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S. Thomas
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HP 15-r001na 15.6-inch Notebook PC (Intel Pentium 2.58GHz, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD, Wi-Fi, Windows 8.1)
HP 15-r001na 15.6-inch Notebook PC (Intel Pentium 2.58GHz, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD, Wi-Fi, Windows 8.1)
Price: 347.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent balance, 31 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The sheer level of specification these days makes me smile and it didn’t seem long ago that I marveled at a Mesh PC with a 6 gb hard drive for five times the price of this compact lap top.

Unless you are a gamer or working for many hours at the screen, the specification will fulfill everything that mainstream users will ask of it. A Tb of hard drive is almost overkill in these days of cloud storage but generous, 8gb of RAM covers most functions apart from higher end gaming (which would usually expect a PC with a dedicated graphics card) and the processor (quad core, 2.16 ghz) is more than I would have expected at this price point.

I wasn’t sure whether I would find the screen too small for work but I accommodated to it immediately and I found it just as workable as a larger screen. Any trade off was well worth the saving in weight and bulk that comes with a larger screen unless you are going to be working for hours (in which case I use a full blown PC and screen).

I thought I might find the keyboard slightly bijou in use but I barely registered that I was moving down in size. I did notice the saving in weight and at 2.26Kg it is much lighter than my previous laptop (admittedly a handful of years old). This makes it a far more portable option when travelling to meetings or even just for working on one’s lap. My previous laptop had been gathering dust in favour of the portability of tablets for the compromise that typing on a tablet’s virtual keyboard can be finicky. I quickly found myself grabbing the new laptop.

I normally shy away from new computer technology, expecting to be presented with myriad steps, installations, downloads and well, faff. Here the initial steps are very straightforward (battery installation and plugging it in) and it arrives with a free month’s subscription to McAfee LiveSafe. The card reader slot right at the front makes it so easy to upload photos and video, it has a good camera and microphone for Skype calls and the keyboard and trackpad are responsive.

I’m new to Windows 8 and found it quite a change from version 7; fortunately an extensive onscreen guide exists to help you … It’s something that becomes easier the more you use the notebook and, whilst I am still finding my feet, it is definitely becoming easier a couple of weeks in.

The battery appears to last for about 5 hours of use, sometimes longer before needing to be charged and a very prominent warning ensures the battery doesn’t reach a critically low level unexpectedly. However, exact longevity between charges will depend very much on what programs you are running.

The laptop had a surprisingly quality touch to it given the price and this completed a very nice package. My older laptop was HP but I didn’t really warm to it; this piece of kit feels far more friendly and versatile.


CoverTop LCBLACK156 Universal Shock Protection Pure Silicone Cover Jacket 15.6 inch Laptop
CoverTop LCBLACK156 Universal Shock Protection Pure Silicone Cover Jacket 15.6 inch Laptop
Price: 19.20

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Undersized jacket, 30 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It looks like just the right sort of thing to protect your notebook from the scratches and minor damage that might occur from normal wear and tear. Whilst it does (just) fit my 15.6 inch notebook, it isn’t a good fit, feeling far too tight and pulling at the corners and, despite promises that it will fit on easily, it was a right pain although thankfully much easier to remove.

Basically it is a silicone skin that fits around the outside of the notebook and is held in place with a small triangular overlap at the four corners (designed to prevent the screen slamming shut but resulting in the notebook no longer fully closing). The base has a series of holes and rubber feet to ensure good ventilation whilst the part that protects the reverse of the screen is solid silicone.

A series of pre-moulded cut-outs allow access to notebook connectors and you are directed to remove these as necessary prior to fitting the cover, although I would suggest you check it fits first so that you can return it if necessary. In my case, I would have needed to cut through some of the reinforced edges of the case to access USB slots, which would have looked rather messy.

If you are also interested in the aesthetics of the piece, whilst it has a nice anti-slip surface, if you put it down on anywhere with dust or other detritus it sticks to the silicone like glue. I didn’t find this easy to remove with a dry microfibre cloth despite the claims to the contrary.

It’s probably a useful addition to protect your notebook when on the move but mine is mainly used in the office or a meeting room and I’m not sure I would want to put up with the cons even if it did fit.


