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techpuppy "woof." (UK)
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ZOMEI Q111 55 Inch Professional Aluminium Camera Tripod Camcorder Stand with PanHead Plate & Travel Carry Bag for DSLR Canon Nikon Sony DV Video (Blue)
ZOMEI Q111 55 Inch Professional Aluminium Camera Tripod Camcorder Stand with PanHead Plate & Travel Carry Bag for DSLR Canon Nikon Sony DV Video (Blue)

4.0 out of 5 stars Tripod in transit..., 10 April 2016
The Zomei Q111 is a tough little tripod that seems primarily focussed on travel and portability. Your first (good) impression is how lightweight it is and you can pick it up easily with one finger. It also folds up neatly into an included zip-up bag and there’s a good size to height ration - it’s only about 50cm when packed but reaches about 1.40m fully extended. However, like many compact tripods, each leg has four sections and the thinnest are quite spindly so there is a bit of bowing under pressure when it’s fully extended. The aluminium legs feel good otherwise and everything’s nicely finished - I chose the blue option and it looks great too, something a bit different without looking cheap.

There’s a gear hook at the bottom of the main column that you can hang a stabilising weight, or more likely your kit bag, onto to give some extra stability and at full extension you’re quickly reminded of how light this tripod actually is. I must admit I wasn’t sure about the construction judging from the photo’s above, the plastic parts didn’t look that well formed, but in reality they all feel solid and tough and it’s all much more impressive in reality. The flip-locks on each leg are chunky and so quick adjustments are easy and intuitive and they lock very securely too with no slippage even if you apply unusual amounts of pressure to them. The feet terminate in non-slip rubber pads (there’s no inbuilt spike option for soft ground) and they set themselves flat on most surfaces without needing any help.

The head of the tripod feels a bit basic but has all the usual adjustments and is easy enough to position, there’s a bubble-level to make sure you’re on an even keel. There’s a handle which screw-locks the tilt adjustment, it’s set at quite a steep angle (to me) but it’s usable. The pan function isn’t oil-damped (AFAIK) and although it isn’t the smoothest I’ve tried it isn’t the worst either - a light-handed video cameraman could probably just get a smooth pan out of it. There’s a rack and pinion mechanism with a little hand-crank to raise and lower the centre column and that’s probably the most rickety-feeling part. To be fair, it does work fine and thankfully there’s a separate screw-lock which fixes the column at your chosen height, so there’s no danger of it collapsing under a bit of pressure or your heaviest gear.

Speaking of heavy gear, if you’ve got some this probably isn’t your first choice of tripod although it is a perfectly decent choice if you just need something that’s easily carry-able and quick to setup to grab those impromptu shots. If you’ve got a compact camera or even a smartphone (and you add a separate smartphone mount) and you want something that’s affordable, stable and decent quality then maybe it could be a first choice. Zomei have addressed the basic stability and usability issues and made a basic and good quality tripod, but there’s no real finesse here. For that you might have to buy one of the big brand names and pay their premium prices - meanwhile that means the Zomei Q111 deliver really decent quality and good value.

Disclosure: item was received free or discounted for independent review
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PowerLead Tspy PSC002 Wifi Controlled Spy Camera Toy Tanks Night Vision Video Remote Control Toys Tank Cameras for IPhone Ipad Android phones (Black)
PowerLead Tspy PSC002 Wifi Controlled Spy Camera Toy Tanks Night Vision Video Remote Control Toys Tank Cameras for IPhone Ipad Android phones (Black)
Offered by PowerLead-UK
Price: £113.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Crash means crash..., 10 April 2016
The Rover Spy Tank offers some remote control fun, with the emphasis on remote, but it’s got a few major flaws. The tank feels solidly enough made, styled to look like a stealth vehicle rather than a racing car and it moves around that way too - it’s quite slow and deliberate, moving in straight lines or turning on the spot like one of those unmanned drones they use to examine suspicious packages left in the street. Although it’s called a spy tank I doubt you’d be able to actually sneak up on anyone without them hearing it coming, but you might be able to hear them - the tank has a microphone onboard which can relay the sound back to the controller although this only works when the tank is stationary, presumably to mute motor noise whilst in motion.

