IRL: Kirby Sentria, Sony bloggie-MHS-FS1 and the OLPC XO laptop

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.

Let's just cut to the chase: this week's IRL is a little schizophrenic. On the one hand, you've got Andy singing his bloggie's praises, Terrence waxing philosophical about his unused OLPC XO and Darren ranting about his grandmother's vacuum cleaner. Do you like camcorders that are not a smartphone? Do you despise door-to-door Sentria salesmen? Good. Let's hit it, then.

Do not buy

A few months back, a presumably nice gentleman convinced my dementia-stricken grandmother to spend hundreds of dollars on a Kirby Sentria vacuum cleaner. Given that it weighs roughly the same as an African elephant, she soon realized she didn't even posses the power to operate it -- let alone connect the godforsaken shampooing system. Given that the company claims its Sentria system possesses "state-of-the-art technology," I figured I'd save the poor woman from eternal embarrassment by actually putting it to use.

That, friends, was a horrific mistake. I'm simply awestruck at how poorly designed this insanely expensive machine is. I've used a few Dysons in my day, and a few bargain bin vacs as well. None of those options ever do a phenomenal job getting hidden dirt and debris out, but I'd rather sleep in mounds of filth than be saddled with the chore of cleaning it with this thing.

It takes a college degree in vacuum engineering just to understand how the shampooer connections are made; actually making 'em happen is another thing entirely. It's pathetically manual, forcing users to align a belt, twist a knob, watch for a hook you can't see and sprinkle just the right amount of pixie dust on the handle. If you ever manage to get it assembled, it does a fine job of picking up trash... and randomly barfing it back up onto your floor. Perpetually. Please, if you need a serious carpet job, hire a professional. Whatever you do, do not buy a Sentria. Do not allow your family members to buy a Sentria. And while you're at it, warn your sworn enemy not to buy a Sentria.

-- Darren Murph

Six months with a bloggie

I'm not a prolific vlogger by any means, but I do jump at the chance to catch a friend in an embarrassing moment and spend the next three years, er, reminiscing. With that spirit, I bought a Sony bloggie-MHS-FS1 about six months ago and it's suited me just fine. Which is to say, I've got plenty of blackmail fodder. Design-wise, it has a solid feel to it -- not to mention, it's much skinnier than its outrageously more popular and colorful Flip rival. As for similar devices, I believe simpler is always better. From the time you press the power button, it takes just 1.5 seconds to go from stunned bystander to NBC's version of Peter Jackson. This means by the time you notice crazy 'ole Johnny's up to something, you'll be able to watch him leaping off the side of the ferry, repeatedly.

As far as specs go, this particular Bloggie shoots an hour of 1080p video and packs a mini-HDMI port as well as a retractable USB 2.0 connector. Being a musician, I often use it for filming live shows, and the sound quality is actually pretty great -- it picks up little to no noise around the 5-10K range. I've actually been able to work up a decent sounding track from the original Bloggie audio file. The native bloggie software organizes clips by date or custom folders automatically. One cool feature is that I'm able to pre-assign clips on the device to custom folders on my MacBook directly after shooting. That way, when I import them, they're automatically filed. This proves heavenly when I'm on the go. If you're an unhealthy iMovie user like me, I've found that the best way to work between the two apps is to make events based upon your Bloggie folders. I became tired of importing from the device to both very quickly. One minor issue I've experienced is that every now and again the software won't start up and will leave me staring into a white screen of angst, but it's nothing a force-quit can't handle. In conclusion, Bloggie = spectacular.

-- Andy Bowen

Dumbed-down, but far from intuitive

Sure, when I shelled out $400 to join in the G1G1 (give one, get one) fun it made me feel good that some underprivileged child would be getting a free laptop on my dime. But, almost as important for a guy like me was that it would put an OLPC XO in my hands as well. It was probably the only way I'd ever be able to toy with its innovative new dual-mode screen and unique Sugar UI. Well, four years later, it's still floating around my apartment, but serves only as a technological curiosity and conversation piece.

The truth is, for all its good intentions, this petite hunk of green-and-white plastic never rose above a novelty. The screen, which switched from full color to an E Ink like monochrome mode, is easily some of the most innovative technology I've ever seen in a computer. But it's attached to extremely underpowered components running one of the most unintuitive pieces of software I've ever encountered. And yes, I understand that the XO wasn't designed to satisfy western consumers, but even considering its target audience it's painfully slow. Opening a web browser could take over a minute when I first received the laptop. Later updates have greatly sped up the performance, but it's still not exactly what you'd call "snappy." Then there are the countless confusing buttons littered about the keyboard and screen, and Sugar's stubborn insistence on reinventing the wheel when it comes desktop design. If you're the type of person who thinks Android isn't intuitive, an XO would have you shrieking and pulling out your hair. And remember, this is designed for young children who have probably never used a computer before.

That doesn't mean I regret the purchase, however. My XO-1 may primarily collect dust, but it's a fascinating footnote in computing history -- one for which I'm proud to have a memento, and one that I could share with some child across the globe.

-- Terrence O'Brien