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IRL: Pioneer VSX-60, Three UK and a Windows Phone 8 wish list


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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.

We're back, this time with an unusual mashup between Engadget HD and Engadget Mobile. Kicking things off on the HD side, our own Ben Drawbaugh tells us what it's like to live with Pioneer's VSX-60 AV receiver. Meanwhile, Dan switches to Three UK for home broadband, and Deepak makes a plea for home screen folders in Windows Phone 8.

Pioneer VSX-60

IRL Pioneer VSX60, Three UK and a Windows Phone 8 wish list
If you have an AV receiver, odds are it's at the center of your home theater. While amplifier technology doesn't change much from year to year, an AV receiver is different. The next-gen product always seems to add a new connector, codec or streaming protocol that last year's model didn't have. Well, the VSX-60 from Pioneer's iconic Elite series certainly has it all. Even with all my toys I wasn't able to find enough HDMI sources to fill all six HDMI inputs out back, not to mention the one up front.

The real joy of this receiver, though, is its implementation of AirPlay. I walk into the house wearing headphones, grab my phone, hit the AirPlay icon, select VSX-60 and never miss a beat. No looking for the power button on a remote and finding the right input; nope, it just turns itself on and starts playing. Very cool -- when it works. It works about nine times out of ten, but I never was able to figure why manually selecting the input is required every so often. Of course, the real problem with AirPlay is there are plenty of devices that don't support it -- and even devices that do don't necessarily work the way you want them to. That's when it's nice to have the optional AS-BT200 adapter that plugs in the back of the VSX-60. The A2DB adapter doesn't offer the super convenient auto power on and input select, but it does let you stream audio from many more devices in a number of ways that AirPlay doesn't. So it's nice to have as a backup.

My only other disappointment is that while the VSX-60 looks like a Pioneer Elite product, it's obvious the second you compare it to any of Pioneer's SC models that the VSX is a bit watered down. Then again, you can't touch the SC line for under $1,000 and the VSX-60 does everything I need at $650. The $99 AS-BT200 adapter, though -- that's a tougher sell, what with all the other input options available.

-- Ben Drawbaugh

Three UK as a home broadband replacement

IRL Pioneer VSX60, Three UK and a Windows Phone 8 wish list
Whenever you hear people bleat on about the joys of living in the country, they always bang on about their enhanced quality of life. Well, whatever time they may recoup by not living in the smog is instantly cancelled out in the time waiting for our geriatric broadband connections to spring into life. The only choice of provider we have here in my area of the UK is BT, and so far it's refused to even consider bringing fibre to this corner of the country. That wouldn't be an issue, if the company hadn't managed to kill the connection twice in a year with botched maintenance jobs at the exchange, causing a brownout that lasted a full week in May and three weeks this time.

Fortunately, I was prepared this time, having switched from Vodafone to Three UK purely because the latter offers unlimited internet and doesn't charge for tethering. While coverage isn't perfect (and you won't be getting inner-city speeds), I've been able to use Three's network to work without any great pains on my part. It's certainly not as fast, and at peak hours I've been getting 0.34 Mb/s down, but that's certainly enough for doing work. Dynamically updated websites may have some trouble, but it's certainly proved itself as a suitable backup and well worth the extra £1 a month I'm paying over Vodafone's capped plan.

-- Dan Cooper

A Windows Phone 8 wish list

IRL Pioneer VSX60, Three UK and a Windows Phone 8 wish list
"Crap." That's the name of the first folder I create on any smartphone I use long-term -- been doing it since my Symbian S60 days. Ditto for BlackBerry, and iOS which finally got on board with that feature with iOS 4. Android has home screen folder support, too, and anyway, once you have your home screens set up properly on Android, you'll rarely need to dive into the app drawer. I use the aforesaid folder to file all bloatware and apps I don't use; it just helps to keep my stuff organized, considering I'm a bit of an app junkie. No such luxury on Windows Phone, though.

Windows Phone 7 and Mango didn't have folder support (unless you took the unofficial route), and the newest version of the OS doesn't either. While new features such as resizable tiles, customizable notifications and Rooms are nice to have, you're still left with two endlessly scrolling screens -- the Start screen and the app list -- with nary a way to organize or categorize apps the way you want. Sure, apps like new group and My Tiles are quite handy in such a scenario, and so is the ability to jump to an installed app alphabetically. But that isn't close to the real deal and you still need to remember the name of the app to begin with. Folks at Redmond, can I please have my old "crap" on WP? Oh, and a percentage-based battery-level indicator on the status bar while you're at it?

Not to take anything away from the fact that Windows Phone 8 is a big step up, or that the device I tried it on, the HTC 8X, is a gorgeous piece of hardware, but a few tweaks on the OS side would be much appreciated.

-- Deepak Dhingra

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