You need 6 AA batteries for the tank but there’s no remote control to worry about because it uses an app’ running on your smartphone or tablet (both iOS and Android versions available). On the front of the tank, where there might otherwise be a gun turret, is the video camera and beside it an InfraRed light source used for night-time reconnoitring. On either side, both front and back are what look like little LED headlights but in normal use they don’t illuminate, rather disappointingly. The camera turret can be slightly angled up or down manually but there’s no way to adjust it remotely. When you switch the tank on it creates its own wi-fi hotspot and you then log into that using your smartphone or tablet. Now when you run the associated ‘Monicar’ app it will pair with your tank and start displaying the streaming video from the onboard camera. The video is very low-resolution, just 320 x 240 pixels, but that helps to keep it relatively smooth and stutter-free. There are a bunch of onscreen controls for moving around, toggling night-time mode and the night-light, making a video recording, taking a photo’ and recording or replaying a programmed route. You can also enable a ‘Gravity’ mode which lets you steer the tank by tilting your smartphone in the appropriate direction - you have to hold your smartphone flat, like you were holding a tray, and then tilt it forward to move forward, left to move left etc. The programme mode lets you save the movements you make as a pre-programmed route - you can then return the tank to the beginning location and replay the route and it will retrace its steps automatically. It’s only in this programme mode that the headlights work and the left headlights illuminate when turning left, the right when going right and both when going back or forward. Why they don’t also light up in normal driving mode is beyond me.

There are a couple of issues and they’re frustrating - the first is that the camera (at least on mine) seems to be stuck in InfraRed night-time mode and although it’s quite sharp the colours are all mixed up, like they can be with colour IR photography. It’s still perfectly usable but it’s annoying and I can’t seem to correct it. The even more frustrating flaw is that when this thing crashes it actually crashes - meaning that when the tank bumps into a door or table leg the onboard system crashes and reboots the device. This, of course, cuts off the wi-fi and so your smartphone disconnects and you have to wait for the tank to reboot so you can manually reconnect it and re-pair the app again. It took me a little time to realise what was happening because I thought it might be low battery power, but there seems to be some kind of onboard collision detector and instead of throwing the vehicle into reverse to avoid the obstacle it just crashes the system and reboots. Totally annoying! You can make it part of the ‘game’ of using the vehicle, so you must navigate around the house without bumping into anything and avoiding the reboot, but even then it’s a major flaw and appears to be an issue with the firmware that could probably be fixed - but hasn’t been.

Overall there is some fun to be had with this toy, it’s capable of navigating moderately uneven ground, but it’s really an indoor toy for rainy afternoons. It’s also quite slow and deliberate and there isn’t much pulse-quickening excitement here but some kids (old and young) will still enjoy that. It comes into its own when you drive it out of the room you’re currently in and start navigating around the house beyond just by using the streaming video to guide you - that’s challenging but fun. You can take photo’s and videos as you go and these get stored straight onto your tablet or smartphone. A set of rechargeable batteries would be advisable because it seems to be quite thirsty and the wi-fi and therefore the movements go a bit haywire when the batteries get low. Waiting for the best deal on the price would also be advisable (when is it not?) because I can’t see the limited (and flawed) functionality available with this toy is worth a premium price - it’s fun but it could be a lot more fun if it worked better.

Disclosure: item was received free or discounted for independent review


Murad Instant Radiance Eye Cream 15 ml
Murad Instant Radiance Eye Cream 15 ml
Price: £49.50

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The good, the bad and the pricey..., 9 April 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
So there’s good news and there’s bad news… The good news is that this stuff actually works (at least something noticeable happens) and the bad news is the price. I’ve tried a few Murad products and while I can’t make much sense of the prices I do find most of them effective - at least more effective than the more affordable mainstream brands. This is one of the more effective ones I’ve tried and after about 10 days of regular use I do see some genuine improvements.

The 15ml pot comes with a spatula so you can remove a small amount while leaving the contents of the pot untainted (assuming you clean the spatula each time) and you then apply it with your fingertips by patting it onto the eye area. For once you can actually apply this cream to the mobile lid, not just around the orbital bone area. The cream has an extraordinary texture quite unlike anything I’ve ever tried before and although it starts as a soft waxy cream it instantly melts onto the skin as you apply it leaving a soft, powdery-feeling (probably silicone) residue on the skin. It’s not greasy or shiny and you can’t see anything but you can still feel it many hours later. There’s apparently tangerine wax in here and although it has no pronounced fragrance it does actually have a slight citrus taste - it was an accident and I don’t suggest tasting it! That citrus note means it really stings if it gets into your eyes so if you are treating the mobile lid then be especially careful.

I’ve never been particularly bothered by dark circles (or maybe I just don’t worry about them?) but I did notice that the area under my eyes looked slightly lightened after use, probably due to the vitamin C in here. I also notice that the finest wrinkles are reduced too - the thicker wrinkles are still there and doing well, but the skin does look softened and less papery than it might normally look. As with any of these promise-you-anything skincare products the results are slight but they are noticeable and I’d have to give Murad credit for making the most effective eye cream I’ve tried yet. Unfortunately it’s also by far the most expensive I’ve ever tried, so perhaps you’d have a right to expect some results. To be fair you only use a tiny amount each time and I’d expect this pot to last around a couple of months, even if used twice a day. Whether it’s worth paying the significant premium to get a product of this quality is down to the individual and all I can say is that I do see a genuine difference, not an incredibly dramatic one, but certainly more than I’d ever get from a supermarket product. You pays your money…


