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Hotel del Corso is a rather ordinary three star hotel in Selvino which is twenty five kilometers from Bergamo airport. This doesn't sound very far, but it is up a mountain so you get a nice drive up a scenic mountain path, but it is hardly speedy driving!
We stayed there after arriving at Bergamo airport on a fly-drive holiday, and not being able easily to find an inexpensive hotel near the airport which would put two adults and two children aged three and one all in one room. I never thought I'd miss Travelodge!
Our holiday could cope with an hour's drive up to the town of Selvino, which I think is a ski resort, but we stayed therefore very cheaply out of season in July. We paid £56 for a fairly small but perfectly acceptable room with quite a large en-suite bathroom, furnished with a double bed, two bunk beds, and a cot. It had a small balcony and was a bit dreary in terms of decor but perfectly acceptable for one night. This is really so cheap compared to the airport hotels in Bergamo, that I was delighted I booked it, and we had a lovely day in the town.
The hotel rooms are above a bar, which is on one side of Selvino which is quite a big town. So eating out was easy, and I spent a happy afternoon in the large town playpark with my children, and walking around the town which has a plethora of small shops, coffee bars and ice cream parlours as well as restaurants.
The worst thing about the hotel was that the bathroom smelt - even though it was all very clean - the plumbing just smelt. We had to keep the bathroom door closed tight through the night to cope with it, then open it wide before going to breakfast! It was typically Italian with marble floor, a bidet and Italian towels.
Breakfast was perfectly acceptable, but not exciting - a decent spread of croissants, rolls, jams and cheeses, good coffee brought to the table, and a lovely dining room (for the class of hotel) with a balcony over the town. It was self service and there was no hot food.
In summary this was great value and a nice way to spend a day, but too far away from the airport to be a good stopover if you had to be in the airport early the next day. It is a three star hotel and you get what you pay for, but I was perfectly happy with what I paid for in terms of bed and breakfast. We did also have lunch there which was terribly expnsive - 90 euros (£72) for cold meats as anti pasti and salad for four, one bottle of wine and one of water, a simple pasta in tomato sauce for three, and two ice creams was the most expensive meal we had in a fortnight's holiday!
I've been Eurocamping for a long time, using both tents and mobile homes, in France and Italy, and have found that, providing you shop carefully, you can get a great holiday at a good price.
WHAT IS IT?
Eurocamp basically hire out tents and mobiles homes all set up ready for use for you on a variety of camp sites across France, Spain, Germany, Italy and possible a few other places.
They provide not just the tent or mobile but also all the basic equipment you need - a fridge (fridge/freezer in a mobile home), cooking facilities, barbeque where sites permit, plates and cutlery, pots and pans, blankets and you can hire sheets and towels, sun loungers, beds and table and chairs, and in the mobile homes also a mircowave. Some mobiles have air conditioning and most hve some form of heating.
You get on site couriers who speak excellent English and have local knowledge and a cheap rate on ferry crossings if you decide to drive across the channel.
Tents sleep six and mobiles sleep between 5 and 8, depending on the one you pick, and costs vary considerably depending on time of travel, type of accommodation and disocunts available.
OUR 2008 TRIP
We went to Pesciera del Garda on the southern part of Lake Garda for ten days in early July. We booked a mobile home which was designed to sleep 7 - one double bedroom, one triple room (using bunk beds so the room was really suitable for children) and two on a sofa bed in the living room - though there would have been limited privacy for anyone sleeping there. We were four - two adults and two children and it was the right size for us.
We hired a cot and a high chair for our little one, at what I thought was a fairly steep cost of £18 each, but the overall cost was good as we paid around £800 for the mobile home, linen and towel hire, cot and highchair for nine nights on a site which offered good facilites - a big site with animation, access directly to the lake beach, four swimming pools with slides etc, a great shop, a restaurant and a bistro/bar, tennis and basketball courts, beach volleyball, an air-conditioned gym, laundry facilities and children's play equipment. I got a large discount (around £300) by booking online and picking it out of what was available - we booked in April.
Eurocamp have a range of games and toys you can borrow at no charge like boules, scrabble, monopoly etc, should you need someithng to wihle away an evening.
Mobile homes give you the chance to self cater which is so much cheaper and nicer with small children than being in hotels and you can sit outside on your decking in the evening and have a quiet drink once the kids are in bed, which is perfect. Animation does give you the chance to go and do some things altogether - my three year old daughter loved the kiddie disco they ran for an hour every night at 8.30pm, and we sat, had a beer and watched her have fun!
The equipment is well thought through - a filter coffee maker, cheese grater, pasta bowl and pyrex casserole dish all come as standard, as well as barbeque tools.
The shower in our mobile was a fair size and had great water pressure.
You can't check in til 3pm, which is sometimes difficult to organise if you are driving yourself a long distance. You have to be out again by 10am in the morning, which I have always found hard, given you have to wash up breakfast, pack he car, sort out the kids etc- and they are in to clean quite quickly after ten!
You are then responsible for the cleaning of the mobile, so mum still gets to clean the toilet!! Bit of a busman's holiday that one!
Some pitches are better than others, and they do sometimes put up rows of eurocamp mobiles or tents, so it is bit like a mini housing estate at times, but then maybe your kids get to play with other kids they meet, so it has its advantages.
They make you pay for the whole thing 8 weeks before the holiday, so you do have to plan your finances carefully.
Eurocamp is one of a number of companies who offer this kind of service, but what they do which most of the others don't is let you book very flexibly, so you can book any number of days if they are available - from one to 30! Many of their competitors let you book from Saturday to Saturday only. It provides a chance to live in a fairly outsdoorsy way, but still with the comforts of home, and you can fly drive by adding your own travel costs and they give you a discount if you don't take their ferry crossing. Book without discounts in high season though and it could cost you well over a thousand pounds for 10 days though!
I've just come back from a three night stay in this hotel, which is situated in Mestre - a sort of suburb near Venice. Having never been to Venice, I really wanted to visit, but travelling with four meant hotel rooms are not cheap and hotel rooms in Venice are especially not cheap. So this hotel provided an excellent solution - a few kilometres outside Venice itself makes all the difference to affordability, and clearly Mestre is working on this principle as there are a lot of hotels there.
This one, the Ambasciatori, is four star, and we stayed in what they call a suite. First point - it's not! It is a nice large executive double with a queen sized bed and a walk in wardrobe but it does not have a separate sitting room, so in my book it is not a suite. It has a sitting area in the room separated from the bed by a lattice screen, but that doesn't count as a separate room does it? What it did have, rather extra-ordinarily, was a separate shower room with toilet and sink as well as a full sized bath room with two sinks, shower over the bath, loo and bidet. Nice big sort of twelve/fourteen feet square bathroom, all white suite, marble counter, tiled floor etc. Great. Hubby and I could both shower at the same time. So a suite of bathrooms then.....
