IRL: Playseat Evolution, HTC Thunderbolt and a five-year-old iMac

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.

Quick poll for the Android loyalists out there: anyone getting the Droid RAZR? Opting for the Galaxy Nexus instead? There's still one or two of us here at Engadget clinging onto our OG Droids and Nexus Ones, and after a week of high-profile handset announcements, we might be hemming and hawing for another month yet. We'll throw Michael in that boat, even though he took a chance on the Thunderbolt earlier this year and will be stuck with its battery-draining ways for at least another Revolution of the Earth. As for the rest of us not due for an upgrade, Joe is still justifying his $350 gaming toy while Billy is bringing up Team Luddite on his five-year-old iMac. You know the drill by now: join us past the break where we'll talk about the trusty (and embarrassingly old) gear we're using in real life.

A $350 gaming accessory

There comes a time in a virtual racer's life when desk-clamped wheels and office chairs don't cut it for an authentic feel. A few years back, my 19-year-old self was convinced of the need for a full-on racing game cockpit setup and settled on $350 Playseat Evolution (hey, no one said I was being rational). Despite the whopping price, it's actually one of the cheaper solutions for a cockpit-style virtual racing foundation. It accommodates most major racing simulator kits, even allowing for wheels and pedals to be bolted on for extra stability (unfortunately, I needed a huge does of patience assemble it). Some kits inevitably require you to drill new holes, but usually a mixture of Velcro, twist ties and elbow grease gets most any setup secured. It's easy to customize, too, thanks to a tiltable wheel plate sitting atop a vertical tube (adjustable by height and arm length), and a second tube within its base to adjust the distance between the seat and the pedal plate.

Within my first few days of use I felt the benefits -- namely, how the Playseat positions you as if you're sitting in a sports car with a fixed-back Sparco seat. There's ample leg room, and during the course of long races it feels more natural than sitting on a couch or chair. It's almost like having a piece of an arcade in my home, except that it folds up when I'm done using it.

That said, I have my fair share of gripes. The backrest could use more padding, and the twist locks for the extension tubes mar the finish rather quickly. Annoyingly, the wheel pole tends to wobble slightly on hard floors, and its placement can potentially cause you to smack your ankles during aggressive pedal hits. Perhaps most frustrating is the fixed angle of the pedal plate and the need for extra parts to comply with certain accessories. Of course, there are versions selling for hundreds more that address most of these issues -- funds that could be put toward pedals or a decent wheel. The Playseat Evolution is a ridiculous contraption, and at the end of day, I'm not ashamed to admit I own one.

-- Joe Pollicino

Staying patient with the Thunderbolt

In the beginning, my Thunderbolt was a disappointment. Those blazing download speeds I expected failed to materialize, and it wasn't just because of Verizon's fledgling LTE network either. More than once, I found myself suffering 3Mbps downloads while someone nearby with a laptop and Pantech UML290 modem was enjoying rates in excess of 20Mbps. The random reboot issue only added to my displeasure with this supposed flagship device, though a replacement handset and a software update eventually fixed the problem. Those LTE speeds also improved with time -- now my Tbolt regularly hits the 5-8Mbps range, although I've never gotten the mind-blowing speeds I was promised.

And, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the phone's meager battery life. At this point, I'm lucky to get four hours out of its 1400mAh cell under moderate use, and my default is to leave the LTE off until it's needed. Honestly, this shortcoming isn't that big a deal in my day-to-day, as it stays plugged in while I work. It is a problem, however, when I'm at a trade show or meeting -- I find myself constantly checking the amount of juice I've got left, and must plan my schedule around when I'll next be able to recharge. I could buy a massive and hideous extended battery, but the Thunderbolt is portly enough as it is, thank you very much. Instead, I carry a spare battery. Hardly the end of the world, but I did have to shell out an extra $30 for it and the phone's stubborn back plate doesn't allow for an easy swap. Yes, I realize that there's a price to be paid as an early adopter buying Big Red's inaugural LTE phone. But, I had hoped that HTC learned some lessons from the foibles that plagued the EVO 4G in its early days. Evidently, I was wrong.

It's not all bad, though. I love the ample screen with its excellent viewing angles and while it isn't as speedy as a dual-core phone, I've not found its performance lacking. Still, I lust after the saturated colors and superior outdoor viewing of an AMOLED display, and the thought of a thinner (or perhaps Nexus-flavored) phone is awfully attractive.

-- Michael Gorman

Still partying like it's... 2006?

Some people make a Mac upgrade an annual ritual. As soon as the new model's specs are rumored, they're figuring out how many extra shifts they'll need to pick up to pay for it. Not this guy. I'm still rocking the same iMac I purchased back in 2006 at the start of grad school -- the 20-inch model, specifically, so that I'd have adequate screen real estate for my design work. You may recall this model -- it's the first Apple all-in-one to include an Intel processor. That's right, I'm rocking a 2.0GHz Core Duo CPU that hasn't missed a beat.

For a five-year-old machine, this bad boy's still kicking pretty hard. I finally broke down and installed Snow Leopard back in the spring, but until then, I was proudly sportin' Tiger in all its glory. Back in 2008, I took an After Effects class that forced me to upgrade to the maximum allotment of 3GB of RAM. To keep things all nice and tidy, I put in two 2GB sticks, but that was more about me being OCD than anything else.

Back in 2009, a couple months before graduation and smack dab in the middle of my thesis, the hard drive started to fail. Needing to take care of the situation quickly, I replaced the HDD myself. I upgraded there as well, going from the stock 250GB to 500GB -- mostly because drives of that size got pretty cheap once terabyte models became the bee's knees. Other than the hard drive, I've had no issues and the thing still works great for a moderate to heavy graphic design workload.

-- Billy Steele