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BitterFusion

BitterFusion
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Member since: 22.04.2011

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    • Temple Run (iPhone / iPad) / Apps / 56 Readings / 53 Ratings
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      28.06.2012 10:17
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      Nice little freebie from Imangi

      Many of you who own an Android phone or an iPhone/iPad will probably have seen or heard of Temple Run, due to the fact that it is COMPLETELY FREE and just a little bit addictive. If not, let me introduce you to the game that will have you hooked and swiping your finger across your screen faster than you ever thought possible.

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      Back story
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      Guy Dangerous, 'just your average explorer', has stolen a golden monkey Idol from the Evil Demon Monkeys' temple. Unsurprisingly, they're not particularly happy about this and are adamant that they are going to chase him until they catch him, or until he manages to cause his own death. Can you help Guy Dangerous outrun the Evil Demon Monkeys....?

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      Playing the game
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      ....well, no you can't actually. The game is infinite, and it doesn't matter how far you run or how skilled you are, you can never 'win' this game.

      "So, what's the point?" I hear you ask.

      Well, once you start playing, you forget that there isn't really a point to this game, and become absorbed in it.

      Your job is to guide Guy Dangerous through the maze of ancient walls, decking and mossy stone, over tree roots protruding from the floor and great gaping holes, and under great big roots, flaming obstacles and other hazards. The game is wholly controlled through swiping the touchscreen. So if you want Guy Dangerous to turn left or right, you swipe accordingly. If you want him to slide, you swipe down, and jumping is swiping up. However, if you want him to edge to the either side of the path he's running on, you need to tilt your phone. You have no actual control over his running speed, and so all you have to focus on is keeping him on a safe path.

      While running, there are coins that you can collect along the way, which can be spent in the game's store and they also help to increase your overall score. The further you manage to run and the more coins you collect, the higher your score. And it's as simple as that, really. One man that you need to keep alive for as long as possible in order to accumulate a greater score.

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      My thoughts
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      For a free game, this really impressed me in terms of the quality of the game. Although the scenery is highly repetitive, the design of the jungle is really well done. Certainly, compared to other free app games on the market, this feels very well done; the graphics look impressive, and Guy Dangerous moves fluidly through the mazes. While nothing spectacular was done with the soundtrack to this game (some bongo music in the background and the occasional grunt from your character as he jumps), this did not hinder my experience of the game in any way, as I become so absorbed in keeping old Guy alive that the can-can could have been playing in the background for all I cared, and I probably wouldn't have noticed.

      In terms of controlling Guy, the game is pretty responsive to my swipes across the screen on the whole. However, sometimes, if I swiped left, the game would think that I'd swiped down, and consequently I'd slide to my death which was pretty annoying. This could have been more down to my fingers being lazy, but it is a little frustrating when the character heads in a direction you didn't intend for him to go.

      As far as longevity of the game goes, you might be mistaken for thinking that it would soon become pretty boring just to repeat the same kinds of runs again and again. Fortunately, the developers of the game considered this, and included objectives to keep players on their toes. With each objective completed, your score multiplier goes up, and thus the potential to reach greater scores is gained. Some of the objectives are pretty tough as well, giving the game an extra challenge. For example, one called 'Allergic to Gold', in which you must run 1000m without collecting any gold, was particularly tough for me. Aside from the fact that it seems unnatural not to head in the direction of coins, often, turning a corner means that you unexpectedly run into a coin without being able to help it. Objectives like these meant that I continued playing this game long after I would have otherwise become bored with it.

      Additionally, the ability to use your coins in store to unlock powerups adds further dimensions of interest to the game. Powerups include the likes of 'Coin Magnet' which essentially does what it says on the tin, and attracts all coins to you for a period of time. Additionally, 'Invisibility' means that you are able to run through and into obstacles without being killed for a period of time. There are different strengths to each powerup, and you can continually upgrade the strength of a powerup by spending your coins until you reach the maximum amount. As upgrading the powerups are part of the objectives, I played extensively in order to be able to afford each maximum powerup, further ensuring my interest in the game.

      As well as powerups, you can also unlock utilities that can only be used once (e.g. 'Resurrection'), different playable characters, and various wallpapers. Again, unlocking the characters and wallpapers are part of the objectives, and as the characters are particularly expensive, I remained hooked on this game for some time. While you are able to cheat and buy coins with real money, I don't see the point, as you'll either love the game enough to collect all the coins you need by playing the game extensively, or not care enough to spend your hard earned cash on things in the store.

      Having now completed almost all of the objectives, my interest in this game has dwindled somewhat. Nowadays I will only play it if I'm particularly bored or just fancy playing something that requires no thinking power. It is essentially a mindless game that requires very little skill, aside from being able to keep up with which way to turn next. However, if, like me, you become adamant that you're going to work your way through the objectives, you will become hooked on this game. And hey! Let's just reiterate here... it's FREE! And for a free game, it's not half bad. Go try it if you haven't already!

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      • Prometheus (DVD) / DVD / 46 Readings / 45 Ratings
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        22.06.2012 11:59
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        Only die hard Scott fans will love this

        ----FILM ONLY REVIEW----

        As someone who is not a diehard Ridley Scott fan and *shock horror* someone who has never seen the Alien films, you may be inclined to discredit what I have to say with regard to this movie. Admittedly, the fact that this film was rumoured initially to have been an Alien prequel was of little significance to me. However, I was TRULY EXCITED about this film. Amongst all the hype I was hearing about it, the trailer had me mesmerised. I was expecting great things from this film; an intelligent plotline, lots of action and a dark twist somewhere along the way. I was ready to have my mind blown...

        Well, I'm still waiting for that mind blowing moment...

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        Summary
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        A crew on board the ship, Prometheus, have travelled two years to reach an ancient moon which may harbour the answers for the human race's origins. However, when they begin exploring the ancient civilisation, they soon realise that the moon may not hold an explanation for their creation, but rather their imminent demise...

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        My thoughts
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        Ah, where to start with this film... let's start this review on a positive note. I cannot fault the film for the CGI landscape that was created; it was big, bold and looked excellent on the big screen. However, that's about as much of the set as I personally enjoyed. I found the design of the spacecrafts, communication devices and costumes to be thoroughly unoriginal, and as though I'd seen it all before. I felt as though I'd walked into the Hollywood Studios myself, with the ships and computers presenting nothing original to myself as a viewer.

        But, let's not get carried away here. Set design is only one aspect of it. The story is the most important aspect of any film, right? Well, the overriding story was just plain weak in my opinion. Okay, so the crew travelled to the moon in order to ask the 'creators' for an explanation to the human race's origin, but little is explained throughout the film (evidently so Prometheus 2 could be made). Instead, the 2 hour movie is packed with a lot of blood and goo. Even this would have been fine by me were it not for the weak characterisations within the film.

        For example, I felt that Noomi Rapace was miscast as Elizabeth Shaw, the main character, in this film. Aside from one of the only exciting scenes of the film, (*SPOILER ALERT*) where she programs a surgical machine to perform a caesarean section upon herself to remove an alien baby from her body, I felt she was weak as an actress. I mean, what was with her accent? I assume she was trying to talk with a British accent (as a flashback of her as a child clearly has a British accent), but what came off on screen was a confused and at times laughable imitation. I realise that she is a Swedish actress, but why she wasn't allowed to simply talk with her own accent baffles me - Earth does not simply exist of British and American people, Hollywood. However, aside from that, I found her to be a thoroughly flat and uninspiring heroine.

        Indeed, her relationship with Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) was unconvincing as far as I was concerned. I did not find them convincing as a couple, and what came across was that it was necessary for them to get intimate in order to explain things further along in the plotline. Similarly, the brief attachment between Janek, the ship's captain (Idris Elba), and Meredith Vickers, the mission director (Charlize Theron), is done purely out of convenience to the plotline, between characters that showed absolutely no interest in each other beforehand.

        I actually felt sorry for Charlize Theron in this film. I thought she did as good a job as she could do considering that the plot was pretty poor. She managed to capture the personality of the cold, ruthless mission director well, but her character was limited by the script, in my opinion.

        The only real gem in this whole movie was David, an android (Michael Fassbender). Fassbender embodied David exceptionally well, and was really the only character I found completely believable throughout this whole film. His character added an interesting dimension to the film as well, as a character that was not, himself, wholly trustworthy.

        However, that is as far as my praise for this movie goes. My thoughts coming away from the film were ones of utter disappointment - the trailer had looked SO promising. Unfortunately, all that was delivered was bog standard Hollywood. Considering the fact that director, Ridley Scott, lost interest in the project between 2003 and 2009, when Alien vs. Predator became his sole focus, one would question how the audience was meant to feel enthralled by something the director himself could not maintain enthusiasm for. Indeed, this film was confusing to me; perhaps from the director's own inability to assert what the intentions of this film were. We know that the film was intended as a prequel to the Alien franchise, but later it became unclear whether this was so. Scott himself was stated to have said that "while Alien was indeed the jumping-off point for this project, out of the creative process evolved a new, grand mythology and universe in which this story takes place" (source: Wikipedia). Scott's own indecisiveness certainly seemed to rub off in this film, with actual visual references to the Alien creatures made, as well as some explanation as to how the first Alien-like creature was created, but without crediting it as part of the Alien franchise.

