review

Watermarker

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Don Southard is a really clever guy. He comes up with some amazing little solutions for getting more done on your Mac and he's also a really fine writer with his pieces over at MacStories. Don just recently released a new application for the Mac, Watermarker. I like it. It's a simple application that consistently applies watermarks to images. My wife is using it every day right now as she writes her ongoing series about Christmas ornaments. If you want an easy way to watermark photographs and want to support a standup guy, check out Watermarker.

OmniOutliner for iPad Review

The day the Omni Group releases a new iPad app always feels a little bit like productivity-nerd Christmas. There is always a lot of anticipation leading up to the event and, despite having spent far too much time thinking about how the Omni UI wizards will go about it, you always find a few unexpected surprises. With today’s release of OmniOutliner for iPad ($20), the Christmas metaphor holds up.

Last year, no sooner did we get OmniFocus installed than we all immediately started clamoring for OmniOutliner. So now it is here. How does OmniOutliner stack up against are expectations? I’ve been using the app through the beta and report the Omni Group delivered, again.

Interface and Iteration

What puts the Omni Group applications above others is their unwillingness to accept “good enough.” The Omni Group spends a lot of time getting the touch interface right. With each new iPad app, they realize they are blazing a trail. They generally throw out all the assumptions made with building an interface for a traditional keyboard and mouse and start over. OmniOutliner is not a simple port of the Mac OS X app. Instead, it is a ground up, outlining application built around the iPad’s strengths (and weaknesses).

Outlining

Outlining real simple. Type an entry and then use the arrow icon buttons at the bottom of the screen to promote or demote entries. For speed outlining, that is it. No magic incantations or multiple button taps. Type the words. Set the level. Move on.

To type on a line, double tap it. A curser drops in and the iPad on-screen keyboard jumps to life. Once done editing, tap the row handle to the left and OmniOutliner exits edit mode. The row handles also include icons to display row level. Any rows without children appear as a dot. Rows with children have an oversized disclosure triangle. Tapping the triangle will collapse and expand the children points below it. OmniOutliner also includes the ability to add notes in an option text field below individual entries. This is one of the Mac OS X features that came over to iPad and it is damn useful.

Tapping the Edit button brings up a series of editing tools to move, group, and delete individual entries. Even easier though is grabbing and moving the row handles and moving manually.

Columns and Customization

It wouldn’t be OmniOutliner without columns and the iPad iteration delivers. You can add columns of various formats including text, numbers, date, duration, pop-up list, and checkboxes. Everything is intuitive and creating and styling new columns is easy. With certain formats, like numbers, OmniOutliner will optionally perform a math functions providing totals, averages, minimum and maximum values, and additional functions.

There is a lot of customization available under the hood. Tapping the Tools icon button opens a popover that lets you set styles and view for the entire document or the current selection. You can also create custom styles for certain outline levels. The screenshot, for instance set a tan background, bold typeface, and numbering for the level one entries.

One of the many nice touches are the built in color schemes. The color picker includes a series of custom palettes. These are the same color options available in the iPad OmniGraffle app and much better than those available in the Mac OS X color picker.

Document Management

Document management is handled in the document view. This app feels a lot like Apple’s iWork apps in this regard. You flick between documents and tap one to open it. There are also options to open documents from iDisk or a WebDAV server. There is no Dropbox access. The Omni Group explained that they are still exploring ways to make online sync better. However, if you really need that Dropbox sync, you can use a DropDAV account and access your Dropbox files via WebDAV. You can also export outlines to iDisk, WebDAV, and iTunes or send them as a mail attachment. Export options include the OmniOutliner format, HTML (both simple and dynamic), plain text, and my beloved OPML.

Summary

When the iPad was first announced, OmniOutliner was one of those apps that I thought would be perfect for it. I often use outlines for brainstorming and organizing thoughts. I also use OmniOutliner to take depositions and prepare witness examinations. Furthermore, every one of the last fifty episodes of the Mac Power Users started life as an OmniOutline. I miss the templates available in OmniOutliner Pro on my Mac and native Dropbox support would have been nice but I’ve been using the iPad OmniOutliner exclusively for a month and the iPad has supplanted my Mac as my “go to” outlining device. Like mind mapping, outlining really lends itself to the touch interface. The Omni Group just “gets” the iPad and it is no surprise that they nailed it again with OmniOutliner for iPad.

