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Member since: 03.07.2009

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    • Garmin nuvi 250W / GPS Sat Nav / 21 Readings / 21 Ratings
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      23.10.2010 13:47
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      Worth a look if you need a satnav

      The Garmin Nuvi 250w is a wide screen sat nav. It charges via the cigarette lighter socket in the car, and can be powered directly from this, or via the battery within the unit. Mostly this is a gadget which doesn't get used because I don't often drive anywhere that I don't know well enough to just use road signs, but on the occasions when I do use this, it is actually a very useful gadget to own.

      When you first look at the Garmin Nuvi, you see a small oblong unit with a screen on it. It looks like it ought to be a hand held games console or something, but in fact, it's a sat nav. On turning it on, you get icons on the screen which are designed in a similar way to those on a windows pc or a touch screen phone. Touching an icon will take you into that element of software, and when you first set the system up, you load it with your personal information such as your 'home' address. Doing this means that when you use it, you can easily tell it to 'go home' and it knows where you want to go - much simpler than having to program your details in for each return journey.

      To set the destination point for your outward journey, you select the 'address' icon, and input the various details - postcode, house number, city etc. After this, the screen changes to a map and connects to the satellites so that it knows your current location. The map feature has various levels and the +/- button on screen allows you to zoom in and out through them. A car or pointer shows where you are on the map and it always sits at the bottom centre so that you can see the parts of the map which are coming next.

      The voice part of the Garmin Nuvi is a female voice, and isn't a particularly annoying one, although on a long journey, after a number of times of hearing her saying 'at the next junction turn left' a few times, you do get a little sick of the sound. The voice gives you the information that as a driver you need in plenty of time, so that you know when you are approaching a roundabout it will tell you to enter the roundabout and to take the 3rd exit, and then as you enter the roundabout you are reminded again which allows you to keep your eyes on the road and what's going on around you.

      A small amount of additional information is given on screen through the journey - you have your speed at the bottom left, and your estimated arrival time at the bottom right. If you are in a zone where there are speed cameras you get a warning flashes on the screen along with the speed limit for that section of road, and a noise to alert you to glance at the sat nav screen.

      The system is quite simple and intuitive meaning that even if you've never used a sat nav before, you can quite quickly get used to how the system works and use it effectively even if you never learn anything about all the extras that it has available. For me this is idea, as I'm not likely to use most of the extras which means that I don't particularly feel the need to know too much about how they work.

      Very briefly however, other features include:

      Points of Interest:
      Gives information about various facilities that are available in that area from petrol stations and shops to places to stay, parks, museums and landmarks etc.

      Recently Found:
      Last few places you've navigated to stored in a list so you can re-select them.

      Favourites:
      When you're at a location, save it to your favourites, give it a name and it's stored forever so you can get directions for that location without re-programming the Garmin Nuvi again.

      Junctions:
      Allows you to locate a junction point of two roads.

      World Clock:
      So you always know the time no matter where you are.

      Calculator:
      I guess this is here because they could. I have no idea why I'd need a calculator when driving however.

      Picture Viewer:
      Insert the media card from your camera and view the pictures on the Garmin Nuvi's screen.

      As I say, I don't really bother with any of the other features much, for me a sat nav is about allowing me to navigate from one place to another without having to stop and read maps along the way. Overall, for a unit which costs around the £100 mark, this isn't bad. All I could say against it are that updates could be cheaper, as if you live in or are travelling to an area where there is mass development going on, you really do need them.

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      11.07.2010 13:03
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      If you're in the market for a shaver, you could do a lot worse.

      Up until quite recently, I've been a beardy type, with occasional forays into designer stubble. However, with encroaching middle age making me look more like a badger, i thought it was time to start shaving a bit more often. Having never been a big fan of regular razors, I decided i needed to go electric.

      The first thing that struck me about this shaver is the design. It's modelled on the design of the Williams F1 team, using their white, blue and silver livery. The shaver feels nice and chunky in your hand, and has ridged rubber grips on either side making it comfortable to hold. Overall, it feels like a very solid item.

