IRL: Fujifilm X-Pro1, Garmin Edge 200 and Otterbox's Universal Defender case, revisited

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.

If we've never explained where the idea for IRL came from, now might be as good a time as any. Our own Tim Stevens, a car nut in his own right and a one-time auto editor for Engadget, wanted to test gadgets the way auto mags do vehicles. That is to say, on an ongoing basis, over a long period of time. That mission rings particularly true this week: Jon's taken hundreds of test shots with Fujifilm's X-Pro1, Terrence has been commuting with the Garmin Edge 200 cycling monitor and Brian has owned the Otterbox Universal Defender case so long that he's actually taking back the praise he gave in a prior IRL. All that and more after the break.

Fujifilm X-Pro1
IRL Fujifilm XPro1, Garmin Edge 200 and Otterbox's Universal Defender case, revisited

It's one thing to go out shooting with the aim of testing a camera, when you're deliberately poking at its limits. It's another when you're simply trying to use it for day-to-day photography. Nowhere is that contrast more obvious than with Fujifilm's X-Pro1: it's a camera meant to do a few things (portraits, close-ups) very well, but has a number of flaws that become clear even before you press the shutter.

I've had some time to shoot more leisurely with the X-Pro1 over the past few weeks, and the camera's limitations foster a definite love/hate relationship. Image quality, as you'd hope, is top-notch: it can produce beautiful street shots and macros when called upon. I've found that the 35mm f/1.4 lens is often the best for the job, letting me shoot reasonably close without having to go wide angle. It's surprisingly good in dim settings, and I can crank up the sensitivity higher than on some other mirrorless cameras. Autofocus can sometimes be a problem, but it's fine with reasonable light. And I'll admit that the faux-retro design and improved controls make it surprisingly pleasing to shoot with; that quick menu and quiet shutter particularly stand out.

It's the lack of lens choice that drives me mad. That wasn't as much of an issue with the X100, but it also didn't cost $1,700 for the body only -- and when there's still no option for a zoom lens, you really feel that cost difference. There have been a few moments shooting with the X-Pro1 when I've had no choice but to hold off on a shot because I couldn't move any closer. The situation will change in the next half-year as Fujifilm brings in its first XF-mount zoom lens, but I'd still recommend buying a Sony NEX-5N (as I did!) if you want a current-generation mirrorless camera with a large sensor. Fujifilm's sensor and lenses eke out some advantages against Sony's NEX line if you compare them closely in similar situations. They're just not $1,000-plus better for casual photographers who want a wider pick of standard zooms and telephotos. Besides, at that price why not look into a mid-tier DSLR?

-- Jon Fingas

Garmin Edge 200
IRL Fujifilm XPro1, Garmin Edge 200 and Otterbox's Universal Defender case, revisited

I'd been in the market for a bike computer for sometime, but nothing out there ever really spoke to me. My options seemed to fall into two categories: cheap pieces of junk that seemed no more reliable than randomly guessing the distance I covered, and complicated, overpriced systems worthy of the Tour de France.

Last August, though, I got my hands on Garmin's budget-minded Edge 200, and it hasn't left my handlebars since. Sure, at $150 this GPS cyclo-computer isn't exactly cheap, but it's a cool hundred bucks less than similar options. The feature set is basic, but it does everything I need and it's dead simple to operate. The screen displays your current speed, distance covered, the amount of time you've been riding and your average speed -- pretty much all the most important data for the casual cyclist.

And, of course, you can plug the unit into your computer and download maps of your ride. My only complaint about the maps is that the Edge spits out .fit files, which can't be imported by anything other than Garmin's software. Which means when I want to upload my rides to RunKeeper, I have to import them to Garmin Connect, then export them as .tcx files first. Obviously, I could just use the app on my phone, but if I'm going for a particularly long ride, the Edge's 13-hour battery life wins out over my quick-dying Galaxy Nexus.

With a couple of hundred miles (and a few unfortunate spills) under its belt, the Edge 200 is still going strong. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I could break the rubber and plastic unit even if I tried, which is good considering my penchant for dropping things and leaving them out in the rain. The only feature I do miss is the ability to connect to ANT+ accessories like my Polar heat rate monitor or a cadence sensor. But, more often than not, biking is simply a mode of transportation for me, and distance and speed are more than enough to satisfy my inner number nerd.

-- Terrence O'Brien

Otterbox Universal Defender case (revisited)
IRL Fujifilm XPro1, Garmin Edge 200 and Otterbox's Universal Defender case, revisited

When you buy a new phone, the last thing you want to do is swaddle that shiny newness in some giant case. But if it comes down to a choice between a shattered handset or a little extra padding, the choice seems simple. Sure, you can make it a point never to drop your phone, but some of us aren't quite that coordinated (I wasn't drunk, I swear) -- a deadly trait when combined with the iPhone 4 / 4S' fragile design. So I opted for Otterbox's Defender, a beast of a case that was the source of mockery on more than one occasion. But, as outlined in a prior IRL, it did the trick, even in some of the most outlandish settings.

But while the Defender is a monster when it comes to protecting from shock, moisture and dirt, there's a fatal flaw in the armor: a silicone corner that tears after you open the headphone flap enough times. And as a heavy listener of music / podcasts, that flap got opened a lot, eventually destroying that side of the case and rendering the rubber bumper useless. Without the silicone sleeve, the Defender is just a cheap, plastic shell with a lot of prongs that tend to get caught on everything in your pocket.

I've since moved on to an iFrogz Cocoon case. Wish me luck.

-- Brian Heater