Mini-review: Libre, the ultra-thin & spill-proof iPad keyboard (with a rather less thin case)

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As someone who uses his iPad for email and writing as much as for media consumption, I’m a big fan of physical keyboards. My current favorites are the ClamCase Pro and Brydge, each of which offers a near-Macbook quality moving keyboard.

But if you’ve ever been deterred by the bulk or weight of a full moving keyboard, the Libre – a new iPad Air/2 keyboard case that launched yesterday on Kickstarter – may be worth a look. The keyboard itself is just 5mm thick and weighs only 200g, yet manages to squeeze in a backlight and the ability to switch between up to three devices. I’ve been using a prototype version for the past few days …  Read more

Review: Fantastical 2 for Mac graduates to a full calendar replacement w/ Yosemite widget+extension, much more

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Fantastical’s ability to parse natural language input and create detailed appointment entries on your calendar has always been the primary reason to use it instead of or in addition to Apple’s own Calendar app on the Mac. Apple Calendar has picked up some language parsing smarts in recent updates, too, but it still doesn’t match Fantastical’s control and real-time appointment preview.

Still, I say in addition to because Fantastical for Mac has lived in the menu bar next to your clock, WiFi status, and other utilities where you can quickly access it for reference or adding an appointment from anywhere in the OS. The menu bar app includes a compact month view calendar above a streamlined, scrollable list view of appointments and reminders, but sometimes it’s nice to stretch out and view your schedule in a different context.

So when Fantastical first debuted on iPad almost a year ago putting the efficient list view next to a larger full calendar, I wrote optimistically that “the iPad’s app design could spill over into a future version of the Mac app (maybe as a dock app rather than a menu bar app).”

What Fantastical 2 for Mac actually became is even better: the same menu bar calendar users know and love (but new and improved!), and a full-sized calendar app with an optional dock icon. Both have been designed with the aesthetics of OS X Yosemite in mind and loads of under-the-hood features and improvements including the ability to actually change which calendars you see based on your location. Read more

Review: ‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ depicts a late-maturing iCEO with a growing heart and softened edges

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Several years after Steve Jobs’ untimely death, journalists — particularly ones who previously interviewed or covered Jobs — are still combing their archives for underreported facts or quotes that might justify new books on Apple’s enigmatic CEO. Naturally, the overlap with earlier works is significant, as new authors repeatedly acknowledge leaning on Michael Moritz’s (Return to) The Little Kingdom and Owen Linzmayer’s Apple Confidential 2.0, among many others. But there’s still an opportunity to bring new details to light, which is why Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli’s Becoming Steve Jobs ($12+/Amazon, $13/iBookstore) exists. Over 400 pages in length, it aims primarily to set the record straight about one key facet of Jobs’ life — he was a better man at age 56 than he was at 21 — but includes enough interesting anecdotes about Apple and Jobs’ other pursuits to be worth reading.

Although Becoming Steve Jobs follows a mostly familiar storytelling arc, Schlender and Tetzeli’s strengths come from two sources: direct access to Jobs from the mid-1980’s until 2011, and interviews with major players conducted after Jobs’ death. While their quotes tend to be short and in service of the larger narrative, the list of participating heavy hitters is non-trivial: Laurene Powell Jobs represents the Jobs family, alongside current Apple executives Tim Cook, Jony Ive and Eddy Cue, ex-Apple executives Jon Rubinstein, Tony Fadell, Katie Cotton, Fred Anderson and Avie Tevanian, Jobs’ top ad men Regis McKenna and Lee Clow, Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and Disney CEO Bob Iger. Given that access, it’s perhaps not a surprise that the book paints a largely sympathetic portrait, but the authors also gave participants room to speak candidly about how Jobs’ “sharp elbows” affected them personally and professionally…

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Review: Vellum, the ebook generator for Mac with added prettiness

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One of the great things about technology is the way it has democratized the publishing world. Today, anyone can publish an ebook on iBooks and Amazon, whether as a freebie or a commercial book.

Creating an ebook isn’t difficult. If you’ve written your book in Pages, you can export to EPUB–the format needed for iBooks–direct from the app. There is also the excellent Calibre app (featured in our How-to guide), which will convert just about any file format to any type of ebook. There’s also iBooks Author, but that has the disadvantage that if you use it to create your book, you’re not allowed to sell the iBooks version through other channels.

