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.
Yes, again with the mobile battery packs. (We're power users, okay?) In this week's roundup, Joe ditches his Elecom charger for the Mophie Air, and tells you everything you may wanted to know (and maybe a few things you didn't). Rounding things out, Darren kicks the tires on ioSafe's durable, "disaster-proof" NAS box, while Dan uses Bing Translator to avoid offending the lovely people of Germany.
Bing Translator for Windows Phone 8
On my way to cover CeBIT in Germany, I'd resolved to brush up on my high-school language skills with a refresher course of Michel Thomas Method MP3s. Unfortunately, it was only on the plane that I discovered that the files were corrupted, sending me into a panic as I worried about getting by in Hannover. Fortunately, I'd brought along an unlocked Lumia 920 to use as my local handset, and while it never properly worked with Vodafone's local network, it did have an ace in its sleeve: Bing's Translator app.
Without a doubt, it's one of Microsoft finest achievements. All told, it combines a simple English-to-German dictionary, audio pronunciation guides, Word Lens-style camera translation and best of all, offline dictionaries. In the week that I was there, it only flaked out on me once, and proved to be a fantastic travel companion. While an electronic phrasebook is never a substitute for a working knowledge of the local dialect, I was able to supplement my own knowledge to the point where I didn't need to worry about those broken MP3s.
-- Dan Cooper
Like so many other outfits, ioSafe took to a crowdfunding platform in order to get some momentum behind its latest piece of kit. The company has a short but unmistakable history of crafting near-indestructible hard drives, and its N2 isn't veering from that path. The Indiegogo-funded beast holds a pair of HDDs -- our test unit had a pair of 1TB drives, but big spenders and devout archivists can opt for a duo of 4TB units. The drive is aimed at small businesses that simply need a reliable, network-accessible storage device, but this guy one-ups most of the competition by being able to withstand the impossible.
I didn't dunk it underwater for three days, nor did I toss it in a nearby bonfire, but I did bang on it, drop it and spill a fair amount of coffee on it in order to see what it was truly made of. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's still ticking. For those in need of a NAS that'll survive just about anything, ioSafe's N2 is a solid (ahem) option. Two things, though: one, it's not cheap, and it's also not light. At $600 without any HDDs within, you best be equipped to write this thing off as a proper business expense. And at 23 pounds, you'll need a study table to sit it on. I was continually amazed at just how dense this thing feels -- if you're looking to buy a technology product that doubles as a fitness accessory, look no further.
Transfers across a wired network were predictable, with reads and writes usually landing between 50MBps and 80MBps. When sending files via WiFi, however, it transferred around 10x slower. In other words, you're best off opting for a wired connection if you tend to pass along massive .zip files.
-- Darren Murph
Mophie Juice Pack Air
For as long as I've owned iPhones, carrying a cable and a wall plug has been necessary to keep them charged for a whole day. Mophie battery cases always intrigued me, but I was never fully convinced. I was always concerned by the lacking front-side protection, as I have a habit of tossing my phone to the ground by accident. Normally, I'll use a $50 Elecom mobile USB battery, a small brick with a USB connection that holds four AAs and can fully recharge my iPhone 5. Plus, AAs are easy to come by, giving it a major advantage over Li-ion options if the juice runs out in the field. It does leave me stuck with a multi-piece solution, though.
Well, I've tested Mophie's iPhone 5 Juice Pack Air ($100) for a few weeks, and have been pleased by both its recharging chops and its design. You'll recall Edgar's IRL on Mophie's $80 Helium model. The Air has a 1,700mAh battery (200mAh more), and is finished with a grippy soft-touch coating. Further, it's adorned with a beveled band, covering all the phone's buttons with plastic ones. I worry about the thin front leaving the iPhone's chamfered edges slightly exposed, but the Air has kept it safe through multiple drops onto the sidewalk -- not to mention continuing to work without issue.
Whereas the Helium managed close to a full re-charge, I've been able to revive my battery from a one-percent charge to a fully juiced battery, with an ample amount of power left over for another quick blast or two. On a normal day, I can leave the charging cable at home without fretting, and that includes LTE tethering. It's a thick case, but I've had no issues slipping it in and out of the front pockets on my skinny jeans -- it's not much bigger than a cased 3GS. Better yet, its curved back makes it feel like the 3GS. (I hate the iPhone 5's in-hand feel.) I also prefer the extended bottom because it routes the iPhone's speaker forward, and protects my straight-jacked headphone cables from nasty bends. I'd add, too, that the included dongle is a must for right-angled plugs -- no problem since I always have headphones on.
The four-LED battery checker 'round back works smoothly and the on/off switch never accidentally budges either. My only gripe is that while the micro-USB port charges both the phone and the case, it doesn't support wired syncing with a computer -- it's a pain when you just want to transfer photos to Aperture, instead of a WiFi sync with iTunes. Overall, the iPhone 5 Juice Pack Air is a delight to use. I'll still be keeping the Elecom ready, as the Mophie has more potential to leave me powerless in desperate situations. With the two combined, however, I've found a harmonious system that doesn't have me constantly planning my next charge.
-- Joe Pollicino