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I'm not a huge fan of Morrisons, but with visiting my friend for a week came the opportunity to sample a broad range of products from the Northern supermark chain Morrisons, including one of my favourite evening foods "curly chips".
I have to say I was a bit skeptical at first of trying their own brand foods, I'm a bit of a food snob and more used to waitrose own products than other supermarkets. So with hesistation I accepted the suggestion of curly fries for my evening meal. The packing is somewhat less attractive than branded products, and even waitrose's own chips, but good riddance to it, I thought I'll give it a go.
Accompanied with Morrison's own tomatoe ketchup, I tucked into my serving of fries and was suprised that they were somewhat better than I had expected, when compared to Mcdonalds own fries! They have a nice crisp coating, with a very plesant flavour with I must imagine is a combination of pre-added spices or ones my friend may have added when I was not looking. The coating was very crisp, yet soft enough to make them a very pleasant side to the main! In addition, they were not lumpy like some cheaper brands of chips, and yet not too fatty that they would taste like drinking oil from a fat frier.
Overall, great on a budget, a good alternative to the more expenive brands, with only a slight compromise in taste.
Convenience is a price worth Paying
One Stop is now part of Tesco's but under a different brand name, for what I guess means they are "technically" independant of Tesco's as a brand for competition reasons. They have continued to retain the original look and feel since the 2003 takeover, meaning that they remain independant in the way the stores feel.
The one stops stores are scattered all other the UK, and through their website you can quickly look at the nearest store on the go, on your smart phone, so no messing about with driving miles to find one.
My local store is situated around two miles from the town center and is very convinient to get to! No traffic jams to sit in, while trying to get to it, and it has morethan ample parking! The opening hours mean I can get products from around 7AM to 11PM, so I'm no longer stuck with having to always drive to a main stream supermarket, which means no long queues when I'm only after one or two items, brilliant!
The stores stock a wide range of essential products, from food stuffs, to toiletries, to baby care products, and some have a post office in addition to these services. The products are often limtied to one, or maybe two variations, eg Heinz or one stop brands for canned beans/ sauces. They are often priced a little more say 20p, than mainstream supermarkets, so maybe onestop is not the place for the weekly shop. However, given that there are no long queues, max 1-2 minutes in most cases, the extra cost is easily justified by the time.
I've never purchased any of their own brand products, as I prefer branded goods for food stuffs, as they offer premium quality over supermarket own brands. However, they are most likely manufactured to the same standards of Tesco's own brands, so quality should be ok.
Overall, if you are in a rush, or hate queuing for only one item, one stop is the place for you.
It would be hard to not have heard of Argos, as they are now the only highstreet catalogue retailer with a national presence within the UK. They have a major presence on the highstreet of nearly every major town and city, and are easily idenfiyable by their red and blue logo.
Without a doubt, Argos have one of the broadest product ranges of any major highstreet retailer, and have the added benefit of being able to see detailed product information in a catagloue, meaning no need to pick up multiple boxes in store to compare the specifications and differences. In addition there is the added benefit of being able to reserve items online, which means no wasted trips and wasted car parking fees!
The products that are stocked range from their own Argos brands to world wide brands such as Sony, Philips and LG. The Catalogue has one of the broadest selection of products, from Fridges to Cookers, PC's to prints, toilet seats, you name it theres a fair chance argos stock it! And at prices you can afford.
From a price perspective, Arogs offer such a broad selection of products EG kettles or Irons, that there is one to fit almost everyones price range from the Sub £5 to the above £100. And they are highly compeititve for many products, when compared to online retailers. However you should always check online, as there can be big variations in the prices of electronic goods.
A final real plus point of Argos is the extended warranty. This covers breakage, product defect and is a great deal. Broken products are replaced on the spot if they are in stock, and I've never had to argue to get something replaced. If they no longer stock it, they just give vouchers for the original purchase cost, not a bad deal at all.
Overall, Argos combine value, convenience and excellent customer service, with prices everyone can afford!