Ultranatura Canberra Range Side Table Real High Quality Eucalyptus Wood FSC Certified 50 x 50 x 51 cm
Ultranatura Canberra Range Side Table Real High Quality Eucalyptus Wood FSC Certified 50 x 50 x 51 cm
Price: 53.09

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No assembly required, 25 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Taking up very little storage space, this is a very useful little table to have in the garden; the fact that it comes ready assembled is even better.

It is straightforward to put up – just take the two leaves of the table, lift and then push them together. A couple of metal dowels slot into place to hold the two leaves together and a catch underneath ensures they stay put should you need to move the table around. It’s then a simple reversal of that process to fold the table for storage.

It feels quite strong and up to the task of holding a tray of food and drinks without any danger of collapse; my only qualm is how well the dowel and catch mechanism will withstand being left outside in the good old British summertime rain. I’ll update this review if that does become an issue but I’ll definitely be storing the table out of the elements as soon as the weather turns.

The finish is reasonably good; there were some slightly rough patches of wood and spilt glue on the one I received, which tarnishes the overall look of the piece. It’s something that can be easily sorted out when it comes time to apply oil next year but a disappointment in a new item.

Overall a nice looking table that is just the right size to pop your drinks on whilst you relax in the garden; if the finish had been a little better it would have been 5 stars.


Vibe FLI Over-Ear Headphones with In-Line Microphone - White
Vibe FLI Over-Ear Headphones with In-Line Microphone - White
Offered by Shop Spectrum
Price: 57.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best thing since bread came sliced, 23 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
These must be the most comfortable headphones I have ever used, even when worn with glasses for a long period of time, sitting lightly on the ear with ultra-soft cushioning. More importantly, the sound quality is superb; perfect for listening to punk without disturbing anyone else or having to turn the volume down so you can barely hear anything. And I couldn’t detect any distortion at any level.

The head band is adjustable for a perfect fit and they stay nicely in place should head banging be your thing... They have even been designed to foldaway after use, so they don’t even use up a lot of space if you enjoy listening to music in bed and have little bedside storage. The only thing missing is a pouch to help keep them in good condition when they are not in use.

I may look a bit like a Cyberman whilst wearing these headphones but that’s a small price to pay in return for such good quality sound.


Ultrasport 4 Players Badminton Set - Orange
Ultrasport 4 Players Badminton Set - Orange
Price: 28.77

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family fun, 23 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A well-made storage bag containing everything you need for a game of badminton for four in the garden. The only thing I would add is some metal tent pegs to hold the net steady (I suspect the plastic ones that are supplied won’t last too long in my lawn due to the number of stones hidden just below the surface).

The racquets are lightweight metal with a comfortable handle and appear well strung (the shuttlecock bounces well anyway – whenever I’m good enough to actually hit it, that is). Once you’re through with your game (or just hitting the shuttlecock around the garden for the cats to chase), the bag holds everything together in a series of neat storage compartments with a carry handle that makes storage in the garage that little bit easier.


Oral-B Trizone 4000 Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush Powered by Braun
Oral-B Trizone 4000 Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush Powered by Braun
Price: 59.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good combination of features, 23 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A fairly basic brush that nevertheless incorporates everything of importance when it comes to achieving a good level of oral hygiene. It’s easy to use, has four cleaning modes, a built-in timer and offers sufficient warning of the need to recharge that you shouldn’t find yourself caught out unexpectedly; the only thing ‘missing’ is a travel case (although I note the product description currently states one is included that is not the case).

The four brushing modes are selected via successive presses of the on/off button:

1. Standard cleaning mode (the option I tend to use most as it is the default when you switch on).

2. Sensitive – a gentler, slower cleaning action that you may wish to use initially until you get used to the brush, particularly if you have not used an electric version before.

3. Whitening – supposedly provides a bit more oomph to the cleaning process by varying the speed although I don’t notice any particular difference to the appearance of my teeth.

4. Gum care – a massaging action to help keep your gums healthy.

The brush incorporates a tonal prompt to clean different quadrants in your mouth; it’s one of those features that I really value in a toothbrush as I otherwise have a tendency to concentrate too much on problem areas and not enough on others - this helps me to achieve more of a balance. It also remembers where you are in the cycle so, if you switch the brush off for a couple of seconds to swill your mouth, you won’t have to remember where you got to. A different tone sounds to indicate when your two minutes is up.

