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.
Is saying you need to keep track of six timezones a humblebrag? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but either way, don't expect an apology from Mr. Darren Murph -- the man is positively giddy about his new $3 Clocks app. You know who else won't be issuing any apologies? Jon Fingas, our resident Canadian smartphone nerd, who says the BlackBerry Z10 isn't half bad.
Clocks for Mac
First things first: I consider myself a power user. I realize that term is highly overused, so let me put it this way: I frequently find myself wishing for additional functionality that manufacturers don't enable by default. Take OS X's menu bar clock, for instance. Yeah, you can show AM / PM, and you can even show the day of the week, but beyond that, it's not going to blow any socks off. You may wonder why I'm obsessed with the amenities found in a clock -- if so, that's fine. The reality is that I find myself crossing time zones a lot. It's rare that I'm in the same one for longer than a fortnight.
And, the other reality is that my work never leaves ET. The time in New York is the time that my brain is on, always. Engadget runs on ET, and everything I do somehow involves it. I haven't changed the clock on my Mac since I took ownership of it, regardless of whether I'm in Samoa, Tokyo, Portland or anywhere else. As serendipity would have it, I ran into The Verge's own Dieter Bohn recently in California. I knew he was a power user as well, and I asked his opinion on alternative clock apps. "Clocks!," he exclaimed. "Check this out."
He was right. It's worth checking out. Clocks for Mac is a $2.99 app from StudioDalton, and it adds yet another clock to your Menu bar. From there, you can add a limitless amount of time zones (even customizing the city name to one you're familiar with). It'll show the day, time and even the city in the menu bar without overriding your built-in clock. That's huge for me. Now, I constantly have my Mac clock in ET, while Clocks shows the time of the city I'm in. Better still, the app's drop-down menu allows you to toggle ahead or back up to 12 hours to easily see what time it'll be in London when it's 5AM in Pago Pago. Man, I miss Pago Pago.
-- Darren Murph
Pong Research Classic Soft Touch Case for the iPhone 5
Pong Research believes that its magical / scientific iPhone 5 case can improve your signal reception, conserve your battery life and reduce your exposure to radiation. As I lack access to any SAR meters, anechoic chambers or other rigorous equipment to examine those claims in detail, I thought let's just see how it plays out as an iPhone case. With a fit that gently embraces the phone's sides and rear cover, it comes with a screen protector to coat the display, and boasts a mild lip to prevent you from harming the glass when you place the device upside down.
The downside to it being so thin and unobtrusive is that there's no protection on the top or bottom of the phone. So I have had to guard it a little cautiously. I'm not sure I've measured any real improvement in my cellular reception -- although I'm sure there have been a few moments where I've wandered into a signal blackspot without needing to end a call -- but I won't make any claims that would land me into hot water with the science police. If I have one complaint, it's that the bright red shell has picked up some of the dye from my jeans and now has some rather darkened edges. Still, given that it's saved me from a few panic-inducing drops over the last few weeks, I'll give it a free pass.
-- Dan Cooper
Brad Molen's Back to BlackBerry series was a great overview of what it's like to live with the BlackBerry Z10. However, you could say his device is a fish out of water: it's been hopping across networks that don't officially carry the Z10 yet. I felt obliged to try out the reborn BlackBerry on its native Canadian soil, out of a (somewhat irrational) patriotism, and also a desire to see how it runs with full-time LTE and the typical carrier software load. In short, what's it like to use the Z10 that you'd buy as a regular customer?
For starters, having "real" 4G consistently on tap is a tremendous help. We didn't dwell much on data speeds in our full Z10 review, but I found it a relief to have a BlackBerry whose potential isn't held back by its internet connection, which was true with even the Bold 9900's 14.4Mbps HSPA 3G. Photo sharing is wonderfully quick, and it's only the browser code that slows web access. Network performance is up to snuff on the Rogers variant I tried. I got the same 15 to 20Mbps of typical download bandwidth I see on other platforms, and the call quality is the same as it is in the States -- that is, good enough, but not great. Software on the Rogers version is light: there's a handful of the usual service and streaming video apps, although the home screen's emphasis on currently running apps tends to minimize any annoyances with carrier bloat. I just didn't pay attention to Rogers' applications until I purposefully sought them out.
A large part of what Brad said about the overall Z10 experience is true, so I won't rehash what he said on that front. Personally, my frustration stems from an interface that bogs down those very tasks that need to be done quickly. When BlackBerry is all about email and and processing things quickly, why are there three steps to delete one message, and seven to check for app updates? (Yes, I counted.) If you're the stereotypical BlackBerry customer dealing with dozens of messages a day, those extra taps could amount to a lot of wasted time.
However, BlackBerry has made an important leap that I can't stress enough: the Z10 feels like a thoroughly modern phone. Day-to-day use is often enjoyable. It's a multitasking champ that juggles live processes without conspicuous performance issues, and the touchscreen keyboard is one of the best you'll find for accuracy, comfort and speed. Would I chuck my Galaxy Nexus or iPhone into the nearest lake in favor of a Z10? No -- they still have more of the apps I want, and the BlackBerry isn't ideal for an Engadget editor's messaging and calendar demands. But I know many casual smartphone owners (and a few not-so-casual users) for whom those complaints don't matter. They'd be happy with a Z10, and that's real progress for the BlackBerry platform as a whole.
-- Jon Fingas
Apple iPhone 5