Tom Bihn Ristretto for 13" MacBook Air Review

Over the past year, I’ve changed up my mobile gear. I got my beloved iPad and sold my once mighty MacBook Pro in exchange for an underpowered 13” MacBook Air, which I adore.

Leading up to Macworld, I decided I was going to spoil myself with a fancy-pants case for the MacBook Air. I ended up with a nice leather bag that gave me that perfect hipster look necessary for a trip to San Francisco. The trouble is, my bag had a lousy strap and it was uncomfortable carrying it around all day. I toyed with the idea of doing some surgery on the strap to install my Tom Bihn Absolute Strap but there was really no way to do it right. So I sat there looking at my Tom Bihn Ristretto iPad case and thought it sure would be nice if it held my MacBook. After that obvious revelation, a quick trip to Tom Bihn’s site revealed that, indeed, Tom Bihn does make such a bag, the Ristretto for the 13” MacBook/MacBook Air.

The Ristretto is a vertical messenger bag, letting you slide your MacBook Air down inside sideways. Both sides of the laptop compartment are padded but only one has the nice soft nylon material (the other side is a relatively soft canvas) so you need to give some thought as to how you align the MacBook when you slide it in. The compartment easily holds both the 13” MacBook, 13” MacBook Pro, and their thinner sibling, the 13” MacBook Air. Ideally there would be some more foam padding in the bottom of the laptop compartment since one very likely damage vector comes from dropping the bag and it landing on its bottom. I cut a length of stiff packing foam and dropped it in mine. With that slight modification, I’m satisfied with the protection this bag affords my MacBook Air.

There is a second large compartment next to the laptop sleeve that works great for holding my iPad. There is also a zippered compartment (nice for holding my wallet and other important bits and pieces) and several other small sewn compartments that hold pens, Field Notes, a USB hard drive, and a few cables. Interestingly, I don’t normally carry my AC Power adapter. Instead I leave it in the car since I so rarely need it when out and about.

There are also three o-rings, letting you attach keys, pouches, and other items. Tom Bihn sells several accessories for the bag so you can trick it out as you please. One of the o-rings includes and 8” key strap. The back of the Ristretto has a slanted, open-top pocket great for holding the mail or other random papers.

The bag ships with removable waist straps helpful to secure the bag to your body if you are active. The straps unclip easily so you don’t have them hanging on when not needed. There are multiple color schemes available. I went with black and steel.

The Ristretto ships with a nice wide shoulder strap but for more comfort, pay the extra $20 for the Absolute Shoulder Strap. This strap includes a soft neoprene pad. It is both light and comfortable. It is the nicest strap I’ve ever used on a bag. It is so nice that I attach it to any bag I use. Also, it appears they’ve nailed the problem with the strap squeaking that I had when I looked at the iPad Ristretto bag.

At $140 (including the Absolute Strap), the Tom Bihn Ristretto for 13” MacBook is no small investment but I believe it is worth it. This is a well crafted bag, made in the USA, that I plan to use for years to come.

Kensington Presenter Pro Review

My beloved remote has failed me. I’ve been using it for at least 6 years without a hitch and suddenly (despite new batteries, cleaning the contacts, and a few kindly whacks) it has stopped advancing slides. So time for a new one and I took advantage of Macworld Expo to do some shopping.

For me the perfect remote has four buttons: advance, backward, dark screen, and laser. I don’t want extra bells and whistles that I will start pressing in nervous fits. So that was my shopping list, a Mac friendly remote with just the right number of buttons. I found my new remote on the expo floor, the Kensington Presenter Pro with Green Laser and Memory.

The Kensington Presenter Pro ($99) (find the manual here) fits nicely in my hand and features four buttons: slide advance, slide back, laser, and dark screen. It includes a dongle that stores inside the remote. The device works on a 2.4 GHz wireless signal that worked for me up to about 100 feet. Everything just works on the Mac. What really makes this remote shine however are the little details

The Laser

The Kensington Presenter Pro uses a green laser. While green lasers aren’t as unique as they used to be, they are still a lot more rare than red lasers, which is great. When I’m speaking, my green laser looks different, and that’s good. People know when I point. There is also some science involved. Green light is right in the middle of the visible spectrum where red light is on the edge (meaning less visible). So it has a bright shiny laser with a different color. That’s a plus.

