Category Archives: Product Review

Product Review of the “ParcSlope”

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Product Reviews – I had been thinking about getting some kind of a stand for my MacBook for a few months. I mostly wanted to provide a cooler operating environment. Luckily, I won a ParcSlope from Twelve South as a door prize at the July CapMac meeting.

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The ParcSlope is a heavy duty aluminum stand that will work with just about any tablet or laptop. I am using it with my 2010 MacBook Pro and it works perfectly. It isn’t something I would carry around with me to a coffee shop as it weighs 2 lbs. and measures 2.8″ x 8.3″ x 9.6″. It is great though setting on the table in my apartment while I create my Blog posts.

I have been using it for a few weeks and I not only like the fact that it keeps my Mac running cooler, but I also find that the sloped (18 degrees) keyboard is more comfortable and easier to use.  The elevated screen is also more comfortable to view. It is advertised on the Twelve South website for $49.99 and can be found on Amazon currently for the same price.

While a little pricey, I think this is a great accessory for your MacBook or iPad.

 

Pros

  • Solidly made
  • Works with almost any tablet or laptop
  • Cooler laptop operation
  • More comfortable keyboard access
  • Higher screen for easier viewing

 

Cons

  • Heavy and cumbersome, not something to carry in your computer bag
  • Price

 


See my other Mac and macOS articles


 

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Product Review – Sony Crackle TV

Product ReviewWeb Tools – I categorized this as a ‘web tool’ as it has a web component, but it is really more than simply that. I have known about Crackle TV for a while, but I was reminded of it at the July CapMac meeting where it was mentioned in the presentation on “Streaming TV” services. Many people are ‘cutting the cord’ and doing away with cable services and choosing a streaming option. Crackle TV is one of those options.

This service originally went under the name of Grouper until it was changed to Crackle in January of 2018. Crackle is a free streaming service that has been around since 2006. At the time of this article, it is available in 21 countries and is available on Roku, Android, Xbox, Apple TV, PS3, and iPhone. You do have to sign up for a free account.

Content includes both TV programs and movies. When I checked as I was writing this article there were over 70 TV series and more than 90 movies available. Available programs are organized into 8 channels – Spotlight Channel, Sony Crackle Originals Channel, Fandom Channel, Action Channel, Comedy Channel, Drama Channel, Thriller Channel, and the Icon Channel. Some content is older, like “Walker, Texas Ranger” on the ‘Icon Channel’, while other like ‘The Oath’ on the Drama Channel is original programming. The programming available through Crackle TV is included in the listings within the Apple TV App in the US.

I do recommend this service/App – I have the App installed on my iPad and Apple TV. Since it is free, I think it is a good option to add.

Pros:

  1. Free
  2. Wide range of TV series and movies
  3. Available on many different platforms
  4. All on-demand content

Cons:

  1. Limited current content

Product Review – Pluto TV

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Product ReviewWeb Tools – I categorized this as a ‘web tool’ as it has a web component, but it is really more than simply that. I have known about Pluto TV for a while, but I was reminded of it at the July CapMac meeting where it was mentioned in the presentation on “Streaming TV” services. Many people are ‘cutting the cord’ and doing away with cable services and choosing a streaming option. Pluto TV is one of those options.

Pluto is a free streaming service that has been around since 2013. At the time of this article, it has more than 75 content partners, with over 100 free channels to choose from. Estimates are that more than 6 million use it every month. Pluto TV generates revenue through advertisements displayed to viewers.

A few of the current channels are shown in the image above. Channels are grouped into categories such as News, Sports, Movies, Entertainment, Comedy, Chill Out, Life + Style, and Geek + Gaming. There are also several internet radio stations offered. Some, mostly movie, on-demand content is available in addition to the scheduled programs. You can check out what is currently playing here.  The programming available through Pluto TV is included in the listings within the Apple TV App in the US.

You can view programs from Pluto TV through your web browser, or by downloading the Pluto TV App to your Apple TV or iOS device. Pluto TV can also be viewed via several other devices: Roku, Visio, Samsung, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Playstation, and Chromecast.

I do recommend this service/App – I have the App installed on my iPad and Apple TV. Since it is free, I think it is a good option to add.

