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Digital Stream INTRO Being a busy person, I tend to be unavailable to watch the programmes I like on TV when they're on and I often miss programmes just because I forget to tune in at the right time. Usually remember 30-40 minutes into the programme or remember an hour after they're over or even the following day. I know you can use TV On Demand services like iPlayer, 4oD, etc on a computer but I find that programmes aren't available right away (i.e. right as the Watchdog ends on TV, it's not available to watch on iPlayer for a few hours). Not only that, the programmes are only available for a limited amount of time and I find I sometimes only watch recorded programmes after a few months. i.e. movies, TV series with lots of episodes that I declare I'll only watch if I have time (i.e The Simpsons), etc. The Digital Stream Freeview HD is a Freeview Personal Video Recorder (PVR). (I'll call it DS for short) That means it's a Freeview tuner with a hard drive, which enables you to record the programmes to the hard drive including programmes from the few high definition channels available as well as the standard defintion ones. Mine has 320GB of hard drive space, which can record 180 hours of standard definition or 90 hours of high definition video. You can also get it in 500GB and 1TB versions. Originally, mine was listed at £199 everywhere about but I managed to buy mine off Amazon for £160 (supposedly refurbished but looked brand new to me when it arrived). Today, the £500 version is £199, 320GB version is £175 but may be cheaper elsewhere if you shop around. DESIGN & FEATURES The box itself is beautiful in black with red light up touch sensitive buttons, which only show up when the box is turned on. Very nice looking but I rarely use the buttons on the box as I'm usually sitting back and using the remote. The screen is big and clear without being overly bright. There's also a front flap cover that opens revealing a Top Up TV card and USB slot. It's a twin tuner box so that means, I can watch one channel whilst it records another channel. This is good for when two programmes you want to watch are on at the same or overlap. You cannot record two channels and watch a third channel though in which case you'd need a treble tuner (which I think doesn't exist). Lots of programmes I watch overlap u with each other so twin tuner is essential to me. Even then, if you schedule lots of random recordings, you're likely to find an overlap, in which case the DS tells you and asks you which programme you would like to prioritise. It has an EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) like any other PVR and this lets you see what programmes are on over the next seven days (a TV Guide basically). This is also where you schedule which programmes to record as well as read information on what the programmes are about. This works very well and when you press okay on a programme, it asks if you want to record the single programme or the whole series (if applicable). It also asks if you want to record the HD version (if available) instead if you chose and standard definition equivalent. In the EPG, rather than scroll through the pages of programmes, which some people do selecting whatever takes their fancy, I prefer to use the search function. You can filter by Genre, which works but takes about 10 seconds to bring up the results. I prefer to use the Search function.but unfortunately, this isn't very intuitive to use and I'm not sure it works. After entering the keyword to search for, there's no button search button to apply the search. When I entered the letter 'a' and left it, it eventually populated the results box. Unfortunately, changing it didn't give me an updated list and I'm not sure how to get it to function. The machine has crashed on me several times when everything just froze. To fix that, I just turned it off using the mains power switch on the back of the unit. This is easy enough to reach. Another problem I've had is that certain programmes that I'd scheduled to record got stuck in record mode. I'm sure they had stopped recording but they were marked as being recorded, which meant that I could not delete them. Also, as two were stuck in this mode, it meant that the machine was not able to start another recording. This means that I could end up missing a future recording. Again, to fix this, I had to restart the machine. The biggest issue I had was when I lost all the recorded programmes. I watched a recorded episode of The Jonathan Ross Show, and then went on to delete it afterwards. It got stuck on the deleting status (in hindsight, it might have been that the recording may not have stopped right after the programme, so the programme recorded might have been really long, hence longer delete time). Tried to cancel the deletion but that didn't work so again, I powered off the machine at the mains. When I went back into the recorded programmes menu, all my programmes had gone! A bit annoying but luckily, I'm not a avid TV viewer so I'll just move on. Might frustrate many others whom can't go without their favourite programmes though. Afterwards, when trying to navigate away from the programmes section in the Hard Drive, I wasn't able to. It was stuck and this went on every time I went into that section. I tried a Repair from the Other Options Menu, which seemed to do nothing so I formatted. Same symptom occurred but after a few more restarts, it told me whilst broadcasting something that the Hard drive had a problem so was being repaired. This went on and when trying to view the hard drive info, the machine would restart. I went ahead and did another format, and then managed to use the Repair option, which didn't take long The problem was resolved then. Saves me returning the unit to Amazon, which is good but could have done without the problems and for the Repair option to work right from the start rather than do nothing when pressed. Glad I fixed it and it's been working fine since a few months down the line. NAVIGATION & THE REMOTE The menus are fairly nippy. You press a button on the remote and the selection moves without any delay, which is pretty good, but when it comes to performing certain actions like search, move, delete, it becomes a bit more tedious. there's also a lot of buttons and options to choose before getting to your destination function. It's pretty easy to navigating a playing programme. You can fast forward, rewind like any other video player but my favourite button for doing so is by using the Next and Previous buttons. Pressing the next button jumps forward 30 seconds or whatever time you set it to skip, in the settings. This generally works well but I've had it suddenly restart the programme from the beginning or bit further back after trying to skip forward so there might be a bug somewhere. If you stop a programme, you can resume from the last position.. Deleting a programme that you've watched seems to vary from 10 seconds to around a minute, which is rather annoying. I have had an episode of TV series take longer to delete than a two hour movie so maybe the hard drive was busy. On my old Humax, it was always very snappy to delete things like it should be. In addition, when a programme is playing and I go to the recorded programmes to delete it, it complains that I can't delete the programme while it's playing. That's fine, but in order to delete it, I need to come right out of the menu, press Stop, then go back to Menu > MEDIA > Press FUNCT+ on the remote > Scroll down 3 options to Delete, and then finally, Confirm by choosing Yes. That's very long winded. Why not let me stop the programme whilst in the menu? The front of the box has a USB port, which enables me to copy / move recorded programmes to a USB hard drive. In order to do this, it forces me to format my external Hard Drive to a file system that it recognises and can utilise. The file format it uses for programmes is TRP. I tried to copy the programmes to my laptop but because of the file system the external was formatted to, my laptop(s) couldn't see the drive for me to access the programmes! (Both Windows and Mac). The drive is working but it's just that the operating systems don't recognise the file system. I read that it is possible if you use a Linux operating system to see the external drive and then use software to convert the TRP files into a recognisable format that can be played but this is way too much hassle, especially as I couldn't get my laptops to see the drive so gave up. The ability to copy / move the programmes to an external means that you can have a back up of your favourite recorded programmes or simply to free up space so your DS's internal hard drive doesn't fill up preventing it from recording a few programmes. That and if you have more than one of these PVR's, you can transfer the programmes from one DS to another. I would much prefer to copy the programmes onto my laptop or media server so I can conveniently watch the programs anywhere around the house though! The remote is well built but most the buttons are quite small. The shape is tapered so bigger at the bottom than the top and is very easy to hold. The button layout is okay but not great. You would have expected the Play button to be a bit bigger and in a more prominent position but once you get used to it, it's fine. Some of the other main buttons such as the colour options and the Function button are in different colours, which is good but I think the button layout could have been a bit better. PICTURE QUALITY No complaints on picture quality. Standard definition Freeview programmes are good quality if you also have a good TV and provided the programme being broadcasted is of good quality. HD programmes are excellent when viewed on an HD TV. You'll need to use a HDMI connection lead. SUMMARY Pros - Great picture quality including HD channels - Watching and recording programmes is quite easy to do - EPG works well and lets you set single or series programme recordings - Good quality remote - Ability to move / back up programmes to external USB drives Cons - Slow to perform certain functions (deleting / moving) - Awkward navigation - Recorded progammes are in an unrecognised format when exported - Poor search - The odd glitch - Reliability isn't great VERDICT This purchase was an upgrade from a Humax Freeview PVR, which worked well albeit the occasional crash, slow populating EPG, lack of HD and my losing the ability to record a whole series automatically. The Digital Stream box works well, produces good results but the navigation, speed (of some functions), un-intuitive navigation and poor search facility is a big let down. Recommended? Initial answer is 'no' unless you don't mind the niggles, as the box works well enough and you can record programmes easily enough if just using the EPG, otherwise, look for something that's a bit more intuitive with a working search function. The DS has been very stable but can still crash. My dad, with an identical unit has also experienced the crashes so it's not just my unit. I've had it for about 5 months now so it's reliable enough. Thanks for reading
I wanted a light and compact MP3 player to use at the gym as I didn't want to carry around my iPhone around (it's a bit awkward to run on the treadmill with) so looked at the Apple iPod range. I didn't want to spend too much so the iPod Nano was out of the equation (they cost around £100). Then I looked at the iPod Shuffle range which was only £39 for a 2GB model. 4GB is available for a bit more. It's more expensive than other branded MP3 players but for an Apple product, it's pretty cheap. I have the light blue version but also comes in green, pink, silver, orange and maybe some other colours. The iPod Shuffle (Mine's 4th Generation so it's the square one) is a no-nonsense iPod which compact MP3 player without a screen like all the other iPods and other MP3 players out on the market. Not even a simple black and white display for displaying track titles .It's called a 'Shuffle' because of this and you're meant to either learn the song order or put the player into shuffle mode. Not the ideal MP3 player if you like to look for particular tracks but otherwise, it's ideal if you just need a simple music player to play random tracks. The Shuffle is extremely tiny measuring just 3 x 3 x 0.9cm (approx) and extremely light at just 12 grams. It consists of a metallic body, six buttons (play/pause, next, previous, volume up, volume down, read song title) and a slider switch for power and shuffle mode and a clip on the back. The player is simple in design and I think it looks very neat. Downside to the metallic body that it scratches easily. Mine is in immaculate condition and I've even bought a silicon skin case for it (which does spoil the look a bit though). It's very easy to use. Just charge it with the small USB cable by plugging it into a PC / laptop and sync some music to it using iTunes. (Then sync cable plugs into the headphone socket and this is where it charges the device as well). When ready, plug your earphones in, clip it to your shirt/trousers/belt, turn it on and press Play. I don't particularly like having to rely on iTunes as it lacks flexibility. If another brand of MP3 player, I would be able to add music from any PC I fancied. With iTunes, it has to be a machine with my entire music library otherwise, it erases everything so I can't just log onto another PC and add a single track without all the other tracks present. The sound quality is excellent, no crackling or anything, but obviously depends on your headphones / speakers as well. Still surprising how such good sound can come from such a tiny device. The Shuffle includes a set of white earphones but I don't use those as I prefer to use a different pair that hooks around my ears so they're less likely to fall off. Although it has a clip, which feels pretty strong, if it doesn't latch on to a bump in your clothing, then the you're quite prone to dropping the MP3 player. The small size means that the device is easy to lose. I've lost it twice but luckily, found it each time but a friend of mine did find one in the street. Lucky for him, not so much for the peron who lost it! As it doesn't have a screen, it has a neat little feature whereby it can read out the title of the song that's being played when you press a button. It seems to be able to read out Chinese song titles (in Mandarin Chinese) as well but don't know about other non-Europe characters. The voice isn't particularly clear but it's there for you. SUMMARY Pros - Sound quality - Long battery life - Cheap for an Apple iPod - Compact - Pretty Cons - Cost a bit more than other MP3 players of the same capacity - Metallic body scratches easily - Must use iTunes to add / remove music - Easy to lose! VERDICT It's a simple, lower end MP3 player from Apple, for those who don't need all the bells and whistles. The lack of screen is not a negative of the product as it was designed to be used without the need for a screen for music selection. As it doesn't have a screen, the battery lasts for ages. Fully charges in 3 hours and plays music up to about 15 hours according to Apple. I find it lasts ages but didn't go as far as timing the running time so I'll take Apple's word for it. Recommended if you just need a basic MP3 player and I don't need to take your entire music selection with you (unless it's pretty small anyway then you can). Thanks for reading!