I have to be honhest that I am some what of a food snob, loving food that tastes as close to perfection as is humanly possible. And that's where Waitrose comes into my life. As the premium supermarket in the UK, they offer a service that others can not match.
Waitrose stores are unlike other supermarkets, with ilses 3.5 trolley widths apart, meaning you can actually pass other consumers in the isles, without pushing their troleies out of the way. The stores comprise higher quality fixtrues and marble like tiles, with a much more up market feel than the other 4 major supermarkets. As with other retailers, Waitrose have a range of store sizes, with my local being the largest style of store on the outskirts of the city! This mean less traffic jams, and as an added bonus parking is free when you make a purchase!
Waitrose is more expensive than the major 4 for many day to day branded products, for example Hienz bakebeans, and there own branded products. However, with own brand products I truely believe you get what you pay for, and Waitrose deliver premium products. For example their cured meats are far less fatty than other supermarket brands,even the preimum ranges of their competitors do not have the same quality and tase! The ranges also tend to be larger, as their is less focus on brands and more focus on the range of products in store. The staff also appear to be more aware of the products and to be able to offer better advice on the meat/fish/deli counters.
A final perk, albeit judgemental, is that the clientel are more polite and less likely to insult you, or push you out of the way! I dont mean to offend anyone here, but I have encounted more rude people in other supermarkets!
Is it worth paying a premium for many products that are the same? Maybe not, I do tend to bulk order branded products online from other retails, utilising their home shopping channels. This means I enjoy the better experience of shopping instore for fresh products, and still enjoy the comeptive prices of the big 4 for non-fresh products
Overall, Waitrose offer higher quality and a better shopping experience, but at a premium that is worth paying. Just shop online at the big 4 for branded goods once a quater or so, if you can plan that far ahead!
Dixons is part of the DSG group, that owns currey's and PC world. However they are an online only company, with the intention of undercutting there competitors.
A warning- Dixons often appear to undercut their competitors, when almost like for like products such as branded TV's are compared against the Curry and pcworld stores! However, these are "special" models, which have small cuts made to their specifications, so that they can be sold cheaper than the near specification models that are more openly sold on the market. I found this out to my dislike when I purchased a TV that I had compared to an almost identifical model in the shop. The sound and picture quality were awful and did not at all match up to the instore quality! So I sent it straight back and what a hastle that was! It took forever to get a returns number and the items picked up.
Secondly they try sell through persusaive and constant online marketing warranties that never live up to the hype. Customer service is very poor and overall I am not a happy bunny!
Shop around online through price comparison sites to pick up a real bargain!
Like many Apple Fans, I was really looking forward to getting my hands on the IPAD at launch date. Now that I have had some considerable time, with this giant IPOD touch, I wanted to share my views with the world.
Having opened the box, installation was a piece of cake. After connecting it to my mac, launching itunes and following the on screen wizard, my 16GB IPAD Wifi eddition was ready to rock and roll. So the app shopping spree began.
The first thing I noticed about the IPAD, was the sheer weight of the device after holding the devide for more than few minutes, is it could really do with sheeding some grams of its weight, I'd say 20% lighted to make it possible to hold it for the long time, that aside I'm very happy.
The app's are gradually building up for the IPAD and to be fair, for a new a device there are plenty of good games out there, something whoch really rocks my boat. I also have access to a coporate subscription of the FT through work, which makes the FT app free, meaning a epaper copy of the Saturday FT for free! £2 a week saving, or over £100 a year, so that jusitys the price. My other half also subscribes to a paper copy of the times, so I have a copy of that on the IPAD for the way to work, another £100 saving a year! So £200 better off there! Over 2 years that's £400 in savings, not bad considering the device is only £429! Plus accessories of course! And despite the glossy screen, its not too bad to read them!
The IPAD runs the IPHONE OS, so it's exactly like using an IPOD/IPHONE, just a much larger and much quicker version, until IPHONE 4 of course! Overall the IPAD user interface is as intutitve as the ad's show, the way the photos flip over when you tilt it to show a friend is a true charm offensive and it looks great! App's are just as intitutive as the iphone/ipod version, and the device can run the all app's in the istore, so if you already have a library of apps you can use them on this device!