Pros:

  1. Free
  2. 100+ channels
  3. Available on many different platforms
  4. Has on-demand content

Cons:

  1. Limited current content
  2. Content partners are, for the most part, not mainstream

FOSS Under OS X – MacDown

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FOSS – I am a proponent of FOSS (Free Open Source Software). For one thing, FOSS has a great price – FREE. For another, it is software that is, for the most part, developed by the users. I had come across MacDown a few weeks ago and have been trying it out.

So what is MacDown? MacDown is a simple-to-use editor that allows the user to create documents using Markdown. And what is Markdown? As stated in the MacDown Help file:

Markdown is a plain text formatting syntax created by John Gruber, aiming to provide an easy-to-read and feasible markup. The original Markdown syntax specification can be found here.

MacDown is created as a simple-to-use editor for Markdown documents. It renders your Markdown contents in real-time into HTML, and displays them in a preview panel.

As you can see from the image above captured from the MacDown Help file, MacDown presents the user with two panes in the document window. The left pane is where the user enters text while the right pane displays the formatted document.

Most, but not all, features of HTML are supported. The features that MacDown claims are:

  • Highly customizable Markdown rendering.
  • Syntax highlighting in fenced code blocks.
  • Sophisticated auto-completion.
  • Visit the MacDown Features page for more details.

So why would you want to use MacDown? That is a good question. Most of the time I make notes in Apple Notes. Most of what you can do in MacDown can be done in Notes too, though once you learn Markdown, creating a formatted document is more efficient in MacDown (you can do everything from the keyboard without using your mouse and the application Menu bar).

Once you have created your document, you can export it as either an HTML file or as a PDF. Since you are seeing the formatted document as it is being rendered, any errors can be immediately corrected.

This is not an App I expect to use every day, but it is one I am adding to my ‘macOS Toolbox’ list. I think that I will discover more uses of MacDown the longer that I use it. I certainly recommend that you give it a try.

Pros

  • Software is Free
  • The application is Open Source and under current development
  • Markdown syntax is easier to learn than HTML
  • Efficient creation of formatted documents
  • Documents can be exported as either an HTML or PDF
  • Formatted document created in real-time
  • Included Help file with Markdown syntax examples

 

Cons

  • No commercial support available
  • Not every feature of HTML is supported
  • You do have to learn Markdown syntax
  • An Internet connection is required while using MacDown

 


See my other Mac and OS X articles


 

Mac App Product Review – Twitterrific 5

Product Reviews – I have been using Twitter for a couple of years now. I had been using the Mac App provided by Twitter, but when they announced that they were going to drop support for it, I began looking for an alternative.

I have used the free Tweetdeck App, also from Twitter, but it was not doing all that I wanted. When I saw that Twitterrific 5 was on sale, I decided to buy it and give it a try. I have been using it on a daily basis ever since.

One feature I like in particular is the Marker that shows the last read Tweet. This allows me to switch between my MacBook and Mac Mini and be able to pick up where I left off with unread Tweets.

If I see a Tweet in my Timeline from a source I want to learn more about or follow, I can click on the author icon in the top left corner of the Tweet. This will bring up a window with the information of the author.

I also like the ability to ‘muffle’ a Twitter author if they start sending out too many Tweets I am not interested in. The Tweet still shows up in my Timeline, but only as a one-line header. I can then click on it to open it up and read it or skip over it.

I like the App a lot, though the reviews on the Mac App store only give it a 3.8 out of 5 score. I still recommend it as a Twitter client on your Mac.

Pros

  • Available from the Mac App Store
  • Tweets are color coded
  • New Tweets added at the top of the Timeline
  • Marker kept for the last read Tweet
  • Marker is synced across devices
  • Cost is only $7.99 at present
  • iOS App also available
  • Tweet authors can be ‘muffled’

 

Cons

  • Cannot retweet on multiple accounts at once
  • Not a free App

See my other Mac and OS X articles


 

How to Remotely Access Your Mac – Part 3

Product Review – In the prior articles of this series I described in “How to Remotely Access Your Mac – Part 1” how you can access your Desktop Mac from a MacBook when they are both on the same network and in “How to Remotely Access Your Mac – Part 2” I outlined how you might be able to use Back to My Mac to access your Mac from a remote network. But Back to My Mac does not work for everyone. There is an easier solution though – “TeamViewer“.

