Is it Time for Mailbox?

About a year ago, I tried a slick new iPhone App called Mailbox as a replacement for the default Mail app. I was drawn in by rave reviews, a slick, clean interface, and the promise of an app that played nice with Gmail, which handles the e-mail for The main feature of Mailbox is numerous swipe gestures that help you quickly get to “Inbox Zero”, a state of nirvana for which you are rewarded with a zen image of the day.

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 7.06.39 AM

You can short swipe right to archive a message, long swipe right to delete it, or long swipe left add it to a list (To Buy, To Read, and To Watch are the defaults, and you can easily add others). But the killer feature is the short swipe left, which allows you to “snooze” a message. This gets the message out of you inbox for now, but brings it back in the future. So you get to Inbox Zero by pushing off the emails that you need to deal with, just not right now.


Though there were many aspects of the app that I enjoyed, especially the snooze feature, I had been using the Apple Mail app for so long that it was difficult to get used to the new interface. Further, at the time there was no app for my Mac, so I was using two different interfaces. I eventually gave up.

But then, three things happened. First, Mailbox was acquire by Dropbox, which means they now are well-funded. Second, Mailbox released a public beta of their Mac app in October. And third, I got an e-mail stating that I’d get another Gigabyte added to my Dropbox account if I downloaded the new Mailbox iOS app and signed in with my Dropbox login info.

I have been using Mailbox for about a week. While the interface is still different from my trusty Mail app, it is a bit closer with the new release. Having the Mac app working in conjunction with iPhone and iPad apps has helped immensely. But it’s the “playing nice” with Gmail that has sold me this time. It searches through archived e-mail as quickly as if it were on the device. And when I delete something, but want it back, undo actually works (it doesn’t for me on Mac Mail-believe me I’ve tried to fix it!).

So I finally hit the Help Me Get to Zero button yesterday. I was afraid, because the default badge for Mailbox  shows you the number of messages in your Inbox, not the number of unread messages. My number said 10,000. I think it’s stops counting at that point, because I actually had 16,000 messages in my Inbox. By clicking the button, Mailbox took every read message in my inbox and archived it. I never would have done this with the Apple Mail interface, because searching through archived messages was always spotty.


So I reached my first Inbox Zero image of the day (that’s actually it above). When you click on it in the apps, you get to see the full image. Then sit there and reflect on more important things.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Mailbox. It’s definitely worth a try, if for no other reason than to grab 1 GB for your Dropbox account. There is even an Android app for you now, Peter.

A Data Plan for Travel

When I took my family to Europe for three weeks last summer, a great concern was the expense of roaming data. We did not plan every detail of our trip before we left, so I knew we would need to conduct research on the fly. But I did not want to return home to a huge data bill.

For $15 a day, I rented a wifi hotspot from Xcom Global ( Xcom FedExed a package the day before we left that included the small hotspot, and sim cards for the two countries we visited (England and Italy). While we roamed the streets of London, we were able to make reservations at the Tower of London without worrying about those scary cell data bills you hear about. Though $15/day works out to an expensive $450/mo, a couple hundred dollars for a few weeks abroad is well worth the piece of mind. And 10 devices can connect to it at once, meaning the kids could text pictures to their friends back home.

There are other services, but Xcom worked well for me and is well-reviewed (just check their site). But I also encourage you to check your cell provider’s plans. As of this writing, AT&T offers 800MB for $120, with the added benefit of international calling at only $0.35/min. We used the Skype app on our iPhones to make phone calls over the wifi connection. I am not sure how much data we used through Xcom, but it sure was nice to not worry about it.

The best way to manage tasks

Other than sharing our calendars with each other, the best way that my wife and I stay in sync is with Wunderlist. The beautiful task manager offers well-designed iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac and Windows apps, as well as an amazingly powerful website. All stay in sync automatically, and sharing a list with a friend is a snap. We primarily use it for grocery lists, so we share a list for Costco, Target, Trader Joe’s, etc. I’ve got a HoneyDo list ready every weekend. And when we are planning a special event like a birthday party, it’s easy to share responsibilities. You can even add sub-tasks, so the Party City item can break down to balloons, hats, helium, etc. The price? Free. Download it and invite me to a list to try it out. My name is Joe, and this is my website, in case you don’t know my e-mail address.

