All posts by Tony Price

Tony A. Price is a Nutrition and Dietetics Student from Louisiana in the United States. He has a deep passion for high end technology, mobile devices and applications, Mac hardware and software, and video gaming. His website is Tony's Brain, his Twitter handle is @TonyAllenPrice and you can follow him on Google+.

5 Must Have Back to School Apps for Mac

As I said in my roundup of iPad apps  on Tuesday, the back to school season is upon us once again. As many begin to gather their supplies, they are also shopping for a new computer for this next year. While the PC remains dominate in many circles, it is quickly losing ground among students. That means that there are thousands of students trying to find the essential apps for education to run on their Macs.

Fear not! I am here to help, and I have brought a list of 5 of the most essential apps for Back To School 2011. This is list is going to cover note taking, organization, paper writing, time management, and even relaxation. All of these apps come from my experience as a university student, and they are all amazing. Without further ado, let’s get to that list.

1. NeoOffice (Free)

I think that its important to start with something that everyone can understand. That’s why the first app on my list is NeoOffice. Neo is a branch of the OpenOffice.org project that was rethought specifically for the Mac. I have been a user of OpenOffice/LibreOffice for a number of years now, and NeoOffice is a great version. It offers all the usual programs, including a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation editor.

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Neo is completely free for certain versions. You get a complete office suite, much like Microsoft Office, for no money at all. However, I have donated $10 to them, and have access to their latest beta release. That version comes with Lion support, including versions and full-screen mode. That makes NeoOffice a fantastic addition to my machine, which runs like a top on Lion.

Overall, I think that the need for an office suite is obvious for the aerate student. You will write papers, analyze data and even create presentations throughout your educational career. If you are looking for a cheap alternative to Microsoft or Apple’s offerings, or if you want to support a good open source project, I can’t recommend NeoOffice enough.

Alternatives: OpenOffice (Free), LibreOffice (Free), iWork ($60 – Mac App Store), Microsoft Office ($85)

2. Evernote (Free)

Many students buy a light weight laptop, like the MacBook Air, with the hope of using it to take notes in class. While there are arguments that this is best done with a word processor (see number 1 on this list), there are just as many reasons as to why you should use a dedicated note taking app. In my opinion, there is no better app for taking notes then Evernote, which is completely free.

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Evernote, for those who aren’t aware, is a note taking and organization application from Evernote Software. They offer one of the best Mac apps I have come across in my search. It is feature rich and includes the ability to record audio, record video, link documents to notes, and even share notes with friends. It is also cross platform, with apps available to iOS, Android, Windows, and the web.

I really like Evernote. As I said in my iPad roundup, I use it to sync my handwritten notes with my Mac, and it works wonderfully. I also keep track of assignments, manage my PDF notes, and even use it in class occasionally. It’s free to use, and is probably the best note taking app around. Download it here.

Alternatives: Word Processor, Growly (Free), Nevernote (Free)

3. Caffeine (Free)

This probably the strangest app on my list of 5. Its going to seem like something incredibly simple, but it really is a lifesaver sometimes. The app is called Caffeine, and it allows you to prevent your Mac’s screen from going to sleep. I suspect that most college students will have MacBooks of some kind, be they Pros, Airs, or White Plastics. That means that they have a power save option that is one by default. This will turn your screen off after a given amount of time spent inactive.

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While that may not sound like a big deal to many people, its a huge deal to students who are trying to take notes in class. Often, a professor will go off on a tangent, and you won’t type anything for 10 minutes. Then, they will tell you all the answers to the test in the next 2 minutes, and you don’t want to waste any time waking your machine back up. That’s where Caffeine comes in to play.

Caffeine will install a small coffee cup icon into your menu bar. You click it, and its activated. It’s that simple. It’s completely free, and you can pick it up in the Mac App Store.

Alternatives: None. It’s free. Go install it.

4. iProcrastinate (Free)

One of the biggest problems for the average student is time management and scheduling. I have tried multiple methods for handling this issue, and it was hard beat. I finally discovered iProcrastinate, which is a free Mac app that allows you to create a simple calendar with events and assignment due dates on it. While you can do that in iCal, iProcrastinate lets you take your organization to another level.

