IRL: Mailbox, Behringer iNuke Boom Junior and the Fujifilm X-E1

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 Mailbox, Behringer iNuke Boom Junior and the Fujifilm XE1

You may have heard that a little app called Mailbox launched a few days ago. You may have also heard it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. As it turns out, Darren hates it. Fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom this week: Jason's impressed with the miniaturized iNuke Boom Junior speaker, and Philip is just happy to answer questions about his new camera.

Mailbox for iOS


First, a confession: I'm obsessed with inbox zero. With that in mind, it seemed as if Mailbox -- an iOS app that's said to be the ideal way to use Gmail on an iPhone -- would be perfect for me. In a nutshell, it eschews the use of Labels in favor of a to-do list style of management. You can swipe messages to archive, delete, file to a list, or to a special section where the app will automatically remind you to respond at a certain time.

But here's the rub: the app effectively wants you to never use Labels again, which is a horrible idea for yours truly. Who signs up for Gmail with no intention of using Labels? There are a zillion email hosts out there -- if you're using Gmail, why not take advantage of the subtleties that it offers? I use Labels all of the time. I categorize every single email I get that isn't trashed. Why would you choose not to keep your digital life in order? And the irony of it all? Mailbox automatically creates its own Label in Gmail to keep itself in check -- and you can't remove the blasted thing unless you sign back into the app and specifically remove your Gmail account from it.

For me, Mailbox is useless. I don't want an app that encourages me to procrastinate on replying. I don't want an app that discourages me from staying true to a rigorous process of categorization and labeling. Best I can tell, the Mailbox method seeks to solve the "inbox overload" issue that so many evidently face. That's the wrong way to go about it. Those overwhelmed by email are likely a) overworked or b) awful at time management -- perhaps a combination of the two. Let's be honest: you know as soon as an email comes in if you're going to reply or not. Don't use some swanky new app to help you put it off. Just reply immediately or delete it and move on.

I get the feeling that the masses flocking to Mailbox somehow, perhaps secretly, think that by installing this app, people will suddenly start emailing them less. It ain't going to happen. And really, this isn't a way to achieve inbox zero. It's a way to achieve inbox always-throwing-something-in-my-face-that-I-delayed-last-week. That sounds like an absolute nightmare to me.

-- Darren Murph

Behringer iNuke Boom Junior

IRL Mailbox, Behringer iNuke Boom Junior and the Fujifilm XE1

Somewhere out there are people whose definition of fun is cramming the largest engine inside the tightest space that they can. Those are likely the same kind of folks who dreamed up Behringer's iNuke Boom Junior speaker dock for the iPhone and iPad. A smaller re-imagining of the eight-foot, 10,000-watt iNuke Boom, the Junior tries to emulate its older brother's big sound by placing two tweeters, two mid-range speakers and one subwoofer within a frame that's just nine inches tall and 10 inches wide.

By most metrics, it succeeds. Sit next to the speaker at high volume and you'll literally feel the pressure, and wonder whether tinnitus might be in your future. The Boom Junior also handles that volume well; I can crank the speaker so hard it can be heard on the second floor of my house, and there's still no noticeable distortion. Bass levels are strong, however, and can drown out mid-range detail if set too high -- though they can be adjusted along with treble levels via an an included remote.

In addition to the classic Apple connector, the Boom Junior features audio inputs for RCA stereo cables as well as a video out for playing movies from an Apple device to a TV. It also comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack cable that I've used to connect my Samsung Galaxy S III, Sansa Clip and ASUS G74SX.

Still, the device is not without issues. Although the Junior isn't as big as the original Boom, it still might be a bit large for some folks. Another is its push-down connector, which can be finicky. I had to remove the case for my iPhone 4S for it to connect properly, which I didn't have to do with other docks I've used. The fact that it uses Apple's old 30-pin connector means you won't be able to connect newer Lightning-based devices right off the bat. Folks who like streaming content also may be disappointed with the lack of wireless connectivity options. Overall, though, I like using the Boom Junior with my portable devices -- especially when I'm in the mood for getting loud.

-- Jason Hidalgo

Fujifilm X-E1

IRL Mailbox, Behringer iNuke Boom Junior and the Fujifilm XE1

Despite being surrounded by the very latest tech toys at the 2013 CES, it was my personal travel camera that garnered more than a few double takes and hushed whispers. At least a dozen tech editors inquired about the new Fujifilm X-E1 I carried with me, and it's honestly not too surprising. There's a reason this camera's earned the nickname "The Sexy One."

I mean, just look at the thing. As my travel / casual camera, I was naturally more concerned with image quality and light weight when I bought it. Still, I won't deny how good it looks thanks to its retro-inspired style. In fact, one recent observer offered me his leftover film to use until he discovered the X-E1 was, in fact, very much a digital device. A year ago, I was the proud owner of Fuji's X100 fixed-lens compact camera and was immediately impressed with its abilities. It seamlessly blended into my working camera gear setup thanks to its fantastic image quality and solid controls.

Now, with the X-E1, I appear to have purchased another winner -- this one with the added versatility of interchangeable lenses. There were initial reports of a slightly laggy electronic viewfinder and somewhat slow AF speeds, but I'm not terribly bothered. I've used the X-E1 in some pretty poor lighting environments (read: a nearly pitch-black bar to photograph some local bands) and came away highly impressed. True, the AF isn't always DSLR-quick, but it is at least fairly predictable.

And then there's the image quality. The 16.3-megapixel APS-C X-Trans sensor and Fuji's strong lens lineup combine to produce some impressive results. While I usually prefer Manual modes, I have no qualms about setting the X-E1 to Auto mode, including the ISO (up to 6400, though quality remains impressive at even higher ISOs). This "Auto-everything" mode has yet to disappoint, though a minimum shutter setting would be much appreciated.

It's not perfect, of course. The AF could be faster (and additional firmware updates suggest it will be). The EVF could also update quicker. Lastly, third-party RAW conversion support could be much improved. While Phase One has recently updated its software to support Fuji's X-Trans sensor, I'm waiting to see if Adobe follows suit and improves its conversion support in Lightroom. Those complaints aside, it appears "The Sexy One" is a hit.

-- Philip Palermo