        In conclusion, if you want a movie that has no depth to it, has a simple plot line with some blood, goo and action scenes to go with it, this is the film for you. There is certainly the implication at the end of the movie that there will be a Prometheus 2, and perhaps concepts of the film would be explored further in the sequel. However, I simply don't care enough to go and see it when it eventually gets released. Perhaps wrongly, I had expected more from this film, and for that reason, I can only award it 2*.

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        • More +
          02.06.2012 15:29
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          Fab game for lovers of Cut the Rope etc.

          One of the wonderful things about DooYoo is that sometimes you'll read such a great review of a product, you'll feel it is impossible not to buy it. Well, that is, at least, how I felt about savvyshopper6476's review of this app game. And I'm happy to say that I'm glad I took the plunge with this product. If you're looking for a new app game to test your puzzling skills, look no further.

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          Story time
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          Kribl, a small insect from the Kingdom of Kriblonia, is a bug on a mission. The four dark spiders of the apocalypse have stolen diamonds that empower Kriblonia, and it is up to Kribl to explore the various territories beyond Kriblonia and return the diamonds to their rightful home...

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          Playing the game
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          As you may have already guessed, you play as Kribl and guide him through the various levels in different territories in order to retrieve these diamonds. However, unlike conventional games, Beyond Ynth's originality comes from the way in which you navigate your way through the various terrains. In every level, you will encounter boxes, which resemble mazes in various shapes and sizes. These boxes must be used by Kribl to help him advance through various levels.

          Using these boxes are pretty simple, as a tutorial guides you through the game's controls once you embark on your adventure. However, the way in which to move a box is by tilting it by pushing against a wooden edge on either side. By doing this, you will tip the box over in the desired direction and thus progress through the level. You are also able to jump and you can also nudge a box if it is unable to tip any further. All controls for movement are on the sides of the screen and are very easy to use. Mistakes made by pressing a wrong button rarely occur due to the layout of the controls, and thus make for easy gameplay. In addition to the four buttons for movement, there are also a further two buttons on the bottom edges of the screen. One allows you to rewind the level to a certain extent, which can be very helpful if you've realised you've made a mistake or you've managed to kill Kribl. The other allows you to zoom out, to assess what you may need to consider is ahead of you before tipping the box mindlessly.

          There are four types of terrain to explore, which include forest, desert, ice and volcanic lands. These territories are not exclusive; they appear more than once at various points on the level map, and you cannot simply decide which levels within the various terrains you wish to attempt. Progression from level to level can only be made by following the designated paths on the map, which means that you cannot necessarily complete all of the levels in a certain type of terrain without completing other levels from different terrain first. Personally, I enjoy this, as the challenge of opening up new levels of the map and aiming to complete as many levels as I can engages my attention with the game.

          In each level there are two diamonds to collect, and attaining both will award you with a gold medal for that level. If you only manage to collect one, you will be awarded a silver award, and I assume collecting none, but navigating your way successfully through the level would award you with a bronze. However, collecting these diamonds are not always easy, as they are often in awkward or difficult to reach places. Thus, you must utilise the boxes in each level logically in order to work out how to reach these diamonds. Additionally, there are also other obstacles in your way. For example, in the desert levels, standing in direct sunlight for more than a second will kill Kribl, while leaving a box in an ice level will also freeze Kribl to death if he roams away for too long. As well as this, there are often blocks that can either block paths or help to reach awkward places. Thus, you really have to think 'out of the box' (bad pun, I know) in order to complete the various levels.

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          What I think
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          In the world of gaming apps, you can either end up with a really good, engaging game (e.g. Cut the Rope, Plants vs. Zombies etc.) or a game that you play once, and fails to grab your attention. Beyond Ynth is essentially simple in its concept; one bug exploring the world to find diamonds by navigating his way through boxes. However, despite looking very cutesy graphically, the app is a really engaging puzzle game in which the player has to consider all options available to them in order to complete a level. Promising hours of gameplay, this game can be extremely addictive. Often, I have found myself having to backtrack my way through a level as I have missed some vital block that I need to reach a diamond, or have tipped my box incorrectly, consequently meaning I am unable to progress with the level. Thus, this game succeeds in challenging the player continuously. However, that is not to say that the game is impossible to complete; the majority of the levels I've attempted have been awarded a gold medal, with only one on a silver, and one I am yet to return to, as I found myself unable to complete it at the time. Thus, it is not so infuriatingly difficult that you'll want to give up on it after a few levels.

          In addition to the challenging levels, the great artwork and sound effects add to the overall success of this game. The artwork is bright and colourful, with each terrain uniquely animated and a pleasure to look at. I generally have the music off, as I find gaming music irritating on the whole. However, I did find the audio narrated story sequences added to my experience of the game.

          The animation is very well done, and Kribl moves well; as far as I have seen, this game is not at all glitchy. However, on this note, I would mention that I play Beyond Ynth on a HTC Desire S, meaning that I downloaded it off the Android market. While my Desire S is an excellent device for playing app games, from my experience, not all Android phones have the capability of being able to play well. For example, I used to own a Sony Experia X8, and this struggled to play games such as Angry Birds without glitching. Thus, for Android phone users with a weak processor or graphics card, I would warn you that this might not work as well. However, iPhone/iPod users need not fear, as the game runs beautifully on either.

          Another potentially negative aspect to the game is that there does not seem to be much capability for level updates. While this is not wholly concerning as the game does offer a vast amount of levels anyway, I do feel my money is well spent with games like Cut the Rope in the knowledge that level updates are regular and offer me further value for money. That said, the game only costs 80p to download off the Android Market (69p off iTunes) and thus it is not an extortionate spend.

          If you aren't wholly convinced to go and buy this game, there is a free Beyond Ynth Xmas mini game, which is free to download, and will give you a better idea of what its bigger brother is all about. Otherwise, I highly recommend this game to anyone looking for a new, addictive game for their phone - well worth the 80p!

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          • More +
            24.05.2012 14:08
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            An absorbing tale of love and war

            Birdsong, for me, was one of those books that had been on my 'to read' list for years. Indeed, the copy I own is littered with praise from critics, which left little doubt in my mind that I was in for an absorbing read.

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            Summary
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            The plot primarily revolves around the life of Stephen Wraysford at various points throughout his life in France, prior to and during WWI. Initially, we meet Stephen in 1910; he has arrived at the Azaires' house to stay while conducting some work abroad. Whilst there, he embarks on an affair with the young wife of his host, Isabelle, and the two decide to run away together to start a life of their own. However, once away from the Azaire household, Isabelle begins to feel guilty for her actions, and consequently the relationship ceases. Fast forward six years into the future, and Stephen has enlisted himself in the Army, finding himself on the front line. Thus commences a powerful tale of endurance and life as we simply could not imagine now.

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            My thoughts
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            This novel would have, indeed, should have, received 5* from me. The scenes of war described by Sebastian Faulks are vivid, gritty and thoroughly gruesome at times. I was transported to a time that is unimaginable, into conditions that I could not fathom and disgusted me. Faulks managed to paint a human picture of life in the trenches; these were men who were accustomed to seeing death all too often. They became hardened to it, despaired at it. The quote used to title this review summarised, for me, Faulks' intentions in writing this novel; Faulks attempted to ensure that readers did not forget the individuals who experienced such hell. Through the various minor characters such as Jack Firebrace and Michael Weir, as well as Stephen's own experiences of war, Faulks reminds us that each individual soldier had his own history and his own story to tell. It is easy, perhaps, for us to learn passively about war in classrooms, or through documentaries. However, Faulks forces us to confront the humanity of the people who fought, and to relive the conditions within which they existed. So powerful are the descriptions of war and the day to day toil within the trenches that, were the novel based solely on the aspects of war alone, I would rate it 5*. However, this is not so.

            I do not think that the love affair between Stephen and Isabelle was, itself, unnecessary in the novel. In fact, the contrast between the passionate elation felt between the lovers and the stark, despairing thoughts Stephen endures in the trenches only emphasises the brutality of war. Indeed, the descriptive powers of Faulks excellently demonstrates the humanity of these two individuals, overcome with lust for each other. As a reader, I willed their relationship to succeed. Thus, the emotive power of their affair definitely impacted the story well.

            However, the one aspect that did disrupt the overall success of this novel, in my opinion, was the occasional flash forwards to the 1970s. In these short sections, Elizabeth, who is later revealed as Stephen's granddaughter (although this is painfully obvious to all reading), for no apparent reason, is suddenly intent on discovering what it was to fight in WWI. Among her own personal relationship problems, she embarks on a journey to uncover the truth about her grandfather. These sections were, I believe, intended by Faulks as a way to nudge the conscience of the reader, and to emphasise the fact that we should not forget about our own ancestors who may have fought in the war, and their individual stories. While I can see why he included her in the novel, I felt her sections simply interrupted what was otherwise an engaging story. Her own plot line was more akin to something in the chick lit genre, and felt out of place compared to the stark graphic descriptions of war. Indeed, perhaps Faulks meant it as a way in which to give the reader respite from the heavy main plot line. However, if so, I felt it was unnecessary and an annoyance.

            For that reason, I am giving Birdsong 4*. 1970s flash forwards aside, this novel is certainly worth picking up for an engaging and powerful experience of life in WWI. Thoroughly recommended.

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            • More +
              06.12.2011 19:41
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              Fun game

              I'm sure most of us will remember having created imaginary scenarios when we were younger as part of pretend play. Whether you were an all mighty magician with unlimited powers, a brave knight with super strength, or even coordinating a fashion show for your teddies, once upon a time our imaginations used to run riot and were able to conceive the downright ridiculous just for the purpose of having fun. If you miss those days, this game could be right up your street...

