Music For The Masses: Budget Earphone Shootout [Review, Shootout]

There are those faithful who will never surrender their little white Apple earbuds. To them we say: Wear proudly. But for the rest, for those who don’t want to deal with sub-par sound, earbuds flopping around and having to hunt for foam covers, come with us — and we’ll show you a world of possibilities.

Of the five sets in our shootout, four are canalphones that fit in the ear canal — which right off the bat means they’ll do a significantly better job of staying in your ears than ordinary earbuds (like Apple’s); they’ll also seal out some of the ambient noise around you. The fifth set, the Urbanears Medis, is technically an earbud but employs a unique method of staying put. All beat the Apple buds for sound.


1. MEElectronics SP51 ($60)

The SP51 is the chameleon of the group — its sound signature is customizable via three sets of metal caps that screw into the rear of each earpiece; sounds like schtick, but it really worked. Each set is ported to provide a different sound: The smoke-colored set delivers a bassy tone, the black are extra bassy and the silver are the most neutral of the bunch.

Fit was good, and sound quality tied with the UE350s for best-in-show. But those little caps are easy to lose (we lost two during testing) and costly to replace at $25 per complete set. That, a slightly higher price and no mic or controls (the SP51P adds both for an extra $10) knock the SP51s down a notch.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 


2. Skullcandy Fix In-Ear ($70)

These obviously weren’t designed for the faint of heart. The in-your-face blood-red housings, omnipresent skull emblem and faux carbon-fiber case scream to be worn by adrenaline junkies (or the fashion-bereft, depending on your point of view).

Skullcandy’s claim that the Fix was designed to stay put through crazy skateboard stunts was accurate; considering how comfortable they were, the set was surprisingly difficult to dislodge. Sound matched everything else about the Fix: It oozed bass and attitude, but was harsh with more delicate music. The swashbuckling set likely to pop for these should find the balance appealing. And yeah, they’re the most expensive of the bunch, but they’re also one of only two here with mic, playback/phone *and* volume controls.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 


3. Incase Capsule ($50)

Like the Fix, the Capsule comes with a full control suite: microphone, call/playback and volume. Unlike the Fix, the Caspule is cute, and won’t make others think you regularly chug a case of Mountain Dew for breakfast. It’s also $20 less, and surprisingly, the bassiest of the bunch. Unfortunately, that bass comes at the expense of clarity — this set was slightly more muddy than even the Fix. Still, fantastic controls, comfortable eartips, tangle-free cables and a killer price makes this set a great all-rounder — especially for bass-lovers.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 


4. Ultimate Ears 350 ($50)

This is the stop for audiophiles on a budget. The UE350s tied with the SP51s for best sound — in this case, clear and vibrant, with a bias toward bass. No, you’re not going to get the amazing clarity or balance of, say, the armature-powered, $120 UE 600vi — but the 350′s sound is very difficult to beat at this price. The tradeoff: a lack microphone or controls (the 350vi ads them for $10 more).

Rating: ★★★★☆ 


5. Urbanears Medis ($50)

The Medis uses a unique system of interchangeable rubber bumpers that, with the right fit, wedge the earpieces in the ear. The speakers sit prety much where buds would in the ear; but the wedged fit is extremely effective at keeping them from slipping out — They’re not going anywhere.

I’ve read reviews around the web that claim mediocre sound; odd, because the set’s meaty drivers deliver the goods, both in bass and clarity (though they’re sensitive to placement, which could account for the discrepancy). They don’t perform as well as canalphones; on the plus side, they won’t isolate the user from the environment, or unnerve those who don’t like shoving foreign objects into their ear canals.

A microphone, call/playback controls (no volume controls) and a tangle-free cord make the Medis even more user-friendly. Finally, the Medis comes in more vibrant colors than an acid trip — but no case to protect that retina-burning exterior.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 


The Urbanears Medis and its complement of rubber bumpers.

Clockwise from top left: Control surfaces for the Fix, Medis and Capsule.

Clockwise from top left: Cases for the SP51, Fix, 350 and Caspule.

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from Cult of Mac

Create a custom iPhone, iPad or iPod touch case from Zazzle [updated]

If you had plans to give that special someone an iPhone 4S for Christmas, you may be out of luck; retailers are out of stock, and Apple’s online store is estimating shipments within one to two weeks. So, why not take advantage of this opportunity to get a custom case made in the meanwhile? They make great personalized gifts, and even if the recipient will have or already has an iPhone 4S, they’re worth the wait.

