Sound Control lets you set per-app volume controls on your Mac

In this week’s episode of “Let’s Talk iOS,” Sebastien and Cody shared frustration over the lack of granular audio control on iOS and macOS. While iOS remains a point of frustration, a simple Mac utility called Sound Control gives users exactly what the name implies.

Sound Control enables application-specific volume sliders on the Mac. In addition to  Menu Bar controls, Sound Control can also be configured with user-defined keyboard shortcuts to adjust the level of a foreground app, or mute any background app…. Read the rest of this post here


Sound Control lets you set per-app volume controls on your Mac” is an article by iDownloadBlog.com.
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fromIan Fuchs – iDownloadBlog.com

FUNXIM Kickstarter takes on Apple’s AirPower Wireless Charging Pad

This past fall, Apple debuted their first ever smartphones to utilize wireless charging. During the keynote, they provided few detail about their own upcoming AirPower wireless charging mat, which will be capable of simultaneously charging an iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods (after purchase of a new, wireless charging case).

All in total, the entire package will likely run somewhere in the ballpark of $200 (assuming $69 for the AirPod case and $129 for the charging mat). That’s a hefty price tag for the ability to charge the trio of devices. That’s where the recently launched Kickstarter for the $29 FUNXIM Wireless Charging Pad comes in.

FUNXIM Wireless Charger

Designed to look very similar to Apple’s own AirPower mat, the FUNXIM mat is a white, pillowy looking charging mat. It is capable of charging an iPhone over Qi wireless technology (using the Qi fast charge open standard Apple uses in the iPhone 8/8 Plus/X), as well as an Apple Watch, thanks to some clever design and a little cable management.

Unlike the AirPower mat which has multiple charging zones, allowing for 3 distinct devices, the FUNXIM charger will only charge a phone and an Apple Watch together. To make the Apple Watch charging work, the base of the charging pad snaps off, and inside is a place to connect the Apple Watch magnetic charger and coil the cable around the edge. This provides an Apple certified way to recharge without dealing with Apple’s partial Qi support, which is limited to Series 3 Watches.

Having a convenient way to charge an iPhone and Apple Watch when traveling, on a bedside table, at work, or where ever you need it is a huge perk or wireless charging, and the FUNXIM is promising to offer that at a great price. Check out the official kickstarter project here, show your support, and save yourself some serious dough compared to Apple’s AirPower mat.

Have any other interesting bits to add? Let us know in the comments below.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast – Apple News, Mac, iPhone & iPad How To & Reviews

The Misguided Gift Guide

We’ve all seen it before… “10 best gifts for the (fill in the blank) in your life” or “Top Christmas gifts under (insert amount here)”.

They’re tempting to look at, especially if you’re struggling to find the right gift for someone special. The trouble is, many of these lists are motivated by a desire for profit – either to the publication or the author. These posts are full of affiliate links and monetized products, and don’t represent “the best” or true, high quality gifts. So much so, in fact, that some publications will even sell you on a truly terrible product just to make a quick buck.

The Backstory

In my “spare time,” I write for a pair of Apple news and review sites – Mactrast.com and iDropNews.com. Most of the coverage and reporting on these sites is totally fine. Covering news in the Apple and larger tech space is a pretty safe game. Often times, these sites will feature reviews of products, apps, or services – several of which (especially for MacTrast), I have personally written.

For apps or services, reviewers are often given a promo code for a free copy of the app or a free license to use the service in full. In turn, we are able to write about the full experience, as if we were experiencing it like a paying customer. Products are very similar. We get a free product, and then use it like normal, and report back our findings.

Sometimes you get a product that great, and the review is very positive because of that great experience. Sometimes, a product gets a negative review because it sucks. But it is up to the journalist/writer/reviewer to have the integrity to call it like it is. If a very expensive product is bad, it doesn’t deserve a good rating because it was given to the reviewer for free. It deserves a bad rating because it is a bad product.

