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Member since: 27.02.2013

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    • Suncamp Dynamo Torch / Gadget / 12 Readings / 10 Ratings
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      20.03.2013 22:02
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      A very useful always available light source for all

      This little delightful torch is clearly designed for children. That is the obvious target group of the manufacturers and their marketing people. The design and the price make that clear and parents are unlikely to find anything negative about the item. However, it is a torch and does what a torch is supposed to do (how well, I will touch upon shortly) and therefore regardless of what age you might be, this is an item you may wish to consider if you are looking for a torch. There are solid reasons why you may find this to be the right choice out of the plethora of torches on the market.

      The Cow Dynamo Torch is designed in the shape of (you guessed it) a cow. The cow has got its mouth wide open from whence emerges the light. Children are bound to love that. What is more, it is a feature that is abuse-proof. There is no battery to run down. If you are more ornithologically inclined, there is a 'Penguin' version available. The Cow Dynamo Torch is small measuring a touch over 10 cm (4 inches) long and light. It is, in that way, accessible to young and old, healthy and infirm.

      __No; Not Wind Up__
      The manufacturers market it as a wind-up torch, something that is puzzling because it is not. Instead of the traditional winding action on similar torches, this one uses a pump action which is, in fact, a lot easier to do and, in my view, less tedious. There is a small handle on the side that you squeeze and release repeatedly to charge the inbuilt battery. The bulb (that can't be replaced) is LED type and gives a surprisingly bright beam. It is bright enough to allow you to see adequately in total darkness.

      __Emergency Light__
      For me, this type of torch makes more sense as an emergency light to keep in one's bedside cupboard or the glove compartment in the car. It is small enough to fit there without crowding off other items and, much more importantly, it will not give you that heart-sinking feeling of reaching for your emergency light only to find the battery died months ago. Let's face it, it is uncommon to need an emergency light and therefore the traditional torches always run this risk. With this little cow, all you need to do is give it a few squeezes and you have light. Perfect.

      __Children__
      As mentioned earlier, the design of the torch shows that it is aimed at children and that is a good thing. Unlike the ubiquitous 'games' the sole destination of which is that obesity magnet, the games console, this is a safe and inexpensive item that can encourage physical activities on the part of young children. Whether it is venturing into the garden in a balmy summer night or otherwise having fun outdoors or even during a camping holiday, this torch, requiring the child's physical input to facilitate light generation will make for a fun and useful companion for a child.

      __It Just Works__
      The Cow Dynamo Torch just does what it promises to do without a fuss. As long is you pump the little handle, light will be produced for a long enough period to deal with minor chores. If the light starts to fade, you pump again and the full beam is back on. It just works. The fact that it is available for less that £5 ought to make it an almost irresistible acquisition for most of us.

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        17.03.2013 14:18
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        Effective for daily oral health

        Many people have moved on to electric toothbrushes over the years. For the very young, the electric variety may be the only one they are familiar with. When switching from a traditional manual toothbrush to an electric one, the challenge in the transition is to discipline yourself not to do the vigorous to-ing and fro-ing associated with the manual toothbrush. With the electric variety, you are holding the brush steady against each tooth, allowing the fast oscillating bristles of the brush-head to do the job and moving steadily on from one tooth to the next, front, top and back. It sounds straight-forward doesn't it? Well; actually it is. The issue is really breaking old habits.

        For me, and I suspect for many others, there is an accommodation of the two as I use them inter-changeably depending on the circumstances. It is akin to switching from a manual to an automatic car. You eventually get comfortable with both.

        __Why Floss Action__
        Now, like many, when manufacturers introduce a new variety of what seems to be a standard utility which is working just fine, my antennae shoots up, especially if the new variety is more expensive. You ask yourself whether this is a simply a gimmick to fleece you or whether, indeed, it works better.

        I have used an electric toothbrush for years and have, overall, been satisfied with the effectiveness of the standard brush heads. I replace them every three months as recommended and my dentist has generally been happy with my gnashers. The Oral-B 'Floss Action' Replacement Toothbrush Heads have been available for a few years and, to be honest, I did not see any reason to switch from my standard 'Precision Clean' replacement heads. After all, the 'Floss Action' variety cost twice as much. For me, the price was a red line.

        Recently I stumbled upon an offer from Asda online whereby the 'Floss Action' heads were half price. This meant I could buy these at the same price as the standard heads. I decided to give them a try.

        The Floss Action heads look somewhat different with prominent peripheral thin rubbery elements surrounding crops of standard bristles. The heads will fit any of the bewildering variety of Oral-B electric toothbrushes.

