Tag Archives: Product Review

Product Review: BoomStream Mini Bluetooth Speaker

61saHUmtqjL._AC_SL1010_A few months ago at a CapMac (Capital Macintosh User Group) meeting, I won a BoomStream Mini as a door prize. This is a small, very portable Bluetooth speaker. It is about 3 inches in diameter and 3 inches tall. It also has a 3.5mm input for connection to devices without Bluetooth.

The unit has a 500mA internal battery capable of powering it for up to 5 hours. The recharge time is 3.5 hours. Pairing the speaker with my iPhone was simple. With Bluetooth enabled on my iPhone I powered on the speaker. The speaker went into search mode and I selected it on my iPhone. An audio tone from the speaker confirmed the pairing.

The on-off switch is on the bottom and volume controls on the side as seen in the image above. It is charged through a micro USB port on the side of the unit. A short USB Type-A to micro USB cable is included. You must supply the USB power source.

Once paired, any audio file played on my iPhone is heard on the speaker. The 40 mm speaker produces good volume. I do not think that it is much louder than the iPhone natively produces though. The unit is rated as having a 90Hz to 20kHz frequency response. The speaker specs claim to work with connected devices up to 30 feet away. I did not verify this claim.

I have used the unit a few times when working in the yard or garage. I like to use it in those situations where having an AirPod fall out might result in its loss.

When I looked it up on Amazon today it appears as the ‘SCOSCHE BTSPK1 Portable Bluetooth Wireless Media Speaker‘. At the time I write this post the unit is listed at $29.98 on Amazon.

Pros

  • Easy to pair with iPhone
  • Moderate price
  • Good volume
  • Very portable
  • Reasonable 5-hour playtime
  • 30-foot range
  • micro USB charging

 

Cons

  • Poor sound quality – fine or podcasts, not so much for music
  • Slow to recharge – 3.5 hours

Web Tool for Better Writing – Hemmingway Editor

The video above appears in the Further Reading article

I write articles for my Blog almost every day. Sometimes I write several. These may be only a few sentences or several paragraphs in length. I like to work at improving my writing so I have adopted two tools. These are the Safari extension and the Hemmingway Editor

I posted in March of 2018 about the Grammarly extension for Safari. This is a free option for you. The Safari extension only works on web documents. You do have the option with Grammarly of uploading files for analysis. A benefit of the browser extension is that it analyzes every form I fill out on-line. I enter the text to post on my WordPress Blog through the web portal. The extension performs its check on my writing and I can correct it before publishing the post.

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The Hemmingway Editor is also either a free web-based tool or a $19.99 App that you can run on your desktop. I have been using the web version of the tool. You can see a screenshot of this document in that tool before I tweaked it from the suggested changes.

The Hemmingway Editor gives you feedback and suggestions for improving your writing.

  1. It provides a measure of the document’s readability.
  2. It gives you a word count
  3. It counts and identifies used adverbs
  4. It counts and identifies uses of passive voice
  5. It counts and identifies phrases that could be simpler
  6. It counts and identifies hard to read sentences

The only complaint I have is that I cannot copy and paste from Hemmingway into the WordPress web portal. Extra HTML formatting is copied over. I find that it is best to do a “Paste and Match Style”.

If you do any writing, I recommend that you try the Hemmingway Editor. I have been using it for a few weeks and I believe that it has helped me improve how I write.

Pros

  1. Free to use the web tool
  2. Gives visual feedback
  3. Interactive, you are immediately able to see the effect of changes
  4. Simple to use

Cons

  1. Requires an internet connection
  2. Cutting & pasting from Hemmingway pulls extra HTML formating

Further Reading

  1. Hemingway App: Hemingway Editor for Writing Improvement [Review]

Product Review: Anker Powerwave Stand

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(See my other Product Reviews) – I had problems with the Qi charging pad (W-18 Thunder Plus Fast Charging Wireless Charger) I originally bought and used with my iPhone 8 so I looked on Amazon and found the Anker Powerwave Stand. I have been using it now for a couple of months and I am very happy with it. 

The phone sits on the stand and easily aligns with the magnetic coil for consistent charging. It has dual coils that allow for either landscape or portrait orientation on the stand. The stand is capable of “Quick Charge” for Samsung phones, but I only use the Standard Charge Mode with my iPhone 8. I can even leave the Otterbox case on my phone and it works well with it. 

If you are looking for a Qi charger for you smartphone, I can recommend this one. 

Pros

  1. Qi Certified
  2. Less than $20 on Amazon ($18.99 the day I write this review)
  3. Works with phone in landscape or portrait orientation

Cons

  1. Fast charging on iPhone is not supported
  2. Uses a USB Micro-A connector for power input 
  3. Only a 3 ft USB cable is provided
  4. You must provide a 5V 2A power source

Product Review – Texas Historical Marker Guide App

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(See my other 2019 Road Trip and iOS related posts) – On our recent road trip, my wife and I passed several Texas Historical Markers along the roadside. We were curious as to what they said but really didn’t want to take the time to stop and read them. That made me remember a book my father had “Why Stop?: A Guide to Texas Roadside Historical Markers“.

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This book was published in 2013 and contains the information of more than 2500 Texas roadside markers. They are still available on Amazon for $15.76 (paperback) and $9.59 (Kindle) at the time I write this.

