Posts made in March, 2009

OS X Bittorrent clients compared – 2009 Edition

Posted on Mar 30, 2009 in Featured, Mac, Reviews

bittrightThere have always been a number of decent Bittorrent clients for OS X, however it’s only the last year or two that we’re finally seeing some competition in this area. For the purposes of this shootout I’ve decided to focus only on the clients that are updated semi-regularly. For that reason I haven’t reviewed clients such as BitRocket and Xtorrent, that haven’t been updated since the beginning of 2008.

The candidates

Based on the criteria outlined above, I’ve selected four popular clients that are under active development to compare. All of these clients are free and Leopard compatible.

Transmission

Transmission is a cross-platform client with a clean and simple interface that also boasts a small memory footprint. But underneath the relatively simple UI, there are a range of advanced features for power users as well, including an iPhone optimized web interface that allows you to monitor and manage your torrent downloads remotely.

transmission

uTorrent for OS X

uTorrent has been one of the most popular clients for Windows, largely due to its small memory footprint. So when the team announced a Mac version last year, it generated a lot of interest. uTorrent now belongs to BitTorrent Inc. and the Official Client is apparently at least partially based on uTorrent code.

uTorrent for Mac is currently still in beta, but it already supports most of the features that Transmission offers. The UI is sleek and performance is pretty good as well.

utorrent

The official Bittorrent Client

As mentioned above, the Official Client is based on uTorrent code, so performance should be comparable. However: the UI of the official client is currently still Java based, and its feature-set is quite different as well.

officialclient

Vuze (formerly known as Azureus)

Vuze easily has the most configuration options of all the clients featured in this roundup, boasting a Firefox-like plugin architecture and media transcoding for popular devices. But all those features do come at a price. The java-based interface stands out like a sore thumb on OS X and even when idle RAM consumption weighs in at a hefty 110MB.

vuze

Testing

The clients were compared by their memory footprint, (as far as can be ascertained by a user), feature-set and performance while downloading. The most important criteria – download speed – is also the most difficult to measure as factors such as number of seeders, network congestion etc. all play a role. So for purposes of this review, I downloaded the heavily-seeded Ubuntu 9.0.4 .iso torrent with each client to get an estimate if any app stood out. However the results are only a general indication of performance and shouldn’t be seen as absolute numbers.

The Results

chartmid

As you can see, the speed results are close, so I’d call that a draw. Transmission and uTorrent are quite close when it comes to memory consumption. A lot of other features are quite comparable, so it mostly comes down to memory consumption and how picky you are about your user interfaces.

And the winner is…

For me personally, Transmission is the ideal balance between feature-richness and performance. Despite it’s cross-platform roots, it’s lightweight and fast, much like uTorrent, but has one or two features that the latter doesn’t. Vuze is great if you’re looking for a feature-packed client, but in my opinion it’s a bit too cluttered and tries to do too much. Both Vuze and the Official Client also a bit slow for my liking, but you might want to check out Vuze for some of it’s more advanced features such as automatic transcoding of video content.

Bonus tip: Be sure to check out Gizmodo’s article on how to improve your download speeds, – it makes a difference!

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Review: VoodooPad Reader for iPhone

Posted on Mar 22, 2009 in Featured, iPhone, Mac, Reviews

vpreaderlogoI’ve blogged about VoodooPad Lite before and have since purchased a full VoodooPad license (primarily in order to be able to embed images and PDFs from University into my notes – but also for that indie-supporting fuzzy-feeling goodness).

But with the release of VoodooPad Reader for iPhone, VoodooPad is now even more useful.

Syncing

You can download VoodooPad Reader free from the AppStore and you’ll also need a current version of VoodooPad on your Mac. Once everything is installed, just open your VoodooPad document on your Mac and select “File > Export Document > Export to iPhone”. Fire up the app on your phone and tap “Sync”. Provided your Mac and iPhone are both on the same wifi network, the device should now show up in the export window on your Mac and you can transfer the file over.

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Features

VoodooPad Reader offers a list of all the pages in your document and easy navigation. Images and PDFs show up inline as expected and urls will also open in the built-in browser when tapped – no need to launch MobileSafari.

example

Drawbacks?

VoodooPad Reader is a great 1.0 release – and I’m sure we’ll see updates with more functionality in future.

Whilst I don’t think the full VoodooPad feature set would work very well on the iPhone, it might be nice to be able to make small edits to your documents on the go, or at least have a simple “note-bucket” (similar to the “Bucket” feature desktop app offers), so you could jot things down and file them away later.