There are numerous manufacturers who offer custom cases, but for this article we’ll focus on Zazzle. They offer multiple case designs for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S and BlackBerry. For this article, I’m going to focus on the iPhone 4S.

To begin the process, go to and pick your case. I went with the Case-Mate Barely There iPhone 4/4S case, as it’s generally well reviewed. Regardless of your election, the next step is simply click the Create A Case button.

Zazzle Case-Mate custom iPhone 4S case

This is where you select your image. Zazzle support JPEG, PNG, PDF and Adobe Illustrator (AI) formats, so feel free to be as creative as you like, here. It doesn’t have to be a photo, after all. I went with a full size image out of iPhoto (taken with an iPhone 4). The image isn’t the best, but even at this relatively small file size, the update did take a while.

If you like, you can add text. I didn’t.

Once the image is in place, you can use the onscreen tools to adjust the size and reposition the image. This is important, because chances are good that your image isn’t properly laid out for the measurements of the iPhone. You can expand, shrink, slide, rotate, etc. to get a good fit, but you’ll want to use the online tools to make sure you haven’t pulled your image inside the safe zone or cut your subject with the camera opening or edge wrapping.

Zazzle Case-Mate custom iPhone 4S case

Once you’re happy with the look, add your item to the cart, then proceed to checkout.

Zazzle asks for buyers to allow 3 to 7 business days for Case-Mate processing, so you can’t expect it by Christmas or the end of Hanukkah. But a new case is a great way to begin the new year, or perhaps you have a family gathering that trails the holiday. And as I mentioned, “Your other gift is still being made” is kind of acceptable when it’s something this cool. You may even want to wait until the recipient receives the iPhone, then sit down together to create the case. If you want to make it nice and official, you can always go with a gift certificate.

[Update: January 24, 2012]

In late December, the case arrived. Here is the final product:

Casemate Custom iPhone 4/4S Case

Although it’s a bit more saturated than in the image I uploaded to Zazzle, it’s also not as bad as it appears in this image, especially in the reds. The alignment is pretty good, but that opening for the camera and flash is just out of control. I can see how a hole that big could have hurt some images, but it’s not a problem here. Overall, it’s a pretty impressive product.

from AppleTell

Unite Twitter, Facebook And More With Your iPhone Contacts Using Smartr Contacts

Xobni has brought its Smartr Contacts service to the iPhone today, which a new app that is likely to change the way in which you handle your contacts list forever. The service takes the pain out of maintaining your contacts list by creating profiles for everyone you’ve ever contacted using your emails, calendars, and social networks. It also puts a face to every name and even keeps track of your recent communication history.

What more could you want from a contacts app? Smartr works with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, in addition to your iPhone’s built-in apps, to compile a list of contacts that includes everyone you’ve ever communicated with. It provides you with profile pictures and contact information including telephones numbers and email addresses that you can access with a single tap.

It also has some really clever features that automatically rank your contacts by importance, and track your recent communication history.

The new app’s key features include:

– Automatic. Finds all the people you know from your email, calendar or social networks.
– Personal. Puts a face to every name and email address.
– Insightful. Detects and assigns phone numbers automatically.
– Socially aware. Integrates Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
– Relevant. Ranks contacts by importance, so the most important people are at the top.
– Fast. Search by first, last, company name or phone number to find anyone.
– Contextual. View email and calendar subjects for each person.
– Convenient. One click access to SMS, call or email.

Smartr Contacts requires you to have a Xobni account, but it’s completely free to signup and use the service. If you’d like to take advantage of the Smartr Contacts service across multiple devices, however, you’ll need to go pro for $7.99 per month.

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from Cult of Mac

Create A “Quit Everything” App [OS X Tips]

Ever wanted to quit every single open application? Perhaps you want to free up memory for the launch of another app. Here’s one way of doing it quickly and cleanly.

Here’s another tip from Mac Kung Fu, which contains over 300 tips, tricks, hints and hacks for OS X. It’s available from Amazon as well as other bookstores, and also as an eBook for all eReaders.