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iProcrastinate allows you to set up steps to a task, each with its own check mark. That way, you can set up a plan for researching your paper, writing the rough draft, proofreading it, and then writing your final draft. The calendar display is quite good, showing you all your tasks and their due dates for a given time period.

iProcrastinate is awesome for managing not only your school work, but all of your life. Be sure to use it to schedule some relaxation into your schedule. It will allow you to color code things, letting you see them easily in the calendar. It also gives you nice notifications reminding you of due dates. You can grab it for free in the Mac App Store.

Alternatives: Any To-Do App, Wunderlist (Free)

5. Steam (Free)

This last app is something that I think every Mac user who likes to play games should install. While the Mac isn’t known for having the best games on the market, that landscape is certainly changing. One driving force behind that is Steam, Valve’s digital distribution service, making its way over to the Mac. With that, they now offer a number of top notch titles.

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You may be wondering why this is on the my Back to School app list. That’s because the most important thing you can do as a student is relax. If you try to do nothing but study, you will drive yourself mad. Steam will give you access to a ton of games, many of them for next to nothing or completely free. One game I recommend is Team Fortress 2, which is a great free shooter.

Like I said, this is a must have for students. I think the best time I spend in college is the time I set aside for gaming. It helps me forget that I have a heavy course load that requires so much of my time. However, it’s important to remember that you still need to study some of the time. That’s why you should use Steam in combination with iProcrastinate. Seriously. Do it. You can download Steam for free here.

Alternatives: Mac App Store? Seriously, just get Steam.

Get Downloading and Get Studying

So there you have it. 5 apps that every college student who uses a Mac should use. I know that I use these apps all the time. If I could add one more, I would recommend Dropbox, just because it’s so much better than carrying a flash drive. It’s a lifesaver most of the time. Also, even with Dropbox, all the apps on this list are Free, which is awesome for poor students like me.

What apps would be on your list? Do you think I missed something major? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

MixTab Brings Flipboard Style News Discovery to the Mac [Review]

I’ve mentioned before that blogging can sometimes mean reading a lot of news. However, it’s always possible that you will miss a big story because you weren’t looking in the right place. That’s why I think it’s important to have more than one path to news. While my primary sources are always RSS feeds and direct press releases, I often find interesting topics for posts in other places.

One such place is MixTab, an app that was ported from iOS to the Mac. MixTab reminds me a lot of Flipboard, the extremely popular iPad app that lets you see news feeds, Twitter, and Facebook in a magazine style presentation. However, what makes MixTab pretty special is that it includes user generated tabs of news.

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The user experience of MixTab is pretty nice. It has a nice looking interface with a few customization options. It gives you the option to control which tabs you subscribe to, and even create some of your own. It also supports the full screen mode introduced in OS X Lion, which is a nice touch.

The one real downside I see to the current revision of the MixTab interface is the way it handles full screen mode. While it will become an independent desktop like other apps, it doesn’t scale the content up. Instead, it simply makes the background behind the content bigger. That’s kind of upsetting, but not a huge deal.

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The content that is presented in MixTab is out of their control. However, I wish they would work on a system to filter languages of posts and sources. I subscribe to several different Technology tabs, and many of them have international sources. However, I only speak English fluently, with some minor understanding of Spanish. I want to be able to control the language of my tabs.

Overall, I like MixTab. I feel like they have brought sometime good from iOS and made is work well on the Mac. If they fixed the two major issues I pointed out above, this would be a must-have app for me. As it stands, it’s only a nice addition to my arsenal. Sometimes, it takes more work than it should to use it effectively. I give it 3.5/5 stars. You can grab it for Free in the Mac App Store.