@Title - Just kidding. INTRO After using my iPhone 3GS for 2 years and getting hooked to the Apps that the iTunes App store has to offer, I naturally wanted my next mobile phone to be an iPhone! (No wonder Apple is so successful) I held out and did not buy an iPhone 4, eagerly awaiting the release of the rumoured iPhone 5. Unfortunately, that didn't happen and they came out with the iPhone 4S instead, which looks the same as a iPhone 4 (but it's what's on the inside that counts). I couldn't wait any longer as my aging 3GS felt slow after several software updates and new Apps being installed over the years. The camera also wasn't great in terms of quality and there was no flash light, so I went and bought an iPhone 4S (64GB) direct from the Apple website for £699 (plus £59 for Apple Care). You can also get the phone on phone contracts at varying prices. The phone also comes in 16GB (£499) and 32GB (£599) versions. PERFORMANCE & FEATURES The phone is much faster than the iPhone 3GS. Once you've transitioned from a 3GS, you definitely feel it. Not so much if you had an iPhone 4 but the 4S is supposedly a bit faster than the iPhone 4 as well. The phone is generally very zippy, however every so often, I find that some Apps do lag for a moment when I'm opening or running it so it's not perfect. May be to do with the App itself being a bit resource hungry but in general, the phone's performance is marvellous. It's easy to use as all you have to do to operate it is to swipe left, right, pinch and press the button and icons on screen, give or take a few hardware buttons. On a smart phone, the keyboard for writing messages text messages and emails, etc should be easy to use and the iPhone's software keyboard doesn't disappoint. However, the auto-correct is very awkward to use and often inserts the wrong word when correcting you. I've actually turned the feature off as a result. Foreign keyboards can also be added and so you can write Chinese or whatever as with earlier generations of the iPhone. All the 4S TV adverts go on about Siri. This is the voice recognition feature, which is built into the phone. You turn the feature on, hold the Home button and then speak to the phone to perform tasks and it will answer you. Like so: ME: "Send Text message to [name of person]" SIRI: "What do you want to say to [name of person]? ME: "Hello [name of person], how are you? blah, blah, blah" SIRI: "I updated your message, ready to send it?" ME: "Confirm" He also has a sense of humour. Ask Siri "What is the meaning life?" his response is "I don't know. But I think there's an app for that." ME: "Talk dirty to me" SIRI "Humus, Compost, Pumice, Silt, Gravel" ME: "Talk dirty to me" SIRI "The Carpet needs vacuuming" etc. The voice recognition is actually pretty good but not perfect as there are certain words I find impossible to input by voice. You can compose whole messages using your voice most of the time. People with accents may have trouble getting Siri to recognise everything. Siri is a great feature but it relies on you having an Internet connection for Siri to send your message to Apple to translate into text. I have found that even when I have a signal, sometimes Siri is pretty useless and just tells me it can't do it because there's a problem. No idea why. Also, it currently, still cannot find places (i.e. shops, addresses) in the UK as this function only works in the US. Bit stupid really as it's been out for 5 months in this country now. The quality of the camera is excellent and it has image stabilisers, which isn't perfect but at least they added it. The camera can also record video. It has a flashlight, which works as a camera flash but I find that night shots and images in the dark end up with over exposure so it's not great. Taking pictures without good lighting work better without the flash. However, it works great as a torch! I had to find an App in the App Store to turn the light on and off. There are plenty of free ones but I would have thought that Apple would have included one as standard. The ability to install Apps means that it pretty much has an unlimited number of features but it has the usual call, text, email, web browser, maps, built in. You can download EBooks, audios, music, videos, etc onto the phone. The web browser, image viewers etc let you zoom in and out by pinching the screen. Although Android phones also let you do this, I find this feature on iOS devices to be smoother so I feel Apple have hit the spot with this. One downside for me is the inability to view Flash websites and Flash streaming videos on the iOS (Apple don't trust Adobe Flash and refuse to include it), which is mainly why I've avoided buying an iPad. Not such a bit issue on an iPhone but I generally like more functionality. The phone also allows you to use the phone as a Wireless Hotspot. This also depends on your network as some networks (i.e. O2) don't allow 'tethering' so the function can't be enabled. T-Mobile and Orange works even if the providers may say you're not supposed to. Just be careful not to overdo it otherwise you could get a big data bill. Using it for emails and news is fine. One thing I don't particularly like is how you have to use iTunes to transfer files to and from the phone. Sometimes I'd rather be a able to drag and drop items to and from the device but the only thing I can do that with is with pictures and videos captured with the iPHone and only copying them off the phone. Overall, the phone is easy to use and simple in design. It only has 4 physical buttons and a sliding switch (for silent mode). Being a smartphone, battery life can be a bit short. No matter what they quote, some Apps and features like Location Services (lets Apps know your location) and Alerts can drain the battery, along with WiFi and Bluetooth. All of which, you can switch off if you don't use them. I find my phone lasts me about 3 quarters of the day with regular but light usage. If you find yourself playing lots of graphics intensive games, then expect it to be much shorter. VOICE & DATA Making calls is easy enough to do. Call clarity and signal (reception) varies depending on network coverage of your provider but I find that calls are pretty clear. I've had calls drop out but that's when my signal dropped to nothing but other times it was the person on the other end's problem. I find my T-Mobile signal is hit and miss depending on where I am in terms of data so the phone may not be to blame. I would have liked if Apple could improve signal but stuffing more antennas in the phone or something but I'll bet they'll do something like this in future incarnations of the iPhone as Apple like to add features one at a time to make you buy their next product! The phone also has a conference call feature which is neat, BUT I'm unable to use this because it turns out you need to be on an iPhone mobile tariff. I have a SIM only deal so I get to miss out on that function. No biggie for me and most people will be getting the phone on contract anyway due to the high cost of the phone. DURABILITY The iPhone 4S, despite Apple claiming to have used military grade materials (it does feel very sturdy), is very susceptible to cracked screens should it be dropped. I've seen it many times but this is fixable at phone shops for around £70 even though they'll probably use generic parts. My tip would be to buy a case of some sort for extra protection. I've dropped my iPhones many times but the cases have always saved the day. CUSTOMER SERVICE Despite it being a premium phone with exceptional build quality, things can still go wrong. That is why I also bought Apple Care to extend my warranty to 3 years (plus gives me Apple technical support up till it expires should I need it). After three months of using my 4S, something funny was happening. The volume icon would show up on the screen and sometimes stay there. Sometimes when increase the volume by pressing the button on the side, it keeps going up even though I've let go. Turns out that was getting stuck. I booked an appointment with the Apple Store in Bluewater. Went there, waited 45 minutes just to be seen (they were running late), had it fixed (for free, under warranty), only to find the same symptom happen 3 hours later in the day. I went straight back just before closing time and they replaced my phone. That's pretty good service! SUMMARY Pros - Loads of Apps to choose from - Runs smoothly - Good build quality - Easy to use - Fast/smooth performance - Easy navigation and viewing of web pages - Includes flashlight - 3 different capacities - Voice recognition works well. - Good customer support Cons - Siri is hit and miss - Add / removing files has to be done through iTunes which is restrictive - Battery life could still be better - Screen can crack if dropped - Camera not great in dark conditions - Battery not user replaceable - Voice recognition requires Internet access to function - No 4G support (next version of 3G Internet) - No memory card slots (but at least there's lots of storage choices) - Uses micro SIM - Expensive VERDICT Despite the niggles, I still rather like my iPhone due to the possibilities with the massive selection of free and paid for Apps, as well as the build, customer support and performance. One little thing that annoys me is tha it uses a micro SIM that's half the size as normal mobile SIMs. I had to cut my SIM and it means if I ever want to pop the SIM into a different phone, I'd need an adapter. It's an expensive phone (£499, £599, £699 (mine)) but I use it all the time so I feel like I'm getting my money's worth. Most things have to be done via iTunes, which I used to refuse to use before owning an iPhone but I soon got used to it (again, no wonder Apple are so successful). Recommended? Yes. Will I go for the iPhone 5? Probably. Thanks for reading! P.S. Also available in white.
The Asus Bamboo is a laptop computer from Asus that's supposedly made from bamboo wood. Looking at the machine, the top of the lid and the palm rest has a dark "smoky brown" wood finish. It has a very smooth finish so doesn't feel like wood (luckily) but it does looks very classy and does get many people commenting. Many of whom doubt that it's really made of bamboo but I will take Asus's word for it! It comes in 13", 14" and 15" sizes but only the 14 and 15" model come with an optical drive (DVD RW drive). I have the 13" version because I wanted something smaller and lighter as I carry mine around for work. At the time of purchase, only the 13" and 15" were available. SPECIFICATIONS AND DESIGN I've been using this machine for the past 8 months or so, and bought it online for £760. One odd thing is that I find I have t press the power button twice before the machine turns on (very strange). I find the design to be quite attractive with its smoky wood effect and chrome rim. When I first took it out of the box and peeled off the protective stickers, the manufacturer stickers (i.e. Intel, NVidia) on the palm rest came off as well, which I thought was weird but this was to keep the palm rest smooth. (Not sure why they even bothered with them.) The touchpad and button is also in the wood effect so it's like they're not even there, which is quite unique but takes a bit of getting used to. The keyboard is the Chiclet sort, which have keys with gaps between them. I tend to prefer these as I find them to be easier to type with because it's harder to hit the wrong key. Despite my preference, I first found that I was making a lot of typos (I touch type). I think that this is due to the keys being quite 'mushy' so I have to hit them a bit harder. I have the same sort of keyboard on my Apple Macbook Pro and find that a dream to use but I feel that the one on the Macbook Pro is much better quality. The rest of the machine feels very solid with no plastic clicking. The area around the keyboard is metallic. The machine has a fast Intel i5 2.53GHz processor and 4GB RAM. It has a 500GB hard drive and comes preinstalled with Microsoft Windows Home Premium 64bit. A good fast processor and a fair bit of RAM helps the machine run smoothly, which is part of the reason for my chance. I can't stand slow machines so typically pay a bit more for something that's well built as well as having good spec and good battery life. In terms of performance, the machine was loaded with a lot of 'bloatware', which is the trial software, games (including Angry Birds), etc, which I found slowed down the machine quite a bit. I have reinstalled Windows 7 making it much quicker again. One complaint though is that Asus didn't include any restore media (i.e. Windows 7 Home Premium disc), which I thought was a bit cheap of them, with this supposedly being more of a premium brand as opposed to Acer. Luckily, I have my own copies but I always prefer that they include the media rather than them expecting you to back up the whole thing with the preinstalled backup software onto a hard drive or about 10 blank DVDs. It came with Webroot Internet Security (which I flogged on eBay), which was nice of them. 500GB of hard disk space (443GB to be exact when in Windows) is ample space for most for music and videos. The battery life is quoted to be 10 hours and I believe I get a good 7-8 hours use out if it throughout the day doing things like Internet surfing, document editing, etc. The 10 hour figure is typically from leaving the machine idle, which isn't realistic but 8 hours is pretty decent. It can switch between modes for performance and battery life by pressing a button. My 13.3" Bamboo, unfortunately, doesn't have a DVD drive built-in so I have to use an external USB one (which I already owned). One of the reasons for opting for a smaller laptop is so that it isn't as heavy. Unfortunately, I still feel that this laptop is too heavy for such a small sized laptop considering it doesn't have an optical drive. On my digital scales, it weighs 2.05Kg. I have a 12" Toshiba laptop, which is ridiculously light and even that has an optical drive. The screen is glossy and wide screen but I've not had any issues with reflections. The glossy black bezel surrounding the screen can pick up fingerprints though. CONNECTIONS It has a VGA connector and HDMI outputs so you can connect it up to an external monitor or TV. To watch stuff on a bigger screen or to run dual display. It also has something called Wireless Display, which lets it transmit the picture to a monitor wirelessly BUT...you need to purchase a separate box for this. This accessory costs around £60 so I've not bothered. Nice idea but only worth it if you'd use it regularly. Otherwise, an HDMI or VGA lead will do the job for most. SD Card reader, which is good to have for those with a digital camera (an SD card one). It has a total of 3 USB ports, with one being the newer USB 3.0, which is good bit of future proofing. Wireless is built in as standard and it is Wireless N rather than the older G, which supposedly gives a better range and faster speeds, so a 'must' for me. It also has Bluetooth, which is handy for transferring data to and from certain mobile phones. INTERESTING FEATURES It has a webcam built in, which is not uncommon nowadays but Asus were nice enough to include an on/off slider above the webcam lens, which covers the lens when in the 'off' position. This is great for those paranoid about whether someone's spying on them through the webcam or not. There was a news article a while back whereby university Apple laptops loaned out to students had pre-installed software on them, which enabled the university IT guy to log onto each laptop and activate the webcam thus seeing the students. This was found out as there's a light next to the webcam lens to indicate when the webcam is live or not. In theory, a hacker or virus could also take control of a computer's webcam thus sending video back to the hacker. SUMMARY PROS - Long battery life - Nice design - 1x USB 3.0 port - Webcam privacy switch feature - Good performance and spec CONS - No optical drive (in 13" model) - Bit on the heavy side - Keyboard isn't great - Too much random software preinstalled and no recovery media included VERDICT Nice laptop. Could have done with being a bit lighter and including an optical drive and maybe less mushy keyboard but otherwise, a nice performer once you've set it up the way you want it (reloaded, so no unnecessary software). The specification is good and it's well built. Recommended. Thanks for reading.