The way media is viewed, its perfect, beautiful, well except for the two black lines when viewing in the 16:9 ratio! A bad move from apple, but the shape of the device would have to change for this, or the screen real estate would reduce! Given the iphone 4's specs, I'm sure a 16:9 aspect ration screen will be in the IPAD v2.
Upgradability - Nope, sorry its apple! Well, actually not in this case, sure you can not add memory, etc, but you can get a full keyboard which I have - its great for typing up emails, instant messaging etc. But on the downside, the memory card adapter is for transferring photos, its not really praticle to use the interface socket for permenant memory. And of course there is no camera, but hey its apple! If you can wait, maybe Version 2 will have these missing features. But Apple's strategy is to add these on gradually to force you to upgrade, so if you don't like that, then Apple is not targeting you!
Overall - A good device for media, and saves money over paper subscriptions for new's papers, and the hastle of having to take an extra 5 mins in the morning to pick them up before the train! Granted I use MIFI with this from 3 to download the paper, but that's also usable with my Laptop when I travel! And cheaper than built in 3G for which I would have had to wait. Despite finger prints being picked up without a case, and the screen glare, its a good device for the Sub £500 price tag!
KFC used to be one of my favourite fast food outlets, selling so called "chicken based" food. I say so called, as KFC has recently been banned from labelling their food as chicken, as the "chickens" as classed as being mutated through breeding techniques, that they are now to distantly related from a normal chicken. Obviously the rationale behind this is to reduce the time taken for the chickens to reach adulthood, and this reducing the cost of producing their food.
However the food tastes absolutely great and I love it, with the above knowledge aside. The food ranges from burgers, chicken legs/wings, to a range of sides including sweet corn/coleslaw/bake beans etc.
There are a wide and varying range of options to choose from the menu, with my favourite being the KFC Zinger burger. A nice spicy chicken burger, with a side, chicken wings, and a drink for around £5-£6 depending on the outlet.
The KFC outlets can be found in central locations of major towns and in a variety of out of town retail parks. Quality is consistent and the range is broad, so its a real hit with the family!
Let's face it, nearly everyone loves a burger every now and then. And trying to avoid fast food in modern times is like trying to avoid the car, it's almost impossible. For me, with a daily commute, and burger king almost everywhere I go it is hard to avoid the site of their outlets, let alone that fantastic smell of fatty burgers drifting all over the street.
One of the best things with burger king is the wide range of options on the menu, from burgers, chicken nuggets, snacks, chips, milkshakes to name but a few. And there are options to suit everyone's budget, from 99p up to £7 for the premium meal deals. Combined with the "have it your way" option, of adding or removing ingredients from the burgers you choose, there truely is something for everyone.
In fact I love the fact I can remove the lettuce from the burger when I don't feel like it, add extra gurkins, cheese, and more meat and so on! Or that I can have a super sized meal deal on those one off occasions where I feel I could eat a horse so to speak.
The burger king outlets are all over the country, you can find them in the most central or remote of locations (town centres to motorway stops). The simplicity of their menus, with clear pricing structures, consistent quality of food across outlets makes them an ideal place for everyone, regardless of budget, hunger, or location. The staff are often very friends, show a high level of courtesy for a fast food outlet and are in most cases very organised.
A word of warning however! I would strongly recommend checking the nutritional details on the burger king website. Some meal deals combined with a dessert and non-diet based fizzy drink can come close to 1500 KCAL (75% of GDA for a 2000kcal diet). Kcals per a pound though, you would struggle to find such a good deal elsewhere! But for the diet conscious, be aware of the nutritional details, to aid you in making a better choice.
Finally for all the veggies out there, fear not there are fish and vegetable burgers for you.
For those living in the past
Love it or loath it, the Philip Green enterprise is everywhere, and BHS is no exception. For those unfamiliar with BHS, also known as British Home Stores, it is essentially a Clothing store with a few added extra's such as Kitchenware and a restaurant.
