January 27, 2012

Pogoplug Series 4 NAS: Streaming And Sharing Easier Than Ever, But Still Not Perfect [Review]

Pogoplug Series 4 NAS: Streaming And Sharing Easier Than Ever, But Still Not Perfect [Review]

Launched a few weeks ago, the Pogoplug Series 4 ($ 100) is Cloud Engines’ latest attempt at making their network-attached storage device as ubiquitous as the microwave oven. Like its predecessors, the S4 allows you to attach a hard drive or flash drive to create your own cloud, which you can use to stream media, share files or create slideshows, all of which can be accessed over the Internet and shared with others. Additionally, it can also be used for remote backup.

The S4 is much more of a slight refinement than a real advance of any kind, which could mean that the Pogoplug may have reached a level of maturity; while this may be true of the hardware, the software running it still has a way to go.

The Good:

Operating your own personal cloud gets easier with each new iteration of the Pogoplug, and the new package continues the trend. Even though the interface has been augmented with a steady stream of new features over the years, the system is still pretty easy to use. Getting up and running took about five minutes and consisted of simply plugging a storage device into the S4 — in this case a 500 GB GoFlex drive — then logging into the Pogoplug service via web browser and registering the device with a unique identifying code. Once that was done, I could begin accessing the GoFlex, which was full of stuff I’d copied onto it before I plugged it in to the S4.

Pogoplug Series 4 NAS: Streaming And Sharing Easier Than Ever, But Still Not Perfect [Review]

The Pogoplug web interface. Note that the “On My MBP” and “Pogoplug Cloud” devices are separate options available from Pogoplug.

Playing music was achieved via an interface very close to Apple’s iOS player. Streaming, even over 3G, was smooth and almost completely glitch-free. Likewise with smaller movies, such as clips shot with the iPhone. They required transcoding to play over the Internet, but that was easily done. I just clicked on the “Optimize” button on the Pogoplug’s iOS interface and the S4 did the rest. Transcoding happens fairly quickly for smaller movies: For example, a 100 MB, 36-second movie took just under three minutes to transcode (and it’s permanent, so you won’t have to repeat the process the next time you want to play that clip).

(Tip: If you find the S4”s transcoding pace a little plodding, another option is to use the excellent, free HandBrake media transcoder OS X app; while I experienced only a few seconds shaved by using Handbrake on my late-model Core2Duo MBP over letting the Pogoplug transcode, faster machines like the new Sandy Bridge-equipped machines will probably see significantly faster times using HandBrake).

The ability to stream videos is an advantage over some remote-storage services (like iCloud), which can’t. This also means that videos can be directly uploaded from your iPhone, which is pretty fantastic.

Here’s another big advantage over remote storage. Adding content — especially large files, or large batches of files — doesn’t require uploading; you can simply copy the stuff onto a portable hard drive or flash drive and connect it to the S4. Much faster.

Viewing photos (see our gripe about sorting photos below) was simple. Images can be swiped through, navigated with arrows or played as slideshows. Combined with the ability to rapidly add images to the library described above, this ease of navigation makes the Pogoplug system especially valuable to photographers wanting to share vast image libraries over the web (again, once the sorting nonsense is fixed).

Pogoplug Series 4 NAS: Streaming And Sharing Easier Than Ever, But Still Not Perfect [Review]

The photo navigation screen, with share options called up for the folder.

There are a ton of sharing options too. Besides being able to share one-way links to photos (as albums or slideshows), songs, movies and other types of files, there’s also the option to use the S4 as an open-access receptacle for files. Media can be tweeted or shared on Facebook directly from the Pogoplug interface.

With the exception of some new input options — one of which is pretty big — the device itself is practically identical to the device that immediately preceded it, the Pogoplug Mobile. Which is a good thing, because the form factor is now stripped of all nonsense; it’s small, but just large enough to fit a perfect complement of input options, including two external USB (now 3.0) inputs and a bonus one (an older 2.0) hidden under the removable lid.

The biggest change, though, is the addition of a SATA Seagate GoFlex port under that lid. For users devoted to the GoFlex system it’s a pretty big boon, allowing direct attachment of any GoFlex drive, and leaves the three USB ports open for things like thumb drives. A big green light indicates the S4 is powered.

