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.
In this, the last IRL until after we get back from CES, we've got a tale from Brian, who spent his Virgin America flight home to the west coast playing with his first Chromebook. Meanwhile, Andy defends the idea of spending $130 on a Bluetooth keyboard, and Mr. Christopher Trout explains why he's loathe to recycle his three year-old MacBook, even if it has devolved into a glorified media hub. Before we turn around and give you wall-to-wall coverage of all the new stuff, meet us past the break to spend a few minutes with some oldies-but-goodies.
A Virgin America flight with Samsung's Chromebook
How could Virgin America possibly get any better? How about a complimentary Series 5 Chromebook for cross-country flights? The ambient-music-loving airline worked in conjunction with Google to offer folks a chance to try Chrome OS -- if they happened to be traveling between New York and San Francisco, and were willing to hand over a credit card deposit and bear with a few well-timed ads. I jumped at the opportunity to immerse myself in the cloud (yes, those clouds too); the free WiFi sealed the deal.
In a lot of ways, the Samsung Chromebook really is an ideal traveling companion. It's a nice size, with a solid keyboard and it offered up plenty of battery life -- an absolute must for frequent travelers. This being my first extended period with Chrome OS, there were some quirks that took some getting used to -- namely, downloading a Word doc and then finding it in the unintuitive file manager. I also missed a fair number of desktop apps (why doesn't Spotify have a web interface yet?), though Picnik for Photoshop and other stand-ins do an all-right job in a pinch.
As stated by Dana in her review, the trackpad is a bit wonky and certainly doesn't compare to the glass one on the MacBook Air, to which I've grown accustomed. Also, the WiFi was less than perfect, though I'm ready to chalk that up to the fact the network was likely overloaded, thanks to, you know, all of the Chromebooks Virgin America was handing out. Still, it did serve as a gentle reminder of just how dependent the operating system is on having a solid connection at all times.
I can't say I'm ready to make the switch to a Chromebook, but hey, if Virgin wants to keep handing them out on cross country trips, I'm game.
-- Brian Heater
Logitech Y-R0026 Bluetooth Keyboard
When I purchased my iPad 2, the goal was to fill that gloomy void between the interactive hassles of my 2.5-inch phone and the bulk of my laptop. But for any of my text-related projects, such as my final assignment for the 2011 school year, it still wasn't ideal. So, I ponied up and purchased a Logitech Y-R0026 Fold-Up Bluetooth Keyboard in an effort to bring a pinch of input familiarity to the whole ordeal. When I'm on the go, I've actually come to prefer this setup. The Y-R0026 is a full-size keyboard, complete with unique iPad 2 keyboard shortcuts. It may seem minor, but you can also control your music volume and selection outside of the iPod app, once again emulating that "laptop feel." The keys themselves are smooth and quiet, but every now and then there's a bit of noticeable lag, which is my one and only complaint.
I didn't realize how much I actually liked the device until my recent nine-hour Thanksgiving road trip to Atlanta. I tweeted, emailed and enjoyed several episodes of The Office, all on one charge. The Keyboard itself can chug 500 typing hours before needing a charge. It was also something I wouldn't have been able to do if I lugged my MacBook in and out of fast food stops -- not to mention, I was happy not to have to struggle to see text on that glare-stricken screen while simultaneously charring my thighs. Being a stand + keyboard mash-up, the slender plastic build looks a bit insubstantial, but the iPad locks in securely with a little pressure' moreover, all of the functions (except the rear-facing camera) are accessible. At $129.99, it's hardly the cheapest mobile keyboard out there, but if you're on the road a lot I'd definitely give this guy some consideration.
-- Andy Bowen
A three-year-old MacBook
Just this summer, Apple put the final nail in the coffin of the white MacBook, but I'm not quite ready to send mine to pasture. My 13-incher is nearly three years old and while it's now little more than a glorified media player that sits alongside the TV and stereo, it's served me well. It's suffered its fair share of abuse over the past 1,000 or so days.
Like so many MacBooks of its generation it's missing two long, slender chunks of its frame where the screen's bezel bumpers meet its base. Its display was replaced earlier this year after a run-in with a 90-pound American bulldog, and, thanks to my clumsiness, it's been in and out of the shop more times than I can count. Its over-active fan makes it virtually unusable in public places, the battery has ceased to hold a charge and it takes an awfully long time to boot, but through it all, it's never failed to do its job.
It was my primary machine when I signed on to Engadget just over a year ago and even accompanied me to my first Game Developers Conference. Its prominent position at the center of my home is, admittedly, more symbolic than anything else, but I'm not quite ready to let it go the way of my old, dead PowerBook just yet.
-- Christopher Trout