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Another coffee purchase I was unsure about at first, again due to reading mixed reviews. Some seemed to love this little contraption while others hated it for varying reasons.
Thankfully, despite being initially a little put off by the price I fall into the first category and love my coffee grinder.
As admitted in my espresso machine review, I'm no coffee expert but for me, this makes my sunday morning espressos even better than using pre-ground supermarket coffee, increases the fresh coffee smell and produces a far better tasting drink.
It seems widely accepted that coffee grinders which use blades rather than a burr mechanism add a burnt taste to the coffee and thankfully this machine falls into the latter group of grinding methods.
The machine is straight forward to use with a hopper on top where the whole beans enter, two dials to set the amount of coffee required and how fine/course the grind should be, an on button to set the grinder away with a small plastic container that catches the finished product.
Some have commented that they find the grind of the coffee to be far too uneven from this machine but, although I think I've noticed what they mean on occasions it has never spoilt my enjoyment of the final drink. Although the fine/course setting has 5 (if my memory serves correctly) different levels I find myself only ever using the most extreme of either setting depending on whether I require espresso or filtered coffee. I've found both of these setting to produce a result I'm satisfied with.
Although I'm sure you could spend far more cash on a machine that produces a more even grind, can grind a finer grain and has a better number of settings between its finest and most coarse level for me, this is the perfect entry level coffee grinder that is miles ahead of using pre-ground coffee while not putting too big a whole in your wallet
Reading other reviews of this coffee machine opinion appeared to be mixed and at first I was dubious as to whether this was a worthwhile investment. It seemed to be agreed that any drink from an espresso machine would be far better than drinking instant coffee no matter what machine you used but whether this was the best choice seemed to be debated.
One thing seemed clear, in the coffee machine market you get what you pay for. The cheaper machines produce less pressure creating a poorer final taste as the water trickles through the coffee beans rather than being pushed through. The expensive machines appeared to have the more selective coffee drinkers drooling over the resulting drinks.
After much research I decided to bite the bullet on this model as the most expensive mid-range consumer machine available and I haven't looked back.
Having never experienced other coffee machines it's hard to say how this compares but I am extremely happy with my purchase all the same.
The machine is easy to use, easy to maintain, uses either illy pod coffee's (the tea bags of the coffee world) or loose ground beans and includes a milk frother.
I'm yet to make a bad coffee from this machine and have found that almost all pre-ground beans for espresso machines generate a good tasting coffee with the much sought after crema on top and freshly ground beans improve the taste even more so.
How tight the coffee is packed into the machine does have an effect on the drink produced and it took a few tries to find the level I most enjoyed. The milk frother also took a little getting used to but I soon found it works best with the milk at room temperature and have had no problems yet.
It can be a little long winded just to make one drink but as the perfect wake up call on a lazy weekend when time is not in short supply, as an evening pick me up after a long working day or when with guests and wanting to provide something a little different to just instant coffee this has never let me down.
I short, I'm sure there are plenty of more expensive and better quality machines available but this machine appears to be a good first purchase if you are just starting out experimenting with coffee making. It's fairly straight forward to use and produces reliable results. I beats drinking instant coffee any day.
As the sky movie package is included amongst the rest of my sky subscription it's hard for me to say exactly how much it costs per month at the moment but I definitely feel it offers value for money and when I first subscribed it was no different to visiting the cinema or renting a film once a week.
Of course, the difference between taking a sky movie subscription and regularly renting a film or visiting the cinema (with exception of the large screen, loud speakers and ever increasing cost at a cinema) is that you are always restricted to watching what is available on their broadcast schedule without the option of not paying that day if there isn't anything you fancy. Sky+ has made a move to combat this with the opportunity to record films and store them for later if you want but some may still prefer the wide selection offered at a video store and the option of not paying to rent a film if you don't find something that catches your eye.
The sky movie package is split across many channels including sky premier, comedy, sci-fi and family all of which concentrate on specific genres. This tries to ensure there is something for everyone but on all channels it is mostly hollywood big name, high production value and high marketing budget selection of films.
