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IRL: Ballistic Tough Jacket, Dell UltraSharp U2412M and an argument for disposable AA batteries

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.

What a week. What a month! So far this September, Amazon, Nokia, Motorola and Apple have announced new products, and HTC is up next, with a press event scheduled for Wednesday. We'll let you speak for yourselves -- maybe you want more liveblogs -- but we here at Engadget keen to take a break from the hands-on posts and breaking news posts and talk shop about the products we already own. This week, Jason tests a rugged tablet sleeve, Don rates his Dell monitor and Darren makes the case for disposable AAs (and yes, he has a favorite brand).

Ballistic Tough Jacket

IRL: Ballistic Tough Jacket, iPhoneTrip and an argument for disposable AA batteriesThe old Toyota FJ40. Cyberdyne Systems' Model 101 T-800. Chuck Norris. If there's anything these three have in common, it's that they're paragons of toughness. It's the same kind of toughness that the folks at Ballistic hope to instill in Apple's svelte iPad with their Tough Jacket case.

Designed for both the second- and third-generation iPad, it spots a rubber and plastic shell that securely clips on the iPad's back. It also features raised corners made of hard rubber designed to absorb impact from falls and drops. Kind of like iBallz, but significantly more understated. To prevent cracks in the display, the Tough Jacket also comes with a screen cover made of hard plastic. For added utility, that cover can be clipped to the back shell and even has a pull-out stand if you want to prop up your iPad. Given that I baby my gadgets -- possibly even more than your average geek, even -- I admittedly have a hard time testing anything that involves drops. Fortunately, a teenage cousin who has no qualms about leaving his iPad on the floor decided to visit right as I was half-heartedly dropping my Tough Jacket-encased iPad on the sofa.

"Whoa! Can I try that on my iPad?" he said.

Let's just say his poor tablet plummeted more times in the following minutes than gold-medal diver David Boudia did at the London Olympics. Fortunately, his iPad survived several drops on the carpet with a few dates with linoleum and tile also sandwiched in between. Although the back shell held on tight, one thing I noticed was that the latch-on front cover could come off during hard drops, especially on hard surfaces. You could say that it's done its job by then but it's still a potential concern during falls where your tablet bounces along -- like on an inclined surface. Also, if you think the Panasonic Toughbook is too chunky then you likely will not be enamored with the Tough Jacket's design. To be honest, I still primarily use a leather magnetic cover for daily use. If you have kids or a rough-and-tumbling teen who use an iPad, however, then I can see this being a viable option. Just ask my cousin, who has yet to remove the case from his tablet -- much to his mom's relief.

-- Jason Hidalgo

Energizer AA Ultimate Lithium batteries

IRL: Ballistic Tough Jacket, iPhoneTrip and an argument for disposable AA batteriesOh, batteries. Those crazy, crazy things. You can't live without 'em, and you wish you didn't have to live with 'em. Over the years, I've come into contact with dozens upon dozens of battery options, and truth be told, I've generally favored Sanyo's Eneloop rechargeables. Those things are champions in even high-drain applications like Nikon's newest flashes, and if you're a heavy user, they pay for themselves in no time. But in some cases, rechargeables just aren't attainable. In the non-rechargable space, I recently had the chance to test out a few new bunnies. And by bunnies, I mean Energizer's AA Ultimate Lithium batteries.

At just under $5 for a foursome, these are roughly four times cheaper than a four-pack of my beloved Eneloops, but are said to last "up to eight times longer." Of note, that drops to "two times longer" when shoved into a camera flash, but I'll give 'em this: at least they work in a camera flash. Many of the cheaper options simply aren't powerful enough to use in professional photo applications, and indeed, I was able to squeeze over 100 firings out of the pack in my SB-600.

That said, these are probably best suited for things like wireless keyboards, Wii controllers and portable GPS devices, where you're apt to leave the cells tucked inside of the product for a long time, but still don't want to change them often. With the flash example, I routinely pull those AAs and recharge 'em after every shoot. On my Wiimote, however, the hassle of yanking off that rubber cover and swapping out batteries means that disposable cells are probably a better fit. My personal preference for most scenarios is to use a set of Eneloops, but picking up a few of these for backup and emergencies isn't a bad idea. They're certainly the most powerful and longevous disposable AAs I've had the pleasure of using, but the cost definitely assures me that they're aimed at power users and professionals.

-- Darren Murph

Dell UltraSharp U2412M

IRL Ballistic Tough Jacket, Dell UltraSharp U2412M and an argument for disposable AA batteriesFor the past few years, the oldest piece of computer equipment that I've been using on a daily basis had been a 20-inch Dell 2005FPW monitor (generally attached to a laptop). I bought it when it was new and cost far more than anyone would consider paying for a 20-inch monitor today. And it was worth it. It had an IPS panel when such a thing was a rare commodity, and it had a reasonably high 1680 x 1050 resolution. It was also built to last, as it has; the only reason I replaced it is because all of that screen real estate doesn't go quite as far for some of my current tasks as it used to, and because larger monitors of similar quality have come down considerably in price.

It's replacement is another Dell monitor: the almost universally well-reviewed UltraSharp U2412M. It also has an IPS panel (albeit one of the e-IPS variety), and the same 16:10 aspect ratio that's unfortunately becoming less common these days. That e-IPS panel means it's not quite as high-end as the still-available U2410, but it's still miles ahead of the average TN screen used in the majority of monitors. It also thankfully retains many of the other characteristics of my old 2005FPW: a sturdy base that's fully adjustable, a matte display and a generally minimalist appearance.

One of its few drawbacks is the lack of an HDMI port, which could be handy if you want to hook up a game console or Blu-ray player in your office, but that was far from a deal-breaker for me. It's also easy to overlook given the price. The monitor is a good deal at Dell's list price of $369 but, as with most of the company's products, the key is to wait for a sale if you can. I managed to snag mine for just $249 (Canadian). I'll be happy if it holds out even half as long as the one it replaced.

-- Don Melanson

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