The Bad:

There’s one big feature missing from the music player: any sort of ability to create or work with playlists. About the only thing I could do was tag songs so they’d show up in a heap in the favorites folder — not a good solution. Also — and this is expected — sound quality wasn’t fantastic when streamed over the ‘net, especially via 3G (though it sounded great when streamed over the same local network the S4 was attached to).

At some point, while I was trying to listen to music on the S4 on my iPhone from a cafe, it began indexing my library and wouldn’t let me access any music; this would have been very frustrating had I been relying on the S4 as the sole way to access my music.

The Pogoplug iOS app was very picky about what types of video files it played — more picky than other iOS media-player apps. Many common video formats (MKVs, for example) won’t play. Again, this can be fixed with HandBrake, but at the expense of time.

More frustration: The photo and video libraries were much more difficult to navigate than they should have been. Both types of media can only be sorted by date, with tiny thumbnails (that were particularly useless for videos) — and with no option to change it.

Pogoplug Series 4 NAS: Streaming And Sharing Easier Than Ever, But Still Not Perfect [Review]

Video library screen on the Pogoplug iPad app. Can you make anything out? I can’t — and I know what’s on there.

Verdict:

There’re some great new features here. The Pogoplug Series 4, together with the recent software interface tweaks, make it easier than ever to own a cloud and share from it. But that’s a relative thing; quality and frustrating interface holes mean the Pogoplug system still has a long way to go before it becomes a clear winner.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Pogoplug Series 4 NAS: Streaming And Sharing Easier Than Ever, But Still Not Perfect [Review]

Pogoplug Series 4 NAS: Streaming And Sharing Easier Than Ever, But Still Not Perfect [Review]

Pogoplug Series 4 NAS: Streaming And Sharing Easier Than Ever, But Still Not Perfect [Review]

Pogoplug Series 4 NAS: Streaming And Sharing Easier Than Ever, But Still Not Perfect [Review]

Cult of Mac

AOC e1649Fwu Portable USB Monitor: A good match for your MacBook

As many TUAW readers know, I have a serious love affair with my 11″ MacBook Air. If there’s one issue that I have with it, it’s that sometimes that screen seems just a little too small. Now AOC has released the e1649Fwu 16″ Portable USB Monitor ($ 139.99) that is perfect for those situations where you want a second monitor for your MacBook Air or any other Mac.

Design

For work with a laptop, the e1649Fwu is perfect. There’s no power supply required; you just plug the monitor into a USB port, and you’re ready to go. The screen measures 16″ diagonally, and has a foldout stand that props the monitor up at a slight angle. The monitor can only be used in landscape (wide) mode on the Mac and has a fixed resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels.

What would you use a portable monitor for? It’s perfect for giving presentations to a small group seated at a conference table, and it’s a great way to get additional screen real estate with any Mac. While it’s larger than the 11″ MacBook Air I tested it with, the e1649Fwu weighs 2.3 lbs and fits into a backpack or computer bag. It would be nice if AOC included a cheap bag of some sort to pack the monitor in to keep it scratch-free when mobile, but I’d rather have the low price tag than a bag.

Apple purists will note that the monitor isn’t up to “Apple standards.” I noticed that when you’re looking at a white display (a blank page, for instance) you can almost see the individual pixels on the screen. But still, it’s a very bright display. Colors seemed a bit more saturated on the AOC monitor than on the MacBook Air display, but that is a personal observation instead of a highly sophisticated fact.

The connection to your Mac is made through an included USB to mini-USB cable. The USB side has two connectors. If you happen to have an older Mac with low-power USB ports, you might need to plug both connectors into ports to get sufficient power for the monitor.

If I have one complaint with the e1649Fwu, it’s the location of the mini-USB port. For some reason, AOC chose to put it on the inside wall of the cavity made when you pull out the fold-out stand. As a result, it’s hard to get to — a simple connector on the back side of the monitor would have been sufficient and much easier to plug into.

Oh, yeah. I do have one more complaint — the name. Couldn’t you give it a more memorable title than e1649Fwu?

Functionality

I’m quite impressed with the e1649Fwu. It’s available online for about $ 130, there’s no need to carry around a power brick or heavy cable, and it just works when plugged in. Mac users will need to download and install the monitor driver from the AOC website prior to plugging in the monitor, but you can do that before your monitor shows up on your doorstep. Once that’s done, making the connection to the e1649Fwu with the cable gives you an instant second monitor.

