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.
Merry Almost-Christmas, folks. Time to find out if Engadget's editorial staff was naughty or nice this year. If our recent experiences with tech are any indication, we might be atoning for something: Billy's external hard drive is about to die a drawn-out death and Brian's still looking for an alternative to Apple's lousy Podcasts app. But at least Darren's enjoying his mobile scanner, so that 's good, right?
Western Digital MyBook USB external HDDs
With my freelance design workload, I need to be sure my backup system is going to be super reliable. I also need to archive reviews, liveblog images and hands-on shots from time to time in such a way that I can access them in the future without any hiccups. When I was in grad school, I snagged two MyBooks about a year or so apart. Back then, $100 got you 250GB so I grabbed one for storage and, later, a 500GB disk for added piece of mind. You know, a backup for my backup sort of thing.
Now, the two are about six years old. The older of the two, the 250GB one, is nearing the end of its tenure as part of my workflow. After a good run with no issues at all, it's starting show signs that it's on its last leg. So far, the 500GB model is chugging along just fine. During the course of my years of weekly backups, I never had problems connecting or transferring files that needed to be stowed away for safe keeping. Everything worked as advertised every time. Transfer speeds, even now, remain right in line with expected USB 2.0 speeds; the drives handle gigabytes of data in a matter of a few short minutes.
I'm not surprised that my external HDD is about to kick the bucket after six years. Honestly, I'm glad it made it this long, and $100 these days will get me at least four times the storage space. Pairing a couple of these Western Digital MyBooks with a cloud backup system like Backblaze has served me well and my level of anxiety about my digital wares remains at a minimum.
-- Billy Steele
With the advent of the legitimate smartphone camera, it's becoming easier to just snap a shot of your business receipt at the time of creation, file it in an expense app, and continue about one's day. But for those pesky services that refuse to offer paperless billing, one could still find a need for a scanner at home and on the run. I've been hype on portable scanners for some time now, and the Doxie Go just might be the best carnation yet of an established product line.
Essentially, $149 gets you a stick-style scanner that can be powered via an included wall wart or four AA batteries. Sadly, the USB port is only for file transfers -- you can toss those USB-powered dreams aside. While I could spend a fair amount of time explaining what it does, let me just point you to my 2010 review of Pandigital's PhotoLink. You see, the Doxie Go is just a revised variant of that very scanner (the addition of a battery-powered option is the most obvious update). Otherwise, everything's identical. The layout is exactly the same, and the functionality is as well. I liked it then, and I like the Doxie Go now. It's easy, no-fuss scanning, but an option to scan two-sided documents would have been appreciated.
The value proposition here isn't in the hardware; it's the software. Doxie's Mac, iOS and Windows apps are second to none. These are finely polished tools that easily import scans, allow you to "Staple" various pages into a single document, and then enable you to export it everywhere. PDF? Check. Google Docs? Check. Dropbox? Yes. Evernote? Definitely. iCloud? Why not? It was awesome being able to send important scans directly to Google Docs, where I could rename and file from within Google Drive. There's also built-in OCR, or for Docs users, you can tap into Google's own OCR service. In my experience, that worked okay, but not great.
My only hesitation here is the hardware. My Pandigital unit, referenced above, broke after a year of occasional use. I may be the exception to the rule, but I'll confess that it bothers me. Thankfully, Doxie's support team is truly world class -- and there's certainly something to be said about outstanding customer service.
-- Darren Murph
Credit where it's due: Apple fixed its Podcasts app so that it no longer auto-plays at random moments, scaring the hell out of me in the process. I went on a ghost hunt two months ago and was pretty sure I came back with a spirit; turns out, it was just a weird bug. As a huge caster of pods, this thing has been one heartbreak after another. I was reasonably excited at the prospect of a devoted podcasting app. I was convinced that, between this and Spotify, I'd be abandoning iTunes altogether on my phone. But when the early version proved slow and buggy, I found myself hanging on for dear life, until Apple finally forced my hand.
At present, the thing's got two stars on iTunes -- pretty abysmal for a major product. It's still a bit hearbreaking, even after a few updates: fast forwarding shows is rough, full episode names get cut off (podcasts have long, long titles), it takes a while to load and the app doesn't do a great job letting you know what you've already listened to. Also, beware of those scheduled downloads. They'll eat your data plan right up.
There's a balance to be struck between functionality and simplicity and Podcasts has a ways to go on that front. Perhaps it's just too focused on discovery for people like me who know what they want to listen to. I'll try again in a couple of updates -- Apple's certainly been making a fair amount of changes based on the rash of negative feedback -- but until then, I'm on the hunt for a better way to listen.
-- Brian Heater