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The Mac Observer's Best in Show Picks

The Mac Observer's Best in Show Picks

by , 5:45 PM EST, January 8th, 2004

There is no drought of good products at this year's Macworld Expo in San Francisco. As you walk the show floor, you get a good sense that companies are still innovating around the nucleus of Apple products. It is those products - primarily third-party - that are the buzz emanating from Moscone Center.

As the staff of The Mac Observer has reviewed all the new products, here is our Best in Show list that we highly recommend you consider:

iPOD MINI
Apple - US$249
Sure it's over-priced, and sure there are cheaper players, but not everyone has more than 1,000 songs to listen to? At US$249, it's sleek, lightweight and good looking. Who is the portable player for? Anyone who doesn't need additional portable storage for data files. Sure the 15GB model is only US$50 more, but the question for many will be "Who really needs it?"

GARAGEBAND
Apple - US$49 as part of iLife 2004
Just like any other application, GarageBand isn't for everyone, but it does offer some very neat features and a level of flexibility any consumer can appreciate. Do we see a 50 year old who once played the piano being bold enough to learn GarageBand and record his own music? Absolutely. Will this product sell Macs to budding musicians who never thought about buying a Mac? Do we really have to answer that question?

inMOTION
Altec Lansing Technologies - US$149
A portable audio system designed for the Apple iPod, the inMotion offers a compact design, extra-low battery power consumption, powerful Class D amplification, patented MaxxBass technology, and a built-in iPod dock. Honestly, it's doesn't offer the greatest sound, but we liked it because of its compact size and ability to use with other MP3 players other than just the iPod.

iTALK
Griffin Technology - US$34.99
A new voice recorder for Apple's iPod. It can play back recordings through its integrated speaker or through headphones and offers a pass-through headphone jack that allows you to monitor your voice recording, or listen to your music without having to remove iTalk. Recordings sound better than a similar device from Belkin, in our opinion. Worth a look.

SIGHTLIGHT
Griffin Technology - US$39.99
Say what they will about its better video quality, the Apple iSight camera still needs better lighting. That's where Griffin comes in with their SightLight. It fits over the iSight and shares its FireWire cable connection. Its Auto setting automatically senses the amount of ambient room light and adjusts its output accordingly. Very neat.

RADEON 9800 PRO MAC SPECIAL EDITION
ATI Technologies, Inc. - US$469 (not available yet)
It won't be available for a while, but gamers will be salivating while they wait for the Radeon 9800 Pro Mac\ Special Edition. Besides higher resolution, this card addresses two big problems gamers have complained about - an ADC connector and more on-board video RAM so games are faster and cleaner. The new graphics card offers 256 MB of ultra fast DDR memory, with 680 MHZ data rate and a core engine speed of 380 MHZ. In addition, the card is supported by drivers included within Mac OS X and enables a direct connection with Apple-branded displays through dual output ADC and DVI connectors. This card rocks.

THE RECIPE MANAGER
XtremeMac - US$40
One thing that bothered us at this years show was the lack of new, innovative software apps. We found few that were new and innovative. And while on the surface this product might appear to be nothing more than a shareware application, we thought it had potential for consumers to solve solutions and use their Mac in everyday life (are you with us?). It's the The Recipe Manager , a new application for Mac OS X that lets you add and organize all your recipes. It features the ability "to find just the right recipe quickly, the freedom to prepare foods as healthy as you like." The interface emulates the look and feel of Apple's own iApps, and you can even drag and drop photos of your favorite meal right from iPhoto. It's something different.

DIRECTOR MX 2004
Macromedia, Inc. - US$1,199
This is a major update to the company's flagship multimedia tool. New features include integration with other MX 2004 products, as well as new scripting tools to help developers create interactive elements either using Lingo or JavaScript. New media support has also been added for DVD-Video, QuickTime, Macromedia Flash, Windows Media and RealMedia. Look for it to be available next month.

BOSS
IOGEAR - US$400
The Broadband Office Storage Server, BOSS for short, is a network server appliance that combines networking, secure Internet access and data storage in a single unit. It's perfect for small business and home offices A small network can use BOSS to store files, music, family photos and more. IOGEAR's all-in-one solution integrates Network Attached Storage (NAS), a cable/DSL router, and an Ethernet switch. BOSS also comes with a Firewall, built-in Virtual Private Networking (VPN) and File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server capabilities. What's different about this over other competitors? It's an all-in-one solution that we found easy to use and set up.

TOAST WITH JAM 6
Roxio, Inc. - US$200
In a nutshell, Toast with Jam 6 offers users mixing and mastering capabilities that Toast alone can't do. You can do crossfading, integrated burning and more. Also included is Bias Peak Express, audio editing software that enables you to enhance and clean files. Dolby Digital Sound software is included to adjust encoding and decoding for better audio quality. Toast with Jam 6 will be available in March.

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