Although I was unable to test the capability with a Mac, AOC says that multiple monitors can be attached to a single computer through multiple USB ports. That would be handy for gamers, day traders or anyone else who might want three or four monitors attached to their Mac.

The e1649Fwu doesn’t seem to even get warm when it’s on, and is completely silent. You would probably want to keep the host computer plugged in, as I’m sure that the load of the monitor would reduce battery life significantly.

Conclusion

The AOC e1649Fwu portable monitor is good-sized, reasonably priced and incredibly energy efficient. I can always tell if a product is a winner if I get the urge to buy it, and I’m seriously considering picking up one of these as a second monitor for my iMac and MacBook Air. It would be perfect for consultants who need to occasionally plug a monitor into a headless server and even makes a great primary screen for an 11″ MacBook Air with its cover closed (think about using a Twelve South BookArc and external keyboard …).



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Apple TV Hacked To Run App Store Apps, What It Means For Developers [Interview]

Apple TV Hacked To Run App Store Apps, What It Means For Developers [Interview]

Known developer Steven Troughton-Smith has been able to run iOS App Store apps on the Apple TV fullscreen at the device’s full, 720p resolution. Troughton-Smith also worked on the Siri port that was demoed months ago and made available for jailbroken iOS devices last week.

With the help of another developer by the name of TheMudKip and Grant Paul’s MobileLaunchpad launcher, Troughton-Smith has been able to run iOS apps natively on the Apple TV without using AirPlay.

The Apple TV was jailbroken with the latest untethered Seas0nPass jailbreak, making it possible for the developers to rewrite the software at the root level.

This hack is incredible because the iOS SpringBoard had to be rewritten from scratch for the Apple TV, effectively creating a new app launcher environment. Troughton-Smith told Cult of Mac that it’s “a window manager without being a Home screen,” meaning that he can write and tailor his custom Home screen and UI. The SpringBoard was rewritten using only QuartzCore.

Apple TV Hacked To Run App Store Apps, What It Means For Developers [Interview]

Cydia running fullscreen on the Apple TV

Another major breakthrough is that Troughton-Smith has been able to make side-by-side iOS apps possible on the Apple TV, meaning that one could have multiple apps open at once. Imagine a Mission Control-like view of Twitter, Facebook, and more on your giant flatscreen. Troughton-Smith told Cult of Mac that he has run 6-9 apps at once already. He noted that “lighter” apps work well, but many apps running at once can cause the Apple TV to crash. Apple’s current set-top box only has 256MB of RAM.

Apple TV Hacked To Run App Store Apps, What It Means For Developers [Interview]

Youtube and FaceTime running side-by-side

Apple TV Hacked To Run App Store Apps, What It Means For Developers [Interview]

Angry Birds running fullscreen

Fullscreen iOS apps have also been run by Troughton-Smith on the Apple TV at the set-top box’s 720p HD resolution. Interestingly, the Apple TV can run a myriad of resolutions like a regular computer, but not 1080p HD. It’s been rumored that the next Apple TV will offer full HD output.

While the videos and photos serve as proof that advancements are being made, Troughton-Smith told Cult of Mac that any sort of public release is “a long way off.” He said that “there’s way to much to do first,” noting that he still needs to find a method of input that works well for public distribution. Troughton-Smith told Cult of Mac that “the goal is to allow someone to write an app that supports the Apple TV that would even get approved on the App Store.” He said that the app would have to support Apple’s IR remote and that there would have to be a cursor for navigating. But that’s not even why he’s working on the hack.

When asked why he is working on this project, Troughton-Smith told Cult of Mac that he wants to “bring the ability to create apps to the Apple TV.”

“The fact that it [the Apple TV] can run existing apps is irrelevant. With this, anybody could add a few things into their app that would make it work on Apple TV now, even if their app is sold on the App Store. If Netflix or Hulu added the few input tweaks to be navigated by remote control, then their apps would work here. Adding support for Apple TV wouldn’t require a developer to use private API. Just add a few methods that get pass the IR remote input from MobileX and have a 720p-ready TV-out UI.”

Third-party apps for the iPhone were first made available for jailbreakers nearly a year before Apple introduced the App Store. Many have clamored for Apple to unveil an App Store environment for the Apple TV. Troughton-Smith said, ”Remember how the unofficial iPhone apps back in ’07 forced Apple’s hand in creating an App Store? I’d like AppleTV to get the same treatment.”

