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.
Two sleeves, two phones. That's what we've got in store for you this week, with Darren dropping $55 on two protective cases and two of our intrepid staffers trying out some new handsets. On team Android, we have Edgar setting aside his Galaxy Nexus to try out the GS III, while Jon Fingas (team Phone, really) trades off between a GNex and iPhone 5. How does he like his new iPhone apart from mapgate and that minor purple flare issue? Read on to find out.
ColcaSac Hanakapiai sleeves
Cases. To say they're a dime a dozen would be understating things to the nth degree. That said, I've made it something of a hobby to sift through the mass market products and hone in on the smaller guys -- the folks that have little choice but to make exceptional gear if they want to justify their inherently higher price tags. I stumbled upon ColcaSac's site around a year ago, and immediately fell in love with a few things. For one, it's a scrappy, small company based in Utah, and they go out of their way to use soft, strong, Earth-friendly materials.
They're also small enough to guarantee that folks will love it, else they'll take it back for 60 days. If you haven't heard, I'm pretty big on customer service. I recently sprung for a Hanakapiai MacBook Air sleeve as well as a matching Hanakapiai iPhone sleeve. The items really do look as awesome in the flesh as they do in images, and the Air sleeve is honestly soft enough to fold over and use as a pillow when shoved up against the wall in a coach airline seat. They look incredible, feel even better, and do an outstanding job of projecting my kit while keeping them free of scuffs. By my count, that's three for three.
The Air sleeve was $40 and the iPhone sleeve $15 -- above average prices, but definitely not what I'd consider exorbitant. The company also makes cases for Kindle products, as well as shoulder bags, and you'd be remiss in your duties as a holiday gift giver if you didn't give these guys a look. (And yeah, they just shipped cases for the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro and the iPad mini.)
-- Darren Murph
Every iPhone launch goes through three phases: the warm glow of initial adoption, followed by close attention to flaws and, eventually, acceptance of what it's like to live with the device day to day. The same holds true for the iPhone 5, which had a trio of "gates": scuffgate, purple flaregate and, of course, mapgate. Naturally, there are the limitations that won't go away, including the usual concerns about non-expandable storage. So, I wanted to look back after several weeks of use and see whether the iPhone 5 holds up after longer scrutiny.
In reality, it's still a fine phone -- if you're willing to accept those quirks. The combination of the A6 chip and LTE means I never have to wait for anything; in comparison, the North American Galaxy S III and One X occasionally feel slower, at least without Jelly Bean. Web browsing is uncannily fast and currently beats just about all comers. The rear camera doesn't claim an absolute crown for quality now that the Lumia 920 is in the field, but it still produces some of the sharpest, cleanest images we've seen, and it's one of the few that can take photos in the dark with hopes for a truly usable picture. It's also hard to ignore an app ecosystem that still tends to get high-quality titles first or exclusively; think enterprise apps and games like Letterpress.
That said, would I unambiguously recommend the iPhone 5 to others? No. It's hard to say Apple has changed the game now that the iPhone finally has LTE and a bigger display. The taller screen is welcome; in some ways, the iPhone 5 feels like a "fixed" HTC One S with the good display and LTE that the One S was sorely missing. However, it won't dissuade anyone who wants a genuinely big-screened device like the Galaxy Note II or Nexus 4, whether it's for a larger web view, bolder videos or even to compensate for poor eyesight. Likewise, while I find iOS 6 perfectly usable for daily use (especially for games and music), it hasn't seen enough of a shake-up to give Android loyalists many second thoughts. The iPhone 5 is the ultimate refinement of a solid formula -- it's just that the formula itself needs an update.
-- Jon Fingas
Samsung Galaxy S III for MetroPCS
Given how long I've been using the Galaxy Nexus, I thought I owed it to myself to try a slightly different flavor of Android -- so what would be better than to take one of Samsung's latest flagships for a spin? With that in mind, I decided to give the Galaxy S III a shot. However, I didn't go with any of the "Big Four" US carriers this time out -- instead, I opted for the MetroPCS variant, which was a no-brainer given how reliable and smooth the network's been the times I've used it here in New York City.
Physically, the only change I can spot in this particular model is the usual, wish-it-wasn't-there carrier branding on the back cover, though it's not nearly as bad as having a logo planted all over the home button (think: Verizon's Galaxy Note II). Software-wise, MetroPCS has done a great job keeping its own customizations to a minimum, but that doesn't mean it left Samsung's TouchWiz experience completely intact: on board you'll find apps like MetroPCS Easy WiFi, myMetro, M Studio and AppStore (it is what it sounds like). And while I'd have preferred not to have any of these bundled in, they don't have any effect on the phone's performance, and I'm fine ignoring them.
Aside from a little bloatware, there's really nothing else to grumble about. Per usual, MetroPCS' coverage around New York City has been stellar, providing great call quality (it's a phone, after all), relatively decent download and upload speeds. Most importantly, it gave me a handset that was truly worthy of all the hype. Yes, it's a wee bit pricier than most of the network's offerings, but it's worth every penny. Now, if I could just have this mixed with vanilla Android, I'd be more than set.
-- Edgar Alvarez