As my old TomTom's battery wasn't charging properly, I'd decided to sell it and then replace it with a more up-to-date version with traffic updates to help me navigate the London roads, so I went for a TomTom 820 HD Traffic. Got it for £168 on Amazon, which I think is a pretty good price for one including Western Europe maps (about £10 more than UK only version). I may never use it outside of the UK but figured it would retain for when I decide to re-sell it. I expect it to last a good few years like my old TomTom One Classic (3rd series), which lasted about 5 years and only cost me £88. EASE OF USE Having used a TomTom before, I found getting up and running with this new one a doddle. I've also tried out other Sat Nav's including ones built into cars but still find TomToms to be the most user-friendly (maybe I'm just used to it). One thing that stood out for me upon my first taking the device out of the box was that the suction mount was stuck on the back of the TomTom. My last TomTom had a slot on suction mount (which fell off the windscreen A LOT), which I stopped using and opted for a vent mount instead. This new one has an in-built mount, which sticks to the windscreen when I turn a dial to lock it to the windscreen. I find this suction mount to be excellent and it has only fallen off on me once. Sometimes a little tricky to take off but at least it doesn't fall off, which can be dangerous if I'm trying to pick it back up again from the floor when the car is moving. The TomTom angle can be adjusted when stuck on the windscreen and the picture can rotate 180 degrees, which adds a lot more flexibility for mounting the TomTom. Navigating around the menu's is easy using the touch screen by touching the appropriate icons (which are appropriately labelled). Navigation speed is adequate but sometimes I do find that it could move from screen to screen a bit more quickly. There is a very slight momentary delay between moving from screen to screen once you touch an icon but otherwise, okay. Once you're ready to set off, you can navigate to an address by entering a town, postcode, recent location, favourite location or point of interest. I find it very intuitive to use and this is all that most people will ever need. Once set, it takes about a minute or two to calculate the route depending on the complexity of the route. When moving, the TomTom will guide you to your destination. The voice guidance is loud and clear. Very easy and generally very reliable so long as the power lead is plugged in or it has enough charge to last your journey. Battery life seems to last between 1-2 hours for me, which is adequate so for short journeys, you don't have to plug it in. A lot of the options, what it displays, etc are customisable. The screen is also very sharp compared my old TomTom, which helps with navigating if you're not sure which turn to take because there's more than one road up ahead. However, when you miss your turn and it needs to recalculate your route, it can take about 10-20 seconds so you may end up missing the next turning if they're close together. NIGGLES When I first turn on the TomTom, it sometimes doesn't switch from night mode to day mode and vice versa, which is a bit annoying. Not sure if it has a light sensor or something but I have to wait for it to change itself after a couple of minutes. I can however, manually set it in the settings. When I enter a new destination, it always asks me if I want to navigate from my last known location. I don't like this and have actually changed the setting to tell it to not ask but it still asks. I'm not always using the TomTom and I sometimes turn it off when I know where I'm going so it will ask me if I want to navigate from the last location where it was switched on, which I find rather pointless as it should just be detecting the current location. There is no point in navigating from the location where I'm not currently at. This is a minor annoyance but it just means I have an extra screen to go through especially as I can't seem to turn it off. FEATURES The main feature that interested me in this edition of the device was the Live Traffic updates. I was hoping that this thing was smart enough to help me avoid all traffic jams in and around London, but not quite the case unfortunately. It tells me where there are traffic jams on the roads on screen, and it does ask me if I would like to take alternative routes that would save me so many minutes (this depends on your settings) but it doesn't always do it and so I end up queuing in traffic even though there are routes with less traffic. Once it's calculated a route to avoid some traffic, it would say to me "you are still on the fastest route", which I sometimes doubt as if I avoid certain areas completely using my own knowledge of the route, it's sometimes quicker than listening to the TomTom. This Traffic Live feature is actually subscription based so will cost something like £30 each year. What I normally do is tell it to calculate alternative route and then tell I to avoid certain roads. This is a bit fiddly and I have found that I have to repeat the process several times as it just avoids one street so still takes me around that one street whereby what I really want is for it to avoid the whole area altogether. You can tell it to 'Travel via' but for that you need to give it a street or point of interest. As I sometimes can't think of any streets or points of interest without sending me too far out of the way, I end up just using 'avoid part of route' instead. Fine if you remember a street but would be nice if it let you select an area / town rather than being too specific when using the 'Travel via' function. To my surprise, this TomTom also has built-in Bluetooth, which means you can use it for hands free calls. This works very well and even syncs your phone's address book to it so you can see who is calling you by name rather than just the number on the TomTom screen. The TomTom also has useful features like speed camera alerts and Map Share. The 'suggest driving breaks' seems a bit pointless unless you're a HGV driver or something. Every so often, it tells me that I should plug it into a computer to update the maps. Supposedly, other users share map data to update the map. A proper map update is not free but this map share is. I have found the feature to tell the TomTom that a road has changed i.e. permanent or temporary road block. It has taken me down a couple of roads where barriers have been erected so cars are no longer allowed through but I expected this now and again. There is also the chance of it taking you down the wrong way of a one way street but it has not happened to me yet on this new one. With this, you would hope someone else has added this in their map share otherwise you would need to purchase a map update. Similar to my old TomTom, this one also has a Toll Road warning so asks me whether I want to include these roads or not. Useful if you would rather avoid the tolls or London Congestion Charge Zones. Despite having the time programmed in, it still gives me the toll warning for going into the Congestion Zone despite being after 6pm so that could be programmed in by the manufacturer. There's loads of other things you can do like change voices, connect it up to your PC and download traffic camera updates (official ones aren't free but there are unofficial ones), choose which points of interest to display on map, download point of interests like McDonald's and bank branches etc. It even has a Google search to find points of interests. One thing I didn't expect was any sort of voice recognition but it does have some. The only thing I've ever managed to use it for was answering back to the TomTom when it asks me whether I want to take this alternative route that will save me so many minutes. Answer is always "yes" or "no". If I don't answer, it just sticks to the current route. I find it a bit disappointing that they haven't implemented this feature for making calls. SUMMARY Pros - Easy to use - Doesn't fall off the windscreen as easily when using the built-in suction mount - Built-in hands free feature - Has map share for free map updates - Great picture - Gets you from A to B right to the door in most cases - Lots of features - Robust (can be dropped lots of times in the car) Cons - Day / Night mode maps sometimes take a while to switch between automatically - IQ HD Traffic feature doesn't always avoid traffic and is subscription based - Limited voice recognition usage - Proper map updates are not fre VERDICT It's great device despite the little issues. I personally do not know where I'd be without it (frequently lost or searching for places I don't go often I'll bet). It's great for pinpointing your exact locations to the door. Highly recommended for drivers (especially those with a poor sense of direction). Thanks for reading.
