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.
One of the reasons we launched this column was to make sure our reviews and hands-on posts weren't the final say on products -- after all, you often need to live with something for more than a week to notice its WiFi signal cuts off past 15 feet, or there's a nasty bug in the settings menu. Indeed, that theme is what ties together this week's roundup of stories: Darren explains why he ditched Sparrow for iOS, Kevin laments the file size of photos he's taken with his Nikon D800 and Brian finds a flaw in his Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight.
Sparrow for iOS
For Gmail users, iOS' native Mail app just doesn't feel... right. Labels are a huge pain, and the visuals are far too drab compared to what avid users see on the browser side. And then came Sparrow for iOS. The app received near-universal acclaim on the desktop side, so I figured I'd shell out $2.99 to be one of the early adopters; after all, surely it'd be worth that once push notifications came, right? As it turns out, the v1.2 update ushered in the awful news that push notifications actually weren't coming in the way that I was led to believe. In fact, the outfit's now working on some sort of "subscription" that'll allow push in a roundabout way, but it's unclear if my $2.99 will cover it, or if I'll be hit with another fee.
I'll confess that I came to Sparrow from Android's native Gmail app, which is undoubtedly the best mobile Gmail experience on any platform. At first, I loved Sparrow. I didn't care about not having push; manually pulling for new items wasn't the end of the world. I loved the gestures, I loved the stars and I loved the labels. I loved the "Send & Archive" option. But after a while, problems crept up. For one, the ability to swipe into each conversation in a Gmail thread doesn't work on all messages. It's totally sporadic, so far as I can tell. Moreover, deleting the final email in a thread only deletes that chunk; the prior messages remain. That's not the behavior I want; I want the whole thread gone. Or, at least give me the option to toggle between behaviors.
On the upside, I could store some 500 of my most recent messages locally (great for searching), which I can't do on the paltry Gmail for iOS app. I could also send a message through an alternate "From" account, so that's swell. After a fortnight, I've removed Sparrow and defaulted back to Gmail for iOS, simply because it still acts more like Gmail for Android than Sparrow does. Truthfully, I can't say it's worth the $2.99, but I'll confess to missing the slick design (and the app icon in my dock).
-- Darren Murph
Megapixels, megapixels and more megapixels. That's really what the Nikon D800 is all about. Picking up this camera was just like picking up my old D700. Little has changed, ergonomically speaking -- a few buttons have shifted around, but I nonetheless felt right at home immediately. What I didn't realize was the effect that this new flagship digital SLR would have on my everyday workflow. The amount of detail in every picture coming from the D800 is astonishing. The files that I get from this megapixel monster, even at 100 percent crops, look so crisp that I've been able to achieve perspectives I never thought possible.
Especially at full resolution, my photos tend to be a bit grainy at high ISOs, but when I apply a little noise reduction in post processing and downsize to around 12 to 16 megapixels for 8-by-10-inch prints, the noise performance easily trumps its predecessor. However, thanks to these finely detailed files, I've recently needed to double my storage capacity for both my computer as well as my memory cards. I'm currently running around with 96GB in combined SDXC and CompactFlash cards in the D800, which nets about 1,500 uncompressed, 14-bit RAW files, and about 2,500 fine JPEGS -- not the ratio I was expecting from over $200's worth of memory cards.
The D800 isn't for the faint-hearted, and it's certainly not for everyone. In fact, some photographers might question why Nikon has dug itself into a niche market, instead of appealing to the masses and fine-tuning previous models like Canon did with its 5D Mark III. In any case, I say the D800 is more revolutionary than its competitors, as it's already accomplished two incredible feats: inching toward affordable medium-format camera resolutions, and making me look like a decent photographer.
-- Kevin Wong
Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight
I suspect that the majority of e-readers are treated like paperbacks: tossed into backpacks and messenger bags and largely forgotten about until it's time to read again. I made that mistake with the original Nook Simple Touch, learning the hard way that dinging up an e-ink display can result in heartbreak. Once those little black splotches appear on the screen, they don't go away. So these days I leave the house prepared, with the new Glowlight Simple Touch enveloped in a fancy-pants Jack Spade case. It's nice looking -- nicer than most of the things I own, sort of a beige-ish canvas, a black stamp of two pant legs on the front.
Inside, the Nook holds on for dear life to two hooks that slot into notches in the top and bottom of the reader's left side. It's a bit flimsy -- not sure why Mr. Spade didn't just go for broke here and add hooks near all four corners. At $50, I can't imagine it was a pricing concern here. That said, I've only had one instance where the Nook actually popped out -- and thankfully, it was in my bag when it did. The larger problem here -- and I suspect it may be more of a design flaw with the reader itself -- is the accidental light-up.
A number of times, I've opened up the reader to find that the terrific, patent-pending GlowLight had woken up inside the bag. In fact, I found myself with a dead battery long before the advertised "month of reading" was up. Thing is, like most e-readers, the Nook is designed to be in a perpetual sleep mode when not in use, but pressing down that "n" button will turn on the light -- a problem that worsens when the reader is swaddled in its canvas cocoon.
-- Brian Heater
Barnes & Noble nook Simple Touch with GlowLight