CategoryReview

iRig HD wins ‘Best of Show’ award at CES

irig_hd_connect_iphone5_gui_335I don’t usually publish CES news, but I’m pretty excited about IK Multimedia’s “iRig HD,” the next generation of its iOS (and now Mac) interface for guitars and basses. I use the original iRig all the time (currently to practice for the upcoming Macworld All-Stars appearance at Cirque du Mac.)

IK Multimedia unveiled the “HD” version of its popular guitar interface at CES, and today announced it earned an iLounge Best of Show award.

The original iRig connected to iOS devices through their microphone/headphone jack. The iRig HD connects in a variety of ways: through the 30-pin or Lightning connector on iOS devices and now through USB on your Mac. Going through the dock connector promises a higher quality digital signal — a promise I look forward to testing. It also adds a pre-amp gain control, which should alleviate one of the very few shortcomings of the original version. Like its predecessor, the iRig HD uses a free companion app to act as a virtual amplifier. Additional amps, stomp boxes and other effects can be added as in-app purchases.

Here’s how IK Multimedia describes it the iRig HD:

iRig HD is a high-quality digital guitar/bass/instrument interface that allows users to plug their guitar or bass into their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac. It can be used with the AmpliTube range of guitar amps/effects apps and software or any other real-time processing app/software, like GarageBand and more. Using AmpliTube, users can play with the sound of their favorite amplifiers and effects, record their performance and compose entire songs, everywhere. iRig HD features crystal clear digital signal thanks to its superior 24 bit converter, an onboard gain control for perfect level setting, a low power consumption circuit for longer device battery life, plus an ultra-slim design and interchangeable adapter cables for maximum portability and universal compatibility.

The iRig HD is scheduled to be available in the spring; pricing has not yet been announced, but according to reports from CES it will carry a $99 price tag. Look for a full review on The Mac Observer as soon as I’m able to test it.

SPOT Connect Delivers Peace of Mind—via Satellite

As any good scout will tell you, the best way out of a bad situation is to be prepared. But how do you call for help if your adventures take you beyond the reach of the nearest cell tower? As Contributing Editor Chuck La Tournous discovered, a company called SPOT offers a clever way of combining the reach of a satellite communicator with the power of your smartphone. And it might just save your life.

You can read the full review at The Mac Observer.

‘First weekend with the iPhone 5’ on MacJury

You may have already heard, but Apple released some sort of new phone last week and Chuck Joiner was kind enough to ask me to talk about it on his excellent MacJury podcast.

Also on the panel were Adam Engst, publisher of TidBITs and Take Control Books, Katie Floyd, host of the Mac Power Users podcast and Mark Tuccio, principle at piqsure.com. The show focused on first impressions of Apple’s latest phone, as well as upgrade options and advice, some advice on solving battery issues with the new phone/iOS and what makes Chuck and his wife the greatest parents ever, according to Twitter.

MacJury episode 1213 is available as a free download at the MacJury website.

TMO Review: Scosche RAILkase Makes Serious iPhone Protection Downright Stylish

I may have become to iPhone cases what Imelda Marcos was to shoes. Somehow — and it may be a function of this job — I seemed to have amassed quite a collection of them: silicon cases, rubber cases, cases with irked fowl on the back, cases that can open my beer bottles, cases that can survive a fall off a cliff. You name it, I probably have it.

It was with some hesitation, then, that I agreed to review Scosche’s new RAILkase ($59) — a combination of interchangeable silicone sleeves with a clever, easily removable “exoskeleton” (essentially a bumper with a latch), made of — and this is what caught my attention — AIRCRAFT ALUMINUM. I don’t know what distinguishes aircraft aluminum from regular aluminum, and frankly I don’t care; it’s got the word “aircraft” in it and that’s good enough for me.

Scosche RAILkase

The combination of silicon and aluminum on the RAILkase provides serious protection for your iPhone. The aluminum bumper wraps around the entire phone, ready to take the impact of a fall and transfer it to the silicone wrap to be absorbed. It’s not a new concept, but it’s well implemented here, and the use of aluminum rather the the more standard heavy-duty plastic inspires confidence that your phone is going to be just fine after that sudden introduction to your asphalt driveway — and that your case is going to survive as well.

