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steve_gb
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Member since: 07.04.2012

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    • DeLonghi CTO2003 / Toaster / 12 Readings / 10 Ratings
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      10.04.2012 20:18

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      A nice looking toaster that does a good job

      For those who are used to spending what is a decent amount of money on a toaster this may be surprising, but for me it's been a delight to have a hassle free toaster.

      After years of the false economy of going for cheap toasters I invested in this and there's no looking back now. If/when it needs replacing at some point in the future I now know what I'm looking for.

      --Features--

      It toasts things. That's basically it, but where it wins on the features is a nice spinny-knob for setting the amount of toasting (and it's quite accurate too, rather than the "barely touched ---> charcoal" scale you sometimes seem to get without much inbetween).

      There's presets too - defrost, bagel, reheat which all seem to work pretty well too. I'd still defrost bread in a microwave by preference (if I'm in a hurry, otherwise nothing beats a few hours at room temperature) but good to know the setting is there.

      One thing this toaster does very well at is toasting frozen bread - cheaper toasters seem to struggle to get an even toasting but not this one.

      Best of all though is that the slots for the bread are wide enough for a good variety of thickness so your slice never gets stuck. Anyone who makes their own bread or buys unsliced loaves knows how important this can be.

      All in all it does a good job. Can't say fairer than that.

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      10.04.2012 19:28

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      If you're into macro this lens is amazing.

      This is a great lens - one of the few in the Canon line-up that lack the "L" professional designation but which have a quality which is my experience on a par.

      --The Lens--

      Solidly built and with a heft that gives confidence it can take a bit of real-world use this lens just "feels" quality. Some lenses you feel you have to treat with care, whereas this one gives no impression it's anything but built to last. Not as solid as an "L" lens (some of those you feel you could use to hammer in nails) and not weather sealed, but not shabby either.

      --The Images--

      Ridiculously sharp. For macro work this is amazing, in fact, for day to day use it's pretty amazing. You'll get 1:1 macro though (many "macro" lenses won't achieve 1:1) which is where this lens really earns it's money. 100mm is a lovely focal length for portraits and f2.8 a lovely wide open aperture for blurring backgrounds but your subjects won't thank you such is the sharpness - every wrinkle will show!

      --In Use--

      Easy to use and no complaints. Be warned though that focussing can be slow - the huge focus-throw of the lens (part of what allows it to focus at such close distances) means that from infinity to close focus can seem to take a while.

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      09.04.2012 18:57
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      Very good - no regrets at all about buying this for our daughter

      We bought this as a Christmas present for our 4 year old daughter, together with a game based on the Tangled movie and a Dora the Explorer game.

      --The Unit--

      It seems solidly built and well able to cater to the demands little hands will place on it. I was initially concerned about the stylus being used to stab the screen too aggressively but it all seems pretty robust. We got the special auxillary headphones too so we could let her use it while we controlled the volume when the unit was used in public spaces and no complaints with those either.

      --In Use--

      I judge this purely on the basis of the fact my 4 year old knows how to use it without any reference to an instruction manual. Whoever designs the interface on these is very clever and knows exactly how little minds work. That level of intuitive design is impressive. I'm assuming the games have to go through some LeapFrog QC too because they all follow the same theme of simple design, fun interactions that have just the right level of graded complexity and reward, and are very easy to use.

      Battery life on rechargeables seems decent too.

      --Examples--

      An example would be a game whereby the child traces out letters - they have to follow a sequence of dots and they get rewarded with a little animation when they get it right. We do this with our daughter on sand and paper so it's an extension of that process and something she enjoys. Simple to use, fun, and it seems to be helping her to learn to write too...

      ...but this is also where my one gripe with the unit comes in. The accent is very American - it may be that I've just not found how to change it yet but some intonation is slightly frustrating. That might seem petty but it's simple things - e.g. for O (said as "Oh" not the "o" phonetic generally taught in the UK) the animation is then accompanied by what sounds to my ears like an "O-o-p-s...WHOOPS!" which is a little confusing.

      A relatively minor gripe for what is overall a very good tool for children to learn thought.

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      • Panasonic SD253 / Bread Maker / 4 Readings / 3 Ratings
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        09.04.2012 12:07

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        Very good, would buy again

        This is the second breadmaker I've owned and the better of the two.

        --The Unit--

        It's quite large, make sure you check the dimensions fit your kitchen or wherever else you are going to have it. This isn't a criticism, it has to be large. The colouring is just plain white, not too glossy, so blends in well in most kitchens I'd imagine.