        __That fresh feeling__
        This is obviously unscientific but I must confess that, brushing with the Floss Action heads leaves a distinctly fresher feeling in the mouth when compared to the standard 'Precision Action'. They also seem to be kinder to the gums and you are left with a feeling of that complete clean. I have even tried to floss my teeth after brushing with these and there is nothing to retrieve from between my teeth. I am impressed. I have tried to use the two on alternating days and I have reached that conclusion. Whether the feeling translates into long term better oral health is difficult to say.

        I will still take away one star specifically because of the price. Despite the effectiveness, I think they are significantly over-priced.

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        09.03.2013 23:47
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        A very practical device that works every time

        You are young, healthy, and strong and only venture into the kitchen to get your beer and, occasionally, to get the ready meal from the freezer to the microwave. You don't need this. That's what you think. You may be wrong and I will tell you why.

        --For whom--
        It is true that the Culinare One Touch Jar Opener is aimed at those whose hand dexterity and/or strength is somehow compromised. That makes you think of the elderly or infirm. Somebody afflicted with arthritis for whom twisting a lid off a standard jar is a struggle. That is actually true. Up to a point. Like that torch that you keep in the house in case of a power failure or the spare key you deposited with your trusted neighbour, neither of which you are likely to need, the Jar Opener is an insurance item for your peace of mind. If you happen to pick up a nasty hand incapacitating injury in that game of squash or Tae Kwon Do, you can still get to access the contents of your jars. In some cases, you come across a jar, the lid on which simply won't bulge. Those are the situations when you will be glad you have got this.

        --How it works--
        The Culinare One Touch Jar Opener is powered by two AA batteries. These are not included in the pack so make sure you have some when you purchase the device. There is nothing to assemble so once you have inserted the batteries, it is ready to go. You place in on the lid, press down gently and adjust the jaws to get a grip on the jar. Press the large button on the top (it is the only button) and let it get on with the job.
        The device can be quite slow, sometimes unnervingly so. You could start worrying that it isn't working. What I can say however is that, it almost invariably works. That jar will be opened. With vacuum-sealed jars, probably the majority, there is a tell-tale loud pop as the lid is released. All you are left to do is lift it off and the job is done.

        --Mind the size--
        It is important to be aware that there is a size range on which this device will work. The manufacturers have specified the range as 32 to 101 mm diameter (that is the lid, not the jar) which translates into 1.26 to 3.98 inches. To be fair, that includes probably over 95% of all the jars you are bound to find in the kitchen. This therefore shouldn't be a worry.

        --Design and Price--
        The design of the device is simple. It is available in one colour (creamy white) with a sky-blue large button. The battery lid can be rather fiddly so beware. It feels solid in the hand but you sort of worry that you should be careful not to drop it in case you damage the jaws.

        The price varies surprisingly widely depending on the retailer. This could range from under £15 to anything close to £30. It is not exactly cheap.

        --Not in a jam--
        So maybe you think this is really not for you. Fair enough. However, apart from taxes, aging is another of those inevitabilities in life. So, if you have a loved one of advanced years, this could make a very useful and practical present for them. Plus, for the little selfish in you, when you visit them, jar opening will be one less chore you will not be asked to do.

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          09.03.2013 18:35
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          A great little device to keep your knitwear as new

          Über-fashionable or conservative or anywhere in between, knitwear will always be susceptible to bobbling. This does really spoil the look of what may be a much loved garment. That development may lead it to be confined to the back of the wardrobe never to see the light of any other winter day. That is the usual fate of these pieces of, often expensive, garments until you discover this neat piece of kit, the John Lewis cordless fabric shaver.

          __It works__
          When you haven't used one before you are bound to be sceptical as to its abilities and I was. Fear not, it works very well. The device itself is small and neat and will fit into even dinky hands without a problem. Pop in the batteries (2 size AA batteries), switch on, apply the shaving head to the garment and away you go. It removes the bobbles very effectively and without a fuss. This is one 'gadget' that isn't at all gimmicky. It rejuvenates knitwear garments leaving them looking as they were when new. The results are quite remarkable.

          __Niggles__
          There are a couple of niggles with this fabric shaver. The use of AA batteries is a good idea as it makes it truly portable (It is only about 7 cm in length). However, it eats through the batteries rather quickly and you may want to use rechargeable for this. It would have been ideal if the device had an in-built rechargeable (Lithium-ion or similar) battery.

          The second issue is with the shavings compartment where the fluff accumulates. This is a clear plastic box so you can visually judge when it is ready to be emptied. This is where problems start as it is really tricky to open. You get there in the end but the designers could and should have done better here. Don't get me wrong; despite these little issues, this device is still great and works as promised.

