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.
LaCie Rugged Triple USB 3.0
I'm a big fan of keeping my virtual desktop squeaky clean, along with the totality of my Mac's 500GB HDD. Nothing makes camp in my hard drive that doesn't need to be there at all times. OCD much? Yes. Although you couldn't tell by the infestation of Wendy's wrappers and half-opened mail in my car, organization is my lifeline. Unfortunately, then, the 300-plus gigabytes of all my favorite DVDs and other space-eaters didn't make the cut. To ease my obsessive mind -- and also watch movies on the go -- I bought a 500GB 5,400RPM LaCie Rugged external hard disk.
Noting the bright orange appeal, I bought the Rugged because I'm very rough on my gear, and indeed, it's so far held up. With internal rubber bumpers and a protective anti-scratch aluminum shell, it conforms to 810-F military standards. I use several external hard drives for various things, but the Rugged houses my most frequently used files. It's got two Firewire 800 ports (which comes in handy with my Mac), as well as USB 3.0 for when I'm hopping on a friend's PC -- just make sure you don't lose the USB cable that comes with it. The top transfer rate of 5Gbps is pretty decent; however, I wasn't too impressed with the tempermental security software, which I promptly removed. The Rugged isn't lightning-proof, but if you're an active person prone to dropping, chopping and stomping, this might be the external drive for you.
What can I say? Some of us fell for the little guy. The app ecosystem showed promise and the hardware was a vast improvement over previous models. Unfortunately, the Chumby 8 comes up empty in a lot of areas. Perhaps the most glaring flaw for me is the touchscreen. Using its product manual as a warning, the company's quick to inform users this here screen is no iPad display -- a distinction that should be obvious after just a few minutes of use. Swipe navigation is quite the adventure, especially when you're browsing the web. Being the stickler for clean, crisp typography that I am, reading more than a few lines of jagged type became more of a chore than I wanted it to. The 8 doesn't have battery capabilities either, so I have to stay a cord's distance from an outlet whenever I want to use it.
Some of the apps are neat, I must admit. I even got excited when I saw Netflix. But my hopes were quickly dashed when upon downloading it I realized I could only browse titles and edit my queue. Others, like ESPN, offer a few lines of a story and then a link to the main site -- again, pretty frustrating. Honestly, you're best leaving this one to the Chumby faithful. Sure, this could be a great device for those who know exactly what they're getting and dig the outfit's previous offerings. But for me, it amounts to little more than a digital picture frame I can use to stream Pandora. And for that, I'll stick with a tablet.
Nikkor AF-S 35mm DX f/1.8G prime lens
When it comes to interchangeable lens cameras, the Engadget crew uses everything from the venerable NEX-C3 to beasts like the Nikon D3S. One aspect that's rarely brought to light, however, are the lenses we actually throw on them. Lately, I've relied on a Nikon D5100, mainly because it's a swell performer in dimly-lit situations, thanks to its 16.2-megapixel APS-C sensor (the same one you'll find on the larger D7000). While I do have a number of opinions about this DSLR, I've always been happy with the selection in Nikon's DX range of lenses.
For years, I've used a trusty Nikkor AF-S 35mm DX f/1.8G prime lens (52.5mm full-frame equivalent) -- the same one Don referred to in his D90 IRL. In short, it's compact, fast and able to capture sharp focus on images with a smooth background blur. Better yet, at $200 it's far from a wallet-thinner in the world of camera optics. Despite my admiration for this lens, it keeps me far from the detailed bits when it comes time to take extreme close-up shots. That's where my Nikkor AF-S 40mm DX Micro f/2.8G (60mm full-frame equivalent) comes in. It gives me similar results as the 35mm with the added benefit of macro, and it's got a fairly reasonable $275 street price. It's not as fast to focus against the 35mm, but it's hardly slow either. I've only missed a few candid moments with it, usually because I've left it set for full-on close ups. This lens also isn't much bigger than the 35mm, and most importantly, neither takes up much space in my bag.