This nice non-suite cost us 190 euros a night but they did three nights for the price of two, so it worked out well. They had a cot (which actually we ended up putting in the walk in wardrobe as it was large enough and had a window, so at least baby and we had a bit of privacy). They charge an extra 20 euros for an extra bed, though the cot was free. A standard double room at that time (July 2008) was 140E I think.
Housekeeping was excellent - the room was always beautifully tidy and there were tons of towels, enough spare pillows etc and blankets to spare and all carried out unobtrousively. Good minibar and not stupidly expensive (5.50E for half bottle of Prosecco, for example).
Excellent bellboy help on arrival and parking right outside the door helped ameliorate the impression left by the grumpy man on reception, but other staff were friendly - e.g breakfast and dinner waiters etc. We arrived in the restaurant at 9.28pm, having telephoned in advance to say we would be in before they clsed the kitchen at 9.30pm and were met with firstly a request to eat only cold food from the anti pasti buffet, but when pressed they produced a plate of spaghetti and two steaks and were polite, but refused to cook chips, for example, as the kitchen was closing. Not overly impressive when a bottle of wine, a bottle of water, a glass of milk and the aforementioned steaks and spaghetti came to 72 euros.
Breakfast was very good - bacon and eggs, cakes and pastries, loads of lovely fresh fruit and a fresh fruit salad, yoghourt, bread, hams and cheeses etc., and cappuccino or espresso available as well as caffe latte.
Dinner was also good quality, and an acceptable price for a hotel restaurant (e.g. pasta dishes at 14-18 euros, steaks at 14 euros - and they were enormous - and pleasant wine at under 20 euros).
The really good thing about tihs hotel is that the bus stop right outside taking you right into the Piazzale Roma on the edge of where traffic can go in Venice - the buses came really regularly (in less than ten minutes), only cost a euro and in ten minutes had you queue for the vaporetto to start your experience of Venice proper. Obviously if you can afford it it is great to have a hotel right in the heart of Venice which looks onto the Grand Canal but this is really good alternative if you value your comfort and like or need large hotel rooms.
I was very happy with the ease of access into Venice, and there is a good supermarket right next door to provide a few useful things to avoid having to charge too much to the room (like nice bottles of wine for 2E/3E) Mestre is not a picturesque place though, and quaint little tavernas for dinner didn't exactly spill onto the pavement at you, but they certainly do in Venice, and bus runs til late into the night. If you are arriving by train the station is on the main line from Milan to Venice and is a five minute walk from the hotel (OK ten with luggage!), or an inexpensive taxi ride.
All in all the Ambasciatori provided a reasonable good value experience given we had a three nights for the price of two deal, in a very clean well appointed hotel, nice bar and restaurant as well as good rooms, and for a day in Venice this is a great way of doing it. Mestre itself though, doesn't have a pretty part that we found anyway, so be prepared to commute.
The only criticism I have is that my baby got really dirty crawling on the bedroom carpet, which was clearly not cleaned as regularly as the hard surfaces. That, and the bar shut at 11pm, which I though was too early!
Also on Ciao.
I suddenly looked at the calendar one evening some time ago and realised that Auntie Flo had been due to pay me a visit that day, that she had not turned up, and the day was nearly over.
So with a desperate desire to know what was happening, at 11pm I found myself in the 24 hour Tescos, buying pregnancy tests - unable to wait til the next morning. Now I knew I was only a day overdue, and that last time I'd been pregnant I'd had to wait til five days to get a positive, so I thought it would be worth buying more than one packet; especially as Tescos was right over the other side of town, and I didn't want to end up in Tescos at 11pm every month for a year!
My personal favourite had been to use Clearblue Digital as it actually says the word: "pregnant" on it, so no debates when reading it, but when you want to buy a job lot they are expensive. So my eye happed upon these Tescos own brand ones, at an amazing £4.98 for two, and a slightly less amazing £3.24 for one, but this compares very favourably with the Clearblue price, which even in Tescos, where they are well priced, is £8.38 for one and £11.34 for two.
So two twin packs of Tesco's tests went in my basket, and I (oh how impatient) only made it as far as the in-store rest rooms to test out the first product. They come in a cardboard box wrapped in cellophane, which I can definitely report, comes off quickly and easily when you are in a hurry! Inside is a very simple to follow set of instructions with pictures (so you can scan read and not waste time), and two individually wrapped tests.
As with the vast majority of home pregnancy tests, it is testing for HCG. This hormone is excreted by pregnant women in their urine, and not by non-pregnant women, so testing for the presence of it is pretty foolproof, unless the pregnancy is so recent that the amount of HCG being produced is really still so low it doesn't trigger the test. That's why you might get a negative if you test very early on, but the hormone levels should more or less be doubling daily, so a few days later a second test should come up positive.
It is the sort of pregnancy test which requires you to pee on it for 10 seconds, or dip the stick for 10 seconds in a sample collected in a container. It has two windows in the plastic - you put the lid back on the end you peed on (I think that is just to make the thing um watertight so you can pick it up hygenically to see the result), lay it flat or point it downwards and wait about three minutes. Other tests are quicker, but heck! £2.50 each, and 24 hour access to instant purchase! Who's complaining?
There are two windows- the pee basically takes that couple of minutes to travel up the stick inside the plastic (I imagine the principle is capilliary action) and the farther window away is the test window, which obviously has some HCG (or other positive test triggering thing) impregnated in the stick at that point so once the pee reaches it, a line in it turns pink. It has travelled through the other window to get there. On its way, it will leave a pink line in the first window if you are pregnant, and leave it blank if you are not.
Now some people who'd just put the kettle on or something might be quite happy to leave the test in the bathroom for 3 minutes and go and make a cup of tea, but remember that I was in a cubicle in the Tesco's ladies room so I just watched it. The whole control window changes colour slightly as the pee reaches it and then it moves on up to the other window. A faint pinkish tinge appears, which is a bit confusing, but that disappears as the thing dries out a bit (I think that's why you are supposed to wait three minutes). Once the second window has got it's pink line in it, you know the test has worked properly. If you've got no lines, then the test didn't work and you have to do it again with a new test; if you've got one line only in the test window, then you're probably not pregnant (but you might want to check again in a couple of days with another test); if you get two pink lines, then you'd better get knitting.
Easy as pie.
Basically, as a near-professional POAS addict (that's peeing on a stick), it is perfectly acceptable test to use. It is not unduly messy, I have confidence in the result as it is clear to read and the instructions are pretty foolproof, and the fact that you are looking for lines instead of dots helps your eye not to be fooled by imaginary dots that aren't there (though you have to throw these tests away in a place you can't retrieve them from the bin for a second look as they can give you faint false positives in the shape of an evaporation line so are not reliable at all after 10 minutes). The line in the "real" window is usually fainter than the one in the test window, but if you can see one, however faintly, it's a positive.
I can report that the tests have an approximate shelf life of two years and the expiry date is printed on the cardboard packet and also on the individual wrapping on each test, so it would be hard to use one by mistake that had gone out of date. I knew even as I was walking out of Tescos I should have returned the other box, but for some reason I had other things on my mind by then!