Babrit Speedy RC CARS 40MPH 1/12 Scale RTR Remote control Brushed Monster RC Vehicle Truck Off road Car Big Foot 2WD W/2.4G
Babrit Speedy RC CARS 40MPH 1/12 Scale RTR Remote control Brushed Monster RC Vehicle Truck Off road Car Big Foot 2WD W/2.4G

5.0 out of 5 stars Keep on truckin'..., 8 April 2016
This Babrit 1/12th scale Monster Truck is an entry-level RC vehicle but it comes fully equipped with fun - especially for that eternal 10 year-old living inside you. It arrives pretty much fully-assembled, you just have to add two AA batteries into the remote control handset and push the steering knob into a socket on the right-hand side of the handset. Note that, unlike some of these handsets, you can only put the steering knob on the right because on the left side of the controller is a trim control that lets you adjust and straighten the direction the front wheels are facing. The truck itself is lightweight and that makes it very nippy indeed, the quoted 30mph speed is a bit optimistic (42kmph is actually 26mph) but it can really fly on a straight flat road. It’s just at home on the rough too and you can send it careering down steps (though not up them) or over rocky ground without much problem - half the fun is discovering where this thing will go and where it won't, it's a fearless little truck. The body-shell is just a thin printed moulded plastic shell that’s there to keep the worst of the dust and dirt out of the workings inside, it’s flexible enough to cope with most knocks but it will split if you bash it hard enough (I’ve discovered). The body-shell is held in place by 4 R-clips and they’re quite tiny, awkward to remove and easily lost in action (I’ve also discovered) so having a few spare wouldn’t be a bad idea - they’re 1mm diameter and about 20mm long. The body-shell also arrives with a clear protective film on it, which could be removed later when it gets scuffed to reveal a shiny ‘new’ paint-job underneath. The tyres are soft non-pneumatic and foam-filled and they and the wheels are easily removed and replaced and you get a little hex-key in the kit to remove the wheels.

Getting the truck ready to roll is a bit tortuous - you have to remove the R-clips to free the body-shell, then remove a clip-on lid on the battery compartment, connect the battery, switch on and then, within the next 3 seconds, switch on the remote controller too so the two devices can pair with each other. With that done, you have to replace the lid, the body-shell and the four R-Clips before you’re ready to go anywhere. An external on/off switch would be helpful but of course it would then be exposed to all the sand and dirt you’re about to kick up. Admittedly you forget the awkward setup routine as soon as you start driving because it’s so much fun - the truck is fast and very responsive to the remote controller, you’re not really aware of any delay and always feel in control, even as a learner driver. The throttle control is sensitive and you need a gentle touch to hold it at lower speeds, but you soon get the feel for it. Likewise the steering feels a bit all-or-nothing and it can take a few minutes to get used to turning the steering knob vertically to make the vehicle go sideways, but it becomes intuitive after a while - or you can hold the controller horizontally until you get the feel for it.

Most of the time you’ll probably want to go as fast as possible and so bumps and tumbles are inevitable but it seems to survive most things and even though it might get a few battle scars - so far I’ve split the front bumper, cracked the body-shell and lost a R-clip - it just keeps going regardless. If you cause any really serious damage there’s a long list of spare parts in the manual that are available to rebuild it again - although I don’t know where they might be available from yet...

The biggest problem with this truck is the short drive time you get from a battery charge, no more than 10 minutes per charge, and then you’ll have to wait about 90~120 minutes for the battery to charge up again (a UK mains charger is included) which seems like an eternity (especially if you’re really 10 years old) so budget for extra batteries if you can, but be aware they’re not so cheap. Other than that this thing is ridiculously fun to zip around and can brake and turn on a sixpence. It’s fairly easy to drive so even young kids could get the hang of it but they would need a bit of supervision because it’s fast enough to become a potentially-dangerous wheeled projectile when aimed at siblings or the neighbour's cat. It’s tougher than it might at first seem and, if you can find a parts supplier, can be home-repaired quite easily to keep it on the road. There are better made and tougher trucks on the market but they tend to cost a lot more too and this would make a great entry-level RC vehicle - although be warned they’re probably addictive.

