six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Six Colors Staff

Our favorites: Services and stuff

Hardware and software are great, but services are the gifts that keep on giving. Sure, subscribing to a service can often be pricey, but the returns you get are often well worth it. So here are a few of our favorite services that might make a good gift for someone—or even a treat for yourself.

Slack

You’ve probably heard the name Slack bandied about, but in case you haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a group-messaging app—think of good old IRC, but with a substantial overhaul. Best of all is its integration with other services, letting you link in a variety of other functionality. It feels to me like it’s achieved a near-ubiquity in tech circles (I’m on nine Slack teams), but I know other folks who use it to keep in touch with far-flung friends or for a community of folks with similar interests. Slack is free for unlimited users, but if you want to keep unlimited archival messages, you’ll have to go up to the paid plans.—DM

Marvel Unlimited

It was a pick from Jason in our gift guide last year, but as a more recent convert to the service, I wanted a chance to share what I love about Marvel Unlimited. I was a comic book reader in my teen years, making the regular pilgrimages to our local stores in order to pick up the latest issues of X-Men and Avengers, but it soon became an expensive propositions to keep up with all my favorites. Marvel Unlimited, for all of its flaws, makes it easy for me to not only read a broad variety of comics, but also to delve into Marvel’s extensive archives. At around $10 per month or $69 for an annual membership, it’s not hard to make your money back—digital issues run $3-$5 a pop as it is. If you don’t mind putting up with the six-month lag time between issues’ debuts and their appearance in the Marvel Unlimited app, it’s well worth the money. (I still wish they’d make a few improvements to the app.)—DM

New York Times Crossword

I’m a pretty avid cruciverbalist—I’m rarely functional in the morning until I’ve had my cup of tea and done the New York Times crossword. I’ve been a subscriber to the Times crossword for a few years now. I admit that I might have originally balked at the $40-per-year cost, but at a bit over $3 per month, that’s half-off the $7-per-month subscription option. (You can also download the app for free and take advantage of free puzzles and packs.) If you do the crossword everyday, as I try to, that’s just cents per puzzle. And it’s a great way to keep the brain in shape. You can subscribe directly through the NYT Crossword app and it even syncs your progress between the iPhone, iPad, and web versions of the app.—DM

Hulu Plus

Crosswords tired out your brain, so obviously you need something to relax with. Hulu is simply the best way to get the latest episodes of all those TV shows you’re keeping up with. It’s got solid apps for iOS, Apple TV, and other set-top boxes, and its catalog has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years. In addition to the regular $8-per-month plan, there’s even a new commercial-free option for a few bucks more, in case you balk at ads during your streaming TV, and an option to add on Showtime so you can catch up on Homeland or Episodes.—DM

Amazon Prime

I’m an Apple customer, sure, but I’m also an Amazon customer. And I find Amazon Prime to be the gift that keeps on giving. For $100/year, I get free two-day shipping on all Amazon purchases, access to a Kindle Lending Library from which I can borrow a book a month for free, and, of course, access to the massive collection of video that’s available on Amazon and free for Prime users, including such originals shows as “The Man in the High Castle” and “Transparent.” There are also exclusive deals, free access to early-release novels, unlimited photo storage, and even a music streaming service, all inclusive. I only use about half of these features, but it’s worth the $8.33/month I’m spending.—JS

HBO NOW

A big addition to the video-streaming universe this year was HBO’s $15/month premium streaming service, HBO NOW. And no, the depth of its catalog can’t compete with something like Netflix or Hulu. But consider the library it does offer. Not only do you get new episodes of “Game of Thrones”, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, “Veep”, “Silicon Valley”, and more, but you get access to the massive HBO television library. Every episode of “Deadwood” and “The Wire” and “The Sopranos” and “True Blood” and “Extras” and “Flight of the Conchords” and “Six Feet Under.” That doesn’t even cover the movies and miniseries. It’s a pretty great collection, and if you’re feeling a little binge ennui with Netflix or Amazon, maybe it’s time to dip into HBO’s archive instead.—JS

CrashPlan

No matter what else we may differ on, we can all agree that backups are important. Right? And while it’s all well and good to rely on Time Machine or SuperDuper!, if you really want to be sure that your data is safe and protected, you need an offsite backup. That way, heaven forbid something terrible happens to the home in which you store all those backups, you can be sure that your priceless photos and documents are still safe. There are several online backup services to choose from, but CrashPlan is among the best. It’s got a wide variety of plans to choose from, encrypts all your data, and makes it easy to restore files if you need to. But most important is the peace of mind it gives you: once you set up and start it, you can pretty much just forget about it, and CrashPlan will do its thing. Yearly plans start at $60 for a single computer.—DM

Blue Apron

When my wife suggested we try a meals-to-your-door service, I was skeptical, but Blue Apron has been worth it. The idea is simple: Every week we get a box full of the fresh ingredients necessary to cook a good dinner more or less from scratch. It introduces us to new (and largely replicable) recipes, and there are a couple of nights a week that don’t require any meal planning. It’s not cheap, but it’s not ridiculously expensive, and we’re able to see the potential recipes in advance to see if they’ll be eaten by the varied palates in our household. It’s easy to skip weeks without penalty if nothing strikes your fancy, so it’s probably more accurate to say we’ve only used Blue Apron about half the time. But it’s added variety to our dinner table, and generated some new favorite recipes.—JS

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[Get into the buying, er, holiday spirit by reading our gift guide!]


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