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IRL: Thule Crossover backpack, Technocel Battery Boost and upgrading from Firefox 3.6


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Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

It's funny how eerily quiet things get after Thanksgiving weekend. Except for some tablet going on sale next week, lots of companies are saving their finest wares for CES, which kicks off just after the New Year. Until then, we'll keep on keeping with the stuff we already own. Mat finally realized a backpack that won't send your gadgets crashing to the floor is a worthy investment, Andy's settled on a cheapie portable charger and Darren's at last upgraded to Firefox 7.0 (he's so crazy!). Which backpack is slowly sweeping the staff? And what was Engadget's managing editor doing using FF 3.6? Find the answers to that and more just past the break.

Part battery charger, part microSD reader

Technocel's Battery Boost has been one of the most useful gifts I've ever received. Doubling as a microSD reader, this juice pack claims it'll give your phone an hour of extra talk time, and so far, I've got no evidence against it. Surprisingly, it only takes about 15 minutes or so to completely charge. I couldn't count how many times I've used its bantam micro-USB flexi-arm to recharge my HTC Desire. Though the Boost has never saved my life with that last phone-call-in-distress, I have been able to get a few more pics and tweets online when I otherwise couldn't. Extreme handiness.

Despite its glory, there are a few quirks I should mention. First of all, the first Battery Boost I owned fried itself -- for no apparent reason -- while connected to my phone. Fortunately, there were no flames, but the room smelled of solder. What's amazing is that it continued to read the microSD, even though it would no longer charge any device. Secondly, this thing's a monster! Huge! About three times the size of an everyday flash drive. I literally have to prop my MacBook Pro up on something so I can plug it in. (It can also turn pocketing your keys into a major hassle.) The large size is a definite issue, but in its defense, the Boost is a sturdy little bugger. I've experienced its resilience first-hand by dropping it onto a highway going 60MPH. It's dark grey color doesn't help you find it in a ditch, but despite the scars, the beast still works like a charm. All in all, I'd say it's well worth the $24 price listed on Amazon.
-- Andy Bowen

Pockets upon pockets

I'd largely ignored buying a work-specific bag. Normally, my messenger would have sufficed for carrying around a laptop, notepad, charger and phones. Add in my aging DSLR and video camera and things got slightly more precarious. While covering the launch of some new product or another, the burden proved too much, and one of the strap fasteners snapped. Fortunately, I was still caffeinated enough from the briefing to react and capture the bag before cameras, MacBooks and other expensive -- and loaned -- goods hit the deck. However, I needed a replacement, and soon. As I browsed around Amazon, specialty bag shops and eBay, I balked at some of the prices. I decided to set the mark at £100 ($155), enough for something a little more special than some stock bag that would barely shield all my equipment.

I then saw my trans-Atlantic colleague Zach trying out Thule's Crossover backpack - it was exactly what I was looking for. To be honest, I had spotted the same bag at an Apple Store, but resisted. No one buys those things, right? But, I wanted it. I sniffed around the review sample Zach was trying out, and it looked good: there's a capacious padded sleeve for my laptop and a medley of zips divide up the front of the bag, with each one giving way to yet more separators and pockets. For SD card-juggling, USB-cabled junkies like me, there's space for everything.

Admittedly, I'm still in the honeymoon period, but as I near the two-month mark the Crossover feels worn-in, with no signs of wearing through. The straps are both comfortable and breathable -- ideal for high-octane, sweaty trade shows and for safely lugging around my equipment for day-to-day work around town. I also feel secure knowing that my laptop is flush to my back, unlikely to hit against anything. Other Engadget workers may find the lack of a padded storage space for a DSLR an issue, but I prefer to have a dedicated case for the camera, and ample customizable storage for outside work hours.
-- Mat Smith

Retiring Firefox 3.6

Firefox 3.6. Do you even remember that? Here we are, many (many!) generations later, and I just stopped using v3.6 about a month ago. Why? First off, I'm a creature of habit. Secondly, I had that browser customized just so, and in this line of work, changing anything could mean weeks -- if not an eternity -- of frustration. I knew that some of my archaic plug-ins wouldn't update with fresher builds of Firefox, but at some point, I realized that I couldn't last another day with that browser's horrific memory problems.

Firefox 3.6 was charming and highly functional when it launched, but open up 20-plus tabs, and it drains resources like no other. But despite the facts, I hung with it. It was there for me. We liveblogged together. We fought with one another, spiritually. And I just enjoyed seeing the refresh button on the left of the address bar. Earlier builds of Firefox took a (deserved) amount of flack for chewing up RAM and never spitting it out, but if not for that browser's innovation, would Google or Apple have any incentive to improve Chrome and Safari?

I may have left Firefox 3.6 behind, but I'm still not hopping into that bandwagon of crazies known as the "early adopters." I wrote this in Firefox 7.0.1 -- so, sue me.
-- Darren Murph

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