But as I found out when I came to create my own ebook, generating an ebook that looks attractive on all of the different devices available is a rather tougher challenge. That’s the job the Mac app Vellum claims to do, so I put it to the test …  Read more

‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ on Jobs’s Personal Life, Friends, and Enemies

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Becoming Steve Jobs, the new biography of Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, will be officially released tomorrow by Crown Business/Penguin Random House, and is currently available as a pre-order from Amazon/iBooks. I’ve been reading an advance copy of the book, and it’s packed with interesting details — including some not previously known — about Jobs’ personal life, friends, and enemies.

For instance, Schlender and Tetzeli add color to some of the previously known defining moments in Jobs’ life, including the birth of his daughter Lisa and son Reed, and his marriage to Laurene Powell. The book notes that Jobs was not there for Lisa’s birth, which took place at the apple orchard that inspired his company’s name, and later appeared to regret that he’d made a mistake missing the major life event. He became a devoted family man after marrying Laurene — notably at Yosemite National Park — and made time most evenings to have dinner with his wife and kids, but continued to work late into the night from computers at his home. According to the book, Jobs laughed most deeply and often when interacting with his kids, and was there for Reed’s birth; the “hippie” couple even allowed the infant to sleep in bed with them at first…

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Review: TrackR Bravo locates lost items with Bluetooth 4, and without requiring yearly replacement

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Two years ago, the Tile Bluetooth tracking device raised over $2.6 million in a crowdfunding campaign, thanks in part to an expansive ad run that seemed to blanket the entire Internet. Elegantly designed with a square plastic housing, Tile paired a low-energy Bluetooth chip with a battery, letting you track any attached item using a Bluetooth 4-enabled iPhone. Each Tile can track keys, a purse, or even a roaming pet for a year before the battery dies, at which point you are supposed to replace it. The first Tiles shipped last year, and can now be had for $20 each versus their standard $25 retail price.

I skipped Tile because I don’t like products that need to be replaced when their batteries die. Over the course of reviewing thousands of Apple accessories, I’ve watched some companies waste vast quantities of plastic, metal, magnets, and packing materials, and I try not to buy things that are designed to be worthless after a short period of time. (Note: Users are encouraged to recycle Tiles by buying discounted replacements and mailing old units back to the company.) So a new Tile competitor called TrackR Bravo ($29) appealed to me. Made partially from anodized aluminum, it’s shaped like a dog tag and designed to be kept rather than tossed away. The core functionality is the same as Tile’s, but Bravo’s battery can be replaced with ease. You can also use Bravo to locate a misplaced iPhone, and optionally sound a separation alarm whenever your iPhone and Bravo get too far away from one another…

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Review: TaoTronics’ Bluetooth 4 Car Kit for iPhone adds low-cost speakerphone, music to older cars

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Up until recently, no one complained about the way iPhones sounded through my cars’ Bluetooth speakerphones, but after switching to an iPhone 6 Plus and a Toyota Prius, friends and family told me that ambient noise has been increasing to distracting levels during our phone calls. If it wasn’t for those complaints, I would never have thought to test an alternative such as TaoTronics’ TT-BR03 Bluetooth 4.0 Hands-Free Car Kit ($30, currently $25 on Amazon). Most cars these days include Bluetooth speakerphone and music streaming support, but this inexpensive accessory is here for cars that don’t — and for cars exhibiting weird audio-related bugs with iPhones. Judging from its 4.8/5-Star Amazon reviews across over 130 customers, plenty of people still need solutions like this for one of these reasons.

TT-BR03 combines a wired noise-cancelling microphone and three-button remote control with a car charger, using Bluetooth 4.0 and a 3.5mm audio plug to route your iPhone’s audio into a car’s speakers. If your car doesn’t have a 3.5mm aux-in port, you’re out of luck, because TT-BR03 doesn’t have a built-in speaker. But if you do have an aux port, it provides a very competent speakerphone and music streaming experience at a very low price.

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The best iPhone/iPad USB flash drives with Lightning connectors

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There are now several companies selling USB thumb drives for iPhone and iPad since the first ones with built-in Lightning connectors debuted late last year. By connecting a small and lightweight thumb drive directly to your iOS device, you can avoid limitations of onboard storage and cloud services and instead store and stream media like music, video, and photos using the drive’s additional storage.