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              What do you do?
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              'Super Scribblenauts' is the sequel to the original 'Scribblenauts' game for DS. Having never played the original, I cannot make comparisons between both, but I understand the premise of this game is fairly similar to the original.

              As with 'Scribblenauts', you are playing as the somewhat dorky looking Maxwell (pictured above), who is in possession of a magic notebook. Anything written in the said notebook will come to life, and can be used to help solve levels. However, unlike the first game where you could only write nouns in the notebook to make them come to life, 'Super Scribblenauts' allows you to put adjectives in front of the nouns to create pretty much anything and everything. This can mean anything from, 'yellow rhino' to 'tiny shiny spotted blue flying diseased angry pig'. Almost everything you enter into the notepad can be created (with the exception of any profanities/unsuitable material), and therefore your only real limitation is your imagination.

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              So, that's all well and good, but what's the point??
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              'Super Scribblenauts' is a side-scroller, in which you help Maxwell to use his magic notepad to complete various levels, which are essentially puzzles, to collect 'Starites' (quite simply, a fancy name for a star). The method of play is left to you to decide - you can either opt to use the stylus or the directional pad to move Maxwell in levels, but you'll need the stylus anyway to click on people and items, and to enter a word into the notepad. I play with both the directional pad and stylus, and find it no bother to use both to play, but it's nice that you're given the option as to which you'd prefer to use.

              Levels vary massively, and so whilst in one, you might need to create items to help make you the ultimate super spy in order to infiltrate a party and steal some vital intelligence papers, in others you'll need to use your imagination to create a creature that shares features with other animals (e.g. create a creature that shares characteristics with a snail and a turtle).

              The difficulty of each level is noted as you begin the level, but despite this, I found that some levels were much easier to solve than others, regardless of the supposed level difficulty. I think the ease of this game will depend on how you think about overcoming a level - think about it too hard, and you might miss the obvious, while not being creative enough may also hinder you.

              On completion of a level, not only will you earn a 'Starite', but you also collect 'Ollars'. These are essentially points which can be exchanged for hints in levels, and believe me, you're going to end up using a fair few hints! The 'Ollars' can also be exchanged for new Avatars, so if you get tired playing as Maxwell, there is a huge catalogue of other characters to choose from!

              You can also create your own levels by entering Custom mode. Unfortunately, I've found this option to be too complex for my simple mind, but you are given the opportunity to script your own levels, which I'm sure some people would love. I, however, prefer the puzzles and are far happier to stick with them.

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              My opinion
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              I was pleasantly surprised by 'Super Scribblenauts'. I had heard about its predecessor, but hadn't really given it much thought until I found it for a very reasonable price on Amazon's Black Friday sale. I'm not regretting the purchase yet!

              The artwork for 'Super Scribblenauts' is very cartoony, but this suits the game perfectly. While it may not be the greatest example of video game graphics you've ever seen in your life, you've got to commend the developers of this game for having designed the vast amount of characters that are available on this game to the level that they have. Each character and item is wonderfully designed and once you've added all the extra items you've conceived to a particular scene, things certainly get colourful and vibrant!

              Equally, the soundtrack to this game is not fantastic. It is merely background noise that does remind me very much of Sims background music - it's constantly on loop, is generic and doesn't really add all that much to the game. However, as someone who generally has the music on mute, I find that this doesn't really impact all that much on gameplay.

              The real success of 'Super Scribblenauts' is in the concept of the game itself. Aside from the similarities it shares with its predecessor, 'Scribblenauts', this game is a totally new and interesting game concept, of which the possibilities are monumental and seemingly endless. Come on, who doesn't love the idea of being able to create a 'jumping pink fluffy evil sofa'?! Having experienced the hilarious possibilities that can be achieved from use of adjectives in this game, I now think it would be difficult to play the original 'Scribblenauts' knowing that I would be unable to add these attributes. It's such a wonderful idea for a game.

              That said, it's not without it's negatives. With the vast amount of adjectives in the world, it is probably unrealistic to expect all to work when creating something. For example, when I initially tested my 'jumping pink fluffy evil sofa', I used the adjective 'bouncing' instead of 'jumping', which was rejected by the game. As far as I'm concerned 'bouncing' is a perfectly valid adjective, but it is apparent that the game has some limits to what it can create. This becomes a little frustrating when you're trying to solve a particularly hard level, and are struggling to think of any synonyms for what you're trying to create.

              On the subject of synonyms, the game has a good, if not frustrating, replay value. Some levels are awarded a silver crown upon completion. This means that if you replay and complete the level three times in a row using completely different words each time to come up with a solution, then you'll be awarded a gold crown. While this is great in terms of elongating gameplay, it becomes very difficult to think of enough solutions or alternatives in order to get that gold crown, and I must admit, I have had occasionally had to cheat by looking at a walkthrough on the internet for answers, as clues in the game are often unhelpful.

              Indeed, there seems to be no limit to the amount of clues you can purchase, as you will earn a fair amount of 'Ollars' for every level completed, regardless of whether you've completed it before or not. This seemingly unlimited means of earning 'Ollars' makes them meaningless in a way, and I personally would have preferred it if it were harder to earn 'Ollars' and the clues were more useful.

              However, ultimately, this is a really great and original game, purely for the amusement and entertainment factor. It's great fun entering a series of adjectives for your object and seeing the object come to life. I would, however, warn you not to be fooled by the cutesy graphics - this is one tough puzzle game at the end of the day. The game has a 12 rating, which apparently due to the violent content and wifi capability. While I do not personally agree that the game is violent (it makes a point of failing you on a level if an innocent is harmed), I would agree that the 12 rating is fair, as I think many young children, and especially those who cannot spell well, would struggle with this game. Basic common sense, as well as a good vocabulary is required to fully enjoy the game, and thus I think young children would get frustrated/bored of it very quickly. For those, however, with an over-active imagination, let it run free with this game!

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              Price
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              £8.97 (Amazon.co.uk)

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              • Retail Eyes / Employment / 67 Readings / 65 Ratings
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                04.12.2011 20:55
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                Great site for mystery shopping

                *Update: I should make you aware that Retail Eyes now operates under the name Market Force. If you search for Retail Eyes in a search engine, you will be directed to their American site. To avoid this, enter http://uk.marketforce.com/ into your browser instead.*

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                I have been a member of Retail Eyes since being at university. Martin Lewis's moneysavingexpert.com recommended it as a way to make a few extra pennies, and who was I to refuse being paid to eat out, staying at hotels and getting a bit of shopping done for free... All I had to do was to become one of those sneaky Mystery Shoppers and report back. Sounds easy, right?

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                What is Mystery Shopping?!
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                For those of you who may not be aware, retail businesses like to bring in Mystery Shoppers in order to assess how well their staff are performing and what can be improved to make a customer's experience better. Retail Eyes is a company that advertises Mystery Shopper jobs from various companies through its website, and members can apply for jobs as they appear on the site. Aspects assessed during the shopping trip vary from job to job, but generally you are required to report on staff rapport and service, cleanliness of the business, and quality of product purchased.

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                Criteria
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                To become a Mystery Shopper on Retail Eyes, it is mandatory that you are at least 18 years of age. You must also have a good level of written and grammatical English. As the reports you submit are used for training purposes, Retail Eyes do test you before you are allowed to sign up to ensure that you have a good level of standard English. The test, however, is not particularly difficult, and most people will pass this criteria.

                In order to complete assignments, you must have access to a computer, internet access, and a scanner or camera that can upload pictures to the website. Reports must be completed within 24 hours of the job, and often they should be submitted by 12 the next day. Also, the company may want you to upload a picture of the front of the store and the receipt, and so without the means to do so, you may face not being reimbursed/paid.

                Lastly, you must be confident that you can carry out the assignments in secret. This means that at no point must you disclose the fact that you are a Mystery Shopper, or behave in a way that will arouse suspicion. As assignments will sometimes ask you to be a bit of an awkward customer (by asking questions you might not ordinarily bother with), you have to be comfortable with interacting with staff, and be prepared to essentially 'act' your way through a scenario that will not necessarily interest you.

                ------
                Jobs
                ------

                Jobs are listed when you log on to your account, and by clicking on the individual Assignment Notes and Report Questionnaire to fill out after job completion, you can check whether the job is suitable for you. Retail Eyes can be very hit and miss with the jobs offered to you. I've found that the more jobs you do within a small amount of time, the more that become available to you, probably due to your increased experience.

                The first job I ever did was at a shop in Cardiff International Airport. Unfortunately for new people, very often it is only these airport jobs that are offered to you when you initially sign up, and many are shops located beyond the check-in part of the airport. This can be limiting for those who do not live by an airport/who are not going on holiday. New or not, you'll need to constantly check the website for new jobs, as they tend to go pretty fast, and exceptionally so if there's something like a hotel stay on offer.

                Retail Eyes encourage you to fill out questionnaires about your hobbies and shopping habits, apparently so they can suit you to the most appropriate jobs/jobs that are looking for people with certain criteria. It is probably better for you to answer these honestly, rather than what you think they'd like to hear, as you will therefore be offered with the jobs that interest you most. From experience, I once did a job for a betting shop, and having never set foot into one before, felt very uncomfortable carrying it out. I have since altered my questionnaire on 'Gaming' and receive less jobs for it.

