IRL: the Kindle Touch, a repurposed Army bag and a non-user replaceable laptop battery

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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.

Hi there, folks. It's that time of the week where we share our close and very personal experiences with various gadget paraphernalia. This week, Brian makes the switch from the Nook Simple Touch to the Kindle Touch, Ben explains why he'd rather replace his own laptop battery, thank you very much, and Don makes the case for a laptop bag that looks anything but.

Kindle Touch (ad-supported)

The Nook Simple Touch has been my favorite devoted e-reader for some time now, but it was the Kindle Touch that earned a spot in my backpack for my holiday cross-country trip. I wish I could say I opted for Amazon's reader because I wanted to give another device a spin, but to be honest, the decision came down to the fact that I had downloaded the new Haruki Murakami book, and was about halfway into it when it came time to jump on a flight. And really, if I couldn't finish that 944-page opus before the New Year, it probably wasn't going to happen.

As it happens, the Kindle's a great size and weight for travel -- it slipped quite nicely into the laptop sleeve inside my messenger bag. The Kindle doesn't conform to the hand quite as well as the Nook, but the included leather cover creates some thickness and also adds a bit of friction to the back side. If you do pick up a reader, I'd highly recommend a case -- the displays can get scuffed and dinged inside a backpack, and those E-ink impact marks don't go away. It's also worth shelling out some extra cash for Amazon's proprietary lighted case -- I really missed that functionality during my trip, and the guy next to me didn't appreciate my having the plane light on while he attempted to sleep.

That's one of the big tradeoffs with E-ink, though: the fact that the technology doesn't burn your retinas like an LCD is an enormous plus, and makes the Kindle great for extended reading. The touchscreen is also a boon -- I hardly missed the physical page turn buttons, though there were a few instances when a side swipe accidentally registered as a downward one (thanks, turbulence), causing me to jump a chapter and lose my place in the book. (Amazon should really think about defaulting to page numbers, instead of percentages). The Kindle also experiences some E-ink bleed, from time to time. Still, these are relatively minor complaints for what is, in the end, an extremely solid reader.
-- Brian Heater

The gadget bag that's not

Way back in 2009 I reviewed an LG netbook and included the picture you see here. I had taken it out with me one day, sat down for a short break and thought, "Hey, this would make a good picture for the review." The photo turned out pretty well, but in hindsight it may not have been the best choice for a lead shot. Of the few dozen comments the review got, most were either about the Tim Horton's coffee, or the bag holding the netbook.

That particular bag is older than I am, but you can find plenty that are just like it. It's a canvas Army bag, something that's readily available from any number of online retailers or Army surplus stores, and shouldn't cost any more than a basic laptop bag. You need to be careful of cheaply-manufactured ones, but if you can find a good one it could last a lifetime. Of course, it's not designed to be a laptop bag. It's just that: a bag. There are no pockets or compartments, and no velcro or zippers -- just a pair of buckles that keep stuff from falling out (it's not the best option if you need to get at things quickly).

But it's simple and versatile. I have my own netbook that I actually still use sometimes when I don't want to carry my laptop, and the bag can easily accommodate it, along with the charger and a padded sleeve for some additional protection. It can also hold a tablet and a compact camera (each in their own cases), or even some odd things like books, notepads and other non-electronic items. Best of all, it doesn't look like a gadget bag -- which I consider a plus, even if you aren't worried about someone swiping it.
-- Don Melanson
Replacement MacBook Pro battery

I'm the type who typically buys an extra battery for most electronic gadgets, so when Apple switched to non-user replaceable batteries, I was not a fan. Funny thing happened when I finally gave in, though: I came to love how much longer the battery lasted without my having to shut down to swap batteries. Everything was great -- that is, until two years later when my battery started failing when it was low. I launched coconutBattery which reported that after around 550 load cycles, my battery would only hold 70 percent of its original capacity. With CES only a few days away, I figured it was time to read the manual and condition the battery.

Sadly, this only resulted in me being greeted with a "Service Battery" warning afterwards. No problem, I figured, I'll just replace it. The only rub is that since Apple considers the battery non-user replaceable, a Genius Bar appointment was in order. Apple's online appointment system was straightforward enough -- something I wish my primary care physician offered -- but the Geniuses were apparently quite busy, as I had to wait around 30 minutes past my appointed time. The replacement only took a minute, though, and $129 (plus tax) later, I was out the door with a fresh battery. Overall, it was a painless experience, but being the do-it-yourself type, I would've preferred to just buy the replacement and pop it in myself.
-- Ben Drawbaugh
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