Disclosure : item was received free or discounted for independent review
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Crenova 10-220X HDMI Digital Microscope 1080P Full HD Output Support HDMI and PC connection with HDMI-In, Photo Capture, Micro-SD Storage, Measurement
Crenova 10-220X HDMI Digital Microscope 1080P Full HD Output Support HDMI and PC connection with HDMI-In, Photo Capture, Micro-SD Storage, Measurement
Offered by Crenova
Price: £199.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TV reality show..., 8 April 2016
When I was a child I had a toy version of a traditional optical microscope with a little torch-bulb light that backlit your specimen and it was one of my most favourite toys ever. So this Crenova HDMI Microscope takes me back although it’s a quite different style of microscope, but no less fascinating or fun. It's essentially a video camera fitted with a powerful macro lens and a ring of LED lights around the lens to illuminate your specimen. It arrives safely boxed and ready to assemble, simply by putting the two parts of the stand together and then inserting the microscope itself. There's a CD with supporting image-capture app enclosed although there’s only a version for Windows computers - I have a previous Crenova digital microscope and it came with a version for Mac’s too. With the app installed you can connect the microscope using the included USB cable which also powers the microscope, so there's no separate mains adaptor needed, and you can view and capture images or video clips directly onto your PC.

However because this microscope also has an HDMI connection there’s another way to use it by connecting directly to an HDMI TV or monitor. You can’t power it via an HDMI cable unfortunately, so you need to keep the USB cable connected too and there’s a mains adaptor in the box that the USB cable connects to. It’s a bit clumsy-looking with both cables connected simultaneously but it doesn’t impede actually using the microscope too much and being able to view your discoveries on a big screen means it’s probably worth the inconvenience. The microscope has a microSD card slot to add onboard storage so you can take photo’s and videos while using the HDMI connection. There’s also a brightness control, like a dimmer switch, for the LED’s and it’s worth experimenting with different levels because it affects the colour balance noticeably - you can tweak the brightness to get the most true or appealing colours. On the other side of the microscope there’s a row of (small) control buttons to allow you to change the microscope’s settings and take photo’s or video without using the Windows app. Using the built-in button to take photo’s or video is slightly annoying because it’s almost impossible to do without moving the shaft of the microscope too and at this magnification any small movement could spoil your photo’s composition - a steady hand and little fingers are an advantage here.

On the body of the microscope itself is a large thumbwheel to focus the image and when mounted on the stand there's also an adjuster on the main stem - I found it easiest to get the basic focus with the thumbwheel and then fine focus with the stem adjustment, although I think the manual suggests you do it the other way round. When you get an image you like you can take a photo or start a video recording and the resolution of both are adjustable within the app - note that it defaults to the lowest resolution when first launched so you might want to adjust that to get the most detailed images, you can always downsize them later. Having the LED's clustered close around the camera lens does mean that reflections can be a real issue, obviously this is worst with shiny subjects, but the camera is actually sensitive enough that you can switch off the LED's and just use daylight if that helps. The depth of field is also quite limited and varying the amount of illumination doesn't make much difference but it's a limitation with most macro photography and microscopes - and sometimes you can use that bokeh effect to your creative advantage.

My childhood microscope (and many other professional microscopes) light their subject matter from below, so you see 'inside' the specimen and reveal its structure. This microscope lights its subject from above so you're examining the surface of things in minute detail - that's not a criticism, it's just worth realising this isn't a microscope you'll use for looking at cell structures and bacteria (it isn't powerful enough for that) but it's meant for examining objects or even creatures in incredible close-up detail. For amateur naturalists or maybe technicians or engineers who need to examine small objects in that kind of detail this would be a great device. For kids (and parents) who want to examine the world around them in extraordinary (and sometimes frightening) detail it's a fantastic device and they’ll probably love going on a bug-hunt in the garden and bringing back creepy-crawlie trophies to be examined onscreen. Putting things like foodstuffs or parts of your own anatomy under examination is an often disturbing eye-opener - if you think your fingernails are clean try examining them under this thing. You're also not limited to using it only on the stand, you can use the microscope handheld too, although you'll need a very steady hand to keep things in focus.

Our previous digital microscope was very similar but was limited to a USB connection only, meaning you had to use it with a computer, but the addition of an HDMI connection means this microscope could move into the lounge or classroom and be viewed by a whole family or classroom of students simultaneously. That’s a big advantage and makes the whole thing a shared experience rather than the very solitary one that traditional microscopes offer. Our previous USB-only microscope (also from Crenova) had a slightly better build quality and a higher magnification (300x) but this version comes into its own when displayed on a big screen TV. I’ll attach a few pictures we took of things like a dried teasel head, a 2p coin and a pussy willow from the garden - it’s not just an educational tool but a creative one too, you can take some really lovely images using it and they can be high enough resolution to print out and keep.