The Thumb Drive

The USB key does more than talk to the remote. It also has 2 GB of onboard storage and a micro SD slot supporting cards up to 32 GB. That means you can put a copy of your Keynote right on the thumb stick as a last ditch back up in case everything else goes wrong. It also means you could conceivably walk in a room with a remote only, plug it in to a Mac and start talking.

The Power Switch

Another nice touch is the inclusion of a sliding power switch. My old remote didn’t have one and it made me crazy. You never knew when the laser might get accidentally pressed in my bag and I’d get to my location to find the batteries dead. As a result, I still have this manic desire to carry extra AAAs whenever I speak.

The Case

The Presenter Pro also includes a zippered case form fitted to hold your remote. It fits nicely in my bag without a big footprint.

Overall, the new remote is a winner.

Audioengine P4 Passive Speakers

Audioengine, the company that melds a former Apple designer with a speaker guru has, for several years, released some very powerful bookshelf sized powered speakers for all of your iDevices. Recently, however, the company started selling a new line of passive speakers, the Audioengine P4.

Until now, if you wanted to hook up Audioengine speakers to your existing receiver, you were out of luck. All of Audioengine’s speapers before the P4 included their own powered amplifier, which was great for plugging into iDevices but no fun if you wanted to plug them into your existing amplifiers or surround-sound receivers. The P4 solves this problem removing the amplifier.

The speakers have the standard 2 wire connections and include threaded inserts for attaching to stands, walls, and ceiling bracket systems. Despite, their small size, they are beefy and well-built. The speakers are 9 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide by 6.5 inches deep and ship in cloth sacks that would get the approval of Steve Jobs.

But how do they sound?

The AP4s sound great. I’ve always been happy with the sound output from the relatively small bookshelf sized Audioengine speakers. You can crank them up and get a minimum of distortion. The company cut its teeth in the speaker business engineering high performance studio monitors, those speakers musicians use when recording. I’ve spent my fair share of time with studio monitors in my musician days. The best ones have to be rugged and able to play loud enough to give you the mix back despite all the other noise. This pedigree comes out in the Audioengine speakers.

The speakers include several features common with Audioengine’s other speakers including hand-built cabinets, 5-way gold-plated binding posts, silk dome tweeters and kevlar woofers, and they are magnetically shielded.

All of the Audioengine products share the same tuning so they work great together. I’m using my existing P4s to replace my two primary speakers on my stereo but considering buying two additional P4s to replace my surround speakers so everything is tuned together.

Whenever I can find the time, I enjoy butchering Thelonious Monk and Oscar Peterson songs on my Midi keyboard. While this is just a dull memory of my past degree of music nerdiness, sound is important to me and the Audioengine products suit very nicely indeed.

Pricing starts at $249. Audioengine contiues to offer its 30 day audition. If you purchase the speakers from Audioengine’s online store and are not satisfied, you can return them in the original packaging in like-new, undamaged condition within 30 days of purchase and get a full refund of your purchase price.

iStopMotion 2 - Improves on an Original

iStopMotion, that easy-to-use stop motion application that everyone loves, got an update. The Boinx team worked overtime on this one. IStopMotion has everything you need to make your own stop motion movies. You boot up the application and use your built in iSight or tethered camera to shoot your masterpiece, one frame at a time.

You can make your own clay-mation movie or retell “To Kill a Mockingbird” using Legos. Your imagination is your only limitation. There is a tilt shift generator that lets you take a scene and make it look miniature. Here is an example from Boinx. This application is much more powerful than initially meets the eye. Want to do green screen? There is a chroma key.

The finalized product can be easily exported to iMovie to add transitions, effects, and publication.

iStopMotion has other applications as well. You can make stop motion photography. My family is making a time lapsed video of us decorating our Christmas tree this weekend. You can also use it to make flip books, which can be lots of fun at a party. (Just load up on printer ink first.) There are three flavors, Home $49, with the basic features, Express ($99) for more serious movie makers and Pro ($499) that includes high end features like Final Cut integration, HD, and maximum output at 10,000 x 10,000.

