For 12 days, we shared holiday-friendly geek tips to get you through the most wonderful time of the year. Even after the holiday decor is packed away, these tech cheats will keep living in perfect harmony with your gadgets, whether or not a partridge in a pear tree is nearby.
Break out the 32GB SD card, because December's festivities call for a whole lot of picture-taking. Make sure to do one thing for me, though — actually transfer those photos from card to computer. The latest version of Apple's iPhoto for desktop ($15) and iOS makes organizing photos and albums a nearly effortless endeavor. In fact, you can use the software's facial recognition technology to categorize pictures by person.
Upon opening, iPhoto will automatically search for new faces and categorizes them in the folder marked Faces in the Library. Open the Faces folder to see images of people iPhoto wants you to name. Begin categorizing loved ones by name, and those people will appear on the Faces cork board. Once you've named several photos, iPhoto will start to suggest prompts for unnamed faces. Go ahead and click the checkmark below a photo to confirm the name, or the X to reject it.
Email addresses can even be included in a person's Faces tag, making for a streamlined export to Facebook that includes your friend's tag in the social network.
Want to stay connected and productive — though, hey, it's the holidays, treat yourself to some carefree web browsing — during flight time? Avoid the heartache of stepping onto an airplane only to discover it's WiFi-less by checking the online status of your plane in advance.
If you still have the opportunity to book a ticket, note your preference for WiFi on board during your search. Travel websites like Hipmunk and Kayak include whether a flight is WiFi-enabled in their search results. When choosing a ticket solely on this feature, though, do realize that technical difficulties could happen, and despite the promise of Internet, a spotty wireless connection is always a possibility.
When you're just curious of whether your plane will have WiFi, turn to SeatGuru for a breakdown of every airline's fleet of planes and which have WiFi. Cross-reference that with the plane information in your travel confirmation details to know that, yes, your American Airlines flight on a Boeing 737-800 does have WiFi capabilities.
December is the happiest time of year — but it's also the busiest, which is why there wasn't any room for movie premieres on that jam-packed schedule. Who has time for a three-hour sitting when there's shopping and party planning to be done?
If you've been holding off moviegoing for holiday break, avoid inevitable spoilers on Twitter with the amazing app Tweetbot (on sale for $1 today!), a full-featured client that supports multiple accounts, smart gestures, and, most importantly, muting keywords or conversations.
In the iOS app, long press one of the two right buttons in the navigation panel. Tap the quote bubble with an "x" in it, and that will take you to the Mute Filters page shown above. On the top right, press edit and then hit the plus (+) sign on the left to add a mute filter for keywords or clients.
Add the most general keyword as possible. For The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, we've just added "Hobbit" and set the duration for the next week. The filters are great for season finales and trailer spoilers, too. If you're working from a desktop, check out the Tweetbot client for Mac ($20).
Is that the new Diablo III under the tree? Why yes, it is, and we can't wait to break open our sci-fantastic PC game. If there's a stack of new play waiting to be unearthed come Christmas Day, then make sure your computer is gaming-ready with these absolutely effortless ways to speed up your machine.
These tried and true methods may seem simple — obvious, even — but don't be surprised when you restart your MacBook and it's like you've just unboxed it.
- Restart every few days — Putting a computer to sleep means that applications are ready to go when you turn on your screen. But sleep mode slows down computer speed over time, and restarting the operating system allows the computer to run on a clean slate. Plus, it allows an overheated machine to cool down.
- Clean desktop clutter — What's the point of having awesome geeky wallpaper if you can't even see it? Those hundreds of icons take up precious memory (RAM), and moving the files into different folders or deleting them entirely will help your computer run faster. Tired of dragging and dropping? The amazing Trash keyboard shortcut (command + delete) will speed up the process.
- Empty the Downloads folder — Every day, make sure email attachments, pictures, song files, and GIFs get dumped into the Downloads folder. Go to your Home folder > Downloads. Keep necessary files, but trash the ones you'll never open again. Many browsers will unzip compressed files automatically and keep the zipped files in the Downloads folder; you can delete these, too.
More ways to increase speed after the break.
While we're headed out of town for the holidays this week, there are still dozens of family and friend festivities we wish we could teleport to around the country. Be a part of the holiday celebrations from wherever you travel with the simple convenience of video calls. Listen to your niece's first words and watch your best friend unwrap her gift from one of these easy-to-use video services.
- Skype — The mainstream pioneer of Internet calling, Skype lets you video chat and make free Internet calls with the people you may not be able to see too often. Chances are that you (and Skype's 700 million other users) already have an account, so just sign in and sign up your relatives! All you need is a front-facing camera, and everyone can enjoy a little quality time from wherever in the world they are. Get up to 10 people on a video chat as long as one user has a Skype premium account.