Disclosure : item was received free or discounted for independent review
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UMI eMAX mini 4G FDD-LTE TD-LTE 3G WCDMA TD-SCDMA Smartphone 615 5.0" FHD Screen 1.5GHz 2GB RAM 16GB ROM Dual Cameras 8MP 13MP Super Fast GPS NCVM Gilt Process Concentric Lines Rear Cover Bottom-Facing Speakers
UMI eMAX mini 4G FDD-LTE TD-LTE 3G WCDMA TD-SCDMA Smartphone 615 5.0" FHD Screen 1.5GHz 2GB RAM 16GB ROM Dual Cameras 8MP 13MP Super Fast GPS NCVM Gilt Process Concentric Lines Rear Cover Bottom-Facing Speakers

5.0 out of 5 stars Mid-range, mid-size but high-value..., 3 April 2016
For the price this UMi eMAX mini is a really impressive little smartphone - actually it isn’t that little and has a good-sized 5” display, but it feels so smooth and elegant in your hand it’s deceptive. It arrives in a nice slip-cover box with a micro-USB charging cable, a very scant instruction manual and an empty hole in the box meant for a two-pin mains adapter - but you get a separately boxed UK mains adapter instead. The micro-USB cable is a funky ribbon-style with a cutaway connector which looks cool but is really a bit silly because you can (sorta) push it into the mains adaptor upside-down and fail to make a proper contact - if your eMAX mini doesn’t seem to be charging that’s the first thing to check. Thankfully the phone itself delivers on both style and substance and the softly curved back edges make it feel slim and although I wondered if the plastic back, with its concentric ring texture, might give it a cheap and hollow feel it doesn’t at all and it all feels solid and really nicely made. Mine arrived with a screen protector (or maybe just protective shipping film?) applied but it had a few trapped air bubbles around the edge and a dull plastic look so I removed it to reveal the glass underneath, which made the touchscreen feel much nicer to use and gave the phone a much more expensive look.

The screen runs at Full HD resolution and is sharp with good colour and seems to have a good dot-pitch with no obvious pixelation. It does have a softness to it, a bit like anti-aliasing turned up too high, but it’s not a bad effect - however, this isn’t the brightest screen ever and outdoors in bright sunshine you can struggle to see any detail at all. The speaker is on the bottom edge of the phone and it’s very clear and it’s LOUD, so if you struggle to hear phones ringing in your pocket or bag this might be the one for you. It works well for watching video or playing games too and although there isn’t any real bass of course, it’s a strong impressive-sounding phone. Below the screen on the front, either side of the Home button, are the standard Android Back and Recent buttons and these illuminate when you touch them - this means they’re invisible the rest of the time and it’s easy to forget they’re there and touch them by accident, bouncing yourself out of the app or task you were in. There are the usual two cameras, front and back, with an LED flash only on the back. The flash isn’t that bright but the camera is quite sensitive and manages to take a decent photo with good colours in low-light situations. Overall the camera is good, it’s relatively fast to respond and takes clear nicely-balanced pictures (see attached photo) with really natural colours. I have another (more expensive) UMi smartphone which uses the same camera chip (the Sony IMX214) but this eMAX actually is more responsive and takes better pic’s! The front camera is lower resolution but is pretty good too, with similarly good colour rendition and low-light performance - perfectly good for video chatting or those impromptu selfies on good-hair days.

Overall speed is good, though nothing that exceptional these days, and most app’s are responsive and you aren’t kept waiting too long for anything. The weakest part of the performance is probably the graphics chip but that’s mainly an issue to gamers as the 3D performance of this smartphone is not that impressive - 2D games (like Angry Birds or Candy Crush for example) will play fine but the more demanding 3D titles will run in low-detail mode or might exhibit some stuttering.

Video playback is mostly fine but I did find an odd issue when using PLEX to play some of my own DVD rips and some files stuttered or even refused to play at all. After a bit of investigation (this gets a bit geeky) I discovered it was because the eMAX mini reports itself to PLEX as an H.264 level 4.0 compatible device. This is surprisingly low (for example my other UMi smartphone is level 5.0) but I was able to fix it by changing a setting in PLEX and forcing level 4.1 playback, which then played flawlessly. It’s a weird issue to have because it seems the eMAX mini has a bit of an inferiority complex and tells app’s that it’s less video-capable than it really is, so check for a manual override settings if it becomes an issue. However, I continue to have problems playing back 1080p video and it drops frames and stutters, even when played back from internal storage so the eMAX mini only seems happy with 720p, which is plenty for a 5” screen of course, but it could be an inconvenience if you’ve only got a 1080p version available.

There are no visible SIM trays or slots on the outside of the phone, but the back panels snaps off to reveal two SIM slots and a microSD card slot on the inside. Thanks to Android the two SIM cards are handled really well and you can set your favourites for calls, SMS and data separately or you can choose which network to use with each call or text. Having a separate microSD card slot means you can add extra storage AND have two SIMs onboard, some phones make you choose between a second SIM or an SD card. The wi-fi reception is also good and you get access to 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks along with good Bluetooth reception too.

The only issue I’ve had with it is an occasional blip where I get bounced out of an app and back to the lock-screen - it's only happened occasionally and mostly with audio app’s but I haven’t figured out exactly what triggers it and it may just be a problem with my particular setup and choice of app’s. Other than that minor glitch I can’t really fault this device - it’s really an excellent mid-range mid-size high-value Android smartphone and I think most people would find it plenty capable enough. Admittedly power-users or gamers might want to pay a bit extra to get something more powerful and a better graphics chip, but for the average user it’s a stylish, sleek smartphone and a bit of a bargain.