You also have both a visual warning (red light) and a tonal warning (the brush sounds different in use) to alert if you use too much pressure when brushing; it’s another very useful feature and does help to educate use.

It takes around 24 hours to achieve a full charge and that should last long enough for one person to clean their teeth twice a day for the recommended two minutes per session over the course of a week, although I found the charge lasted longer than this. A flashing green light shows the battery is charging; this goes off once a full charge is achieved. Whilst I would find a remaining charge indicator useful, helpfully the red light warning of the need to recharge comes on sufficiently in advance that I didn’t find its omission a particular problem, being able to get a couple of full cleans out of the remaining power before the battery was fully depleted (although the cleaning speed slows as the battery depletes). Given it takes close to 24 hours to achieve a full charge, the manufacturer recommends the brush is stored on the charger, which may be more convenient if it is to be used by multiple users.

Overall this is a good choice that’ll help you keep your teeth in tip-top condition and a suitable option for first time users of electric brushes thanks to the choice of cleaning modes.


Brabantia 50 Litre Laundry Bin with White Body/ Plastic Lid and Removable Black/ Grey Laundry Bag
Brabantia 50 Litre Laundry Bin with White Body/ Plastic Lid and Removable Black/ Grey Laundry Bag
Price: 72.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Practical, well thought out design, 20 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Ideally suited for use in a bathroom, the Brabantia laundry bin is adequately sized to hold a super-king duvet cover, sheet and four pillow cases without feeling the strain - a decent amount of laundry storage for a relatively small footprint of only 38cm diameter (it's 63 cm high).

The main bin is white metal with ventilation holes that add rather than detract from the stylish feel of the piece; the base is plastic so there is no danger of scratching a tiled floor whilst also avoiding the potential for rust to form if used in a bathroom. The removable lid is thick white plastic; it's much stronger than I thought it would be (it feels safe to lean on) and feels up to lasting far beyond the ten year manufacturer's guarantee.

The hole in the middle of the lid is large enough to allow most items of clothing and towels to be inserted easily into the bin and I find the lid only needs to be removed to add sheets and duvet covers. The grey liner is removable so you can easily take laundry to the washing machine although I tend to leave it in place and only remove it when the liner itself needs to be freshened up.

The design has been adapted from an earlier version I've had in use for a handful of years; the washable bin liner now fastens with a canvas Velcro strip rather than having an elasticated rim so it is held fast when you want to remove large items (such as a duvet cover) from its cavernous depths.

Brabantia offer these bins in various different finishes and this version is one of the most practical if you intend to store it in the bathroom. The fingerprint proof metal finish of the main bin doesn't show every mark and is much easier to clean than the stainless steel variations. Similarly the lid just needs a quick wipe over with a damp cloth, so no need to buff or use copious amounts of elbow grease as is necessary to keep the metal or wooden versions looking good.

It's a good looking item that doesn't scream out it's a laundry bin and can accommodate more than just a towel before it reaches capacity Ideal for use in a bathroom but looks good enough that it won't stand out anywhere else either.


Expower(R) IPX8 Waterproof Sport MP3 Player with Rechargeable Battery FM Radio for Swimming Surfing SPA Running Sports (Black)
Expower(R) IPX8 Waterproof Sport MP3 Player with Rechargeable Battery FM Radio for Swimming Surfing SPA Running Sports (Black)
Offered by Smart techonology
Price: 29.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Night Swimming, 19 Aug 2014
I had tried a leading brand of MP3 player for swimming last year but it was a false start and I couldn’t really get on with it from the get go, albeit after giving it away I was conscious that it may have been a habit thing. Sessions have therefore been spent counting lengths or (more recently as I have extended duration) thinking.

The offer of this this kit without charge for review purposes coincided with a situation where I have been finding my current schedule (a mile a session) more mentally gruelling than physically taxing. One problem I find with swimming is that its repetitive nature can cause me to lapse into an over reflective rather than relaxed mood. I was conscious that distraction (by way of music or audio books) helps me to switch off and I had been mulling over trying out an alternative but hadn’t taken the plunge.