TeamViewer is a third party solution with the parent company having been launched in 2005. The focus of the product is to provide online support and collaboration. Some of the statistics claimed on the website for TeamViewer:

  • has been installed on over 1 billion devices (each device generates a unique ID)
  • creates 750,000 new IDs every day.
  • has over 20 million devices online at any given time
  • speaks your language with the software and support in more than 30 languages
  • 90% of Fortune 500 companies rely on TeamViewer to bring colleagues together across all platforms and all devices

TeamViewer IS a commercial product:

  • Single user business license $49/month
  • Multi-User Premium license $99/month
  • Corporate Team license $199/month

 

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HOWEVER, it is completely free for personal (computers and devices that are not being used for business or other commercial tasks) use. Per their website:

100% FREE for personal users! If you’re a student or are using TeamViewer to help friends and family, it’s completely free FOREVER. You’ll never be charged.

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To install, go the website and click on the TeamViewer 13 Download button. This will download the TeamViewer DMG file onto your Mac. Double click on the DMG file to mount the volume. Then simply double click on the icon in the window to install the package on your Mac and follow the provided instructions.

To make my discussion a little easier I will henceforth call the Mac I want to remotely access the ‘server’ and the Mac I want to access it from as the ‘client’. You have to install TeamViewer on both the remote ‘server’ and the local ‘client’ Mac.

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Once you have TeamViewer installed and running on the ‘server’ Mac, a blue icon will appear in the Menu bar. To set the Mac up for remote access, click on the icon and a drop-down menu will appear. Click on the “Setup unattended access.”

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Use the resulting panel to set the name and a password for remote access on the ‘server’ Mac. Make the password something you will remember or write it down in a secure location. You will need this when you attempt to access the ‘server’ Mac remotely.

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Now click on the TeamViewer icon again and select “Show TeamViewer” from the drop-down menu. In the column headed “Allow Remote Control” will be the ID for the ‘server’ Mac. For me, this is a nine-digit number similar to “123 456 789”. Write this down as you will need it when you attempt to access the ‘server’ Mac.

Now install TeamViewer on the ‘client’ Mac and run it. Click on the TeamViewer icon in the Menu bar. In the “Control Remote Computer” column enter the ID of the ‘server’ in the “Partner ID” field. Leave the selection as “Remote Control”. Now click on the “CONNECT” button to connect to the ‘server’ Mac. When prompted, enter the password you set up on the ‘server’ Mac for unattended access.

A window will open with the login screen for the ‘server’ Mac. You can then access the ‘server’ as if you were sitting at its keyboard.

If you are going to use TeamViewer I would suggest that you set up both the ‘server’ and ‘client’, then verify that the remote connection works while you have physical access to both. It is much easier to work out problems when you have both machines in front of you.

I have used TeamViewer a few times now to access the Mac Mini in my office in Round Rock, Texas from Henderson, Nevada. While it isn’t as efficient as being there, I can certainly access the data stored on the Mac and run Apps.

Having used it now a few times, I would consider TeamViewer a requirement for my Mac Toolbox on both my home desktop and my MacBook.

 

Pros

  1. Free for personal use
  2. Gives you complete access to your remote Mac

 

Cons

  1. Depending upon connection bandwidth, the response can be ‘laggy’
  2. Depending upon connection bandwidth, the image in the ‘server’ window can pixelate
  3. Third-party software

 


Read my other macOS articles


 

Product Review of TripMode

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Product Review – I had read about TripMode, but it was a discussion of it as a recommended utility on the Mac Power Users podcast #386 Must Have Utilities that convinced me to purchase it. TripMode is a Mac utility that allows you to (per their website) “Easily block unwanted apps from accessing the Internet the second you connect to a hotspot“.

The utility is very useful when you are operating your MacBook over a hotspot instead of WiFi (IEEE 802.11). As I have found while traveling, there are many Mac software packages that are constantly trying to use the Internet. If you have a limited monthly data allocation for your hotspot device, you can very quickly find it used up in just a few days. I recently found that I had used 90% of my monthly 15G allowance in just six days! While my connectivity doesn’t end when I hit the 15G limit, my access speed is severely constrained.

TripMode seems to be the answer. I purchased ($7.99 from their website) it yesterday and put it to work on my MacBook. With TripMode in place, I was able to both monitor and control my data usage.

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Data monitoring is an option not enabled by default, but I wanted to see how much the various applications were using so I enabled it through the TripMode settings.