App: MixTab for Mac
Developer: MixTab Inc.
Price: Free
Score: 3.5/5 Stars

Apple Releases First Public Update For OS X Lion

Almost a month after it’s launch, Apple has released the first maintenance update for OS X Lion. Following in the trend of the past, it is available for download via the Software Update utility. The download for my MacBook Pro was only about 16MB, and installed almost instantly. The change log was:

  • Address an issue that may cause system to become unresponsive when playing a video in Safari
  • Resolve an issue that may cause system audio to stop working when using HDMI or optical audio out
  • Improve the reliability of Wi-Fi connections
  • Resolve an issue that prevents transfer of your data, settings, and compatible applications to a new Mac running OS X

Personally, I am very happy to see this update. I had been having trouble with my MacBook Pro staying on Wi-Fi networks, either secured or open. Hopefully it will stop dropping my connection now that i have updated Lion to 10.7.1.

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Interestingly enough, there is a separate version of the update available for the 2011 MacBook Air and Mac mini. It brings the above changes, plus a couple extra lines. Those extra changes are:

  • Resolves an issue where MacBook Air may boot up when MagSafe Adapter is attached
  • Resolve an issue causing intermittent display flickering on MacBook Air
  • Resolve an issue that causes the SD card slot in Mac mini to run at reduced speed with SD and SDHC media

While this isn’t a huge change, it’s probably the last we will see before we get the big iCloud update. Developers already have 10.7.2, which is the current beta that has iCloud integration. While we aren’t sure when that update will come, we do know it will happen sometime this fall.

Were you experiencing any issues with Lion so far? Are you excited about iCloud launching soon? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

iPhone 5 Preorders Starting September 30, Launching October 7? [Rumor]

It seems like we can’t go a single day without hearing a new rumor about the next iPhone. First we heard that it would be called the iPhone 4S, and would come “sometime this fall.” Next, we started hearing that it would be a big redesign deserving of the name iPhone 5.

Well, we have a new release date rumor to deal with. 9to5 Mac is reporting that, according to their sources, Apple is planning to launch the next generation smart phone on October the 7th. While they are reportable not completely sold on that date, it is the one they are leaning towards. 9to5 Mac is also reporting that Apple is planning to take preorders for the iPhone 5.

via MacRumors.com

This is a change from the launch of the iPad 2 earlier this year. With that launch, Apple did not take any preorders, which was viewed by many (myself included) as a bad move. However, it is clear that they wanted to have people waiting in lines outside of Apple stores, which they certainly got. It would seem they don’t see the need to force people into lines with the iPhone.

If we are to believe these dates, and I can’t see a reason not to consider them, then we can draw a couple easy conclusions. The first is that the iPhone 5 is probably in production or will be very soon. In order to meet the kind of demand that Apple has seen in the past, they would need a petty large number of these phones.

The second thing we can safely assume given these dates is the timing of a media event. If Apple does plan to take preorders starting on September 30th, then there has be a media event before that. Now, the timing is up in the air. It would be reasonable to think that the event would also be on the 30th, but it wouldn’t have to be. It’s possible that they would introduce the iPhone 5 at an iPod/iOS event earlier in the month, and then just announce the preorder and launch date.

Overall, this seems as possible as any there date we have heard so far. However, it is just a rumor, so don’t bank on it coming true. We will have to wait until Apple is ready to show us the new iPhone before we get out our checkbooks.

What are your thoughts on the iPhone 5 rumors? Do you like the sound of these dates? let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Google Releases Google Catalogs for iPad

Google is continuing to release new projects aimed at the mobile market. They previously released Google Shopper which helps users find local deals and online prices for popular products. Now, they have brought the experience of catalog shopping to the iPad. Their newest product is called Google Catalogs, and it’s exactly what it sounds like it is.

This app brings digital versions of many popular catalogs to tablets. They cover the categories including fashion and apparel, beauty, jewelry, home, kids and gifts. They have hooked up with many top brands including Crate and Barrel, L.L. Bean, Lands’ End, Macy’s, and Sephora.

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These digital versions bring a number of unique features to catalog shoppings. You gain the ability to zoom, tap on tags to get more information, or even look at cool pictures or videos. You can then look up products in nearby stores or find it to purchase it online. You can then share your favorite products and catalogs with your friends via email.

Another really cool feature of Google Catalogs is the ability to create your own catalog to share. You can collect your favorite products and pages from various catalogs and compile them into one set. Then, you can send that catalog to family or friends. I see this being a great way to establish a  gift list for loved ones to shop from.