Apple TV for only $75 today

One of my favorite pieces of tech is on sale for 25% off today at It’s refurbished, but that shouldn’t matter a bit, since it comes with a full Apple warranty.
With Apple TV you can easily see your own photos and movies on your TV, listen to your iTunes collection on your stereo, or enjoy services such Netflix, Pandora, HBO GO, flickr, MLB.TV, and much more.
But the newest cool thing is Airplay, which allows anyone with an iOS device on your network to stream content to your TV or stereo through the Apple TV. So instead of showing you the latest pictures on their iPhone, you can view it on the big screen.

Backup Power for your iPhone

It’s a major bummer when I am caught out with a dead iPhone or iPad. That’s why I carry the Mophie Powerstationin my backpack. It’s smaller and lighter than my iPhone, yet can recharge it twice on one fill-up. It can also charge an iPad to about half a charge. I much prefer it to a case with a built in battery, because on most days the iPhone’s battery is good enough for me all by itself. It takes about an hour to charge an iPhone to 80%, but you can use your phone while it charges. It’s only $80 on, and it has lasted me through three iPhones and still looks and acts new. A great gift for a person on the go.

Addressing Christmas Cards

Every year we go through the ritual of revising our Christmas card list. It’s always been a manual process in Excel because my wife must have each card addressed exactly right. A card could be addressed to Mr. John Smith, The Smiths or the Smith Family, depending on John’s success with women.

After seeing a few other friends’ address management methods using Microsoft Word, then hearing one couple talk about what an organizational mess their handwritten cards were, I decided to do what I should have done years ago: create a method to rely on the same address book we use on a daily basis to generate our list. We use Contacts (formerly Address Book) on our Macs. Contacts syncs via iCloud to our iPhones and iPads and, after years of syncing nightmares, I believe this technology is now nearly flawless.

So the issue at hand was to print address labels from a group in Contacts exactly the way my wife would like them to read. The solution is to set a custom field in Contacts for Christmas cards, and use that field to print the labels.

HINT: if you are not as persnickety as my wife about how the labels read, you can’t print labels directly out of Contacts. Just set up a group that has all your card recipients, highlight it, then print and choose labels. It will print a label for all addresses by default, so change it on the Labels tab to Home only.

Continue reading Addressing Christmas Cards

My Top Tech Gifts for Christmas 2012

Here are a few gadgets that you might want to consider this holiday season. As always, check my past lists below for other ideas. And if you have a questions, just leave it in the comments. I’ll get notified immediately and respond. Merry New Year!

1. iPad Mini ($329, Apple)
If your eyesight can stand the reduction in screen size, this is the better iPad, and it costs less. It has the same resolution as the original, just packs more pixels into a smaller space. But what you’ll really appreciate is its weight. With my iPad 2, every night I worry the things going to break my nose when I fall asleep. This thing is beautiful. But it may be in short supply before Christmas.

2. Nest Learning Thermostat ($250, Amazon)
This is thing beats other thermostats by a factor of 10. Designed by the guy that designed the first iPod and iPhone, the Nest learns your habits over time and programs itself. Turn the heat up every weekday morning at 7A, but not until 9A on weekends, and it will eventually start doing it for you. It also lets you access it from anywhere (so you could turn your heat up from your iPhone on your way home). It has gotten rave reviews.

3. Canon Pancake Lens: 40mm EF f/2.8 STM ($149, Amazon)
This one is on my Christmas list. If you have a Canon DSLR, you’ll love how light and compact this makes your camera. The pancake lens has long been missing from Canon’s line-up, but they now offer this high quality option for a low price. Any Canon SLR user would be happy to receive this.


4. The new iMac ($1,299, Apple)
If you haven’t been by an Apple Store lately, its worth the trip to hold the new iPad Mini and see the new iMac. It is crazy thin, fast and beautiful. If you have the cash, choose the $1,499 model and add the Fusion Drive, a combo hard drive and solid state drive. That will make the thing scream.  The 27-inch models will ship in January. And remember that when you buy a new Mac, it’s always best to by right after they are released, because the price rarely goes down. Wait a while, and you could purchase a Mac just before a new one comes out–the worst time.