Apple TV Hacked To Run App Store Apps, What It Means For Developers [Interview]

Safari running fullscreen

Apple TV Hacked To Run App Store Apps, What It Means For Developers [Interview]

side-by-side iPhone apps

Apple TV Hacked To Run App Store Apps, What It Means For Developers [Interview]

Download iBooks on the Apple TV?

Cult of Mac

TUAW Best of 2011: Vote for your favorite iPad utility app

The nominations are in, and the poll is ready to go! The TUAW Best of 2011 awards are all about you — the readers — and what you think is the cream of the crop of Apple or third-party products and software. To vote, select one entry from the top nominations made by readers. We’ll be announcing the winner in just a few days. Vote early and often!

Happy New Year, TUAW readers! If you’re not struggling with the after-effects of too much partying last night, TUAW would like your votes for the best iPad utility app of 2011. The nominees in our penultimate TUAW Best of 2011 category are:

  • 1Password Pro (US$ 14.99), the amazing cross-platform app for securely storing all of your important secret information and passwords
  • Presentation Clock ($ 0.99), a simple but useful app for those who give presentations or do training, to make sure you’re on track.
  • Apple’s AirPort Utility (free), useful for setting up and maintaining Apple Wi-Fi networks.
  • Photon Flash Web Browser ($ 4.99), which allows Farmville addicts to get their fixes from an iPad.
  • Living Earth HD ($ 1.99, currently on sale for $ 0.99), a beautiful 3D simulation of Earth with world time, weather, and forecasts.

You have a couple of days to vote, and the winners will be announced on January 5, 2012. Let the voting begin!



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Apps to kickstart your New Year’s resolutions

With the first day of the new year falling on a Sunday, it’s is a great day to organize whatever resolutions you’ve made. Here are a few apps to get started with.

Get more organized

I’m spending my day getting my tasks lined up in 2Do ($ 6.99), which is one of the most reasonably priced to-do apps; it not only looks nice but packs in a lot of features. We took a look at the app in October and were impressed with the intuitive interface. I keep it synced between my iPad and iPhone using Dropbox.

If you’re looking to cut down on paperwork and implement a scan-to-cloud solution, you can invest in a Doxie Go for quick and painless scanning to the cloud service of your choice.

If you already have a scanner or multi-function printer but you’d like to move to cloud storage of your scans, give the $ 19.99 ScanDrop for the Mac a try. ScanDrop works with Evernote, Google Docs or OfficeDrop’s cloud service, but scanned files can also be saved on Dropbox or whatever other cloud service you utilize.

You can check out our review from March into a fuller look at the service. If you want to give it a try without dropping $ 20, the company offers the free ScanDrop Lite allowing scanning of up to 15 pages.

When Evernote is your destination and you’d prefer a DIY solution, you can roll your own watched folder setup for Evernote (a feature the Windows Evernote client ships with, sad to say). Using that script as a Folder Action quickly uploads any scans or other compatible files via the Evernote Mac client.

Eating right and losing weight

We took a look at LIVESTRONG Calorie Tracker ($ 2.99) last year, which Steve Sande felt was the best all-around fitness app for keeping track of both food and exercise. For a free app, Lose It! is a perennial favorite and has added a number of features in the past year including barcode scanning.

For focusing just on exercise, there’s Fitness HD for iPad, which is currently on sale for $ .99 and is also recommended by Steve. Runkeeper also went free during the past year and received a major upgrade at the end of October, and it’s the app I use to keep track of my exercise.

Steve has another new favorite: the Fitbit Ultra Wireless Tracker ($ 99.95) and the accompanying free Fitbit app. The device, which Steve reviewed here, clips onto clothing to track your activity during a day, and wirelessly logs that information. You can review the activity data at any time with the iPhone app or on the Fitbit website.

Create your own

Time to get a little meta: if you haven’t made your list of things you’d like to change this year, there are apps available for creating and keeping track of your resolutions. Resolutions 2012 (free) allows you to create resolutions from a variety of categories, as well as create your own. You can broadcast your resolutions to the world via Facebook or Twitter and also set reminders to nudge you to actually stick with those resolutions. However, you can’t delete the pre-set resolutions, and they’re very generic. There are a number of apps in the same vein that let you jot your resolutions down on your iPhone.

