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.

IRL TK

Does our own self-professed book collector Dan Cooper need an e-reader? No, but he might get one anyway. And do you need a portable charger with 3.6 times the capacity of an iPhone 5? Yes, or at least that's what Darren tells us.

TYLT PowerPlant portable battery pack

IRL Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight and the PowerPlant portable battery packIf there's one thing that seems to run out consistently -- particularly when you need it the most -- it's energy. You after a long day, a boxer in the 12th round and, most importantly, your smartphone at around 5 p.m. The abysmal battery life offered up by most gadgets far and wide has created an entire industry of backups -- charging devices engineered solely to provide [insert gizmo here] with an adequate amount of juice. I've toyed with a lot of portable battery packs in my day, but TYLT's PowerPlant is one that's worth a second look.

For starters, the PowerPlant brings 5,200mAh to a bantam brick that's barely larger than your average earbud case. In layman's terms, that's enough to power your smartphone for another 10 to 12 hours. (As a point of comparison, the iPhone 5's internal battery is just 1,440mAh.) For those unfamiliar with this segment, that's a huge amount of power in a remarkably small shell -- I honestly can't get over just how tiny this unit is. Beyond that, TYLT offers it in three variations: a micro-USB model ($65), a 30-pin Apple Dock Connector version ($75) and one with a Lightning connector ($90). Each one has a side-plug for charging one device as well as a full-size USB port for juicing up another of your choosing.

The detail that sealed it for me was this: unlike most portable chargers, the PowerPlant actually recharges over micro-USB. This is huge for avid travelers. Instead of packing a battery pack and a proprietary AC adapter to recharge it, just use a micro-USB cable that's already in your bag. For instance, I can arrive in Europe, plug my laptop in and recharge the PowerPlant using one of the machine's USB ports; no need to tote another AC adapter or power converter. That's efficiency worth praising.

-- Darren Murph

Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight

IRL Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight and the PowerPlant portable battery packWhen I started at Engadget, my editor bio used to include the phrase "an e-reader refusenik of the highest register," but alas, a week with the awkwardly named Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight forced me to retract the statement.

Barnes & Noble's flagship has a surprisingly sturdy build quality and an absolutely cracking display. While I doubt I'd sell my rather (ahem) large collection of books to round a purchase, I'd certainly not disown anyone who bought me a GlowLight for Christmas (hint, hint).

Text reproduction is pretty amazing too: with the backlight, I'm able to read in complete darkness without too much glare and generally thought that it was a bloody lovely piece of kit. While I worry about the company's seeming ambivalence about the category and the possibility that I'd buy this and be left with a lemon in a few year's time, I'm starting to think that I should invest in one purely for long-haul flights and the sake of shaving many pounds from my carry-on baggage weight.

-- Dan Cooper