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.

We came, we saw, we collapsed. After seven days in Vegas and 700-plus posts, we'd love nothing more than to catch up on The Daily Show, eat something other than In-N-Out Burger and bask in what we hope will be a slow news week. Alas, though, the show must go on, and so must our gadget ramblings. And what better place to start than with the gear we schlepped to CES? You'd think, like marathoners prepping for a race, that we'd stick with the high-tech equivalent of broken-in sneakers, red gatorade and other safe bets. But in fact, the week saw a few of us taking a chance on unfamiliar tech -- everything from the Elgato Turbo H.264 to the Sony NEX-C3. For Darren, the transition from thumb drives to AirDrop was benign, though largely ineffectual. In Terrence's case, an impulsive foray into the world of Macs left him without functioning USB ports. Good times, right? Meet us past the break for a few tales of what went right (or dreadfully wrong) last week in Vegas.

AirDrop

Anyone who knows me would know that I prefer to arrange things just so, and then keep them that way for as long as feasible. Thus, my primary laptop had Snow Leopard on it up until about a month ago, when I upgraded to Lion (mumbling all the while, mind you). Not that I wasn't familiar with Lion, but there's a difference between "using" something and "relying" on it as your daily driver. At any rate, I'd never been in a position to take advantage of AirDrop, mostly because my Snow Leopard machine wasn't equipped to handle it.

Countless times during CES, there arose a need to share this file or that with someone else in the Engadget trailer, and every time I'd end up asking: "Do you have AirDrop?!" At first, I was in love. The drag-and-drop nature of it all seemed so much simpler than handing someone a flash drive. But then, reality hit. First off, the transfers were painfully sluggish -- compared to a flash drive transfer, yes, but still. Secondly, there's no way to AirDrop files to two people at once; again, bummer.

I ended up seeing a transfer through via AirDrop only once, and relied on USB sticks for the rest, but I truly love how simple it is to use. If speed didn't matter and the feature wasn't limited to one transfer at a time, I'd be in love. As it stands, I won't be tossing my small stash of USB sticks just yet.
-- Darren Murph
2011 MacBook Pro

Back in September, AOL issued me my very first Apple computer -- a late 2011 13-inch MacBook Pro. When it came time to ship out for CES, my instincts told me to take my personal laptop, a ThinkPad X200, as a backup, but ultimately my desire to travel light won out. It's a decision I quickly regretted: as we were gearing up for Acer's big press event, my Mac's USB ports decided to stop functioning. All of a sudden, my LTE dongle, which I had tested the evening before without issue, refused to connect. So, I quickly pulled out my spare connectivity option -- a Sprint EVDO dongle that hasn't failed me once in four years.

Well, turns out my MacBook didn't like that one either. To make it through the event I was forced to suck it up and pay for WiFi access at the hotel (twice, at the absolutely absurd price of $20 for 40 minutes). Eventually, I discovered there must be either a firmware or driver issue (I'm still trying to track down the root of the problem), as almost anything I plugged into those ports simply refused to work. Even more bizarre: unless I booted OS X with headphones already plugged in, the jack didn't operate and, once unplugged, wouldn't work again without a reboot. I'm sure my fellow trailer prisoners appreciated listening in on my unfiltered, awkward ramblings as I edited my hands-on videos. Thankfully, there was one surefire way to get my CDMA access and headphone support back: boot into Ubuntu. It just works.
-- Terrence O'Brien
Crumpler Customary Barge

I spend a lot of time tearing around trade shows and running to meetings to check out all the gadgets I'm lucky enough to get to see. What I never talk about are the tools I use to get my job done. The unsung hero of much of my work is my camera / laptop bag: the Crumpler Customary Barge. I used to carry two bags: one for my camera and a messenger for my laptop, cables, USB sticks, modems, extra batteries and all the other detritus you need to work in my world. I shifted to one for a couple reasons: my shoulders and back were getting worn down, toting a lot of gear. Also, an edict from some transportation authority that I could only bring one bag onto the plane. The nerve.

So how does the Crumpler win? Well, it's tough, seriously tough. On top of that, this guy has space for a 15-inch notebook, a DSLR, two or three lenses, chargers and cables, with all the various compartments conveniently arranged and dead-easy to get at. The pocket at the bottom of the bag, where all the camera stuff gets stowed, has its own zippers along with Velcro dividers to help keep things from clanking. The top section has a padded sleeve for the laptop, a pouch for cables and a cavernous space where I dump everything else. Sure, the weight hasn't lessened, but schlepping all that weight across two shoulders and behind me makes it an easier pill to swallow -- or carry.

Of course, Crumpler bags aren't inexpensive, and the Customary Barge rang in somewhere around $250 when I picked it up in late 2010. It may not be the prettiest of bags, but I've yet to find a worthy replacement. Though, with Crumpler's 'Til death do us part' warranty, I shouldn't ever have to, because if it breaks they'll make it right.
-- Sean Cooper

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IRL: The CES 2012 Edition, featuring AirDrop, a new MBP and Crumpler