      In use, the shaver is pretty simple. There are three rotary shaving heads arranged in a triangle. The heads are pivoted so that they can stay in contact with convex parts of your face (that's most of your face if we're honest, right?) A touch of a button unlatches the shaving unit, allowing you access to the individual heads, which are replaceable should they become blunt. This is also where the cut off bits of beard end up, so Philips have supplied a small brush to help with cleaning this area. It is also possible to clean this part by running it under a tap, but be careful - this shaver isn't a true wet and dry, and shouldn't be immersed in water. The shaver also comes with a clip-on cover to protect the shaving heads when not in use.

      Another nice feature of this shaver is the flip out precision trimmer on the back. At the press of another button, this pops out at right angles to the shaver and engages itself with the motor. This is a neat system, because the trimmer is only operating when it's in the trimming position. My only criticism of the trimmer is that it doesn't lock in the open position, so trimming/long hair removal can only be done in a downward direction with respect to the shaver.

      The shaver is fitted with rechargeable batteries that last a good long time - Philips claim 8 hours run time for 1 hours charge. An LED on the front of the shaver tells you when the batteries are low, and there is another to indicate when the unit is charging. The charger is quite small and light and plugs into a standard shaver socket. I will also work on anything from 100 to 240 Volts, and at 50 or 60 Hz, so it can be used anywhere in the world without an adaptor.

      Overall, I'm pretty happy with this shaver. Having never owned one before I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it shaves well and feels really comfortable to use. 'Nuff said.

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      05.07.2010 18:36
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      Not terrible, but there are much better breadmakers available.

      Why are we paying a pound a loaf for ten penn'orth of ingredients? That was our thought when we decided to get a breadmaker. We worked out that by buying flour in bulk (16Kg at a time from a nearby flour mill), and even accounting for the extortionate cost of electricity these days, we could make bread for around 35p a loaf. Sounds good yes?

      Why this particular model? Well, we didn't want to spend too much money on something that might turn out to be a flash in the pan, and this one fitted the bill. The fold down beater bar was the thing that really sold it though - no slices with a big hole in the middle - or so we thought.

      On first unpacking this breadmaker, I was quite impressed. The main unit looked good, there was a fairly comprehensive instruction manual, which included a variety of different recipes for all kinds of bread, dough, cakes and even jam. There was also a set of measuring spoons and a measuring cup. Uh-oh - first design flaw. The spoons are the shape of little scaled down coffee mugs, and the bottom corners are practically square. Did they not consider how hard it would be to clean oil out of something that's barely wider than your finger?

      The control panel of the breadmaker features an LCD display, and 6 buttons which allow you to vary the size and colour of your loaf, or to select different settings such as jam or dough. A nice feature is the delayed start setting, which allows you to load the pan and be greeted with fresh bread in the morning, or when you come back from work.

      In use, the machine is fairly noisy when it's kneading, but quiet as a mouse the rest of the time - except when it beeps to let you know that it's time to add extra ingredients (say fruit or nuts). The beeper is quite high pitched and ear piercing if you happen to be nearby when it goes off. The same beeper is also used to let you know the cycle is finished.

      The loaves themselves are tall and square, and tend to be harder at the bottom than at the top. The beater sometimes stays with the tin, and sometimes comes out in the loaf. It can be fun trying to prise the beater out of a hot loaf, I can tell you! We tend to turn the loaf on it's side (to get square slices) and cut from the bottom up.

      The lower crust is almost always concrete hard - not something I fancy eating to be honest. The next couple of slices will have a hole in the middle from the beater (remember I said it was supposed to fold flat? Not so much!) I've always found the bread to be very dense and filling - I'd eat 2 sandwiches made from shop bought bread, but one from this machine is usually enough. At least a loaf lasts a while! To be honest though, I've eaten bread from other domestic breadmakers that's much better than this machine seems capable of making.

      After a few months (washing the pan out after each use), we found that the beater driver in the bread pan was starting to stiffen up - so much so that eventually the motor wouldn't turn the beater at all. I found that as the bearing/seal has become worn, it has become a looser fit, and small particles of bread mixture can get in, where they are be cooked solid by the breadmaker. The solution to this, as it turns out, is to turn the pan upside down and run hot water into the back of the beater assembly, whilst turning the beater drive manually until is works loose. This results in a little puddle of blackened water under the pan where the burnt stuff has worked its way through. This process can take anything between one and five minutes to do.