If you want to check out Google Catalogs, it is available for the iPad now. Google promises that an Android version of the application is coming soon. Check it out and let us know what you think. Leave us a comment to have your voice heard.

5 Must Have Back to School iPad Apps for 2011

That time of year is here once again. Summer is coming to an end, students are gathering their supplies, and classes will soon be in session once again. I know that many students, like myself, are getting iPads to use in class. I have been searching all summer for the apps that I think every student needs to have on their Apple tablet.

Now, before we get to the list, lets talk about iPads as education tools. For me, the iPad serves a handful of different purposes in my educational adventure. The first major use is as a textbook replacement. I hated having to carry heavy books around all the time, and bought an iPad to replace those. The benefits include having a light alternative, being able to save money by buying e-books, and still having full color diagrams. That brings me to my first pick.

1. Kno Textbooks (Free)

When I first started looking for textbook apps on the iPad, there weren’t that many options. I originally found CourseSmart, which is nice but doesn’t allow you to buy books in side the app, and Inkling, which doesn’t have a great selection of books. Then, I tried an app called Kno Textbooks.

Kno is a start-up company that originally started out making an education specific tablet. After determining the they couldn’t manage that project, the refocused on creating a great textbook app for the iPad. I can say that they have succeeded. They have a great selection, and in-app store, and a nice notation system.

The only feature I can’t seem to find is highlighting within the ebooks, but I can live without that. My one real gripe with Kno is that their entire collection of books is not available for purchase inside the app. however, you can access them all on the iPad, as well as in your browser and even on Facebook.

Alternatives: CourseSmart (Free), Inkling (Free)

When I originally got my iPad, I didn’t think I would be able to take notes with it. My original thinking was that I would try to type on the on-screen keyboard into something like Evernote. I quickly decided that was a horrid idea, but that I still wanted to try taking notes on my iPad. So i bought myself a $10 stylus on Amazon and gave it a shot. That brings me to my second must have app.

2. Noteshelf ($4.99)

I have bought more handwriting/note taking apps than almost anything else on my iPad. I tried most of the major players, including Notes Plus and Penultimate. While some had features I liked (voice recording in Notes Plus), none of them were exactly perfect. However, I have settled on one, and that app is Noteshelf.

Noteshelf has a number of nice features that make note taking in lectures very easy. They have one of the best zoom features, which allows you to more easily write in an organized manner. They also offer the ability to group notebooks, export to many services (including Evernote and Dropbox), and many customization apps.

My only real issue with Noteshelf is that it doesn’t do voice recordings. However, I always export my notes to Evernote so that I can read them on any machine, and that wouldn’t save the recording. in order to record a lecture, I use AudioMemos ($0.99) which records in the background. I then upload them to Dropbox for later listening.

Alternatives: Penultimate ($1.99), Notes Plus ($4.99)

The next use I have for my iPad is as a quick reference tool kit. I have multiple apps that are specific to my studies, like nutrition disorder charts and vitamin synthesis tables. Overall, the iPad serves this purpose very well. However, it is lacking a native calculator app. That’s why my next must have is a calculator for the iPad.

3. Calculator for iPad (Free)

Calculators are something that you don’t think about much outside of the world of academia. if I have to do any simple math while on my MacBook Pro, I simply do it in the Spotlight bar. However, I don’t carry this machine to class. If I need to do some short math while working in a class, I turn to Calculator for iPad.

Now, this calculator app is not very advanced. It offers enough scientific calculator functions for me to be satisfied. Most of the math I do is simple algebra type stuff, with the occasional constant substitution. I have seen more advanced calculators in the App Store, but I don’t need anything better than what Calculator offers.

I’m not sure what to offer as an alternative to Calculator for iPad. If all you need is a basic/scientific calculator, then go with it. If you need something better, you will probably buy a real calculator. Either way, you would be happy getting the free version of this app.

As far as I know, almost every student these days are forced into using PDFs. Despite being one of the most insecure file formats currently on the market, many educational institutions force us to use them. When they do, I like to have the ability to annotate them on my iPad, and that’s what my next app does.