          __Attractive price__
          There isn't really much more to say about this item. As the saying goes, it does what it says on the tin. I cannot recommend this little device highly enough. The John Lewis cordless fabric shaver costs £7 from (you guessed it) John Lewis. If you are buying online, there will be a £3 P&P additional charge. In my view, even with that, it is still very good value for money.

          If you have any knitwear that you banished to your bedroom equivalent of Siberia, this is their redemption right here. Also, instead of giving your favourite uncle yet another sweater this Christmas, why don't you get him this dinky device to revive the one you gave him in 1999?

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            09.03.2013 13:25
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            Attractively priced easy swallow Paracetamol preparation

            We all get pains and aches, some more often than others, but we all do at some point. Paracetamol and Aspirin are arguably the most well known pain-killers out there. However, Aspirin cannot be used by young kids and a substantial proportion of the adult population cannot use it because of a history of asthma or, maybe gastric ulcers. That leaves Paracetamol as the main standard over the counter painkiller for the majority of us.

            __Pain and Fever__
            Paracetamol is known to be safe and effective for mild and moderate pain. It works very quickly and is quite safe when used as recommended. It also works quickly as an anti-pyretic. For you and me, that is a medicine for getting fever down. So, if for instance, you have flu with aches, pains and a raised temperature, Paracetamol may be all you need. Adverse reactions to Paracetamol in standard doses are virtually unknown.

            __Why Asda Paracetamol?__
            Why Asda Paracetamol caplets, one may ask? After all, Paracetamol is Paracetamol is Paracetamol. That is true, up to a point. It may surprise some, but many pain-killers with fancy names are simply Paracetamol, nothing added, nothing subtracted. In the UK you have Panadol which retails up to ten times the price of generic Paracetamol. In the United States (where confusingly the generic name is Acetaminophen), one of the most popular pain-killers is Tylenol, again available at a premium price but without any added ingredients. It is simply Paracetamol in fancy dress.

            The large supermarkets have been criticised on a number of issues to do with their retailing practices, often justifiably, but this is an area where they should be lauded. Asda, alongside Tesco (to my knowledge) have made this common, safe and effective pain-killer available to anybody who needs it without the price barrier associated with the branded variety.

            The caplets are relatively easy to swallow which eases the experience for those who find swallowing tablets an ordeal.

            __Don't get your pocket picked__
            At the time of writing this, a pack of 16 Asda Paracetamol caplets retails at 22 pence. Similarly unbranded Paracetamol caplets in Superdrug will cost you £1.30 (six times the price) and the branded (Panadol) variety an eye-watering £3.09. To add insult to pecuniary injury, there are only 14 caplets in the latter. I cannot state this often enough: It is exactly the same stuff you are getting.

            __Dose__
            Paracetamol dosage for adults is 500 mg to 1000 mg. Intervals between doses should not be less than 4 hours and the maximum dose in any 24 hour period is 4000 mg. That means you can take a maximum of 8 caplets in any one day, ensuring you stick strictly within the recommended intervals between doses. If you have a liver condition, it is wise that you consult your doctor before taking this (or any other meds for that matter).

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              08.03.2013 00:53
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              An SSD to transform your computer/laptop into a stable speed demon.

              SanDisk Extreme 240 GB is one of the (for now) high capacity SSDs that you can buy. If the term SSD is unfamiliar, this stands for Solid State Disk, as opposed to the traditional hard disk drives (HDD) which have moving parts. You may be familiar with the description of the speed of the traditional hard disk drives in 'rpm'. When a disk is said to be 7200rpm, that refers to the spinning rate (rpm = revolutions per minute). Most traditional hard disk drives (HDD) mounted in laptops have a spin rate of 5400rpm. The presence of moving parts, especially at that quite fast speed makes these drives prone to breakdown but the commonest challenge is the heat generated hence the need for efficient cooling systems in computers. These, in turn, can be quite noisy. Using an SSD instead of the traditional HDD solves all these problems at one fell swoop.

              --Advantages--
              So back to the SanDisk Extreme. Not all SSDs are created equal and the SanDisk Extreme has a claim to be one of the best ones. It is fast; extremely fast. The difference between this and the traditional HDDs is quite remarkable. Many people aim to buy this to replace the traditional HDD in their laptops but also desktop computers. This kind of upgrade gives multiple advantages: There is an eye-popping uptick in the boot-up speed. Old laptops bought in 2011 or before will typically take an average of 30-60 seconds from off, often much longer. This time will be cut-down to less than 15 seconds. To take advantage of that, the operating system needs to be transferred to the SSD. With this particular disk having such a huge capacity (240 GB), you can also install several other essential programs there. This is particularly useful for programs like Photoshop which tend to take an eternity to load on traditional HDD. Also, if you do video-editing, where the transcoding process can be painfully slow, you will perform a jig of joy when you switch to SSD.