        --Options--

        There's plenty of options for things you can make with it - I've used it to make bread, croissants, pizza dough, hot cross buns, pastry and more. Especially useful is the built in raisin/seed tray - you fill this with whatever extra ingredients you want to go into your dough and at the preset time it'll open and drop the contents into the mix. Perfect for granary bread, raisin bread and much more.

        In addition to the basic options (covered below) you can set the crust colour (light or dark) for bread, and set it on a delay timer too which is great - I can go out at lunchtime and come home in the evening to fresh bread knowing it's finished just a few minutes before I've come back through the front door.

        Basic preset options are:

        Bake normal (mix and bake the bread in the normal time)
        Rapid bake (mix and bake in around 2 hours)
        Raisin bake (open the raisin/seed tray during the mixing stage)
        Dough (mix dough but don't bake it)

        Aside from the normal and rapid bake the baking time is set by the type of flour used which you also select - basic white dough, whole wheat, French, Italian, gluten free...you can also set to bake only if you've already made the dough.

        The only criticism I have is that some of the recipes (e.g. pizza dough) take longer to make in the unit than they do by hand...but then I guess it's hassle and mess free!

        --In the Box--

        The recipe book that comes with the unit is very good and covers just about everything you want to make unless you get ambitious. No pictures but clear instructions.

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      • Canon EF 50mm f1.8 MK2 / Camera Lens / 6 Readings / 6 Ratings
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        09.04.2012 11:54
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        Not a bad lens and good for the money, but has it's drawbacks

        This lens comes with a great reputation amongst many photography forums and magazines and it's easy to see why...one of the cheapest lenses from Canon, lightweight, and with a very good performance. Here's my thoughts having owned two copies:

        --The Construction--

        This is the only thing in the lens that I feel lets it down. The first lens I owned I had in my pro bag and took it to jobs with me, using it from time to time. I don't molly-coddle my equipment but neither do I abuse it but one day the lens fell apart in my hands. I don't know if it was a bad sample or not but it's not what I'd expect from anything after a few months of moderate use (a couple of times a week). Compared to other Canon lenses I've owned it feels "cheap".

        I bought a second though because as a cheap lens it's ok to throw in the bag and not worry about.

        --The Images--

        Images are good - good enough for me to have used the lens professionally a few times. Stopped down to F4 or so I have no complaints at all about the sharpness. F1.8 is a different though - it's useable, but I wouldn't want to enlarge the images too much. I should say too that I'm using full frame cameras - on a crop sensor where less of the lens is used it might not be so bad.

        The big let down for me on images was the purple fringing you sometimes see around objects. Branches of trees against a pale sky showed it pretty badly for me.

        Used cautiously and with awareness of the limitations the lens was overall ok - not as good as the 50mm f1.4 and a long way from the 50mm f1.2 but then those lenses are a lot more expensive.

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      • Dyson DC24 Animal / Vacuum Cleaner / 5 Readings / 4 Ratings
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        09.04.2012 11:38

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        No complaints at all

        When we moved into our new house it had been empty for 18 months and the previous owner had had a lot of cats and...well...a fairly "relaxed" approach to vacuuming.

        Within a few days the carpets had defeated the vacuum cleaner and we found ourselves in the market for a new one. We ended up ripping up every carpet in the house but that's another story...

        --The Looks--

        The unit itself is typical Dyson - it looks good, isn't too large and manages to look discrete. I really like the fact that nothing seems hidden on a Dyson too. You get the impression that everything it does is easy to look at or get to.

        --The Function--

        Our house has four different floor surfaces and across all this works a treat - carpet, wooden flooring, tiles and laminate. Absolutely no complaints about the power of ease of use and the detatchable vacuum hose makes even the most inaccessible corners easy to get clean. The see-through dust collector shows how much is being picked up, much of it you wouldn't ever know was there before you vacuumed.

        --Maintenance--

        Being bagless it's easy to empty (and to see when it's full) and as with other Dyson's I've owned you can easily take it apart to clear any blockages. I see no reason why this won't last for years, particularly given the apparent easy availability of replacement parts (and how easy it is to fit them yourself).

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      • smile.co.uk / Bank / 4 Readings / 3 Ratings
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        08.04.2012 10:24

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        Couldn't recommend them higher

        I switched to Smile from HSBC a few years ago, primarily because of the fact they only invest ethically. One other happy consequence is that the interest on the current account was higher (confirmed again today by a quick glance at the Money section of the newspaper but obviously check yourself!).

        No regrets at all since then.