Disclosure: item was received free or discounted for independent review
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UMI Sim Free 5.0-Inch FHD IPS Screen 3050mAh Smartphones EMAX MINI Android 5.0 Octa Core 4G/3G (2GB Ram+16GB Rom) with 13.0MP Rear Camera, 8.0MP Front Camera - Black
UMI Sim Free 5.0-Inch FHD IPS Screen 3050mAh Smartphones EMAX MINI Android 5.0 Octa Core 4G/3G (2GB Ram+16GB Rom) with 13.0MP Rear Camera, 8.0MP Front Camera - Black
Offered by UMI DIGI
Price: £219.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mid-range, mid-size, high-value smartphone..., 3 April 2016
For the price this UMi eMAX mini is a really impressive little smartphone - actually it isn’t that little and has a good-sized 5” display, but it feels so smooth and elegant in your hand it’s deceptive. It arrives in a nice slip-cover box with a micro-USB charging cable, a very scant instruction manual and an empty hole in the box meant for a two-pin mains adapter - but you get a separately boxed UK mains adapter instead. The micro-USB cable is a funky ribbon-style with a cutaway connector which looks cool but is really a bit silly because you can (sorta) push it into the mains adaptor upside-down and fail to make a proper contact - if your eMAX mini doesn’t seem to be charging that’s the first thing to check. Thankfully the phone itself delivers on both style and substance and the softly curved back edges make it feel slim and although I wondered if the plastic back, with its concentric ring texture, might give it a cheap and hollow feel it doesn’t at all and it all feels solid and really nicely made. Mine arrived with a screen protector (or maybe just protective shipping film?) applied but it had a few trapped air bubbles around the edge and a dull plastic look so I removed it to reveal the glass underneath, which made the touchscreen feel much nicer to use and gave the phone a much more expensive look.

The screen runs at Full HD resolution and is sharp with good colour and seems to have a good dot-pitch with no obvious pixelation. It does have a softness to it, a bit like anti-aliasing turned up too high, but it’s not a bad effect - however, this isn’t the brightest screen ever and outdoors in bright sunshine you can struggle to see any detail at all. The speaker is on the bottom edge of the phone and it’s very clear and it’s LOUD, so if you struggle to hear phones ringing in your pocket or bag this might be the one for you. It works well for watching video or playing games too and although there isn’t any real bass of course, it’s a strong impressive-sounding phone. Below the screen on the front, either side of the Home button, are the standard Android Back and Recent buttons and these illuminate when you touch them - this means they’re invisible the rest of the time and it’s easy to forget they’re there and touch them by accident, bouncing yourself out of the app or task you were in. There are the usual two cameras, front and back, with an LED flash only on the back. The flash isn’t that bright but the camera is quite sensitive and manages to take a decent photo with good colours in low-light situations. Overall the camera is good, it’s relatively fast to respond and takes clear nicely-balanced pictures (see attached photo) with really natural colours. I have another (more expensive) UMi smartphone which uses the same camera chip (the Sony IMX214) but this eMAX actually is more responsive and takes better pic’s! The front camera is lower resolution but is pretty good too, with similarly good colour rendition and low-light performance - perfectly good for video chatting or those impromptu selfies on good-hair days.

Overall speed is good, though nothing that exceptional these days, and most app’s are responsive and you aren’t kept waiting too long for anything. The weakest part of the performance is probably the graphics chip but that’s mainly an issue to gamers as the 3D performance of this smartphone is not that impressive - 2D games (like Angry Birds or Candy Crush for example) will play fine but the more demanding 3D titles will run in low-detail mode or might exhibit some stuttering.

Video playback is mostly fine but I did find an odd issue when using PLEX to play some of my own DVD rips and some files stuttered or even refused to play at all. After a bit of investigation (this gets a bit geeky) I discovered it was because the eMAX mini reports itself to PLEX as an H.264 level 4.0 compatible device. This is surprisingly low (for example my other UMi smartphone is level 5.0) but I was able to fix it by changing a setting in PLEX and forcing level 4.1 playback, which then played flawlessly. It’s a weird issue to have because it seems the eMAX mini has a bit of an inferiority complex and tells app’s that it’s less video-capable than it really is, so check for a manual override settings if it becomes an issue. However, I continue to have problems playing back 1080p video and it drops frames and stutters, even when played back from internal storage so the eMAX mini only seems happy with 720p, which is plenty for a 5” screen of course, but it could be an inconvenience if you’ve only got a 1080p version available.