You can create an app using AppleScript Editor that you can place in the Dock and that will quit all open apps when clicked. Here are the steps:

  1. Start AppleScript Editor by double-clicking its entry in the Utilities folder of Applications in Finder.
  2. In the main code area, type the following:
    tell application "System Events" to set quitapps to name of every application process whose visible is true and name is not "Finder"
    repeat with closeall in quitapps
    quit application closeall
    end repeat
  3. Click the Compile button on the toolbar to check the code to ensure it’s correct. If it’s OK, the code will be colored and indented properly. If it’s incorrect, you’ll see an error message. Try typing the code again.
  4. Click File->Save and choose to save the new app in your Applications folder. Call it something memorable—I chose “Quit Everything!” In the File Format dropdown list, choose Application.
  5. Close AppleScript Editor and navigate to your Applications list within Finder. Then drag and drop your new app onto the Dock, ready for use.

Another trick I use sometimes to quickly quit all apps is to use the task switcher (hold down Command and tap Tab), then hit Q when the highlight is over any app I want to quit.

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from Cult of Mac

Steve Jobs looked to reinvent Apple’s iPhone photography with instant capture system, advanced light-field sensors

“He had three things that he wanted to reinvent: the television, textbooks and photography,” said biographer Walter Isaacson in an interview following the release of his biography on Steve Jobs. Part one, television, is already underway with reports claiming that Apple is set to unveil an advanced television set with Siri voice-recognition software by 2013. More recent reports even suggested that Apple is already planning its assault on the television market by meeting with television show networks.

Part two of the Apple cofounder’s three-part plan of reinvention was completed just last week with the release of the iBooks 2 platform and iBooks Author, which are two Apple products designed to replace the old, paper textbooks in students’ backpacks with just one iPad. However, part three, photography, is certainly still amidst reinvention. Some claim that Apple’s iPhone 4S —which allows for facial recognition, almost-instant photo captures, HDR-photo taking, 1080P video recording, and on device photo editing, all through a high-quality Sony 8-megapixel sensor— is mobile photography at its finest, but Steve Jobs thought way beyond that. Read below for more details:

Lytro’s standalone cameras

In his final months, as the upcoming book “Inside Apple” by Adam Lashinsky explained, Jobs made an effort to meet with Ren Ng, a Stanford graduate and the CEO of a photography company Lytro. After it became known to Ng that Jobs wanted to meet, Ng rushed to Jobs’ Palo Alto home to discuss product design and photography. According to “Inside Apple”:

The company’s CEO, Ren Ng, a brilliant computer scientist with a PhD from Stanford, immediately called Jobs, who picked up the phone and quickly said, “if you’re free this afternoon maybe we would could get together.” Ng, who is thirty-two, hurried to Palo Alto, showed Jobs a demo of Lytro’s technology, discussed cameras and product design with him, and, at Jobs’s request, agreed to send him an email outlining three things he’d like Lytro to do with Apple.

Jobs actively pursued his goal of reinventing photography, asking the CEO of Lytro to outline three specific things that the company would want to work on with Apple. As Lytro explained on its official website, the company’s technology is extremely unique and fits the build of reinventing something as apparently simple as capturing a photograph. Apple made a point to explain how much light the new iPhone 4S camera can take in with its new sensor and its newly designed 5-lens optics system. Instead of working in a single-pane fashion —like most cameras today— Lytro’s technology is actually able to intake an entire light field at one time.

Behind the scenes of Lytro’s camera technology

Lytro said this means its sensor can take in ”all the light traveling in every direction in every point in space.” Of course, this incredibly advanced and futuristic camera technology would be perfect in a thin and light mobile device for the mass-market consumer. It would push this future into millions of customer’s hands. While the iPhone 4S camera is incredibly speedy, in comparison to competing smartphone camera systems, Lytro’s technology would make picture taking instant. The company claims this instant photo taking makes the Lytro system like no other.

Lytro’s official video

The other headline feature of the Lytro camera system is its ability to take photos without focusing on a particular object. The images that the Lytro camera takes can be focused after the fact. In terms of integration in a product like an iPhone, a user can instantly snap a photo with the lens, and then use the iPhone’s (hypothetical) built-in software to choose a focus on particular objects in the frame. With Steve Jobs just meeting Lytro’s CEO this past summer, it is difficult to tell if we will see this breakthrough photography technology in upcoming Apple products. It is nearly certain, though, that we will see part three of Steve Jobs’ plans for reinvention to follow Apple’s work on textbooks and the television.

from 9to5Mac

Scott Forstall is Apple’s ‘CEO-in-waiting’ says new book

The senior VP’s chief weakness, writes Fortune‘s Adam Lashinsky, is his naked ambition

Jobs and Forstall. Source:

He’s young (43). Comfortable on stage (played Sweeney Todd in high school). Has serious nerd credentials (Stanford, NeXT). Shares Steve Jobs’ obsession with detail (keeps a jeweler’s loupe in his office to check every pixel on every icon). And the division he heads — mobile software — drives nearly 70% of Apple’s (AAPL) income.