There is little room for the independent film makers and even those who begin to break into the main stream are left untouched and left mostly to the likes of film4 to cover. This may leave some of the more discerning film fans left a little disappointed.
If you can find something you wish to watch though with the right equipment at home and a combination of 5.1 or above speakers, a sky HD subscription and full HD TV you are likely to be amazed by the experience created which is one of crystal clear sound and perfect HD images that at least attempt to compete with the cinema environment within the constraints of your front room. I've never been left disappointed by any of the broadcast quality on the HD channels.
In summary, a sky movies subscription costs little more than renting a film weekly but gives the opportunity to see far more than one film a week if you can find something to watch. The selection available may be a little mainstream for some but the broadcast quality of all films is barely distinguishable from a Blu-Ray disc.
As this was the first time I've stayed in a Roomzzz "aparthotel" I must admit to being a little suspicious about the quality of the room before arrival. The website seemed to promise the equivalent of a reasonably sized modern living apartment with all the facilities one would include, close to the city centre at a price that other hotels, without such extras as a kitchen/cooking area, fridge, sofa and rotating TV for viewing on either the sofa or bed, were unable to even attempt to beat. To me, something didn't seem quite right that all this could be offered in a comfortable, well located and reasonably sized room at such a price.
My fears were completely unfounded. Upon arrival I was greeted in a modern looking reception by a pleasant and polite receptionist who took my payment and handed my door key over before directing me to my room.
Once I had reached my room I was amazed that it was exactly as described. Although I was only staying in one of the basic rooms l was greeted by the size of room that other hotels would happily charge a premium for. Upon investigation I discovered there was indeed a kitchen area with Oven, microwave, electric hobs, fridge and dishwasher all hidden away in a modern fashion leaving the utilities un-intrusive while unused.
The bed was comfortable and as good as in any other room I have stayed in at locations I have paid a higher price for. The bathroom was a little small but was again, in a modern design and included a good, powerful and easy to adjust shower but no bath.
The location of the hotel isn't in the most prosperous regions of Leeds city but I found it quiet enough to get a good nights sleep without any trouble and easy enough to walk into the city centre within 20 minutes or a 5 minute cab ride.
After my nights stay I was directed by the woman at reception to a small area where a grab and go breakfast was available which consisted of a help yourself collection of pastries and fruit but was more than enough to keep me going for my return drive to Newcastle.
I'd recommend Roomzzz to anyone looking for an alternative to a standard hotel room at a reasonable price and am only disappointed that having stayed for just one night I didn't get the opportunity to make use of the additional extras as I ate out on the evening and left first thing in the morning.
Having owned this TV for over 3 years now it's long since been discontinued but I feel it still holds it's own against most entry level HD TVs and can probably be picked up at a bargain price as either unsold stock or second hand from those upgrading to 3D.
The screen itself is 40' in size, more than enough to appear reasonably large in most living rooms. It includes both an analogue and digital freeview tuner but no freesat for those who insist on models with free to view HD satellite decoders being included.
It's easy to setup, just plugging an analogue aerial into the back and choosing the autotune feature will have you up and running within minutes. With three HDMI inputs and two SCARTs it is also straight forward to connect a Blur-Ray, DVD, Video player or games console and, again, be working quickly.
As with most TVs the inbuilt speakers aren't much to shout about and I'd advise any TV fan to upgrade to either a 5.1 or at least stereo receiver and external speakers as soon as possible.
The picture the screen is capable of competes with most modern TV panels in my eyes. It is full HD (1080p) capable and the bravia engine makes colours appear realistic and clearly defined.
The TV is wall mountable but I have mine stood on the included stand and feel it looks as smart as most recent Sony releases. Samsung, however, are definitely well ahead of the game in the design stakes and those who are particularly design conscious may want to look elsewhere. This TV, like most other Sony models, has a particularly square feel to it going against the apparent current fashion for rounded corners.
Having been released before the current race to increase refresh rates and reduce response times it's hard to find a specification for either of these factors for this particular model but I can confirm that neither have bothered me during usage and I've never come across a noticeably blurred display even when running fast paced films or computer games through the screen. The more discerning viewer may find these factors don't quite live up to today's standards though.