The harder part, for me at least, is writing about something conceptually. It sounds great on paper, but I’ve never used it. This is the type of coverage I offer for many Kickstarter products. My writing is based purely on the pitch, not the final product (unless, on a rare occasion, I get a pre-release version).

When it comes to gift guides, however, sometimes the desire to sell a product outweighs the actual quality of a product. Instead of testing a product or service, and giving it a qualitative review (★☆☆☆☆ bad, ★★★☆☆ good, ★★★★★ great), some sites will simply compile a list of products that benefit them and disregard the actual quality.

Misguided Recommendations

Recently, at iDropNews, I was offered the opportunity to write some of these aforementioned gift guides, under 1 condition: In a list of 10 products, 5 were to be from Amazon, and 5 were to be from the iDropNews Stack Social store. This was done explicitly to monetize the products being recommended. No other sources could be used.

This posed a problem as I was compiling the “10 Gifts for iPhone” list, and my clear choice for the number 1 gift was AirPods. Amazon doesn’t sell the AirPods… Neither does Stack Social. When I asked about including something available elsewhere, I was told “No – stick to items available on Amazon or the iDrop Store” and “If you’d like to add an eleventy item to the list that’s a non-Affiliate item, be my guest.”

Because the retailers that DO sell them couldn’t be monetized, I was supposed to ignore them as an excellent gift idea. I eventually opted to suggest the Beats X, based on their holiday price drop, the W1 chip, and the overall less controversial design – although I maintain that the AirPods are the superior holiday gift.

You won’t believe what happened next! (…or maybe you would)

Shortly after my iPhone gift guide was published, another post appeared on the site, recommending products at a range of prices. On that list was the Stack Social knockoff of AirPods – ones I had personally reviewed just weeks before.

Here’s a summary of my ★★☆☆☆ review:

There are a lot of great Bluetooth earbuds on the market, and the AirPods are certainly a pricy option, but if the HBQ i7S earbuds are the alternative, I’d get the real deal. If you can get past the sound quality, the overall size of the earbuds and the charging case may still be a major turn off.

Truly, nobody should buy these things – they’re bad.

Reading the “Best Tech Gifts for Every Budget” guide, however, the implication is that they are good – desirable, even. At the time of posting, the gift guide stated that they “…are pretty reminiscent of Apple AirPods – they’re just a little better (in our humble opinion).” 1 That lead me to the question – have they every tried these? Or are these “recommended” for another reason?

What isn’t disclosed in this post is that this particular gift guide is solely compiled of products in the Stack Social store, and the entire list is aimed at making money for the site.

I don’t hold it against the site for trying to make money. Everybody has to keep the lights on, and writers deserve to be paid for the time and effort they spend writing. It’s hard to keep things running when there’s no money to power the machine. 2

I appreciate the small bit I get paid for writing on iDropNews – but if I have a choice between being honest to consumers that come to the site looking for good recommendations and making an extra few bucks selling shitty Chinese knockoff products, I’m going to side with honesty and integrity every time.

Being diligent as a consumer

The internet is full of opinions. Some are good, some are bad, some are subjectively perfect, and some are blatantly wrong. Trusting others on the internet to provide their opinion – especially when considering what product to buy or where to put your hard earned money – is a tough game for consumers. The motivations of those opinions is hard to understand, and wading through bullshit makes the true intent less clear.

In my opinion as a consumer, any product recommendation that doesn’t show evidence of actual use should be taken as a sales pitch. It’s up to you (or I), as readers, to be critical thinkers and do our due diligence to make educated decisions. While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the holiday season and just grab whatever discount headphones (or whatever product) somebody is pitching on the internet, sometimes it’s good to remember that you get what you pay for.

As far as my journalistic endeavors go, I’m done with gift guides. I’ll stick to writing news, reviews, and opinions. I’m not in the business of lying to people, and I prefer to take time to formulate an opinion and back it up with personal preference and experience.

