IRL: WildBlue satellite internet, international charging, a flashing habit and failing to get work done on an iPad

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 been a whirlwind two weeks of sitting inside concept cars, soaking up details about the PlayStation Vita and getting acquainted with Windows 8, and now that it's all wound down, we're getting back to the business of griping about gadgets we already own. This week, Darren dresses down the satellite service we used to hit posts in the wilderness, Tim takes a breather after a year of jet-setting, Joseph carries on his flashing streak and as for Joe, well, let's just say his honeymoon with the iPad has come to a sudden, unproductive end.

Pop-up internet

WildBlue satellite internet has been around for eons -- we actually wrote about the company as it was offered by AT&T way back in 2006. We've all heard the horror stories -- terrible ping times, awful latency issues and barely enough bandwidth to stream anything from Netflix. Oh, and then there's the stratospheric price. That said, I'm still of the belief that the world is better off with satellite internet than without, and recently I finally had a chance to test out something that I've been blessed enough to not actually need at my own domicile.

During a weekend excursion with the team in upstate New York, we realized at the last minute that no broadband internet was offered in the house. So, we did the only sensible thing: we had a WildBlue dish installed for 72 hours. The installation process took all of 45 minutes, but we had to provide our own wireless router. Even when only one person was using the connection, loading Gmail and Engadget took markedly longer than with even a basic cable connection. In fact, it reminded me way too much of my dial-up days. The fact is, however, that WildBlue is far faster than 56K. I was able to upload a gallery of images in just a couple of minutes -- a task that would've been only marginally faster over DSL. The killer is the latency; I saw 1200ms ping times routinely. In other words, loading a new page took an eternity, but constant streams of information (uploads or downloads) were actually on-par with some of the faster ISDN connections I'd seen.

Did it work? Sure. Was it enjoyable? Considering that I was coming from DOCSIS 3.0, it most certainly was not, but I still found myself grateful for pop-up internet. We literally brought internet to a place that had none in under an hour, and the connection was solid as a rock throughout the weekend. It's undoubtedly better than living sans a connection, but I still find myself longing for more real-world speed so many years after this stuff first hit the market.

-- Darren Murph

Making friends in Gate B27

I've traveled internationally more in the past year than I did in all my months previous, and I've done more last-minute hustling to airports than I would recommend any sane human being attempt. I don't often have time to research just who is using what shape plug now, so my solution was to invest in a Kensington All-In-One Travel Plug Adapter. It's like a Swiss Army Knife, but as it contains no actual knives you can carry it through security without issue. (Good for me, as I never check bags unless forced.) There are four sliding buttons on the side that deploy enough prongs to tackle any outlet your curiously named foreign hotel might throw at you, and should you find yourself taking an exotic piece of gadgetry home with you, it works as a universal adapter going the other way too.

To make my life even easier, I've paired it up with a Belkin Mini Surge Protector. It sports three outlets and, while it's a little chunky, I assure you it is worth its weight in gold. Looking to make friends? Just walk up to any crowded AC outlet at the airport and slip this guy in. Suddenly you've doubled the number of available plugs and become Gate B27's own superhero. Dual USB ports on the side make charging a messenger bags worth of doo-dads even easier, but sadly those ports lack the requisite current to juice up power-hungry tablets (like an iPad). The Kensington adapter isn't perfect either (three-pronged plugs take a good bit of force to shove in there at first) but the two of these together form a bond that will ensure your gadgets will stay happily sated in foreign lands -- even if you can't find any restaurants serving something you'd consider food.

-- Tim Stevens

iPad for sale

Oh, iPad 2 with AT&T 3G. I remember the day it was announced. I rushed to my computer in the early morning hours to ensure I'd be one of the first to wrap my hands around one. Looking back I can't help but wonder, Why? I knew a tablet wouldn't be the best for productivity, but I was curious about filling that void bewtixt my 15-inch MacBook Pro and my iPhone. Plus, with 3G connectivity, I figured I'd finally have a simple device for surfing the web or watching Netflix while in transit.

After receiving it a few weeks later and installing some apps, I was having a grand ol' time using my giant iPod touch (and yes, I mean that). Then, I noticed my luck had afforded me the dreaded "screen bleed." After weeks of frustrating calls and two repairs, I was back in gear with an evenly lit screen. So, I continued on grabbing some gaming, magazine, music and movie apps that I still haven't used more than a handful of times.

Maybe it's just that I'm too set on using on full OS, but using the iPad for me is like pulling teeth. The simple task of switching from a webpage to another app is tiring after a few circles and better suited to a full OS. And that's the problem, really. I need a device to do more than one thing at a time and switch between tasks on a dime, and the iPad just doesn't cut it. The 11-inch MacBook Air I've recently acquired has fit my needs perfectly, and since I bought it my iPad's been accumulating more dust. Seems like it might be time to give up on the slate for now, maybe even sell it. Plus, it's not like the Smart Cover was that smart anyway; all it ever did was collect dirt... (Kidding! Kind of.)

-- Joe Pollicino

Hi, my name is Joseph, and I'm a ROM addict

I wasn't always this way. Once upon a 3G-only network, I considered myself a BlackBerry man - an always on-the-go power user who relied upon his Tour's solid portrait QWERTY for banging out emails, and its unlocked SIM for unfettered global access. Then one fateful day, an OG Droid dropped into my lap, and it's been me and forums ever since.

I've blazed through a plethora of handsets over the years, all rooted, flashed and SBF'd to within an inch of their fleeting market life. At the moment, I have four phones in my possession. Alas, OS X does not play nice with developer unlock tricks, but with the aid of a virtual Linux machine, I've been able to content myself with a variety of tweaks installed on my Nexus S 4G -- the current object of my fascination.

ROM flashing, I imagine, is much like changing one's hair color: the chosen shade never quite makes for a natural fit, but is, nevertheless, fun to rock while it lasts. And so too goes my preoccupation with MIUI and CM7, along with lesser- known ROMs floating about the hacker space. For the purposes of my digital ADD, I regularly maintain at least three different system backups on my Nexus S 4G, swapping them as I would UI themes (if only it were that simple). In the end, though, I always find myself crawling back to vanilla Android. Say what you will, but I haven't found much fault in the pure Google experience, though I welcome the homebrew tethering fixes (I'm looking at you, Peter Alfonso) and custom kernels that boost my single core handset from yesterday's 1GHz to a more contemporary 1.3GHz.

As for my OG Droid, that old, black slab has been lovingly updated to Gingerbread 2.3.5, Verizon Wireless be damned.

-- Joseph Volpe