IRL: Kingston Wi-Drive, Dyson DC35 and being an Ubuntu fanboy

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.

The lively comments in yesterday's Nest thermostat post got us thinking: for all our talk of smartphones and Ultrabooks, it's the mundane, not-glamorous stuff that we're spending most of our money on. Take Brad, for instance, who had to make room in his iTunes library for the Aladdin soundtrack and had to get creative after maxing out his iPhone's (non-expandable) storage. Or Zach, who felt not one, but two vacuum cleaners were necessary in his bachelor pad. And at least one of us avoids paying anything by choosing to tinker around in Ubuntu. How'd Brad make do with his 16GB of fixed storage? Why is Zach such a compulsive cleaner? And who's the Linux fanboy on staff? Meet us after the break to find out.

Linux user, loud and proud

I showed up to the Linux party pretty late. My first real experience came via Ubuntu 5.04 -- better known as Hoary Hedgehog. I've been an unapologetic Ubuntu user ever since. We've certainly had our rough patches (what do you mean I have to add "options iwlagn 11n_disable50=1 11n_disable=1" to /etc/modprobe.d/iwlagn.conf just to get my WiFi working?), but since 2005 I've been a daily user of the open-source OS. A number of things drew me to it -- the price (free!), the geek cred, the tweakability and the thrill of trying something new. The transition to Linux was a learning experience (to say the least), but once I'd unlocked its secrets there was no turning back. With Ubuntu I wasn't learning how to do things with my OS, I was learning to make the OS do what I wanted.

Over the years we've had our battles -- most frequently over WiFi -- and I've lost some customizability in the name of aesthetic beauty and modernization thanks to Unity, but I keep coming back. Rarely, after spending a few days in Windows or OS X, do I find myself missing
features when I fire up Ubuntu, but I often do when it's the other way around. Unlike other OSes I don't have to bolt on what I need -- no Growl for notifications, Dexpot for virtual desktops or an alternative file manager with tabs. It's all baked in.

As far as distros go, Ubuntu is about as user-friendly as it gets. But I'll be honest: that isn't saying much. I may like -- nay, love -- Ubuntu, but it's not for everyone. If you like to tinker and don't mind poking around in the terminal occasionally it's great, but for all its usability improvements it is still Linux. Getting Oneiric Ocelot up and running on my MacBook was a three day project and it was only through trial and error that I found the right options to add to some obscure text file that solved my ThinkPad's WiFi problems. Still, while it may have to split time with Microsoft and Apple, when I have the choice -- it's the alliteration-loving OS dressed in aubergine I keep coming back to.

-- Terrence O'Brien

Sidestepping 16GB of iPhone storage

Before we could appreciate the good graces of an iPhone 4S with a full 64GB of internal storage, we had to find other, more resourceful ways to satisfy our need for as many movies and songs as we could gulp up. I used to think that 16GB of free space was plenty; after all, I thought, it's easy enough to swap out playlists, right? Not any more. Now that my kids are getting older, I've discovered how nice it is to store enough Disney animated classics (no Bieber Fever so far) to keep them happy on long road trips in the minivan, and let's not even discuss finding room for fairy tale soundtracks in addition to my own depository of tunes.

After a bit of searching, I settled on Kingston's Wi-Drive as an alternative to swapping out my phone for a beefier model. The idea is simple: you can choose between 16GB and 32GB of storage space on a WiFi-enabled puck, coincidentally crafted in a similar fashion as an iPhone 3G or iPod Touch. Download a special app and hook the puck up to your iDevice's WiFi connection, and you can wirelessly stream any of that data to that app -- music, videos and pictures can all be viewed pretty easily. It's on its way to Android devices soon, so you needn't worry about changing teams just to take advantage of the service.

The Wi-Drive works well, aside from a slight delay in response time -- unsurprising, since a third party app is attempting to access an external device and stream it wirelessly in real-time -- but we have a hard time justifying the cost of the unit (Amazon offers the 16GB model for $80 and 32GB for $100), since there are somanyother products out there that do the same thing. The Drive's useful to anyone who spends a lot of time traveling outside of 3G coverage or has a tiered data plan, as it doesn't require an active internet connection to work; if you don't meet the criteria, however, plenty of data-mandated services (for both iOS and Android) offer the ability to wirelessly sync with the cloud or even your home desktop. And if you need more than 32GB extra storage space, various manufacturers make more expensive external drives that offer much higher capacity. Still, with Android compatibility on its way, the Wi-Drive is a decent idea to put on that holiday wish list.

-- Brad Molen

Sucking up with a cordless Dyson

A second vacuum cleaner may not seem like a reasonable purchase for someone living in a two-bedroom apartment, so dropping $300 on a cordless Dyson that can't even handle big cleanings could even be classified as reckless. But does that fiscal irresponsibility translate to buyers' remorse? No, not quite. I can probably count on one hand the number of hours that I spend in my apartment each week (not counting sleep), and the last thing I want to do during my precious solitude is deal with the heft (and lengthy cord) of a full-size vacuum.

The Dyson DC35 Digital Slim Multi Floor Vacuum definitely doesn't have enough power to serve as your one and only cleaning tool, but it's done a fine job of sucking up the dust that accrues when I'm not home. The DC35 is not entirely cordless -- you'll need to connect it to the wall-mountable plastic dock (or directly to the AC adapter) to charge -- but I was able to vacuum the entire apartment without tethering to an outlet -- not to mention, any sign that the battery was nearing depletion. The only major issue is the tiny waste bin, which I found myself emptying every few minutes.

The DC35 is even more versatile than a full-size model in some regards, since its miniature cleaning head can reach under furniture or around tight corners that a larger vacuum wouldn't have a chance of getting to. I was able to retrieve quite a bit of dust from under my bed and from under the kitchen counter -- areas that only brooms have touched before. So, to recap: it's small, moderately powerful, runs on batteries and lives up to the Dyson name, but it costs $300. I'm sold, but that's a lot to spend on any cleaning gadget -- especially one that won't replace your full-size vac.

-- Zach Honig