“He’s a sharp, down-to-earth, and talented engineer, and a more-than-decent presenter,” one entrepreneur told Adam Lashinsky. “He’s the total package.”

According to Lashinsky’s new book Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired — and Secretive — Company Really Works, senior vice president Scott Forstall stands out among the rest of Apple’s executive team as the most likely to succeed Steve Jobs once the Tim Cook era is over.

If …

“If there’s a knock on Forstall,” writes Lashinsky, “it’s that he wears his ambition in plainer view than the typical Apple executive. He blatantly accumulated influence in recent years, including, it is whispered, when Jobs was on medical leave.”

Photo: Apple Inc.

Lashinsky’s profile of Forstall is likely to be closely read inside and outside the company. Scheduled to be released next week, Inside Apple is the most important Apple book since Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. It is, in many ways, the perfect companion to the Jobs biography. If Isaacson’s was the Time Magazine or People Weekly version of the Apple story, what Lashinsky delivers — appropriately enough, given the magazine he works for — is the Fortune version.

Lashinsky’s goal was to understand the company Jobs built as a business. But unlike, Isaacson, Lashinsky didn’t have Jobs’ cooperation. Nor did the company make any Apple executives or employees available. So like a correspondent debriefing refugees at the border of a war zone, Lashinsky interviewed scores of collaborators, competitors and former employees after they left the confines of Apple’s closely guarded Cupertino campus.

The result is a deep dive into an extraordinary enterprise that has disrupted one industry after another while ignoring — if not deliberately breaking — most of the rules of modern business management.

Jobs, of course, looms large in Lashinsky’s narrative, as do CEO Tim Cook and design chief Jony Ive. But it’s Forstall who best fits Jobs’ mold and seems most likely to eventually succeed him.

“Whether Forstall will happily remain a supporting player,” Lashinsky writes, “will be one of the great internal dramas of Cook’s tenure.”

Filed under: Apple 2.0

from Fortune Tech: Technology blogs, news and analysis from Fortune Magazine » Apple 2.0

How People Watch TV Online And Off (Erick Schonfeld/TechCrunch)

Erick Schonfeld / TechCrunch:
How People Watch TV Online And Off  —  At this point, video is just a regular part of the web.  But how is it gaining on regular TV watching.  Just in terms of audience reach, Nielsen estimates that almost 145 million people watch video online in the U.S., compared to about 290 million who watch traditional TV.

from Techmeme

Automate your Super Bowl squares pool with Football Squares Plus

Ah, the Super Bowl squares office pool. Anyone can win it, and it makes the game interesting to those who aren’t a fan of one of the half dozen teams the NFL allows to win the thing. But who wants to bother drawing all those boxes and remember who’s in what square? That’s where Football Squares Plus of iPad comes in.

This interactive, paper-free solution offers participants the use of touch to configure sheets, buy squares, filter on names, and distribute completed sheets via e-mail. Even better, it’s easy to set up for the entire playoffs season in case you need even more opportunities to leave your money to chance.

Football Squares Plus

And via $0.99 in-app purchase, you can even include the ability to insert pictures into the square. Now you’ll at whom you need to focus on your jealous anger on Monday morning!

Sheets may be configured in a number of ways, including the traditional 10 X 10 grid with scores for each quarter, half, or just the final score. Advanced options include 5 X 5 grids, entire playoff match-ups instead of the standard two-team sheet, and customized scoring labels for uses.

The purchasing of squares can be enhanced with a field for the sheet maker to describe the cost of entry, as well as the prize structure. Sheet makers can password-protect the sheet to prevent unwanted changes from participants.

Football Squares Plus 2.1 requires an iPad running iOS 4.1 or later. It’s available now for $2.99 in the App Store.

Product [Football Squares Plus]

from AppleTell