Oh, and let me fully disclose this here – if you see a link to Amazon or iTunes on this site, it’s probably an affiliate link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, and it’s simply a way for me to keep the site up. But I will strive to always provide context – if a product, app, or service is good, the review will reflect that accordingly. If something sucks, I’ll call that out, too.

Review: BenQ 27” Designer Monitor and USB-C Dock

The idea of laptops is to be portable. You take them to meetings, use them them around the house, or just want to work untethered from a desk. Sometimes, though, having a big screen can really help you get down to business. Often times, connecting your laptop can be a clunky, messy process. That’s where the BenQ PD2710QC Designer Monitor comes in.

Overview

The 27″ PD2710QC Designer Monitor from BenQ ($599 from Amazon, or direct from BenQ) packs a 2K QHD IPS screen, supporting a resolution up to 2560 x 1440, and offers some awesome perks for owners of USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 equipped Macs, like the 12″ MacBook or the new 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

That perk is all thanks to it’s wedge shaped base. Instead of acting strictly as the foot for the display, BenQ packed some smarts into the base, allowing it to act as a Dock for your computer, all over a single USB-C Cable.

Within the dock are 4 USB 3.0 ports, audio out, an gigabit ethernet port, DisplayPort for video out, and a USB-C port for connecting your computer to the dock, as well as for providing up to 61W of power to your connected machine.

In addition to all those ports, the display itself includes an HDMI port, a DisplayPort, and a Mini DisplayPort – meaning in addition to the docked computer, you can connect 2 more sources to the display.

Build

As far as the build of the display, the back side is plastic, while the front is almost entirely glass, with the exception of a thin plastic trim. Around the edge of the display is a quarter inch bezel, which makes the display feel even more massive, and reduces visual “clutter”.

The stand for the display offers around 25º of tilt, and can be raised just over 7 inches from the lowest position. For writers and coders, the screen can also be rotated 90º for working on long pages or text-heavy applications, if that’s your style.

Another great feature of the BenQ PD2710QC is that the monitor offers video out, allowing you to daisy-chain up to 4 displays together for an ultra-wide experience.

Quality and Functionality

As far as the display itself, I was very impressed with the color reproduction, sharpness, and low latency. Whether you’re gaming, doing video work, or just casually browsing the web, the display is very solid. In the “software” of the monitor, you can also adjust various color profiles for highly detailed work like CAD (which boosts contrast to render thin lines), animation (slightly adjusted color profile), or Dark Room (which reduces the overall brightness). The monitor also features BenQ’s “Eye Care” technology for lower blue light and flicker-free output, reducing eye strain over prolonged use.

The PD2710QC display also has a built-in speaker which delivers ok sound, especially in comparison to the speaker in the 12″ MacBook or newer MacBook Pros.Adjusting the volume of the monitor can not be done via the built-in audio controls on your Mac, either, and instead must be done via the monitor’s menu. Navigating the menu is a little tedious, with volume adjustment buried a few levels deep. Connecting headphones or speakers to the 1/8″ jack on the dock portion of the PD2719QC passes audio through and gives you full volume control via your Mac, just like the headphone port on your laptop.

Aside from the cumbersome volume adjustment in the displays menu, most of the other primary menu options can be accessed quickly using the buttons on the back side of the display. The top-level menu can also be customized (somewhat) to put your most needed adjustments in the forefront for even quicker access (but not volume 😞).

Verdict

Rating: 4.5/5

The BenQ PD2710QC is a great display for anybody using a USB-C or Thunderbolt equipped Mac. It can fit into any desk setup thanks to it’s minimal bezels and understated aesthetic. Compared to other QHD displays, it’s not the cheapest, but the built-in dock and multiple inputs makes it a great value (considering similar docks, without the display, are easily $125 or more).