I have no reason to suppose these Tescos tests are less sensitive than branded ones (actually Clearblue Digital are generally regarded by my fellow POAS-ers as the ones that take the longest time to give you a positive) and, basically, they are fantastic value for money. And if you are pregnant, it's all going to cost you a flipping fortune, so anything you can save now can be diverted to Winny the Pooh accessories, ballet lessons and crisps.
....new carpets, football summer school, trips to watch small anthropomorphic creatures be cute in Disney/Pixar movies, birthday cake, Calpol, babywipes, childcare, babysitters, Disneyworld and strange sweet fizzy drinks with names you've never heard of; AA batteries at exorbitant rates from garages on Boxing Day, endless mobile phone upgrades, endless extortionate mobile phone bills, university fees, warhammer models, barbie accessories, driving lessons, cracked nippled cream at £12 a tube (yes really), oh sorry. Got sidetracked.
Actually if you are pregnant, £3.24 for one is better value than £4.98 for two if you don't use the second one. Anyone want an unused pregnancy test from an opened box?
Scott's Porage Oats were a familiar feature of my childhood, and have always stuck in my memory, partly because of the very distinctive scotsman in his kilt on the packet, and partly because I tried to spell porridge in a spelling test at the age of nine the way they do on the packet (porage) and my teacher marked it wrong. That really confused me!
But though I travelled through my teens and twenties eating chocolate croissants and black coffee for breakfast, the arrival of my own children triggered the porridge bug in me once more. Both my little children love porridge, and now I make enough for all three of us and we all start the day with a bowl of Scott's oats, made with full cream milk for them, and half semi-skimmed, half water for me!
I personally love the thick-milled variety - they give the porridge a great texture - and I have never come across another brand that does thick milled oats, so I'm a Scott's fan! They do 'ordinary' porridge oats too, which are smaller and create a porridge with a more even texture.
One of the great innovations in porridge preparation in modern times is the microwave - yes you can make your porridge oats in a saucepan for 5-10 minutes, then soak the pan for the next three hours! - but you can also put the required amount in a pyrex jug or bowl with milk or water, pop it in the micro for 5 minutes while you jump in the shower and hey presto! - perfectly cooked oats, ready to eat, and no nasty pan to wash!
Actually I prefer them microwaved - they come out less glutinous and gloopy in texture, but that's personal preference. Cook them how you will - I have a friend with an aga who puts hers in overnight very very low (like cooking a milk pudding I suppose).
Scotts comes in a cardboard package with no metal or plastic attachments so it is dead easy to recycle, and a rather amateurish pouring spout on the side of the packet that isn't brilliantly designed in my view, but the alternative would be a metal spout, which would cost more to manufacture and be harder to deal with recycling-wise, so I'll let them off. You have to tear a sort of cardboard door on the side of the packet, and tuck in a flap to close again. It's not terrible, but I find it hard to open and inefficient to close.
The porridge is availalbe in major supermarkets and costs £1.16 in Tescos for a 1kg box. The thick milled ones sometimes cost a few pence more (£1.24 in my local supermarket). It has been milled in Scotland since 1888 and is available to be shipped all over the world - clearly a lot of our American and Canadian cousins are prepared to pay for a wee taste of haim. They also now make a "so easy" range in one-bowl sachets designed for the microwave, but I find the regular one cheaper and it does the same job. Actually Scott's is now owned by Quakers, so that is perhaps why I think the ordinary version of Scott's oats and Quaker oats taste the same. Mind you, an oat is an oat, isn't it?
Having said that, I have bought economy oats in plastic bags, and whilst they are fine for miking into a crumble topping or something, I find you can get a lot more dust in a cheaper brand than you do with Scotts - the box is full of good, thick solid oat flakes, which make yummy porridge in under five minutes. Perfect fuel for a winter's morning!
Having read Plipplop's empassioned argument against the Post Office I feel compelled to offer the case for the defence.
A lot of the reasons given for closing post offices rely on the assumption that there are better and cheaper ways of meeting customers' needs, and that our attachment to the Post Office is emotional. That is a good point, and it may be true, but I still think there is a rational argument for maintaining post offices, especially in rural areas, such as in the village where I live. In thirty years' time, every septuagenarian pensioner will be using an ipod or what the equivalent will be by then, and be comfortable paying for car tax on line, but the current genereation of pensioners is in two camps. Yes there are all those silver surfers out there but there are also a lot of older people who would massively struggle to use facilities that were alien to them, and who do not own computers, nor have a need to pay broadband fees etc.
And without the internet, the post office is important. It is true actually in my view that we could reasonably now expect younger people on benefits to have bank accounts (i.e. those under retirement age), especially as it is perfectly possible to have a bank account with no charges, and with no overdraft etc if you have a poor credit history, but I think we need to be sympathtic to elderly people on pensions.
Now the economic truth is that if the majority of us stop using the post office, then it will become increasingly uneconomic, so the reverse might also be argued - that we should use it as often as possible to keep it alive.
But why does it matter? Why can't we just go to the supermarket and do everything there? Well in my case, I live in a village which has two pubs, a village hall and social club, a playground, two churches, a butchers, a florist, a small co-op, a newsagents, doctors' surgery, a library open three days a week, and, yes a post office. As a stay at home mum I really value being able to post things (especially as all the post boxes in our village have small slots so you can't post A4 through them unless it is thin enough to bend in half) and would hate to have to drive the three miles to my nearest supermarket. I buy and sell on ebay to save a few and raise a few pennies respectively, and would not be able to do that without a post office within walking distance, especially with petrol prices as they are. But it is not just the cost of driving - many of the mums in the village do not have access to the family car during the day as their husbands drive to work, many of the elderly are no longer able to drive, either because of failing eyesight or because they are unsteady on their feet or just too nervous as they become infirm. For some, the cost of a car on a small pension is prohibitive and so access to a supermarket is not an option - they shop daily, taking the bus they have a bus pass for to the local town which runs once a week on market day and never go near the weekly shop that so many working people are used to doing using their cars.
For such as us, the loss of the village post office would dramatically increase isolation. It really would. I could myself lucky in the sense that we are a two car family so I always have access to wheels if I need them, but the thought of getting all those shoes and coats on, folding up the pushchair, putting in the boot of the car, strapping the children in, driving to a car park, paying to park, lugging the pushchair out of the boot, strapping the baby in, walking round to the supermarket or other building in the town, carrying what I want to post, queueing, posting whatever, walking back to the car, folding up the pushchair, lugging it back into the boot, strapping in two children again, reversing out of the carpark, driving home again, unstrapping the children, taking off all the coats and shoes again, unloading the pushchair from the boot again and finally being home again - well suffice to say I certainly wouldn't bother with ebay as it would cost me a fiver and take over a hour just to post one item, before I even paid for the postage!