              Apart from the speed, as mentioned earlier, you are bound to be impressed by how quiet and cool it is. In fact, when you are so used to having the warm surface of a laptop when working on it over a prolonged period, the cool surface can be a little disconcerting. It is also completely silent, a state that you only experience in sleep mode with the traditional HDD. If you are playing music, the background hiss of a laptop is completely abolished. Bliss.

              The much reduced need for the fan and the spinning in the HDD means you also see a significant improvement to battery life.

              Other advantages, which you are unlikely to put to the test is the claimed resistance to temperature extremes (hence the name), with the disk claimed to remain stable at up to a scorching 95°C and as low as -55°C. Polar explorers may wish to consider that! It is also claimed to withstand shocks and vibrations so that 'heart in the mouth' reaction when you accidentally drop your laptop can be eased, even though you may still need to replace the screen (better that than lost data just before you do that important presentation!)

              --Niggles--
              It is important not to jump to SSD without having all the facts. The SanDisk Extreme, like most modern SSDs, is SATA III and 2.5" in size. That means, if you are intending to fit it into a desktop computer the bays of which are 3.5", you will need to get a 3.5" to 2.5" converter bracket. These can be obtained for less than £10 but that is an extra expense. Laptops do not have this problem since their HDD bays are 2.5" so a perfect fit. Also, many older laptops (pre-2011) will have SATA II (rather than III) connectors. That can be a fatal flaw since, whilst the SSD will connect OK, with SATA II , you will not be able to take advantage of the blistering speed. In fact, the speed is almost halved so the most visible advantage of an SSD is practically lost. However, all the other advantages mentioned above will be there.

              --Customer Services--
              Where you source your product is important. Some retailers will honour a warranty without putting you through the mill. Others don't. So, if your SSD was to go wrong within the warranty period and your retailer is giving you the run-around, you may have to deal with SanDisk directly. This is where things can get frustrating. SanDisk service centre for Europe is based in the Czech Republic. You would be obliged to send the disk back there, usually at your cost, to be claimed back later, and it can take an inordinate length of time before you get your replacement. Fortunately, SanDisk SSDs are some of the most reliable out there so you are unlikely to need this service.

              --Price--
              SSDs are still significantly dearer compared to similar or even larger capacity traditional HDDs. However, they have come down significantly in price over the last couple of years or so. The price for a 240 GB is a quarter of what it was a mere 18 months ago and that downward trajectory is bound to continue. Still, for the same outlay, you can get an external HDD that is more than 10 times that capacity. You ought to remember, however, capacity is really not the reason you get a Solid State Drive (SSD). The two are different animals.

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            • Gigabyte M7800E / Mouse / Trackball / 8 Readings / 8 Ratings
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              07.03.2013 19:46
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              Competitively priced, highly sensitive mouse which does the job perfectly.

              I have always used a standard mouse rather than the built in touch-pad with any laptop I have owned. I find the mice far more user-friendly and intuitive. The same cannot be said of touch-pads of whichever brand of laptop. When my old Trust (wired) mouse started getting temperamental, I bought myself the Gigabyte M7800E Wireless Mouse.

              __Plug and Play__
              The Gigabyte M7800E Wireless Mouse is a small compact device powered using two AAA batteries. It comes with a tiny USB receiver which has to be inserted in one of your laptop's USB drives for the mouse to be detected. With a Windows 7 or 8 computer, this is detected automatically and drivers are automatically installed without you having to do anything. It takes less than one minute from inserting the receiver (and turning your mouse on) for it to start working. A true plug and play device. The batteries are claimed to last several months.

              __Ergonomic__
              The mouse will fit even in a small hand, allowing you to operate the buttons seamlessly. The coating on the surface allows for an easy grip unlike some mice which can be smooth and slippery. The three buttons perform the standard functions associated with left and right clicks respectively as well as the central scroll button. However, this mouse has some hidden tricks up its sleeve. You can, in fact, adjust the DPI sensitivity to suit you by simultaneously pressing the right and scroll buttons for a few seconds. You can programme the buttons to do other functions as per your needs. A friend of mine is left-handed and I was pleasantly surprised to see that she could use it just as easily as me (right-handed) and I think this is thanks to its symmetrical build.