In summary the 40v3000 is a good yet basic HD TV. It has enough inputs to attach plenty of HD capable hardware to it to render the standard definition inbuilt tuners redundant. The speakers are nothing special and I'd advise upgrading to 5.1 as soon as possible but as a no frills and cheap display this is likely to satisfy a lot of normal TV viewers.
I'll start by saying i'm surprised they are still allowed to get away with calling this sky sports as sky sport (no plural) or sky premier league football would be far more appropriate. In comparison to the selection of sports shown on both Eurosport and ESPN sky is very football-centric.
The good news is that if, like me. you are a huge football fan and would watch almost any group of 22 men kicking a ball about rather than tune into the likes of x factor etc, this it the package for you. With an average of 4-5 English league games and countless Scottish and Spanish matches over the course of each friday-monday period, including a back to back double on Sunday afternoon, there is more football here than anyone could possibly want.
This isn't to say there are no other sports covered. Cricket, rugby, boxing, golf and even fishing all receive coverage but football definitely takes the lions share of the broadcast time and is what I mainly use the subscription for.
So, the coverage itself - Having ditched Keys and Gray after the sexism scandal it took a little while to adjust to the idea of not hearing the pair talking over every small detail of every match on a Sunday afternoon and something at first just didn't sound right. After some time though their replacements, an array of experienced broadcasters and ex-pro footballers, have filled the potential void and have continued to be able to discuss and analyse the game in-depth at any opportunity covering every angle of a passage of play you could imagine and some you probably couldn't! The in-game commentary is as good as could be expected as well. There will always be some commentary people will find themselves disagreeing with, the game is all about opinions of course, but generally they are able to add an additional layer to the coverage by both describing it articulately, discussing controversial moments and adding some banter during slower periods of a match.
In HD the coverage excels. Not only is the picture crystal clear but the 5.1 sound with the crowd dominating the back channels is the closest you can get to being in the stands without leaving your armchair.
Some matches are now being shown in 3D but i've yet to experience them fully. I wasn't impressed by the game I saw in a pub once but watching at home on your own TV may give a more pleasurable experience.
Overall, if you are a football fan either with sky installed already or considering a subscription this is a must. Other sports don't appear to be as widely covered but in some cases seeing something of the action is better than being left out completely so may still be worth considering. I've all confidence that their coverage of other sports is equally as good as their football but think more live events from other sports would help.
I will admit that at first I was a little sceptical about HD TV. To me, prior to HD, Tv seemed good enough as it was and I saw little problem with the picture quality.
As I was both moving house and investing in a new TV at the same time it seemed logical that my new investment should be future proof and full HD compatible...and what's the point in having an HD TV with no HD content? I upgraded my sky subscription from the normal (non-sky+) to HD at the same.
Once the engineer had left I was blown away. The difference is more than I ever thought it would be and now I'd never go back, to the point that it is an irritant having to watch non-HD content from those channels sky is yet to drag into the 21st century. The movie channels really come into their own when in both HD and 5.1 sound as it's as close to an in-house cinema experience I can imagine.
Sky+ is included as part of the package. This in itself is a revelation to me that, much like HD, I never thought I needed until I had it and frequently find my box close to full with programming I would otherwise have missed or had to watch at a lower quality via the likes of iPlayer etc.
The menu system is fairly intuitive and although a little different to the standard sky one doesn't take much to learn to use.
For some reason the picture from the sky box is only 1080i rather than 1080p, so not actually FULL HD, but I find the difference negligible.
The sky anytime+ feature available for those who also have sky broadband is a nice addition but the content is somewhat lacking in quality. Sadly, there is also very little HD stuff available but it's a nice natural evolution of the anytime idea and will hopefully improve as time goes on.
The one possible complaint I had when first subscribing was the shortage of HD channels. Sky sports and the movie channels were there but little else. This is changing frequently and there are now over 50 available to justify the additional £10 per month but it is worth noting that just because the channel has the HD letters at the end doesn't necessarily mean you are watching HD as some do still broadcast standard definition content that has not been upscalled to the higher resolution.