                For each job completed, you receive a points score. Presumably, this is so Retail Eyes can assess your experience of Mystery Shopping, and offer you jobs based on your skill level. For each job completed successfully, you receive 10 points, along with an additional 2 if you get your report in on time. Points are deducted for releasing a job (-2) after you initially agreed to do it, or for any proofing queries raised (-1 for each query).

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                Payment and reimbursement
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                The one thing I soon realised from using this site was that it will definitely not get you rich. I was under the assumption that I would get lots of jobs and that they would pay well enough to replace working a part-time job. This was a huge misconception on my part. Most jobs I've done only pay an actual fee of up to £5, if that. Some will not pay you a fee at all, but may give a generous reimbursement limit (I have been paid up to £10 reimbursement from a gaming shop before now and more for having done a hotel visit). Therefore, I would definitely recommend it as a way to dine for free/get some free shopping done rather than as a site to make a profit from. As a student, this is ideal for me as I will definitely not pass up a free meal, given the choice.

                The only negative is that payments and reimbursements are made twice monthly. Therefore, you do have to make sure you have the money to spend in the first place before actually doing a job. While you will essentially get a meal/product for free from doing the job, you may find yourself temporarily out of pocket while waiting to be reimbursed. However, money is paid directly into my current account, so when 'payday' does come around, I suddenly feel cash rich again.

                ------------------------------------
                My experience of Retail Eyes
                ------------------------------------

                On the whole, I have had a positive experience using this company. The site is designed so that you enter your location and the radius you are willing to travel. Unfortunately, it does not take into account water, and being located in the Vale of Glamorgan for half the year, it is not very useful to me when the site comes up with a pub in Weston-super-Mare. However, it allows me to choose more than one defined area at a time, which is useful as I'm in Devon for the other half of the year, and so I can check between multiple areas to see which jobs are available.

                Reports are generally easy to fill out, providing you've made detailed memos to yourself throughout the shopping trip. Although you can take the assignment notes with you on your trip, you have to be careful not to make it obvious that you have them with you. I prefer to make notes on my phone about the most important aspects that I have to remember to observe (e.g. name and description of the staff member) and note things such as times of arriving and leaving on my phone as well, as it looks like I'm just texting rather than making notes.

                Also, you have to be really particular and accurate when filling out reports if you want to ensure that a query is not raised. This means ensuring that you don't just make general statements like 'I was dissatisfied with my service, as I did not feel it was up to a decent standard'. You must state explicitly what it was about the service that you were dissatisfied with, and remember things exactly as they were said.

                As I said, you will not get rich from using this site, but you will get some free meals from well known restaurants and free products from shops once you start building up your experience and successfully completing assignments. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who fancies getting some freebies.

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                • More +
                  04.12.2011 12:38
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                  Attractive ring

                  It is very rare that I venture into Topshop. Don't get me wrong - it's not that I don't like their products, but rather I hate their prices. Everything seems so overpriced that I can rarely justify buying anything from there. However, on one such rare occasion I fell victim to this ring and forked out a precious £9 for it (it costs £10 without student discount).

                  I was instantly attracted to this ring. Chunky, pretty and sparkly, I was helpless to its charm. The ring is a gold band, with a trellis pattern underneath the gold, stone and rhinestone leaf designs (pictured). The ring looks well made, and is intricate in its design. I personally adore the baby pink rhinestone leaves on the ring, as they look both delicate and attractive. I think the ring is most suited to sit on the second, third or fourth fingers of your hand, due to its size. On these fingers, it takes up about a third of the length of the finger, and is therefore quite obvious when worn.

                  The ring comes in sizes S/M/L. I opted for the L size, which I believe to be a mistake on my part now, as the ring only fits comfortably on my second finger, and falls off my middle and index finger. This is a shame as I would have preferred to wear it on my index finger, and so I would advise trying it on in store before deciding which size to opt for.

                  One negative point I have about this ring, as with most costume jewellery, is that prolonged wear of this ring turns my finger green, which looks both disgusting and cheap. However, I have read that applying clear nail varnish to the inside of the ring can help to combat this problem, as it builds a barrier between the metal of the ring and the skin. An additional negative is that the gold colouring on the bottom of the ring has begun to fade already, revealing the silvery type metal beneath it. I have had this problem before with other gold coloured jewellery, and so it does not surprise me too much, but I do think it looks a little shabby if half your jewellery is gold coloured and the other half is silver coloured.

                  On the whole, I enjoy wearing the ring. It is very pretty, and a pleasure to wear (minus the green finger), gaining lots of compliments from my peers. I have worn it on nights out, as well as casually, and find it suitable for most occasions. I am not sure it is worth £10 at the end of the day, but I do think it's a lot more attractive than many other high street shop rings, and so do not regret the buy.

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                  • More +
                    27.11.2011 01:15
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                    Fantastic game

                    The games in the Professor Layton series simply make having a DS worthwhile. Engaging, entertaining, and often mind boggling, they are pleasure to play. Since the release of the first Professor Layton game in 2008, I have been a firm fan of the Layton games, and so when the third instalment, 'Professor Layton and the Lost Future', was released last year, it took little persuasion for me to add it to my collection.

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                    Storyline
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                    The notorious Professor Layton, and his apprentice, Luke, are present at a public demonstration of a time machine built by the scientist, Dr. Stahngun. Among the guests is the Prime Minister, Bill Hawks, who is invited to the stage by Dr. Stahngun to help demonstrate the machine. After initial resistance, Hawks accepts the invitation, only to disappear, along with Dr. Stahngun, when the demonstration gets out of hand. Some time after this disastrous event, Layton and Luke receive a mysterious letter from someone claiming to be the Luke of the future. They are told to visit a back street clock shop in which another time machine exists. They must travel through this time machine in order to meet the Luke of the future, and stop the evil villain that the future Professor Layton has become...

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                    Gameplay
                    -------------

                    If you've played any of the other Professor Layton games, then the gameplay will be very familiar, and easy to pick up. If not, there is no disadvantage to new players, as there is a brief tutorial at the beginning of the game.

                    The game is essentially controlled entirely through the stylus, and is a point and click game, in which you navigate your way through the streets of London, solving puzzles and mysteries along the way. The two screens of the DS are utilised well, with the upper screen acting as a larger, overall map, demonstrating where you need to be travelling, while the touch screen acts as the immediate street view, navigable by clicking a shoe in the bottom right corner of the screen, which brings up various directional arrows. Through the touch screen, you can also interact with people on the street, in shops, and also click objects on the screen in order to uncover puzzles. Some puzzles will be hidden in more obvious locations than others, and it is worth clicking pretty much everywhere on every individual street view in order to uncover all the puzzles. By doing so, you will also uncover hint coins, which can be exchanged for clues if you are struggling with a puzzle.

                    There are a vast amount of puzzles (over 165, in case you're wondering) to solve during the game, and if you are a fan of logic problems, then this game will be right up your street. Types of puzzles range from multiple choice answer questions, to arranging certain shapes in a confined space, to figuring out a certain combination within a puzzle to reveal its answer etc. There is a Memo Pad which you can access when solving a puzzle, and this becomes particularly useful for testing solutions before entering a final answer.

                    Puzzles range in difficulty, and so while some will be solved in mere seconds, others may take you a frustratingly long time to get your head around. The difficulty of puzzles are denoted, as with the other Layton games, by Picarats. These are essentially points which can be earned by completing a puzzle. The harder the puzzle, the greater the Picarat value. However, for each wrong answer entered (up to the third wrong answer), Picarats are deducted, and upon completion of the puzzle, you will receive less than the full amount. Although useful for perceiving the difficulty of a puzzle, Picarats serve no real purpose during the game. They can, however, be used for unlocking bonus content accessible through the main menu.

                    Aside from the main puzzles to be solved throughout the game, there are also mini games which can be accessed through Layton's briefcase, which appears in the top right hand corner of the screen. These include:
                    - Toy Car: navigating a toy car along a specific course, using limited manoeuvres
                    - Parrot: designing a rope course for your parrot so that he can deliver items to certain people
                    - Picture Book: collecting stickers in the main story line to create picture story books
                    These mini games may seem trivial from my description, but I find the Parrot game, in particular, can be ridiculously difficult to complete. They all give a variation away from the main story line and game, and can be a welcome challenge if you are itching to solve a puzzle without waiting for one to appear in the main story line.

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                    My opinion
                    --------------

                    Oh, where to begin. The Professor Layton games are simply fantastic for a multitude of reasons, and I think it will come as no surprise to you that this game gets a full 5* from me.

                    The beauty of the Professor Layton games is that story line is very much integral to game play, and this is no different in The Lost Future. The story line is so in depth, and has so many layers, that even if you think you can predict the solution to all the mysteries the main storyline presents you with, you're going to be wrong, as there'll be some unsuspecting twist you just won't have seen coming. This game tricked me on multiple occasions, not only in the way that it managed to deceive me as to which way the storyline was going, but also as to when it finishes. There were multiple points where I thought 'Aha! This is the end!', only to find another mystery uncovered, and off I went again in search of the next solution. The good thing about the main storyline is that you can invest as much or as little into it as you like. If you're keen to just get on with the puzzles, then you can pretty much skip past a lot of the dialogue from characters by continually clicking the screen. However, if you're interested in the story line, there is a lot to take in. As such, the Layton games always give a recap of events when you resume your game, after loading your save file. Additionally, you can remind yourself of the 'mysteries' by accessing them through Layton's suitcase, or indeed access Layton's journal for a more in depth reminder of the story.