4. PDF-Notes (Free)

Annotating PDFs is probably one of the best things about owning an iPad. Many of my professors release notes and outlines in PDF format, and it’s very helpful to be able to mark those up on the fly. I have found what I consider to be one of the best apps for that, and its made even better by having a free version.

PDF-Notes is my app of choice for annotating PDFs. It offers a great set of features including highlighting, writing handwritten and typed notes, and even PDF management. It offers a great zoom feature that makes it easier to handwrite notes on PDF documents. You also get the ability to export the annotated documents to Dropbox, email, or even other apps.

My only complaint with the free version of PDF-Notes is the ads. However, those are there so that the developer makes some money for their work. There is a pay version available, but it costs a whole 10 bucks. I’m not sure I’ll buy it any time soon.

Alternatives: iAnnotate PDF ($9.99)

Now that you have all this information, from your notes to your prepped PDFs, you need to think about syncing it all with your computer. For most students, the iPad is not a replacement for a traditional computer. It makes a great supplementary tool, but needs to synced with your real machine. For that, I recommend this last app.

5. Evernote/Dropbox (Free)

That’s right, my last pick is actually two different apps. If you use all the apps I have listed, you will need to make use of both Dropbox and Evernote. You can sync your notes to Evernote or Dropbox from within Noteshelf, save your recordings to Dropbox, and even export your PDFs to either service.

I can’t imagine being a student without Evernote and Dropbox. It has eliminated my need to carry a flash drive with me all the time. It also helps me keep track of all my notes and documents for my courses. They have revolutionized my education, and they both have fantastic (and free) iPad apps.

If you are already a user of both of these services, then you have no reason not to grab these iPad apps. They give you all the features you could want, including fantastic mobile control. I highly recommend these apps. Seriously. Go get them.

Download and Get Ready To Learn

So there you have it. 5 apps that every student needs before they get into their classes this fall. They are all incredibly useful, and none of them are super expensive. If you are carrying Apple’s tablet to classes this year, make sure you have these installed.

A note on surviving in education: All work and no play makes sure you will fail. Use that iPad to relax as well. Watch some movies on it, read via the Kindle app, or play some games. Even download a nice Facebook app and talk to your friend. I promise you will regret it if you don’t.

I also know that these are not all the apps a student needs. The App Store is full of more specific research apps that students will find useful. My wife has many engineering calculators and charts on her iPad, and I keep mine full of nutrition information. Search around and find some apps that will be great for you.

What apps did I miss on my list? What kind of app do you think every student with an iPad needs? Let me know you suggestions and thoughts by leaving a comment below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Set-Up a File Server as a Drive in OS X Finder [How-To]

The other day, a colleague here at Techie Buzz asked for my recommendations on programs to blog using a Mac.  I told him about my favorites, and tried to provide a good reason why. Then, another contributor asked if there was a way to integrate the FTP system into the file system, like you can do in Windows  and Linux.

At first, I was dumbfounded. I had never thought of that as an option on OS X. However, it turns out that you can do it, and its possibly the most seamless way to use FTP on a Mac. The only caveat I see to this is that you can’t use it to upload files via FTP. For that, I highly recommend Cyberduck, which is now my personal choice for FTP.  Let’s take a look at how you set it up.

1. Open a Finder window. You can do that by clicking the ‘Finder’ icon on your dock, or by using the keyboard shortcut Command-Space and typing ‘Finder.’

2. Click the ‘Go’ menu, and then click connect to server. This will open a dialog box like this one, where you can choose to add a new server to the list. You can also use the keyboard shortcut of Command-K to access this window.

3. Fill in your server’s details.  Be sure to use complete addresses. For example, if it is an FTP server, use the whole address like ‘ftp://files.server.com’. If you have a username or password set up, you will be asked to provide those credentials.

Those are all the step you need to take. If you entered everything correctly, you should see a new drive in your finder side bar under ‘Shared.’ That’s the file server you just connected. It will work like any other file server connection, and its housed in your Finder window.

If you have any trouble getting this tip to work, or if you have any questions or suggestions, let us know in the comments section below. We love hearing from you.