- Facebook Video Calls — In a partnership with Skype, Facebook allows free video calling to other Facebook users. Using video calling is simple: log in to Facebook, select a friend (Facebook calls are one on one) to video chat with, then select the "Start a Video Call" button. Good news is, even if your chat partner doesn't have the proper plug-ins installed, Facebook will automatically detect this and install the appropriate software instantly.
Keep reading for three more services to connect with loved ones this holiday.
In between all the mingling and prep, superheroine hostesses don't have time to tend to party tunes while the actual festivities are going on. So commandeer the entertainment from wherever you are in your home with mobile apps that turn iPhones, iPads, and Android devices into interactive, multitasking remote controls.
- Remote by Apple (free) — Version 3.0 was just released, and the app for iPhone, iPod, and iPad is now optimized to work in sync with the new iTunes 11. Add new songs to the queue on your Mac, PC, or Apple TV. Change songs, choose playlists, or browse your entire library from anywhere in your home.
- Xbox SmartGlass for iOS and Android (free) — The interactive companion app to Xbox helps turn the gaming console into a complete entertainment hub. Phones, tablets, and Windows 8 computers can control media on Xbox 360 by pausing/rewinding movies, surfing the web, or navigating Xbox Music.
- Media Remote by Sony for iPhone and Android (free) — Blu-ray disc players and BRAVIA devices will work seamlessly with this app, which features a simple gesture-controlled remote, a full remote, a qwerty keyboard, and a "now playing" bar.
- Logitech Harmony Link for iPad and Android (free) — Live TV content can be controlled from your tablet, with the same smart activity-based settings as the Harmony remote like "Watch a Movie" or "Listen to Music." It controls up to eight devices from thousands of brands and uses simple gestures for common commands.
- Peel Smart Remote for Galaxy Tab (free) — The Galaxy Tab's infrared capability allows the device, with the Peel app installed, to manage any TV, cable/satellite box, DVD player, Blu-ray player, or AV audio system remotely.
Ready for your close-up? If there's one thing that can be counted on at this time of year with the parade of holiday parties and outings, it's the Kodak moments. Get the most out of your camera and save every memory with these tips for taking the perfect holiday picture.
Alas, the shopping season is upon us, and retailers are out in full email force. Seems like every day in December has yet another irresistible deal or discount in store! Save your inbox for the important stuff by keeping the clutter away with these Gmail pro tips.
- Mass unsubscribe — Want to get rid of those newsletters for good? Type "unsubscribe" into the search box, and you'll probably find every deal, discount, and event email notification you've ever signed up for. Sure, sifting through all of those emails will take a while, but it's the easiest way to get your newsletters in one place. You can also select all (but make sure to click "select all conversations that match this search" too) to banish historic newsletters from your inbox for good.
- Set up filters — Is a big-box retailer sending too many emails? If you don't want to see those emails show up in your inbox but would like to keep on receiving them (just in case): Select the message > More > Filter messages like these > Create filter with this search (you can add other keywords or filter out only messages with attachments, too) > Select Skip the Inbox (Archive It) and Apply the label (create a new label with the name of the company). Alternatively, you can set up emails from select friends and family to skip the inbox and be filtered into special labels.
- Use Gmail shortcuts — For quick inbox management, utilize hotkeys to speed up the process. When in inbox view, pressing k goes to a newer conversation and j goes to an older conversation. Once an email is selected, type # to move to trash or e to archive. To save messages for later reading/sorting, use s to star a conversation, + to mark as important, or l to open the labels menu.
If preparing for holiday travel season makes your heart race just at the thought of busy terminals and crowded roadways, take comfort in bits of tech salvation by bookmarking these sites and apps to help prepare for the coming craziness while preserving your sanity.
- TripIt — Once signed up for the free service, forward travel confirmation emails to TripIt, which will automatically create a master itinerary of an upcoming trip accessible through the web or a mobile device. The itineraries even include the tidbits we seem to forget like weather updates, local maps, and directions.
- Google Flight Search — Book that plane ticket before prices rise any further! Google's flight search engine incorporates travel basics like price point, maximum number of connections, and preferred airline with an easy-to-use interface.
- Hotel Tonight — If there are too many relatives in one house, scan the last-minute hotel deals in Hotel Tonight for a chic getaway at a discounted price. Every day, three hotels in a city reveal their discounted rates starting at noon, and you then have until 2 a.m. to book the deal and take advantage of a peaceful room. Plus, hotel listings in Mexico and continental Europe have just been added.
Check out three more apps your phone must include for this traveling season.