                    What I particularly liked about The Lost Future was that there was a return of some old familiar characters from former games, like Scotland Yard's Inspector Chelmey, who always seems to be one step behind Layton, as well as the return of Don Paolo, master of disguises and supposed nemesis of Layton. Particularly insightful to The Lost Future storyline was the glimpse given into Layton's past. We learn how and why Don Paolo decided to become Layton's nemesis, and that Layton was once in love. These little touches are a nice touch to followers of the Layton series, as they feel somewhat more personal, and give an extra depth into some of the characters' traits.

                    As with the other Layton games, The Lost Future did not disappoint in terms of animated video sequences, and the Layton games still remain the best use of DS potential I have witnessed in terms of animated story telling. Although only 2D cartoons, the animations in the game are exceptionally well done, and the artwork is completely unique to Layton, giving it an edge that no other series has on the DS. I also adore the quality of voice acting in sequences that are relatively important, but are not animated. These are very well done, as the voice actors truly capture the characters they are playing, and add a level of interest and depth to the games.

                    On the subject of audio, the music remains pretty much in line with past Layton games. The familiar accordion returns for the main parts of the game, while the delicate, dreamy like puzzle music from past games also finds its way into The Lost Future. Although I am fond of the music, I did find at times that I had to switch it off, particularly if I was concentrating on a harder puzzle. However, for the most part, the audio adds to the overall experience of the game, with sound effects relating to the story line as it unfolds.

                    If I had one criticism of the game, it might be that the main storyline does get a little over the top, especially as the game goes on. However, you do not play these games to get a perspective of reality, and the crazier the story, the better, right? The elaborate and unbelievable story is essentially part of the fun of playing.

                    There is little more to say on the matter as far as I'm concerned, apart from: GO AND BUY THIS GAME IMMEDIATELY IF YOU HAVE NOT DONE SO ALREADY. To own a DS and not own a Layton game is nothing short of a crime, and I thoroughly recommend The Lost Future to anyone. I would, however, say that the puzzles may be difficult for small children. As a 20 year old, I struggle with some of the more cryptic ones, and can see younger audiences struggling to complete the game. However, for those of you who love puzzles, it will be one of the best £24.99 purchases (Blockbuster.co.uk) you've ever made, and you could pick it up for even cheaper if you got it second hand...

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                    • Apple iPod touch 8 GB / MP3 Player / 68 Readings / 64 Ratings
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                      23.11.2011 13:45
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                      Fab device

                      Since 2007, the iPod Touch has gone through various developments and reinventions of itself. So much so, that by 2010, it was already on the fourth generation (or version). Therefore, for clarification, I will be reviewing the original, first generation (herein referred to as (1G)) 8GB iPod Touch.

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                      Set up
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                      The iPod Touch comes with a USB cable, and in order to do anything with your iPod, you will need to have, or to install iTunes. Unlike MP3 players from other manufacturers, there is no flexibility with the iPod Touch as to which software you can use to transfer songs to and from the iPod. However, set up is relatively pain free, as far as I can remember. Your iPod will become linked to your iTunes, and any purchases made will be transferred from iTunes to the iPod (or vice versa) when you connect it to your computer via the USB. You will need to set up an Apple ID account through iTunes if you want to download any apps (free or not) and this will also allow you to buy songs/videos/books etc. off the iTunes Store. I find it quite useful that the Apple ID account memorises your debit/credit card number, so I don't have to go through the hassle of entering in my card number every time I'm buying something. However, if you have an issue with this, then you may want to reconsider buying from the iTunes Store, as there does not seem to be a way in which you can manually enter your card number each time.

                      Transferring songs from the hard drive of your computer to the iPod is pretty easy. Once you've added the music from your hard drive to iTunes (which can be done by going to File --> Add Folder to Library), and you've connected the iPod via the USB, a 'DEVICES' section will appear in the iTunes bar on the left. Clicking on this not only gives you the option of transferring your whole music library, or just particular songs onto the iPod, but it also shows how much space is left on the iPod, and what is taking up the most space. For example, currently I have 2.1GB of music, 1.39GB of apps, 0.04GB taken up by 'Other', and a further 3.7GB of space free. This equates into about 298 songs and 63 apps so far. In this respect, I would say that someone with an extensive library of music may wish to opt for an iPod with greater memory than the 8GB - I only carry my favourite songs around on it, and you can clearly see that this takes up 25% of the space alone.

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                      Ease of use
                      ---------------

                      So, it's pretty easy to transfer songs etc. onto the iPod, but what about using the iPod itself? Well, let me give you a heads up guys - it's ridiculously easy. The iPod Touch (1G) has only two buttons: one at the top for locking the device (and switching it off if held down for a prolonged amount of time), and the circular button beneath the iPod screen, for closing whatever application you're running, and returning you back to the menu. Every other means of navigating is done via the touch screen.

                      Upon initially using the iPod Touch, there will only be one menu screen, divided into a top and bottom section. In the top section, there are pre-downloaded apps that cannot be deleted, such as the internet browser, Safari, the App Store, Settings, Clock etc. The bottom section consists of four apps: Music, Videos, Photos and iTunes, which also cannot be deleted. However, as you download more apps, more than one menu screen will appear. One menu screen can hold 16 apps, and so to navigate your way through them, you simply slide your finger across the screen, and the menu screen will slide with the direction of your finger. However, the bottom section I mentioned, holding the Music, Videos, Photos and iTunes apps, will always remain at the bottom of the screen, making it easy to select them from any menu screen.

                      To start up an app, you simply need to click on its icon on the menu screen. You can think of your finger essentially as the cursor you would get on a computer screen, and so you are able to navigate your way through and control apps with your finger. This goes for entering text too. If ever you need to enter text, a QWERTY keyboard will pop up, which I've found is spaced out well enough to make it easy to use, without touching the wrong letter too often.

                      I also feel it's worth mentioning the WiFi capabilities here. Connecting the iPod to your home router, or to an open access WiFi point while you're out and about is very easy, and gives you the ability to download purchases from the iTunes Store whilst on the move. I've found this particularly useful if there's a song I'm dying to listen to, and can't wait to get home to download it. With songs costing 99p, I feel it is little in the way of a dent in my purse to make these small purchases now and again.

                      --------------------------
                      Sound/visual quality
                      --------------------------

                      As far as I'm concerned, the sound and visual quality of the iPod Touch is very impressive. I don't use the earphones that originally came with the iPod, and thus am not sure if there would be a difference in sound quality if you did. However, for me, sound is crystal clear and intense if you turn the volume up to a mid setting. Unlike later models, the iPod Touch (1G) does not have volume buttons on the iPod itself - the volume is controlled via the touchscreen. While this is fine if you are sat somewhere e.g. on a train, it becomes a little annoying if walking about to have to take the iPod out from wherever you're holding it to refer to the screen itself to adjust the volume. However, I have very little complaint about sound quality itself. I have also listened to audio books on the iPod and have been happy that I am able to hear everything perfectly clear.

                      In terms of visual quality, the iPod Touch is, as far as I'm concerned, unbeatable. You simply will not find a device that is sleeker in terms of its graphics. It's also great as far as videos are concerned. While I do not use it to watch films off, I have watched YouTube videos on it, and have found them to be of excellent quality. With the higher quality videos on YouTube, you would not be able to tell that the iPod is streaming from a website, as the picture is top quality, both in streaming and pixel quality.

                      --------------
                      Battery life
                      --------------

                      Battery life varies hugely with this device, depending on how often you use it/what you're using it for. If I am using it just to listen to music while I'm out and about, I find I can have it on standby when it's not being used, and the battery life will last for days. However, if I'm in the midst of an app game addiction, where I can't put the device down, I find that it needs charging on a daily basis. As with most devices, the brighter the screen, the more battery life will be drained, and so there are ways to conserve it. However, according to Wikipedia, the average battery life for the iPod Touch (1G) is 22 hours of audio, and 5 hours of video.

                      ------
                      Price
                      ------

                      This particular model of iPod Touch has been discontinued, due to its bigger and better brothers having taken the limelight. However, the device can still be purchased for around £80 second hand from websites like Cash Generator and eBay.

                      --------------
                      My opinion
                      --------------

                      I love my iPod Touch. I remember in the days before the Touch devices were introduced, I was firmly an anti-iPod person, and was rooting for the Creative Zen MP3s, of which I owned many. However, having now owned an iPod Touch, I can absolutely see what all the hype is about. The iPod's design is so wonderfully fuss free and sleek, that it makes it a very easily used and transported device. It's incredibly thin, and fits into my pocket with ease, without advertising itself to thieves in the form of a big bulge, which is perfect if I'm listening to music on the go. The only bugbear for some people may be that the glass display screen is incredibly prone to fingermarks. However, screen protectors can be purchased for overcoming such issues, and it doesn't bother me all that much.

