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IRL: Verizon SCH-LC11 LTE hotspot, Sennheiser CXC 700 headphones and the Xperia Arc


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 that time of the week, where we take a pause from blitzkrieg hands-on opps and pick apart the gadgets we've been using long-term. This time around, Joe tries Sennheiser's CXC 700 headphones, Mat defends the original Xperia Arc and Darren breaks down the pitfalls of trying to get work done with a temperamental VZW hotspot. Because when it comes to getting a consistent LTE signal across the US, what could possibly go wrong?

Nice speed, if you can get it

On good days, I heart my SCH-LC11 beyond belief. It's remarkable. Amazing. Beautiful. Invaluable. Other days, I ponder just how far I could throw it while still being close enough to relish in the explosion that'll come after it hits an undetermined brick wall. As one of Verizon Wireless' first CDMA / LTE multi-mode hotspots, I knew this thing was bound to have bugs, but it does something that almost no other mobile hotspot does: charges over USB, while still being active. Inexplicably, the Novatel Wireless MiFi units that I have used will not actually charge and transmit data if plugged into a computer's USB port -- which makes precisely no sense, given that said scenario is the best one for keeping a) a computer online and b) the MiFi charged. (I personally use a power-only USB cable that I scraped up on the streets of Hong Kong to solve that problem, but I digress.) [Update: The MiFi 4510L will indeed charge over USB while in use if you apply this recent firmware update.]

The SCH-LC11 doesn't have that problem, and in turn, it gets major props. But what it lacks is reliability. Forums are overrun with complaints of this thing turning itself off after five to ten minutes of use, and while I've survived days upon days in LTE land with no issue, I'll have weeks where this happens constantly. It's completely random, so far as I can tell, and the time it takes to power cycle and turn back on is exceptionally annoying. If you can test these out until you find one that doesn't have this issue, it's a beautiful product. The LTE performance is shocking, and the ability to charge it wherever, whenever is a huge asset. But if everything else in the world shut off after five --
-- Darren Murph

There's something about the Arc

Arguably Sony Ericsson's flagship handset, the skinny Arc follows me everywhere. This one's now approaching the six-month mark, always accompanying me alongside my wallet and whatever new phone I'm getting to grips with (fortunately, I haven't taken to the Engadget trend of rocking five phones on four operating systems just yet). This is the one I keep coming back to when all those review handsets have flown the nest back to their respective manufacturers. Fundamentally, it's a single-core Android phone, running Gingerbread. It's got a 4.2-inch LCD display and an eight megapixel camera that can record 720p HD video. But casting the middleweight specifications aside, when I'm away from my desk and using the phone, there's so much to love. The curved frame that slips into my pocket, the tactile buttons and the camera, which is superb.

Several times, I've had to use it in a pinch to capture shots of never-before seen phones and tablets, and though they may not pass muster when compared to a dedicated camera's output, they appeared more than respectable when dressed down for the web. The screen pushes the envelop of what I expected from non-AMOLED tech - it's sharp and the colors are rich. However, if I look to the phone from the side or try to show photos and video to friends, viewing angles are poor in comparison to other 4.2-inch options. The screen on my phone has also suffered a hefty chip, now knocking points off the screen's wow factor, and something that you'd have to try pretty hard to do on Gorilla Glass. Yes, the Arc's far from perfect.

The creaky piece of plastic enveloping the phone is suspect, and Android purists in particular will dislike Sony Ericsson's processor-taxing bloatware. Those physical buttons below the screen, though welcome, could have done with some light-up signifiers. And at its current pricing, there's not much of an excuse not to spend an extra fifty quid on a technically superior phone. But, like Nokia's N9 or Lumia 800, the phone exudes charm: that oddly convex shape, the surprisingly impressive level of detail on photos and the admirable screen performance. Sony Ericsson's Arc refresh gives the series a minor performance boost and a lick of white paint, but intrinsically they're the same device. So for now, between the more powerful, bigger-screened competitors that pass my desk, you'll find my main SIM living in the Xperia Arc.
-- Mat Smith
Can't cancel out that cable noise

Living near New York City, I'm accustomed to the ambient noise of the day-to-day hustle. It doesn't bother me, since as a kid I was never one to focus without the TV or radio blaring in the background. Plus, having recently developed tinnitus, extra noise helps to keep my mind off the constant ringing. Still though, there's one time when this noise and I are bitter enemies, and that's when I'm trying to listen to my music while traveling. Cue Sennheiser's CXC 700 noise-cancelling earphones, which the company loaned us to test.

You'll find these selling for around $200, so as you might imagine this is intended to be some serious kit. Opening the box, you're greeted by nice a batch of other goodies not limited to a semi-hardshell case, a cleaning tool and nicely enough, an off-brand AAA-battery. I was, however, surprised at how plasticky the earphones felt, worsened by slabs of fake chrome on its buds and unpleasantly heavy inline controller (the weight comes from the battery, which needs to be clipped to a belt-loop, making it a hassle to walk with.) That said, the cabling handles tugs without breaking, while its right-angle jack ensures the same on my PMP's end. Better yet, the CXCs are some of the most comfortable earphones I've used, with a lightweight fit that maintain an admirable seal. I have little complaint about the full-bodied (if a slightly bright) sound quality and appreciate that the 'phones could operate passively (sans noise-cancellation) if the battery died.

Keeping noise out, though, is an interesting matter. In use, the headphones are generally pleasing, offering three customizable settings and even a TalkThrough mode to spy on the person a few seats over. It's a shame that cable noise reaches an all-time high, though -- it consistently drags any rubs against clothing right into the earbuds, tainting its noise-cancelling benefits. Worse still, the initial unit I tried out had a tendency to amplify certain high frequencies of buses and subway cars into a brief squeal. The CXC 700s are a likeable set of 'buds which worked very well in many ways, but after using two pairs I can't fathom paying the asking price for a pair of headphones with these issues in tow.
-- Joe Pollicino

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