I use the post office perhaps once a fortnight - and I just walk out of my front door with the pushchair and a child walking beside me - this is good exercise for her, better for the planet as we are not in the car; we meet all sorts of people on the journey - other mums, old people - we have a wee chat, pat the dogs etc, which is good for my two year old and probably good for all the other people - as someone at home a lot of the time too, I enjoy the chance to walk about and see familiar faces and pass the time of day. So goodness knows how valuable it is if you are elderly and live alone. Driving stressfully to an anonymous town facility would be totally different and not at all pleasurable.
I can do most of the things I need banking wise via the internet, but I do post lots of things, and especially value being able to weigh things to make sure I put the right amount of stamps on things. I disagree that the differnce between second class and first class is minimal, by the way - I really try and send things second class whenever possible as to me 9p difference on a standard letter is worth saving if you are posting a few things, and on parcels the difference is really noticeable.
If you can't easily get to a bank, then you can have one of their accounts so you can withdraw cash etc - in my village the co-op does cash back, but you have to buy things for at least a fiver, and there is a cash machine but you pay £1.50 per withdrawal. So the option to withdraw your pension in cash, walk over the road to buy a newspaper, some meat, and some bread and veggies from the co-op, is invaluable.
I am sure that things will change over time, and our social needs will not be the same in thirty years, but for now I think it is unfair to impose the lifestyles of the young and fit on the eldery and infirm, who have worked all their younger lives, paid their taxes and deserve some respect in their twilight years. Why should they change the habits of a lifetime at eighty years old? For those of you who work for a living, the postoffice queue is just a nuisance (so do it all on line then!) but for many pensioners the queue is a social opportunity.
Leave the Post Office alone - at least for another decade or so!
In our house we use a lot of handcream, mostly because him indoors is a piano player and gets through tons of it, keeping his precious fingers in tip top condition. His total commitment to hand moisturising has two consequences: one is that we need to find reasonably priced handcream as it gets used a lot, and the second is that he goes spare if he can't find handcream when he needs it becasue I've picked up "his" bottle, used it and put it down somewhere else.
Now he is a big fan of vaseline lotions, but when I was in Boots recently buying some, I came across this Intensive Care Hand and Nail lotion. The pretty pink packaging definitely attracted me, as one solution to the "his" and "hers" problem is for me to buy him his usual Essential Moisture one in the yellow packet (v. gender neutral) and get this pink bottle which he would never look for, recognise as something he might us and therefore complain if he couldn't find.
So it went in the basket. Now is comes in several sizes, the smaller 50ml one is a tube with a plastic screw top, a bit like toothpaste, which would be perfect for your handbag or makeup bag, and the larger family size one comes witha flip top lid on the base, so the lotion is always ready to come out, or has a pump dispenser like the photo. Now I'm a fan, I buy both, and do keep the little tube in my bag. But first time, I bought the big one as it's better value, installed in in my bedroom and started to use it.
The product comes out of the pump dispenser easily, and like most of the vaseline hand care products, it is actually a lotion, which means it is thinner than a cream and sort of rubs in more. This is a pinkish lotion, is quite a strange texture and you only need a very little bit as instead of being absorbed it kind of coats your skin, forming a protective layer. It has a light fruity-floral fragrance, nothing too strong, and was immediately good at taking the dry feeling from the backs of my hands. My hands stay feeling noticalby softer for a good two hours after using. Now I keep it in the kitchen and just use it after I've done the washing up.
One thing that I think is amazing about this product though, is the effect it had on my nails - it does say "Hand and Nail lotion" but to be honest I didn't take much notice of the "nail" bit. But I have quite soft nails, prone to breaking, chipping, flaking and bending, and without nail polish and nail strengthener, I find it impossible to get them to grow. But as a busy mum, finding time to keep my nail polish in tip top condition can be a bit of a challenge (understatement) But this product really, and instantly, made a difference to the strength of my nails, even after two days use. Now, after I've got some lotion on my hands, I massage a bit into each nail, before rubbing in the rest on my hands generally, and it really is a bit miraculous. Almost as good as those tiny little pots of "hard as nails" strengthener that cost about £12 for about 5ml of product that you paint on.
So now I use it all the time, (and him indoors still hasn't even cottoned on to its existence) - my hands are softer, cope better with the washing up and look less dry and scaly, and my nails are ACTUALLY THERE.
And all for £2.99 for 200mls! Which without any help from him indoors lasts me about six months. Magic!
I bought this Easy Note laptop from PC World a few weeks ago and paid £419. It is therefore pretty much an entry level machine, but I think it has some great features, which if they fit your requirements, make this a great buy.
Packard Bell have been making laptops for years - they have been in business since 1991 and are a familiar name, though not one really associated with quality, so I did have some initial concerns when the salesman suggested it.
The name dates back to 1926, when they made radios and televisons for America, and was bought in the 1980s and attached to this new PC company. The computers they made in the early nineties were, frankly, pants - they were rumoured to use second hand parts and their computers often didn't work! Not good. The salesman assured me that they have improved since then though, and I have since discovered they have been bought out recently by Acer, which probably bodes well.
After considering my options, though this Packard Bell was not the laptop I was intending to buy, once the salesman suggested it, I gradually warmed to the idea. Packard Bell products tend to sit at the customer friendly, affordable and accessible end of the market, and the Easy Note series encompasses a wide range of laptops, ranging from the 7 inch 950g subnotebook range XS, to this one - the 17 inch 3.5kg SJ51. They also are a market leader in MP3 players. Though they used to be "Packaged Hell" and perhaps becuse of that poor reputation, this laptop appeared to offer me a great package for a very low price. Since my budget was a measly £400, I was pleased to find everything I wanted for that!
The main thing I knew I wanted was a dual core chip to speed things up and future-proof my laptop a little bit, but I was quite happy to consider this Athlon dual chip (64 x 2) - which though hardly top of the market is still way way better than my existing desktop or hubby's laptop.
The other thing I wanted going in was 2GBs or more - I know than 1GB is insufficent to make a decent job of running Windows Vista, and it's not any good in the long run buying XP again as they will stop supporting it in a year or two and then you're looking at having to upgrade.
This laptop has two 1GB chips in two slots, so you could upgrade one to 2GBs if you wanted in time (I think) - though I think you might be in trouble if you tried to upgrade both, but I'm not technical enough to be able to substantiate this feeling, so don't take my word for it.
It also has 512k of cache. This is not massive but again, it's adequate and better than most other computers I own at the moment. Indeed I am one of the poor suckers with a Celeron in my desktop (I hasten to add I was given it) which saved money by having no level 2 cache at all - big mistake; the damn thing does nothing but scroll - so a reasonable size L2 cache was on my list of essentials.
A generous number of USBs was also on my list of "must haves" - this one has four, and crucially only two are on top of each other (it's so hard to use both slots at once if they sit on top of each other) - the other two are side by side, so you can easily access three at once. The DVD writer/reader is on the left and the USBs on the right, so it's simple to use. It has a built-in wireless card, of course, and an Nvidia graphics card.
