This week's IRL is a bit of a mixed bag, with tales of gadgets well-used and those deployed for pure pseudo-science. In two paragraphs, Mat Smith sums up his experience with three generations of Nintendo DS handhelds, while Dan Cooper attempts to explain why he's still using a gadget he obviously hates. And Dana, our resident laptop reviewer, tries leaving the 'ole six-pounder in the office and going home to an Ultrabook instead.
My comfort with the iPhone 4 and Cupertino's refusal to expand the body by a millimeter for a more substantial battery has forced me to extreme measures. I blunted the elegant beauty of my fondlephone with a battery sleeve that promised an additional twelve hours of use. Sadly, Logic3's PowerSleeve for iPhone 4 is a necessary evil I have grown to deeply resent. Its matte paintwork began chipping off as soon as I opened the packaging, and the rubber backing collects scratches as if it were a vocation. A micro-USB port was added seemingly as an afterthought, jutting out of the rounded corner, whereas if it were a few millimeters higher it would have a much cleaner line. The aperture the port sits in does little but mercilessly attract all of my pocket lint; it requires cleaning before I can recharge it.
I'd forgive all of this if I weren't terrified the device is one day going to spontaneously combust in my trouser pocket. During a call, it picks up GSM Feedback, and in quiet moments you can clearly see -- and hear! -- fizzing electricity sparking between the 30-pin dock connector and the handset proper. It's made me reticent to use it to recharge my iPhone, since both get so outrageously hot you can't keep it on your person as it works. Worst of all, it's a terrible case (particularly compared to the Apple bumper), since the upper half of the phone is exposed and there's no lip to separate the screen and any surface, which was the cause of the one scratch gracing the front of the glass. If you don't hear from me again, I'd say the Logic3 must have gotten to me while I was sleeping.
-- Dan Cooper
Nintendo DS, DS Lite and DSi
I've now managed to work my way through three different iterations of the Nintendo DS. I was there for the silvery clunky original, with a paint job that could only be described as Depressing Grey. But it lasted me through Mario Kart and far too many Advance Wars play-throughs. When the blanc wafer-thin DS Lite arrived, I had (at least in my mind) already invested enough in Nintendo's dual-screen back catalog to warrant the upgrade. At the same time, I had transplanted myself to Japan, where the likes of Yodabashi Camera often shoehorn in attractive freebies alongside internet sign-ups. Beyond the typical Nintendo gaming joys, the company was pinging out all sorts of educational titles in its motherland, making it an ideal tool for an overzealous Japanese learner. Kanji stroke orders make a lot more sense when you're able to replicate them with the DS's stylus, and there were plenty of games aimed at middle school kids looking to ace their tests. Add in the availability of Japanese language games (region-free) and the likes of Final Fantasy remakes where I know the story ahead of the game, and you've got a damn pervasive learning tool.
Unfortunately, my DSi (yes, I upgraded again) met an untimely end last year, and since I've returned from working in Japan, learning the intricacies of yet more kanji dropped down the list of priorities. I played a fair bit with a review model of the 3DS and came away thoroughly unimpressed with the miserly battery life. Until that Nintendo fixes that in its next hardware refresh, I'm still in the market for another DSi.
-- Mat Smith
HP Folio 13
About those laptops I review: I send them all back. Mostly for ethical reasons, but also desk-cleaning purposes. (Having a studio apartment piled with notebooks really isn't awesome.) And I'll return the HP Folio 13 too, though admittedly I've held onto it longer than most. I wanted to do an experiment, you see. Through benchmarks alone, we've already established that Ultrabooks are generally powerful enough to use as primary machines. The question is: would you want to? After all, most models have crappy, lower-res displays, and many suffer from some combination of a shallow keyboard and / or flaky trackpad. The Folio is no exception, even if it is one of my favorite Ultrabooks.
Ultimately, I love coming home to the Folio, but with the understanding that it's a secondary machine, a foil to the 15-inch beast parked in my office. I can't tell you what a relief it is to leave Engadget HQ and not have a five-and-a-half-pound laptop hanging from my shoulder. I love having a fast, featherweight PC that I can use to work from my couch, or take to meetings and tradeshows. (My lats would have thanked me if I thought of that before CES.) For weeks, I've been using the Folio to edit Office documents, write stories and chat with colleagues in Pidgin. The little guy keeps up, and I haven't once suffered a hiccup or hang. The keyboard remains a delight to type on; you know it's good because it doesn't call attention to itself. If I use this for just a couple hours after I get home, I only end up charging it once every two or three days. I do wish the resume time were closer to two seconds, not five, but now I'm just scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Still, I would never want something like this as my main PC. Its stiff clickpad gets tiresome; though it's fine for brief use, I wouldn't want to haggle with it for 50-plus hours a week. And, I've grown accustomed to a larger, richer, higher-res screen for watching movies. Perhaps this step down wouldn't bother me if I owned a connected TV or a set-top box with Netflix access, but I don't, and as you'd imagine, I don't enjoy streaming all three seasons of Arrested Development on a dim, reflective display. Truth be told, the new 15-inch Series 9 and its SuperBright Plus panel would likely be the perfect work-play laptop for me -- if I could afford it. But no matter. If we're talking about PCs fast, light, longevous and ergonomically sound enough to tote around when you need a break from your main squeeze, the Folio 13 is going to make a lot of people happy.
-- Dana Wollman