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

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Nicky Clarke Desired Straightener
Nicky Clarke Desired Straightener
Price: 41.89

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
Price: 94.13

6 of 9 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.

Roberts Play DAB/DAB+/FM RDS Digital Radio with Built In Battery Charger - Grey
Roberts Play DAB/DAB+/FM RDS Digital Radio with Built In Battery Charger - Grey
Price: 57.43

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly decent portable DAB, but nothing special, 22 Mar 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Roberts Play is a portable DAB and FM radio. (It is also compatible with DAB+ broadcasts, but as no station in the UK broadcasts DAB+, or even has plans to do so, it's a bit of an irrelevance for the UK market.)

It's about the size of a paperback book, and comes with a mains adaptor, which can also charge 4 AA NiMH batteries inside the unit (which you have to provide yourself - batteries aren't included). Build quality is fine - it's all plastic, but has a nice rubber surround which will absorb bumps and knocks, and can be changed for one of a different colour if you wish (again, not included).

It's easy enough to operate - the user interface is the same menu system as I've seen on every other DAB radio I've used. The display is backlit, which is a nice touch. Sound quality is as you would expect from a box this size with a small mono speaker - distinctly average. No real bass, but at least the treble isn't too shrill, so it's quite listenable. Not particularly loud - it'll be fine in a small bedroom or kitchen, but don't expect it to fill your living room with sound. It does have a headphone socket, but that reveals quite a bit of hiss and crackle in the background which is hidden when listening to the speaker.

The main problem with this radio is the price - it is pretty much comparable on features and sound quality with something like the Pure One Mini, which I also have. Running them back to back, the sound from the two is nigh-on identical; they both offer DAB and FM; they are a similar size and weight, and both run off the mains with optional rechargeable batteries. But the Pure is 75% of the price of the Roberts, which is a useful saving, and I really can't see what the Roberts offers for the extra money. It can be used with cheaper AA rechargeables rather than the Pure's dedicated battery pack, but for the price of the Roberts on its own, you can buy the Pure and its battery pack.

If you particularly like the styling, or have some brand loyalty towards Roberts, this radio is absolutely fine. But there are cheaper options which are just as good.

Carrying Case for Bose AE2, AE2i, AE2w and SoundTrue Around-Ear Headphones
Carrying Case for Bose AE2, AE2i, AE2w and SoundTrue Around-Ear Headphones
Offered by HeadphoneMate UK
Price: 19.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Bose should have included..., 13 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having just splashed out on a set of Bose AE2w Bluetooth headphones, I thought that the included soft bag was better than nothing in terms of protection, but no better than that - I have an old pair of Bose around-ear headphones which were supplied with a similar bag, and they are rather scratched now due to items in the bag rattling around.

This case is much better - the headphones are held securely on moulded lumps that stick out of the back of the case, and there are neat pouches to hold accessories and cables which attach to the lining with velcro. The case itself is rigid - not completely crush-proof, but certainly enough to protect your headphones if you just throw the case into a bag. It's well-designed and made of decent quality materials.

Yes, it's expensive, and Bose really should have provided it along with the headphones, but if you want the best protection for your AE2s, this case is it.

Peace At Last
Peace At Last
Price: 13.15

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Appalling distortion on the remaster - shame on whoever was responsible, 10 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Peace At Last (Audio CD)
This album was a bit of a change in direction for The Blue Nile after the electronic melancholia of Rooftops and Hats, and wasn't really to my taste. But one track made it worth owning - the achingly moving "Family Life".

Unfortunately, this track has been ruined on the remaster. There is now serious digital distortion throughout the track, and comparing the waveforms on the original and the remaster in an audio editor, it is obvious why - the levels have been turned up to the point at which the sound "clips", resulting in a crackling noise whenever the maximum level is exceeded. There was some distortion on the original, but this isn't just that distortion being more obvious - large amounts of new distortion have been added. I can't believe that this wasn't noticed before it was released, as it sounds quite shockingly bad on a decent hi-fi.