              __Receiver__
              The receiver, dubbed 'Ultra Nano' is so small that, once you have plugged it into your laptop, you are unlikely to need to remove it again. The bit that sticks out is so small, it is almost flush. If, for whatever, reason you need to unplug the receiver, this can be housed in the mouse itself so there is little risk of it getting lost.

              __Sensitivity__
              In the couple of months that I have been using this, I have had no issues whatsoever with sensitivity. It picks up effortlessly at whatever angle I might be. Even distance isn't an issue. In situations where I connect the laptop to my TV to use the latter as a large screen (for watching a movie, for instance), I use the mouse from several metres away and it takes that in its stride without breaking a sweat. Overall, very pleased with the little device.

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              04.03.2013 00:53
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              A timeless collection of music from a new artist with a big future

              Lianne La Havas first came to my attention when I watched her performing on 'Later With Jools Holland, one of the few television programmes I try not to miss. I had never heard of her until then and was quite awe-struck as she serenaded the audience with 'Age', one of the quite brilliant tracks on this album. That was in late 2011 and as a result my interest in this new artist was piqued. As soon as her debut album 'Is Your Love Big Enough?' came out in July 2012, I downloaded it. The title of the album is also the title of the second track on it.

              There are twelve tracks on this album. I think that was clever on the part of La Havas and her record label (Warner Bros) as there are definitely no fillers. Every track stands on its own feet. The iTunes Deluxe edition has got four 'bonus' Live tracks.

              Tracks
              The tracks on the standard edition album which is the one I have are:
              1. Don't Wake Me Up
              2. Is Your Love Big Enough?
              3. Lost & Found
              4. Au Cinéma
              5. No Room For Doubt
              6. Forget
              7. Age
              8. Elusive
              9. Everything Everything
              10. Gone
              11. Tease Me
              12. They Could Be Wrong

              Writing
              All the tracks, apart from one ('Elusive') on the album were co-wrote by La Havas and her producer Matt Hales. Elusive is attributed to Scott Matthews.

              Musical Influence
              Leaving aside backing vocals, Lianne La Havas is a solo singer in all of them apart from 'No Room For Doubt' which features Willy Mason. On her website, La Havas cites Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill as some of her influences. Listening to her music, that influence is immediately apparent. The various tracks are a fusion of folk, soul and jazz which is delivered sublimely by La Havas. Before embarking on her solo career, La Havas did a short stint of backing vocals for Paloma Faith.

              Favourites
              My favourite tracks on the album are 'Age'; 'They Could Be Wrong' and the powerful ballad 'Gone' with its astonishing soulful delivery accompanied by just the piano. Powerful stuff.
              I went to see La Havas perform live at the O2 Academy in Liverpool on March the 1st, 2013. She sang and played the guitar in all of the songs except for 'Gone' where she delivered the spine-tingling vocals sans instrument with only Willy Mason at the piano accompanying. An incredible experience.

              La Havas comes across as very comfortable playing the guitar while doing the solo singing. It is astonishing to think that she supposedly only learnt to play the guitar when she was 18. As I write this in 2013, La Havas is only 23.

              The up-tempo 'Forget' which Lianne La Havas introduces playfully as a "hate song" during live performances and encourages the audience to sing along borrows more from the folk genre when compared to the other songs. It actually fits comfortably within the album banishing any charge of the artist being one-dimensional.

              Overall, the album delivers the sort of music only seen from an artist who is serious about the quality and timelessness of the product. La Havas' powerful and emotive vocals do justice to these tracks which I have been happy to listen to time and again and I am sure you will be too.

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                03.03.2013 21:35

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                A good read with a clever use of historical events as a skeleton on which to fleshen the tale

                The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a translated work of fiction originally published in Swedish. I got my copy on Kindle and read it over the Christmas (2012) break.

                I will keep this review short. It is a story about a man who lives in an Old People's Home and who, on the day of his Centenary birthday, where the Home is preparing a party for him; he (yes, the title) climbs out of the window of his room and disappears.

                The book starts at this point and follows the outlandish escapades of Allan (that is the centenarian's name) as he inadvertently gets on the wrong side of the law and gangsters at the same time. So, it is a fast-paced adventure with newly acquired friends (again, fortuitously) as he tries to stay ahead of both. This tale of the present time is interspersed with adventures from various stages of his earlier life spanning the 100 years. These adventures are taking place in all corners of the globe. In some cases the escapades are so outrageous that a slight suspension of disbelief is necessary.

                There is also a slight weakness in that with all the interwoven stories spanning decades and a whole variety of scenarios, almost invariably; it is the baddies that meet a sticky end. We all know life does work quite like that.

