IRL: Linksys E4200, Twelve South BookBook and Turtle Beach's XP400 headphones

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.

Happy Saturday, kids. This week in IRL Dana and Darren each plunk down their hard-earned cash on some new gadgets, including a dual-band router for Dana, and BookBook's iPhone case for Mr. Murph. Rounding out the trio, Dan Cooper, a casual gamer at best, offers an informal mini-review of Turtle Beach's XP400 headset following some long-term testing.

Linksys E4200 V2
IRL Linksys E4200, BookBook case and Turtle Beach's XP400 headphones

Last CES ended in a whimper for me. I arrived home jetlagged, sniffly and deliriously sleep deprived, only to find that my router was dead. Passed on. No more. Ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet its maker. A stiff. Bereft of life. Off the twig. Kicked the bucket. This was an ex-router.

In a way, though, it was good timing: fresh off the holidays, I had a $100 Amazon gift certificate to spend, so money, at least, wasn't an issue. In fact, having stuck it out with the same TrendNet hotspot for five years, I didn't mind adding a little bit of my own money and springing for a top-of-the-line model. After much hemming and hawing, I chose the second-gen Linksys E4200, a dual-band router widely noted for its blistering speeds. (I also considered this model by ASUS, but ultimately had more confidence in Cisco as a router maker. I also wanted a more discreet, flat-lying model that I could place on top of my modem.) The only drawback, aside from price, seemed to be that the E4200 had weaker range, but given that I live in a small studio apartment, this seemed irrelevant.

In brief, the router is easy to set up (just make sure you have a laptop with a DVD drive!). I also had no problem configuring a guest network, with a different password. As for throughput, it's definitely an improvement over my previous router (not that that's saying much), but its potential seems to be limited by Time Warner Cable, which doesn't always deliver the speeds advertised. Interestingly, that range issue I read about does, in fact, affect me, even in my cramped flat -- when I move from the living room to the kitchen, the connection is more likely to cut out. Still, something tells me that if ever I get around to switching to FiOS, I'll finally be getting the performance I paid for.

-- Dana Wollman

Twelve South BookBook iPhone case
IRL Linksys E4200, Twelve South BookBook and Turtle Beach's XP400 headphones

Twelve South's BookBook iPhone case may be the classiest around, but is it really as functional as it is seductive? Yes, but there are a few caveats. I've generally been a fan of the "bulkier is better" mindset when it comes to cases. I had an Otterbox on my Nexus One, and two of Case-Mate's most rugged options on my Galaxy S II and iPhone 4S. Yes, they're ugly, but that's beside the point. When I invest upwards of $600 in a fragile piece of technology, I intend to shield it from as many drops, kicks and chips as possible. I realize some will disagree, but that's my mindset.

Switching to the BookBook immediately increased the style points surrounding my 4S, but it also introduced a few compromises. While I love having a trio of credit card / license slots (as well as a fourth joey pocket), I still have way more essential cards besides those. So, I still have to lug around my "real" wallet. For light card holders, though, this thing may indeed be your new wallet. Furthermore, there's no camera hole; I'm told that the hole would have to be enormous to completely eliminate the possibility of a flash echo, so you have to slightly push the phone out of the case to take a photo. Moreover, the leather bands across the top occasionally prevent the proximity sensor from acting right, enabling me to inadvertently activate speakerphone on a few occasions.

That aside, the case itself is gorgeous. It's wonderful to hold, and it's useful on flights -- it looks like you're just penning a few notes, when in fact, you're finishing up a round of Words With Friends prior to takeoff. I will say, however, that talking on the iPhone whilst it's in the case takes a bit of getting used to. You can fold the front cover completely back, but I feel like I'm breaking the spine, so to speak. It also doesn't play too nicely with those chintzy screen protector overlays; it fits snugly, so corners of your protector may get bent. If, however, you're more into looks than anything else, you'll probably be able to forgive its oddities.

-- Darren Murph

Turtle Beach XP400

IRL Linksys E4200, Twelve South BookBook and Turtle Beach's XP400 headphones

I'm hardly a hardcore gamer, so I was a little daunted when I was offered the chance to test Turtle Beach's XP400 surround-sound cans for the Xbox. Those still rocking the classic 360 are immediately forced to choose between high-def audio and video, since the optical audio adapter (sold separately) has composite outputs to your TV. My recidivism aside, I put these on and every game suddenly became deeply immersive. It didn't make me a better death match player, but at least I can hear those making a stealthy approach from behind and pretend that I'm turning around to defend myself before being gunned down in cold blood.

The only downside to these rather beautiful cans is that they're 312 grams of pure heavy -- enough to force your neck into regular "headphone breaks" between gaming sessions. Using a mini Toslink adapter (also sold separately) you can cheekily co-opt the gear for your desktop, listening to old music or giving your iTunes movies far better sound than you'll normally enjoy. You can also use the unit as a Bluetooth headset for your phone, and the people I tested it with rated it as "decent" and "seven out of ten," so while you wouldn't be replacing your Jawbone, it's certainly a nice optional extra. At $200 they aren't an impulse purchase, but if you're the sort who would upgrade your Xbox every time a new version came out, then that figure isn't likely to deter you.

-- Dan Cooper