I could prattle on about how much fun it is putting this application in the hands of my children and watching what they do with it but that is just the half of it. In truth, I love letting out my own inner Spielberg and iStopMotion makes this dead simple.

Review: Matias Tactile 3 Keyboard

As peripheral manufacturers seek new ways to add bells, switches, and levers to our keyboards, Matias takes a different approach with the Tactile Pro 3 keyboard: Matias pulled this keyboard from a time machine.

The Tactile 3 is built with mechanical switches. There is no electronic wizardry here, just high quality Alps mechanical switches. (The same switches used on the legendary Apple Extended Keyboard.) The Tactile Pro keyboard is really all about the typing experience. I could wax poetic about the keyboards of yesteryear. Back in the day, Apple (and IBM) made some really fine mechanical switch keyboards. Since then, however, everyone (including Apple) moved on to electronic key switch keyboards that (to me) feel either too mushy or too flat.

The Tactile Pro has a larger travel distance and, because it uses mechanical switches, you hear (and feel) a mechanical click when the key depresses. I find it both satisfying and useful as a touch typist. It has been so long since I used a mechanical switch keyboard that the extra travel threw me at first. I quickly adjusted. After using the keyboard for just a few weeks my fingers learned instinctively when the switch engages and I can move on. On some keyboards, there is a limit to how many keys can be typed at once resulting in the loss (or ghosting) of typed characters. The Tactile Pro has anti-ghosting circuitry that lets the keyboard keep up with fast typists. I can fly on this keyboard.

The key switches aren’t the only thing built to last. The key faces are laser etched with the key label and the Mac OS X alternative accented characters. Because they are etched on the keys, these symbols aren’t going to wear off anytime soon. The key tops are also sculpted, allowing your fingers to easily center on the keys as you type.

There are three USB 2.0 ports on the keyboard. Using it I was able to sync iPods and iPhones. It doesn’t, however, have sufficient power to charge the devices.

The Matias Tactile Pro 3 keyboard is music to my ears. As I hammer out text with it, the noisy keys clink and clack away filling the room with the sounds of getting work done. It isn’t cheap at $150. The switches are expensive and this keyboard is built to last.

I’m still trying to decide whether my attraction to a mechanical switch keyboard is because they are inherently better or just because I originally learned to type on one. Either way, I type faster on this keyboard. I’d be curious to hear from some younger hackers (who did not grow up using a mechanical keyboard) to see what they think. Regardless, if you hear the siren song of a mechanical keyboard for your Mac, the Matias Tactile Pro 3 is the best solution on the Mac. Matias has a 30 day refund policy so long as you buy the product directly from them.

TotalFinder Review

Every year or two, a chorus of dissatisfaction swells over the default Mac OS X Finder. The underlying problem is that the Finder really hasn’t changed much since we were all sitting behind our shiny new Macs in 1984.

When the rumors started swirling about Snow Leopard and a “brand new” Finder, there was hope Apple would take a new pass at it but, alas, we only got the same old Finder re-built using modern frameworks.

There are also several third party Finder replacements. PathFinder is my favorite. However, very few third party applications have had the moxy to fiddle with the Apple Finder. TotalFinder does.

TotalFinder is a new Finder enhancement available for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. It brings several new tricks to the OS X Finder.

Tabs

TotalFinder’s premier feature is tabbed browsing in the Finder. You know those tabs you use in Safari? They are now in the Finder. This lets you display multiple Finder panes in the same Finder window and makes it easy to jump between them.

The tabs are based on code from Google Chrome and look like it. You can open a new tab with the keyboard (⌘T). You can move between tabs with a click of the mouse. You can reorder them or pull a tab into a separate window. You can close specific tabs (⌘W) or double-click one to enter dual mode (discussed below). You can also drag and drop files between tabs. The tabs act exactly as you would expect them too. This alone was worth the $15 license fee to me.

Dual Mode

Dual mode is activated by double-clicking any tab or pressing ⌘U. It results in two finder panes side by side. This makes it easy to copy and move files between panes.