The Inside Story

While that’s all well and good, there are lots of cases on the market that can make pretty much the same claim. What sets the RAILkase apart is design. The silicon sleeve slips easily on and off the phone, with a not-too-tight fit that still keeps it securely in place. The silicone is thicker than many other cases I’ve tried. That and the sleeve’s silky smoothness give it a high quality feel. Cutouts for the cameras, sensors and buttons are well placed and and the cutouts sport a beveled edge so they taper gracefully to the phone’s surface, maintaining a quality feel. The fact that I’ve devoted an entire paragraph to a silicon sleeve should give you an indication of just how well made this thing is. Oh, and did I mention Scosche includes two sleeves? One in black and one in white, to match — or contrast — the phone you own.

Did We Say ‘Aircraft Aluminum?’

But it’s the RAILkase’s aluminum bumper that really makes it stand out. The bumper (Scosche calls it an exoskeleton) is hinged with a quick-release latch that makes it drop-dead simple to put on or remove. That’s perfect for folks like me who use car cradles that won’t work with cases. I’m also a big fan of the RAILkase’s hourglass shape. It fits naturally in my hand and I actually prefer it to the iPhone 4/4s’ straight lines and sharp edges. Scosche says it uses high impact polycarbonate in conjunction with the aluminum to avoid interference with the iPhone’s antenna. In our testing, we saw no differencen in signal with the case on or off.

Attention To Detail

Another standout design feature is the RAILkase’s approach to using the iPhone’s mute switch. While most cases I’ve seen use a cutout or flap to allow access to the switch, the RAILkase exoskeleton includes its own switch that integrates seamlessly with the iPhone’s. I’ve never seen one like it and it gives the RAILkase a finished, polished feel.

While Scosche touts the RAILkase as being rugged protection, its styling and impeccable design help it avoid the brick-like connotation that usually brings. It’s a great choice for everyday use, and its shape and quality make it a pleasure to use.

Read this article on The Mac Observer for my Pros, Cons and Final Rating.

AmpliTube iRig puts a recording studio in your pocket

I’ve been playing bass guitar since I was 12, and while I’ve always loved the playing music side of playing music, I’ve never been much on the lugging-equipment-around aspect. I deplored it so much, in fact, that I quit the wedding band business for a time, only coming back when the band agreed to hire roadies to take care of our gear for us. Even breaking out the practice amp was a chore I avoided, which meant that I didn’t rehearse nearly as much as I suppose I should have.

Continue reading

Take Control of Media on Your iPad now available

Jeff Carlson is a smart guy and a very good writer. If you want to know more about your iPad 2, you should buy his book.

Before you say “It’s an iPad — I already know everything I need to,” see if you can answer these questions:

  • How do I move my media to my iPad?
  • How do I highlight reading material in iBooks?
  • What app should I use to check out ebooks from my public library?
  • How do I read magazines on the iPad?
  • How do I play my music from my iPad to my home stereo system?
  • How can I make music playlists right on the iPad?
  • What are six ways of adding a video file to the iPad’s memory?
  • How do I set up a slideshow of my photos on the iPad?
  • What tricks can I use to take better photos with my iPad 2 camera?
  • How do RAW images work with the iPad?
  • How can I integrate my iPad and my Apple TV?
  • How can I use my iPad as a remote control for consumer electronics?

That’s a lot of pretty advanced stuff for 15 bucks.

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Viva Elvis’ is a hunka hunka burnin’ fun

The biggest problem with doing a show based on Elvis Presley’s life is that he became larger than life (and no, that’s not a “Fat Elvis” joke). The King of Rock and Roll became a legend that nothing (eventually not even he) could live up to, then sadly — a parody, a stereotype.

How then to get around that problem to produce something that’s not a parody? Something that honors the King’s life and legacy without turning into a caricature? For the folks at Cirque du Soleil’s “Viva Elvis,” the answer was simple. And brilliant. Continue reading

Flow, project/task manager, now available

Flow, an online project/task management system with companion iOS and Mac apps and collaboration features is now out of beta:

We’ve got great news. As of today, Flow is available to everyone for only $9.99 per month or $99 per year. The price includes unlimited tasks and task lists in addition to our free iPhone and Mac apps. You’ll also be able to purchase accounts for your team at a discounted rate—the more you purchase, the more you save.

