Although the Mac App Store has made it easier than ever to find new apps for your Mac, it can pose a problem. At last count, there were more than 1,000 apps in the store. Some are worth the download time and the price; many others aren’t. The store has ways of helping you find the good stuff – its Top Apps charts and user ratings. But we’d like to give you another one.
We looked through some of the most popular Mac App Store categories (Productivity, Utilities and Music, among others) to see which apps we’d recommend. We looked only at the ones that cost £20 or less. In the end, we came up with a list of apps that we think are well worth your time and money.
Some are already well-known. (Any that were at the top of the App Store sales charts when we compiled our list are marked Popular.) Others may have yet to reach the App charts but deserve wider attention. We bet you’ll find at least one or two that you don’t already have but really should try.
Note: in the reviews that follow, we’ve specified the version of the app that we actually reviewed. In many cases, the version in the App Store is newer. But we checked and if the product in the App Store hadn’t substantially changed since we reviewed it, we ran the original review; if it had, we did a new one.
Note also: the prices are those listed in the Mac App Store at the time we went to press and are subject to change. There are trials of many of the apps reviewed here available for free download.
Alfred 0.8 5/5
Alfred, free; Powerpack, £12; Running with Crayons; www.alfredapp.com
Launchers range from basic (Spotlight) to powerful and complex (apps like Butler, Launchbar and Quicksilver). If you want one that can do more than Spotlight, but isn’t as complex as those others, Alfred could be it.
As with those other launchers, you invoke Alfred with a keyboard shortcut, then type a few letters into the resulting text box. Alfred returns a list of apps (or files) whose names match that string. You select the one you want and press Return, and it opens. In addition to applications and files, Alfred can locate and open Mail messages, Address Book contacts, iCal calendar entries, Safari bookmarks, and more; you can also use it to initiate web searches and some system actions (such as starting the screensaver).
Alfred itself is free, but a £12 Powerpack add-on provides more functionality, including a clipboard manager and an iTunes controller.
Art Text 2.2 4/5
£11.99; Belight Software; www.belightsoft.com
Art Text lets you quickly switch from boring Helvetica to something interesting, without the tedious editing steps that some other typography apps (including Adobe Illustrator) require. While Art Text would be good for graphics pros who only occasionally need to make custom lettering, it’s really for the rest of us who don’t need a full-on type program.
Fonts are listed by categories, including Fun, Modern and Traditional, so you don’t need to know the name of one to find it and you can choose a template you like visually, too. The program has plenty of templates, but also has tools for building your own. (We don’t know why it’s filed under Productivity instead of Graphics & Design in the App Store – but it is.)
Home Inventory 2.1 4/5
£8.99; Binary Formations; www.binaryformations.com
If you care about your stuff, Home Inventory can help you catalogue it. It gives you a place to list your possessions and record their makes, models and serial numbers. You can also attach photographs, date-stamped notes, receipts, files and warranty information.
It comes with six built-in reports, including a coverage analysis (to spot gaps in insurance policies) and a moving list (for moving home). You can also create reports of your own.
DropCopy 1.68 4/5
Free (for up to three computers); Pro version (for more than three); £2.99; 10base-t interactive; www.10base-t.com
DropCopy is a nifty utility that simplifies the sending of files to and from Macs on your local network. When launched, DropCopy displays a small drop zone (on your desktop or floating on top of other windows). When you drag a file or folder onto it, a menu pops up showing the names of other users on your local network who are running the program. Release the file(s) on another user’s name and, after the recipient gives approval, the files are copied to their system (in the folder the user has designated).
You can also copy files to destinations outside your local network and to SFTP servers. It’s a lot simpler than standard OS X file sharing.
MenuPop 1.01 11111
£2.99; Binary Bakery Software; www.binarybakery.com
If you’ve got a large display – or multiple displays – the menu bar may be a bit difficult to get to. MenuPop fixes that by putting the menu bar’s menus right under your mouse cursor in hierarchical form. You then make the menu bar appear via a keyboard shortcut.
You can choose to show keyboard shortcuts for commands, change the menu font size, and display alternate menu commands that normally require a modifier key.
Simple but it can be very useful.
Soulver 2.0.2 4/5
£14.99; Acqualia Software; www.acqualia.com
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the only differences among the various calculator programs for Mac OS X are in the mathematical functions they offer and the layout of their buttons. Soulver belies that assumption. Although it lets you input traditional mathematical equations (365 x 24 x 60, say), Soulver also allows you to use something approaching natural language.