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You can create as many profiles as you like, giving each a separate name. You have can then choose which Apps are allowed to access the Internet in the profile by checking those you want in the list (Safari is selected in the image above).

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TripMode shows up in the Menubar at the top of your screen. The icon blinks red every time an App attempts to access the Internet and is blocked. When the TripMode icon is clicked you get a drop-down list of the Apps with an indication of which are enabled in the current profile and their data usage. This drop-down also lets you switch between profiles (the profile currently in use in the image above is ‘writing’.

You can set up the usage monitoring to start on any day of the month and to last for periods of a single day, a week or a month. Using TripMode I have been able to keep working over my hotspot, yet limit which Apps are using the limited resource. TripMode remembers which WiFi access points it has been turned on for in the past and automatically activates when one of those access points is used in the future.

Now that I have used this App, I consider it a must-have App for my MacBook. If you ever use a hotspot while traveling, this is an App you need to consider.

 

Pros

  • Easy to install and configure
  • Multiple profiles user definable
  • Profiles for different operating situations
  • TripMode starts as soon as you connect to Wifi
  • Vendor claims there is no tracking of Internet sites visited
  • An abbreviated user manual is available through the App

 

Cons

  • The $7.99 seemed a little high, but it was worth it
  • No indication of which App is being blocked when the icon flashes red

See my other macOS articles


 

Review of Eufy Smart Plug

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Product Review – My old mechanical timer for a lamp in my office finally failed after several years of service. I decided that this was an opportunity to take a look at one of the smart plugs. I found the Eufy Smart Plug on sale (it looks now like this product has been discontinued and replaced with the eufy Smart Plug Mini, about $22 now on Amazon) so I ordered it.

This is not the most ‘brilliant’ of smart plugs, but then neither did my application require much. I can set a schedule to turn the plug on and off, which is what I was primarily looking for. I can also turn the plug on and off remotely with the EufyHome App (availble on the App Store for free) on my iPhone. It was very easy to set up and pair with the Eufy App running on my iPhone.

While this unit does everything I need for my limited application, I would not buy another one. Any future purchases I make need to be compatible with HomeKit, preferably without the need for a controler.

 

Pros

  • Low cost (about $13 when I purchased it)
  • Easy to set up
  • Does everything advertised
  • Works With Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
  • Set on/off Schedules
  • Track energy usage
  • WiFi enabled
  • Can be controlled remotely from the App

 

Cons

  • Not Homekit compatible

Review of “Zonebox”

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Product Reviews – I read about Zonebox in Bob Levis’ book “Working Smarter for Mac Users“. This is a simple little productivity App that lets you define tasks (by clicking on the “+” button at the bottom right of the App interface) with an estimated completion time (default is 15 minutes, but you can assign a custom time by double clicking on the entry in the list), then when you activte one of the tasks, you get a countdown timer for the remaining time. In the image above you see that I have 14:03 remaining of my allocated 30 minutes for writing this review.

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The countdown also appears in the menubar when active. The developer has been proactive with this App already converting it to a 64-bit App, so there is no need to worry about the upcoming macOS 32-bit to 64-bit transition.

I find this useful when I start writing posts for my Blog. I am less likely to be distracted by other tasks when I know the timer is counting down. The App is free and is available on the Mac App Store.

 

Pros

  1. Free
  2. Simple to use user interface
  3. 64-bit

 

Cons

  1. Not many options
  2. Only ‘running’ tasks can be marked at ‘Done’

 


See my other macOS articles


 

Product Review – Textor iOS App

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Product Reviews – I heard about Textor on one of the podcasts that I listen to, though now I don’t remember which one it was. I think it maybe was “Mac Power User“. This is a free App for iOS devices for creating and editing plain text files. It currently has a 4.6/5 rating with 178 reviews in the App Store.

For what it is this app works well. Before Notes was cross-platform between Mac and iOS devices, this would have been a great App. Now though, I don’t see much advantage to using it over Notes. I guess if you have a text file you have created on your Mac and need to make some quick updates it might be useful. I will certainly keep the App on my iPad, but I doubt I will use it very often.

 

Pros

  • Free
  • Works well on plain text files
  • Access files using iCloud Drive or similar cloud services
  • Share access to file with Mac

 

Cons

  • Will not do RTF
  • It is far short of TextEdit

See my other iOS articles