The main thing I've started to notice about BHS is how outdated it is beginning to look. Entering the stores, you become aware of a very dilapidated interior, with poor quality fixings, and very few customers wondering the store! And that's on a Saturday afternoon! This is without a doubt a major put off for shopping in their stores!
The range in BHS includes, the standard Men's - suits/shirts/some cheap shoes, Woman's Department - Dresses, Shoes, Handbags etc, and the more renound Children's department - offering some very cheap school ware. The kitchen department including bathroom accessories, is in general very limited, and overpriced when compared to online offers.
In summary, BHS is half the shop it used to be, and is in need of a real refresh!
Unleash the Bargain Hunter in you
We all love a bargain, and I'm no exception to the hunter instinct when targeting my prey "in this case electrical goods", and Ebuyer is my hunting ground!
For those who don't know, ebuyer is one of the UK's largest online electrical retailers, which initially started over 10 years ago, primarily selling computer components. Since those days, Ebuyer has expanded, now selling a very wide range of electrical goods from PC's, PC components, Audio/Visual, Gadgets and much more. You can pretty much find an array of products which will tickle your taste buds, so to speak. All the major brands are there, to name a few: "Sony, Dell, Philips, HP, Apple, Acer, Fujitsu, Asus".
The ebuyer website is very well organized, with categories being instantaneously visible the second the site loads. Simple hover over a specific category, and a very clear , well organized list, drops down displaying the vast array of sub categories, for you to identify the product you want. Select the category, and you can then filter from the left options by brand, price, size etc depending on the product. Each product comes with the user rating (where user's have gone to the effort to feedback), in addition to clear descriptions of the product.
The main page, like all category/sub category pages, provides a specific range of key products, often offers for the products that you are browsing. Price wise, I truly think it is hard to beat Ebuyer! They are by far one of the most competitive online retailers on the world wide web, for the goods they stock! And they offer reasonable delivery prices, if you are not prepared to wait for up to 5 days to take advantage of the free shipping. Customer service is also good, and returning faulty products is never an issue. A dead pixel on a new monitor is considered defective from past experience!
Overall, Ebuyer unleashes the bargain hunter in you!
A staple diet of expensive stationary
Running out of office supplies always seems to be the burden of my life, particularly when studying. It never seems fully possible to pre-order all the required stationary, be it ring binders, folders, pens, paper and so on. Even print cartridges can sometimes run out unexpectedly, and waiting 5 days for something to arrive from an online retailer is not always possible.
So this is where staples come in. They stock almost everything you could ever need in terms of office stations, be it writing equipment, storage, fining, printing, pc's, desks/chairs, it's all there under one roof, in buildings that look like massive warehouses. Staples is without a doubt one of the most convenient places to pick up office stationary, providing an incredibly vast array of products in each category to choose from. There's a broad range of almost everything to suit every budget. Take printer paper, it ranges from £2.50 to £15 a ream, with around 20 different types/weights/brands to choose from! It's all under one roof.
Most stores are located on out of town business parks, where you benefit from free parking, meaning you have plenty of time to browse the store! The only downside being, more often than not, you need a car to reach the stores, so it's not the best place for those without access to a car, or public transport that runs close to the sites!
A major downside of staples however, is the cost of the products when compared to competitors such as Viking direct, who offer significantly better value for money, delivered for free when ordering over £50 (exc vat) of products. You don't even need a car for mail order, so it really depends on personal circumstances. However, when you are caught short and desperately need some stationary, then consider staples!
The staff are helpful, the products easy to find, plenty of stock and it's still affordable as they cater for all budgets (but not the cheapest of places)!
A fish lovers paradise
Without a doubt, Sushi is one of my favorite foods, I absolutely love it. Finding the perfect Sushi restaurant is without a doubt a real challenge but I truly believe that Yo Sushi is the place for me. They operate all around the UK, with a large number of outlets in the London area.