WHAT ELSE IT OFFERS
One big plus for me is the built-in VGA webcam - it sits at the top of the screen so is perfect for skypeing, which with two small children, three grown up sons and some of their grandparents living abroad, being able to webcam is really important, but on a budget laptop I could only put it on my list of "would likes" rather than "must haves." Using it is very simple - I just switched on skype which came preloaded, logged on and was away. It's not jerky and is good quality.
On my dream wish list would have been a 17 inch screen but to be honest I'd almost written off the possibility due to my tiny budget, so was pleasantly surprised to end up with one. It is 1280 x 800 and they call it Diamondview - it is shiny but brightly lit and is very easy to use, especially on mains power, with a good range of viewing angles. It is less useful on battery as it eats power if you pu it on the bright setting, and on the less bright setting it is less easy to use.
It has a perfectly comfortable full qwerty keyboard with a separate number pad over on the right (personally I hate number pads superimposed over qwerty keys to save space as you get your knickers in a twist with the number lock). The tracker pad is a little odd, being a kind of circle with one long button under it, with left and right mouse button functionality at either end. Now I'm used to it, it is just fine. As I use it on the sofa and in bed, I haven't bothered to plug in a wireless mouse separately, and I'm doing fine with it, despite not being a fan of tracker pads.
It also has a 4 in 1 card reader (SD / MMC / MS / MS pro), built in microphone, (plenty good enough for skypeing), headphone jack and a 120GB hard drive.
THE LESS GOOD BITS
The first big minus is the battery life - yes I know have a super bright 17inch screen but the damn thing weighs 3.5kgs already, so putting in a battery which lasts two hours surely could have been possible!!! With the screen on ultra bright it lasts maybe an hour, only on low screen lighting battery saving setting can you get maybe, maybe, an hour and a half but really and truly that is poor. Now I use mine round the house and rarely take it out on business, and let's face it, who would buy a 17 inch laptop to work on the train everyday? It would be nice to be able to put it on the kitchen table though, and watch a DVD without having to rescue the lead, but for my purposes it is not a serious drawback. You need to think about your usage needs if you were thinking to buy one, however.
The other irritating thing is that it doesn't come with a recovery CD - you have to make your own, which entailed me having to go and buy some writable DVDs because I didn't have any, and then I had three goes at it - it takes about half an hour and you can't do anything when it is happening so it is a bit tedious and I've done it three times so far and each time though there are files on the first disk it can't read it when it checks back, so won't let me burn the next one. I've wasted ages, still haven't succeeded and how hard would it have been for them to factory produce one?
One other minor irritation is that there is no button to adjust the sound up and down, or to mute it - obviously you can click on the on screen sound adjustment and you can also use the function button to toggle the F keys paley inscribed in blue and alter the volume this way, but both of these require two hands and a close look at what you are doing. If the phone rings or whatever, it would be lovely to have one button even if just to toggle the mute on and off, or a small volume adjustment wheel on the laptop side, as I have had with other machines.
In terms of value for money, this laptop is excellent. The screen is fantastic for watching movies, the processor is certainly fast enough and nimble enough to cope with the things I want to do, and there is plenty of spare disk space even after running Windows Vista. It is comfortable to use on your lap, the fan is quiet and unobtrusive and doesn't get too hot. The battery charges quickly, which given how quickly it discharges, is a blessing. Despite Packard Bell's former reputation, I have so far (though I've only had it a month or so) had no problems and am delighted with my purchase. For me, the downsides are far outweighed by the upsides, and when I started out with my ungenerous £400 budget, I didn't think I'd get anywhere near this cool a machine.
No-one who has ever stayed in a British hotel can surely be unaware of the Corby trouser press. I do wonder if there are any other manufacturers apart from Corby who make trouser presses. The three words are synonymous.
John Corby Limited is the company that makes the Corby trouser press. It was established in 1930 by John Corby in Windsor, England and originally made valet stands. A valet stand is wooden frame for putting a jacket on and hanging trousers overnight, so you could put them back on again in the morning. That'll be an over-engineered bedroom chair then, basically! But John Corby took them to a new level by adding a pressing area and lo! The first Corby trouser press was invented. They stuck a plug on them during the 1960s, so they were electrically heated. In 1977 John Corby Limited became part of what is now Jourdan plc. The company relocated to Andover, Hampshire in the eighties and the sales and marketing aspects of the business still operate from there, though actual production is now done in Peterlee, Co Durham.
The company of course still specialises in the manufacture of Corby trouser presses and they have now added ironing centres to their portfolio - that's a corby trouser press with an iron and board attached - a brilliant addition to a large hotel room. They also have a fairly wide range of guest amenity products for hotels - things like bathrobes, shower curtains, hospitality trays, hairdryers etc - many of the extras you expect to find in nice hotels.
THE TROUSER PRESS CONCEPT
Basically, for those of you who've never encountered one, the trouser press is an electrical device which can be wall mounted to save space, or stand freely on the floor, often with a jacket hanger attached to it. This mean that a gentlemen traveller can arrive home from work, or into his hotel room, remove his jacket and hang it up, and pop his trousers in the press before bed, set the timer and wake up in the morning to a pair of trousers beautifully creased down the front, and free of creases from wear, like behind the knee.
If you wear a suit every day it is great. As a girly, who doesn't therefore always wear a trouser suit, I still love them, for casual trousers and straight skirts too - they can go in flat and the press will remove those crease lines across the top of the thigh that sometimes appear from sitting. In hotel I sometime pop teeshirts in and other things that look a bit sad after they have been in a case - basically anything you can't be bothered to iron, but would like a bit better looking!
Why is it better than an iron?
Well, the first thing is that you don't have to go to the effort of ironing - you just pop your trousers in it and wait. The other major advantage is that the way the heat is applied means that wool does not go shiny, as it can when you iron.
THE CORBY 7700
This particular model is one of four different types that Corby make. They make a fifth which is an ironing centre.
The four models range in price from around £79 for the basic model, to £200 for the top of the range "Statesman" model which is elegant in real wood veneer. Actually of the four of them I do think this 7700 is the best buy. It is not much more expensive than the basic model, at £109, but has three timer settings 15mins, 30 mins or 45mins. It is the only one of the four they sell to have a 45min setting, and I find I use that, as 30 is not always enough for stubborn creases, though of course you can always press the button for the second time on the 30 min setting if your trousers are not quite perfect.
It also has an LED display which tells you how much time is left, which is useful if you are scooting around doing other things and it has a nice deep tray on the top to pop the contents of your pockets in beofre hanging up your trousers, and a tie bar that pulls out.
This model also comes in a wide range of colours, so you can have something that tones in with your bedroom or hotel room. Whilst trouser presses are useful they are not exactly beautiful, but they do look better toned in. You can have pine, black ash, beech, chrome, mahogany, walnut, white, maple or oak EFFECT. The Statesman is the one that looks loads better as it is actual wood, but it is twice the price, so you'd have to care a lot!
