IRL: Nuu SoftKey, MacBook Air and Thermaltake's eSports Cyclone Edition gaming mouse

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 Nuu SoftKey, MacBook Air and Thermaltake's eSports Cyclone Edition gaming mouse

Welcome back! This week in real-life adventures with gadgetry, Sharif recommends an $80 gaming mouse and Dan pleads with you all not to buy a certain keyboard case for the iPad. As for Philip, he just purchased his first Apple product after years of buying Windows laptops and Zune players, which means he's got a little explaining to do.

NUU Softkey
IRL Nuu SoftKey, MacBook Air and Thermaltake's eSports Cyclone Edition gaming mouse

I was looking for an iPad case to help me peck out articles on the go, but NUU's Softkey case for the new iPad / iPad 2 isn't it. The faux-leather folio disguises your tablet in a document wallet respectably enough, but its awkward prop made it useless as an impromptu movie screen on a long haul flight. In fact, the various stand configurations are all so weak that you constantly need to keep your hands on the device to prevent it collapsing before you.

Of course, none of that would matter if its keyboard was useful enough to relegate my laptop to the bottom of my carry-on. Unfortunately, it's topped with a rubber membrane that's too easily parted from its keys, meaning that the only travel you experience is when you depress the sheath in on itself. The keyboard, too, needlessly includes Escape, Arrow and Function keys that, while useful, could have easily been shed to increase the size of the letters. As such, my quest to turn the iPad into a useful work machine will struggle on.

-- Dan Cooper

MacBook Air (13-inch, 2012)
IRL Nuu SoftKey, MacBook Air and Thermaltake's eSports Cyclone Edition gaming mouse

I'm not even sure what happened. One minute, I was dead-set on waiting for one of those hybrid laptop / tablet deals running Windows 8. The next, I was braving a New York City downpour to pick up a MacBook Air. I've been a die-hard Windows user since the 3.1 days: I stuck with it through Vista and I eagerly await next month's update. And yet, here in New York, thousands of miles from home, I feel like I've had the OS equivalent of an illicit cross-country fling. What if my wife finds out?

Truthfully, my reasons for picking up an OS X machine are far more practical than lecherous. It's become increasingly clear that my Windows-only approach is a bit outdated. As part of a group that obsessively covers technology, it only makes sense for me to stay current with as many hardware and software ecosystems as I can. I've used OS X for years in the work environment (and Mac OS 9 before that). But this Ivy Bridge-powered 13-inch Air represents the first time I've ever spent my own money on an Apple product. That's right, no iPods or iPhones in our home. Just look at my Zune HD and Windows Phone.

So far, I'm not regretting my decision. This keyboard and trackpad combo is supremely comfortable and the solid-state drive is impressively quick. As of this writing, I've been on battery for about three hours and only just crossed the 50 percent threshold. The screen may not be Retina-level, but I've no complaints about it so far (though I haven't done any photo editing just yet). Up next: installing Windows 7 (and later Win 8) for a little Boot Camp action so I can have two great OSes on one amazing machine. Yup, I'm officially a two-timer -- and I'm not ashamed.

-- Philip Palermo

Thermaltake eSports Cyclone Edition
IRL Nuu SoftKey, MacBook Air and Thermaltake's eSports Cyclone Edition gaming mouse

I admit that when I first wrote about Thermaltake's eSports Cyclone Edition gaming mouse, I didn't take it all that seriously. A protruding 6,000 RPM fan to keep your trigger finger cool and slip-resistant -- isn't that slightly OTT? Well, yes it is. But it's also beautiful, exuberant and happiness-inducing -- as is the very thought that someone out there has the guts to bring stuff like this to market. My Cyclone's fan mostly sits detached and idle on a shelf these days, because Fall where I live is cool enough already, but that detracts little from the $80 mouse itself. It's comfortable and well-built, and rather than just being a boring gimmick it leaves me with a strong sense that someone at TT eSports genuinely loves their job. Not convinced? Check out the Taiwanese company's obscene gold and yellow Chao gaming headphones and you soon will be.

-- Sharif Sakr