                The fact that it is a translated book is not only apparent in the primary location of the story but also in the language which is, at times, stilted. However, overall the translator did a very good job as the language and story flows nicely along for the most part. Overall an enjoyable read but possibly just a tad too long.

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              • Huawei E586 / Modem / 13 Readings / 9 Ratings
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                03.03.2013 18:15
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                Personal mobile Wi-Fi hotspot that can be used anywhere, home and abroad, and which works quite well

                If you need to be online when you are out and about or you are a regular commuter, you need a reliable 3G (and soon 4G) connectivity. The Huawei E586 Mi-Fi allows you to achieve just that.

                The Huawei E586 is just one of the dongles that can be used for this purpose allowing you to go online on your mobile device (laptop, smartphone or tablet). All you need is a data SIM card and you are away, surfing. In effect, it is having your own mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

                Why Mi-Fi? This is a moniker concocted (clumsily as you can see) to describe this type of device and it stands for 'Mobile WiFi'. Many people who do long commutes on the train or even on the bus want to use that time productively going online. It is ofcourse possible to do this on a variety of tablet devices with inbuilt 3G. The majority of tablets and almost all laptop computers do not have this as a native feature. As such, off the home or office network, connectivity has to be external. It is possible to do that by tethering your laptop or tablet on your mobile phone. However, many mobile contracts have risible data allowances (ranging from 100 to 1000Mb per month). As such, unless you are just an occasional surfer, that is unlikely to be a workable arrangement. That is, unless you want to end up with insane bills.

                Using devices like the Huawei E586 is the solution for the challenge discussed above. The device is quite small, tiny even. In the box, apart from the device, there is a battery, a mains charger, a USB cable and (a very small) instructions booklet (plus a quick-start guide).

                You charge the battery and insert your data SIM and that is that. Your laptop or tablet should pick it up immediately as one of the available networks. You put in the password and you are online. It is that simple. The device is simplicity itself. Apart from the front LED screen, there are only two buttons on the side; a power button (on and off) and one to press for info such as the password.

                The Huawei E586 can connect up to 5 Wi-Fi enabled devices at any one time. You can therefore share that in the car if you are travelling as a family or with friends (not including the driver!). It can also tide you over if your home internet somehow goes down.

                The claimed standby time when fully charged is 280 hours. That is more than 11 days. When using it continuously, the power will last 4 to 5 hours which is pretty decent. A larger battery with a longer battery life is available but this is larger and it bulks up the dinky device somewhat.

                As mentioned earlier, to use this, needless to say, you need data allowance. In the UK, all mobile phone service providers now sell these data-only SIMs. You can pick a 3Gb pre-loaded SIM from 'Three' for less than 12 Pounds (US$18). You are supposed to use that within 3 months. That is a £4 per month charge for reliable, always available mobile data and, in my book, that isn't bad.

                If you travel abroad, you can take this, get yourself a local provider's data SIM, pop it in and have very cheap internet while there. Bliss. All in all, a very versatile mobile internet enabler.

                The Huawei E586 is also supposed to be future-proofed in the sense that it will supposedly work on 4G networks when these become widely available.

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                  03.03.2013 00:16
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                  An enjoyable book full of humour and interesting, occasionally eye-popping facts.

                  I watch very little television. It simply isn't my thing. Books on the other hand are a different matter. I devour them, always have, always will. Now, whilst I was aware a popular TV programme called QI existed, I had never watched it. So, I came across this book fortuitously while I was perusing book offers.

                  There was a time-limited offer for the digital edition of this book for the Kindle on Amazon for a ridiculous price of 20p so I instinctively went for it. This is a brilliant book. It is packed full of interesting and very interesting facts. Reading this is not a dry academic endeavour. It is cleverly written, with one fact, just a sentence or two long dovetailing nicely into the next. Even with this arrangement you don't actually have to read it in the order it is written. You can start anywhere and stop anywhere and it will be interesting.

                  It is the case that, when it comes to books, taste is very personal. As such, some may find this to be full of useless if sometimes funny trivia. I tend to look at this kind of read as fascinating. Things you never thought about but are astonished to discover. In many cases, it may lead you to research the subject further as your curiosity is aroused. Take these facts for example (don't worry, not a spoiler; I'm mentioning less than 0.1% of what is in the book):

                  * "The first book ever printed in Oxford had a misprint on the first page: They got the date wrong".
                  * Caffeine constitute the same 'ingredients' as cocaine, thalidomide, Nylon, TNT and heroin namely the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen
                  * A language dies every 14 days
                  * In the 19th and early 20th century, the most popular 21st birthday present was to have all your teeth removed and replaced with false ones
                  * The human brain takes in 11 million bits of information every second but is aware of only 40
                  * Until 1913, it was legal to send children by parcel post in America.