        --The Bank--

        Smile are an online bank so all transactions take place online - checking balances, manging transfers etc... and they make it very easy for you. In addition to the online account you can telephone them (a call centre in Britain) and they seem to be able to do everything for you over the phone that you can do yourself online. You can also visit any branch of the Co-Op Bank for face to face assistance, to pay in cheques and so on.

        --The Experience--

        For me, interest rates aside, this is what differentiates banks and Smile have never left me anything but, erm, Smiling. Whether via the Co-Op Bank, over the telephone or online they've always been prompt and polite. Two examples:

        - when I had issues with theft abroad they couldn't have been any nicer or quicker to help me resolve it
        - whenever I post a query online I get an answer within hours - I don't know what their target is but I don't think I've ever waited more than a few hours...certainly by the end of the next working day there's always an answer waiting for me.

        I couldn't recommend them any higher.

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      • Garmin Nuvi 1300 / GPS Sat Nav / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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        08.04.2012 10:03

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        Best satnav I've owned

        I've owned a few Satnavs, and this is far and away the best.

        --The Unit--

        The unit itself is slim, with a decent sized touch screen to select your function, put in postcodes and so on. Best of all though has nothing to do with the screen, it's the power connector: I've had three satnav's fail because the connector in the unit has snapped off or snapped away. For some reason, they'd been designed with "play" around the connector. With this Garmin it's rigidly set into the body though so there's no danger of it getting damaged.

        --Mounting--

        As with all satnav's, I wouldn't use the windscreen mount. I got a third-party dashboard mount instead that works much much better. I would find, especially on long journeys, that the satnav would fall off the windscreen with the mount. I think this was just the sun heating the rubber disc or the warm-air blowers in the car or something but whatver, with the dashboard mount there's never a problem.

        --Features--

        This unit has more features than I've ever used - points of interest, fuel economy (ie. how much your journey has cost you), airports, hotels, multiple languages, different map views, different voices, traffic warnings...and so much more.

        --In Use--

        It boots up rapidly and setting up is the same as any other satnav I've used - put in the postcode or part of an address and select from the options and then the route is mapped out. Satellites are picked up quickly and away you go. Things I particularly like about this satnav are the lane guidance (invaluable when coming off at a junction and heading to a roundabout) and the traffic warnings. Coming back from visiting relatives we were warned of a 2.5 hour delay by the satnav and routed a more scenic way home avoiding the delays. Also, when it gets dark the satnav screen changes to be easier to read which is a nice touch.

        --Summary--

        I wouldn't leave home without it. It's never let me down or taken me to the wrong place. My father-in-law bought the unit too and we recently drove around Florida with it. I'll be taking mine driving round France this summer too. It's unusual I buy a gadget that I become totally dependent on (I have an innate distrust of technology!) but this is one.

        One thing to be aware of though: download the latest software from time to time. Mine started taking 2 or 3 minutes to boot up, downloading the latest software via a USB connection in the laptop got it back as good as new though.

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      • Fujifilm Finepix Z70 / Digital Camera / 3 Readings / 2 Ratings
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        08.04.2012 09:44
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        Mostly good enough

        I bought this camera for my wife after her old Canon broke. Her criteria were pretty simple - good zoom, looks good, small enough to fit in a handbag, does video as well...

        --The Camera--

        Well, it looks good. I got her a pink one. It turns on/off by sliding down a front cover which exposes the lens. The camera is pretty slim too - definitely very handbag friendly in size, though without a case we found it turning itself on just with general handbag movement (part of that "little bit disappointing"). The 5x zoom is decent enough and the settings and menus easy enough to navigate through. Setting it up is very easy.

        --The Images--

        The camera produces 12MP photos that are good, and at higher ISOs do well, particularly for this size of camera. My wife finds the auto white balance a bit inconsistent though. Two photos taken in a couple of seconds of the same scene can show variable colours, this is especially true indoors - it doesn't show up often (maybe 1 in every 50 photos) but I think it's worth mentioning. Outside though the colours and tones are all very good.

        --Video--

        The HD videos are fine for what this camera is - as you'd expect, you're not going to make a Hollywood blockbuster but for recording those family moments it's perfect. The camera boasts a mode to make it easy to upload to various social networking sites like YouTube and Facebook but we've not used these.

        --Other--

        The rear screen developed a big chunk of dead pixels after a few weeks so we sent it back to Fuji for repair (free of charge) and found that a totally hassle-free experience so worth reporting on that here too. Very quick turnaround and just generally a good experience of their customer service.

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      • Morphy Richards 43916 Meno / Kettle / 4 Readings / 4 Ratings
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        08.04.2012 09:33

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        I wouldn't buy again. I'd keep receipts longer though.

