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.

IRL gfxCardStatus, Nyko Charge Base 3 for PS3 and the OG iPad

Different strokes for different folks. While Darren may have long since sworn off tablets as productivity machines, our very own Billy Steele (a designer by trade, don'tcha know) has been using one to workshop projects with clients. For Darren, anyway, productivity means having a laptop with a discrete GPU at the ready -- except for when the GPU drains his battery life, which is where an app called gfxCardStatus comes in. Rounding things out, we've got Jason Hidalgo talking up the different ways he's attempted to charge his needy PS3 controllers. All that and more after the break.

Forgetting about gfxCardStatus

ImageYears and years ago, Apple made MacBook Pro laptops that wouldn't even survive a single Apple liveblog. I literally lugged around an external battery just to make it through. In those days, gfxCardStatus wasn't just a nice amenity; it was a necessity. This lightweight, totally free program sits up in the top icon bar alongside your AirPort icon and Bluetooth notifier, but the concealed nature masks just how powerful it it.

Essentially, this allows MacBook owners to force their machine to rely on the discrete GPU or the integrated GPU. The latter obviously sips less power, which is great for extending life on long-haul flights and the like. Over the past few years, I've found myself leaving it forced to integrated by default; I never even bothered to use discrete, since I don't game on my MBP.

And then came the external monitor fiasco. I went through four cables and four adapters, testing out a total of four different monitors in an effort to hook an external LCD to my machine. None of them worked. Months went by. I wept. Nightly. And then, I noticed gfxCardStatus. I simply enabled Dynamic Switching, and as soon as it detected an external monitor, boom. Turns out, pushing a 1080p picture on a second display is a good reason to use a discrete GPU. The lesson? gfxCardStatus is an amazing tool for any MacBook owner, but a notification feature in a future build would be great -- you know, to let goons like me know when they should wake up and realize that a discrete GPU is truly needed.

-- Darren Murph

Nyko Charge Base 3 for PS3

ImageCharging PlayStation 3 controllers via the console's USB ports can be a pain in the neck -- literally. I first realized this when I found myself staring up at my 63-inch TV from close range while I waited for my lone controller to charge over a laughably short USB cable. Since you can't rejuice it unless the PS3 is turned on, I developed a tendency to charge while playing. Eventually, I bought a new Dualshock 3 so I could have one controller charging while I used the other to play wirelessly from a more comfortable distance. This was pretty much my main method for charging until I got the Nyko Charge Base 3.

The Charge Base 3 has two slots for rejuicing two controllers, which dock automagically with the device via a magnetic adapter. In brief, the $25 charge stand offers a convenient way to top off your controllers even when you're not using your PS3. A yellow indicator light means the device is charging while a green light lets you know that the controllers are all juiced up. It also has a shut-down circuit so you can leave your controllers in the device overnight without worrying about drawing vampire power.

Nonethless, I have my share of niggles: charging is supposed to only take an hour and a half, but I've seen it take several. The clip-on adapter covers up the player indicator lights. Unlike with a direct USB connection, you also can't use your controllers to play while charging with the device. Overall, though, the Charge Base 3 is a convenient way to keep your controllers charged. It even doubles as a tidy holding station, which helps with organization when you've got a gajillion controllers for other consoles. Just watch out when folks bring little kids over. This thing's a toddler magnet.

-- Jason Hidalgo

First-generation iPad

ImageI got my iPad about four months before the iPad 2 was announced. By the time the sequel debuted, I had everything situated just so, and the slate had found a cozy spot in my daily workflow. Given that, I wasn't looking to splurge on the new model just because of its novelty or improved specs; I was happy with my OG tablet. I use my iPad mostly when meeting with clients about design projects. It allows me to show comps and in-progress work without having to haul around and fire up a MacBook Pro. We can interact with the images in a way that's quick and easy. If I happen to forget to download a file, I can access it from DropBox without skipping a beat. Ignoring the Retina display on the third-gen model for a moment, the original still works well for showcasing design work on the go.

Never once have I wanted to take a picture with my iPad, and I can't imagine that I ever will. If I need to snap a quick photo of something to tweet or reference later, my phone has a more than capable shooter for that. Most of the time, if I know photos will be a possibility, I carry the ol' NEX-C3 along anyway. As long as the folks in Cupertino continue to update iOS for the original iPad, I'll still prefer it over dropping coin on the latest hardware. But, if they figure out a way to integrate a BBQ smoker, I may be forced to reconsider.

-- Billy Steele

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IRL: gfxCardStatus, Nyko Charge Base 3 for PS3 and the OG iPad