                  OK, that is only six of the 1227 'gems' you will find in this book. By the way, QI stands for 'Quite Interesting'. You have to agree that is on the mark.


                  This book is so well written for easy reading that you can be forgiven to forget that this is a very seriously researched book. For those who watch the TV programme, the pleasure is probably enhanced. I loved it and will surely delve in again a few times. Also handy for those who relish a one-upmanship down the pub on quiz night. A very enjoyable book indeed.

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                  • HP Envy 4-1010ea / Laptop / 9 Readings / 8 Ratings
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                    02.03.2013 22:41
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                    A classy slim and light laptop that performs brilliantly. Worth every penny

                    Buying a laptop can be hard work. You can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options that you have. My approach to this is rather simple and it works: You need to decide on the basic specs that fall in the must-have category.

                    Nowadays my first starting point is screen size. I would not go for a laptop that is more than 14 inches. That narrows down the field dramatically. 15.6 inches is regarded as the standard and the majority of laptops on the market are this size. For me the compromise on portability that comes with the 15.6 inch size is unacceptable. The next criterion is weight. I would not go above 2kg. Fortunately this tends to dovetail nicely with my preferred screen size. The field is thus narrowed further.

                    With those basics sorted, I can then go down to the nitty-gritty of the other important specs i.e. operating system, graphics and sound, screen resolution, hard drive storage capacity, memory, optical drive, connectivity (USB ports and type; HDMI; Bluetooth; SD card) etc.

                    With the field narrowed down, I eventually settled on the HP Envy 4-1010ea. I must confess that, in the end, it boiled down between this and its close cousin, the HP Envy 4-1020ea. The difference is in the processor with this sporting the Intel Core i3 and the 1020ea with the Core i5. For what I needed the laptop for, the more powerful i5 processor was not necessary so the extra outlay (£70) could not be justified.

                    The HP Envy 4-1010ea is very light (1.8kg) and a real looker with its sleek polished slim lines. However, its worth is more than skin-deep. Mine came with Windows 8 and the boot up is absolutely astonishing. You turn it on and it is there and ready for you to log-in in less than 5 seconds! From that point on, everything is butter smooth. It is also very quiet. You can multi-task to your heart's content. There is also the surprisingly good sound from the laptop speakers when you play music. It won't bowl you over but this is the first laptop I've seen where you can listen to music and actually enjoy it.

                    Now to the cons: The screen resolution is quite good but not fantastic. There is no CD/DVD drive so, if this is crucial to you, you will need to buy an external drive. Its battery-life is actually quite decent (over 5 hours) but nowhere near the claimed 9 hours so beware.

                    All in all, this laptop deserves to be a comfortable member of the ultrabook tribe and if you are after a light, smart, fast and very capable laptop, this should certainly be on your shortlist. There is the happy bonus of affordability too (It costs less than half a similarly spec'd MacBook Air).

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                  • printerpix.co.uk / Online Shop / 6 Readings / 6 Ratings
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                    02.03.2013 16:51
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                    Quality photo products, speedy service but software niggles remain

                    There is a proliferation of online digital photo processing labs, offering a whole variety of services. These services have diversified greatly from the basic photo printing. You can get monster poster printing (teenage or college bedrooms anyone?), canvas prints, novel presents such mouse mats, mugs, plates, key-rings, pillow-cases etc. You can even have customised wallpaper or other forms of wall decor made, obviously requiring deep pockets. Other popular services include creating albums in a variety of designs and sizes. These are meant to rescue your digital photos from the purgatory of a computer hard drive or even cloud storage to the table-top, always physically accessible and palpable for anybody who happens to be in your home or, indeed, your office where it can be an effective promotional tool.

                    This is relatively new and, inevitably, some of these providers will fall by the wayside in due course as they may not measure-up. One of the outfits likely to survive is Printerpix. They have a whole variety of items on offer, the service is quick and crucially, the quality of their photo products is top-notch. I have used them on a variety of stuff and they are really as good as anyone out there. The only product where I have seen them bettered is with photo canvas. Printerpix's aren't bad at all but on this particular product they are trumped by 'You-Frame'. In fairness, this is a specialist outfit for canvas. However, to effectively compete, Printerpix may very well wish to up their game.

                    Another area which is a kink is with their software for creating photo album. Whilst in theory this is quite versatile (more so than Photobox or Photo.com), it doesn't work nearly as smoothly as these competitors. It can freeze for no apparent reason and, in some instances, just crashes and this can happen several times on the same project. When this happens after you have spent several hours creating your masterpiece, it can be gut-wrenching. This may be because the engine is Shockwave Flash, not known for stability. If Printerpix can iron these niggles out, they can't help but succeed.