5. Sonos ($299, Amazon)
Sonos was on my Father’s Day gift list, but I had to add it again because I have gotten to use it so much since then. I replaced my Polk XM receiver with a Sonos Connect, so now I have access to all the Sonos goodness like Pandora and Rdio, my new favorite music service. But the multi-zone aspect of Sonos is it’s best feature. My friend, Peter, just put six zones in his house and it is ridiculous how easy it is to control the system from an iPhone, iPad, iPod or Android device. The picture and link above is the Play:3, which is their smaller portable unit. Check out the whole family of devices.

My Father’s Day Top Tech Gifts for 2012

As always, I encourage you to peruse my last few lists for additional ideas, but here are my latest favorite tech toys–any of which should make a semi-nerdy dad smile.

The Sonos Play:5 is an elegant all-in-one that packs a wallop.
1. Sonos

I included the Sonos Play 3 on my Christmas list. Since then, I have had more time to play with different configurations. I have come to the conclusion that this is currently the best system for music in the home. My brother recently replaced his multi-zone home audio system with six Sonos amps. The result is a system that you control with well-designed iPhone, iPad or Android apps. It’s ridiculously easy to group zones together to play the same music, or you can have every zone play something different.

The Sonos family of products.
The Sonos system offers four primary components: 1) CONNECT hooks up to your home network and outputs audio to your stereo or home audio system; 2) CONNECT:AMP includes an amplifier and can power speakers directly; 3) PLAY:3 is an all in one system including speakers; and 4) PLAY:5 is the big brother to the PLAY:3. They have also recently announced SUB, a $699 subwoofer that connects wirelessly to the system, which is due to ship in late July 2012.

You need only connect one Sonos component to your home network (if there is not an ethernet connection where a Sonos component will go, you can employ the $49 SONOS BRIDGE). Once a unit is connected, it creates a proprietary wireless mesh network to which all other SONOS units can connect.

The Sonos system is easily controlled by computer, iPhone, iPad and Android.

Once you’ve connected your SONOS components, you can listen to all music in your iTunes library, or you can access myriad other popular sources like Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, Rhapsody, MOG,, Rdio and much more.

The Sonos system is excellent for it’s simplicity of set-up and use. If he’s a music lover, start him off with the Play:3 and a Bridge. That will allow him to easily take his music the porch, the backyard or the garage. And right now, you can get the $49 Bridge for free at

The Big Jambox improves on a good thing.
2. Jawbone Big Jambox

Jawbone’s original Jambox topped my Christmas list by providing great quality sound streamed via bluetooth from my iPhone or iPad. But if he likes a bigger sound and doesn’t mind a bit more weight, the new Big Jambox is for him. At $299 it’s a little pricey, but the technology and components are great, and the ease of use is wonderful. (Buy it at

Still one of my favorite pieces of technology, and only $95.
3. Apple TV

I have used the Apple TV as my primary music source for over five years, and there is still no more beautiful way to view your pictures and home movies.  This little device is about the size of a few decks of cards, but once plugged into your TV or home entertainment system (via an HDMI cable) offers you access to all your iTunes content, movies and photos. It also allows you to purchase or rent content directly from the iTunes store. Or you can watch YouTube, Netflix, and much more. And now with AirPlay technology, you can easily stream audio and video from any iPhone, iPad or Mac. At $95, the only reason you should not have one is if you have an older TV without an HDMI port.  (Buy it at

4. The New iPad

While the New iPad is merely an iteration of the iPad 2 without a major overhaul, it is an amazing piece of technology. The new retina display shows pictures and HD movies in stunning quality. I use my iPad more than any other piece of technology these days–for e-mail, reading, games, controlling my DirecTV and Apple TV and much more. And when iOS 6.0 ships in the fall, you’ll get Siri to do your evil bidding. There is a reason that the iPad product line has gone from nothing to 25% of Apple’s $160 billion in annual revenues–it is worth it. ($499 at