      For this reason, we mainly use the machine now for mixing dough, which my wife then makes into rolls and cooks in the oven, and which taste better than anything that the breadmaker could do on its own.

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        03.07.2010 14:55
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        Cheap musical fun that anyone can pick up.

        Hands up everyone who remembers the '70's? If you were a kid back then, you must have come across the Stylophone. Promoted by Rolf Harris, and used on a number of recordings, including David Bowie's 'Space Oddity', it has become one of the icons of it's era. Well, the good news (or maybe bad news? Depends if you remember it fondly I guess!) is that it's back!

        The new model remains fairly faithful to the original, in that it has the same control layout and overall shape. Controls are pretty simple - the front panel has power and vibrato switches (more on that in a minute), a one and a half octave keyboard and a stylus, which sits in a slot above the keys. There's a volume control on one side (especially useful if you don't like the sound - it goes down as well as up you know!) and a headphone socket on the other.

        Now, the main differences between the modern version and the original is what's been added. Alongside the headphone socket is another socket that allows you to plug your MP3 player in through the Stylophone and play along. This is quite a nice feature if you're trying to learn a song, just don't expect it to sound great - the speaker in the Stylophone isn't exactly Hi-Fi!
        The other big difference is the 3-way tone switch on the front edge of the unit. What you may not know about the original Stylophone is that there were three main versions. As well as the most common 'standard' model, there were also 'bass' and 'treble' versions. The 3-way switch means that the new version is all three in the same box - bargain or what?

        In case you're one of the rare people who don't know how to play a Stylophone, it's really simple. You just touch the metal tip of the stylus on one of the keys, completing a circuit, and out comes the sound. The keyboard is laid out like a piano, with the 'white' keys (labelled 1 to 12) at the front and the 'black' keys (labelled 1.5 to 11.5) behind.
        If you want a slightly different sound, switch on the Vibrato function. This works by slightly detuning the note, making the notes warble.

        One last feature is the tuning knob on the back of the unit. My guess is that it's there to allow you to fine-tune your Stylophone to the same pitch as other instruments, but there's so much adjustment there that you can tune the instrument over more than an octave using just this control, allowing even greater tuning range.

        The downside of the reissue Stylophone is the build quality. The original units had metal grilles and felt pretty sturdy, whereas the reissue feels like it's been built down to a price. The keyboard also suffers from tarnishing, although a quick wipe with some Brasso solves that problem easily enough.

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        • The Boondock Saints (DVD) / DVD / 30 Readings / 28 Ratings
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          20.05.2010 17:11
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          Go and watch it. You'll enjoy it.

          On its release in 2000, Boondock Saints was shown in only a handful of cinemas in the USA, and closed almost immediately. It barely even made it to Europe at all. Critics panned it. The film flopped comprehensively.

          So, why am I reviewing this turkey? Because the critics were wrong - it's a great movie. Written and directed by Troy Duffy, and set in the hard-as-nails area of south Boston, Boondock Saints is gritty, realistic, and often very funny.

          The film stars Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus as brothers Connor and Murphy McManus. After being involved in a bar fight, the brothers kill some Russian mobsters. They turn themself in to the police, who deem it was self defence. Heading up the investigation into the mobster's deaths is the flamboyant FBI agent Paul Smecker, played by Willem Dafoe, who demonstrates an almost psychic ability to determine what happened at the crime scene.

          After their release, the brothers decide that there are degrees of evil, and that murderers, rapists and drug dealers should be killed for the greater good. Aided by their friend Rocco, a small time Italian mob delivery boy, they set about working their way up the Mafia food chain.

          Obviously, the mob aren't going to stand still for this, and promptly expedite the parole of a life-prisoner known only as 'Il Duce'. This mysterious character (played by Billy Connolly) is known for killing mobsters, and is set on the trail of Rocco and the McManus brothers. This results in a huge shoot out outside the house of a mob hit man in which Rocco gets his finger shot off. The discovery of this finger leads Smecker to the realisation that the brothers are behind the recent spree of seemingly mob-related killings.

