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.
Welcome back to IRL, and if we do say so ourselves, this week's edition is a doozy. On one end of the gadget-loving spectrum, Jason is still happily using his Canon Rebel XT, while Darren remains thoroughly unsatisfied with his $400 AirPlay speaker (it was easy to set up, at least -- he'll give it that). And, just for good measure, we threw in an Arduino fail. So, which piece of audio gear is on our "do not buy" list? Who needs to take a course in wiring-based coding? And does Jason have anything negative to say about his DSLR? Head past the break to find out.
Logitech UE Air Speaker
I've been a fan of Logitech's speakers for years now, so I had fairly high hopes for the AirPlay-enabled UE Air. And at $400, I'd say those hopes were justified. I was promised a rather svelte looking setup that's capable of pumping out the smoothest of smooth jams without wires, but I sadly found that it doesn't exactly hit the nail on the proverbial head when it comes to audio quality. Getting started, at least, was a breeze. You can opt to use a free iOS app, or do as I did and set things up via a web browser. Within 90 seconds, I had the speaker linked to my WiFi network and had located the device in iTunes and MOG. Beyond that, things weren't as rosy.
For starters, there's no bundled remote. This wouldn't be an issue in the least if Apple allowed the volume controls on its MacBook Pro keyboards to dictate volume on AirPlay devices, but alas, that's currently not possible (shocking, right?). What you're left with are two awful options: get up and spin the (admittedly elegant) volume wheel on the device, or dig up whatever music app you're using and click on the microscopic volume slider within iTunes / MOG / etc. I shouldn't have to explain why neither of those choices appeal to me; I just purchased a $400 wireless speaker. Why should controlling the volume be this inconvenient? More troubling, however, was the ear-shattering sounds that were emitted each time I booted the speaker up or even gently tweaked the volume slider in the MOG desktop app. I was just about deafened on a few occasions, and with no easy option to turn things down, well... it's just not pleasant to use.
And then, there's sound quality. It's thoroughly middling. For a speaker with "Ultimate Ears" on it, there's really nothing ultimate about the audio. The low-end is -- for all intents and purposes -- missing completely. It's actually kind of puzzling how large this speaker is given the abject lack of bass output. At high volume levels, even the highs crack up; as TechCrunch's Matt Burns says, "this is no party speaker." Truthfully, I still think my aging Logitech mm50 (which can be had for around $40 on eBay) provides better sound quality per dollar, even at its old $99 MSRP. The Logitech UE Air boasts pleasing aesthetics, but everything else is decidedly ho-hum -- and for $400, you shouldn't have to deal with a ho-hum speaker. (On a side note, there are major dropout issues when streaming MOG to an AirPlay speaker; the device handled iTunes playback fine (with local MP3 files), but throw in an extra level of streaming and things get downright unusable.)
-- Darren Murph
Sometime last year I decided I simply had to have an Arduino. And who could blame me? It seemed like every awesome DIY project I was writing about had one of the hacker-friendly boards inside. I owed it to my geek cred to immerse myself in the DIY movement and order an Arduino Uno. When it arrived I anxiously tore open the packaging like a six-year-old on Christmas morning and spent hours that day fiddling with it and pasting sketches into the IDE (you know, in between getting actual work done).
Now, here's where I let you in on a little secret about myself: I'm insanely impatient. After three days I could make the damn thing blink lights, make noises and respond to the press of a button. Beyond that I was lost. And, truth be told, I probably couldn't have recreated those sketches without having the examples staring me in the face. So, after less than a week, my love affair with Arduino came to an end and I went back to living vicariously through others who were more creative and technically adept.
A couple of months ago I picked the board back up and ordered an Ethernet shield to pair with it, convinced that a lack of connectivity was stifling my creative juices. I cracked the books back open and started meticulously pouring over the example sketches, trying desperately to figure out this foreign language. (And the wiring-based coding environment, which is itself based on C, is just that -- a foreign language.) And, here's another secret: I suck at languages. Three years of Italian in High School and two years of college Spanish and I can't even order in a restaurant. Heck, I can barely read music and I've been playing guitar for almost 20 years. So, now the Arduino and its accompanying shield sit on my desk next to my ThinkPad, serving as a constant reminder of my failure.
-- Terrence O'Brien
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT
I still remember how excited I felt the first time I took out my new Canon Digital Rebel XT from its box seven years ago. Prior to getting this camera, the only other SLR I'd had was an old-school Pentax K1000, which I sadly had to part with after college due to an unfortunate condition known as "broke-itis." Then in 2005, I was told by my newspaper editor that I needed to shoot my own photos during a three-month stint in Japan. In short, I needed a new camera. Given the fact that I was not a professional photographer -- as well as the lingering effects of my, uh, aforementioned condition -- I settled on a more affordable shooter, the Rebel XT.
Since then, the camera has proved to be quite the reliable sidekick. Whether it be a snow-filled shrine by Mount Fuji or Rome's eerily quiet streets after the tourists have checked in for the evening, the Rebel XT delivers. Its light weight relative to more heavy-duty pro cameras makes it a good digital SLR for traveling. I don't know how many times I just grabbed the camera and a light tripod to do a quick day trip on a whim. The ability to fine-tune the settings to match lighting conditions or achieve a certain effect -- along with the instant response I get once I hit the shutter -- was something I missed terribly when I eventually bought a point-and-shoot.
Admittedly, the Rebel XT feels a bit plasticky and its ISO range isn't as wide compared to newer models. As someone who used to minor in photography, I admittedly feel a bit sheepish when I go to family gatherings and see relatives who only occasionally dabble in photography whipping out cameras that cost triple what mine did. As tempting as it's been to move up to a more professional-grade camera, though, my XT is still more than enough camera for the more leisurely kind of shooting that I do these days. Besides family photos, I've used this camera to nail shots of waterfalls and fireworks, among other things. Granted, I've used it to take my fair share of not-so-good photos, too -- but those were due mostly to poor technique on my part. If anything, what I could really use right now is a new, faster lens. After looking at lens prices, though, it appears that my old "condition" is mysteriously acting up again...
-- Jason Hidalgo
Logitech UE Air Speaker