                      One of the biggest draws to an iPod Touch, for me, is that it supports apps. In all honesty, I would say that if you are looking simply for a device that *just* plays music, then look elsewhere. There are far cheaper options on the market, without all the gizmos that rack up the price of an iPod Touch. However, I am firmly an app fan. With many free to download, and the majority of others only 69p, the appeal of the app market is huge to me. The likes of 'Cut The Rope', 'Plants vs. Zombies' and 'Tiny Wings' have become firm favourites of mine. Despite this, my version of the iPod Touch is now limited in terms of what can be downloaded. The highest operating system that is supported on the iPod Touch (1G) is iOS 3.1.3, which is now outdated for a lot of app games. The newest iPod Touch (4G) currently runs iOS 5.0, and developers have obviously cottoned on to this, intentionally making games that target only run on iOS 4.0 and beyond, which is frustrating for people like me. I don't want to have to pay out £160 or so just to be able to play 'Angry Birds', thank you.

                      Additionally, my iPod Touch does not have an integrated camera, nor a speaker (which the later generations now do). This, however, does not bother me too much, as I would not have liked to have used my MP3 player as a camera anyway, and have not been particularly impressed by the photo quality of iPod/iPhone cameras. The speaker may have occasionally come in useful, but I am not hugely bothered that I can only listen to audio with earphones.

                      As far as I'm concerned, this iPod is great. I love how easily I can download a song from iTunes thanks to the WiFi capabilities while I'm on the move, and the range of games keeps me occupied if I'm on a long journey. While I am annoyed that I am unable to move past the iOS 3.1.3, I still think that this is a great device, and is worth picking up for the £80 or so it would cost you second hand. Great buy.

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                      • Next Snuggle Top / Clothing / 77 Readings / 74 Ratings
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                        20.11.2011 15:27
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                        One of the best buys I've made for this winter!

                        Central heating is like a faint memory to me... I remember it fondly, but have scarcely been acquainted with it since being back at university. As such, I generally find my house, especially of an evening time, to be pretty chilly. And I am not someone who deals well with the cold. Thus, when I saw this 'Snuggle Top' in Next, it was love at first sight...

                        The Snuggle Top is essentially an over-the-head jumper made purely from soft, almost fleecy material. The label claims it's 100% polyester, but think teddy bear material. It even has a front pocket to slide your hands into and keep them nice and toasty. To put it simply, this jumper feels amazing. Ridiculously soft and cosy, the first time I put it on, I never wanted to take it off. I was hugging myself in it, and rubbing my cheek onto the super soft collar. It is definitely the comfiest, warmest, loveliest thing I have ever worn.

                        The Snuggle Top comes in four sizes: S, M, L and XL. I am a size 14, and opted for the L size, just because I like hoodies/jumpers to be quite big and slouchy on me. I think I could have definitely opted for the M if I'd wanted to, but I like the slouchiness of the jumper I get in the size I chose. This particular design of Snuggle Top comes in two colours: Mink (pictured) and Cream. I opted for the Mink version, just because I have a bit of an aversion to whiter clothes, as I have a fear I am more likely to drop stuff down them (irrational maybe).

                        My biggest fear with this top was how it was going to fare in the washing machine, as I have had fleeces in the past that have gone from being a super soft to unpleasant material. Having washed this a few times at the recommended temperature of 40, and using a fair bit of fabric conditioner, I haven't noticed that much of a deterioration in the quality. I would maybe say that it's not quite as soft as when I first bought it, but I am happy that it is still lovely and soft and cuddly. Also, I don't have a tumble drier, and so I don't know if this would fare better if it was tumble dried rather than line dried... it would certainly be extra warm and cosy, that's for sure!

                        The Snuggle Top costs £20 from Next, which initially I had no problem paying, but have begun to notice that the stitching on the front pocket is looking a little poor, as there are a few long strands of thread poking out at various places. I don't find this overly irritating, but for £20, I would like to think that I have bought a well-made, quality item, and am a little disappointed that this has happened.

                        Despite this, I am still as in love with my Snuggle Top as I was on the day I first bought it. I wear it practically every day around the house, during the daytime and the night, despite it being classed as a 'Nightwear' item. Although I don't think it looks particularly flattering when it's on, it's so comfortable, I really don't care! It keeps me really warm and feels lush. I highly recommend it to ladies of all ages - you won't regret it!

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                        • More +
                          18.11.2011 15:33
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                          Funky laptop bag

                          While most people who have a laptop will inevitably have some sort of bag or case to carry it around in, I think it is fair to say that few will have one with a design such as mine. As well as the more corporate styles, the company, Hama, produce a variety of funky laptop bags, under the range 'aha'. These designs vary from the more industrial for guys, to the flowery, nature designs aimed at women. I have the 'Ripple' design bag pictured above, which I would class as a unisex design, although I feel it would appeal more to guys than to women on the whole (myself being the apparent exception).

                          My particular laptop bag caters for a 15.4" laptop, which is the perfect fit for my Lenovo N500 laptop. There are a range of compartments on the bag, which come in handy for transporting other items around and saving the hassle of having to carry an additional bag around for other items. When you lift the flap of the bag, the main compartment is revealed, as well as a front section, which homes various other pockets.

                          The main compartment of the bag is partitioned into two, so that one section can snugly hold my laptop, not allowing it to move about in the bag, while the other would be suitable for holding items such as paperwork. The section holding the laptop is lined with an almost velvet-like material, which I really like, as it gives me the peace of mind that the laptop will not be marked inside the bag. For extra security, there is a strap that is attached via velcro over the top of the section that holds the laptop, making it wholly secure in its compartment. As well as this, the bag has a drawstring so that the main compartment can essentially be tied off, if you wish to do this. However, the drawstring does not work particularly well; pulling it only marginally tightens the section and you would still be able to remove the laptop with the drawstring 'tightened', essentially making it useless.

                          The front section, as I mentioned, is kitted out with various other pockets. There is a very obvious mobile phone looking pocket, and what looks like a pocket for a walkman. I would not use these pockets for their intended purposes for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the main flap of the bag that covers these front pockets is attached with velcro, and I do not feel that this is a particularly secure place to store your phone, especially if you find yourself on a busy train in close proximity to other people. Secondly, the concept of having a pocket for a walkman is very outdated, as most people (myself included) have smaller MP3 players, which I certainly would not store in the bag. However, using these pockets, as well as the two zipped ones behind, for other storage purposes could come in useful, though I tend not to find them big enough to store anything of particular use.

                          When the main flap is closed, you'll notice that there are further zipped pockets; one on the flap of the bag, and one on the side of the bag (both pictured above). The pocket on the zip of the bag is big enough to accommodate a book, which is pretty handy for easy access when commuting. However, the zipped pocket on the side of the bag is so tight for space, that I am having a hard time imagining what you would use this for, and believe it to be useless - I have certainly never found a use for it.

                          There are two ways to carry this bag; one being the adjustable shoulder strap (pictured), and the other a small handle at the back of the bag. The shoulder strap comes with a shoulder pad, which certainly makes the laptop more comfortable to carry on the shoulder, and alleviates the pressure somewhat off my shoulder. The handle is not my preferred method of carrying the laptop bag, just because of the way it is positioned at the back of the bag. It puts the bag itself at an odd angle due to the weight of the laptop itself, and makes the bag hit my legs occasionally as I walk.

                          On the whole, there are few complaints I have about this bag, as it is very useful in terms of extra compartments, as well as being pretty reasonable in terms of price, costing £20 (wilkinson.co.uk). However, if I was being picky, I would say that the velcro fastening of the main flap may not be the most secure (and it loves picking up dog hair), and I would also question how useful some of the extra compartments are, as some are pretty tight for space. I also think that if I was buying the bag nowadays, I would probably have gone for a more feminine design, as some are far more attractive than the 'Ripple' design. However, this is probably a case of my taste having changed over the course of a few years, and so a more neutral design may be more suitable for those who, like me, keep changing their mind as to what they like.

                          The bag, as well as all other designs, as far as I'm aware, are only sold online. However, the range of designs are sure to cater to wide ranging tastes. On the whole, I would recommend the bag for those looking for a slightly funkier take on a laptop bag, but it would probably not be suitable for a corporate environment.

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                          • Nintendo DS Lite / Games Console / 74 Readings / 73 Ratings
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                            14.11.2011 03:28
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                            For the casual gamer

                            For better, or for worse, Nintendo has had a lasting impact on my childhood. I can still remember the pure joy I felt when I became the proud owner of my Game Boy Color, and cannot forget the hours of intense gameplay I got from my upgraded Game Boy Advance. Consequently, being the owner of a Nintendo DS was only a matter of time for me, and one Christmas day in 2006, I received my own Nintendo DS Lite.

                            -------------------------
                            About the DS Lite...
                            -------------------------

                            The DS Lite fits comfortably on my outstretched palm, and is not at all heavy in my opinion. It is a well designed console, looking far sleeker and tidier than its older brother, the Nintendo DS. With the lid shut, the DS Lite is incredibly compact, allowing it to be easily carried around, while also making a protective case for the dual screens inside. The stylus is stowed away safely and discretely in a small hole on the underside of the console, which is tight enough to keep the stylus in place, but not so tight to make it difficult to remove.

                            One of the most distinctive changes of the DS models from previous Game Boy series was the size of the DS games. Nintendo decided to go micro when they released DS games, making them little bigger than a stamp, and less than a cm in depth. However, happily, two game slots are included on the underside of the DS Lite - one for DS games, and one for Game Boy Advance games (although sadly not Game Boy/Game Boy Color games).