The trouser press switches itself off after the time is up, and you can also manually overide it and switch it off early if you want. You do have to watch when putting your trousers in it that you smooth down carefully the bit you want flat or you might get creases where you don't want them!
Most of us, whilst using a Corby in a hotel, might not think about having one at home, but if you wear a suit every day, and only have three or four suits to rotate round, as is the case with many men, then one of these at home will stop you needing to iron your trousers often and make them shiny, or dry clean more than you need to just because your clothes are creased, rather than not very clean.
If you had one in your bedroom, and got into the habit of popping your trousers in every night, you might just find that it pays for itself in less frequent dry cleaning and better life to your clothes, as trousers will seat more slowly, and hang better, especially behind the knees. And surely any time not spent ironing has to be a good thing!
I've just bought one of these. Oooh it's good. Really good.
It's a dead cool DVD player which is ideal if you have an HD ready telly and want to really enjoy your DVDs to the full. It has Dolby sound so is great if you hook it up to separate speakers, but pretty good if you don't, too.
It comes in silver (well alumininium) or black, and compared to some DVD players it is quite chunky - about the thickness of a video recorder. I don't know why. I forgive it this though, as the picture quality is awesome. Really sharp.
It has 1080 upscaling, which means it is fully HD compatible, and a detachable mains lead, which I couldn't see the point of until More Technically Minded Hubby (MTMH) explained that this is a Good Thing as it allows you to upgrade the cable and get even better quality.
Until buying this, I thought it was only worth paying thirty quid for a DVD player, but now I understand that you get what you pay for and this is worth paying for. MTMH paid £180 for ours, which is a lot more than thirty quid but oooh I am happy.
It is easy to use, and gives you ultra sharp picture quality and great sound. It won What Hifi's 2007 best DVD player under £300 award, which is what made him consider it. They clearly know a thing or two at What Hifi.
Right, now take a deep breath:
* HDMI Interface with Multi Channel Audio(480p/720p/1080i/1080p Scaling). Um, I think this means the picture quality is fab. It might be what makes the sound quality fab though. Not entirely sure.
*it played CDs as well as DVDs, and plays -R and -RW DVDs
* it has 24-bit, 192-kHz High Resolution Audio D/A Converters and 12 bit, 216 MHz High Resolution Video D/A Converters. Sorry but I have no idea at all what they are, but it does says that on the box. * it has Progressive Scan featuring DCDi by Faroudja. This is apparently cool (according to MTMH) and I can confirm that what it does is sort of upgrade iffy quality DVDs and make them appear sharper and not so grainy.
* it also has HDMI/Component (Interlace) Parallel video outputs. No clue what they are either. Sorry.
* 2 MB Buffer Memory. This means it doesn't judder or momentarily pause while the disk has a wee think to itself ever.
You can adjust the picture to get the best for your configuration and individual disk, and it has DivX Ultra. It's really good for viewing photos from too.
The standby mode is a new eco style one which only uses 1W on standby: half as much electricity as previous models apparently.
One thing that is really cool is that if you pause the DVD and then it stops (you know how if they are on pause for too long they close down), when you restart you have the option of restarting from where you last paused, so you don't have to try and find the right bit all over again. That's great.
I am so happy with this machine, I really wish we'd bought one earlier. Well worth it, if you have an HD TV. If you don't have a CD player, I think you could just have one of these wired up to speakers and do without a separate CD player - the quality is better than my CD player actually.
You'll love this product
I have just spent a night at the Palace Hotel in Manchester, on business. It is a rather grand, distinctively impressive Victorian building right in the heart of the city, that was originally built as insurance offices, apparently, and still does slightly have the feeling as you arrive in the door of being a rather commercial venue.
I actually walked past the entrance the first time, assuming that what I could see was a shopping mall or something - the entrance is that vast. It is right next to the Palace Theatre on Oxford Road and is within an easy 10 minute walk of the Arndale centre and other shops. China town is also only a few minutes' walk away and there are a number of restaurants, cafes and other stuff nearby, including a large Sainsbury's. It is opposite Oxford Road train station and within walking distance of Piccadilly station. There are a couple of car parks nearby - the nearest is the NCP Palace car park but at £15.50 a day it's not cheap - a better deal for Palace residents can be had at the one a 5 minute walk away which only costs £7.50 a day if they validate your ticket at reception.
It is an imposing building amd hard to miss (clever of me to walk past, actually!) and the entrance hall is cavernous and grand. The staff on reception are friendly and check-in was swift - this is a four star hotel and it shows. THey have a separate concierge for leaving luggage etc.
Through to the bar/restaurant and grand becomes impressive rather than soul-less. Nice staff, comfy sofas and a decent bar snack menu serving til 11pm was ideal for a weary business traveller whose head was still humming from the road noise of the the M5 for 4 hours. Paying £6.75 for an (admittedly large 250ml) glass of white wine woke me up though. Flippin' Nora; I was glad I was on expenses. I also has a burger and chips (all seven of them) for £9.95, but the burger was home made and fresh, and pretty yummy, and it was half past ten, so I was pretty grateful for anything to be honest. They have a proper hotel dining room with grand prices serving things like monkfish at £18 a go, type of thing, if you want the full monty.
On to my room then. I had a small double which had clearly been recently renovated, with faux fur and brown leather decor, it was smart and stylish if not exactly what I'd chose to do in my own bedroom. Plenty of space for one person, a decent full sized bathroom in excellent nick - no mouldy grouting here - good shower and full sized bath. The freebies were good - nice smellies and shampoo etc, and there were plenty of mirrors including a magnifying one so lovely ladies could ensure maximum loveliness before facing the world.
A freestanding wardrobe revealed a safe and an iron and ironing board, which in one way is great as if you need one it saves the hassle of having one brought, but it did take up quite a lot of space in the hanging part of the robe itself, which might bizarrely have actually exacerbated the need for the thing. Sadly no Corby trouser press. I miss those.
The room also boasted an unexciting looking CRT telly which provided me with a bit of BBC Breakfast whilst I was getting ready the next morning and clearly could do the hotel package of pay-per-view movies and local radio should I have required.
After the shock of my expensive glass of wine, I did need a lie down and the bed and pillows were extremely comfortable with good quality cotton sheets. The room had full length windows overlooking a central courtyard but I could sadly not get a window open for the life of me. I also could not work out how to switch off the bathroom extractor fan which ran all night and drove me mad, and I did believe these two facts were interlinked.
In our conference facilities during the day we could not open any windows either; I do think fresh air is not an unreasonable ask, personally. So despite the comfy bed I didn't sleep too well as I was in need of an open window. Grr.