Normally $ 3.99, the New Year Motivation 2012 app is marked down to $ 0.99 for the holidays. This app provides a month’s worth of daily motivational reminders, helping you get on the the right track for the 12 months to come.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Steve Jobs and Japan: A Lifelong Romance

Steve Jobs and Japan: A Lifelong Romance

It’s a well-known fact that the late Steve Jobs was obsessed with simplicity and aesthetics, two traits that he drove into the core of Apple and will outlive him. What’s been less clear until his passing is how much those traits, his worldview, and the business that defines his legacy came from a lifelong affection for and interest in all things Japan.

Japanese tech journalist Hayashi Nobuyuki, who has covered Apple for years does a brilliant job chronicling Steve’s love of Japan in a piece for Nippon.com that I can’t recommend highly enough. A few of the tidbits can also be found in Walter Isaacson’s biography, but there are plenty of surprises to be had, as well. In particular, the stories of his vacations in Kyoto, the artisans and designers whose products he bought with regularity, and the time when he threatened to renounce the world and become a monk.

It’s a nice, pleasant read, perfect to enjoy with a cup of green tea and a headache. Happy New Year, everyone!

Cult of Mac

iPhone alarms work fine on 1/1 and 1/2, if you update iOS

There’s two possible explanations for why Engadget’s tipline was heating up this morning with emailed complaints about iPhone alarms not going off as scheduled on New Year’s Day (first reported last year and fixed in iOS 5), but we haven’t heard a peep about the problem.

Explanation #1: The vast majority of TUAW readers sporting iOS 5-eligible devices (everything after the 2nd-gen iPod touch and the iPhone 3G) have already updated, and the ones who haven’t don’t depend on their on-device alarm clocks.

Explanation #2: TUAW readers like to do New Year’s Eve up good and proper, and are still all sleeping it off.

Either way, we wish you a happy 2012, free of handy excuses for oversleeping like “My iPhone didn’t wake me up!”



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Jailbreakers hack iOS on Apple TV to run full-screen iPad apps

By Josh Ong

Published: 09:51 AM EST (06:51 AM PST)
Hackers have developed a workaround that enables full-screen versions of iOS apps for the iPad to run on a jailbroken Apple TV device.

Steve Troughton-Smith and a developer known as “TheMudkip” published over the weekend photos and video of the hack, dubbed MobileX, for Apple’s set-top box.

“MobileX is a window manager for iOS that replaces springboard with the added bonus of letting iPhone and iPad apps run on the Apple TV,” Troughton-Smith said in the video, adding that “any apps just run and scale up to the 720p resolution adequately.”

The hack appears to be in its early stages and has yet to be released to the public. In order to run the utility, the developers first performed the “Seas0nPass” jailbreak on the Apple TV. Apple has warned in the past that the jailbreak process, which allows users to run unauthorized code and apps on iOS, may void a device’s warranty.

Given that the Apple TV doesn’t include a full-featured input method such as a touchscreen, the pair used a combination of Virtual Network Computing (VNC), Secure Shell (SSH) and the Apple Remote to control the device. According to them, MobileX features a built-in menu that allows users to “quit apps, launch Safari, connect to Wi-Fi or show multiple apps side by side” from the Apple Remote.

Troughton-Smith demoed the iPad version of the FaceBook app and claimed that any of Apple’s own apps, such as Safari, Maps and YouTube also work well. VNC did, however, cause some sluggishness in some of the apps, though Troughton-Smith noted that a direct input method such as a remote or a mouse or keyboard would make performance “much smoother.”

Rumors of an AppleTV model that would allow access to the App Store have swirled for years, but developers appear to have taken matters into their own hands.

“If Apple isn’t going to give us a way to make real AppleTV apps, then I guess we’ll have to make one ourselves,” Troughton-Smith wrote in the video’s description on YouTube.

Apple released the latest version of the Apple TV last September. The $ 99 set-top box runs on the company’s A4 processor and is a fourth the size of the first generation Apple TV.

The hack comes even as speculation on an upcoming Apple television set has heightened considerably. The release of late co-founder Steve Jobs’ biography set off a flurry of rumors after revealing that Jobs believed he had “cracked” the secret for a connected TV interface. Since then, reports have suggested that an Apple television will run on custom-built chips similar to those powering the iPhone and iPad and may come in three sizes.

AppleInsider