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S. P. Long "Simon Long" (Cambridge)

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Philips GC4511/20 Azur Performer Steam Iron - 180g Steam Boost, 2400 Watt
Philips GC4511/20 Azur Performer Steam Iron - 180g Steam Boost, 2400 Watt
Price: £39.50

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent iron with some bells and whistles, 29 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My current iron is 20 years old and was the cheapest I could find when first setting up home back then, so I was interested to see what a more upmarket model would offer me! This iron seems to be at the top end of what it would seem reasonable to spend on such a mundane item, and I have to say that it does feel like an improvement over my old one.

First impressions are good - it has a nice soft-touch handle, and the non-stick sole-plate glides really nicely over fabric. It's quite heavy, which is probably an advantage in terms of crease removal, but does make it slightly more tiring to use; worth bearing in mind if you are perhaps less muscular in the arms! In terms of features, it has automatic steam with an "eco" setting (which saves water, rather than energy, I'd guess), a steam surge trigger to briefly increase the steam pressure on stubborn creases, and a water spray from the front of the iron. It also has two automated descaling functions, whereby scale is collected in a removable tray at the back in normal use, with a descaling function that can be run to flush scale from the iron as a separate process.

The base of the iron is shaped to hold the cable when not in use, and the cable itself is a good couple of metres long, meaning you don't have to sit on top of the power socket to use it.

The iron works well; it feels good to use; it has every feature I could imagine, and I can't think of much that could be done to improve it, with the exception of the heaviness. One star off for that, but recommended otherwise.

Philips GC6611/30 SpeedCare Steam Generator Iron - 120 g Steam Boost, 1.2 L, 2400 W, Purple
Philips GC6611/30 SpeedCare Steam Generator Iron - 120 g Steam Boost, 1.2 L, 2400 W, Purple
Offered by U Stores
Price: £86.98

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't seem to offer much over a cheaper conventional iron, 29 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the first iron I have tried with a steam generator, and I have to confess to being slightly underwhelmed. As far as I can tell, the idea is that steam is generated in the separate tank, rather than in the iron itself; this allows more steam to be produced, and the larger volume of the tank compared to that on a conventional iron means you don't need to refill as often.

That's the theory; I can happily confirm that the tank is huge and looks as if it will keep you in steam for an hour or more (I'm afraid I couldn't face ironing for long enough to test the exact duration!) As for more steam being produced (or at least, steam at a higher pressure), I'm not really convinced; it didn't seem to produce more steam than a conventional Philips iron at half the price, and it was no easier to remove creases with this than with a conventional iron.

There are also downsides. First, steam is not produced automatically when you put the iron on the material to be ironed; you have to hold down a trigger in the handle to turn on the steam. This is a bit of an irritation after years of using irons that steam automatically. Second, you get very few bells and whistles like water spray; you get the equivalent of a bare-bones cheap iron, and the sole plate seems to glide noticeably less smoothly than on my other iron with a Teflon-coated soleplate. Finally, storage and transport is awkward; the combination of iron and generator is large and bulky, and the two items do not lock together on this model for easy transport and storage. (Irritatingly, the instructions suggest that other Philips models do have this locking feature - its omission is baffling.)

If you do hours of ironing at a time, and the interruptions to refill the water tank really annoy, then this is probably a useful product for you. For those of us who try to minimise our weekly time spent ironing, however, a conventional iron is just as good and has fewer drawbacks.

Acer X113 DLP SVGA 3D 2800 Lumens Projector, 13000:1 (discontinued by manufacturer)
Acer X113 DLP SVGA 3D 2800 Lumens Projector, 13000:1 (discontinued by manufacturer)
Offered by Ebuyer UK Limited
Price: £205.79

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Outdated connections, but surprisingly good otherwise, 19 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Over the last ten years or so, video has moved from the old analogue systems to digital formats - HDMI is pretty much ubiquitous in the home cinema field, and PC video connections are usually either DVI or HDMI. The old analogue video connections are dying out; they are on legacy equipment, but as they don't support any of the rights management features that film companies are now insisting upon, they will vanish completely before much longer.

The funny thing is - Acer don't seem to have got that memo! So what they are selling here, in 2014, is a projector with no digital video inputs whatsoever. No HDMI, no DVI, no DisplayPort. All you get is composite video, S-video and VGA D-SUB. I physically cannot connect this to my Blu-ray player - like most recent models, it has no analogue video support. My PC only has DVI connections. In order to test it, I had to use a legacy VGA adaptor connected to my Mac laptop - a rather messy set of cables.

