LiveAudio, a recently-released free update for the speaker, creates mind-bending pseudo-3D music effects; on well-mixed songs, you hear instruments and vocals that you may have never noticed before–and some music sounds as if it’s coming from surround and rear speakers that aren’t there. Another recent update, Sound Clarity, gets even bigger sound from Jambox than it already offered, and that’s saying something.
Even better, the Jambox relies on a long-lasting built-in, rechargeable battery. The company promises eight hours of battery life; I consistently get more.
The Jambox offers a great way to listen to music: It’s easy to take with you, and it sounds terrific ($200).—LEX FRIEDMAN
Juice Pack Plus
Some days, you know you’re going to work your iPhone hard. You face two choices: Fearfully watch the battery percentage tick down and dread the worst, or get an external battery pack. Oodles of vendors sell oodles of battery packs for the iPhone 4 and 4S, but none can beat Mophie's Juice Pack Plus ( ).
It’s slim, and it packs 2000 mAh (milliamp hours) of power, meaning it packs enough oomph to more than double your iPhone’s battery life. The rubbery case feels quite grippy, and the case’s buttons offer an equally satisfying tactile feel. Too many two-piece battery cases use cut-outs over the iPhone’s buttons, an approach that leads to flimsy-feeling caps and harder-to-press buttons; the Juice Pack Plus avoids that pitfall.
There are a few features every iPhone battery pack should offer, and the Juice Pack Plus includes them all: It has an on/off switch to toggle when it powers your phone; it includes four LEDs to indicate its current charge level; you can charge your phone and the battery simultaneously (and even sync with your Mac, if you so choose, through the battery), and it dramatically improves your iPhone’s battery life. I don’t leave home without mine ($100).—LEX FRIEDMAN
Mac App Store
When Apple’s Mac App Store debuted in late 2010, it was huge news. By making it dead-simple to find, purchase, install, and update Mac software, the Mac App Store had the potential to change the Mac software market the way the iOS App Store changed the iPhone. A year later, the Mac App Store is even bigger than we expected, with hundreds and hundreds of apps. Apple even made it the only way to purchase and obtain Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, the only way to purchase the latest versions of the company’s other software, and the way buyers of recent Macs update or reinstall their iLife apps.
For the typical Mac user, the Mac App Store (requires Mac OS X 10.6 or later) offers a curated, easily browsable store, free of viruses and malware, that lets you install new apps with a couple clicks. Updates are even easier: Click one button, and you’ve got the latest version of every app you’ve purchased through the store. We still have serious concerns about how the store’s policies affect certain types of software, as well as the upcoming “sandbox” restrictions. But for the moment, at least, the Mac App Store’s benefits far outweigh its drawbacks, especially for less-tech-savvy Mac users—but even for us old pros (free).—DAN FRAKES
If you spend a lot of time working with windows—and we’re confident that group includes many Mac users—Moom ( ) from Many Tricks offers a slew of features for making it easier to move and resize, especially if you frequently use particular window sizes and locations. For starters, Moom makes a window’s little green Zoom button useful: Move the cursor over that button and you can instantly reposition and resize the current window, either by choosing one of the preset window layouts, or by drawing, on a grid representing your screen, the desired window position and size; the window instantly takes its new place on the screen. Alternatively, you can press a keyboard shortcut to bring up Moom’s keyboard-control overlay, which offers the same options (and more) for keyboard jockeys.
If Moom’s stock presets aren’t to your liking, you can create your own custom window layouts and activate them with a click or a keypress. Moom can also take a snapshot of your screen and later restore all windows to that layout—doing so on your command or automatically when it senses a different display configuration ($5).—DAN FRAKES
There have been a veritable plethora of styluses flooding the market since the iPad’s release in 2010. Some target writers, some focus on navigation, and others—like the Nomad Brush ( )—seek to help you create works of art through painting and drawing. There are many styluses in this category as well, but the Nomad Brush eschews the typical aluminum-and-rubber-nib trappings of most pens on the market for a more traditional look and feel: The company’s original Nomad Brush, from almost every angle, resembles a traditional watercolor paintbrush.
Using a blend of natural and synthetic fibers, the stylus retains the feel of working with a paintbrush and incorporates full Multi-Touch support, allowing you to paint and draw on your iPad, iPhone, or other mobile device with ease. Since its initial release, the company has further iterated on the design, offering up short-tip versions for detail work, a miniature stylus for iPhone painting, and a dual-tip brush for painting and navigating.
There are already competitors lurking in the waters attempting to capitalize on the Nomad Brush’s success, to be sure—but this artistic stylus keeps on blowing them all away ($20 to $39).—SERENITY CALDWELL
When Apple released new MacBook Pros in early 2011, they featured Thunderbolt, a new connectivity technology capable of high-speed data throughput. Thunderbolt peripherals, however, took a little while to come to market. Promise was among the first with its Pegasus R6 RAID array, and it was well worth the wait.
The R6 is, in a word, fast. Our lab tests showed that the R6 using Thunderbolt was nearly seven times faster than FireWire 800 in the AJA System Read test, which simulate data transfers done by professional video equipment. The AJA System Write test results were even more impressive; the R6’s Thunderbolt results were 11 times faster than FireWire 800.
The R6 features six 7200 rpm 2TB hard drives, which are preconfigured as a RAID 5, but you can use the included easy-to-use utility to change the RAID to level 0, 1, or 10. The drives are hot swappable, so you can replace a drive on the fly. And the R6 has two Thunderbolt ports, so it’s easy to daisy chain multiple Thunderbolt devices.
