iReal Pro for Mac review: A harmonious practice tool for musicians

At the risk of giving away the secrets of musicians everywhere, there are bound volumes of (sometimes legal) musical scores called “fake books.” Rather than denoting every note and rest within a composition, they instead offer a "lead sheet" made up of a single melody line and chord headings. It’s then the musician’s job to devise an arrangement (read: fake their way through) based on this bare outline. The most well known of these fake books is the Real Book, which is full of jazz standards.

I mention all this to give you some idea where iReal Pro (Mac App Store link) gets its name. (iReal Pro is available in versions for iOS, Android, and the Mac; I discuss the Mac version, which costs $20, here.)

iReal Pro is more than a collection of musical scores (known as “charts” to us hep-cats). It’s additionally an auto-accompaniment application rudimentarily similar to PG Music’s $129 Band-in-a-Box. The idea is that you select a chart and press Play, and iReal Pro plays a three-instrument backing track—drums, bass, and piano (or guitar), for example. Your job is to play or sing along with this virtual band.

Read more »


iResizer review: Get your images to fit, without cropping

When it comes to Instagram, I usually prefer to post images that I took on my phone. But some people like to use the image-sharing service as a highlight reel for their DSLR images—which is great, but chances are those photos weren’t shot with a square aspect ratio.

You could crop your images, of course, but the $20 iResizer (Mac App Store link; currently on sale for $2) offers a different option: The app’s content-aware resizing tools fit all of your image—no cropping involved—into a square frame, maintaining the original aspect ratio of the important parts.

resizer 05
You mark the parts of an image you want to keep at the original aspect ratio, then let iRisizer make the overall image square.
Read more »


Ulysses III review: Document writing and management in one

I didn’t use to be a fan of Markdown, a plain-text syntax that’s designed to be easy to write and read while letting you easily publish to HTML. I write to HTML for several blogs and websites, but I’ve been fluent enough in that language over the years to be comfortable typing the code directly. (I also use a number of TextExpander shortcuts to handle some of that code for me, so I don’t need to remember the details of certain tags.) In addition, Markdown handles only a subset of HTML tags for styling text, and I often need other, more-complex tags. But if you’ve read my reviews of Mac writing apps here at Macworld, you may have noticed that I’ve slowly been coming around to Markdown—for much of what I write, it does what I need with little complication.

These days, many Mac writing apps support Markdown, though they handle Markdown code in different ways, and they offer different approaches to HTML previews—from showing a preview in a separate window, to showing text and previews side by side in the same window.

The Soulmen’s $45 Ulysses III (Mac App Store link) takes a different tack, showing styling right inline with your text: When you apply styling to a bit of text—such as the italics on the word “with” just above—Ulysses shows the text in the style you’ve applied, with the style-syntax characters displayed in a lighter or darker color (depending on which theme you use).

Read more »


System Lens review: View app CPU usage with a click

Whenever the fans in my MacBook Pro suddenly rev up, I use the built-in Activity Monitor app (Applications > Utilities) to see what’s going on. But I’ve often wished for a quicker and easier way to check my Mac’s activity than having to open Activity Monitor.

The free System Lens (Mac App Store link) offers a compromise: It resides in the menu bar, and when you click its icon, you see a snapshot of which apps are actively using your computer’s resources.

system lens 04
System Lens provides one-click access to a list of apps using processor resources.
Read more »


LaunchBar 6 review: Do-everything utility gets (and looks) even better

LaunchBar, the keyboard-based app that offers a faster way to open the applications and files you use most, started 20 years ago as a folder full of shell scripts that could be triggered by a specific abbreviation typed into a Terminal shell. It was clever, but clunky. It didn’t take long, however, for the developers behind LaunchBar, Objective Development, to realize that their folder full of scripts would be much more powerful as an actual launching application—as a bar that helps you launch things—with an index of everything on the computer, thus allowing the app itself to figure out what it is you’re searching for.

That’s how LaunchBar was born, and it was immediately useful. Today, however, LaunchBar, recently updated to version 6, is the single most important utility I have installed on my Mac.

LaunchBar’s bar
Read more »


Reeder 2 for Mac review: Consume RSS with speed, style

These days, though I seem to get more and more of my news through Twitter, I haven’t yet been able to ditch RSS, in large part because there’s something about it that still feels comprehensive. Still, I’ve been looking for a better RSS experience on my Mac, and I’ve alit upon Silvio Rizzi’s new Reeder 2 for Mac ($10; Mac App Store link), an update to the original Reeder for Mac.

Built around a multi-paned interface, Reeder presents a logical hierarchy of RSS: At the far left are your accounts—you can connect to one or more feed-syncing services such as Feedly, Feedbin, FeedWrangler, and Fever. (You can also, if you prefer, use Reeder without using a sync service, as long as you don’t need to sync between multiple devices.) For each account, you can specify settings such as the frequency of retrieval, how items are marked as read, subscription sorting, and more.

reeder unread
Reeder's dynamic, multi-pane interface keeps the content you care about close at hand, while hiding the stuff you don't immediately need.
Read more »


Write for Mac review: Solid note-taking app doubles as a Markdown editor

I’ve written about a number of “focused-writing apps” for Mac—text editors that let you focus on your words, shutting out other computer-based distractions. Tanmay Sonawane’s new $10 Write (Mac App Store link) brings that same philosophy to a note-taking app. With Markdown support and the capability to share texts in a wide variety of formats, Write offers some powerful text-editing features wrapped up in a note-taking context.

Write offers a single-window interface. Along the left-hand side of the window is a list of locations where you’ve stored files. If you want to use the companion iOS app and sync your documents between iOS and Mac, you’ll want to opt for Dropbox or iCloud, but you can work with files in any folder (including folders that sync with other cloud services, such as Google Drive or Box). You can also work with files in multiple locations, so you can maintain separate folders for, say, work and personal notes.

The middle (Notes) column lists the notes in the selected location, along with a short preview of each and information about its size and when it was last saved. The large editor pane on the right-hand side shows the text of the selected note. (You can open a note in its own window, by right-clicking it in the Notes column and choosing Open in New Window, but doing so is purely optional.) Write also offers a full-screen, distraction-free mode that you access by right-clicking a note, or by using the View menu.

Read more »