        We bought this kettle after a couple of years using a Tesco kettle that cost us less than £10. This kettle was part of our overall refurb of our kitchen and the looks were as much a consideration as anything else, but then really, when you are buying a kettle what do you want it to do? Boil water fairly quickly, look good, and, if you are paying this much money you want it to work flawlessly for longer than a much cheaper one.

        As seems standard with most kettles these days this comes with a separate base that provides the power and the kettle itself is fully portable.

        The first thing to frustrate me with this kettle was that when it boiled it made a very annoying high pitched electronic "whistle". I can't imagine anyone who would find that useful or beneficial. With that "feature" turned off via a switch in the base it functions just like any other normal kettle except when boiling you get a nice blue light glowing inside the kettle.

        So far so good.

        We're now a few months down the line, receipt sadly lost, and the kettle is showing numerous issues. Sometimes the lid doesn't close, as if it is warped. Even when fully closed so the catch locks there is still a gap at the top. The kettle has been looked after so to be doing this after such a short period of time is annoying to say the least.

        Worse though is that it doesn't always switch off when it has boiled (possibly the gap in the lid allows for steam to escape and stops it reaching true boiling point sometimes?) Several times I've gone into the kitchen to find it full of steam from a kettle that has been boiling for a few minutes without turning itself off.

        In summary, would I buy this kettle again? No. Will I keep receipts for longer? Most definitely yes.

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      • Canon EF 24-105 mm f/4 L IS USM / Camera Lens / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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        08.04.2012 09:21

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        If you only want one lens this could be ok, I'd be wary of using professionally though

        I'll open this review by saying that I've worked as a professional photographer for a few years and I write my reviews from that point of view. Most magazine reviews I read of gear contain things that aren't too relevant to me: sharpness charts, aberation etc. What I ask my self though is:

        - is it reliable?
        - do the images it produce match my vision?
        - are the outputs sharp enough etc for me and for my clients?
        - does it do what I need it to do?

        So when I write a review on something like this it is based on my "real world" experience of using the lens - no bench tests, no lab tests, just use in real life situations.

        --The Lens:--

        The 24-105mm gives a good all round focal length on a full frame camera like the 5dmk2 - 24mm is wide enough for most situations and 105mm is lovely for portraits or just when you need to get a little closer to the action. It'd probably be possible to shoot an entire wedding or portrait session using just this lens. I wouldn't want to, but you could!

        On a crop frame camera the wide end is going to be less (e.g on 1.3x it'll be 34mm to 140mm) which is far less versatile for journalistic style coverage, weighted towards the longer end that'd make it more suitable for "shoot from a distance".

        The F4 aperture is quite slow too - there's an argument these days that with such good high ISO performance on cameras you don't necessarily need fast lenses but for that shallow depth of field look you're going to struggle at anything above 75mm with only f4 to play with.

        --IS:--

        This lens comes with the IS affix which is Image Stabilisation. This allows you to shoot at a slower shutter speed and still get a sharp image...providing the subject is static. Personally I've never found a need for it, probably because any event I shoot where I'm at a slow shutter speed the subject is normally moving which makes IS pointless. I can see where IS might be useful on a longer focal length where hand-holding the camera at a slower shutter speed is problematic (e.g a 400mm lens taking a photo at 1/80th) but I honestly don't see a use with this kind of length. That might just be the kind of things I shoot though.

        --Weather Sealing:--

        Like all Canon L lenses this one comes with decent weather sealing. I've used it in all sorts of conditions and knowing it's not going to let you down makes it one less thing to worry about.

        --The Images:--

        This is the all important question...what are the images like? Well...it's an L lens, meaning it's expensive but the image quality is very very good. Canon do have some non-L lenses in their line up that have similar image quality (the 85mm f1.8 and the 100mm macro spring to mind) but there's something about the L's that stands out. For a lot of situations this lens is great. Colour rendition and sharpness leave nothing to be desired.

        Where it lets me down though is at 24mm with anything close to you. For example, taking photographs from the back of a church at 24mm and all the columns bend in towards the middle - that kind of distortion is to be expected with a zoom, especially one of this range, but to me the distortion is just too much.

        It might not be fair to compare it to other lenses that don't have the same range but the distortion of the 24-70mm f2.8L for example has far less distortion than this lens. Even at 35mm I found some distortion creeping in and while it's definitely not fair to compare it to the 35mm f1.4L prime (one of the Canon "Holy Trinity" of near perfect lenses) it is nonetheless so obvious when comparing shots side by side which lens is better that it makes me nervous about handing over some of those shot with the 24-105mm. I shot a wedding where I switched over between this lens and the 35mm f1.4 for some formal groups because of the distortion and the difference between the two lenses was night-and-day.