Given the above, when I initially reviewed this projector, I gave it a very low rating; I couldn't (and still can't) see the point in selling such an outdated device in this day and age. But then, in an attempt to actually get some use out of it, I bought one of the numerous HDMI to VGA adaptors available on Amazon for under £10, reckoning that even if it didn't work, I hadn't wasted that much money!

To my great surprise, the projector then quite happily accepted a 1080p60 signal from my BluRay player. It internally scales to SVGA, so you lose resolution, but the result is actually surprisingly good - the image is fast and responsive with no visible lag, and is bright and clear even in a daylit room. Contrast is excellent, and it uses a recent generation DLP chip which doesn't suffer from the colour fringing that early models had. The fan is fairly quiet - better than those on a lot of projectors I've used - but there is quite a noticeable high-pitched whine from the colour wheel, which is more of an issue than the fan noise for me. I've now set it up on a ceiling mount and installed a pull-down screen, and while it isn't HD, it's more than acceptable for the occasional movie or concert video.

It's not perfect; with widescreen content everything looks fine, but 4:3 content is compressed horizontally and I needed to fiddle with the zoom controls on my Bluray player to get an accurate picture; although this may be an artefact of the HDMI to VGA adaptor. Also, don't try sending it DVD content at SD resolutions; the inbuilt scaler struggles with upscaling SD to SVGA and produces some quite nasty artefacts; you get much better results by setting your Bluray player to upscale SD to 1080p and allowing the projector to downscale.

Given how cheap the components for adding HDMI to this projector must be (in that you can buy an external adaptor for £6...) I still don't understand why Acer didn't add an HDMI input in the first place. But if you can live without that, (and given how much a dedicated home cinema projector costs) this is actually a surprisingly good projector for the money.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 19, 2014 10:40 AM BST

Dremel 75 Piece Accessory Set
Dremel 75 Piece Accessory Set
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Usual Dremel quality, but bizarre packaging, 23 Jun. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a reasonable "starter set" if your Dremel tool didn't come with many accessories (as they tend not to unless bought as part of a large kit). While the claim of "75 accessories" is accurate, bear in mind that this includes 20 cutting discs and 24 sanding discs - you don't get as many different tools in here as you might expect.

That said, it's a good selection of basic Dremel tools - 20 basic cutting discs and a couple of specialised cutters; 10 polishing pads with polish; a wire brush; three hard grinding tools and 8 grinding wheels; 24 sanding discs; a small drill bit and a spare wrench - all useful things to have.

However, as mentioned above, the packaging is just plain weird - you get a small plastic case with many of the tools in, but it is packaged inside a large tin, which holds a few more of the tools on display through a clear window. The tin is enormous for what is inside it, but the plastic case is too small to hold everything supplied without it being a squeeze. Dremel really don't seem to have hit on a satisfactory solution to neatly hold all the accessories they offer, and given even a casual user ends up with dozens of them, it would be nice if they did!

But that small gripe aside, a good starter kit for the new Dremel user, or a refill for those who are running short of the more "disposable" accessories like cutting and sanding discs.

Kingston 16GB Micro USB 2.0 DataTraveler Flash Drive
Kingston 16GB Micro USB 2.0 DataTraveler Flash Drive
Price: £6.83

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful smartphone accessory, 23 Jun. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a USB thumb drive of the sort that have become ubiquitous since the demise of the floppy disk... It's very small - no wider than a USB plug itself, and perhaps twice as long.

What makes it particularly useful, however, is that if you unfold the plastic cap over the end that doesn't plug into your PC, you find a micro USB plug of the sort that is used by most Android mobile phones. Plug this end into your smartphone and (assuming it is compatible), the file browser on your phone can view the contents of the USB drive.

It's therefore really useful for content that you want to access from both a PC and from your phone - you can copy videos or music to the drive by plugging it into your PC, and then plug it into your phone to be able to watch or listen to them.

It's very easy to use, and is one solid piece of metal (bar the plastic cap), so it feels pretty robust. My only caveat would be that I don't know how widely USB On-The-Go support is on smartphones, which is required to enable a phone to be able to access the content on the drive. It worked fine with the Samsung Galaxy S5 I used, but I can't guarantee it would work with all phones, and particularly not older models.

Garmin NiMH Rechargeable Battery for Oregon 600 Series
Garmin NiMH Rechargeable Battery for Oregon 600 Series
Price: £19.99

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing wrong with the batteries - the problem is the GPS!, 11 Jun. 2014
Several people on here have experienced problems with this battery pack being unable to charge after a few months. I have one to use with my Oregon 600 and have just seen the same problem - battery dead and not charging - less than 6 months after buying it. However, the problem isn't the battery pack...

