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.

It's safe to say we're a little picky around here: Darren's trying out yet another scanner app, and Edgar has settled on a smartphone battery pack (because everyone knows we can't agree on which is the best one). And Philip's been playing with a retro-styled "handset" because, well, why not?

Scanner Pro app by Readdle

IRL Scanner Pro, Mophie Juice Pack Helium and the Native Union Pop PhoneWhen it comes to scanning old images and legitimately important paperwork, I'm the kind of guy that still falls back on conventional scanning machines. The Doxie Go is my latest crush, as it's small yet functional, and plays quite nicely with cloud storage facilities like Dropbox and Google Drive. But for the quick-and-dirty, Readdle's Scanner Pro ($6.99) is a solid option for iPhone owners.

In essence, the app relies on your camera to snap an image of something you want scanned. From there, it auto-detects the borders (poorly, in my experience -- I just ended up selecting the entire capture), and automatically creates a multi-page PDF if you keep snapping. It optimizes paperwork to bring out text and diminish page bends and the like, and there's a compression option in Settings that works well to keep file sizes in check. I was able to set it up to sync to Evernote, Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive, but power users could select even more.

Naming individual scans and creating folders couldn't be easier, and those with iPads will appreciate seeing iPhone scans pop up on their tablets courtesy of cloud syncing. It does its job reasonably well. I'd recommend exiting the app between each multi-page document creation and upload, as I ran into a consistent crash otherwise. But here's the thing: the app needs to integrate (or merge) with SignEasy. The major thing it's missing is the ability to digitally sign contracts. Moreover, I use the free Concur app to photograph all of my business receipts, which gives me one less reason to rely on a third-party program. If your company doesn't have something like Concur, however, this one's a good alternative. The creators are also highly responsive to feedback, so it gives me confidence that it'll only continue to get better.

-- Darren Murph

Mophie's Juice Pack Helium for iPhone 5

IRL Scanner Pro, Mophie Juice Pack Helium and the Native Union Pop PhonePeople familiar with my personal preferences could easily tell you all about my dislike for smartphone cases -- because why would anyone want to cover up such pretty things, right? Still, I understand there may be occasions where a little extra power (or protection) is in need, and given that my iPhone 5 isn't a mAh powerhouse like the Galaxy Note II, I figured now would be the perfect time to try one of the first battery cases to be compatible with the iPhone 5.

Here's where the Juice Pack Helium comes in. Mophie's iPhone 5 companion promises between six to seven hours of additional runtime on both WiFi and cellular, making it desirable for pretty much anyone who dreads that low battery percentage. The great news is the Helium works as advertised, or at least comes very close.

It's been part of my everyday kit for weeks now, and during that time I've faced scenarios where the iPhone would be on its last legs with about a three to four percent charge, only to have the Helium come to the rescue and seamlessly bring it back up to nearly a full load -- on a good day, that would be about 80 to 85 percent. Plus, there was usually still a bit of juice left over for a shorter power run. Cosmetically speaking, Mophie did a solid job of keeping the Helium lightweight, although that's eclipsed somewhat by the half-inch of length it adds to my iPhone. That being said, nothing was more tedious than having to carry a dongle in order to be able to access my iPhone 5's headphone jack, which means I now have to remember to carry one extra thing in my bag -- yes, I could easily take off the case (or use a different pair of headphones) and keep my hands-free tunes / calls going, but doesn't that defeat the point?

Leaving the nitpicking behind, though, the Juice Pack Helium is a pleasure to use because, well, it does exactly what it's supposed to do. Better yet, it does it without much hassle, and without making my jean pockets feel like they could burst at any given moment. And while its $80 MSRP may seem a little steep, chances are the Helium's stupendous performance will make it worth it -- especially since the selection of similar cases is still rather limited.

-- Edgar Alvarez

Native Union Pop Phone


IRL Scanner Pro, Mophie Juice Pack Helium and the Native Union Pop PhoneOne of my oldest friends (in terms of tenure, not age!) surprised me with a present earlier this month. After tearing open the unexpected UPS delivery, I found myself in possession of Native Union's retro-styled Pop Phone. And while it depresses me to refer to something I used well into adulthood as "retro," there's no denying this cell phone attachment harkens back to a simpler time.

As you can see, the Pop Phone mimics the form factor of those old-school, wired telephones of yore -- the ones on an end table or permanently installed on the wall, possibly next to a tape-based answering machine. The one I grew up with was bright yellow and nailed to the side of the kitchen cupboard. In fact, I spent countless hours on that phone talking to the very friend who sent over the Pop Phone (hi, Kathleen!). And while there are plenty of wired and wireless headsets that would do as good a job or better, I do admit feeling a bit nostalgic when using this $30 attachment.

Yes, it's a bit impractical and no, my wife won't let me take calls on it in public, but it is a functional and comfortable handset. And as I look down the bulleted list of features on the back of the box, I remember it does almost everything Native Union says it will do. It's much easier to hold in place with my shoulder so my hands are free to type, and it lets me search for stuff on my Nexus 4 while I'm talking. Again, those aren't groundbreaking features, but I wasn't expecting much from a cell phone accessory in the first place.

Of course, it's not perfect. Despite the retro look and solid build, the Pop Phone is coated in a modern soft-touch paint that somehow isn't as inviting to me as the high-gloss, yellow contraption of my childhood. Also, despite claims of a high-quality speaker and mic, both are merely average for these types of accessories. Incoming and outgoing voices are perfectly audible, but it's not exactly what I'd call crystal clear. That said, I do find myself listening to a disturbing amount of music through the Pop Phone's tinny speaker. It sounds exactly like being on hold with a customer service department -- only with far more Soundgarden.

-- Philip Palermo