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.
Hey, we never said our favorite things were practical. This week, Darren tells us why his $125 shoulder bag was worth it, while Jason defends his decision to purchase an 82-inch 3DTV at 2AM (no he wasn't drunk -- we don't think, anyway). Rounding things out, Jon doesn't generally like super-sized phones, but he can't help but enjoy the Galaxy Note II. Read on to find out why.
ColcaSac Jack Bauer shoulder bag
I was a ColcaSac fan before, but now I'm bordering on being an evangelist. After picking up a couple of cases for my wife's gear, I was able to test out something a little larger -- the Jack Bauer shoulder bag. Yeah, shoulder bags come a dime a dozen these days, but ColcaSac does an outstanding job of differentiating itself. It's all about the exterior materials as well as the craftsmanship.
The entire thing is composed of un-dyed hemp canvas, which -- if you haven't seen it -- is quite the looker. You'll catch plenty of eyes with it hung around your person, but not in the "please steal me" kind of way. It's as soft and flexible as a bag could be, making it quite capable of doubling as a pillow (while empty) on a long flight. I found the compartments to be just large enough; any more, and you'd probably lose things. At 15.5 inches wide and 11 inches tall, it's quite capable of carrying around your average laptop and / or tablet, and while aesthetics are obviously a matter of perception, I've fallen quite seriously for the design.
At $125, it won't fall under anyone's definition of "cheap," but considering that it's handmade in Utah and backed by some pretty outstanding people, I'd trust it to last longer than any mass market bag costing nearly as much.
-- Darren Murph
Mitsubishi WD-82740 3D TV
They say nothing good ever happens after 2AM. That's the first thought that immediately popped in my head after I hit the "Place order" button in the wee hours of the morning for an 82-inch TV. I still remember the phone call I got from a relative who was kind enough to receive my "mystery package" while I was at work: "Okay, the guy's opening the truck. He's bringing something out. Uh, is that a pallet jack? Oh ... my ... god, that's a huge box! What the heck is that?" That would be a Mitsubishi WD-82740 3D TV.
See, while randomly browsing electronics one evening, I stumbled across Mitsubishi's 82-inchers. My initial reaction at 12AM? "What idiot would get an 82-inch TV?" By 2AM, though, the whole thing started to seem like a good idea. In short, I am now the idiot with an 82-inch TV. Let's just say I had to spend a few hours completely rearranging my living room just to fit this thing in. It's kinda like having Shaquille O'Neal meditating on my TV stand.
The good news is that picture quality -- including black levels and viewing angles -- are much improved over my old 63-inch Samsung DLP TV, which particularly struggled in daylight. Calibrate this sucker right and the colors pop when you're playing games or watching high-def movies. In the rare instance I want to risk a splitting headache, I might go ahead and watch some 3D content, too. (I must say: animated 3D movies look especially nice.)
One area of disappointment is the piddly sound quality from the stock speakers, which is trumped by my old Samsung set. Also, the model I got only has digital audio out, so I couldn't immediately connect it with my old analog stereo receiver. Chip and lamp issues are always a concern with DLP TVs, too, and I'm particularly worried about potentially running into the dreaded "blinking green light of death." Overall, though, I've been quite happy with the WD-82740's picture quality. Yes, people still tell me I'm certifiably insane, but give me my Lazy Boy, a good video game and this TV, and I'm one crazy -- but happy -- camper.
-- Jason Hidalgo
Samsung Galaxy Note II on Rogers
If you saw my IRL for the Galaxy S III, you'll remember that I griped about its 4.8-inch screen being too big. You'd think, then, that the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II would be a calamity in my hands. While there are still a few issues, my experience with this extra-large phone has been surprisingly positive -- so much so that it's changed my attitude toward the supersized phone category.
The Note II overcomes many of the limitations of its smaller cousin, in part because of that gargantuan size. Although there are settings for one-handed use, there's no pretending this is a regular phone. A different pixel arrangement eliminates the fuzzy look of PenTile from the Galaxy S III's display, and having both a quad-core Exynos chip and LTE in one device doesn't hurt, either. Not to mention, the battery seemingly lasts forever. Even with constant abuse from someone who virtually lives on Instagram and Twitter, the Note II easily lasted more than a full day of use and could sometimes go for two. I still prefer stock Android (and usually the Nexus line), but I'd pick Samsung's flagship in a heartbeat if I needed an absolute workhorse.
If there's one overarching flaw, it's that the phone is still something of a mutt with a few lackluster features inherited from earlier devices. While the S Pen is more useful than with the original Galaxy Note, the implementation is still uninspiring enough that it feels like a solution in search of a problem: I don't need to draw shortcuts or peek at photos with a stylus, thank you very much. Samsung's TouchWiz interface hasn't changed much outside of these pen-specific tricks. Likewise, the camera is virtually unchanged from the Galaxy S III, which works wonders in bright scenes but flounders in low light, especially compared to the iPhone 5 and Lumia 920. If the Galaxy Note is truly a leader, it shouldn't feel like it's relying on warmed-over Galaxy S parts, however good those parts may be.
-- Jon Fingas