Welcome to TUAW's 2011 Holiday Gift Guide! We're here to help you choose the best gifts this holiday season, and once you've received your gifts we'll tell you what apps and accessories we think are best for your new Apple gear. Stay tuned every weekday from now until the end of the year for our picks and helpful guides and check our Gift Guide hub to see our guides as they become available. For even more holiday fun, check out sister site Engadget's gift guide.
It's the middle of the winter break and most students are enjoying a short respite from course work, classrooms and cramming for exams. Students should use some of this free time to clean up their old Mac or setup their new Mac before their hectic school schedule begins again. To help you get organized for the 2012 Spring semester, we've compiled some of the top Mac apps for students. Check out the list below and add your favorites in the comments (all prices are USD).
Dropbox is a popular, web-based file hosting service that lets you upload files to a cloud account and share them with other Dropbox users. It's an easy way to store files for yourself or others to view. Besides the Dropbox client which uploads files from your Mac, there are many other apps that use Dropbox for file sharing or file backup. Dropbox gives you 2 GB of storage space for free, but you can purchase additional storage if needed (50 GB for US$9.99 monthly or $99.99 per year; 100 GB for $19.99/month or $199.00/year)
Evernote is an excellent note-taking app that stores all your notes in the cloud, so you can access them from your iPhone, iPad or desktop. You can create normal text notes, clip portions of web pages and record audio notes. You can also search and modify existing notes. It's available for free and is a must-have for anyone taking notes.
iHomework is an app to help you manage your course workload. It'll keep track of your assignments and set reminders for when they are due. You can also log all your grades, so you know how well you are doing in a class. There's even a section for course information that lets you store the course location, time and the professor's contact information. It's available on the Mac, and it is sold as a universal app for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.
Garage Tunes ($4.99)
Garage Tunes is a lightweight music player that'll scan your hard drive for music files and add them to the app. It also scans the library of other computers on your local network that have Garage Tunes installed. It's an easy way for roommates to share their music over a LAN.
WiFi Radar ($9.99)
If you're the traveling type who likes to study in the library or at your local coffee shop, you'll need a decent WiFi tool like WiFi Radar to help you find available WiFi networks. WiFi Radar will list all the available wireless networks in your area and provide you information about the SSID, channel, signal strength and password state. Once you connect, the app will graph your network signal and let you monitor the reliability of the connection.
Coffee Break ($2.99)
Coffee Break is a small utility that resides in the menu bar and reminds you that it's time for a break. You can setup alarms that'll dim the screen and tell you take a break for a set number of minutes. Conventional wisdom says you'll stay more alert during those marathon studying sessions if you take regular breaks.
Unlike Coffee Break, Caffeine will help keep your computer going during a marathon study session. The app is a small utility that sits in the menu bar and gives you quick access to some of the options in Energy Saver. You can click it once to stop your Mac from going to sleep, dimming the screen or starting screen savers. Click it again and everything is restored back to normal. It's perfect for those times when you're deep in thought and not actively interacting with your Mac.
PDF Expert ($19.99)
PDF Expert will let you read, annotate, and search within PDF files on your Mac. The app has all the basic functions you need to highlight, underline or add other annotations to a PDF. You can also add notes and bookmarks. PDF Expert will even read the PDF back to you when you want to listen to the document instead of read it. If you don't need the search functions of PDF Expert and have Mac OS X Lion, you can use the built-in Preview app to annotate your PDF document and add bookmarks. A warning to prevent confusion- PDF Expert for the Mac is not associated with the popular PDF Expert for the iPad made by Readdle.
iProcrastinate is an easy-to-use task manager that'll help you get things done without delay. The app lets you organize tasks into subjects (basically, a category) and add sub-tasks to a task which is great for projects that require several steps. It'll sync between devices on a LAN and upload your file to Dropbox. If you have an iPhone, there's a companion version of the software that'll let you take your tasks with you on the go.
Spotify (Free, service has an optional subscription)
Spotify is a music streaming service that debuted in Europe and recently made its way to the US. Spotify, like Rdio, lets you browse its music catalog and choose individual tracks to add to a playlist. It's much different from Pandora which plays random tracks based on an artist or genre that you choose. Spotify is available for free on the desktop and includes advertising to support the free model. You can pay $4.99 monthly for an Unlimited plan which gives you all-you-can-eat streaming without ads or sign up for a $9.99 monthly Premium plan which gives you ad-free unlimited streaming, offline caching and Spotify on your smartphone.
iWork is Apple's suite of productivity apps that'll let you create documents, presentations and graphs. The suite includes a document editor (Pages '09), a spreadsheet application (Numbers '09) and a presentation application (Keynote '09). You can buy the apps individually for $20 each on the Mac App Store.
Sparrow Mail ($9.99)
Sparrow mail is a lightweight email client for Gmail, MobileMe, Yahoo!, AOL and other IMAP providers. The app has a unified inbox and supports both labels and folders so you can keep your email organized. A recent update added Dropbox functionality, which lets you send large attachments via email. There attachments are automatically pushed to Dropbox and recipients can download the file using a link within the email. If you find OS X's mail client to be clunky and slow, you should check Sparrow.
Staying in touch with friends is important and an easy way to chat while on your computer is through Instant Messaging. One of the best free desktop IM clients is Adium, an open source app available for Max OS X. It'll let you connect to AIM, MSN, Jabber, Yahoo, Facebook and more. The app uses tabs to separate your different conversations and supports Growl notifications so you never miss an incoming message. It also merges your contacts, so you won't have the same person listed three times. Advanced features include OTR encryption, file transfer and many, many customization options that'll let you change the look and feel of the app.
iStudiez Pro ($9.99)
iStudiez Pro is an all-in-one app that'll help you schedule your courses, keep track of your assignments, and calculate your GPA. It's very similar to iHomework mentioned above, but has a different look that some might prefer. It also has a companion app for the iPhone if you want to take your schedule with you wherever you go.
Alfred is a productivity app that resides in the menu bar and is available via a quick keyboard shortcut. Alfred will let you launch apps, search the web, search your hard drive, perform calculations and more. It's faster and has more features than Spotlight and will become your favorite Mac assistant.
Reference books (Variable pricing)
Besides applications, there's a variety of reference material available for the Mac. You can download comprehensive guides like Muscle System Pro II, which details the muscular system of the human body. There's also iElement, which contains everything you need to know about the elements in the Periodic Table, and for Political Science majors, there's an app that'll let you study the US Constitution.