Additional Bells and Whistles

The use of tabs and dual-mode are TotalFinder’s big selling points. The developer even redrew the Finder icon, adding tabs. Many users will never stray beyond those two features. There are, however, some more tricks with TotalFinder

One annoyance I have with the default Finder is the way it mixes folders with files. I prefer, when looking at a Finder window, to have folders on top and the rest of the files below. TotalFinder does this. It can be toggled on and off (⇧⌘;) for you traditionalists. TotalFinder also adds a keyboard (⇧⌘.) shortcut to toggle display of hidden system files.

TotalFinder additionally has a system-wide Visor mode that pulls up a dedicated Finder window from the bottom of your screen. I tried this for a few weeks but in the end turned it off. If you are a Terminal.app user and like its Visor mode, you’ll be right at home. It works best with an auto-hiding dock.

There also is an advanced command-line feature, Asepsis, that helps you redirect propagation of those pesky .DS_Store files that seem to be everywhere.

The developer also plans to add some additional features including the ability to cut and paste files between Finder windows.

Overall, TotalFinder is a good investment at $15 if you frequently find your desktop overpopulated with unruly Finder windows.

You can listen to this review on the MacReviewCast.

Objective C for Absolute Beginners, Review and Discount

Everyone who worked with computers back in the 8 bit days thinks of himself as a programmer. I’m no different. I remember the days …

 10 Print “Hello World”
 20 Goto 10

I even tried my hand at assembly code at which, in hindsight, I was terrible.

So fast forwarding 20 (or 30) years I still like the idea of pushing pixels around the screen and want to pick it up again. I’m not looking for a new career. I just think as a hobbyist (and Mac nerd), it would be fun to understand Xcode more. I’ve bought a few books for this purpose over the years. The problem is, I never seem to finish them. I am probably not the only one who buys a programming book with the greatest intentions and never makes it to the end. The reason for this is that the landscape of programming has changed so much since I was “in the game” that I can’t keep up with a book that takes anything for granted. I need the basics. That is what led me to read Objective-C for Absolute Beginners by Gary Bennett, Mitch Fisher, and Brad Lees.

If you are looking to get started with Xcode, this is the book. The point of an objective based programming language is working with, well … objects. The trouble is, applying (and learning) the basic concepts of Objective-C objects requires a lot more knowledge of Objective-C than just the basics. As a result, a lot of new programmers get stuck at the gate. The authors have a solution. They use the open source Alice Project to teach basic objective programming concepts and then move back to Xcode to use those principals with Objective-C.

The title gets it right. This book is for absolute beginners. You can pick it up without a lick of programming knowledge and (with a little patience) work your way through the book. If you are looking to get a working knowledge of Objective-C, this one is for you.

Discount Code

The publisher has a 25% discount for MacSparky readers. If you are interested buy it here and enter the discount code “MACSPARKYDFT”.

TextSoap Review

I spend a lot of time writing. Not only that, I write in several different mediums and collect bits and pieces of text in different formats. While I have developed ninja-like skills over the years at using arrow keys, delete keys, and the space bar to clean up text for further use, I’ve recently discovered this wasn’t necessary. I could’ve saved a lot of time and sore fingers with a simple tool called TextSoap. TextSoap, developed by Unmarked Software, takes care of the tedious task of cleaning your text. The day I installed it, I received an e-mail from a colleague that was of the mistaken belief you need to hit return at the end of every line in your e-mail client. Yes, really. When I copied the text into a word processing document, chaos ensued. I ran the text through TextSoap and it cleaned out the extra carriage returns without breaking a sweat. At that moment, I knew I was in.

TextSoap is loaded with tools addressing all of the common text problems anyone who writes on a regular basis has come to dread. It includes over 100 built-in cleaners but also allows you to make your own custom cleaners and, for the daring among you, includes support for regular expressions. My favorite cleaner is the generic “Scrub” that handles the most common cleaning tasks like removing extra spaces, fixing broken paragraphs, and removing those e-mail forwarding marks “>” that look like they want to stab every line of text. Most of the time, the Scrub filter is all I need.

TextSoap also includes automation support. You can script it in AppleScript or use its very own automator workflow actions. It is a simple matter to build your own custom services allowing you Scrub text without even opening the application. Simply select the text and fire off the service.