        The images aren't bad, in fact by most standards they are very very good...but if your standards are better than most I'd opt for less range in the lens.

        --Final Thoughts:--

        So what is this lens useful for? Well, for my wedding coverage I use a 24-70mm on one camera and a 70-200mm on the other and that covers more range than the 24-105mm, the lenses are faster, and the distortion much less. If I'm using a crop camera then I use the 16-35mm on full frame and the 24-70 on the crop and that covers a 16-94mm range with again much less distortion and faster lenses.

        For video though, where you want to travel light and will stick around the 70-105mm range then this is a good choice...or if you want a travel lens to go away without much baggage, distorition isn't going to be a problem for you and neither is F4 then again, this is a great choice.

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      • More +
        07.04.2012 18:18

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        A great flash and the limitations won't ever matter to the average user

        I used this flash professionally for a couple of years shooting weddings and portraits - quick cycling so it's ready to shoot again shortly after firing (especially with a Quantum battery pack), works great with a Canon 5D and the 5D mk 2, eTTL II was mostly ok and it's got plenty of range for most situations.

        I'm not sure how many jobs I used this for and it only started showing it's limitations when I got into using off camera flash - the lack of a PC socket means a remote radio trigger like a Pocket Wizard can only be used with an auxillary hotshoe adapter which while possible, can be a bit fiddly, especially if you're working in a hurry.

        In the end I upgraded to the 580 EX II precisely because it had a PC socket (and the extra features and weather proofing are obvious bonuses too), but I keep the 430 and use an extension cable to hand-hold it off camera. A great flash, and the limitations won't matter to most people.

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      • Apple iPhone 3G 8 GB / Smartphone / 3 Readings / 3 Ratings
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        07.04.2012 18:11
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        Fine for just about everything unless you must have the latest

        I'm not sure when the iPhone 3 came out...I'm never really an early adopter when it comes to mobile phones. I got mine as a refurbed unit when people were upgrading to the 3GS and have now had it for 2 years.

        In that time I've dropped it and smashed the screen and got a new screen for it, and it's still working pretty well. Compared to the iPhone 4 of a friend it's a bit slower but you'd expect that, and for all the gizmos and bells and whistles of a newer phone there's nothing I particularly find I'm missing on this. Perhaps the compass would be nice to go with the maps but that's a minor gripe really.

        When the time comes for me to upgrade I'll be keeping this anyway as a back-up and I know my wife will want it as an iPod if not actually as a phone.

        Worth picking up a used version if you can find one cheap - I'd give it 5 stars if the camera was a little better. It's no slouch really, but to my eyes seemed behind the times even when it was new.

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      • More +
        07.04.2012 18:05

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        A lot of fun

        This latest incarnation of the Modern Warfare series won't disappoint those who have played and enjoyed the previous versions, and for those coming in for the first time the learning curve is pitched just right. The big win for me compared to the previous games is the variety of vehicles and weapons you get to toy with: in the first few levels you'll get on a boat, a helicopter, you'll take control of air-to-surface missiles...all helping keep you engaged in the action.

        The other thing that keeps this engaging is the transferring of the action to places that are recognisably modern - cities, the underground network, shopping arcades...all get a look-in.

        Online, the game seems smoother than the previous versions. I'm no expert but it seems to match you with people on a similar network speed so I've had none of that lag I had before where one person either seemed to slow down every other player, or someone on a faster connection was impossible to compete with.

        I'd like to see a few more maps on the Wii and maybe more interaction with the environment in the online maps but no real complaints.

        All in all a good buy with a lot of entertainment for the money.

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      • Canon Pixma iP4500 / Inkjet Printer / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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        07.04.2012 17:53

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        I wouldn't buy again sadly

        I bought this printer shortly after it came out and it still works just fine for printing on discs, printing photos and so on - colours look great, especially on art paper, and from that point of view I've got no complaints at all.

        The disappointment is finding that I can no longer print black text. After a period of a couple of months not printing any text it appears the print-head for black ink got totally clogged. I've tried various online recommended solutions to de-clog it and nothing has worked, leaving an expensive new print head apparently the only option.

        As it is I can still print letters and text, I just have to make the font dark blue or some other shade than black to do so, which is frustrating.

        So in summary, great for photos and discs, a bit of a let down for me on printing text. I should say though, that for the period it worked the text quality was great.

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