As a thank you for all your great feedback, we’d like to offer you $30 off of your first year of an annual subscription. If you’d like some more time to decide, you’ll still be able to use Flow for free for the next 14 days.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed using Flow so far. We’ve got a lot of great features planned, so stay tuned to our blog.

I’ve been beta testing it for several weeks now, and it’s a highly functional, gorgeous system. It comes with a free trial and a neat companion iOS app. If you’re looking for a better way to manage team projects, it’s definitely worth a look.

Newer’s HDMI adapter gives your Mac the ‘Big Screen’ treatment

[In my latest piece over at The Mac Observer, I look at very cool adapter from Newer Technology that lets you hook up your Mac’s video (and audio!) to an HTDV. I examine it mostly from a road warrior angle, but it’s also got some great applications as a home theater solution (as an alternative to an Apple TV) or a presentation tool. The full review is at TMO, along with my final “star” rating.]

I spend a fair amount of time in hotel rooms these days, and lately, I’ve noticed a couple of trends in in-room entertainment. No, not that kind of entertainment — I’m talking about the increasing frequency of HDTVs and the decreasing quality of the programming available for them. I mean, how many different ways can you mash up reality TV concepts? What’s left — “The Real Housewives of the Jersey Shore Apprentice for Survivor Runway Designers?”

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No, between Hulu and burning my own DVDs onto my MacBook Pro I rarely want for something good to watch. But viewing all that content on a 15” laptop when there’s a perfectly good 42” LCD screen blankly staring at me from the wall is not my idea of an efficient use of technology.

Since I usually have a projector cable and a Mini DisplayPort adapter with me, I can get a pretty good picture, but I’m stuck with laptop sound, since I’ve never been able to get the audio in on those sets to work with the video from the projector cable. Besides, when it comes to video-input acronyms, I’d rather go with HDMI than SVGA any day. On a more business-related note, I’ve come to love running through my presentations on a big screen. I find it a much more natural way to practice the delivery and pacing of a talk.

Suffice it to say that when I learned about Newer Technology’s Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter, my interest was piqued — especially when I learned it carried stereo audio to the HDMI port as well as video.

Like most of Newer Technology’s products I’ve tried, it’s a clever and thoughtful concept, well executed. The male Mini DisplayPort jack ends in a female HDMI port, which has pluses and minuses. On the downside, it means you’ll have to supply your own HDMI cable — which means cannibalizing one from another source whenever you need it, or buying a dedicated cable — which adds to the total cost of your solution. On the plus side, it means you can choose whatever length of cable suits your needs; it also presumably keeps the adapter’s overall cost down. I suppose it’s a pay-one-way-or-another situation, and with a little online digging, you might even find a separate cable for less than what an integrated adds to the price of the adapter.

Audio is supplied through your computer’s USB port, which the adapter integrates into its HDMI port. It’s a nice solution, which provides an uncompressed stereo signal through an integrated USB audio decoding chip.

In practice, the adapter couldn’t be simpler to use. Just plug the adapter’s two cables into your Mac (Mini DisplayPort and USB), plug one end of your own HDMI cable into the adapter on one end and the TV on the other. Make sure your TV is tuned to the right input and you should be all set. If your Mac doesn’t recognize the new display on its own (mine did every time), just fire up your System Preferences’ Displays pane and choose it. You can choose to use your TV as a second monitor or a mirror of your Mac’s screen. Audio volume is controlled the same way as your Mac’s speaker — either through software controls or the keyboard. Although the Newer Technology adapter is capable of displaying full 1020p high definition video, what you’ll actually get depends on the source. But in all resolutions I tried, the output was pristine, with no jittering or artifacts. Sound quality was equally good, although I tested it using the TV’s internal speakers and not a high quality sound system.

My only quibbles with the adapter are small ones. First, the plastic housing of the adapter felt slightly “soft” to me, which I at first attributed to a lower quality. After some fairly rough testing, though, the adapter was still in great shape, and I began to think that had the housing been more rigid, it would have been more likely to break. The softness, I suspect, provides more give to withstand the rigors of a travel bag.

Second, at $49.99, I thought it seemed expensive. Searching online, though, it seems in line with or less than similar adapters I found. The only significantly cheaper alternatives only work on a select few newer Macs, and Newer Technology offers those, too.)