          The brothers decide to go for the big prize - Mafia boss 'Papa Joe' Yakavetta - in his own home. This turns out to be a mistake that leads to the shooting of Rocco by Yakavetta. The brothers, however, are a little more fortunate, and with some assistance from Smecker (who, after talking to a priest, decides that the brothers are right), and also from Il Duce, they manage to get away. If you want to know why Il Duce decided not to kill the brothers, you'll have to watch the film - I'm not going to give the game away!

          The DVD copy that I own is very basic. No special features, no animated menus (yay!) not even any subtitles, just the film itself. Works for me, that's what I bought it for at the end of the day! I believe there is a special edition with extra scenes and a few more features, but I can't comment on that version, having not seen it.

          Despite being over 10 years old, it's aged really well, and still feels fresh today. The low production budget adds to the realism of the film - it's not all polished and perfect, and some parts have a fly-on-the-wall feel about them.

          Overall, Boondock Saints makes it into my all time top 20 movies. The film's popularity has grown since its release, mostly by word of mouth, and has now well and truly earned itself cult classic status.

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        • The Usual Suspects (DVD) / DVD / 31 Readings / 29 Ratings
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          19.05.2010 13:42
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          Watch it now! If you've seen it already, WATCH IT AGAIN!

          The Usual Suspects is, in my opinion, one of the finest crime films ever made. It features a great cast, excellent storyline, great direction - everything you could ever want in a movie.

          The film stars Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Pollack and Benicio del Toro as a group of New York criminals who are pulled in by the police for a lineup. While they are languishing in the cells, they hatch a scheme to pull a big job. The job goes off without a hitch, and the gang disappear to Los Angeles to let the heat die down. While there, they get pulled into yet more crimes, largely against the will of Dean Keaton (Byrne), who is doing his best to go straight.

          When the gang is called into a meeting, they find out that they have all stolen from a mysterious and seemingly omnipresent underworld figure called Keyser Soze. As a consequence, Soze wants them to do one big job, which he does not expect them all to survive. Soze's instructions are relayed through his lawyer, a man called Kobayashi (chillingly portrayed by Pete Postlethwaite), who tells them they need to destroy 91 million dollars worth of cocaine on a ship in San Pedro harbour.

          All these events are told in flashback by the sole survivor of the raid, Verbal Kint (Spacey), during his interrogation by Federal Agent Dave Kujan (played by Chazz Palminteri.

          I don't want to spoil the plot, for those of you that haven't seen this film yet (but I will say 'Really? How can you NOT have seen this? Stop what you're doing and watch it immediately!) I will say no more, but the last ten minutes have twists and turns, and a surprise to end all surprises at the end.

          Superbly directed by Bryan Singer, The Usual Suspects is a must see for thriller fans, and film buffs of all kinds. I only gave it 5 stars because I couldn't give it 6!!

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          • Baseketball (DVD) / DVD / 32 Readings / 30 Ratings
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            13.05.2010 13:13
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            Very much a guy movie, and funny, funny, funny!

            Directed by David Zucker (Naked Gun series), and starring Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park), Baseketball is a hilarious sports comedy for the whole family. Except the kids. And Grandma. Your wife might not like it much either. Come to think of it, this is pretty much a guy movie.

            A couple of lifelong slackers, Joe Cooper and Doug Remer (Parker and Stone) invent the game of Baseketball one night to avoid looking stupid at a party they've gatecrashed. Before long the sport goes national and they are sports personalities playing for the Milwaukee Beers.

            After the team's owner Ted Denslow (Ernest Borgnine) dies in a hotdog-related accident, control of the team falls to Cooper. Another team owner, Baxter Cain (Robert Vaughn) needs the approval of all the team owners before he can turn Baseketball from its original 'sport of the people' format into yet another money-making machine, but Cooper resists, staying true to the original vision of his late friend and mentor Denslow.