The FinePix AX245 is an entry level point and shoot compact digital camera from Fujifilm boasting a 12 megapixel resolution and 4x optical zoom. The camera is available in black, silver and blue and is available for around £50. I got mine (blue one) from Tesco Direct for £60 over a year ago so might be able to find it for less now. Aside from the price and my previous ownership of a Fujifilm FinePix camera, I chose the AX245 because of the 12MP Pixel count (granted this doesn't necessarily determine picture quality), 4x optical zoom count and the fact that it runs on AA batteries. The batteries last a fair number of shots but I use rechargeable batteries so maybe don't last quite as long as alkaline batteries. First impression when I took it out of the box for the first time was that the camera looked very much like a toy. Very 'plasticy', especially the blue part, which looked much nicer in the pictures! I First ever camera I've owned that wasn't either black or silver turned out to be a bit of a disappointment (I really should have gone with silver) when it came to looks but that aside, the size is good for a compact camera. Picture quality varies, but are generally okay in good lighting. However, when taking fairly close up images of objects, with or without needing Macro mode, I often had problems with over exposure whereby the flash is reflecting off the object. Not great for me, especially if I'm using the camera for taking pictures of stuff I intend to flog on eBay! To counter this, I often turn off the flash and hope for the best but results were better that way. The camera itself is very easy to use and has lots of different modes but I do find it to be a bit on the slow side. After pressing the 'take picture' button, it makes a funny noise and then pauses for a second before it actually takes the picture. The noise sounds very mechanical as if something inside the camera needs to adjust before the picture is taken. This is rather annoying as quite often, I press the button only to find that the picture hasn't been taken and then I have to press the button again. It sounds like the camera has to 'adjust' the focus every time, which isn't good as it means you could miss shots if you're taking pictures of moving objects. Good thing my eBay items don't run away! It's got Macro mode, which is crucial for me as I take a look of pictures for selling on eBay. This means lots of close ups. It's also got loads of others like night mode, action, etc but you can also use automatic mode just to use it as a point and shoot camera. It has a display and view finder, which help with the picture-taking. I really like the panoramic mode whereby it lets you merge several shots together to form one wide picture. You can use the USB cable that came with the camera to download the pictures. Annoyingly, it came with a USB cable with a proprietary (non-standard) plug. My previous Fujifilm had a standard mini USB socket, which are much more common. So if, I'd lost the original cable, I could easily pick up another. Not a huge problem, just inconvenient if you prefer to use a cable to download the pictures / movies. Alternatively, you can also eject the SD memory card and then download the pictures that way. Most modern laptops have SD card slots built-in and card readers are widely available. My previous Fujifilm used XD Cards, which I didn't like as not all card readers/laptops supported so the switch to SD is welcome. SUMMARY Pros - High pixel count - 4x Optical zoom - Low price - Takes AA batteries - Takes SD Cards - Lots of modes - Colour choices Cons - Build looks cheap - Slow to get ready - Uses non-standard USB cable - Flash over exposure VERDICT It's an okay camera for the price but if you have a bigger budget than £50, then I would get a more expensive and better one. It's a digital camera that works but does have a few annoying niggles so I would look for alternatives unless you can find it dirt cheap and just want it as a gift for a young person as their first digital camera. Thanks for reading
I had accidentally dented my unibody Macbook Pro TWICE, once knocked a tumbler against the side of the screen and then later had a clip board fall off a shelf onto the top of the lid. I had only had the Macbook a few weeks at the time so I thought to myself "enough was enough". I'd decided that I would try to avoid further accidental damage to my precious (and first) Apple computer by investing in a Speck clear shell. The shell comprises of two sections. One piece to protect the underside, and the other for the top. Each piece slots in and latches on to the Macbook so it's like they become part of the Macbook. Not too difficult to remove either should you need to remove the shell if you decide not to use it or if you Macbook needs hardware upgrades, repairs, etc. As for the protection, the Macbook is protected in most places from further dents and scratches with the exception of the inside when the lid is open, the left side where all the ports and and the right side where the optical drive slot is (obviously, covering all of them would be bad design!) Don't know how well it would do against drops but I would rather drop the Mac with the Speck shell on than without it as it's an extra layer of protection. The shell is approximately 2mm thick so it makes the Macbook Pro seem ever so slightly bigger. It also makes it seem a bit shinier because of the acrylic material. It may actually have improved the look of the device to some but all in all, I don't think the see-through shell spoils the Aluminium Macbook's elegant look that much. I would personally prefer the aluminium minus the clear acrylic but we can't have it all. However, the shell also comes in other colours like red / purple / black and is available for other models of Macbooks (e.g. Macbook Air) for those who fancy a colour change and don't like the acrylic over silver look. Aside from making the Macbook a few millimetres thicker is that it adds about 300g to the weight of the device. I prefer my laptops to be light so that they're easier to carry around with me, so this isn't great but it's better than getting more scratches and dents on the fairly pricey laptop. SUMMARY Pros - See-through and clear so can still see the Apple logo on top of the lid - Easy to set - Removable - Doesn't obstruct the ports - Comes in different colours. Cons - Adds 300g to the weight of the laptop - Some people prefer the look of the Macbook Pro without cases - Doesn't protect screen and keyboard area VERDICT The Macbook Pro is an expensive device but unfortunately it dents and scratches easily. The aluminium is pretty but seems to be made out of Papier-mâché! Having a slip case will protect the Macbook when it's not in use and in it's bag but when you need to use it, the Speck shell offers some extra protection against bumps and scratches. For those whom like to keep their gadgets in immaculate condition (Keeping the device in good nick will help it retain its value for when you decide to sell it on later), I can highly recommend the Speck See-Thru Macbook Pro shell so long as you don't mind the extra weight. It's expensive at around £30 but the Macbook Pro is around £1,000 so £30 is worth the investment. Thanks for reading ** Also submitted on Amazon and Ciao under Derren / Deru
From the makers of Ong Bak, we're presented with this Thai martial arts movie strangely titled 'Chocolate'. The movie is an 18 certificate and is anything but sweet, full of martial arts, acrobatics, gun fights, sword fights and painful looking stunts. The story follows Zen (JeeJa Yanin), an autistic child whom turns out to be a bit of a genius when it comes to learning martial arts. Zen is the daughter of a Japanese man and Thai mobster's mistress, both of whom were involved with a certain Thai gangster. Zen's mother, Zin eventually gets sick and its is up to Zen and her friend to raise money for her mother's medication and hospital treatment, which eventually gets Zen mixed up in dangerous situations involving her parent's past gangster acquaintances. I must admit that this movie is not quite how I had expected as I was expecting something like Kill Bill (swords and blood baths), which is not my cup of tea, however, I saw the Chocolate Blu-Ray in CEX for a bargain £4 so bought it on a whim. Looking at the Blu-Ray cover, it depicts Zen holding a sword sheaf in each hand, which is what gave me the wrong impression but turns out most of the fighting throughout the movie is Tony Jaa style, Muiy Thai (Thai Kicking Boxing) and acrobatics. There are gun fights, knife throwing, pole staff and some swords but it's mostly kicks, punches and elbows. Being a fan of martial arts movies, I enjoyed it very much. There isn't much in the way of plot and dialogue. In fact, with Zen playing a girl whom suffers from autism, her lines are very limited even when she's grown up in the movie. As for the dialogue throughout the movie, it's a mix of Thai, Japanese and a bit of English (with odd accents), so if you care enough about what's being said, you would need to read the subtitles unless you're lucky enough to speak all three languages. The movie style is very similar to Ong Bak with maybe a bit less humour but I feel Jeeja (playing Zen) did an excellent job in this movie and deserves the title of a female equivalent of Tony Jaa. As for the rest of the cast, they also did a great job with the stunts. The majority have no lines as it's all about the fighting but for the few that did, they do help move the story along. The end of the movie shows the outtakes, Jackie Chan style, whereby we see the stunts go wrong. These are also available in more detail (and in proper full colour) in the Special Features. There were no stunt doubles as the actors and actresses all did their own stunts, which they revealed in the interviews. I was very impressed, not just with the acrobatics but also with how realistic the falls were (men falling two or three storeys). The outtakes reveal how much pain the actors suffered each time a stunt went wrong or when someone got hit for real (by accident). The Blu-Ray itself is well presented with audio at the intro, extracts of stunts from the movie in the background, and well laid out menus. Definitely doesn't give off as a cheaply produced product. The video quality during the main feature is excellent as you would expect on Blu-Ray. It has a number Special Features, which were surprisingly interesting. The parts introducing us to some of the actors and showing them training and preforming the stunts were particularly interesting to watch. There are also deleted scenes (not particularly interesting), trailers, bits talking about the martial artists in the film, etc, which I quite enjoyed. VERDICT The movie is full of fast martial arts action with a bit of blood thrown into the mix but not too much in the way of gore, which is a good balance as I don't like too much blood in these movies anyway. The fighting and stunts are well choreographed and are in some instances, more impressive than what I've seen from Jackie Chan. There's a good variety of the type of stunts and type of action as there's gun and swords as well as just the Muiy Thai and acrobatics. The foreign languages may put some people off (there's only Thai 5.1 (surround sounds) and Thai 2.0 selectable and no English dub) but I would recommend Chocolate unless you're really not keen on violent movies. For those who like martial arts and action movies, highly recommended. For everyone else, if they'd give it a chance, I'm sure they'd be awed by the stunts as well with or without a complex story so long as they don't mind a bit of violence. The Blu-Ray is currently around £7 on Amazon. DVD is around £4. Thanks for reading. P.S. Oh and as for the movie title, I think it's because Zen likes Smarties. :o)
The Iomega 2TB NAS drive is a neat little Gigabit network drive with built-in print server and many other capabilities such as remote configuration, FTP, and even Torrent client built-in, automatic media upload, etc. The device is easy to configure with the included software. Once installed, it picks up what folders are on the drive and turns them into mapped drives (network drives that show up under 'My Computer' in Microsoft Windows, that to folders on your network). It starts off with folders/map drives such as Music, Movies, Backups, ActiveFolders (for FTP and Torrents, etc), etc. When the drive is offline, the mapped drives disappear, as the Iomega software monitors the drive. These separate folders/drives can all be changed, password protected, etc, as required. USING THE NAS The point of getting a Gigabit NAS is usually to take advantages of faster network transfer speeds and thanks to the Gigabit port on the device, speeds are good but obviously, this also depends on your network setup. To take advantage of Gigabit speeds, you would need a PC with a Gigabit port (most modern machines have this anyway), a Gigabit switch (a modern day hub), and CAT5e or CAT6 network cabling (a half a metre CAT5e cable is included). I get about 106Mbit/s write speed (used a LAN Network Test for the speed test) from my PC to the drive, which is pretty good. (Gigabit networks typically give around that speed taking everything into account. Industrial grade cabling and faster hard drives may be faster, but I'm also using cheap CAT6 network cable bought off eBay). Files transfer quickly and streaming 1080 High Definition movies stored on the drive works smoothly (using a wired connection). It also supports something called iTunes Media Server (there's a button to activate it for each folder), so the drive contents shows up in iTunes so lets you stream the music to iTunes. I've bought one for myself (for my media and backups) and two for work (primarily for server backups). The first one I bought was a 1TB version but it had very noisy fan. I had also discovered that the 2TB one was only £22 more so got a refund and got a 2TB one instead. Work still has two of the 1TB ones as they are enough for the intended purpose. The fan (unless you have a dodgy unit with a bad bearing), is by no means silent. However, it is not too loud and quite acceptable. If you have it in your bedroom, and you need absolute silence to fall asleep, then it may be best to store the unit elsewhere unless you don't mind turning it off when not needed (the greener option). The LED light can be dimmed in the drive's configuration if that can stop you sleeping as well. Out of the two drives I have at work, I've found one to be less