Boxee Releases Their iPad App

I love to have access to online video on as many devices as I can. I use the Netflix and Hulu apps on my iPad on a regular basis. So, when I heard that my favorite media center company was working on an iPad app, I got really excited. Now, Boxee has made that app a reality.

Boxee, the company behind the Boxee Box and very popular Boxee Software, has released their official iPad app. The app includes all of the great social features of Boxee, including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr integration. It also comes with the ability to watch bookmarked videos on your iPad.

 

The new two features are what makes this app worth picking up. The first is the ability to stream media from your PC or Mac to your iPad. That means media that is saved on your hard drive, not media that is on the internet. You will need to be on the same Wi-FI network as the machine with the media.

The final feature that should get Boxee Box owners excited is the ability to Air Play to your Boxee Box. That’s right, Boxee has taken the ability to share content from your iPad to another device and given it to their own little media powerhouse.

Overall, this is a nice little update to the Boxee ecosystem. I do wish that it came equipped with the great suite of Boxee Apps, however. I don’t know if it was a licensing thing that kept those away, or if it was simply Boxee’s unwillingness to canibalize on their other offerings. Maybe apps will come in a future update. We will have to wait and see.

Apple Releases Lion Recovery Disk Assistant

It seems that Apple has finally heard the cries of users who were experiencing the worst side of OS X Lion. Many users, including some friends of mine, were having trouble using the web-based recovery tools built into Apple’s latest edition of Mac OS X. They have released Lion Recovery Disk Assistant, which is designed to let a user create a new Lion recovery partition on an external hard drive or USB drive.

The newly created disk will have all the same features as the built-in Lion recovery system. That includes reinstalling Lion, repairing the disk via Disk Utility, resorting from a Time Machine backup, and browsing the web using Safari. Unfortunately, in order to use this utility, you need an existing Recovery partition for Lion.

While it may seem like it, this does not invalidate the Lion disk making app that I covered last week. This tool from Apple will make it possible for you to restore a system already using Lion. Lion DiskMaker allows you to create a standalone Lion installation disk, which could be used to install Lion on a machine that is running Snow Leopard or an earlier version of OS X.

The Apple support document for Lion Recovery Disk Assistant lists a set of four simple steps to creating a recovery disk. Those steps are:

  1. Download the application
  2. Insert an external drive (or USB key)
  3. Launch the application
  4. Select the drive where you want to install
  5. Follow the instructions

The support document for the new utility does make a point to mention how the new disk will be usable. If it is created on a computer that shipped with Lion, it will only be usable on that machine. If it is made on a system upgraded to Lion from Snow Leopard, it can be used on any machine upgraded that way.

Report: Apple Discontinuing the Magic Mouse

There are more signs everyday that Apple is putting all of its eggs into Lion, and the eventual iOS/OS X hybrid operating system. First came the integrated multi-touch gestures in Lion, then reports that Apple would combine iOS and OS X, and now the end of the Magic Mouse.

For the unacquainted, Apple currently has two types of mouse-like peripherals. The first is the Magic Trackpad, which is a trackpad device designed for use with Apple’s desktops. The second is the Magic Mouse, which is a mouse device. It’s special, however, because it integrates touch-based gestures into a traditional mouse-like structure.

Apple's Magic Mouse, which is being discontinued.

It seems that Apple is planning to ditch the older, more traditional Magic Mouse in favor of the Magic Trackpad, at least according to Cult of Mac. This makes sense when you consider the push towards trackpad based multi-touch gestures in Lion. It seems that Apple is looking to move away from the more traditional computer experience, opting for a more iOS-like user experience.

I can see why some users would be upset about this move by Apple. I know that many graphics and video people need a more precise pointing device than a trackpad really provides. Gamers also tend to prefer a more traditional mouse over something new, like a trackpad. As for myself, I like using both a trackpad and a mouse, each for different occasions.

Cult of Mac is citing a “previously reliable source” on this story. They claim that retail stores are seeing dwindling supplied of the Magic Mouse, and not seeing any replacements.If you want to grab a Magic Mouse before they disappear forever, they are available through Apple’s online store for $69.00.

The Magic Trackpad is also available for the same price.