            The humour in this movie is often pretty crude and obvious, but in spite of that (or maybe because of it) it still manages to be very watchable. A lot of the gags revolve around Cooper and Remer giving flack to team-mate Squeak Scolari (Dian Bachar) and each other, and there's also a lot of humour derived from the female cast members/obvious eye-candy (Yasmine Bleeth and Jenny McCarthy).

            There's quite a lot of recognisable faces in the supporting cast too, as well as a lot of names making cameo appearances as themselves, notably Hollywood biggie Robert Stack.

            Overall, if you like South Park/Naked Gun/Airplane type humour, this is for you, and with many retailers selling the DVD at under £5, what's stopping you?

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              06.05.2010 12:19
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              Good for the price, but there's better available

              First of all, let me say that I'm a big fan of mint choc ice cream, and I'm quite picky about what makes a good one.

              The appearance is important - we eat with all our senses, so if food doesn't look good we're less inclined to eat it. This ice cream seems to tick the right boxes here. When you open the tub you can see that it's a pleasant minty green colour, well presented with chocolate sauce and shaved chocolate on top. Time to grab a spoon and dig in - go on, you know you want to!

              OK, so having got some in a bowl, what do I see? Well, the chocolate sauce that I mentioned is only a very thin drizzle down the edge of the tub, and there's not a huge amount of choc chips in evidence. Not looking quite so good now is it?

              So how does it taste? Let's face it, this is the biggie. All told, I'd have to say it's not half bad. The ice cream has a good minty flavour, without going over the top (I've had some that are like frozen polo mints - too much!) The choc chips, although few in number, are at least a decent size, and taste like fairly good dark chocolate. There's a distinct flavour difference between the chips in the ice cream and the shavings from on the top, which is also quite pleasant. The chocolate sauce is pretty nondescript however, but what little there is mostly seems to be there for decorative purposes.

              Overall, I'd have to say that I've had better mint choc ice cream, but at £1 for a 1 litre tub this is quite a good buy, although it could do with a few more chocolate chips.

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              03.07.2009 18:52
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              If you're looking to play a 6-string bass, you could do a lot worse than this

              Having been a bass player for 19 years, and mostly having played 4-string instruments in that time, I hadn't really considered ever using a 6-string bass. I mostly saw extended range instruments as unnecessary and, if I'm honest, something of a show-off.

              Bearing this in mind, when I dropped into a local music shop a year or so ago, I really only picked up the NTB-6 through idle curiosity, never seriously thinking I'd be taking it home with me!

              The first thing that struck me was that the bass felt really 'organic'. The finish on it is oil and wax, rather than varnish or lacquer, and it allows the grain of the wood to be felt as well as seen. The neck of the bass runs right through the body, and is made from three pieces of mahogany, with strips of maple in between. The rosewood fingerboard has pearloid position markers that are visible from the front and the side, and is adorned with 24 jumbo frets. The body wings are made from Imbuya, an Indonesian hardwood which has a very distinctive grain. There are a few areas that could have done with a bit better finishing, but on the whole the woodworking is of a reasonably high standard. At this price, I think you can forgive a few minor imperfections.

              The second thing I noticed was that this bass felt HUGE! If you've only ever played 4-string instruments, then this thing is a massive jump. Not only does it have an extra string on each side of the 4 you're used to (one lower, one higher) but it also has a 35" scale, compared to the 32-34" which is more common.

              The NTB-6 is fitted with twin humbucking pickups, each with its own volume and tone controls. At the body end, the strings are held in place by 6 individual bridge saddles, which allow both top loading or through body stringing. Tuning is taken care of with 6 compact machine heads. All the hardware is finished in black and, while it isn't of the highest quality, it works perfectly well and feels solid enough. I've seen instruments at 3 times the price with hardware of similar quality.

              It is possible to get a good range of sounds out of the NTB-6, despite the fact that it only has passive tone controls. It'll do reggae, jazz and rock equally well, and while it lacks the brightness to do Marcus Miller impersonations, it'll cover more or less anything you ask of it.

              While this bass isn't on a par with some of the more expensive offerings out there, at less than £350 it punches well above its weight. I'd say you'd need to look in the £500 - £750 range to find anything substantially better. For the money, it can't be beaten.

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