Designed to sit around the nape of the neck and over the ears, after a bit of adjustment I managed to achieve a comfortable and secure fit. Fortunately the headset frame is designed to be gently manipulated and it is now at the stage where I can barely feel I am wearing it. With almost 8GB capacity, I was able to drag across sufficient music files to accompany me on the three swimming sessions a week that is my current target. The unit is designed to be waterproof down to 3 metres (deeper than the pool I go to) and it floats should it ever come loose.

Land and water based earbuds are provided (a choice of three sizes for land and two for water). One thing to note is that the earbuds that are fitted to the unit on arrival are designed for land sports; you need to swap across to a different type if the MP3 is to be used for swimming. I am always fussy about earbuds and have a history of not getting on with those supplied with players (from the days of cassettes!) or Bluetooth hands free; even the earplugs I use for swimming were the result of a relentless quest for something I could tolerate. In this case, I lucked out and was quite happy with one of the two water based pair of buds.

A fairly detailed instruction leaflet is included in the box, along with the USB needed to charge and transfer music across to the MP3 player. A red flashing light indicates charging is taking place and it took around 3 hours to achieve a full charge, which should last for up to ten hours of playback. I dragged and dropped music files onto the MP3 whilst it was charging.

The MP3 player itself is a small unit that clips into the centre of the band. You’ll need to familiarise yourself with the controls before use but it’s a fairly straightforward set of buttons that don’t take long to master; although I made a playlist a shuffle option might have been a useful addition however. Sound quality is good although it can apparently be affected if water manages to get inside. Fortunately this hasn’t happened to me (yet) but if it does all is not lost as the headset just needs to be allowed to dry out again and will then be as good as new.

I am already finding that the companionship of music leaves me in a more upbeat frame of mind than when I was accompanied only by the splosh of water. I also hope it will help me to improve my distances, which to date has been limited by monotony rather than energy.

A useful companion that offers company but does not get in the way.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 30, 2014 2:07 PM BST


The Blue Line Imperative: What Managing for Value Really Means
The Blue Line Imperative: What Managing for Value Really Means
by Kevin Kaiser
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.39

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Value capitalism, 17 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The media has tended to polarise views of commerce into profit makers (boo hiss!) and social enterprise (hurrah!). This book explores commercial thinking at a practical level (case studies on how to price value) but with a historical backdrop (how business enfranchised quality of life) and with a moral thread. The blue line refers to an approach that focuses on long term intrinsic value over and above the typical short term price metrics on which business tends to be based.

The writing style is clear but the tangible examples are provided more to underpin the thesis than for practical application and of less applied relevance in the context of small enterprises. The underlying sentiment is simple and laudable albeit slightly occluded by the academic authors' desire to expound a theorem that is too intangible to be proven. See past a degree of rhetoric and the message is short - don't confuse price with value and the latter `should' win out.

At the level of economics and accounting this becomes the more convoluted Net Present Value approach which looks past Key Performance Indicators to arrive at a more holistic set of determinants for project management. If it takes more detail to sell the idea to big business fair enough. The book did have relevance to small fry in business such as us but would have been of equal merit at half the length. That may have made the product difficult to price but given it would still create value, I am sure it is not beyond the expertise of the authors to arrive at an edition for us SMEs.

Interesting and thought provoking, in parts to the smaller business. Invaluable to leave around on your desk if you are the Finance Director of a medium to large sized company, particularly if you are missing your KPIs (`but I am creating value, even if it is hard to see').


Belkin Air Protect Grip Extreme Protective Case for Samsung Galaxy S5 - Grey
Belkin Air Protect Grip Extreme Protective Case for Samsung Galaxy S5 - Grey
Price: 18.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Sturdy protector, 17 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The case has a reassuringly thick outer frame that should ensure a dropped phone will survive impact with minimal risk of damage. The trade-off however is a fairly bulky addition to the outer edge of your phone.

The front and rear of the phone are protected by a raised rim around the edge of the case (as well as a sheet of clear rubber on the back), which will protect against impact on either face although it offers no protection against general wear and tear/scratches to the front - I have added a screen protector to cover that aspect.

Whilst I am not sure I would fully agree that this case provides protection `without adding bulk', it's a good choice for the accident prone or those that need additional padding for their phone due to the nature of their work.


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