                            Upon opening the DS Lite, aside from the obvious difference of having two backlit screens (7.6cm/3" display) as opposed to one (that had no backlight if you had anything other than an SP), the console very much resembles that of the Game Boy series. With a familiar control pad on the left, A & B buttons on the right (joined by X & Y), as well as 'Start' and 'Select', Game Boy veterans had very little to adjust to in terms of button bashing. Even the left and right triggers found at the upper corners of the bottom lid of the console found their way over from the Game Boy Advance. Of course, the biggest adjustment to make was that of having a stylus. Control pad, A & B buttons AND having to hold a stylus?! How would we ever cope? While it does take some getting used to holding the DS Lite in your left hand, and tapping the touch screen with the right, it is soon picked up, and you'll find that most games either opt to primarily use a stylus or to focus mainly on button play, while some give you the option to switch between either.

                            ---------------------
                            Range of games
                            ---------------------

                            The range of games for DS consoles are...well...just plain disappointing in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, there are some that are absolute gems. However, these few are overwhelmingly outnumbered by a lot that are just plain boring and unimaginative. I think I can demonstrate this point most clearly by citing two of my favourite games, 'New Super Mario Bros.' and 'Mario Kart DS'. Both are currently in the top 10 Amazon bestseller list for DS as I write this, and have been in the top 100 games for DS in excess of 2000 days, or to put it simply, for the past 5 years. While I do not deny that they are both addictive and fun games, to me, this demonstrates clearly that there has been a distinct lack of gripping, must-have games released for the DS consoles.

                            In fact, it is quite clear by browsing through the games available for the DS, that this has become a very casual gaming console. On the one hand, the DS is dominated by cutsie pet games such as 'Nintendogs', 'Zhu Zhu Pets' and various 'Hello Kitty' pieces of nonsense, while on the other hand, there is a huge amount of puzzle games available, ranging from 'Brain Training' to 'Puzzler World' to 'Jewel Quest'. While these games are suited to younger players, and a maturer audience (my mum has a DS, and she'd never have considered getting a Game Boy of any description), I feel that Nintendo have alienated the old Game Boy fans, with a distinct lack of good platform games.

                            Despite this, I feel I am being a little harsh on the console, as there have been some games that I have thoroughly enjoyed, and being a lover of puzzles myself, there are some games that have really worked my brain. Some of these include: the Professor Layton series, Pokemon White, Pokemon HeartGold, Picross etc.

                            --------------
                            Battery life
                            --------------

                            On a full charge, my DS Lite lasts about 6 hours, which I think is a reasonable amount of time to play on a journey, away from a mains power source. However, the DS Lite's battery life can be increased by dimming the brightness of the screen. I, however, take no chances, and have a mains plugs, as well as a car charger (bought separately) to ensure that, no matter how I'm travelling, I won't run out of battery.

                            ---------------
                            Final words
                            ---------------

                            Over the years, it is fair to say that the DS Lite has been tested to the limits. Clumsy as I am, I have dropped it a number of times, gotten water on it, and have probably not been the nicest owner in the world. Despite this, it still looks great and unmarked (although this might have something to do with the fact that it's black). The speakers still work as well as they ever did, giving a nice clear audio sound (or annoying if you don't like gaming music), whereas I managed to kill my old Game Boy Color's, probably through over use.

                            However, one thing that has not quite stood the test of time has been the touch screen. Over years of use, the touch screen is now quite badly de-calibrated, despite my efforts to re-calibrate it via the menu many a time. While I can still select things by touching the screen, in games where precision is important, it gets annoying trying to work out how far away you have to position your stylus to get an accurate touch on the screen.

                            I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with my DS Lite, and I can't lie - I initially had my doubts about getting one myself. I just could not see how a point and click type of console was going to improve on what was already a perfect method of play, developed by the Game Boy series. Sure, the DS Lite looks and feels nice, but at the end of the day, it is the enjoyment gotten from the games that is the most important thing in a games console. For me, the range of games I'd like to see just aren't available.

                            Nowadays, the console will cost you in the region of £109.99 (Amazon.co.uk), coming in colours such as black, white, bright pink, red, and metallic blue. Prices of games range massively, from £3.35 for something like 'Cooking Guide' to £44.99 for 'Moshi Monsters: Moshling Zoo'.

                            Ultimately, I would suggest that you thoroughly have a good look at the games available before deciding if this is really the console for you. If you are a casual gamer, then there is an abundance of games that will be right up your street, and it may be worth considering if you would like the extra features that come on the DSi models, such as an integrated camera. However, if casual gaming is not your thing, then I would say that this is one to avoid.

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                            • Emachines eM250 Netbook / Netbook / 70 Readings / 68 Ratings
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                              09.11.2011 15:27
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                              Great little machine

                              I found fairly early on at university that I'm much faster at typing than I am at writing, and so taking my laptop to lectures was an obvious decision, as I could get much more information down in this way. However, the problem with laptops is that they are often bulky and heavy. This was the case for me, at least. Carrying the laptop around the city I live in was not exactly discrete or comfortable for me, and so I sought a lighter, smaller option for the purpose of lugging back and forth to campus, and bought the Emachines eM250 netbook.

                              -----------------
                              What you get
                              -----------------

                              10.1" LED LCD screen
                              N270 Intel Atom CPU
                              1GB RAM
                              160GB Hard Disk Drive
                              3 Cell Li-ion battery
                              3 USB ports
                              Memory card slot
                              0.3MP integrated webcam and microphone
                              Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition

                              *No CD/DVD drive*

                              Note: Listed are only the specs on my particular netbook. I remember that there was a more expensive option with Vista on it when I was looking to buy, and so specs may vary slightly, and may vary likewise in price.

                              ---------------
                              Appearance
                              ---------------

                              Measuring 27cm x 19cm (approx. 10.5" x 7.5"), this netbook slips very nicely and comfortably into my handbag and is perfect for carrying around discretely. Being very light, it is no burden to carry around. Its black and silver design makes it look sleek, although the black glossy plastic on the lid of the netbook is extremely prone to fingerprint marks.

                              The keyboard is obviously smaller than an average laptop's keyboard. Although some users may find it difficult to make the transition from full sized keyboard to the netbook's smaller keyboard, I have found it easier, if anything, to use. The smaller keys mean my hands have to move less to reach the keys and I probably type faster on it than I do my regular laptop. However, it might be worth going to see netbooks on display in a shop before making an online purchase, if you feel this may be an issue for you. All basic keyboard buttons are present, and the keyboard also doubles up into a number pad and an ability to control volume and brightness of the screen by combining the 'Fn' button with the respective buttons.

                              Also considerably smaller is the touch pad, being only 5cm (approx. 2") in width. However, I have not experienced any difficulty in adjusting to this with the exception of one function. On my laptop, I like being able to scroll down a browser page by running my finger down the right side of my touch pad. Although I realise that you are not able to do this in the same way on all laptops, the netbook's way of doing this is by drawing a swirl on the touch pad, and the desired action is often not recognised, which can be irritating. However, this is only a minor gripe compared to the netbook's otherwise convenient size.

                              ----------------
                              Performance
                              ----------------

                              I have found the netbook to be both quick and efficient in terms of performance. It is extremely speedy when starting up, and opens programs swiftly. I do suspect this has at least something to do with the fact that I have not clogged the machine's memory up with endless software, but I am still impressed by its performance.

                              As I stated, the netbook does not have a CD/DVD drive, which may be an issue to some people. However, I have watched media on the netbook from the internet without much of a problem. I have found that the wireless internet connection to my netbook cannot be picked up as strongly as to my laptop, which can be a slight problem in terms of streaming media. However, I do share a house with four other wireless laptop users, and so the battle for bandwidth is constant. Those using a cable from the router may find that media is streamed far better than trying to access it over a wireless connection.

                              That said, I have been able to use Skype without much of a problem on the netbook. This has also proven the netbook's webcam to be extremely impressive despite being only 0.3MP. According to those I have Skyped with, the video stream has been extremely clear and bright, and indeed far surpasses the quality of my laptop's 1.3MP webcam.

                              However, in terms of projecting sound, this netbook is certainly not the best. Turning the netbook's volume up to its highest setting, as well as doing the same for the respective software's volume setting, seems pointless when I am still forced to strain my ears in order to hear what is being output by the tinny speakers. The only way to overcome this is by plugging in earphones, which increase the volume to a perfectly audible level, but is annoying if you do not wish to have earphones in.

                              With the operating system being a Windows XP Home Edition, the Microsoft Office package is not included on the machine, and must be bought separately. Unwilling to fork out more money to Microsoft, I have overcome this by downloading the Open Office package, which is both free and compatible with Microsoft Office, should you need to take a file into work/school etc., and has consequently has not been an issue for me.

                              ---------------
                              Battery Life
                              ---------------

                              The battery life of the netbook is, in my opinion, very impressive. A full charge will give the netbook about 3 hours of battery life without mains power. This, again, surpasses my laptop's battery life, which struggles to reach 2 hours. 3 hours, however, is perfect for me. As I said, my main intention was to use this to write down lecture notes, and with lectures being 1 hour, the netbook is more than capable of lasting through two lectures in one day comfortably, as well as most of a third. Battery life can be further conserved by switching off things such as WiFi, dimming the screen's brightness etc. and I have known the netbook to survive into its fourth hour before now, making me a very happy bunny.