For example, if you’re trying to figure out the price of a £199 product that’s on sale for 15 per cent off, you can just type ‘15% off £199’; to convert currency, you can type ‘$50 in Yen’. To convert time, type ‘5 minutes 18 seconds in seconds’. A handy Total display shows the sum of all the current window’s answers.
Soulver also allows you to create temporary variables (x=73, say) and insert data from editable tables of stocks, currencies and permanent variables.
In other words, Soulver is anything but just another calculator.
Fresh 1.2.1 4/5
£3.49; Ironic Software; www.ironicsoftware.com
It isn’t hard to find recently used documents and programs. You’ll find lists of them in the Apple menu and the File menus of most apps. But because these menus are tucked away, many Mac users ignore them. Ironic Software’s Fresh makes recent items more accessible and lets you do more with them.
When you switch to Fresh, two large, horizontal green bars appear on screen. In the bar on top, Fresh shows recently used items. In the bar below, you can permanently park items you use a lot. You can open an item in either bar by double-clicking on it. If you hold the cursor over an item’s name, Fresh will display its full path.
Drag an item to another folder to move it or drag it to another volume to copy it. If you Control-click the item, you can do even more.
Evernote 1.4.7 4/5
Free; Evernote; www.evernote.com
Evernote is a catch-all. With it, you can capture all kinds of information – including plain- text notes, web pages, PDFs and uploaded audio or video – which you can tag, sort and search.
In addition to the Mac app, there are Web, Windows, iPhone, Palm, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry clients.
Evernote’s coolest trick is recognising the text in images – take a photo of a document, a prescription label, a book cover, or the like and, once the image is uploaded to Evernote’s servers, the text in the image will be fully searchable.
TypeIt4Me 5.0 4/5
£11.99; Ettore Software; www.ettoresoftware.com
TypeIt4Me is one of many utilities, like TextExpander and Typinator, that let you assign shortcut keys to bits of text that you type all the time – your phone number or email address, for example. When you type the shortcut, TypeIt4Me inserts the text (known as a clipping). Clippings can contain plain or rich text, as well as images; and you can configure them to include things like dates or the current contents of OS X’s Clipboard.
TypeIt4Me has its own autocorrect tool, which is available in any app you can insert a clipping into. The utility also has something called AutoCue, which lets you insert pauses into snippets so that you can type in variable text. TypeIt4Me has been around for a very long time, and with reason – it’s a really useful tool that does exactly what it promises to.
LittleSnapper 1.5.1 4/5
£17.99; Realmac Software; www.realmacsoftware.com
LittleSnapper picks up where Mac OS X’s built-in screen-capture tools leave off. With it you can take better screenshots, archive them and upload them to the web.
As with other screenshot tools, LittleSnapper can capture the whole screen or just a specific window or area. It can also take timed shots and capture entire web pages. It includes basic editing tools for cropping, highlighting, blurring, and annotating, as well as tools for tagging, rating and otherwise classifying screenshots for easy searching.
Vitamin-R 1.18 5/5
£11.99; Frank Reiff; www.publicspace.net
Vitamin-R works on the assumption that procrastination results from a combination of vague goals and limited focus. To remedy that you tell the app what you want to do within a specific period of time – write a review of Vitamin-R, say. Next, you set the amount of time you want to spend on the task. Then you get to work.
As you do so, Vitamin-R’s menu item displays a small timer and warns you (with the sound of a ticking clock or a voice stating how much time you have left) when the end of your allotted time is near. When time runs out, you can stop, continue, or rate your focus for the current session.
If you find yourself wandering from task to browser to Twitter to iChat and back, Vitamin-R will help curb your distractions.
Desktop Curtain 2.1 5/5
£1.19; Many Tricks; www.manytricks.com
If you want to hide what’s on your Mac’s screen – say, to give a presentation, to take a screenshot, or just to focus on one app at a time – Desktop Curtain offers a nicely flexible solution. With it, you can specify the backdrop (image or solid colour). You can also customise the way it displays (as a normal window, desktop cover or traditional desktop background) and how it works with Exposé and Spaces.
But what really makes Desktop Curtain special is its simplicity. You can hide your desktop instantly via the Dock, the menu bar, or a keyboard shortcut.