So then, the real question is what value to you put on the ability to turn an HDTV into a big, beautiful monitor and speaker for your Mac? While the occasional traveler might be inclined to make do with that small screen, the seasoned road warrior is sure to want Newer’s HDMI adapter for his or her arsenal.

One thing’s for sure: you’ll never be happier to find an HDTV in your next hotel room than you will when you have the Newer HDMI adapter in your travel bag. And you’ll never have to settle for hotel programming again.

Start spreadin’ the news: The RandomMaccess Guide to Macworld NY 2000

You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto, but don’t panic. Macworld in the Big City can be a breeze. Just don’t act like a tourist.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — Macworld is part cult revival, part geek-fest, part carnival, and all fun. PC World may be bigger, Internet World may get more buzz, but for good ol’ enthusiasm and camaraderie , nothing outside Heaven’s Gate can even compare. At Macworld, you’re among your own kind; there’s something special about knowing that the Mac-centric phrases that earn you funny looks from your family and friends will more often than not be finished for you by your fellow evangelistas before you can get them out of your mouth. Where else can you wax nostalgic about what a workhorse your old IIci was, or the first time to saw the Graphing Calculator demo? Not even your fellow User Group members are likely to put up with much of that.

The fact that Apple is in a new Golden Era makes the Expo even more exciting. There’s a palpable charge in the air — a realization that really, REALLY cool things are going on here, and that somehow you’re a part of it. At last year’s love fest, yours truly was sitting in the press section during Steve Job’s keynote. As he wrapped up the introduction of the iBook, he announced that a hundred iBook-laden Apple employees were scattered throughout the audience to let us get our hands on the clamshell notebook. Turning to my left, I realized that the person sitting next to me was wearing an Apple polo shirt and had a canvas bag on her lap. “I guess I picked the right seat,” I said to her. “I guess you did,” she replied, and handed me a Tangerine-flavored iBook, hooked up to the web via AirPort. The first site I called up: your favorite Users Group site, of course.

Cool.

I don’t know what’s in store for this year’s Expo, but I’m laying down money that Steve will manage a surprise or two. The iMac line is getting a little long in the tooth, and I’m personally hoping for an Apple-branded PDA, but regardless of the announcements, there’s sure to be a lot to get excited about.

To help you get the most out of your Macworld experience, we’ve put together a few tips. Ignore them if you will, but consider they come from someone who’s been on both sides of the velvet rope quite a few times.

Traveling in New York

C’mon, you live in New Jersey, don’t even think of staying in a Manhattan hotel. Don’t think of driving, either. For me, the only way to cross the Hudson is by rail. The trains today are convenient, cleaner, usually cool and they run frequently — especially during rush hour. Don’t get me wrong, mass transit is no gondola ride through Venice, but it’s a heck of a lot better than fighting midtown traffic, avoiding gridlock and playing chicken with other cars trying to merge into the tunnel. Both NJ Transit and the PATH trains will get you right into Penn Station. From there, it’s a short ride west (I prefer to walk) to the Javits Center. (You can get a schedule for NJ Transit trains here.)

Brown Bag It

Food prices in the Expo center are obscene — only tourists stand on line for an hour to pay six bucks for a small Coke. If you get hungry, walk a couple blocks east and grab a hot dog or gyro from a food cart vendor (the food’s terrific as long as you don’t think about it too much), or hit the local McDonald’s (food’s not as good, but you’ll probably stress about it less). You can always fill up on the candies and snacks some exhibitors give away, but do them the courtesy of picking up some literature or listening to their pitch for a minute or two — it’s good exhibit etiquette. And by all means, never pass up a booth giving away bottled water. It costs $4 at the snack stands and it’s worth its weight in gold after schlepping around the exhibit floor for a couple hours.

