room in your home or office
  • Generous return policy if you decide it's not for you

Cons

  • NeatCloud has issues recognizing some business cards or poorly printed receipt
  • Price puts it out of reach of most consumers; small businesses could expense the hardware

Who is it for?

  • Anyone who wants to digitize quantities of printed material quickly for storage in a variety of cloud services

NeatConnect Cloud Scanner: Computerless scanning and digital filing originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 05 Dec 2013 21:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Like Moleskine? You'll love the BUKcase iPad case

There's an iPad case out there for everyone: slim ones, waterproof ones, cases covered in gold bling. iPad cases nowadays are as much about style and taste as about protecting Apple's tablet. If you're into a case that's more artisan than most -- or just a fan of Moleskine notebooks -- you might want to check out the BUKcase iPad case.

Design

The BUKcase 'ORIGINALS' iPad case is designed to look like the famous notebook when closed. It has a faux black leather cover and a vinyl inside cover that comes in blue, purple, red, or grey. The model I tested was the one with the purple interior cover. Attached to the back of the case is an elastic band that is wound around it when closed -- securing the cover of the case just like a Moleskine notebook. A dime-sized hole is cut into the upper right rear of the case so you can use the iPad's camera without taking it out. Each case is made by a small team of people in Manchester, England and every unit made is labeled with a unique number stating the birthdate of the case.

Build

The top, right, and bottom sides of the the case are made of a birch plywood wooden frame with four studs that act as a Tommy lock system, keeping your iPad securely in place. The fourth-generation iPad I tested with it fit securely without rattling around. The case also features a smart sleep-wake function that wakes your iPad when you open the case cover -- just like Apple's Smart Cases do. The case also doubles as an iPad stand. Fold the front cover all the way back and lay it on a table to set the iPad at an angle; that's something people who like to use drawing apps will appreciate.

Cost

At £40.00 GBP (about US$65.00) the BUKcase 'ORIGINALS' iPad case isn't priced badly. The thing is, the case won't appeal to everyone, especially those that want a case to make their iPad feel protected. But this case isn't designed with a form-fitting mission in mind. It's designed for those artistic iPad owners out there who enjoy craftsmanship and want an iPad case that can make their tablet blend into the surround of other items they frequently carry -- like Moleskine notebooks. If you're one of these people, then I think this could be the case for you.

For American readers, you may also wish to consider cases made by DODOcase and Pad & Quill.

Like Moleskine? You'll love the BUKcase iPad case originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 05 Dec 2013 17:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Daily iPhone App: FunderCloud brings the best of Indiegogo and Kickstarter to your iPhone

We have apps to browse news, music and videos, and now there is one to peruse crowdfunded projects. FunderCloud debuted in the App Store last month and allows you to thumb through projects from both Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

The app has an iOS 7-inspired design that pulls in and displays listings from the two most popular crowdfunding websites. The app will list a firehouse of all the most popular projects, but you can filter this list by category, new projects and projects that are ending soon. There's also a search option to find projects by keyword and a favorites list that you can use to track projects you like.

When viewing a listing, FunderCloud appears to pull the content from the source website and displays it in the app. On Kickstarter projects, you'll see the link to download the Kickstarter app. Because FunderCloud is only an aggregator, there are no persistent login options within the app. You can back a project from within the app, but it is handled by the KickStarter or Indiegogo website. As a result, FunderCloud doesn't serve as a management tool that tracks your funded projects. It's merely a browser.

You can download FunderCloud from the iOS App Store for US$1.99. It's worth a download, especially if you enjoy thumbing through crowdfunding projects in your free time. And, it's a double shot allowing you access to both Kickstarter and Indiegogo at the same time, which is more convenient than browsing each site separately.

Daily iPhone App: FunderCloud brings the best of Indiegogo and Kickstarter to your iPhone originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 05 Dec 2013 10:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Improve your Mac audio with the Audioengine D3 DAC

Audioengine recently released a premium 24-bit DAC (digital to analog converter) that lets you bypass your Mac headphone jack and send the audio through a USB port. The result is an audible and sometimes dramatic improvement in music quality. The D3 is US$189.00, a very reasonable price as high-quality DACs go.

The D3 DAC allows you to stream bit-perfect native 24-bit/96 KHz HD audio. Installation is simple. The hardware unit looks like a small thumbdrive, and its aluminum housing is a perfect match for a Mac laptop. There are no drivers to install; you simply select your sound system in the preference pane and the DAC is recognized as an output device. Plug in some high-quality headphones or powered speakers and you are ready to go. There are two small LEDs on the D3 -- one shows power from the USB bus; the other shows the presence of a data stream above 48K. For listening, volume is controlled from the volume control on your Mac.

Because the D3 essentially replaces the Apple sound system, anything with audio will come through the D3, such as a game, a movie or any sound file Apple supports.

I gave the D3 a spin on some Apple lossless audio files and everything sounded excellent. Comparing the quality to the output of my built-in headphone jack was a challenge, because the D3 output is "hotter" than the regular Mac output. Adjusting for that, the audio through the D3 sounded cleaner. Quick transients like plucked strings and percussion had more of a bite to them. The sound of massed violins sounded less "electronic". Bass was deeper, but also more clearly defined. I also listened to some high-definition files from Reference Recordings, which were running at 96 KHz. The sound was obviously improved through the D3. MP3 files sounded about the same through the Apple headphone jack on my MacBook Air and the D3.

As an aside, a lot of the high-definition files I have are in FLAC format, which iTunes does not support, but the Apple Store came to the rescue with an OS X app called FLACTunes FLAC Converter ($3.99). You drag your FLAC files onto the app window, and they are converted to Apple lossless format and placed in your iTunes library.

My listening tests were done with B&W P3 headphones, Sennheiser HD600 headphones and Emotiva Airmotiv 4 powered studio speakers. The more challenging the music, the more the contrast to the basic Apple audio.

If you want the best quality from your digital files, the Audioengine D3 is worth serious consideration. Unlike some DACs, the headphone amp is built-in, and under some very challenging musical files, I never heard distortion or breakup.

Another popular product with similar features is the AudioQuest DragonFly DAC. I have not tested the DragonFly, but users give it good reviews.

The Audioengine D3 is available direct from the company with a 30-day return privilege, and all the usual online shopping sites like Amazon or B&H Photo.

I'll have to return my review sample, but certainly will buy one to use for my laptop and desktop Mac. It's that good.

Improve your Mac audio with the Audioengine D3 DAC originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 04 Dec 2013 19:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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