If you too have the ability to race through a document removing extra spaces in paragraph returns, maybe it is time did yourself a favor and automate the task. I used to look at improperly formatted text with foreboding. Now I get a sense of glee as I look forward to watching my TextSoap robot tear through naughty text files with abandon. A license for TextSoap will run you $40 or you can get a family 6-pack for $70. You can find out more at unmarked.com. You can listen to this review on the Mac ReviewCast.

iPad OmniGraffle Review

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I have been using OmniGraffle on my Mac for years. It is, in my opinion, the premiere diagraming application on the Mac. I do some of my best thinking when I sit down and organize my thoughts visually with a diagram. The ability to quickly put together professional looking diagrams is a definite edge in my day job. I have even had other attorneys ask me what company I used for my "graphics" when in fact it is just me and a few minutes with OmniGraffle.

OmniGraffle on the iPad is not a simple port of the existing Mac application. The Omni team started from scratch. The user interface was re-designed from the ground up around the touch interface and the iPad's screen size. Interestingly, the developers did not have access to an actual iPad when developing this application. Instead, they used a fiberglass cut out in bits and pieces of paper with user interface elements printed on it to figure out how to put the application together. Regardless, the programmers overcame this handicap and released an outstanding product.

There are many features worthy of exploration in iPad OmniGraffle. The first time you open iPad OmniGraffle, you are presented with a series of documents that show you the ropes. You should go through the built-in tutorial. There is a lot under the hood with this application and you can save yourself a lot of time down the road if you learn the basics first.

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There is no menubar but instead a series of smart icons that are context sensitive. For instance, hitting the pencil icon brings up icons which are a pre-formatted square and free hand drawing tool. Once you create your object, you can move, resize, shadow, and color it just as if you were on your Mac. It is remarkable how quickly the gestures built into OmniGraffle becomes second nature. You can even attach objects with magnetic lines that remain attached as you move them around the screen. While none of this is revolutionary in comparison to the native Mac OS X application, it is remarkable that this can be created so easily without a keyboard a mouse. It almost feels like playing the piano.

That being said, a few times the interface was more complex than it needed to be. Setting object order, for instance takes some doing from the layers menu. I would prefer a simple "Send to Back" button.

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I found the physical process of creating and moving these boxes with my fingers even more intuitive than doing it in front of the keyboard. The Omni group also included smart guides which allow you to snap your objects in alignment with one another. Even better, you can set up a grid with custom spacing and snap your objects to the grid as you create them. With very little time you can have a precise looking diagram and, with the touch of a button, remove the grid.

iPad OmniGraffle ships with a nice assortment of images, connectors, shapes, software tools, and variables. If you have any favorite stencils on your Mac, you can copy them over to your iPad and OmniGraffle will import them.

iPad OmniGraffle allows you to assign your objects to layers and turn them off and on as the need arises. I have already found it useful when sharing data with clients. Building a diagram in small pieces and then adding the layers one at a time makes it much easier for the audience to digest complex data.

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iPad OmniGraffle is an outstanding implementation of the touch interface. Any aspiring iPad developers should take a long look at the care and deliberation that went into this application. Since the iPad released, the Omni Group has already made a significant upgrade fine tuning the user interface now that they have got their hands on an iPad.

At $50, OmniGraffle certainly is more expensive than most applications you will find in the iPad store but it is a professional graphics application. The OmniGroup has gone on record to explain that if you buy OmniGraffle and are unsatisfied, they will provide a refund. OmniGraffle, in any iteration, is not necessary for everyone. But if you find yourself using it on the Mac, pick it up for your iPad.

 

This review is based on an evaluation copy of OmniGraffle provided by the Omni Group.

Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch Review

Tablets are an underrated interface. A lot of people think they are only useful for artists. Most of those people have never tried one. I’ve been using tablets for years and find them great for annotating PDF documents, touching up photos, and making simple diagrams. Recently, Wacom provided me a review unit of their Bamboo Pen & Touch Tablet that I’ve now been using for several months on my iMac.