The county hall outlet has had a recent make over and is a little more snazzy than it used to be, but is undoubtedly the same good old place. Entering the restaurant, you are greeted by a waiter/waitress and offered the choice of sitting at the bar/or a table.
Choosing a dish could not be easier, either select one off the conveyor belt or order one from the menu. The pricing is very simple for the conveyor. There are 5 different colors of plate ranging from £2.20 to £5, depending on the amount of fish/quality of sushi. Simply take the plate of your choice and enjoy! You can accompany this by noodles/rice/Miso soup (my favourite - unlimited refills for £1.75), which you order through your waiter. Apart from the soup, all other dishes are served on the color of the plate! The only downside is water costs a pound.
The range of Sushi/dishes is vast with 80+ plates to choose from, half of which are on the conveyor belts, the rest on the menu from which you can order. The dishes range from Noodles, rice, sushi with Prawn/Salmon/Tuna/Octopus to name but a few, while noodles can be vegetable/Fish or chicken.
The desserts menu is also based upon the color coded feature, with deserts being included on the belt, but should you wish, you can order them freshly. The best desserts are the £3.80+ plates, whilst the lower range of rice pancakes leave something to be desired!!!
Overall, if your new to Sushi and fancy a change, head to yo sushi for a great eating experience!
It seems no a days that Tesco has a finger in every pie, is global and offers something for almost everyone. Tesco's credit card is no exception.
I originally signed up for Tesco Credit Card over half a decade ago and have been with them ever since. Tesco offer two types of credit card, their standard one and their platinum one targeted at the higher spending customers. The unique offering of club card points was the main attraction towards taking out a tesco credit card, particularly as I could pay my university Fee's and receive club card points for every pound I spend. For standard credit card holders, you receive 1 point for every 4 you spend on the card, whilst for platinum holders its 1 point for every £2 you spend.
Initially I started off with the standard credit card, meaning I received around 1000 club card points for my £4000 university fees alone. After the first year I was rapidly upgraded to the Platinum offer, something I think was attributed to paying my university fees and rent by credit card, which soon resulted in accumulated a vast and eye watering amount to pay off on the card. Now that £4000 earns me 2000 club card points, double what I was collecting before! If you use your card in store you also receive standard Tesco Club Card points, 1 per pound, meaning for every £4 you spend, you receive 5 points for standard and 6 points for platinum card holders.
For those unaware as to what club card points are (where have you been if you haven't come across them!), each point worth 1p in Tesco Reward Vouchers (to encourage loyalty) which can be used at face value to purchase goods in store, or swapped for Tesco deal tokens, worth 4 times the value of the points. For example, if you opt for Restaurant Vouchers (can only be used for food, not drink though), ever 100 points gives £4 in meal vouchers! There are a vast array of other deals providing 4 times the value of the points if spent in store, including magazine subscriptions, open university, motor racing, Holiday vouchers, hotel breaks to name but a few. Or if you prefer, you can double up the value of the token to spend in store on items such as Wine. If you spend £10,000 a year on the card, say £5000 at Tesco's and £5000 outside you could accumulate £75 worth of points, or £300 of deal tokens! So it really does add up.
As I pay my card off every month in full, I can not comment on the excesses and service levels for those in financial difficult. However I am sure Tesco's would treat all customers with the upmost of respect!
Love it or Loath it, Windows is everywhere. And mobile phones are no exception. The current version, for which this review is based upon is the latest public release "Windows Mobile 6.5". At the time of writing (March 2010), Microsoft is currently working upon the latest release, "Windows Mobile 7" which is due for release towards Q3, 2010. Obliviously, the hardware upon which windows mobile is run has a significant impact upon the user experience, so I will try to avoid such a bias. For clarity though, I am running Windows Mobile 6.5 on a HTC Touch Pro 2.
The origins of Windows Mobile (for the less technical, the original code upon which Windows Mobile (WM fro here on)), is based upon Windows CE (or Windows Pocket PC), a version of Windows originally designed for handheld computers such as the IPAQ PDA, developed in early 2000. From this, emerged Windows Mobile with the added functionality of making and receiving calls in addition to other mobile phone based functionality.