Overall, I'd definitely recommend Sky HD to anyone who regularly uses either the sports, movie or nature channels as all benefit hugely from the added detail. Sky Arts also show some good HD content but may not justify the £120 a year additional subscription on it's own. If you don't have the sport or movie channels it's worth checking your favourite programming is available in HD. Assuming it is you may want to consider the upgrade.
With the advent of 3D now upon us, those with a 3D TV get the 3D channel included in the HD package but I can't comment on this yet as I haven't justified the 3D upgrade to my bank account just yet!
Having owned a DAB radio in the home for a few years prior to purchasing the Pure Highway I had become hooked on BBC 6music, the crystal clear quality of both talksport and Radio 5 along with some of the other DAB exclusive stations.
As I'm not particularly a fan of any of the other BBC or local commercial stations morning or drive time shows my journeys to and from work were starting to get repetitive as I slowly worked through my CD collection from A-Z!
When I first heard about the Pure Highway I was sceptical as although DAB has worked perfectly at my last three addresses I continue to hear complaints about reception quality so was dubious as to how well this would work in a car.
When the unit first arrived I installed in into my car - it's fairly straight forward as aerial is simply a sticker which attaches to the windscreen and a suction mount holds the radio unit itself. Power is taken from the in-car cigarette lighter so there is no particular expertise required to set the radio up. A press of the auto tune button later and it has scanned the DAB airwaves for digital stations and FM bands for a free frequency to broadcast to you current car radio. The FM frequency is displayed which I tuned my radio to and then...very little! My fears were at first proving to be correct - DAB reception will struggle while on the move.
A few phone calls to the point of purchase later, performing various testing to ensure I hadn't received a faulty unit and it was agreed I could either give up and return the unit or purchase an additional £20 external aerial to magnet mount to my car roof. I took the gamble with the extra aerial which I was assured provided 50% better reception. It arrived, I mounted it with ease and tried the autotune button again...Result! It worked first time.
Still a little cautious of how well it would maintain a single while driving I tried not to get too excited but since then I've travelled the length and breadth of the country with no signal drop out at all. The only minor issue I do have is when travelling into an area that has an FM station broadcasting on the same frequency as my DAB as the station always overpowers my poor DABs transmitter and I have to retune (not while driving, of course!).
The unit itself is straightforward to use after its installed. A scroll wheel spins left and right to change the channel and is pushed in to select. There are at 8 (I believe) pre-sets to use for easy access to your favourite stations and sound quality is always just as good in not better than any FM/AM broadcast.
Depending on the size and shape of your car the installation can result in a few wires being draped around the inside carriage but I'm sure it would be possible to turn this into a neat arrangement with some thought in most vehicles. Depending on where the radio is windscreen mounted it can also be impossible to use while driving - unlike the in-car stereo, in my C-Max I find I have to stretch to reach the DAB unit which means I have to pull over if I want to change the channel and I don't have a passenger.
Ok, I admit it, I lauged (loudly) when my house mate first returned with a bread making machine under arm. What on earth could you want with one of those I thought!
Fast forward a few years and after a few attempts at using it myself I was warming to the idea of making my own bread and actually using it more than he did but it was very hit and miss as to whether the ingredients I prepared in the evening would form into a suitable loaf for the morning toast and sandwich making before work. Then, finally, the machine broke.
Disappointed by the knowledge I'd never again wake up to peer into a machine hoping my breakfast and/or lunch would be available for the day I decided I had to invest in a replacement as mornings just weren't the same.
Little was I to know, they would never be the same again even with a replacement. The Panasonic SD257 hasn't produced a bad loaf to this day. Every night my bucket of ingredients magically transforms into a fresh loaf of bread by the morning with no work on my part. It's perfect!
Not only does it seem to have the habit of making perfect loafs every time but it comes bundled with recipes for countless different bread ideas which I'd never have thought of putting together myself for a machine to deal with (cheese and bacon being a particular favourite!) and is even capable of other things like helping cook pizza dough, tea cakes or french baguettes.
