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IRL: Chromebook Pixel and AlienBees' ABR800 Ringflash

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.

Sure, the Chromebook Pixel is expertly constructed, but you won't find more than a sentence about that here. Nope, we'd rather talk about its blazing fast LTE speeds. As for our copy editor Philip, he doesn't write for Engadget often, but when he does, it's about camera gear.

Chromebook Pixel

IRL Chromebook Pixel and AlienBees' ABR800 RingflashWe've already spilled our soul in a Chromebook Pixel review, but I wanted to offer up a slightly different viewpoint. One that focuses less on the machine as a whole, and more on its parts. I've had the pleasure of using a Pixel off and on for the past few months, and I've come away with a few conclusions. For starters, this is the most supremely constructed laptop that I've ever used. Secondly, the battery life is a huge disappointment -- if this thing could last 12-plus hours, the outrageous price tag would only seem somewhat comical. Third, the Pixel has made it near-impossible for me to use any laptop that isn't completely built around flash storage.

In fact, my specced-out MacBook Pro from 2011 -- which relies on an HDD -- feels antiquated in comparison. The load times are noticeably slower when relying on a conventional HDD instead of an SSD. But beyond all that, the Pixel has made me fall head over heels in love with inbuilt LTE. I've never been a proponent of signing a two-year contract for a tablet with an integrated cellular radio, but if Apple offered a MacBook Air with such a thing, I'd be all over it -- so long as the data plan were month-to-month, of course. There's just nothing like busting out a laptop and having instant access to ludicrous speeds. No waiting to connect to a hotspot -- it's just online.

Essentially, the Pixel has made me long for a future where every laptop and every tablet is connected at birth, just as smartphones already are. I'm sure Verizon Wireless (amongst others) would love for that to happen, and I'm really hoping that laptop makers come around to it. Plus, the Pixel's gratis LTE (100MB per month) is the ultimate cherry on top. I still can't recommend the Pixel without reservation -- I simply rely too heavily on too many non-web apps -- but it presents some extremely compelling ideas nonetheless.

-- Darren Murph

AlienBees ABR800 Ringflash

IRL Chromebook Pixel and AlienBees' ABR800 RingflashWhile I've managed to shrink down most of my camera gear, one particular piece has so far avoided my downsizing efforts. The Paul C. Buff AlienBees ABR800 Ringflash has proven to be a dependable and capable part of my lighting setup. A ringflash, as the name suggests, offers up a circle of illumination that produces even, nearly shadow-free lighting when the camera is placed in the center. The effect can be seen in any number of fashion photos or magazine covers.

While that look appealed to me, I picked up the ABR800 because of its versatility beyond the usual ringflash effect. Thanks to its optical slave tripper, sync cord and compatibility with a range of modifiers, it works just fine as a standard studio flash. The adjustable power, from 10Ws up to a full 320Ws, allows it to play nicely with pretty much any other light source I may be dealing with, from the diminutive EF-X20 to the harsh midday sun.

Speaking of versatility, the ABR800 can be used on light stands, tripods or simply hand-held –- though a 2.5-pound ringflash, plus a mounting bracket, plus a reflector, plus a camera can get a little heavy. As for downsides, the $400 ringflash doesn't boast what I'd call heavy-duty construction; the housing is mostly lightweight plastic and the various switches and clamps don't feel like they could stand up to much beyond a gentle touch. On a related note, the 30-inch Moon Unit softbox I most often use with the flash also seems a bit delicate. It's reversible and collapsible, but the fabric seams don't look like they'd take much repeated stretching. As such, I generally leave the ABR800 and large softbox attached when not in use, which takes up a good chunk of closet space. My biggest complaint focuses on the camera platform mount, which uses a simple flat-head screw to attach to your shooter. A thumbscrew or really anything else that didn't require a screwdriver to install would have been better.

Potential frailty aside, I've used the flash for more than a year now and it's not let me down yet. I could extend its usefulness further with the company's lithium battery pack, but even in its currently tethered form, the ABR800 has been a pleasure to use... and a pain to store.

-- Philip Palermo

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