To put it bluntly, the charging circuits in Garmin's GPS receivers are rubbish. First, they charge the two cells in series rather than individually - this is a big no-no. All decent NiMH chargers charge each cell on its own, monitoring its voltage and temperature so each cell gets the right amount of charge - the Garmin GPS doesn't do this, so will kill the cells eventually anyway.

Furthermore, Garmin's chargers will not even attempt to recharge a battery once the charge has dropped below a certain level - I found this out the hard way when the battery in my £900 Garmin aviation GPS died. If the batteries in your GPS are close to flat, and you then stick it in a drawer for a couple of months, the remaining charge is insufficient for the GPS to decide to charge them, and you are left with a GPS refusing to charge what is actually a perfectly functional battery pack.

If you own a decent standalone charger for NiMH AA batteries, this is easily fixed - you can charge the pack one cell at a time by sticking one side of it into your charger, charging, and then flipping the pack through 180 degrees and repeating.

The trouble is that, if you are having to do this anyway to look after the cells, the battery pack is pretty pointless - the only advantage it has over standard rechargeables is the ability to charge up via USB in the GPS itself, and as above, this will shorten the life of the batteries anyway due to the poorly designed charging system.

Until Garmin incorporate a decent charger into the GPS receivers, this product is more trouble than it's worth - it's a shame, but don't waste your money.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 17, 2014 5:31 PM GMT

Chambers Complete Crossword Companion: Book
Chambers Complete Crossword Companion: Book
by Chambers (Ed.)
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate crossword reference, 10 Jun. 2014
First, I need to point out that the description of this book above is inaccurate - it correctly states that the book includes much of the Chambers Crossword Manual and Crossword Lists, but then suggests that the remainder of the book is some form of cross-reference to match horizontal answers with crossing letters, which sounds like the Chambers Crossword Completer. This is not the case...

The introduction to the book is indeed a selection of advice and puzzles from the Chambers Crossword Manual - a little puzzling as an inclusion in a reference book, but probably worthwhile for beginners. The remainder of the book consists of the excellent Chambers Crossword Dictionary combined with Chambers Crossword Lists, with categories from both merged together in alphabetical order.

I've been solving advanced cryptics (such as The Listener) for 10 years now, and, while Bradford's Crossword Dictionary was the reference of choice when I started, I now find I seldom open it - Chambers Crossword Dictionary has become far more useful in the recent editions, and this enormous tome is the most useful version yet. Thousands of categories, each with a list of relevant words organised by length and then alphabetically, drawn from the corpus of the Chambers Dictionary. It's the ultimate solver's tool. Also, for those of us with OCD, it's now the same size and design as the Chambers Dictionary itself, so looks perfect next to it on the bookcase.

If you occasionally need help with the stickier parts of crosswords, I'd recommend this without reservation; it's easily the best tool for the job.

SanDisk Ultra miniDrive 64 GB up to 30 MB/s
SanDisk Ultra miniDrive 64 GB up to 30 MB/s
Price: £19.11

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Expensive for what it is, 27 May 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is basically a bog-standard SanDisk 64Gb microSD card in a slightly cut down SD adapter. You can easily remove the microSD card and use it on its own - comparing prices, it seems that you are effectively paying £20 for a microSD to SD adapter with a few millimetres cut off the end, which does not strike me as a terribly good deal.

I don't have the MacBook Air for which it is intended, but it fits very snugly in the SD card slot on my 2012 Mac Mini, and the drive mounts (albeit after a delay) and appears on the desktop. The tab to remove the disk is nothing more substantial than a folded sticker, and doesn't feel too robust; it's also quite hard to grasp and the thickness of the drive means it is a tight fit in the slot and hard to pull out. On the plus side, I guess this means it is unlikely to fall out of your MacBook without you intending it to.

It's very hard to justify the cost of this product - I'm sure Chinese copies of the shortened card adaptor will be on eBay before too long for under a pound, if they aren't already. It's a reasonable quality product, but it's not great value compared to the cost of the memory on its own.

Nicky Clarke Desired Straightener
Nicky Clarke Desired Straightener
Offered by Bargain Genie UK
Price: £74.97

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cheaper than a GHD, 17 May 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
From what my other half tells me, the GHD hair straightener is the one to have - she swears by hers, as do many others. For what you get, though, it is staggeringly expensive (and hard to justify the price, to be honest). This Nicky Clarke straightener, while still not cheap, saves a fair bit over the cost of a GHD - so are the compromises worth the saving?