You’ll need to buy a $49 Thunderbolt cable separately, but it’s a small additional cost you’ll have to pay when you consider the speed you’ll get with the R6. If you have a Thunderbolt Mac and edit video, audio, or images, or you perform some other disk-intensive task, you’ll quickly appreciate the Pegasus R6 ($1999).—ROMAN LOYOLA
It’s rare to find companies that produce products that offer elegant design, ease of operation, and software and hardware that work in harmony. Apple is one such company, Sonos—makers of multiroom music systems—is another. This year’s best example is the Play:3 ( ), a reasonably-priced powered stereo speaker system that allows you to easily stream your iTunes library as well as Internet-based music (including Internet radio, Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, MOG, Rdio, Last.fm, SiriusXM, and iheartradio) throughout your home.
Not only does the Play:3 offer solid sound, but it can be easily controlled from any iOS device with Sonos’ free Sonos Controller app for iPhone or iPad. And, as a Sonos product, it integrates with other Sonos network players allowing you to incorporate it into a whole-home audio system—one where you can choose and play different music in each room.
We’ve been hot on Sonos products for a long time thanks to this kind of design and integration. This year we sing its praises with an Eddy award ($299).—CHRISTOPHER BREEN
It’s nice enough in your own right to be one of the best games of the year, but it’s doubly so when you’re on the Mac day-and-date. This past April, Mac users got to indulge in the fun puzzlery, puns, and play of Portal 2, Valve Software’s follow-up to 2007’s Portal. The title, like many other Valve games, is available via Steam, the company’s online store. (In fact, we gave Steam an Eddy in 2010.)
Like its original, Portal 2 asks you to solve a series of puzzles using inter-spatial portals under the guise of “testing.” The sequel, however, vastly expands upon the world of the first game, introducing new plot-points, gameplay elements, and quippy characters to keep you entertained. If that weren’t enough, the game sports a fantastically fun co-op mode, letting you and a partner take control of sentient robot testers to save science together.
Portal 2 also hits that rare note many titles strive—and fail—to find: It’s accessible to both hard-core gamers and those with little to no interest in traditional video games, thanks to a hilarious script, stellar voice acting, and easy-to-understand mechanics. It’s the kind of thing you love to see in the gaming world, and we’re overjoyed to see it on the Mac ($30).—SERENITY CALDWELL
The AirPrint feature of iOS 4.2 promised to let you print wirelessly from your iOS device to any printer shared by your Mac. But it ended up working only with a few specific printers. Ecamm Network’s Printopia ( ) takes over where iOS leaves off, delivering AirPrint’s original promise and much more—and makes it available to users running Mac OS 10.7, 10.6, and even 10.5. This utility lets your Mac wirelessly share all or any configured printers, no matter how they’re connected to your Mac, with iOS devices, making it easy to print from any iOS app that supports printing.
But just as useful for many users are Printopia’s other features. Using the standard iOS print dialog, you can save a document to a folder on your Mac (for example, for saving receipts from an online purchases), save a document to your Mac’s Dropbox folder (which makes it available to any of your Dropbox-configured devices), send a document to any application on your Mac (for example, to open an iOS screenshot in your favorite image editor, or to send a document to Evernote), or process a document using any of the PDF-workflow options available in OS X print dialogs
In other words, even if you never actually print from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, Printopia can be very useful. Printopia even lets you configure your favorite printer settings—paper size, print quality, and more—for AirPrint printing. It’s become a must-have utility around the Macworld offices ($20).—DAN FRAKES
Writing checks is so last decade, especially when it seems like everybody has a credit card these days. Wouldn’t it be convenient if you could pay your friend for his share of dinner with your card? Or swipe your card next time you buy something off Craigslist? That’s the idea behind Square.
The team at Square is aiming to revolutionize payment processing; the company gives out free dongles and free apps that let businesses or individuals accept credit card payments. Most of all, though, they make the process simple: Just enter the amount, swipe your card, sign the touchscreen with your finger, and you’re done.
Because the dongle, app, and Square account are all free, the company makes its money by taking a small percentage of each payment (2.75 percent)—and that’s the same, no matter which of the four major supported credit cards you use. Payments are deposited directly into your linked bank account, and you can easily view a list of your transactions in the app or online.
The simple price structure cuts through the often byzantine terms offered by other payment processors, and the integration with popular mobile platforms like iOS and Android means that pretty much anybody can quickly start taking credit card purchases. The company also focuses on creating a payment experience that is easy, elegant, and secure—oh, and did we mention affordable? (Free.)—DAN MOREN
While Thunderbolt storage peripherals continue to slowly trickle out to market, Apple’s 27-inch Thunderbolt Display ( ) lets owners of Thunderbolt-equipped Macs take advantage of the new technology.
The Thunderbolt Display has a lot in common with Apple’s 27-inch LED Cinema Display ( ), in fact they look identical from most angles, cost the same, and use identical 2560 by 1440 pixel, LED backlit screens. The major difference is in the back of the Thunderbolt Display, where you’ll find three USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 port, a gigabit ethernet port and a Thunderbolt port—that’s twice as many connection ports than the LED Cinema Display.
Compatible only with those Macs with Thunderbolt, this display should be most attractive to owners of the 2011 MacBook Air, as the Thunderbolt Display brings some seriously fast I/O connections never before available to Apple’s smallest laptop. Before the Thunderbolt Display, connecting a MacBook Air to a wired LAN required an optional USB to Ethernet connector, and external drives were limited to pokey USB 2.0 transfer speeds. Now, MacBook Air users can use gigabit ethernet and FireWire 800 through the Thunderbolt Display while waiting for Thunderbolt drives to become more available and more affordable ($999).—JAMES GALBRAITH