                              ---------------
                              Final words
                              ---------------

                              My main priority when purchasing the netbook was price. I can't remember exactly how much I paid for it, but it was in the £160-£180 region from Tesco, making it one of the cheaper netbooks. Today, the netbook seems to be difficult to get hold of, which is a shame as it really is a great little machine. Its great battery life, size and weight makes it a perfect transportable netbook, and would be great for taking out and about to work, even if there isn't a mains power supply nearby. If you can get your hands on a cheap second hand version, you certainly wouldn't regret it!

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                              • More +
                                06.11.2011 13:59
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                                Advantages

                                • Reliability

                                Disadvantages

                                Bargain

                                Last year, I had a laptop crisis. The worst kind of laptop crisis. I had dropped coffee over my laptop, and consequently found myself with a very unhappy keyboard. After trying my best to dry the keyboard (a hair dryer was used), keys were sticking or not working at all, and I knew that there was no way I'd be able to carry on using the laptop as it was. That was when I went on the search for an alternative means of typing, and found the Logitech Ultra-Flat keyboard.

                                ---------------
                                Appearance
                                ---------------

                                Measuring approximately 40cm x 16cm x 1.5cm (16" x 6.25" x 0.5"), the keyboard takes up a very small amount of space on my desk. The actual character based part of the keyboard is almost identical in width and height to my laptop's keyboard. The only difference is that there is a number pad on the far right of the keyboard, which my laptop lacks. I was particularly surprised by the weight of this keyboard - at 440g, it is feels very light. That, combined with the keyboard's occasional creaking when I pick it up makes me wary that it could potentially be easily broken, but so far it has stood the test of time.

                                The keyboard looks pleasing and stylish, as it is made of a glossy plastic around the edges of the keyboard. However, with all glossy plastics, this makes it incredibly prone to dust and fingerprint marks, and so regular maintenance is required to keep it looking swish. I would recommend a cloth to go over it for the times when you are not using it to minimise dust gathering.

                                The keyboard also comes with two small legs underneath to raise the keyboard slightly. Although a monumental difference cannot be noticed in doing this, I do find it slightly more comfortable to have the keyboard raised.

                                ---------------
                                Ease of use
                                ---------------

                                Setting up the keyboard is very simple. It is connected to the computer via a USB cable which runs from the back of the keyboard. Simply plug the USB into a port, and you're ready to go! A PS/2 port is also included for those older computers that pick up a laptop's presence in this way.

                                As the keyboard is very similar to that of a laptop's, I found the transition from my own laptop's keyboard to the Logitech Ultra-Flat very easy, and typing was not generally an issue. However, that said, I do occasionally slip up. The keyboard's compact nature does sometimes lead me to accidentally press 'Insert' instead of 'Backspace' or the up arrow instead of Shift, as the keys are so closely positioned that I sometimes miss the key that I'm blindly feeling for.

                                The keyboard is also quite loud compared to others I've used. Of course, a tapping noise of some degree will always be encountered when using a keyboard, but this keyboard really does like making itself known. I don't know whether it's the way the keys have been positioned, or the material that they're made of, but I noticed that there was a considerable difference between the softness of my laptop's keyboard and the rather plastic sound of this keyboard as you type. While this is not a huge issue, it is something worth considering if the noise of typing irritates you.

                                ---------------
                                Final words
                                ---------------

                                According to Amazon, this keyboard is suitable for Windows 98, 2000, ME and XP. However, I use it on a Vista system, and have found that it works perfectly fine. I can only assume that it would be suitable for a Windows 7 system as well, but unfortunately I'm unable to test and confirm this.

                                Ultimately, my main priority when looking to buy a keyboard was the price, and the Logitech Ultra-Slim is very reasonably priced in my opinion. Costing £8.99 (Amazon.co.uk), it's not going to break the bank. This keyboard doesn't pretend to be an all singing, all dancing, ergonomic, feature ridden keyboard. As such, it is not fair to compare it with the fancier keyboards on the market. It is basic, but includes all essential keys. It has served me well over the year or so I've had it, and would be suitable for someone looking for a basic, and cheap keyboard. It is especially suited for someone used to a laptop keyboard, as it is almost identical in this respect.

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                                • More +
                                  04.11.2011 20:20
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                                  Great printer

                                  After my first year of university, it became apparent that being able to scan books was going to be of massive benefit to me, as my library operates a system where some crucial books are only allowed out on loan for a maximum of 5 hours. I didn't fancy paying university photocopying prices, and so opted to get myself an all-in-one printer.

                                  -------------
                                  Setting up
                                  -------------

                                  The HP Deskjet F2480 comes with a software CD which, as far as I remember, was pretty painless in terms of installation. The most important piece of software that comes on the CD is the 'HP Solution Center', which allows for copying and scanning, as well as indicating ink levels and paper jams (they will happen) when you print. However, the CD will also install other things like 'HP Update', which is self-explanatory, and 'HP Photo Creations', which is a piece of software you are encouraged to download to create things like mousemats and photo collages, which you can then buy off the HP website.

                                  As soon as you're finished with the CD, and have calibrated the printer (easily done via the scanner, with a step by step guide) you're ready to go. All that you have to do is ensure the USB cable is connected to your computer/laptop and off you go!

                                  ------------
                                  Scanning
                                  ------------

                                  As I said, the 'HP Solution Center' is the most important bit of software downloaded onto your computer. Without this, you will not be able to scan (unless you have some other scanning software that may be compatible - I didn't, that's for sure). As soon as you launch the 'HP Solution Center' you have the option to choose scanning a document or a photo. The only difference I can see in the two options is that the photo option will save your scanned item in JPG format, while you can save your scanned item as a PDF via the document mode. The scanned items are also automatically saved to different locations: the photo option to Pictures --> My Scans, while the document option saves to Documents --> My Scans.

                                  However, the important thing to consider here is scan quality. For those interested, the scanner has a 1200x2400 dpi scan resolution, but put simply, the scanning quality is fantastic! In my opinion, a scanned photo loses none of its colour or detail when scanned; in fact, the scanner picks up so much detail, I have often seen the specks of dust it picked up (don't judge me for not cleaning more often!) that were lying on the scanner's surface. The scanned quality of documents and books look just like the real thing - the font is crystal clear and vivid. However, I would warn that you have to really ensure that the spine of a book is pressed against the scanner's surface so not to loose the quality of words in the middle. The scanner struggles if the spine is far away from its surface, and although still somewhat readable, words do become blurry.

                                  -----------
                                  Copying
                                  -----------

                                  Essentially the fast way of printing out a scanned item, this is very easy to do on this printer thanks to the buttons on its left hand side. By the power button are three buttons that read 'Cancel', 'Black' and 'Colour'. Pressing 'Black' or 'Colour' will automatically scan and immediately print whatever is sitting in your scanner, in black & white, or colour, depending on which button you pressed. The only drawback to this is that you cannot preview the scanned image first by doing this, and so you'll have to live with the consequences of whatever your scanned document looked like. This can't even be avoided by making a copy via the 'HP Solution Center'.

                                  ----------
                                  Printing
                                  ----------

                                  As someone who prints something almost every day, this function is the most important to me. In fairness to the printer, printing speed is very good. It can get through a full document of writing in about 5 seconds, with a fast draft taking less. The printing quality is far superior to my previous printer, whose ink used to smudge on the page, and letters were sometimes unclear. No such fear with this printer. A feature I also like is that the printer prints from the last page to the first, so that when it's finished, your pages are all in order already.

                                  In terms of printing photos, I tend not to use my printer for this purpose, as it eats ink. However, for the purposes of this review, I have printed out a photo and it appears to be fair quality, with much of the detail retained. I would therefore say that it's okay for casual use, but I would not recommend the printer for the sole purpose of printing out photo quality prints, as I'm sure there are printers out there far more suited to the job.

                                  There are only a few issues I've had. Firstly, was the alignment of the paper. In the tray, if paper is not pushed right up against the right side, the document's alignment is not straight, and you'll have a very odd looking document. The only other problem I've had has been the occasional paper jam. It usually happens if I'm doing a double sided fast draft (warning: the printer becomes semi-violent in fast draft mode), and maybe haven't aligned the paper quite right. However, it's easily sorted with a gentle tug of the paper, and hasn't happened often enough for me to be concerned.

                                  ------
                                  Inks
                                  ------

                                  Changing the inks of the printer is very easy, and again, there is a step by step guide of what to do from the 'HP Solution Center' when your inks do get low. The inks range in price and printing capabilities:

                                  HP 300 black: £4.55 (+£4 shipping) - 200 pages
                                  HP 300 colour: £5.30 (+£4 shipping) - 150 pages
                                  HP 300XL black: £12.45 (+£4 shipping) - 600 pages
                                  HP 300XL colour: at £15 (+£4 shipping) - 420 pages

                                  (Prices from Amazon.co.uk)

                                  Although more expensive, these days I opt for the XL inks in the hope that they last longer than the normal ones. I can't actually verify whether I can print out the amount claimed, as I haven't been counting, but I can always hope...

                                  ---------------
                                  Final words
                                  ---------------

                                  Measuring 48cm x 29cm x 12cm, this printer sits nicely on the shelf next to my desk, without taking up too much room. In my opinion, it's a great printer that fulfils all my university printing needs. It is extremely easy to use, and has not let me down yet (it might change its mind when it comes to printing my dissertation!).

                                  I'm surprised that the printer seems quite difficult now to get hold of (despite the fact that I've only had mine since last year) but the cheapest I can find it sold is at £41 (heathfields.co.uk). I can only guess that it has been replaced by a newer model. However, if you can get your hands on one, I would recommend it!

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