16GB of storage and about as big as a dime.
5. Verbatim Thumbdrive

More and more, automobiles come with a USB port in the stereo. If your car will play music from a USB device, this little thumb drive is a great addition. It’s little more than the size of the USB port itself, but it packs 16GB of storage for only $15–less than a buck a gigabyte! That’s enough for about 4,000 songs. And you barely notice it. (Buy it at

6. iPad Camera Connection Kit

I love taking a sharing photos. And now when I am on the road with my camera, I bring my iPad and camera connection kit along. It allows you to connect a USB cable from camera to iPad, or insert an SD memory card into the bottom of the iPad to transfer your photos. And with the new iPhoto app, its easy to create a great slideshow on the fly.  (Buy it at

7. The new Macbook Pro with Retina Display
The new MacBook Pro is a major rework of Apple’s professional notebook computer line. It thinner, lighter and stronger. And it’s the first Mac with a high-resolution retina display. So if he’s been very good, and you have $2,200 burning a whole in your pocket, go check it out at the Apple Store.

That’s it for this year. If you have any questions, just post a comment below.

My Top Tech Gifts for Christmas 2011

Much of my Top Ten Tech Gifts for Father’s Day 2011 post remains true, though some have had nice price reductions (the Canon Rebel T3i with lens dropped from $916 to $720). I thought I’d add a few more thoughts for Christmas.

1. Jawbone Jambox

A friend brought this little gizmo on a recent camping trip and I was amazed. It connects to a multitude of devices via bluetooth and pumps out thumping sound for it’s size (6″L x 2.2″W x 1.6″H; 12 oz.).  It is rechargeable and lasts about 10 hours. It also works well as a speakerphone. The Jambox retails for $199, but you can get the red model shown above for much less with no tax and free shipping using the following link. (, $163)

2. Sonos Play 3

Sonos has long been a provider of whole-home wireless music solutions, but the recent release of the Play 3 and Play 5 remote speakers have brought rave reviews. Easily control your music from an iPhone, iPad, computer or Android device–playing the same song everywhere or a different one from each speaker.  In addition to your iTunes library, Sonos has built-in support for Pandora, Last FM, Spotify, Napster, Sirius XM, and many other offerings from the Internet. The speakers are well built, crank out great sound, and adding another zone means simply buying another speaker. If you don’t have a wired network connection where the speaker will be placed, you’ll need the $49 Sonos Bridge–you only need one for all the Sonos speakers in your home. ( Play 3, $299; Wireless Bridge, $49)

3. Epson MegaPlex Projector

Epson recently released these turnkey projectors, but Amazon has already lopped the price dramatically in time for the holidays. The 720p model is HD, though not full 1080P HD, but it should be fine for showing the kids the latest Pixar movie on the side of your house. And the built-in speakers are loud enough to handle that rehearsal dinner slideshow. The iPhone/iPad dock is just gravy. ( 720p, $680; 520p, $549)

4. iPhone 4S

It’s silly not to upgrade to the latest iPhone if your contract allows it. You can sell that old phone on eBay for about as much as the new one costs you. And the new iPhone 4S offers increased speed, Siri, and an amazing camera upgrade. Dealing with the phone companies makes this a difficult gift to give, so the link takes you to the iPhone gift card page. (, $199 with contract)

5. MacBook Air

If you need an extra computer around the house, the entry level Apple laptop is a great choice. Shoehorning this much power in such a small and light package is amazing. And the recent upgrades make this laptop even more of a bargain. ( 11.6″ Display, $940; 13.3″ Display, $1,280)

6. Fujitsu SCANSNAP S1100 Portable Scanner

I have used this line of scanners for five years now. The combination of build quality, performance and ease of use are unparalleled. Turning that pile of bills on your text into digital copies (now acceptable to the IRS) is much better than filing them all. And it folds up so small, you’ll barely notice it. (, $190)

Just a few ideas. I know they are a little expensive in these difficult times. Check my Father’s Day post for some less expensive options. Or just get him some Thorlo socks. Those are quite nice.

Incidentally, while the iPad is still one of my favorite gadgets (I rarely use a computer at home anymore), the rumor is that they will update it sometime around next March. So I would leave that for a Fathers Day gift.