IRL: Evernote, Netgear N900 and FiiO's E17 headphone amplifier

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IRL: Evernote, Netgear N900 and FiiO's E17 headphone amplifier
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.

IRL Evernote, Netgear N900 and FiiO's E17 headphone amplifier
Best of the best, best of the worst and best thing we didn't need. Those are some ringing endorsements we've got for you in this week's IRL. On the more enthusiastic end of the spectrum there's Darren, who finally found a dual-band router with strong enough range to service all three floors of his new home. Terrence is closing in on his fourth year using Evernote, the "least bad" note-taking app of the bunch. As for James, well, has he ever met a piece of audio equipment he didn't like?


ImageDigital note-taking apps are a dime a dozen, and I've tried a pretty good chunk of them. Simplenote (in conjunction with Notational Velocity and ResophNotes), OneNote, Tomboy, Zim, Springpad... they've all left me feeling a little meh. Eventually, after plenty of soul searching, I settled on Evernote. When I first signed up for the service, shortly after the beta launch in 2008, I primarily used it as a recipe book. Even to this day I still dump directions for whipping up tasty meals into my online repository. This is how I discovered the Evernote's sheer power. As I started collecting dishes, I tagged them by cuisine, course, dish type and ingredients, allowing me to quickly figure out what I could make based on what was available in my refrigerator, or narrow down my choices if I was in the mood for soup.

Part of the reason I made the jump to Evernote full- time after using it in conjunction with Simplenote was the top-notch Android app. Don't get me wrong, the iOS version is pretty good and the desktop clients are undeniably awesome, but the widget is what makes this a killer tool for capturing info. With a single tap I can snap a pic of the newest beer to grace my palate, take some notes and tag it with the style and brewery.

But I don't want to get too wrapped up in singing its praises. The omission of a Linux app, a painfully slow web interface and the lack of free offline access on Android irk me more than a little. And it still isn't an ideal solution for quickly making or updating lists. Sadly, I don't actually feel like I've landed on the perfect note-taking solution; it's more that I've accepted defeat and settled for the least bad option. Maybe it's time to pay more attention to that Moleskine I splurged on.
-- Terrence O'Brien

FiiO E17

ImageI ditched any semblance of a normal audio setup a long time ago. As a result, my poor girlfriend can't just switch on the radio, or play a CD -- she has to navigate a world of DLNA, media centers and WiFi. Needless to say, then, any audio toy I can get my hands on, I likely will. Enter the FiiO E17 DAC / headphones amp. Do I need one of these? Probably not, but that stopped being a major factor of purchasing decisions some time ago.

The E17 (or Alpen, as it's also known) looks very much like an exquisite MP3 player with its luxurious brushed metal finish, crisp LED display and tactile buttons. None of this matters one jot, however -- not even the cute dual-color ring that lights up around the power button. What does matter is that it sounds great. Over USB you'll get 24 bit / 96kHz of slightly warm loveliness. If you're using the SPDIF, you can go all the way up to 192 kHz, and why the heck not!

I could probably spare myself the extra gadget in the chain for the majority of my listening, but there is definitely a satisfaction to be gained from plugging into this little fella, and watching it sit there motionless, feeding your ears thanklessly. The fact that I was looking for something to justify a new pair of over ear headphones is beside the point.
-- James Trew

Netgear N900

Routers. Even the thought of buying a new one is daunting, even for someone that's toyed with just about all of them. If you're in the market for one, and you need insane range, I'd encourage you to stop hunting. Netgear's dual-band N900 is -- without question -- the most impressive wireless router I've ever had the pleasure of using. I recently relocated, and due to the amount of space between the top floor and lower floor of my new abode, I went through three routers that simply wouldn't broadcast wireless waves throughout the place.

Then, I tried the N900. At all points in my home, I can latch onto a 2.4GHz signal. As you'd expect, the 5GHz waves peter out when you get more than a hundred or so feet away from the base station, but for keeping my Wii connected downstairs and my wireless printer online in the upper regions, the N900 excels.

In four months of use, I haven't had to reboot it once. That's pretty impressive. It also features a fairly useful admin panel, including a notification option that'll ping you when you're approaching your monthly bandwidth limit (yeah, some of us have those). At $160-plus it ain't cheap, but it's far better than buying a lesser router and a flaky extender.
-- Darren Murph
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