The usage is fairly simple with the aid of the instructions. You put the majority of ingredients into the bucket that sits inside the machine while some additional ingredients may need to sit in a compartment in the machines lid for addition to the main bread mix later in the process. Once the ingredients are sorted you set the type of bread you require using the front panel, configure a delayed start if required (perfect for that fresh bread smell first thing in the morning) and leave it to do it's thing.
The one thing I do miss from the first machine is a viewing window to watch the machine in action as the Panasonic seems to like to keep what it's up to to itself as though it's some sort of magic! I'm quite happy to let it keep its process as magic if it means my bread is a success every time though.
The loafs it produces taste indescribably better than anything you are likely to buy packaged in a supermarket and have the added bonus that you know exactly what went into making them, with the option of adding extras if you want too.
In short, I'm never buying packaged big name brand bread again.
The Cambridge A1 has developed a reputation for itself and rightly so. It is the perfect amplifier for those who want to venture into the world of audiophile quality Hi-Fi separates but don't have the cash to splash out over £1000 on a mid-range setup.
Yes, there are better amps available capable of far superior sound but they come at a price. If you want to put together a budget system that you can later upgrade one piece at a time this is an ideal starting point and once you complete your system it will definitely sound far better than any equivalently priced all in one stereo package.
There are enough inputs for a CD, Tuner and Record deck while still having a spare input for something else like an MP3 player, computer or TV which should keep most home users more than happy. There is also the option to output to a recording device should you need it.
Usage is straight forward with only a power button and five dials on the front for treble, bass, volume and balance adjustment plus an input selector.
If you are in the market for a new Hi-Fi system and are considering seperates but put off by the price you could do far worse than consider the A1 amp as a base for your setup. I've since upgraded my main system to an Cambridge Azure 340 but the A1 will always hold a place in my heart as where my adventure into Hi-Fi seperates all started and I'm sure it will do as well for anyone else who follows a similar path.
In contrast to the previous reviewer I've never had a problem with DAB signal using this tuner at three addresses in the past few years in and around Newcastle. I also have a DAB car radio which never fails to get a reception while travelling further afield. It seems they may either be unlucky or signal strengths have improved since.
The Cambridge DAB 300 is built to the usual Cambridge Audio standards and it provides great quality audio given the bit rate at which DAB is broadcast. I've rarely struggled with interference and the selection of stations exclusively on DAB is great. I'm a huge BBC 6music fan and enjoy XFM which isn't otherwise available in the north east. Radio 5 and Talksport are also favourites and sound crystal clear compared to their AM counterparts.
The tuner doesn't include an AM/FM function that others have chosen to implement but when most analogue stations are now on DAB too I don't see this as a downside.
The DAB 300 is easy to setup, simply switch it on, connect the aerial and hold the auto-tune button to start the tuning process which takes 1-2 minutes before you are ready to go. Navigating stations is just as straight forward with the scroll wheel to the right of the front panel and 10 pre-sets make it easy to set quick links to your favourite stations.
The ease of use, sound quality and additional stations available have meant I am now unlikely to ever return to an FM tuner. DAB+ may be on it's way in the future but this still seems a few years away and until then this tuner is a perfect introduction to the world of digital radio.
Compact and lightweight the i-station 3 is easy to pack and carry on a journey of almost any distance. Being able to run from a mains power supply or batteries makes it equally as useful in small hotel rooms as it is when camping in the wilderness.
The main dock contains an iPod connector for the latest generation iPod classic and touch which ensures a digital sound is streamed to the speakers for a higher quality instead of using an analogue stereo jack in the headphone port. Given the size of the speakers the difference in quality between the two is negligible. Where the decision to make use of this Apple proprietary connection really comes into its own is that it allows the iPod to charge while docked as well so the party stops when you get tired, not your iPod's battery.
There is also a stereo input at the back of the dock and a stereo lead included so any other MP3 player or phone with a standard headphone jack can be played through the speakers. This isn't an iPod only piece of hardware!
The remote control is VERY slim but contains all the functions you could require for basic operation of the speakers or iPod. Unfortunately for some slim may be code for easy to lose but it does mean its extremely portable as long as you can keep hold of it.