Morning dawned and I used the hospitality tray which gloriously had your actual proper Twinings tea and a yummy biscuit selection. A gorgeous stainless steel kettle and some surprisingly acceptable milk-type stuff meant that for the first time, I think, ever, I had a hotel room cuppa that was decent to drink. For coffee lovers though, only those annoying tubes of Nescafe were left to offer a hint of what coffee might be. A dull choice of fluted naff off-white cups and saucers ruined what could have been a cool tray, on runners under the TV, but still, I was happy. A wired internet connection and a sensible working desk was available in the room, though at 50p a minute I decided my emails could wait, the full length windows meant that there was plenty of natural light the next morning and if I'd only been able to throw a window open it would have been a glorious place to get a bit of work done before breakfast.
Instead I took papers down to breakfast with me, to discover the table was a bit small and cluttered to cope. There was a buffet service and the selection was decent with plenty of pastries and fresh fruit as well as the full English and cereals. I was offered coffee and accepted and was pleasantly surprised that something vaguely resembling coffee and not bearing more than a passing resemblance to hot water actually turned up. I was well fed.
Lunch was also a serve yourself affair, with a choice of hot and cold - I had a perfectly decent fish pie, though there appeared not to be any green veggies, which was a bit odd. I added cauliflower cheese and potatoes (mmm, balanced) as that appeared to be all there was, and a bit of tomato from the salad bar just to add some colour other than white to my plate! Pudding was a good apple crumble, or a pile of cholesterol-laden tarts and pastries plus cream or custard and the ubiquitous fruit salad. The general consensus round the conference table though, was that lunch got the thumbs up. Maybe these people don't get out much.
Check-out was as quick as check-in, and the conference facilties were good (same lack of air issue, but hey, what's a bit of oxygen between friends?) - but at least the rooms had very high ceiling and were well sized for our needs. They didn't seem to be able to get the internet going, so our presentation at the start was a bit "what I should be showing you is..." I don't know whether blame for this can be laid at the hotel's door though. At least there were plenty of boiled sweets, eraser-tipped pencils and fizzy water. Apparently if you are at a conference you need those. I haven't actually bought any eraser-tipped pencils for over twenty years.
They have a web site, if you are interested - http://www.palace-hotel-manchester.co.uk/
This reveals that the internet rate for rooms varies considerably according to demand - they obviously have that easyjet-type approach to pricing. You can easily get £225 quoted at you for a single room on a busy night, but likewise if you fancy staying on 24th December you can have a double for £85! They do seem to charge the same for single or double occupancy, and children in your room appear to be free. £120 seems to be a standard price though. I paid less than that though, but on a company tariff.
All in all, I was happy with my stay - it is a great experience and certainly better than staying in the Ibis, which my company offered me as an alternative. I have to return to Manchester in two weeks and have booked to stay there again, despite the oxygen issues, but I will ask next time for a room with a window that opens and see how I get on. I'll let you know....
If you are a mother with a child under five living in Britain this product will surely need no introdction. Somewhere in the bit of motherhood-training where you instictively learn certain key facts and can't remember not knowing them but don't ever remember anyone telling them to you, is the piece of mother wisdom that says sudocrem is a nappy change essential item.
Sudocrem is a thick white barrier cream which some people use at every nappy change, but we only use if they is trouble down below. I bought a large-ish 250g tub when my daughter was born (she is now two and a half) and when we went on holiday the August before last we had forgotton to pack it, so bought a smaller 125g tub, as we needed it that week. The larger tub cost, ooh, about £4. My son is now 14 months and he inherited these two tubs, I threw the smaller one away the day before yesterday and have just splashed out a princely £2.45 on another 125g tub, which I fondly believe will see me thruogh to potty training.
It doesn't break the bank then, and a little goes a long way. If you used it at every nappy change obviously you'd use a bit more, but as a treatment rather than prevention it is highly effectively, especially if combined with the usual "nappy off time", frequent changing etc, if baby has a sore little botty.
You can even use it on broken skin, which is very useful. It is mildly antiseptic as well as being a thick barrier cream so treats the probelm whilst preventing it from getting any worse.
If I catch the rash at its first sign, I can put this cream on and expect that by the next change it will be less red and sore looking, and it continue to apply it, the rash is nearly always gone by the morning. Amazing, frankly! But then all you mummies and daddies out there already knew that!
I do occasionaly use it for other things - a bit of eczema for example, and I am reliably informed it is the best thing for crotch-rot, but since I had no wish to be enlightened as to what that actually is, I can only pass that on in good faith and try not to think about it too hard!
In short, what is called "sudoku-cream" cream in our house, as it solves everything, is a little pot of miracle, especially if you are a nappy-wearing baby.
One word of warning; if you get some on the carpet (or more likely, if you change the baby and forget to put the sudocrem immediately out of the reach of small fingers, leave the room to deal with the dirty nappy and come back to discover you little Damien Hirst has been finger painting with the blinking stuff), the stain on the carpet will be barely visible at first, and as the weeks go past, the stain will get darker and more noticable with every passing week and nothing, repeat nothing, will ever ever remove it except actually changing all the carpets or moving house. You have been warned.
This is a great little toy, which at £10 from the Early Learning Centre is not expensive if you are looking for a present for a little boy or girl.
It is designed with a rubber suction cap on the bottom of it, so you can stick it down to a hard, solid surface. The idea is that you stick to the tray of your baby's highchair, to keep baby amused while you're preparing dinner, finishing your own meal or whatever, but it has good play value on the floor or in the playpen too, at least in our house!
It is suitable for babies from six months - in other words they need to be able to sit up in their highchair unaided really and be ble to reach out to a toy, in order to get any play value from it, though, you can sit with a younger child on your knee and enjoy making the beeping noise and going "broom broom" if you want to - there is nothing unsafe about it for a younger child as far as I can see.
My son was given one for Christmas last year when he was 11 months old, and is still enjoying it, so it has good durability. His two year old sister likes it too! It is made of plastic and pretty robust - it has hit the stone floor in our kitchen countless times with no ill effects. THe mirror you can see on the left in the picture comes off very easily, and reattcehs easily too - though I think ours might be at the bottom of a toy box somewhere - I'm not sure why it is so detachable - perhaps it's a safety feature, but it does mean they tend to get separated.
The play value is high because of the different things it does - the mirror twists (and it is not a glass mirror obviously so it's unbreakable and safe), the red handle on the right pulls forward with a ratchet noise, the button in the middle beeps in a very satisfying manner and the three coloured buttons on the front also make noises - one plays a tune, one makes the sound of an engine starting and the other one is the sound of a car driving away. My boy loves pressing those over and over.
Here's the good bit - it rates quite low on the annoying toy noise scale - it is not too loud and the noises do not get on my nerves. I have several toys with batteries strategically removed, and this is not one of them. I think it only takes one AA battery too, so isn't expensive to run, unlike a real car!
My son is now strong enough to overcome the suction, even if I use water, which is why it hits the kitchen floor so often, but as I said earlier, he still plays with it even if not always on the highchair any more.
It's a good little present and gets the baby vote!