Conclusion

VoodooPad Reader is a great iPhone app and a must-have for any VoodooPad or VoodooPad Lite user. It’s been rock-solid so far and the simple but functional UI works well.

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Free alternatives to MobileMe

Posted on Mar 17, 2009 in Featured, Opinions, The web

Continuing in the series of posts hating on MobileMe, today we’re going to look at free alternatives to Mobileme. This article will focus on the core Mobileme features and take a look at the pros and cons of the alternatives.

Mail alternative: Gmail

gmailI’ve never been willing to lock myself into a $99 / year e-mail service, simply because my main e-mail address is something I’d like to be able to keep indefinitely. Gmail can collect (and send) e-mails from a variety of providers and addresses, offers free IMAP support (a must-have for iPhone owners!) and doesn’t include advertising in the messages you send. The storage is basically unlimited and nothing is ever deleted.

Pros: No ads in mails, best-of-breed webmail interface, IMAP support, works great with Mail and iPhone once configured

Cons: IMAP mailbox configuration a bit tricky

Calender Alternative: Google Calendar

Surprise surprise, another Google app! Google Calendar offers basically the same range of features and can be configured to sync with iCal (Google actually provides a handy tool called ‘Calaboration‘ to set things up for you automatically). Perks include free SMS appointment reminders, simple calendar sharing and fast natural language scheduling (e.g typing “Dinner tomorrow at 9pm” will schedule the appointment accordingly).

The web interface is a little less pretty than MobileMe’s, but it gets the job done.

Pros: SMS notifications, iCal integration, CalDAV support, natural language entry, useful “Agenda” list view of upcoming events

Cons: –

iDisk Alternative: Dropbox

dropboxI’ve raved about Dropbox in a number of other posts, so I won’t rehash to much of the details here. Suffice to say that Dropbox has the best cloud-based document syncing and storage service I’ve come across. It’s integration with the Finder is perfect, it offers seamless version control and makes sharing with Windows & Linux users a breeze as well.

The only real difference is the storage size – but it’s a big one: While free Dropbox accounts can sync up to 2GB of files, Mobileme offers 20GB of storage. Beyond the free plan, Dropbox also offers a 50GB package, but that costs as much as Mobileme does.

If you don’t need to sync and store large amounts of data in the cloud, Dropbox is perfect. If you do need more storage, then Mobileme is worth reconsidering.

Pros: Seamless cross-platform OS integration, easy sharing, version control & “undelete”

Cons: Only 2 pricing tiers, web-interface a bit tricky at first

Photo Gallery Alternative

flickr_logoMobileme’s iPhoto Gallery feature is probably my favorite aspect of the entire package. The galleries are a little slow to load, but are very nicely presented. The ability to download an entire Zip file of an album is also a nice touch and the iPhone presentation is the icing on the cake.

But there’s a plethora of picture sharing websites out there that offer similar functionality: I’m just going to name a few that stand out for their decent iPhoto integration:

  • Facebook Photo Gallery
    • Pros: built-in iPhoto support, support for Faces, fast & simple web presentation
    • Cons: no album downloading, requires Facebook account
  • Picasa Web Albums
    • Pros: Dedicated upload tool, album downloading, 3rd party application support
    • Cons: less storage space, uglier web interface
  • Flickr
    • Pros: Community-features, built-in iPhoto support, nice web presentation
    • Cons: Limited monthly uploads and image downloads for free accounts

Overall this might the dealbreaker if you really need to share a lot of images with friends online. Sure, you could always just throw a zip file of your images on your Dropbox account (see above), but if there’s one standout feature of Mobileme, this is it.

Conclusion

There are lots of great alternatives for Mobileme’s individual services worth checking out. Whilst they may not offer the integration that Mobileme does, they sure give the service a run for its money and are worth a look if you’re on the fence about signing up or renewing your account.

Oh, but if you do decide to stick with Mobileme, you can save a bundle if you buy it through Amazon.

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4 things Amazon’s Kindle 2 has learnt from the iPod

Posted on Mar 15, 2009 in Featured, Opinions

frontsWhen Amazon first introduced the Kindle, many pundits were already comparing it to Apple’s introduction of the original iPod – predicting it would be a similar game changer for the book industry as Apple’s device was for the music industry. But the device’s design and marketing seemed slightly out of date for such a cutting edge device. Whilst very distinctive, it was hardly the kind of gorgeous design that gets heads turning.

Amazon’s marketing and redesign efforts for the introduction of the Kindle 2 have shown that Amazon has taken the criticism seriously and has made mimicking Apple’s success their new strategy:

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