reliable than the other. One seems to crash every now and again and requires a restart. Not had problems with the other. My one at home has also shown some odd symptoms and required restarting at the button. Sometimes, they can crash (at least not accessible) but the web interface remains working so the device can be restarted remotely. Luckily, it's not that often. It is possible to perform firmware updates though so this may rectify issues at later dates as Iomega release updates on the website. FEATURES It comes with a free year's subscription to a Dynamic DNS service so that you can remotely access the drive without having to remember an IP address. If you have a dynamic (IP address that can change), then this service is useful so that you can simply remember a sub domain of your choosing (depending on availability). e.g. yourname.iomegalink.com. I don't fancy paying for that after the year is up so I would stick to using a free one like No-IP to get my IP address even though I can't add the settings into the Iomega drive's settings. This means, the IP would need to update from my PC rather than the Iomega drive, which suits me fine. I did sign up for the Iomega one to try it and it works fine. To access the drive's content remotely, you would need to configure your router to forward the ports. i.e. for FTP, you'd need port 21 opened. For remote access to configure the NAS, you would need 443. The PDF user guide included on the CD gave clear instructions on how to do this in routers from different manufacturers. The built-in Torrent client means that you do not need a Torrent client installed on your PC to download files hosted on Torrents. Simply download and save the Torrent (.torrent) file into the "Active\Torrents" folder on the Iomega drive and it will download the file (movie or whatever) automatically. This requires a quick port forward setting in your router and it can also control the Torrent download and download speed limits. The Torrent downloads / uploads can be monitored in the drive's web interface. I think this feature is rather clever and it means that I can find Torrents whilst not at home, remotely place the Torrent file into the folder so that the Iomega drive can start downloading the file right away. Clever! It also means you don't need to keep your PC on to download Torrents thus saving energy. The drive has a built-in FTP server so you can access your files this way as well as via the web interface. This is more convenient as you can access your files using a FTP client program so you can drag and drop files in bulk. Upload speed may be a bit limiting on home broadband connections though so can take a while to download files from the drive to wherever you are unless you have a super duper broadband connection at home or wherever the drive is situated. Again, no need to leave your PC on to act as an FTP server. As for the print server USB port, I've not managed to get this function to work (tried with a Dymo Label printer). IP address used to print to the printer is correct but still no luck. I currently have this printer networked, working with an Apple Airport Express Base Station so the Dymo works with print servers in general. The Iomega has actually detected it according to the logs so not sure why it won't print. The drive came with EMC Retrospect Express HD backup software. This can back up your system and/or documents automatically once you create a schedule. Not sure I trust this software as clicking 'Restore' seems to crash it under Windows 7. Backups aren't useful if you can't restore! Either use something else to automate backups or just do a manual copy / paste of important documents into the Iomega NAS. Make sure you have multiple copies of important files. Offsite backups as well i.e. saved on a server elsewhere on the Internet. Oh and the Home Page of the drive's web interface has a slide show that you can customise with your own images. Nice feature, even if not particularly useful. On top of that, you can create further folders to automatically upload photos to email distribution lists (you add emails), upload photos to Facebook , upload videos to YouTube, etc. Very clever and potentially very time saving if you do these things a lot. SUMMARY Pros - Gigabit Network speeds - Lots of neat features - Low price for what you're getting - Some features could help you save electricity - Customisable Cons - Can need restarts now and again - Some features are a bit tricky to configure - Included back up software isn't great (or doesn't work in Windows 7) VERDICT To conclude, the Iomega NAS is a cheap and cheerful NAS drive capable of decent speeds, has a number of neat features but may have a few little niggles (which may be rectified by future firmware updates). For the purpose of backing up and accessing media from a fast network drive, this is ideal but of course the 2TB (around £125) version, which is identical only costs a bit more so I would go for that rather than the 1TB version. Price is cheap and the remote access such as FTP and configuration is a bonus as it means you can host your files on an FTP without leaving your PC on (for those whom don't have web hosting). Can't vouch for how long it'll last as hard drives can fail but for now, recommended. Thanks for reading Also posted on Ciao / Amazon
The SanDisk Cruzer Blade 16GB USB 2.0 flash drive is an attractive looking memory stick. I've had mine for about 6 months now and it's working fine. Originally bought for £16.99 although price has gradually been dropping. It's something around £12 now. The drive is very attractive with it's red and black casing. Something pretty unique is how the whole thing is plastic and doesn't have usual metallic casing at the USB part where it slots into the USB port. It has a hole at the back to let you thread a keyring or string to attach to your keys or to something to hang around your neck. I wouldn't put it with your keys using a metal ring though, as too much pressure can break the plastic, as I know someone with one whom did this and lets just say the drive has seen better days, even though it still works. 16GB of space is enough for a lot of documents and even software (even if it's only really 14.9GB because of the way MegaBytes are measured and advertised (1024 per MB rather than 1000 per MB)). It can also fit a fair bit of media such as music and movies. Unfortunately, this is when you start realising the downside of buying such a cheap drive. The transfer speed of copying files to the device is very slow. Write speed (copying files TO the drive) is around 19.5 Megabits/s (that's 2.44 MegaBytes). Read speed (copying FROM the drive) is around 262.5 Megabits/s (around 32.81 MegaBytes/s). The read speed is pretty good but writing is very slow and would be quite frustrating if you're copying a lot of files or a lot of large files to the drive. I own other flash drives and they fair a lot better in write speeds. E.g. Kingston DataTraveller 16GB - Write speed 64.67 Megabits/s (8.02 MegaBytes). Read speed 171.66 Megabits (21.46 MegaBytes) **I used LAN-Speed-Test to get those results. It's meant for testing read/write speeds over networks but can be pointed to local and removable drives. It has a 2 year manufacturer's warranty, which is okay but not great compared to Kingston and Transcend whom offer lifetime warranties for the flash drives but it's better than just getting the usual 1 year. Lastly, it has no drive to indicate that files are being read / written. Advantages - Looks cool - Compact and simple design - Read speed is on par with other flash drives - Cheap for the amount of storage it offers Disadvantages - Slow write speed - Plastic can break quite easily under pressure - No light to indicate drive is in use To conclude, read speed is on par with other drives (faster than some, only a bit slower than others) but write speed is extra slow and a major let down. If the main purpose of getting this drive is to store software which you need to copy from the SanDisk Cruzer to PCs, then it's fine so long as you don't mind waiting a bit longer for files to copy onto the drive or you don't need to keep updating them with new versions. For backing up the odd documents, then it'll do the job. If however, you frequently need to back up large amounts of data to the drive, then I would spend a bit more on a faster drive. Thanks for reading! Review also posted on Ciao and Amazon (Deru / Derren)
I needed a new phone to use as a second phone alongside my iPhone but didn't want to spend too much. I kept hearing rave reviews about Android so thought I'd try it out, as it would give me more functionality than a normal mobile. I chose the Wildfire, an entry level Android phone from HTC, costing me £170. I got the pure white version, which has a bit of silver and looks really nice! The usual brown version was too common for my liking. SETTING UP After popping in the SIM under the battery, MicroSD card in the slot and the initial eight-hour or so charge, powered on the phone and off I went. As it's a smart phone, there are endless things I can do but what I quite like is how it lets you choose customise the Home screen with different "Scenes" to determine what options are there. i.e. 'Work', which puts Stocks and Shares, Calendar, News, Mail, 2 clocks, etc as opposed to 'Social' which customises the screen with Friend Stream, Email, Favourite Contacts, Email, Texts, etc. There's also Play, Travel, Clean State and a HTC 'Scene'. Each one can be customised by pressing and holding an item or an empty area to add new widgets. All of them have a screen where you can conveniently enable and disable Wireless and Bluetooth whereby it's very longwinded on the iPhone. Transferring contacts from phone to phone can be a pain in the backside, especially if the other phones is from a different manufacturer. However, I found it very easy to transfer contacts from my iPhone to the Wildfire using the Transfer Data option, which did it all via Bluetooth in under 5 minutes! Very impressed! I also managed to import a CSV (Comma Separated Values file, a text file but with information separated with commas so it can open up neatly as a spreadsheet) with contacts into Gmail (Google Email). These contacts showed up on my phone after linking my Gmail account to the phone. Setting up Email on the phone is also extremely easy as the phone finds most settings for you. You just need to know your email and password. It will require a few more settings if the settings for your email provider are less obvious. It also has an option for Exchange (work email) if you want to connect to work emails. NAVIGATION AND USING The wildfire is a touch screen phone and I find moving around the screens very responsive and requires very little effort. I can slide up, down, left, right without having to press down hard and it moves around smoothly from screen to screen or up / down / left and right along pages. 'Pinching' the screen to zoom in and out works okay most of the time but I find it's not as smooth and lags sometimes. This may be because the processor isn't fast enough to keep up, but it still works to an acceptable level. I installed Angry Birds on it and it lags a bit whereby it runs smoothly on my iPhone 3GS, so it seems graphics and processor heavy Apps may not run as smoothly on the Wildfire as they can on higher end phones. Navigating around the phone is smooth in general though. One annoyance though is that I often end up calling the wrong person due to the bigt of lag when navigating the call lists. I find a person's name/number in the missed/received call and press it but somehow, I manage to click on the wrong one quite often. Certain screens take a bit of getting used to if you're accustomed to using an iPhone though. For example, instead of sliding from left to right of a text message or email to bring up a delete button, I need to first press Menu and then choose the Delete button to let me select multiple messages or open the message I want to delete and then choose Delete from the Menu. Other things like the date or time selector (e.g. slide day up or down to choose day, then same for month, then same for year) seems to be copied from the iPhone's interface but isn't quite as accurate and easy to use as the one on the iPhone. These things aside, the phone is very intuitive to use. Using it to make and receiving calls is easy enough. Slide up to ignore calls, slide down to take the call. Finding the phone function is easier than on the iPhone. I have no complaints with the sound quality. It's just as good as any other decent phone on the market. Loudspeaker is also adequate. A bit tinny but that's to be expected from a phone, especially an entry level one. For listening to music, you can use external speakers or headphones as the Wildfire has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Phone reception is also very good (but depends on your network as well). I'm using an Orange SIM and I swear the reception is superior compared to when I had the same SIM in my 3GS! The on screen keyboard for texting and emailing is easy to use and can also be changed to landscape if you turn the phone round for a bigger keyboard if you prefer, as it's got a built-in accelerometer, which can also be used with some games. When typing, Android gives you word suggestions like predictive texts. I find it to be a bit better than iPhones annoying auto-correct which often causes people to substitute typos with incorrect words. (Some of which are hilarious if you search for examples online). The Wildfire has an optical track pad, which just looks like a circular button but it lets you navigate by sliding your thumb/finger across it (up/down/left/right). It also acts as a button when you press down on it to make selections or to take pictures when you have the Camera App open. It's nice to have but I rarely use it. Didn't even realise that that what I was supposed to use the take pictures. One thing that bugs me a bit is how I need to press the power button (top right button) to turn on the screen when it's off. This is mainly because I'm so used to using the big round button on the iPhone though so a very minor niggle. FEATURES It has a built-camera but it's quite a disappointment, especially if you're expecting high quality snaps from the 5 Megapixel camera and flash. The flash often causes over exposure and reflect the light. Not using the flash doesn't help with the quality of the pictures either as I often find it difficult to get a good focussed picture. There's an