There are no visible SIM trays or slots on the outside of the phone, but the back panels snaps off to reveal two SIM slots and a microSD card slot on the inside. Thanks to Android the two SIM cards are handled really well and you can set your favourites for calls, SMS and data separately or you can choose which network to use with each call or text. Having a separate microSD card slot means you can add extra storage AND have two SIMs onboard, some phones make you choose between a second SIM or an SD card. The wi-fi reception is also good and you get access to 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks along with good Bluetooth reception too.

The only issue I’ve had with it is an occasional blip where I get bounced out of an app and back to the lock-screen - it's only happened occasionally and mostly with audio app’s but I haven’t figured out exactly what triggers it and it may just be a problem with my particular setup and choice of app’s. Other than that minor glitch I can’t really fault this device - it’s really an excellent mid-range mid-size high-value Android smartphone and I think most people would find it plenty capable enough. Admittedly power-users or gamers might want to pay a bit extra to get something more powerful and a better graphics chip, but for the average user it’s a stylish, sleek smartphone and a bit of a bargain.

Disclosure: item was received free or discounted for independent review
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AmanStino Genuine Leather Organizer Wallets for iPhone 6s/iPhone 6s plus Case, Handmade Wallet Case,Card Slots for iPhone 6s / iPhone6s plus (Camel for iPhone6s plus)
AmanStino Genuine Leather Organizer Wallets for iPhone 6s/iPhone 6s plus Case, Handmade Wallet Case,Card Slots for iPhone 6s / iPhone6s plus (Camel for iPhone6s plus)

4.0 out of 5 stars Fab for phablets..., 30 Mar. 2016
Maybe it’s just me but from the photo’s shown on this listing the Camel version of the AmanStino Smartphone Wallet looks like it’s made from an unglazed ‘nubuck’ style of leather, but it isn’t. The case is made from a more traditional smooth (somewhat featureless) finished leather in a warm shade of camel - it’s very nice but it’s not quite what I was expecting, although that’s really my problem. I went for the iPhone 6s Plus case to accommodate a different 5.5” screen smartphone and it’s pretty much a perfect fit. Note that although the case is called an iPhone case it will accommodate any smartphone of similar dimensions as there’s nothing specifically fitted to the iPhone. It’s a pouch style holder for your phone and that means you really have to remove it from the wallet to do anything with it, there are no holes cut for the headphone socket or speaker and there’s no (easy) access to buttons with the phone in the wallet. The inner front surface of the pouch is lined with a soft fabric to prevent any scratching and one one side there are 3 credit-card sized slots which are separately lined with a contrast fabric.

The quality of the wallet is very nice with neat, straight stitching and all the exposed edges have been sealed with a colour-matched paint. The leather is quite thick but soft and pliable and has a smooth satin-like sheen - if anything it’s a bit too flawless for me, I’d have preferred more character, but it does feel like a quality item. You could actually fit two smartphones in here or perhaps a smartphone and a slimline power-pack, which would be more practical. My UMi IRON Pro smartphone fits perfectly but it’s just a fraction smaller than an iPhone 6s Plus so I’d suggest the 6S Plus (which is approx 158mm x 78mm x 7.3mm) is probably the largest device that would fit into the wallet comfortably. If you wanted a combination wallet for smartphone and cash then the other advantage of the larger size is that it can accommodate unfolded UK banknotes (many wallets are sized for smaller US$ notes) and even large denomination notes (if you’re lucky enough to have any of those) can be discreetly held in this wallet. Speaking of money, I think the current price of this smartphone wallet (around £40) is fair though not particularly cheap. It is a very simple style of wallet but the materials and workmanship are very good and it’s a subtle and understated way to carry your smartphone.

Disclosure: item was received free/discounted for independent review
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PowerLead Pvtd PL-Z888 Carbon Fiber Aluminium Professional Portable Travel Tripod
PowerLead Pvtd PL-Z888 Carbon Fiber Aluminium Professional Portable Travel Tripod
Offered by PowerLead-UK
Price: £149.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On a good footing..., 28 Mar. 2016
First, a quick correction - this isn’t a carbon fibre tripod despite what the title of this listing says. It’s actually a Zomei Z818 tripod (at least the one I received is) and it’s made from Magnesium alloy and Aluminium. Zomei (they're a Hong Kong based photographic company) also make a Z818C which is exactly the same tripod only made with carbon fibre, but this isn't that. It’s not a complaint about the tripod, which is really good, but the product description is misleading and I've emailed the supplier to ask them to double-check it.