The speakers themselves are as good as you could possibly expect from a system of this size. They aren't going to burst down walls or eardrums with thumping bass or result in complaints from neighbours but as a portable system to allow you to listen to music with friends while away from home they are perfect.
This coupled with the variety of power and input options makes them the perfect choice even if you don't actually own an iPod.
I purchased this camera having, believe it or not, previously survived the best part of my 25+ year long life only ever using a camera phone to take mostly grainy pictures of indecipherable objects in the distance.
When the offer of a holiday of a lifetime trip to Alaska and a conveniently timed pay rise came along this just had to change. I decided to treat myself to the Ixus 100 and I'm glad it changed as well. The Ixus 100 captured the trip perfectly from start to finish in amazing 12mp photos and HD video that will never be forgotten.
For a compact camera, at first sight, the Ixus 100 appears a little expensive and a little...little! Don't be fooled though, there's a lot of power in the little package that made for some amazing photography both on my holiday and since my return.
It's not going to make a professional photographer out of anyone overnight despite the various automatic features to get the best out of your shots but it certainly has the ability to capture something that could pass as professional with the right eye for a good image behind the lens.
The colour range the camera appears capable of is as good as could be hoped for from a camera of this price and I tend to find that the auto-adjustments offered by the likes of photoshop or other editing suites are minimal so it must be doing something right!
It's size make it perfect for slipping in and out of your pocket or bag at short notice and it can ready for action from standby in under 3 seconds if ready to hand ensuring you catch the majority of those important moments without panic.
The flash is more than adequate to light up a dim lit room although I mostly prefer to use the night mode setting instead as the flash can sometimes be too harsh while night mode compensates suitably.
The only feature I feel the Ixus 100 lets itself down with is the 3x zoom which is significantly less than other cameras available in a similar price range. As I don't have access to test these cameras as well it's hard to say whether the additional zoom ability is traded against picture quality but this is a definite consideration to make if you plan on taking a lot of photos some distance from where the action takes place.
First things first, this isn't suddenly going to turn that supermarket bought 1/4 pounder beef burger, six pack of sausages or smoky bacon into a fat free meal any weight watchers program would approve of but what it does do is provide what has to be the quickest, most convenient and healthiest way of cooking your weekly intake of red meat. Since purchasing my 3 person George Foreman grill I've found no reason to fry or grill meat in any other way.
Yes, the grill plate can be a little awkward to clean after use and some people may object to the slowly increasing pool of fat under the grill but, personally, I'd much rather see the fat there to dispose of then dread to think of eating it as part of my meal!
The grill requires little skill to use as the model I own has no buttons or settings other than on or off. Simply switch the grill on, allow it to heat, place your meat on the grill and wait until cooked safe in the knowledge that the fact content has been hugely reduced once your food is ready to eat.
As well as grilling meat the George Foreman can also be handy for making toasted sandwiches or Panini if a dedicated flat plate is not otherwise available. I also find it useful for grilling chicken and even vegetables such as mushrooms, onions or peppers if I'm feeling particularly lazy and only want to use one cooking implement!
In short, cost per use this is probably the best kitchen appliance I own as it is extremely versatile and easy to use. It's a fantastic purchase and sometimes leaves me wondering how I survived without it...maybe I'd not have survived if my fat intake wasn't reduced!!
Finding 150 words to write about these condoms is going to prove difficult as there is little to say other than that they work to perfection.
They are almost the complete opposite of my objection to the extra safe range in that they are so thin it's almost possible to forget you have one on. This, of course, allows you to enjoy the beauty of an intimate relationship almost exactly as nature intended it to be but without the unwanted risks.
As one reviewer pointed out, the fact that you can forget they are on could be a cause for concern to some as no one wants to spend that special moment wondering if indeed their protection is still on or whether it is split due to the thinness. This can be a major buzz kill. To those who are concerned I can only offer words of reassurance that not only does this range still conform to the Kitemark standard but also from my experience in that I've never had a problem with them and wouldn't buy anything else.
The best combination of protection and sensation I've found.
Note: These are purely my opinions/experiences and not necessarily an endorsement. I take no responsibility for any consequences which may occur should anyone choose to take my advice and try this product.