The Bamboo Pen & Touch offers a 5.8” x 3.6” active area for the pen and a slightly smaller active area for the touch functions. The tablet itself is approximately 10” x 7”. The package also includes a stylus and software discs containing drivers and a software bundle CD that has Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0 for mac (7.0 for Windows) and Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0. The Bamboo Pen & Touch accepts both stylus and multitouch finger inputs. For laptop users who want their multitouch on their iMac’s, this is the only solution. The touch input is a nice feature but not as transparent as the touchpad on your laptop. For instance, I was unable to get it to work with the three finger swipe in BusyCal. I’ve been spoiled by Apple’s touch surfaces and the Pen & Touch surface felt a little too abrasive against my fingers. It is not so abrasive to be a show stopper but noticeable.

The pen mode features 2540 dpi resolution with 1024 pen pressure levels. Where the surface wasn’t ideal for the touch gestures, it felt just right for the pen, and much better than the texture on my 2 year old bluetooth Wacom. Clearly Wacom had to make some decisions selling a device that that supports both pen and touch. Wacom made the right decision here optimizing performance for the pen, that presumably gets used more often, over the touch input.

The tablet has four customizable buttons and an LED indicator that distinguishes between touch and pen mode. There is also a small, low tech, fabric tag to hold the stylus. The whole package fits nicely under an iMac ready to drop into your work area when needed. Because it is so accessible, I find myself using it all the time.

If you allow yourself to find your tablet groove, it is nice having an always ready pen input at your computer. Tasks like photo editing, drawing, and annotation quickly become second nature with the pen. Combining the Pen and Touch is really handy. You can draw with the pen and zoom and scroll with the touch features. The Wacom Pen & Touch is a nice upgrade to your iMac. The street price on the Bamboo Pen & Touch is $99 and you can find them from both online and brick and mortar retailers.

Dexim BluePack S3 External Battery

 

 

Dexim, who also makes the Richard Solo iPhone batteries has expanded its line to include the new BluePack S3. This device is different from the earlier iPhone specific offerings in that it does not have a built in iPhone dock connector but instead a USB connector and the necessary cables to charge most of your portable devices.

In the Box

The BluePack S3 is about the thickness of an iPhone but narrower and shorter. The design is black with silver accents and, after banging around in my bag for a month, shows no scratches. Also included is an AC Adapter and cable to charge the BluePack and three cables (iPhone/iPod, MiniUSB, and MicroUSB) to charge your devices. There is also a nice pouch to carry it all. Dexim always does a good job of giving you everything you need. The cables are short but rugged and the USB cables carried enough current to also drive my portable USB drive.

Using the BluePack S3

There is nothing to using the BluePack S3. You recharge it by connecting it to the AC adapter or your computer. The charging cord includes two USB plugs so when charging it off a computer you can double up the power. The power connector going into the BluePack S3 is not USB so if you are going to charge it on the road, you need to bring the cable.

Charging your devices simply requires you to plug the device into the BluePack. The BluePack has a series of three lights to indicate battery power. It also has an LED flashlight powered by holding down the battery indicator button. There is no power button so if you leave your device plugged in after it gets the full charge, the BluePack will continue to trickle charge.

What Can You Charge?

Because the device is not iPhone specific you can use it to charge just about anything in your bag. Since most manufacturer’s have adopted USB charging standards, I was able to charge and use my iPhone, iPod, Richard Solo phone charger, Verizon MiFi internet device, pocket camera, Livescribe Pen, and Plantronics wireless bluetooth headset all off the Dexim device. It also charged my wife’s (ack) BlackBerry. In short, if it plugs into USB or an iPod connector, the Dexim will give you juice.

How Much Juice?

The BluePack includes a 2600mAh Polymer Lithion-Ion battery. This is a substantial bump over the 1800mAh in my Richard Solo phone charger. In my testing I got about 1.75 iPhone 3GS charges. It gave several recharges on my various iPods and extended the life of my Verizon MiFi.

Recommendation

There are several vendors selling portable battery packs. I really like the Dexim product for its attention to detail and build quality. The BluePack S3 feels solid. The carrying bag and included cables are good quality and are a great addition to your bag. It is really nice knowing that when you forget to charge, you’ve got a spare tire. The package retails for $80 and can be found from several online vendors. It is also available from Amazon.

You can listen to this review on the MacReviewCast Podcast.

Disclosure

The above is based on a review unit provided by Dexim.