auto-focus feature but it's really hit and miss. To get good pictures, you'd need good lighting and steady hands. It can record video as well and the picture seems okay so the blurry still pictures is most likely due to the slow shutter speed / poor auto-focus. The camera 'flash' can also be used as a torch via the 'Flash Light' App. This is something I've always liked on my trusty old Sony Ericsson W810i but is missing on my iPhone 3GS (they included it on the iPhone 4). With the Android Marketplace at your disposal, you have a lot of choice of Apps for customising and adding functions to your phone. Some Apps are free, some aren't but sadly, there are nowhere near as many Apps in the Android Market than there is in the Apple App Store. The Android Market doesn't seem to be separated by Language or country specific Apps either as I've noticed a number of foreign (quite a few Korean) Apps mixed up with the English ones. This is fine for some but things that are currency specific will be useless to me if they're not in Pound Sterling. I've found that I managed to download an eBay price check App, which only searches eBay Germany! Quality of the Apps vary so it seems the Android Marketplace doesn't have a stringent quality control process in place like Apple have with their App Store. Some Apps found in the Apple App Store cannot be found in the Android Marketplace. Some show up later, others never will but at least the more popular ones are more likely to be in both. There are already a number of useful Apps pre-installed on the Wildfire, such as Calendar, Maps, GPS (Google Maps Navigation Beta), etc but my favourite has to be the 'Wi-Fi Hotspot', which lets me turn the phone into a wireless hotspot so I can use the phone's 3G Internet connection on my laptop, iPad or whatever you have that needs wireless connectivity. This works for up to 5 devices(?) BATTERY LIFE The battery life can last around a day with moderate use, which is quite the norm with today's Smart Phones. I find I only charge mine once every 1 and half to 2 days (with WiFi and Bluetooth off most of the time) but this will vary depending on usage (Wireless, games, GPS can drain the battery). The battery is removable so a spare battery is always an option. VERDICT The Wildfire can't run certain Apps smoothly, some features aren't perfect and the Marketplace is a bit hit and miss but I feel that these aren't enough reason to overlook this phone. The Wildfire is a good performer as an entry level phone. Recommended for those after an entry-level Android Smart Phone. Thanks for reading
INTRODUCTION The HP Photosmart Premium is a wireless All-In-One multifunctional printer with scanner and memory card slots. It can be used via a USB connection (USB cable not included) or wirelessly. I use mine wirelessly although I had initially used a USB connection when I first got it out of the box to print a few things. There is no network port though so you must have wireless if you intend to use it over a network. DESIGN My first impression of the printer is that it looks quite compact and extremely sexy with its black glossy body (everyone else in the house agrees). Unfortunately, I can picture it being covered with a blanket of dust in no time so it would need regular wipe downs. That aside, it looks very up-to-date and modern and this is partly due to how it doesn't have any buttons. It has a large touch screen in the middle, which can be tilted as needed. There's also four touch sensitive buttons, which light up when applicable. The printer design fits very well in the home. INSTALLATION After unpacking the printer, there were plenty of clear protective stickers and blue tape to hold moving parts in place for me to rip off. The printer was in a black 'HP ecosolutions' bag and the power adapter was in a zip case rather than see-through throwaway bags. This was probably HP's attempt at being more environmentally friendly. The bag can be used for shopping and the zip case can be used for storing other bits and pieces. I installed the set of included ink cartridges and powered on the printer. To my surprise, the display said that there were incompatible cartridges installed. I had used the original HP cartridges that were included, so I checked whether I had installed each one in the correct slots. Each colour is allocated a shape. You then match up the shape and colour on the cartridges with the coloured shape for each slot, which makes it easy to tell which cartridge goes in which slot. I had correctly installed the cartridges so I just restarted the printer, which did sort out the problem. The printer proceeded to do its thing and automatically printed a print alignment / calibration page. I followed the Wizard (step-by-step installation stages) and went through the wireless set up. I have two wireless networks in the house. One is from my Belkin router and the other is from my Apple AirPort Extreme Wireless Base Station. I tried to connect to my Apple network but it kept failing to connect (said invalid pass key or something) even though I knew I was using the correct details. Instead of wasting more time after 3 or 4 attempts, I told it to connect to the Belkin network instead, which worked first time. This was a bit annoying and puzzling, as both networks used the same level of security (WPA). During the set up, it also printed a page telling me about ePrintCenter, ePrint and Print Apps as well as telling me my printer's email address. I had mixed experiences with installing the HP software from the CD provided. On my Macbook Pro (running Snow Leopard, Mac OS X), the software installed fine in around 15 minutes, which overwrote an existing installation of the HP software (as I own another HP multifunctional printer). Set up via USB connection and then later, I changed it to wireless without any problems. On my main PC running Windows 7 Ultimate (64bit), the software setup closed itself prematurely after agreeing to the disclaimer. The disc included does state it was compatible with Windows 7 so I uninstalled my existing HP printer software (meant for the HP Photosmart Premium C309a), restarted the PC but it still did the same thing. Not wanting to give up, I went onto the HP website and downloaded the software (full package, which is 167MB in size). The download speed on the HP website was a good 570KB/s so the download took less than 5 minutes. Same thing happened the first two times but I closed down all running programs the next time and it worked. On another PC running XP, the software gave errors and had to roll back so uninstalled itself. I kept trying and even cancelled when it tried to uninstall and it installed okay. It already had software for another HP multifunctional printer installed, which might have been the cause but it did not mess up the existing install. When using the HP Solution Centre, it still used the existing printer as the scanner. It didn't actually ask me to select the Photosmart on this occasion so that makes sense. The installation didn't complete but the drivers were on the machine. I simply manually added the printer into the Printer List using the Add Printer wizard using the Photosmart's IP address (I got this off the network settings on the printer) and selected the appropriate driver, which did install from the software CD. On another machine running XP, it installed fine and this too had an older version of the HP software. Overall, setting up the printer wasn't as smooth as hoped and the HP software is a bit of a pain. Always better to restart the PC, close all programs, even disable antivirus when before installing software and drivers for HP printers. The printer not being able to connect to my Apple wireless network was a bit strange but I later rectified this by doing a software update for the printer. This was done via the touch screen on the printer. The software update process wasn't as painless as I'd hoped, as it took around 30 minutes to do step 1 of 2. I left it to run and it got stuck at the end of step 2 for about an hour so I restarted the printer (which is worrying as you're advised to never interrupt firmware updates because it can kill your device). When it started up again, it spent another 20 minutes or so downloading and installing another update, which did complete successfully without turning the printer into an oversized paperweight. USING THE TOUCH SCREEN The printer takes around a minute to switch on, which is a bit slow for my liking but it is pleasantly quiet when turning on unlike a lot of other multifunctional printers. This may vary depending on when the Photosmart decides it needs to 'prepare' the cartridges or if new cartridges have been inserted. Using the TouchSmart touch screen is intuitive although it's not as sensitive as an iPhone screen. You press buttons and swipe left or right to scroll along and to move from one picture or screen to another. I find I do have to apply a bit more pressure before it registers when compared to an iPhone but this is quick to get used to. Navigating around the options takes a second a two before it moves from one screen to another, which I feel could be sped up but this isn't a huge problem. Moving onto some other screens, can take up to 10 seconds. Opening the scanning options took around 8 seconds the first time but only a 1-2 seconds the second time, so things can definitely be improved there (more memory in the printer?). On a brighter note, when the printer is in 'sleep' mode, just tapping the touch screen wakes it up pretty much instantly. PRINTING & PRINT QUALITY General printing has been problem free and is not particularly noisy. The noise level of when printing is what I expect from an inkjet printer and have definitely heard worse. I have been very impressed with the quality of the photos printed out. Using HP photo paper, images seem to have good colour accuracy but more importantly, colours are solid without streaks anywhere to be seen. This is using the photo paper and high quality print settings. Pictures on web pages printed onto normal office paper printed fine as well. Photocopies of glossy magazine covers look amazingly in terms of colour accuracy. Looking closer, textures vary but I don't expect it to be perfect. The printer is quite quick to print as a full page colour copy takes around 20 seconds to print. Unfortunately, copies don't seem to be borderless so I do end up with white margins around the edges. Printing photographs on full A4 or the small photo paper is automatically borderless though. Printing normal text documents is much quicker. When printing normal text documents, the quality is adequate. When looking very closely at printed text, even with the higher quality setting, I do see a bit of splattering around the edges of the text but it's very small and still perfectly readable. Lesser quality settings are a bit fainter and the splattering around the edges of text are that bit more apparent but otherwise, still perfectly acceptable for reading. Choice of paper may affect this so using higher quality paper may yield better results. In all cases, the ink has been very quick to dry so no smudging when touched. SCANNING I have found scanning with the Photosmart extremely easy using the HP Solution Centre as well as using the touch screen. Scan quality is very good and it's also quick even when scanning at 200 dpi resolution (dots per inch, the higher the number the higher the quality). I can choose to scan to a memory card or scan to a computer with the option of which computer to scan to. When choosing to scan via the touch screen, a preview of the document in the flatbed comes up quite quickly without me asking for it, which is good as it's not slowing me down and saves an extra step in the process. I can choose to scan to email (it sends the image to my email client, ready to send), to PDF on my computer, as an image to my computer, etc and it works very well over wireless. When using the HP Solution Centre on the computer, I can ask for a scan wherever I am in the house (provided my wireless allows) and it just brings up the image on my machine in seconds. I'd imagine scanning via USB would be just as easy for those using a desktop and with the Photosmart on the same desk but the wireless adds a lot of flexibility as you can have multiple PCs (although not at the same time as the software will complain if the machine is already in the middle of doing a scan). The quick transfer of the scanned image over the wireless network is most likely due to the Photosmart having a wireless N wireless card built-in (currently the fastest wireless standard). I feel this helps justify the higher cost of the printer compared to cheaper models. FEATURES The memory card slots let you use the printer as a card reader but it also lets you use your printer as a standalone machine so you can print photos without the use of a computer. It only has SD / MMS and Sony Memory Stick DUO card slots, which is fine for me but I know that a lot of people with Digital SLR Cameras which use CF (Compact Flash) cards so may be a let down for those. To use as a card reader, it is possible to import the pictures from a memory card over the wireless although this must be via the HP software. Using the HP Photosmart Studio on the Mac, it successfully imported some of the photos on my SD Card but it complained that it couldn't import the other pictures for some reason. Same thing happens each time I try. It's also possible to send the pictures from a memory card from the printer to the PC but I've not managed to get this working. The printer screen said to go to my computer to complete the transfer but nothing popping up on my computer. If connected up via USB, it would just appear as a removable drive on your computer and probably ask whether you want to import or view the images on the card as soon as it detects the card, which would be a lot more straight forward. The ePrint feature lets you print to the Photosmart by simply sending an email to the printer. It gave me an email address when I was setting up the wireless. I tested this and it does print my email message albeit omitted the attachments. The website tells me that they omit attachment that they think will not print out properly, although I attached a photograph so not sure why it didn't print. However, on further testing, it can print images that are embedded in the message body so you're fine if you send HTML formatted emails to the printer. You can log into the ePrintCenter, an area on the HP site that lets you view the printer status, get updates, find links to support, etc. After emailing the printer (that sounds a bit odd), I got an email confirming that the ePrint had been received. I like this feature as it means I can send print jobs to the Photosmart when out and about and it means I will have printouts ready to be picked up when I get home (assuming it wasn't out of paper or switched off). It's also possible to restrict who can print to the printer as anyone who knows the printer's email would be able to print. Not that anyone would be able to guess it, as it's a long code in front of the email. These can take a few minutes but it works. Print Apps are little programs that you can run on the printer's touch screen. There are a number of them pre-installed such as Yahoo news, Disney, etc, which lets you print articles. It's Difficult to read what they are on the screen so at most, you can see the pictures and read the headlines as that's all it was intended since you're supposed to print them. When printed, it prints using duplex by default (double-sided printing to help save paper). There's one nice little App called HP Quick Forms, which lets you print things like fax cover sheets, notebook paper (guide lines), music sheets, but my personal favourites are the calendar (weekly or monthly) and checklists (empty so you can fill in the tasks then tick them off when done). There are also games (i.e. Sudoku) and photo management Apps such as Snapfish, which lets you upload photos to albums, view existing albums so you can print and even order prints. There's even a Facebook Photos App for those interested. All these Apps are simple and intuitive to use, albeit can be a bit slow as some screens require content from websites and can take 10 seconds upwards to load, even on a fast wireless network and broadband. More Apps can be downloaded via the touch screen and what Apps you have on the printer can be amended to you're your needs. This is all quick and easy. Logging onto the HP Print Apps area, on the ePrintCenter a number of categories are empty, which is a bit disappointing. I would have liked to see something in the 'Coupons' category amongst others. I feel they could have at least have created at least one App in each category (or not bother with the category at all). They're nice to have but a lot of the things can be done on a PC anyway and it may be less frustrating when done on a PC than on a small touch screen that's also slow to navigate. However, for certain last minute tasks like printing out a route, the Print Apps seems very handy. PROBLEMS Being able to print photos directly off a memory card is a handy feature, which pretty much all multifunctional printers with memory card slots is capable of so its is nothing new. Unfortunately, it's been hit and miss with my C310a. When a memory card is inserted, the printer acknowledges it with a blue LED above the card slots and a ding audible alert. I navigate to the Pictures section to view and select which photos I wish to print. The menus are easy to navigate and I am able see the pictures on the memory card but my first attempt at printing resulted in nothing happening after pressing the print button. I later discovered it was because the printer is set to print to the photo tray 3 x 5" photo size by default. It did not tell me this, which isn't particularly user friendly (although it did after I did updated the printer's software). With this mystery solved, I duly attempted to get some printing done via the card slot and the touch screen. When printing off some photographs directly off of a SD card I've found that print jobs cancelled themselves part way through with the message "Print Cancelled" on the display. It had me wondering whether it was because I accidentally pressed the cancel button just as I started the job but this has happened to me several times printing to 10 x 15cm photo paper as well as HP A4 photo paper. Most times, it started printing a tenth of the photo before cancelling but it has also cancelled a print job after it had printed just over 80% of the page. This problem occurs intermittently, as I have printed a number of photos successfully both on A4 and on the 10 x 15cm photo paper via the photo tray. Even so, this problem is pretty unacceptable for a premium product and can result in a fair bit of wasted photo paper. Maybe it doesn't like my SD Card? (although still not a good enough reason as it sometimes works). Unfortunately, even the firmware update I ran didn't resolve this problem and I believe it's a firmware problem. After doing a search online, does seem others have experienced this problem as well (some with worse symptoms affecting all prints). Other prints (i.e. from a PC / copying) have been fine. I've also had the printer tell me that it could not connect to the network when using the Print Apps to get news articles online. On checking the network settings, the printer was still connected. This was quite intermittent but the problem eventually went away. Lastly, on one occasion, the printer's touch screen interface became slow and even unresponsive. I had to restart the printer to fix this. This was all after the software / firmware update. It hasn't happened since though. COST OF PRINTER AND RUNNING COSTS The cost of the printer varies from £125 upwards to £200 depending on where you buy it, so not particularly cheap compared to the £40 multifunctional printers that you can get. However, the higher costs mean that you could potentially be better off in the long run due to the running costs, as the cheaper printers will use single ink cartridges (1x black and 1x colour), which cost about £20+ each. I prefer to be able to replace individual colours to reduce waste and to lower costs. After printing out a number of full A4 sized colour photos, the ink indicators on my computers and on the printer's display show that the ink levels have only depleted slightly (I don't know how accurate those are) although it seems to suggest that only Cyan has gone down and the rest seem to be full. This printer uses HPs 364 and 364XL cartridges and uses a total of 5 ink cartridges (Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Photo Black). The standard cartridges cost just under £6 each. The high capacity ones cost around £11 each. The XL (high capacity) black cartridge costs around £17, so just under £30 for a set of the standard ones or around £60 for a set of the 'XL' high capacity cartridges. I recommend shopping around as prices can go up and down. As for energy use, this printer has been ENERGY STAR® rated and it goes to sleep when idle so helps with keeping electricity costs down although I personally switch the machine off when not in use, which is even better. Unfortunately, that also means that ePrinting my emails won't work until the printer is switched back on again. SUMMARY PROS - Printer looks very sleek and modern - Photo print quality is excellent - Ink dries quickly - Nice features such as ePrint, which works well - Print Apps are nice to have - Multiple cartridges so not all colours need to be changed when one colour runs out - 802.11n Wireless (faster wireless speeds) enabling fast transfers and scanning over the wireless - Quiet printing - Multiple inks for colours (cost and environmental benefits) - Energy efficient - HP website provides easy access to software and driver downloads - HP Consumer forums is also a good resource for support - Comes with a large bag and zip case CONS - Print jobs cancel part way when printing direct off a memory card - HP software / drivers can be annoying to set up - Printer wireless complains about no connection when it's connected - Printer updates take a long time and can get stuck - Print Apps choices a bit limited - Bit slow to start - No Ethernet port so you must have a Wireless network to utilise a lot of the features - Navigation around the touch screen can be a bit slow when extra content needs to be downloaded - Only has SD / MMS and Sony Memory Stick DUO card slots - No USB cable included VERDICT The set up process was a bit annoying and can be improved, especially with the software but it seems to vary from system to system. Maybe tell people to restart their PC, close all programs before running the HP software installer as well as not plug in the USB cable before installing the software. The random cancelling of prints in the midst of printing, the 'no connection' warning when it's actually connected, etc can definitely be ironed out by HP with future firmware upgrades. Luckily, I rarely print straight from memory cards so that issue doesn't really affect me. The touch screen interface is nice but I would like the navigation to be a bit quicker, especially with Print Apps. It would frustrate many people to have to wait ten seconds to navigate between pages when it'd be quicker on a PC, which they can then print from the PC. It lacks an Ethernet port so you must have wireless in order to use the Print Apps. Those points aside, the print quality is good, the scanning works very well and it has some nice features, so I do recommend the Photosmart for those reasons. With features such as ePrints, the Print Apps and the possibilities of more Apps in the future, the excellent print quality, ease and speed of scanning over the network and the cost of inks, I would give the Photosmart a a 4 out of 5 in terms of value for money. Thanks for reading.
The Logitech Wave is a smart looking keyboard made to be comfortable to type with by having the keys in a waved shape in the middle and by including an integrated cushion at the bottom of the keyboard to rest your hands. Even the numeric keypad is slightly wavy and these wavy shapes supposedly help you position your hands. That is assuming you touch type like I do as I can't imagine it making much difference to non-touch typists aside from looking nice! The cushion is made of a rubbery material, which isn't too squishy but feels quite nice to rest my hands on. This is better than having those removable palm rests that come with a lot of standard keyboards. The keyboard itself is a USB wired keyboard although it did come with a PS/2 adapter if you didn't want it to take up a USB port. There's also a wireless edition but I didn't want it as it mean that the CAPS, Scroll and NUM Lock indicator lights would not be on the keyboard itself to save power. On the wired version, these are located just underneath the numeric keypad. The keyboard is very stylish looking and maybe only a bit bigger than a standard one. It has two separate stands underneath so you can choose how high to tilt the keyboard. Also, didn't want to pay extra for the wireless option. It cost me around £35 at the time. It seems to be around the same price today. Aside from the usual keys, it also has a bunch of extra buttons down the left side, across the top and two at the top right of the keyboard. It has Zoom, the full set of multimedia buttons (play/paus, stop, volume controls, etc) as well as buttons to open Gadgets (the Tools/Widgets down the right if you use Vista/Windows 7), Pictures and Music folders, the Media Centre (if you use a version of Windows that includes it), and even a program switching button. Lastly, on the right, we have a calculator and a PC power button. In addition to these, it has extra Fn functions that let you use the F Keys (F1, F2, etc) while you hold down the Fn to perform a different task. These include Word, Excel, Calendar, a, b, and c to perform the task of you choice, Internet, Instant Messenger, Email, Internet Search, Search PC and even an Eject button, which I rather like as it's quite unique to be found on a desktop keyboard. These buttons (besides the multimedia controls) can be customised to do something else via the Logitech SetPoint software. This can be installed from the included CD or downloaded from the Logitech website. Either way, this is easy to do. I like the look of the keyboard and I like how comfortable it is and how quickly I can type using this keyboard. I like how they've included the media buttons, the calculator button, the Fn functions and how easily they can be customised to do something else if need be. However, I don't like a few things they've done with the layout. First thing is the Home and End keys, instead of the Home key being above the End key, they are now side by side. The End key is no longer in between the Delete and Page Down keys. Instead, it is above the Page up and Page Down keys. The Delete key is the size of two keys in height, which I wouldn't have particularly minded if it didn't mean the Home and End keys would have to be relocated. Another little annoyance is the 'Right-click' key. This is usually located on the right side, in between the Alt Gr and Ctrl keys. When pressed, it opens up the menu that you would get if you did a right-click. I sometimes used this but annoyingly, Logitech have moved this to the Print Screen button as a 'Fn' function so I would have to hold the Fn button and then find the button at the top right of the keyboard. I'm guessing not many people use it but for those that do now and again, it's annoying. The Fn key is now in the right-click key's original position. Bad points aside, the keyboard feels very robust and is spill proof, meaning spilling your drink over it does not necessarily mean a new keyboard. The keys can be easily pried off, using something pointy, if the keyboard is in need of cleaning, although the media keys are bit trickier to take off. Looking underneath the individual keys, it is obvious that any liquid that happens to seep down between the keys will be trapped off and unable to seep further down to where the electronics are due to the design. The button underneath the key is protected by a wall. I have indeed, spill a drink over the keyboard, a sticky one at that, and it has survived (I'm using it now). Albeit, the SPACE and right cursor keys got a bit sticky causing the cursor to run away but a couple of further cleans remedied the problem. SUMMARY PROS - Good quality keyboard - Comfortable to type with - Lots of extra buttons, Fn keys plus media buttons - Spill proof - Good support from Logitech for software updates CONS - Some keys are in non-standard positions, which can take getting used to VERDICT It's a comfy, stylish and robust keyboard from Logitech. If you don't mind the couple of key location changes, then I can highly recommended. Alternatively, go with the wireless one, which also comes with a mouse. Thanks for reading! *Also on Amazon under Derren. Ciao under same name.
INTRO Quidco is a website that lets you earn 'cashback' for your purchases. E.g. You buy something, you then get a percentage or a fixed amount given back to you. This is a great way of saving money if you were going to buy an item anyway so rather than spending £100 and getting nothing back, you could get for example, 5% back (£5) and end up having spent £95 instead of the full £100. Buying things you wouldn't have bought in the first place without the cashback on the other hand, would be a false economy. I have so far, earned £639.41 in cashback (think I've been paid around £550 so far) and this is over around a year and half so not bad considering they were all things that I would have bought anyway. EARNING CASHBACK The gist of it is that you log into your Quidco account, browse for or search for the retailer you are expecting to make a purchase from, click on the link in the Quidco account that takes you to the website and then make actual the purchase. This transaction is then tracked in your Quidco account with a tracked status. In time, it is validated and then later "Paid" in your transaction log once the retailer pays the commission. The clearance time varies, but expect anything from a month up to 6 months depending on what it is. It's in case you decide to return your purchase, cancel and account or not fulfilled requirements. There are hundreds of big and small retailers including eBay, Apple, Best Buy, LastMinute.com, Firebox, Play.com, etc, and in loads of different categories. I've used Quidco to buy pretty much everything when I needed something off eBay, Play.com, Firebox, etc. I've even used Quidco for work purchases so I basically earned cashback without spending any of my own money (i.e. bought £1000 worth of domain names through 123Reg and then earned £80 cashback for myself. CHA-CHING! :D). I have also signed up through a number of gambling website offers via Quidco with silly offers (silly for them!), which proved very profitable for me. For example, I register for an account via a Quidco link, deposit £20, gamble at least £20 on the site (required to qualify) and then earn £40 cashback. That's £20 profit! Oh and I ended up winning money with the £20 deposited on some occasions so it was more like £60+ profit (amounts vary from the example as I did this a number of times giving me more like £200 profit). I've done this via other cashback sites as well in the past but none of them would have paid me 100% so I would only make half the profit. These offers come and go but they've worked in my favour but I see the reason for these. These are to tempt people to sign up and gamble in the hope that they get hooked and spend all their money! I DO NOT recommend trying this if you have no self-control, as gambling can be an addictive past time. Aside from buying things, there are one or two paid searches that you can do to earn cashback. This costs you nothing and simply involves you doing a search and clicking on the research. These offers are very limited and currently, I've only seen 2 offers (High Street Web paying 4p per search and Kelkoo paying 1p per search). These are limited to a number of searches per day to prevent abuse so with a limit of 2 searches with High Street Web and 1 search limit with Kelkoo, it can boost my balance by 9p per day at most. I seldom do these searches as I think it's a bit unethical to search just to earn cashback with no intention of buying anything (The money has to come from somewhere i.e. the retailers advertising on the comparison sites mentioned) but that's just me. However, unlike other cashback sites, Quidco also let you earn cashback when you shop offline (in shops)! To use this feature, you would need to register your credit card with Quidco, which just involves punching in the credit card number and saving it in under the In-Store settings on the site. I've done both debit and credit cards. American Express doesn't seem to work but the rest went through fine. I don't think there's a limit to how many cards you can register. I've even registered my dad's cards(!) so I have about 8 in my account. For those whom have security doubts about doing this, you don't give any other details such as the expiry date or 3 security digits at the back. Quidco also have a massive user base and seem trustworthy enough whereby the pages are secure (https and padlock in browser to show there's encryption in use), plus I've not had any problems since registering my credit cards. Once your card has been registered, simply wait 24 hours and you can start using the registered card in the shops they support. I've used this and the cashback shows as "Tracked" in my account in a day or two after the purchase. I've earned cashback from Sports Direct, Halfords and Debenhams. Unfortunately, the offline cashback offers are a bit limited (currently only 13 offers) when the online ones are more like several hundred but it's better than nothing. Cashback varies as shown below: Sports Direct (2.25% cashback) Halfords (4.5% cashback) Debenhams (2% cashback) B&Q (2% cashback) NCP Car Park (4.5% cashback) Even though the list of offers is limited for the offline cashback, there are a number of big retailers so it's a nice to have. There are a few I've never heard of as well (i.e. Country Casuals, Viyella) but some people may be able to make use of them if they happen to have one of the shops near them. Not only that, you can get free cashback from offers such as signing up for bank accounts and get cashback for essentials such as car insurance! Do shop around for them as well but if the offer you find on Quidco is the cheapest anyway or very competitive, it can work out cheaper than the competitors after the cashback. I got the cheapest quote from AVIVA for my car insurance (£370) and got £50 cashback via Quidco, so I paid £320 for the year. GETTING PAID Quidco pay twice a month (1st and 15th) via BACS (bank transfer) or PayPal once you reach the minimum pay out amount. The minimum pay out amount can be changed in your account settings, and can be anything from £1.01 upwards. I set mine to pay out via BACS when I accumulate £25. Not sure if the PayPal option incurs PayPal fees or not as I've not used it (some survey sites I use that pay me via PayPal don't incur PayPal fees). WHAT'S THE CATCH? Most cashback sites out there split the commission that they earn with their user (i.e. you and me whom uses the cashback site). So let's say they earn 5% or £5 from a sale, they'll give you 2.5% or £2.50 and they'll keep £2.50. That is how they make the money but Quidco does it differently and instead give you 100% of the commission. Instead of splitting the commission, they simply charge an annual fee of £5. This may earn them less in the long run per user who registers with Quidco but their business model is to get more users to make it worthwhile. The £5 is only deducted from your earnings so if you don't earn any commission, then you don't pay anything. This annual subscription fee which allows for me to be paid 100% of the commission as cashback means that I make substantially more than other cashback sites so I love it! CUSTOMER SERVICE There have been several instances whereby some cashback I had earned had not been paid or not been tracked. One time, a transaction was tracked but not paid even after 3 months and it was supposed to have been paid by that time according to the cashback page for that particular retailer (all cashback offers state how long before cashback is paid). I submitted a Cashback Query, which is their ticket support system, and swiftly received a response from the Quidco team informing me that it takes time for some retailers to pay. My cashback was paid right away into my Quidco account though so they did action my query even though the response was pretty generic. Another time, a transaction didn't track so I queried that, and it did get added to my transactions and validated by Quidco with the retailer. I'm still waiting for payment for that one to my Quidco account so will be contacting them when the time is right. My cashback has only ever been declined once whereby a Bingo site said I hadn't played the amount deposited (which is rubbish). That's £20 lost but I believe this was the retailer's fault and not Quidco as I don't expect Quidco to pay me cashback if they don't receive the commission themselves. Fair dos. Another time, a gambling site didn't pay out for almost a year but I got it in the end after a number of support tickets to Quidco. Quidco seemed to be very proactive in getting it resolved, which is good. It was £45 cashback so glad I got it eventually. SUMMARY PROS - Earn 100% cashback - Quick and good customer service - Low pay out amount (customisable) - Payment by PayPal or BACS - Prompt payment CONS - Some purchases are not tracked properly so need to be enquired - Cashback payment time varies from retailer to retailer (some take months) - Offline (in shop) cashback number of offers limited - You'll kick yourself every time you forget to check Quidco first or forget to buy through Quidco VERDICT Having used a number of cashback sites in the past (Cashbag, iPoints, FreeFivers, MutualPoints, Rpoints, to name a few), Quidco is by far my favourite. The £5 a year is nothing compared to how much you can earn and it only comes out of what you earn each year so it doesn't cost you anything to join. By making a habit of going through the site for your online purchases, registering your payment cards, and playing it smart (i.e. do it for business purchases at work if you're responsible), you can earn a significant amount of cashback for spending money you would be spending anyway. I couldn't recommend Quidco highly enough. I would sign up today if you haven't already! Interested? Sign up here. http://www.quidco.com/user/462179/100487 Thanks for reading!
As a touch typist (I type by feeling the keyboard keys and not needing to look), it's important that I can type quickly and comfortably. For this, I need a good comfy keyboard and maybe a good wrist rest. I decided on the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, which cost me around £45 at the time (around £30 on Amazon today). It's a USB (wired) keyboard with a very unusual shape, designed to make typing feel comfortable and natural for the touch typist. Good ergonomics is extremely important along with best practices to avoid permanent injuries from sitting at the computer over extended periods of time. Main problem when it comes to using a keyboard is the risk of getting RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), which is caused by repeating actions such as typing and using a mouse. This condition is permanent and can be painful. The keyboard even has a big warning on the bottom (a tag on the cable refers you to the bottom of the keyboard first, in case you don't look underneath), which refers you to a "Healthy Computing Guide" included with the software and on the Microsoft website. This guide shows you how you should sit at your desk, how your screen should be positioned, how your arms should be positioned, taking breaks to avoid eye strain, et cetera, and even to eat healthily! Shows they care! My first impression of the keyboard after setting it up is that it is a massive beast! It has two clip stands to raise the back of the keyboard if need be, much like most keyboards on the market but it also comes with a big riser, which clips underneath at the front to raise it 2cm off the desk. This makes it a very tall keyboard. Although it's optional, it may be recommended for the ergonomic benefits. It is in the shape of a 'wave', curving upwards where the massive gap between the TGB and YHN keys are, which is something I find very unusual and unique in a QWERTY keyboard. It also has a wrist/hand rest at the front made from some rubbery material, which is soft but not too squishy. With all these design features, I find typing with the keyboard extremely comfortable. It also feels very durable. I can also type pretty quickly on it thanks to the shape. The Number Lock, CAPS Lock, Scroll Lock, and F Lock LED indicators are at the bottom of the keyboard rather than at the top right, which I quite like. The size may be a problem for some with limited desk space or for those whom need to place the keyboard in a keyboard drawer. I have a keyboard drawer built into my desk but while this keyboard is in, sliding the drawer in and out scrapes the keyboard against the bottom of my desk. This is only with the riser attached but I prefer to keep it on. This Microsoft keyboard is now on top of my desk, with my other keyboards (yes, I have loads!) stuffed underneath in the drawer. The width of the keyboard is only slightly wider than a standard one but the length from top to bottom is a third larger than standard keyboards due to the wrist rest. The keys are very responsive and although I can hear each keystroke after striking each key, the resulting noise level is not overly loud. It's more of a soft tapping sound rather than a sharp and loud one that you might find with older keyboards. Like many keyboards, this one has additional hotkeys to open common applications and tools and to control multimedia. I do like this sort of thing as it seems like you get more for your money, and because they can be convenient. It has the following: - Web/Home (Internet browser to open home page) - Search - Mail - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (to open favourite website or programs) - Mute - Volume up and volume down - Play / Pause - Calculator - My Favorites (brings up the Window to configure the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 buttons) - Back / Forward (works well with Internet pages and in Windows folders and located at the bottom) - Plus it has a Zoom sliding button to push up and down (located in a gap between the letter keys) Most of the buttons work straight away without installing the Microsoft software but others do nothing until the software is installed. These are the numeric buttons, My Favorites and the Zoom sliding button. In addition, without the F (function) lock enabled, the F keys double as shortcuts to operate common word processing and email tasks such as Undo, Redo, New, Open, Close, Reply, Spell check, Save and Print to name a few. None of them work without first installing the software but the software is easy to install from the CD or after downloading the installer file I bought my keyboard a while ago so I had to search for and download the software to use all the Hot Key buttons. I had to use the search box at the top of the Microsoft home page because I couldn't find it by just navigating. You could also type in www.microsoft.com/hardware (but I doubt many would know that address to start with) and then click Download Software down the left. Currently, I have both the Logitech SetPoint and the Microsoft IntelliType Pro software installed and they seem to be coexisting fine. The buttons numbered 1 to 5 are buttons that can be programmed to open any program you have installed. This is easy to do just by pressing My Favorites or by opening the Microsoft Keyboard software from the Start Menu. All the hot key buttons and the functions operated by the F keys can be programmed to do something else quite easily. One can also assign Macros (automated tasks) but this looks a lot trickier to do if you want something more advanced than it entering a word automatically when one of the buttons are pressed. Not a problem, just that the more advanced users have a bit more flexibility in how they are able to use the Hot Keys should the need arise. For controlling multimedia, I like how they provide volume controls and the play / pause button but if they bothered to include these, why not included Previous / Next so you can skip and go back tracks when listening to music? The Back and Forward doesn't do this. These multimedia controls only work in Windows Media Player and not VLC Player, which I also use (may work in other players like Real Player but I've not tried). All very minor niggles. Lastly, something I've never really used are the keys at the top right of the keyboard, which are = ( ) and an another backspace (there's already the usual one next to the +/= key). I thought these were pretty unusual to include as well but it just means I can type brackets without holding SHIFT and have an extra = and backspace for when my hand is using the numeric keypad. SUMMARY PROS - Designed with ergonomics in mind to reduce the risk of RSI - Comfortable and good for touch typists to type quickly with - Has programmable Hot Keys, multimedia buttons plus a few more extras - Adjustable (removable riser at the front plus foldable risers at the back (underneath)) - Good support (includes software updates from Microsoft) CONS - Keyboard is very big and may not fit certain desks - No Previous / Next media Hot Keys to accompany Play / Pause - May not be good for non-touch typists VERDICT The keyboard is great for touch typing but not so great if you don't. If you touch type or are learning, then I highly recommend it as you'll be typing comfortably with a lower risk of RSI (although you should still stop for breaks) and I think it'll help you learn faster thanks to the keys being split down the middle based on what hand you're meant to use to hit what keys. Unfortunately, if you don't touch type, this keyboard may make it more difficult for you to type as I find it more difficult to locate keys when using the 'index finger key poking' method of typing, due to the shape of the keyboard and the gap between the keys, especially if you're not familiar with the location of each letter. Lastly, there's a wireless version of this keyboard, which may be worth considering if you prefer wireless. The Microsoft Ergonomic 7000 Desktop, which comes with the wireless version of the Ergonomic keyboard, is sold with an Ergonomic mouse. Thanks for reading!