In terms of construction and quality, there's nothing to choose between the two products - both feel equally well made to me. They both have a non-tangle joint where the cable meets the straightener, a decent length of cable and they lock closed for travel. I'd say the cable on the Nicky Clarke model is actually better quality than on the GHD - I have had to replace the cable on my partner's GHD before now due to it fraying; I can't see that happening on the Nicky Clarke, as the cable is reassuringly solid. The Nicky Clarke also has the advantage of adjustable heat levels.

It seems that Nicky Clarke products (I also have one of their hairdryers) are all sold with a degree of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo, and the straightener is no exception, featuring as it does "tourmaline technology" and "nano silver", both of which get explained in the manual with a lot of "this could" and "this might", implying that they really don't actually do anything at all - still, they look impressive on the box, which is the main thing...

As a cheaper alternative to a GHD straightener, I can see no reason not to recommend this - it's still on the expensive side, and only time will tell how well it lasts, but I can't see any reason to pay the extra for one from GHD.

Sony DSCW830 Digital Compact Camera - Black (20.1MP, 8x Optical Zoom) 2.7 inch LCD
Sony DSCW830 Digital Compact Camera - Black (20.1MP, 8x Optical Zoom) 2.7 inch LCD
Offered by Executivez
Price: £73.70

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars You get what you pay for..., 22 April 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Sony DSCW380 is a tiny digital camera - it will easily fit into a shirt pocket without leaving a bulge - with appealing headline numbers, including an 8x optical zoom and 20 Mpixel resolution. When you consider those numbers, and the Sony name, it is very cheap - so the question is are you getting obvious compromises?

First impressions are not great - the camera is entirely plastic bodied, which makes it very light, but it feels toy-like as a result. The screen is reasonably clear and sharp, and the menu system is simple and intuitive - which is fortunate, as the supplied instructions only run to a single folded sheet of paper. There isn't even a full manual on CD included - you have to go to Sonly's website to download that yourself. You do start to feel how the corners have been cut at this point - this is the first digicam I have ever bought to be supplied without instructions and software; but then again, the user interface seems to have been simplified to the bare essentials anyway, so maybe Sony are simply aiming it at people who just want to take it out of the box and point and shoot.

What you do get is a battery, mains charger, USB cable (with a proprietary, non-standard plug, so don't lose it!) and a wrist strap. It all feels solid enough, but this is clearly a bare-bones camera. It does take either SD or MemoryStick media, and even has a tiny amount of built-in memory, enough for a couple of photos straight out of the box if you can't find a card.

One thing you do notice is how sluggish it seems to be in use - once you have taken a photo, it takes a second or so to display on the screen, and even in its so-called "continuous shooting" mode, you'll be lucky to get more than a frame a second. Forget catching that once-in-a-lifetime split-second shot - this camera is too slow for that. The powered zoom is reasonably brisk, but strangely, there doesn't seem to be the option for additional digital zoom, which you'd have thought would be one of the advantages of so many megapixels; you could afford to lose a few in cropping, but the camera doesn't do that.

The camera allegedly (according to information on the web) has image stabilisation, but I can find no evidence of this in use - it isn't mentioned as a feature listed on the box; there is no mention of it on the camera itself, and there is nothing I can find in the menu system to turn it on or off. I can only assume it is on all the time, but if that is the case, it doesn't do much.

All that said, what are the pictures like? They're ok, but far from brilliant. In decent lighting, they are sharp enough, but the colours are a bit washed out, there is a lot of obvious edge enhancement going on and the JPEG compression is noisier than I would like. In low light, they really aren't good at all - high ISOs result in extremely noisy images, to the extent of blurring any detail. In spite of the better lens on here than on a smartphone, I have seen better images from decent phone cameras.

By way of comparison, I own a Canon IXUS 500HS - it is identical in size to the Sony, but has a metal body and a 12x zoom. It only has 10 Mpixels, but it has decent image stabilisation, a lot more menu options and, crucially, takes much better pictures, in both bright and low light. It's a year or so old, but cost pretty much the same then as the Sony does now.

The only real advantage of the Sony over a decent smartphone camera is that zoom lens. It is small, light and easy to use - but then so are its competitors in the tiny digicam market, and my experience is that they take better pictures. The lack of any obvious image stabilisation seriously limits the use of a tiny camera like this by inexperienced photographers, and the lack of features and quality makes it unsuitable as a backup camera for anyone more serious. It's very hard to recommend given the competition at this price point, I'm afraid - Sony need to take a look at what they are competing with and try again.

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