Pros

  • Great color reproduction
  • Eye Care technology reduces eye strain
  • Minimal bezels
  • Built-in USB-C dock

Cons

  • Volume control is hard to access
  • Speaker quality is not great
  • Somewhat expensive

If you’re in the market for a new monitor, and want something that offers great connectivity, a huge display, and all the adjustments you’d expect, the BenQ PD2710QC is a truly solid option.

$599 on Amazon
$599 directly from BenQ

 

Disclaimer: The BenQ PD2710QC display was provided to me at no cost, for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast – Apple News, Mac, iPhone & iPad How To & Reviews

Review: Smartomi Ace – Affordable, Truly Wireless Earbuds

Last year, Apple announced the AirPods and set in motion a massive wave of other “truly wireless” headphones. While a few others existed before, there has been a huge influx of AirPod competitors, all fighting for your precious pocket space, and the prized spot as your go-to earbuds.

Overview:

The Smartomi Ace Wireless Earbuds ($49.99 on Amazon) are compact wireless earbuds that fit snugly in your ear without looking gaudy, flashy, or obnoxious. Unlike Apple’s AirPods, the Ace are true in-ear buds, allowing them to deliver deeper bass and provide greater noise isolation.

The most important feature of any pair of headphones or earbuds is how they sound, and I was completely shocked at how good these $50 buds sound. At near max volumes, the Ace did have slight distortion, but between 40% and 80%, they offered full sound with solid bass, clear mids, and crisp (but not piercing) highs.

From a fit standpoint, the Ace sit in your ear canal and the included rubber tips ensure a great seal, which helps in delivering the full sound, and also helps keep external noise out. The body of each Ace is also very compact, less and 1/2” thick, and no larger than a nickel around. While many competitors clock in at near walnut size, while these are closer to acorn size.

In my personal testing, I did find the Ace to be a little uncomfortable for long periods of time, but every ear is different. If the AirPods or EarPods don’t fit your ears well, odds are these might be just what you need.

The final component of the Smartomi Ace to consider is connectivity and control. Pairing the earbuds is fairly easy. Remove both from the charging case, press the multi-function button on both, and they will connect with one another, then appear on your devices Bluetooth list for pairing. After you have successfully paired them to each other and your device once, any time in the future when you remove both from the case, they will connect to each other and your device automatically.

Once connected, clicking the button on either Ace earbud will pause or play your music, podcast, or other media. Activating Siri (or other device assistant) can only be done via the left earbud with a long press on the button. Audio from Siri (or other assistant) and phone calls are also limited to the left earbud only, which I have noted was a huge frustration with another pair of fully wireless earbuds.

Phone call audio was also occasionally frustrating, due to the way the microphone is placed on the earbud. Even slightly noisy environments or calls in moderately windy areas resulted in the person on the other end asking me to repeat myself more than once. When listening to music or podcasts, on more than 1 occasion, the right earbud would drop out briefly. This is presumably due to the way the left earbud relays audio from the phone to the right earbud, but when my phone is within 3 feet of the earbuds, it’s annoying and seems like a design flaw.

Verdict:

Rating: 3.5/5

Overall, the Smartomi Ace truly wireless earbuds sound good, isolate outside noise, and are very affordable. They aren’t great for phone calls or interacting with Siri, especially in areas with background noise. The battery case is a little bulky for some pockets, but offers multiple recharges for the earbuds on a single charge of the case. Connectivity isn’t bad, but physical or electrical interference may cause occasional drops in sound on one or both earbuds.

Pros

  • Isolates outside noise
  • Solid, full sound
  • Good battery life
  • Incredibly small
  • Good price

Cons

  • Mediocre microphone quality
  • Occasional flaky connectivity
  • Can get uncomfortable after extended use

If you’re in the market for truly wireless earbuds, but don’t want to spend the money on AirPods or find that Apple’s earbuds don’t quite fit your ears, the Smartomi Ace are a great option. Check them out today, only $50 on Amazon.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast