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IRL: Goal Zero Sherpa 50 and the HTC One on Rogers

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.

For every Engadget editor who's gotten to test an HTC One (that'd be five of us so far), there are two more waiting to take it for a spin. Well, you can cross Mr. Fingas off the list, at least: he's been playing with the One on Canada's Rogers network, snapping photos in the lowest-lit places Ottawa has to offer. James Trew, meanwhile, is excited to finally use Goal Zero's Sherpa 50 solar charger, mostly because it means England is finally getting some decent weather.

Goal Zero Sherpa 50

IRL Goal Zero Sherpa 50 and the HTC OneThe cold, dark British winter finally seems to be receding into spring. This means all sorts of wonderful things, like beer gardens, blossoming flowers and longer days. All lovely, but what I'm most looking forward to is the fact I can crack out the Goal Zero Sherpa 50 and its solar panel. Such is the life of a geek. Famously, you'll remember, solar panels require sun, so it's taken until now that I could make full use of it. Sure, the battery pack part has come in handy a bunch of times. In fact, it's become my go-to source of power on the go, even making its way over to Las Vegas with me in case of any CES outages (you never can be too sure) in weird foreign countries.

But, cool as that is, I get a special kick out of knowing I'm topping it (and my gadgets) up in an environmentally (and financially) guilt-free way. I've got no idea what my neighbors think is going on, but the magazine-sized, foldout solar panel has become a permanent fixture in my upstairs front window. In just the first week or so I managed two or three full charges of the battery pack (you can also charge your phone, etc., directly). Sadly, it's still nowhere near sunny enough to have reached its full charging performance, but that still represents a theoretical 20 or more phone recharges. Not bad at all.

Of course, what I'm really looking forward to is putting the solar part to even more appropriate use. With summer edging ever closer, that means festivals. And festivals typically require nursing your phone battery, rationing it out during the day, making you miss messages from friends. Or worse, navigating a crowded charging tent. With the Sherpa, I can recharge no matter how far I am from civilization. Not only that, but with the AC inverter, the whole kit could power almost anything. An electric blanket, perhaps? I mean, I say all this, but anyone who's ever been to a UK festival knows that there's still every chance I'll end up cold and phoneless by day two. No harm in being optimistic, though, is there?

-- James Trew

HTC One (Rogers)

IRL Goal Zero Sherpa 50 and the HTC OneIt feels like a million bucks. That's a clichéd saying, I know, but I keep thinking it when I'm holding the HTC One in my hands. The design is just so solidly built that it feels less like a utilitarian machine and more like a luxury item that just happens to run Twitter. And yes, that fit and finish matter when choosing a smartphone. When it's a device you pick up many times a day, why shouldn't it feel special? The One is even relatively durable. Not that I'd want to drop it to test its limits, but it's definitely more resistant to nicks and scratches than most plastic phones I've tried, or even metal rivals like the iPhone 5.

The UltraPixel camera also feels like a wise trade-off. While the Galaxy S 4 and iPhone 5 can indeed capture better images in good lighting, I'm not always lucky enough to have those sorts of conditions. I'm snapping photos in dim bars and concert halls, after all, not just brightly lit gardens. The One's camera thrives in those trickier situations, and ultimately I find I'd rather have a lower-resolution snapshot than a blurry or noisy high-resolution image. HTC's device is better-balanced than the other low-light champion, the Lumia 920, with more accurate colors and more extensive shot control. My only real complaint centers on the frequently gimmicky nature of Zoe Share, although it has more practicality than Samsung's many special-case modes, like Drama Shot. If nothing else, it produces elegant highlight videos.

Performance on the Rogers LTE network is fast -- very fast, in a few cases. I usually reached around 13 Mbps to 15 Mbps downstream here in Ottawa, but saw bursts to as much as 45 Mbps, and uploads reliably hovered around 10 Mbps. The data speeds are a good complement to what's already a very quick phone. I'd add that the One on Rogers doesn't face a bloatware epidemic on the level of the Sony Xperia ZL. Carrier apps that exist on the One aren't thrust upon the user with quite so much force.

What holds me back from giving the One an unreserved recommendation? It's not battery life (reasonable for me) or expansion (valuable to some); it's kinks in the software. I like Sense overall, but HTC has still made many eccentric interface choices that demand some retraining for Android veterans. The minimal-yet-powerful camera app is rivaled by the awkwardly organized gallery, for example, while the beautiful widgets are undermined by an interface that complicates the basic act of changing wallpapers. Although I suspect most people won't mind the lack of a multitasking button, or having to either accept or hide BlinkFeed, I'd strongly suggest that would-be One adopters try a working unit just to make sure that they can live with Sense.

-- Jon Fingas

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