For a tripod of this size, reaching around 1.7m at full stretch, it’s a reasonably lightweight item and because it folds up inside-out it takes up very little space when stored and it keeps the head of the tripod protected - you even get a velvet bag to keep the head scratch-free too. It also comes with a really good quality carry-bag too and the bag is fully padded with handles and a removable shoulder-strap. I got the blue version and was slightly concerned it would look tacky in real-life but it doesn’t and actually looks really good. The construction is excellent and everything feels like it might last and stand up to proper usage. Once you flip the legs the right way round they can be locked into three different angles with a quick-release latch and there's a near-horizontal splay that might be good for macro nature photography or similar. The screw locks on each leg just need a quick partial twist to lock/unlock, you don’t have to endlessly turn them, so height adjustments are quick and reliable. Only two of the legs have the foam padding so I’m assuming those are the legs you grab to move it around. One of those padded legs can also be completely unscrewed and used as the basis of a monopod. The foot of each leg has a removable rubber foot, great for hard floors to stop it slipping around, but they don’t convert into spikes for soft ground as some tripods do.

The camera mount plate is held in place by a screw latch and there’s a bit of lateral play back and forth, for fine adjustment of position, which is possible without actually removing the plate completely. The ball and socket mechanism is especially impressive and although it’s easy to release it also locks up and holds very rigid indeed - you shouldn’t ever have problems with your camera, even a particularly heavy one, slowly tipping forward because it gets held very firmly indeed, even without having to over-crank the lock. The head is also very nicely oil-damped and you can produce very smooth pans (or take smooth panoramic shots) if you’re using it for video shoots. There is no pan/tilt handle of course but the head just needs fingertip pressure to get a very nice smooth pan action - or use an elastic band tied to one of the screw-locks and pull on that to get an even smoother pan action. The only negative is that the lubricant has leaked from the coupling of mine, it’s only slight and hopefully only because it’s brand new, but you’ll want to be careful where you touch it - who needs smears of axle grease on their lenses?

The monopod option is really handy but there is a bit of effort involved, taking a couple of minutes, to remove the leg and convert it to a monopod. The central shaft has to be removed from the tripod first, there’s a gear/weight hook at the bottom to completely remove first, and then it’s reattached to the now-solo leg. In case the central shaft is too long there’s an alternative shorter shaft in the kit too and that would also be useful if you want to mount the camera underneath the tripod for macro or tabletop photography as it keeps the whole arrangement low-profile.

All together this is an excellent quality tripod at a fair price, without the premium of a big brand name. I miss a pan/tilt handle for video work, but that’s about all I can fault it for. The quality is excellent and for a full-height tripod it’s light and very portable. I hadn’t heard of the brand before but I’m really impressed with it and I know it’s going to get some serious use.

Disclosure: item was received free for independent review
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Teenitor 3.7V 680mAh 20C Batteries with 5 in 1 X5 Battery Charger for Syma X5C-1 X5C X5A
Teenitor 3.7V 680mAh 20C Batteries with 5 in 1 X5 Battery Charger for Syma X5C-1 X5C X5A
Offered by TeenitorEU
Price: £13.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Five into one does go..., 24 Mar. 2016
It takes time to master the skill of flying quadcopters and you don’t get much of it with most batteries only giving about about 8-9 minutes of flight time, so having a few extra makes a lot of sense. This pack doesn’t just offer the batteries but a multi-battery charger too so you can charge a clutch of them at the same time, which makes even more sense.

The multi-charger is a very basic little unit with just one micro-USB input that connects it to any standard USB charger - you get the cable but not the mains charger but any standard USB charger you might have from your smartphone or similar device should work fine. There are 5 battery ports around the unit (and one unexplained hole where a sixth one might have gone) and they can be a bit tight to plug the batteries into, you have to give them a stern push until they click otherwise they just fall out of the socket again. Obviously that means they can be difficult to disconnect again, so you have to be careful to try and pull by the battery’s connecter and not the cable, in case you pull the cable clean out of the connector. On top of the multi-charger are a row of bright LED’s, one for each battery port, and these light up when first switched on and go out as each battery reaches its optimal charge. I connected the full five batteries to mine and plugged the whole unit into a 5V/2.4A USB charger and found they all charged simultaneously at about the same speed as they would have individually - about 1½ hours - which is so much more convenient than having to wait for each one individually in sequence.

The batteries included here aren’t the absolute highest capacity, I have the same battery rated at 720mAh, but they’re pretty close and better than the batteries I received packed with my quadcopters. It’s worth heeding the advice not to leave these batteries charging unattended (or at least out of sight) because of the risk of overheating. The actual danger should be minimal but because they’re not (more) safely sealed inside your smartphone or tablet the potential for damage is greater if there ever was a problem. I haven’t noticed the batteries or charger getting warm with this set but it’s good that you can charge them all at the same time where you can keep an eye on them. I’ve got two different quadcopters that accept this style of battery so they should get some regular use and although there’s nothing fancy about the charger it does the job and lets you spend more time flying and less time recharging, which I’d call a result. The overall value seems pretty good too as a multi-pack of these batteries on their own would cost about the same.

Disclosure: item was received free or discounted for independent review


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