17 Killer Mac Apps Under $20 (Part 1)

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The Mac App Store is packed to its virtual rafters with cool software, and we found 20 bargain-priced iPhone and iPad accessories, too

While there will always be major software packages that retails for hundreds, even thousands, of dollars, the Mac App Store (and its influencer, the iTunes App Store) has made it easy to find myriad light applications and utilities to just a few dollars each. In preparing this year’s 20 under $20 list, we loved the idea of presenting 20 killer Mac apps you might not know about – 20 is such a round, pleasant number, and would hopefully let us find something for everyone. But $20 per app might not seem like the bargain-basement price that it used to, even just back in the summer of 2011 when we did our last 20 under $20 feature.

But guess what? Most of these polished, stable, user-friendly, and utterly useful applications don’t come anywhere close to a full Andrew Jackson, anyway. Four of them are free, and only two cost over $10. We thought about calling it “18 Mac Apps Under $10 and Also Two That Are More Than $10 But Still Less Than $20, and By the Way, Four Are Free”, but that’s just too long, wouldn’t you agree?

And once your Mac is stocked with brand-new software, don’t neglect your trusty iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch! We got tired of lusting after impeccably designed stands, cases, speakers, and accessories, only to check the price and be turned off by sticker shock. Just because you’re an Apple user doesn’t mean you have money to burn! So we found 20 handy and delightful accessories for your iOS device, for less than $20 each.


How you find the time

SmartDay puts your calendars and to-dos side by side.

SmartDay puts your calendars and to-dos side by side.

Appointments go to the calendar, and tasks go on the to-do list, right? But when are you going to get these tasks finished, then? You could schedule them on your calendar, but if you don’t actually do them, the calendar keeps marching on, and your task could be forgotten. SmartDay links your iCal calendar with the tasks on your Reminders list, so open space in your day is filled up with tasks you have to do. But if you don’t do them, they don’t just vanish – SmartDay keeps moving those tasks into free moments until you check them off.

The integrated notepad is a nice touch, and you can link notes to tasks and calendar items, meaning that all the info you need is never more than one click away. But SmartDay takes a while to get used to. Many tucked-away features only reveal themselves when you double-click, right-click, or mouse over parts of each window. Lots of tooltips help, but it took longer than usual to shake that new-productivity-app awkwardness and integrate SmartDay into our workflow. For example, since SmartDay schedules your tasks into free time in your calendar, the preferences let you set default task duration, say, 30 minutes per task. If you’re already using your Reminders list for tasks that take about 30 minutes, that’s great. But if one list is just groceries you want to buy, it shouldn’t’ take you 17 hours to find 34 items in the market. Little quirks like this aren’t deal-breakers; they just take thoughtfulness to work around.

The bottom line

The idea of scheduling anytime tasks between our can’t-miss appointments is attractive, but SmartDay’s feature-packed interface takes a while to bend to your workflow. We also wish we could type in natural language (lunch on Tuesday) to add a new event, like we can with Fantastical.

·         Product: SmartDay 2.0

·         Company: Left Coast Logic


·         Price: $19.99

·         Requirements:   64-bit processor, OS X 10.7 or later

·         Positives: Combines calendar events, Reminders tasks, and notes. Streamlined and flexible. Data syncs to web app and iOS apps, sold separately. Lots of hidden features

·         Negatives: Needs natural-language calendar parsing like Fantastical. Lots of features are hidden!

·         Rated (Good): 3.5/5


‘Quad-core’ productivity

When I kept paper to-do lists, I used to draw two lines to divide the page into four sections, and group tasks based on if I needed to do them today, next, or later. (Later got two sections to hold all the stuff I didn’t want to forget but couldn’t do right away.) Paper is great for this, because rewriting the lists every day made me think harder about how many things I was mentally committing to do and purge or delegate as many as I could.

The sections default to "do first", "schedule", "delegate", and "really?!" but you can change them to anything.

The sections default to "do first", "schedule", "delegate", and "really?!" but you can change them to anything.

Eisenpower brings this quadrant-style task management to your Mac. You can re-label the four sections however you like, and have pages for all your projects, each with their own labels. It’s easy to reorder tasks, or drag them from one section to another. And it ties closely into Mountain Lion’s notification and sharing features. To add a due date to a task, click the little bell, and specify a deadline – this adds the task to your Reminders app, complete with due date, so the alert comes to your Mac’s Notification Center, and to your iPhone and iPad’s Reminders if you use iCloud. The familiar Share button lets you send a task’s text via email, iMessage, Facebook, or Twitter. (Why would you want to post a task as a Facebook status? Beats me) I did have some issues with deadlines occasionally changing by a couple hours.

The bottom line

Eisenpower probably isn’t for people who schedule every task, but for sorting your to-dos visually and setting occasional reminders, it’s a great-looking choice for $5.

·         Product:   Eisenpower 1.1.3

·         Company: Waschhaus Media

·         Contact:

·         Price: $4.99

·         Requirements: 64-bit processor, OS X 10.8 or later

·         Positives: Easy to use. Affordable. Notifications on iPhone/iPad too, if you sync your Reminders lists with iCloud

·         Negatives: Mountain Lion Macs only. We found a bug that changes deadlines occasionally.

·         Rated (Great): 4/5


Leave a visible trail toward ‘done’

With a heavy emphasis on productivity and efficiency, Snail doesn’t overwhelm you with due dates; rather, it simply collects your tasks in a “stack” in your menu bar, until you’re ready to tackle them. Adding something to your stack is as easy as dragging and dropping, and Snail’s minimal, single-day interface makes sure you don’t get too far ahead of yourself.

Snail's timer will tell you exactly where your time went.

Snail's timer will tell you exactly where your time went.

As you dive into each task, Snail keeps track of your time, so you can target any productivity pitfalls. A built-in digital stopwatch shows you exactly how long you’ve been working, but you have to remember to start it; when you inevitably forget, Snail lets you edit your saved times. Bright red alerts show you when you’ve neglected one of your tasks and a pleasant shade of green denotes completion, but we would have liked a little more control over the interface. The ability to change colors or set periodic alerts might have helped us remember to use the timer more often, and while the one-day-at-a-time method might work for some, we would have preferred the option of seeing a full calendar. 

The bottom line

If you’re slow to get going, Snail’s time-management techniques will give you a push in the right direction.

·         Product: Snail 1.0.2

·         Company: Vadim Sitel

·         Contact:

·         Price: $6.99

·         Requirements: 64-bit processor, OS X 10.7 or later

·         Positives: Good time-management tools. Sleek interface. Intuitive controls.

·         Negatives: No customization. Limited alerts. No built-in calendar.

·         Rated (Good): 3.5/5

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