In terms of the user interface, Windows Mobile 6.5 has had a number of upgrades since its predecessor "6.0". The first and most notably aspect of the interface is the Start menu. Upon clicking on the start icon, you are taken to a menu that is remarkably similar to that on the iphone, with Icons displayed in a diagonal layout, instead of the classic rows of 4 icons seen on the iphone. Clicking on an icon will launch you into the program, while selecting folders such as Media will open up a folder, similar to the interface seen on windows 3.11. To launch another program (yes windows mobile includes multitasking unlike the iphone), is a simple as selecting the start menu and launching the next program.
A recent addition to windows mobile is the today screen, which provides a range of features that can be displayed on the main screen (essentially like the windows desktop), which displays features such as number of emails, text messages, missed calls and more. This is a major improvement over the previous versions of windows, and is reasonably effective in providing feedback on current emails, text messages, although this mainly relates to the mobile version of Microsoft Outlook. However, this saves significant time in having to launch outlook from the start menu. However, in my experience, this results in a slightly reduced performance, as the today screen is essentially a program added on top rather than part of the OS.
By default, Windows Mobile is shipped with the mobile version of Microsoft office, providing the ability to create/review Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents all from your phone. Whilst these applications lack the functionality of their desktop counterparts, they provide a wealth of functionality directly from your phone!
In terms of the negatives, Windows Mobile is far from being the strongest competitor in the market place. It lacks the functionality and features you would expect from modern smart phone interfaces, but it more than makes up for this when compared to the lack of multitasking on the iphone. Whilst this is a comprise, on the more powerful end of the smart phone products this only produces a slight lag, but one that does not cause too many a headache.
Although applications for many smart phones are low cost, this is without a doubt a major short fall for Windows Mobile. The launch of Windows Mobile Market Place has created a wealth of applications, but with many costing up to £10-£15 the ability to multitask is let down by the lack of affordable applications! In addition, there are rumors' that the latest version of Windows, version 7 will not be capable of running applications created for previous versions of WM. This is something of a concern given that I have around £150 worth of application I have downloaded over time! It's something which may well put me off purchasing a future Windows Mobile based Device.
Overall in Summary, if you are considering purchasing a smart phone and you can afford to wait, consider waiting for the realse of Windows mobile 7.0. Windows Mobile has real potential but has yet to demonstrate its true worth!
Only for those with Cash to burn
What can I say, PCWORLD? For those who don't know (if your reading this chances are you have a pc), PC World are the part of the DSG Group (Curry's, Dixons, PC World), which are the largest resellers of computing/electrical equipment in the UK. In fact, apart from Comet, they have no direct competitors in the majority of locations from which they operate.
The PC World outlets are primarily based on big industrial parks, which require a motor Vehicle to reach, and often have few if any other competitors within a near distance.
Each store stocks a wide variety of electric equipment ranging from PC's, Video Games, TV's and a limited range of sound systems, from all of the major brands, in addition to other lesser known own range brands, which undercut the major players. The choice within the stores is vast, and to be fair, the majority of equipment is on display for customers to test, pick up and ask questions from the so called experts. On reflection however, most of the individuals know nothing more than what is displayed in front and as brain washed into providing advice based around the DSG group philosophy "employ staff who do not have a clue, and brain wash them with the advise to sell customers kit they do not need, so that you make more money" (it's long, but reflects my opinion and knowledge of the company).
The equipment pricing itself, often reflects the so called MRP (Manufacturers recommended price), and can often be bought significantly cheaper from online resellers such as Amazon or Ebuyer. Another con, is that PC World target the internet Savy with the reserve online feature, where if you reserve a product through their website and pick it up in store, you can save upto and over £100 on many of the more expensive items! In reality, it's a con, as many customers miss out on the better prices! They don't want the newer customers getting a good discount, after all that would affect margins!
The Summary - If you have cash to splash and don't want a bargain pcworld is for you! Otherwise, preview in PC World and buy online for less!