You can take it with you — but don’t

There’s a weird urge to bring you Mac with you to an Expo. Maybe it’s akin to cruisin’ Main Street in your cherry muscle car on a Saturday night, or lifting weights on the boardwalk at Muscle Beach. Part desire to preen, part to show off your toys, your connectedness — whatever. If you take no other piece of advice with you to the Javits Center this summer take this one: When that urge to stuff your PowerBook or your iBook in your favorite satchel or bookbag strikes, fight it. Heck, beat it to a pulp. Then kick it while it’s down. Then stomp up and down on it a few times to makes sure it’s dead. The absurd thing is that this is not advice that should even need to be given. The Expo Center is a packed, sweaty place, full of people who will bump you, shove you, and push you out of their way (and let me take this opportunity to apologize for my part in that right now). You will be burdened with flyers, folders, t-shirts, brochures, demo disks and other miscellaneous items of dubious worth until you feel like your arms are going to shear off at the shoulders. The last thing you need to carry is your computer. There are e-mail stations througout the hall, and nobody’s going to send you a message that’s that critical, anyway. Bring a pad of paper and a pen to take notes — heck, don’t even bother with the pen, you can get plenty at the Expo.

The 100-booth dash

With so many exhibitors to see, it’s easy to wind up missing something. Here’s my tactic for making sure I hit all the highlights. Count on doing at least two rounds through the hall. Make your first trip a sort of reconnasaince mission — just breeze through the aisles, stopping for as little as possible, making notes of things that catch your interest. Then, once you’ve worked your way to the end, use your list as an itinerary for your next pass. By this point, you’ll be able to focus on the exhibitors and products that are important to you, and bypass the “filler” in between. You’re bound to find an extra gem or two that you didn’t see on your first go-around, but you’re sure to waste a lot less time. Even better, visit the expo site, print out the exhibitors list, and use that as your starting point — checking off the must-sees, crossing out the must-misses.

How much are you willing to pay for a free t-shirt?

Post-It Note pads, pens, keychains and other tchockes are in abundance at trade shows. T-shirts, however, are rarer now than in years gone by, and competition for them can get pretty fierce — and pretty silly. Here are a couple of the ways companies are capitalizing on the free shirt frenzy — don’t let yourself get caught in their traps.

  • The “Visit Our Partners Booth” ploy. – Microsoft is big on this one. The premise is that you get a card or collect a certain amount of plastic coins by visiting different booths around the hall. Bring back the required booty, and you’ll get a free t-shirt. The problem is, you can only get the stamp or coin by listening to the sales pitch at each booth. That can waste a lot of your time, and subject you to some pretty inane banter.
  • The “Sit Through Our Presentation for a Chance to Win” game. Some companies hold in-booth demos or “learning sessions.” In reality, they’re usually just sales pitches. In order to entice you to sit through them, they’ll dangle the chance to win one of a small number of t-shirts to those who sit through their spiel. It’s a different variation of the same idea — a freebie (or at least the chance of one) in exchange for your time.

Now I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with either of these tactics. All I’m saying is that you’ve got to measure the value of a free t-shirt against the value of your time — time you could be using to learn about things that really interest you, or are relevant to your job and/or company. In my experience, it usually turns out to be a really expensive t-shirt.

Live and learn

If you’re lucky enough to have been able to scrounge or buy a conferences badge, by all means, take advantage of them. The quality of Macworld Expo presentations is usually top-notch, with the A-list of the Mac elite showing off their skills — and hawking their books. The educational conferences are usually excellent as well. Last year’s Photoshop session made me feel like an absolute newbie, but reignited my enthusiasm for a program I had been seriously under-utilizing. Watch out for the sales presentations-in-disguise, though. These are usually held at the vendor’s booth and are always free. Like the t-shirt ploy, it’s primarily designed to get you to sit through a sales pitch for as long as possible.

Life on the streets

Our last bit of advice isn’t meant for the Expo floor, but rather for outside the Javits Center. New York is a far more tourist-friendly place, but it’s still a big city, so use common sense. Take your badge off when outside the center. Your bulging tote bags may still give you away, but there’s no need to advertise the fact that you’re an out-of-towner. Stay in heavily trafficked, well-lit areas, and don’t give money to strangers. The story about the guy who got mugged on his way home to Virginia leaving him just a few bucks shy of train fare home (which he’ll gladly forward to you if you give him your address) may be heart-breaking, but it just ain’t so. If you’re uncomfortable giving him the brush-off, point him back towards the Javits Center and tell him to contact the authorities there. Then keep your eyes forward and walk away.

Heck, if you were that gullible, you’d be running Windows.

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