A few things to consider when searching for the right Lightning drive: some have a battery that requires charging, companion apps for managing and streaming content from an iOS device vary in quality, and I found some have designs that make using the drives and your iOS device at the same time easier than others. Lastly, pricing varies quite a bit based on the the options below with drives ranging from 8GB to 256GB and other options offering bring-your-own storage using a micro SD card slot. Read more

Review: Eyefi’s new Mobi Pro brings improved durability, capacity to wireless SD cards for iOS photographers

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As a photographer, I’ve been thrilled to see iPhones become compelling replacements for standalone point-and-shoot cameras. Our world has improved in both measurable and immeasurable ways from widespread, immediate access to quality photography; the images documenting our lives are more compelling and numerous than ever before.

But professional photographers toting DSLRs now struggle to stand out from amateurs with iPhones. The Chicago Sun-Times infamously fired its entire photography department in favor of using images from iPhones and wire services, a move mocked by other newspapers but embraced by some broadcast journalists. Fixed-lens, small-sensor iPhones can’t match standalone cameras in image quality, particularly in dark settings, but they’re hard to beat in speed and convenience.

The question is how to combine the immediacy of iPhone photography with the quality offered by superior cameras. For me, the answer has been Eyefi‘s SD cards, which wirelessly transfer a standalone camera’s photos to an iPhone or iPad for rapid editing and sharing. (See my How-To on transferring, editing, and sharing DSLR/point-and-shoot photos with an iPhone or iPad for more details.)

Eyefi’s first $100 card contained 2GB of flash memory and a Wi-Fi chip; since then, every Eyefi card has improved on the same concept, so the brand-new 32GB Mobi Pro ($100) isn’t so much a surprise as the culmination of everything the company has done before. It has the highest storage capacity, broadest file support, and easiest workflow of any Eyefi card I’ve tested. Most importantly, it brings a more durable enclosure that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to any potential reader, originally introduced in Eyefi’s more affordable non-Pro Mobi cards. Read on for all the details…

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Mini-review: Oneadapter Twist/Plus World Charging Station (Video)

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Standardizing on USB was arguably the best thing ever to happen to gadget lovers. Instead of having an unholy mess of chargers cluttering up your home, you just need a few USB cables and something to plug them into. I’ve previously reviewed the Lightning Rabbit Triforce and Truffol Station 5 USB chargers, which offer stylish options for the home or office. We’ve also reviewed a bunch of others.

When travelling, though, I pack light. I tend to just charge everything from my MacBook Pro, which is convenient but doesn’t offer the fastest of charging speeds. The Oneadapter Twist and Twist Plus World Charging Stations are designed to overcome that issue, offering a combined USB charger and international plug adapter …  Read more

Review: Anker’s 60W 6-Port USB Charger is ready for your family’s iPads, iPhones, and Watches

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USB chargers aren’t sexy, but they’re critically important to iOS users — so vital that every iPhone and iPad arrives with a basic one-port charger in the box. Without USB recharging assistance, these devices would literally be dead after one day of active use. And the more Apple devices you (or your family) use every day, the more valuable a multi-device charging hub becomes. When I travel with my wife and kids, I can’t leave the house without a charging solution for everyone’s iPads and iPhones.

Up until two or three years ago, few families had five or six Apple devices. Moreover, early multi-device chargers were expensive: Griffin charged $100 for an early five-port charging station, and Bluelounge charged $100 for a four-port version. But that’s changing. iPads are cheaper than ever, iPhones are more ubiquitous than ever, and Apple Watches are about to add “one more thing” to the list of Apple devices requiring a daily charge. Thankfully, great multi-device chargers have become affordable; RAVPower’s Bolt 6-Port USB Wall Charger impressed me last year for $27, and a slightly less powerful version now sells for $25. Over the past week, I’ve been testing something even better: the most powerful home and travel charging hub I’ve ever seen.

Correctly billed as “family-sized,” Anker’s 60W 6-Port Desktop USB Charger ($36) features an intelligent power management system that lets any of its ports recharge any iPad, iPhone, iPod, or other USB accessory at its top possible speed, sharing 60 watts of power across them. You can recharge six iPad Airs or iPad minis at peak 10W speeds, or five older, power-hungrier third- and fourth-generation iPads at their peak 12W speeds. There’s no need to confirm that you’re using the right type of port for your device, as all of Anker’s ports self-regulate power up to 12W as appropriate. Read on for more details…

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