This document feeder is a handy product which currently costs about GBP160 to buy. It is cheaper in the US at $199.
WHAT IS IT?
The HP Scanjet Automatic Document Feeder attaches to HP Scanjets and is compatible with the Scanjet 5100, 5200, 6200 and 6300 series scanners. It then scans documents automatically.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
You put up to 25 pages of loose paper in it and click a button. The loose pages will then be scanned into your computer. Wow! Now if you only scan one document a day, you might not want to shell out £160 for one of these, but if you do a lot of it, or pay someone to stand over a scanner and do it for you, the economics of this might start to make sense.
Attaching it to your scanner is simple: you take the original lid of your scanner off by lifting it vertically and the docment feeder slides into the attachment holes in the lid. There is actually a socket in the back of the compatible scanners which is designed to take the document feeder and you plug the feeder into it (not surprisingly!)
The automatic document feeder is hinged so you can lift it up if you don't want to use it, but you just want to manually scan something in the usual way. This is a good feature because it means that once you've bought it it can just stay on all the time. You do still want to scan manually things like photographs or anything on a funny sized bit of paper.
You put the paper in it by moving the blue lever at the back of the scanner to position 1, then you put the papers you want to scan in the feeder face up with the first page on top. It copes best with A5 and A4 documents though it can cope with legal size, hich may well be useful for some people. Once the papers are in place, you move the lever back to 3. I don't know what you do with position 2 though!
You can use your existing scanner (provided you have a compatible one) and turn it into an automatic one, rather than have to replace a perfectly good machine in order to get better functionality.
You no longer have to stand over the scanner for half an hour at a time!
Using the TWAIN driver that HP supply with their scanners you can set this to scan all the pages at once and use it with Omnipage, Readiris or something similar to turn scanned pages into usable Word documents automatically.
This is great if you've lost the original soft copies of things (in the old days we just ended up retyping stuff) or have other OCR needs.
In operation, this is a quite noisy.
The thing it doesn't do for you if scan direct from a book - it is designed for loose leaf pages. So if you want to scan in a few pages from a book you have to photocopy them first then put the copies in the feeder, which results in poorer quality and a waste of time, since you've had to stand over the photcopier anyway so you might just as well have scanned directly (though of course scanning is much slower than copying.)
It's quite expensive for something that only does 25 pages at once then you have to press the lever and insert some more. -You might find it is worth paying more to get a bigger beast, or just not paying at all!
Also on Ciao
So you are thinking about a MacBook Air? At over $1700/£1200 even for the entry level it's not an impulse buy, so it is good to think through the pros and cons of this machine to decide if it is really right for you.
1. THE LOOK: It's cool. Really, seriously cool. It's incredibly thin and light, so thin you could put it in an envelope and post it. There is no better machine to carry around if you want to impress your colleagues. At its thinnest it is only 0.16" thick.
2. THE HARDWARE: It comes with Core2Duo (a choice of 1.6 or 1.8Ghz) and 2GB RAM which is what most of us need, plus a good standard of video card and a 64GB solid state drive.
3. THE FEATURES: The MacBook Air comes with the built in wireless card you would expect, a built-in web cam and Bluetooth. A backlit keyboard and a brilliant big touch pad mean you can use this anywhere, and the touch pad has all the interactivity of the iPod Touch.
4. THE SCREEN: It has a 13.3 inch HD screen with 1920x1080 resolution. This is backlit, for improved visibility.
5. THE WEIGHT: It only weighs three pounds.
6. THE BATTERY: It has a battery life of up to five hours, even with Wi-Fi on, which is excellent in my view for anything this thin, better than other Apples, and streets ahead of almost all its competitors.
7. ENVIRONMENTAL CREDENTIALS
Apple claim the Mac Air is made with a large number of recyclable parts.
1. RELIABILITY: It is a new product and there are always issues with new technology products on the market. Great to have it before everyone else, but that means you are the Apple customer finding out what they haven't got right yet. If you wait for the second generation model then someone else has done the glitch-curing for you.
2. LACK OF OPTICAL DRIVES: It has no internal drives. If you do everything on a memory stick then this might not bother you too much, but it does defeat the object of an ultra-light portable if you have to carry a separate bag with all the peripherals in it. The Sony Vaio was like this and it drove me mad having to take a portable floppy drive and portable CD drive everywhere too. What drove me even more mad was NOT carting the damn CD drive everywhere and then needing it! Nowadays this may be less of a problem, depending what you do with yours. If everywhere you go is wirelessed, and everything you need is backed up onto a remote host, it may be fine.
3. SIZE OF HARD DRIVE: I think an 80GB hard drive is not massive at all. But then this is a sub-notebook, so that's probably quite reasonable for a sub-notebook. Compared to other 13-15 inch laptops though, it's average at best.
4. POWER AND CAPACITY: You get more under the bonnet with a MacBook Pro than you do with a MacAir, but then a MacBook Pro does not look anywhere near so cool. Would you rather drive an under-powered Ferrari or a suped up Ford Cortina? Exactly. Macs are traditionally beloved by graphic designers, but the MacAir is under-spec-ed for serious professional graphics work.
6. CONNECTIVITY: It's Wi-Fi only i.e. there is no Ethernet port. Probably in today's world that will soon not be that much of a con. I remember when they first starting making laptops without floppy drives I had a real job persuading my boyfriend he could buy one and it would be fine. He wanted to buy a laptop with a floppy drive and without a built in wireless card. He just couldn't imagine Wi-Fi happening and him not using a floppy disc for everything. So maybe this is the same. The customer has to catch up! But just for now, for many of us, the ability to use a wire to access the internet is useful. At home maybe you get improved connectivity, or faster download speeds from an Ethernet connection, even if you don't use it out much.
7. PORTS: It only has one solitary little USB port. Just one. So how many do you really need? On my laptop I am glad to have four, but two strikes me as a minimum at least so I don't have unplug the printer in order to plug in a memory stick to upload a document in order to print it. And I often like an infra-red keyboard and mouse with my laptop when actually at my desk. That's another USB. To be fair, the MacBook Air is a sub-notebook so is not designed for heavy "portable desk" options, but lack of connectivity does cut down your options.
8. PRICE: It is very, very expensive just now. Prices will surely come down, if you can bear to wait, but $2000 give or take is a lot of money.
In summary, if you want ultra thin, ultra cool and ultra-portable, you won't do better than this. If you want a great pile of hardware, so your laptop can basically be your desktop but on the move and you don't mind lugging a hefty 5 pounder home every night, then the MacBook Air is probably not the right laptop for you. Certainly if you only own one computer, then it would be an unusual choice to have the Air. If you want to do an awful lot on the move you might find that a 13.4 inch screen is actually too large as you still need a bag to carry it around in and though it's ultra light, it's not portable enough. Perhaps in that case you need a handheld with something like a 7 or 8 inch screen. But if you really want to look uber-cool and just revel in every touch of the keyboard, then stop here. You've just found what you are looking for.