TUAW's Best of 2012 Personal Picks: Victor Agreda, Jr.
It's the holiday shopping season and many of you are trying to find that perfect gift for the Apple owner in your life. Rather than a plain gift guide to help you navigate the sea of hardware, software and accessories, we decided to bring things down to a personal level and provide individual lists of TUAW's favorite gear. Each writer will share a list of the top items that we bought or used this year. Although I didn't review as many items as most of the TUAW crew, I managed to hit upon a few gems this year.
1Password (on sale for $7.99, more than 50% off)
I simply wouldn't consider using a mobile device without 1Password. The best solution for keeping your passwords, account info and serial numbers in one place just got better this year with an update that means I no longer have to sit next to my Mac and use local WiFi to sync. After Dropbox, 1Password is the app I install on any new machine.
I take an inordinate amount of screenshots, whether I'm complaining on Twitter or complaining here on TUAW. I used to email myself the photos, and Pastebot works well, but for moving pictures around in batches, PhotoSync has always impressed me with a good UI and rock-solid performance. If you need to send images from iDevice to Mac quickly and often (using WiFi
iStopMotion (on sale now, $7.99-19.99)
This year I decided to keep one of my old iPhones instead of selling it, just so I could set up iStopMotion on the iPhone as a remote, connecting wirelessly to my iPad or Mac. My son has already created a handful of stop motion animated short films, and he's hooked. This is the kind of thing I wish I'd had as a kid! iStopMotion is a magical sort of thing that makes stop motion easy and fun.
Puppet Pals 2 (on sale, $4.99)
I used to make animation using Director, and the "record" function was a lot of fun to get animation roughed out quickly. Puppet Pals 2 allows you to record the movement and audio using a set of puppets (you can add your own face to them) and settings. It's a lot of fun for kids, and I'm not afraid to say, too much fun for adults like myself.
I've been using Slothcam for ages to peep webcams from around the world. For some reason seeing Times Square or Tokyo with an invocation of Dashboard made the world seem smaller. Slothcam is now available on Mac and iOS, and it's one of the better webcam apps out there. The browser app is a good bet if you like to add your own URLs.
Naturespace (free, in-app purchase for more audio)
Naturespace is a collection of soothing nature recordings set to loop for relaxtion and focus purposes. A recent update added support for the iPhone 5, but more importantly, added folders so you can easily organize your audio library. While Rondo is a cool 3D simulation for your iTunes songs, Naturespace recordings are actually recorded in 3D, with pristine quality, then carefully and seamlessly looped. There are dozens of the aural landscapes available via in-app purchases, and the quality is the best there is. Naturespace is one of my favorite apps ever, and I use it to meditate, go to sleep or just tune out distractions.
Fantastical (currently on sale, $2.99-14.19)
I've long needed the natural language input Google offers via its web calendar, and Fantastical adds this to all of my Apple products. Sure, Siri will add events to my calendar, but Fantastical's design and ubiquity across devices (even those not supported by Siri) makes it a winner for me. Get it on Mac for the menu bar, and iOS for your iPhone.
Clear (currently 50% off, $.99)
For long term planning and some LaunchPad-based quick actions, I use OmniFocus regularly. Its sync has always worked flawlessly, and it is a powerhouse of planning tools. But when I need a quick punchlist, I don't need to build an atom bomb. Clear makes creating quick lists kinda fun, and using it to scratch things off the list is just as fun. Good design always wins in my book (not that OmniFocus is ugly, just burdened by an enormous feature set), and of all the basic "to do" apps out there, Clear wins handily.
Passbook (free in iOS 6)
I was as skeptical as anyone about Passbook, but as I wrote after launch, Passbook won me over. It's still got some flaws, like the ridiculous waste of time animation when shredding cards, and how every time I drive by Walgreen's I'm reminded that I can use my value card there, but I like this far better than the half-measures needed to get NFC working properly.
Plugable 12-port USB 2.0 hub ($25.95)
I gave up on desktop computers with my first generation Mac mini (which came with a whopping 256 MB of RAM, thanks Apple!), so when I use my MacBook Air for daily use I require a lot more than 2 measly USB ports. The Plugable hub is powered, easy to access, has a nifty blue glow (whoopdeedoo, why do they all do this?) and offers pretty speedy transfer rates, all things considered. It's small enough to pack if I ever need to carry it, too.
Ballistic iPad case ($69.99)
I reviewed this case and gave it two thumbs up. After trying a bunch of other cases, this is my favorite. For one thing, you can simply use the rubber part as a sort of cheap case, or for around the house protection. But when you want full protection the full case is really stout. I managed to break off the kickstand, but was able to snap it back in with some effort. If you use your iPad in public or it gets handled frequently, the Ballistic case is a great protection policy.
Verizon iPad ($459-$659)
In two years I've been with three Internet providers. Whenever Knology, AT&T or (now) Comcast fail me, trusty Verizon is there with a data plan that allows me to use the iPad as a hotspot. All this and I still have unlimited data with AT&T, so I can actually make FaceTime calls by using the iPad... Honestly the Verizon iPad is such a great piece of tech I hope, aside from battery and CPU updates, it never changes. The Verizon iPad mini also does in a pinch.
Renew SleepClock ($129.95)
My review on this is coming soon, but if you are interested in getting a better night's rest, the Renew SleepClock is for you. It monitors your sleep, tracking the time you spend in "deep" sleep (the good, restorative time). Over time it will recommend the optimal times to go to bed in order to wake up at the time you need. It's quite brilliant, and is another great example of consumer tech that improves our health and lives.
Joule II ($109.99)
While there are plenty of iPad stands out there, if you are serious about design you'll love the Joule II from Element Case. This sort of stand is expensive, but if you're adorning a boardroom, executive desk or just a trade show display, the Joule is precision engineered to be awesome.
While not technically an accessory, Simple's app is designed to be a functional component of your banking experience. Instead of designing the app as an afterthought, Simple aimed to build the app as a direct line to your account. I have been thoroughly impressed with Simple's service, not to mention the app. I even use the free "wallet" I was sent after starting an account. Sadly, Simple accounts are still invite-only, but when the service opens for everyone I think new customers will be pleasantly surprised by what an Apple-like banking experience can be.
The venerable 1/8" audio port
Yep, sometimes the analog ways are the best ways. I still love my analog ports, and I won't lie -- there are sometimes nefarious reasons for using them. Reasons like, I need a cable to be 20 feet long and not cost over $100 and not be a complete piece of garbage unless you order from just the right place on just the right day... Well, look, I'm talking about how much I hate HDMI as well, obviously. I appreciate the need for copy protection controls, but I will forever cherish the venerable "mini jack" audio port, which is one tech I actually grew up with still in use today. Think about that!
If you're looking for an easy gift, get one of those cheap bullet speakers (also called pop-up speakers in some cases). No, they are not for the audiophile. Yes, they will be louder than the built-ins, so that's all they are for. Pop-up speakers are great for travelers, kids, or anyone who might need a slight bit of amplification around the house.