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                    • Samsung Galaxy Note II / Smartphone / 13 Readings / 11 Ratings
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                      02.03.2013 12:57
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                      A step-change in smartphone capability, where it has led, others are sure to follow. Just excellent.

                      In all likelihood you already know about the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 if you are reading this review. You may be undecided whether this is for you (or your loved one). I hope I can persuade you to go for it. It is an awesome (that awful word!) piece of engineering. Now, if you are like me, the one thing that may make you take a pause is the size. This, as you may know, is a 5.5 inch screen-sized slab but what a gorgeous slab it is. The Galaxy Note 2 is seriously desirable. It has been dubbed a 'phablet' in reference to its size, suggesting that it is a phone-tablet crossover and that is arguably on the mark.

                      I came from an iPhone 4S, all 3.5 inch of its screen real estate, so the size was a radical departure. However, looking back, I cannot now believe how I put up with that small screen, great as it may have been in its time. This has been a revelation. Having had this for a few months now, I find the large size to be the Note's most important and useful assets. I can use it to read online content, downloaded books, watch movies and use it as a satnav (with the excellent Google maps) without feeling that I'm compromising on anything. It is such a relaxed and fulfilling experience. I really cannot imagine myself going back to the sub-4 inch mobile devices now. Beyond the aesthetics, the Note 2 works so smoothly with that vivid screen and gorgeous colour production. You have all the apps you can possibly need from the android stable so no issues there. If you are a mobile gamer, you will be hard pushed to find anything better than this device. The phone is so quick it does not appear to struggle at anything.

                      What about the call quality? It may be a multimedia device but primarily it is a phone. On this core function I have had no reason for any complaint. Call clarity is excellent, no dropped calls, voice commands work every time, speakerphone functions are superb. As a phone, it's just perfect.

                      I have described all that without even touching on the one most distinguishing feature of the Galaxy Note 2; the S-Pen. This is the annotating stylus that is part of the device. If you get this device, do please take the trouble to familiarise yourself with the S-Pen. It is a revelation. There is an app called S-Note to facilitate the use of the stylus and this is impressive. The handwriting recognition is very good; you can do quick hand-written emails and text messages, add pictures and even videos and, if you are the boffin type, perform your calculations taking advantage of its Wolfram-alpha integration.

                      A lot of people are interested in how good the camera on their phone is. Not a big thing for me as I almost always carry a 'proper' camera. However, I have to say the 8MP snapper on the Galaxy Note 2 produces amazingly beautiful pictures. This is even indoors in subdued light conditions. This was a pleasant surprise for me. You can also record videos in HD and with its storage expandability (up to 64Gb) using a microUSB, that is something you can do without worrying about running out of storage space.

                      The human race: We are a race that feels comfortable with what is familiar. As such, with its size, it may prove to be an inch or two too far for some. That is understandable. Even now, I can sense the strange looks when I hold it on my ear in public. Doesn't bother me much as I know this sort of size is inevitably the future of mobile telephony. Even Apple are inching, ever so reluctantly, in that direction. Another factor to consider when looking at this is that, in its current iteration, the Note 2 is not 4G capable.

                      When smartphones have been dubbed as mini-computers, there has been an element of hyperbole. With the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, that description is certainly apt. It is, indeed, an amazing piece of engineering. For me, there is little doubt in my mind that, when it is time for an upgrade, it will almost certainly be the next generation of this (Galaxy Note 3?)

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                    • More +
                      02.03.2013 00:28
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                      A decent shower gel spoilt by the unrealistic price

                      No, I didn't buy this. It was a present from a good friend and I was genuinely grateful for the thoughtful touch but, putting the friendship aside; what did I think of the product?

                      This Kate Moss shower gel is probably the one thing I needed for re-affirmation of my principle to never buy over-priced products for the sole reason of an appended celebrity name. This is a decent shower gel, creamy with a pleasant scent but is it worth the inflated price? (yes, I checked the price). Not on your life. Selling this for a tenner is absolutely outrageous.

                      The packaging is pleasing enough if you are into that sort of thing but, frankly, my interest telegraphs directly to the contents. It is what matters. There is only 200 mls of the stuff. Is this better than Dove shower cream? No; and you get 500 mls of the latter for less than a third of the price. Is it better than Nivea Vitality Fresh which costs £2? No. Don't get me wrong, Kate Moss Shower Gel is decent enough but at almost £10, it is daylight robbery. Stay clear unless you have money to burn.

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