$400 with one wool cover or $450 with three covers; Libratone
We see an awful lot of AirPlay speakers, but the Zipp stands out for a few reasons. First, it offers great sound: A 4-inch bass driver and two 1-inch, ribbon-based tweeters combine to generate impressively full audio with substantial lower-end presence. It’s an excellent music speaker. But beyond working as a traditional AirPlay speaker, the Zipp also includes a feature called PlayDirect, which allows you to play music from your iOS device (or other source) even when no network is available. In those situations, the Zipp creates its own Wi-Fi network, and you simply connect your device to it and start streaming. That makes the Zipp perfect for picnics, especially when you consider its 8-hour battery life and built-in carrying strap.
Getting the Zipp on your home network is a cinch, too: Just plug it in to an iOS device over USB, and it can inherit your Wi-Fi settings in an instant—no further configuration required. To top everything off, the Zipp looks hip, and it’s customizable: Unzip the cloth cover it’s wearing, and put on another to suit your mood or décor. The $400 version of the Zipp includes one wool cover (either gray or red), while the $450 version includes three covers (either red, blue, and dark gray, or yellow, pink, and dark gray).—Lex Friedman
Apple TV Software Update 5.0
Free with Apple TV hardware; Apple
The big change with the third-generation Apple TV model, released in March, was support for 1080p video resolution (versus 720p on the previous generation). But both models have the same software, which saw a significant overhaul this year as well. Foremost is a completely reworked interface, which offers faster access to all content types. And speaking of content, Apple added Hulu Plus to its non-iTunes Store options. You’ll also find new screensaver images and options, a Shared Photo Stream feature, improved AirPlay support, better subtitle support for the hearing impaired, and lots of other small tweaks that make using the Apple TV a better experience.—Jonathan Seff
The previous version of the AirPort Express—the one that was essentially a giant wall wart that plugged into a power outlet—was a nice network device, but since it wasn’t meant to work as a full-featured router, it had its limitations. With its 2012 redesign, however, the AirPort Express reaches its potential. Apple added a second ethernet port, which allows both a WAN connection (to a broadband modem or a larger network) and a LAN connection (to a computer or to an ethernet switch). The new support for simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi permits your devices to get the fastest connection possible. And the new guest-network option lets you set up a separate network for temporary users. These improvements make it a much more compelling network device.—Roman Loyola
Panic’s Coda is awfully close to a perfect coding app for Web developers. Like the original version of the software, Coda 2 aims to serve as an all-in-one program, combining its code editor with an integrated Terminal client, a CSS editor, FTP/SFTP support, and in-app live Web previews. But the new version of Coda provides significant enhancements, too, adding developer-favorite features such as code folding, autocompletion of custom functions, a built-in MySQL tool, and improved syntax coloring. It introduces visual tabs that make finding the tab you’re looking for delightfully easy. It makes navigating across different sections of your site incredibly simple, with its innovative path-bar menus. And it doesn’t just include the option to preview your webpages in iPhone and iPad frames: If you use Coda in conjunction with Panic’s iPad app Diet Coda, you can get live previews on the iPad screen, wirelessly, as you code.—Lex Friedman
Plans start at $1.50 per month for 10GB of online storage; Codefortytwo Software
With customizable plans and different options for restoring missing files, Codefortytwo Software’s CrashPlan+ has much to love. Although this cloud-backup software has been around for a while, the vast improvements in its mobile app and its now-seamless integration between linked machines, Web-based recovery through CrashPlan Central, and the mobile system made CrashPlan+ shine this year.
CrashPlan+ offers three basic plans: CrashPlan+ (starts at $1.50 per month for 10GB of online storage and one computer), CrashPlan+ Unlimited (starts at $3 per month for unlimited online storage and one computer), and CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited (starts at $6 per month for unlimited online storage with two to ten computers). Your data resides on CrashPlan’s servers, and the program backs up multiple versions of your documents, all via the Internet. Want to back up your external backup drive? No problem—CrashPlan+ can do that, too.
The option to back up to multiple destinations means you will never be out of luck in case of a crash: If something happens to one backup location (such as your MacBook), you’ll still have the data on CrashPlan’s local server. You can easily restore it from another machine through CrashPlan’s website, or pull a backup from CrashPlan’s desktop software on any Mac you have linked to your account. And through the iOS app, you can open files on your iPad or iPhone straight from your CrashPlan backup, or check the status of a backup in progress.—Leah Yamshon
Free; Personal Capital
First there was Mint, and Mint was good: It’s a free website that aggregates all your bank accounts and investments. But then came Personal Capital. This website aggregates your savings and checking accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts, investments, and any other financial data you throw at it, and then displays easy-to-read charts and graphs outlining your money coming in and your money going out. You’ll know at a glance whether you’re building or depleting your savings, and you can choose custom timeframes to better analyze your data.
What’s more, the company offers an excellent app for iOS, and like the service itself, the app is free. Whether from your Mac via the Web, or on your iOS device, you can contact Personal Capital’s advisers for insights and advice on your financial situation. You can even initiate live chats, email correspondence, phone calls, and FaceTime conversations with the advisers—free of charge. Personal Capital hopes that you’ll be so pleased with its advice that you’ll be motivated to have the company manage some of your finances as well. But even if you skip that step and benefit from the wealth of wealth-related data the company provides by analyzing your accounts, signing up for the free service is a worthy investment.—Lex Friedman
The frustration is immense when you’re dealing with a spotty Wi-Fi connection—especially if that connection is in your own home or business. NetSpot, a software utility for analyzing and troubleshooting Wi-Fi networks, is an essential tool. It determines the rough location of your base stations, and maps out the strong and weak points of Wi-Fi coverage in a building. You can then use the information to adjust your base stations accordingly, or to figure out where to put Wi-Fi expanders. Even though NetSpot is a networking utility, it uses friendly visual cues to help you understand the collected data. Best of all, NetSpot is a free tool. (Versions for commercial use are also available.)—Roman Loyola
My Book VelociRaptor Duo
$859; Western Digital
With two 1TB, 10,000-rpm drive mechanisms and two Thunderbolt ports, Western Digital’s My Book VelociRaptor Duo offers the stuff that media professionals’ dreams are made of—namely, speed and capacity. Although I’ve seen my share of Thunderbolt storage products that use SSDs, 5400-rpm laptop hard drives, and 7200-rpm 3.5-inch hard drives, the VelociRaptor is the first I’ve encountered to use fast 10,000-rpm hard drives. The all-black VelociRaptor Duo comes formatted for Mac as an HFS+, RAID 0 (or striped) volume for fastest performance, but you can easily set it up for RAID 1 mirroring for easy redundancy. Its simple-to-access case makes swapping out drives a tool-less breeze, should one ever fail.
Thunderbolt supports up to six devices connected simultaneously; and by offering two Thunderbolt ports, the VelociRaptor Duo allows you to daisy-chain devices and gives you flexibility as to where to add on the Thunderbolt chain. Heck, it even comes with its own Thunderbolt cable.—James Galbraith
FileMaker Pro 12
Since the early days of the Mac, FileMaker has been a longtime favorite for business users, and for good reason—the database program keeps getting better with age. The latest version has a great set of starter solutions for novice users who want to create a new database. The program’s 40 new themes help users quickly build attractive and useful databases that are also designed to work on iOS devices. And just when you think FileMaker can’t get any more dynamic, the company makes welcome improvements to container fields and the charting tools. As mature as FileMaker is, it’s still undergoing some growing pains: FileMaker 12 uses a new file format, and old FileMaker files will need conversion, but fortunately the process is easy. FileMaker marches on, and in the right direction.—Roman Loyola