Of course, the information in that guide is dated and I didn’t have a copy with me on our trip.

I checked to see if there was anything on-line about the markers. What I discovered is the “Texas Historical Marker Guide” App for the iPhone. Not only does this App have more than 16,000 Historical Markers included in its database, but it also has the ability for users to contribute updates.

The App can be purchased through the App Store for $2.99. Per the App website:

Texas is home to over 15,000 historical markers. And now there’s an app to help you find them!

Features:
-Onboard marker database means you can browse markers without an Internet connection.
-Browse markers by geographic locations including cities and counties.
-Browse markers by type, size, and subject.
-Browse attractions where markers can be found including cemeteries; state parks; historic districts; etc.
-Uses Location Services to find your current location and display markers in the current county. (Internet connection required)
-Check-in at markers to keep track of visits!
-Update marker coordinates! (Device with GPS radio required)
-Record marker conditions!

-Includes conditions of marker where reported.
-Includes text for many markers with more being added frequently.

-Take pictures with an in-app camera or import from camera roll! (Pictures are not included with app.)
-Share your favorite markers via FaceBook, Flickr, Mail, and iMessage!

Includes:
-Texas Centennial markers and monuments from 1936!
-Old San Antonio Road markers erected by DAR and the State of Texas in 1918!
-San Jacinto Battleground markers erected by DRT and the State of Texas in 1912!
-Complete Texas works of Pompeo Coppini!
-Selected Texas works of Waldine Tauch, Frank Teich, Elisabet Ney, and others!
-Blue Star Memorial markers (all the ones we know about.)
-New markers erected since 2012!

This is an App that we will use almost every time we are out on the roads (not the Interstates) of Texas.

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If you and your family drive Texas, this might be an inexpensive App to help pass the time on the road while learning more about our state.

In the 34 county Hill Country region of Texas, the App shows more than  2300 markers. More than 25 markers show up in the App within 5 miles of my home location.

I used the location of the CapMac (Capital Macintosh User Group) meetings (red arrow) I attend monthly in Austin and found all of the markers shown in the image to the left. You can literally find markers all over the state.

If you really like the App, follow them on Facebook.

 

 

Pros

  1. Inexpensive at $2.99
  2. Automatically tracks your location
  3. Nearby markers pop up on map
  4. User can easily drill down to details of marker

Cons

  1. Text is a little small and can be challenging to read in a moving vehicle
  2. More of a desire than a Con: it would be nice to be able to touch a button to have the details read to you
  3. More of a desire than a Con: it would be nice to have a setting that would automatically read you every marker within a set distance

See my other iOS articles


 

Product Review: “Duplicate File Finder Remover”

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Product Reviews – I recently came across “Duplicate File Finder Remover“. This is a free App from Nektony Limited with a $9.99 Pro version in-App upgrade. As I pointed out in one of my previous articles (TUNEUP YOUR OS X MAC – PART 2), keeping plenty of free space on your boot disk is important.

I have downloaded it from the Mac App Store to my MacBook Pro and have been putting it to use. This utility is a quick way to scan your disk for duplicate files and remove them to free up space.

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The App is highly rated in the Mac App Store with over 1500 ratings and an average of 4.7. The App scans your disk quickly (it took only a few seconds to scan the 180GB in use on my MacBook Pro SSD). The resulting report is very intuitive and allowed me to easily remove duplicate files.

Pros

  • The basic version is free
  • Runs quickly
  • Lets you decide what to delete
  • Rated 4.7 with over 1500 ratings

 

Cons

  • Pro version costs $9.99

 

Based on my experience with it so far, I recommend this App. I will be making it one of the Essential Apps I install on all of my Macs.


See my other Mac & OS X articles


 

Product Review: W-18 Thunder Plus Fast Charging Wireless Charger

UPDATED 3/30/20 – Sometime along the way, Apple has updated the iPhone firmware. Now I can again charge my iPhone8 with this charger without any problems. 

UPDATED 10/15/19 – Sadly since I updated to iOS 13 this charger no longer works flawlessly with my iPhone 8. The device does charge my iPhone, but the iPhone beeps every 30 seconds or so and seems to reset the charging process. I tried to find the charger on the “official” Qi Consortium Certified device list, but it was not there. It looks like I will have to buy a replacement if I want Qi charging at my bedside at night.

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Product Reviews – After I purchased an iPhone 8 last fall, I saw these Qi chargers for sale in one of the Malls in Singapore. We purchased a pair of these as my wife also has an iPhone 8.

So far they have worked well for us. I should have placed a ruler in the photo to give a feel of the size of the charging pad. It is 4″ square and about 1/4″ thick. Power is supplied to the charging pad by a USB Micro connector from any 5V 2A source. As you can see from the photo, the charging pad is lit by a green LED when not in use.

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When you place your device on the charging pad the LED changes to a slowly pulsating deep blue.

Pros

  • The convenience of just laying your device on the pad to charge
  • Supports iOS 7.5W charging
  • lightweight, easy to transport

Cons

  • Works, but with the constant beeping I would opt for a Qi Certified charger
  • pulsating blue light while charging might be a little distracting when at your bedside at night for some

This is a product that I would not recommend.

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


 

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