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TUAW's Best of 2012 Personal Picks: Megan Lavey-Heaton

Now that Christmas rush is over, you might find that you have some extra cash or gift cards to spend. Or, you might have a new Apple device, and find yourself looking for good recommendations on software or accessories. These are some of my favorites in 2012, in no particular order.

mophie juice pack (starting at $79.95)

I picked up a mophie juice pack on Amazon in January to use as a battery backup while at Macworld | iWorld, but it's become my full-time case. The amount of battery life I've gotten out of my iPhone has been amazing with the mophie. I was able to use my 4S for a full 12 hours of shooting video, photos and sending over 3G in New York City in April thanks to the juice pack. It's helped my 4S survive being dropped a number of times. It's not just a good battery case, it's just a fantastic overall case. A big reason I haven't upgraded to the iPhone 5 is that there isn't a mophie case for it yet. [The demand for iPhone 5 power cases isn't lost on the company; there's an ongoing giveaway of five portable powerstation external batteries every day until the new juice pack models ship. –Ed.]

iPad mini (starting at US $329)

Like Kelly H., I love the portability and ease of this iPad, especially while doing other tasks. As I admitted in my review, I wasn't sure how I would get along with the mini at first. But the size quickly won me over, and I use it constantly as a second screen or instead of my laptop. While the price is still a little high, expect to see some refurbished iPad minis pop up on the Apple Store within the next few months.

Belkin Classic Tab Cover with Stand ($29.99)

I'm not a fan of the Smart Cover for the iPad mini. It's too expensive for what it delivers. After trying out several cases, the first one I settled with was the Belkin Classic Tab. It's readily available in most places you can buy the mini and is a pretty good stand. While the BookBook for iPad mini is replacing the Belkin in my affections, it's still a great cover to start out with. I just wish it came in other colors besides black, pink and purple.

Jot Pro ($29.99) and Remarks ($4.99)

I tested the Jot Pro stylus at Macworld | iWorld 2012 and loved it. It has the feel of a regular pen, and I use it if I'm taking notes on my iPad. Paired with Readdle's Remarks app, it's turned my iPad into the portable notebook I've always wanted it to be. I've done everything from mark up PDFs at work to writing comic scripts. Surprisingly, I have yet to lose the tip on the Jot Pro. It popped off a couple weeks ago, but I was able to easily put it back on.

Rdio (free with ads, plans start at $4.99 a month)

I used Spotify through the latter part of 2011, but after my husband moved here from the United Kingdom, Rdio's family plan became a big draw. I also like Rdio's Mac and iOS apps much better than Spotify, and the music selection is just as good. Rdio also can be used through a web browser, which makes it easy to listen to at work if I don't want to pull out my iPad or iPhone.

Flickr (free), Snapseed (free), Camera+ ($.99)

These are all my go-to apps for image processing and editing on the iPhone, plus sharing afterward. Even though iPhoto for iOS does have its own strengths, I vastly prefer the ease of Snapseed and the features of Camera+, though the I also love the new panorama feature in the built-in Camera app in iOS 6. If you're looking for a good guide on how to tone photos using Snapseed, check out this one by Peachpit's Jeff Carlson. Flickr is a late addition the line-up, but it's replaced Instagram for photo sharing among several networks at once. The one thing about it that bugs me is that the captions don't go along with it, so I have to go to Facebook and Tumblr to fill those out after.

Nikon D3100 ($476.95 on Amazon) and Aperture ($79.99)

I finally made the leap to a DSLR earlier this year, going with the now sub-$500 Nikon. The included kit lens is decent, and the battery life is excellent on the camera. I decided to upgrade from iPhoto to a professional photo processing tool that could easily handle the increased number of images I was taking thanks to the new camera. After trying Lightroom and enjoying ACDSee Pro 2, I found myself going back to Aperture. It's the best software you can get for the price, and the more that I use Aperture, the more I love it. I wish Apple would bring back the 30-day free trial for the app.

Plex Media Server, Plex for iOS ($4.99) and Apple TV ($99)

Plex has been amazing. The media server is installed on every computer (Mac and Linux) in this household, and the mobile app is on both our tablets and smartphones. Our Internet-capable TV can even connect to Plex through the network. It's been essential as we've dropped cable, and used streaming media to catch up on current TV shows, season passes in iTunes, and ripping our DVD collection to store digitally. With Plex for iOS, we can access our media libraries from outside of the apartment.

Sadly, thanks to Apple's FairPlay DRM, we can't watch the TV shows purchased in iTunes or play music that hadn't been upgraded to DRM-free tracks through Plex. But, we can quickly see what we do or do not have if we're out and considering a purchase. Likewise, we can bring up our photos no matter where we're at, even ones in Aperture. Apple TV allows the streaming of iTunes content that Plex can't play.

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