This needs to be withdrawn and fixed - no way is this acceptable.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 17, 2014 11:38 AM BST

Bose  AE2w Bluetooth Headphones - Black
Bose AE2w Bluetooth Headphones - Black
Price: 199.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb sound and comfort, 6 Mar 2014
I've recently discovered that wireless headphones make listening to music at work a lot more pleasant - no wires to get tangled up around the computer keyboard and the other junk on my desk. I was using a pair of cheap Creative Bluetooth headphones, but wanted to get something higher quality. I've had a pair of the original Bose around-ear (non-Bluetooth) headphones for many years, and really like them, but I was put off the Bose Bluetooth 'phones due to their lack of support for the high quality apt-X codec and the bizarre appearance of the Bluetooth dongle on the left ear, but after trying (and not liking) a few other pairs, I decided to give them a go.

Which is what I should have done in the first place! These are brilliant. First off, no-one makes headphones as comfortable to wear as Bose - the ear pads are soft, the band doesn't clamp too firmly, and they weigh next to nothing. If you want a set of around-ear headphones that you can wear for hours on end, Bose beat everyone else, hands-down. I had feared that the removable Bluetooth dongle would weigh down one ear, but it weighs only a few grammes, and is unnoticeable when fitted - the large size looks odd, but it means that the controls for volume and play/pause/skip fall easily to hand without fiddling around. It can easily be removed and replaced with the supplied cable to convert these into a standard pair of Bose AE2s.

The sound - typical Bose - bass is slightly fat, but still reasonably well-controlled, and the treble and mids are smooth and detailed without being tiring. Even without the aptX codec, the sound quality over Bluetooth is excellent - Bose are doing some form of active equalisation in the Bluetooth module, and the effect is a nice broad soundstage and very little impression of Bluetooth compression.

Yes, these are expensive - but actually, if you are looking for full-size headphones with Bluetooth, you won't find many 'phones significantly cheaper. But they are well worth the money - no other manufacturer does comfort like Bose, and they combine it with above-average sound quality. If you're a purist audiophile, they might not be for you, but for me, they're close to perfect.

Man On The Rocks
Man On The Rocks
Price: 12.99

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather uninspired, but good in parts, 5 Mar 2014
This review is from: Man On The Rocks (Audio CD)
I'm a lifelong fan of Oldfield, including the 80's song-based albums (yes, even Earth Moving...), so when I heard he was creating another song-based album, I wasn't quite as disappointed as those hoping for another long instrumental! That said, I was a bit disconcerted to find that he was recording his parts from his studio in the Bahamas while the rest of the band were elsewhere - that sounded distinctly unpromising, but I kept an open mind.

I wasn't hugely impressed with the lead single, "Sailing", on first listen, but it's undeniably catchy - even though it owes an awful lot musically-speaking to Moonlight Shadow. Luke Spiller, of little-known indie band The Struts, does a decent enough job of the vocals, although the lyrics are typical Oldfield - clearly written with the aid of a rhyming dictionary and not much actual inspiration. The rest of the album does rather follow in the same vein - pleasant if uninspiring musically, some decent Oldfield guitar solos to make it worth the price of admission, and lyrics that in the main are below par.

For this reason, as others have observed, the second disc of instrumental versions (which I had expected to be a throwaway I'd listen to once) turns out to be, if anything, better than the album itself. These songs, on the whole, stand up just as well without vocals, and in some cases are improved by the lack of them - it allows the guitar work to take more of the focus. "Following The Angels" is particularly improved - the irritation of a constant repetition of the title over the second half is replaced by a sublime, uninterrupted guitar solo.

By no means Oldfield's best effort, even as a set of songs rather than a long instrumental work - there's nothing on here of the calibre of Five Miles Out, and as a set of songs, it's less interesting than Discovery or Earth Moving. But as a set of instrumentals, it's patchy but worth the price of admission.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 5, 2014 12:58 PM GMT

Harman/Kardon BT Premium Bluetooth Wireless Over-Ear Headphones with In-Line Remote and Mic - Silver/Black (discontinued by manufacturer)
Harman/Kardon BT Premium Bluetooth Wireless Over-Ear Headphones with In-Line Remote and Mic - Silver/Black (discontinued by manufacturer)
Price: 219.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good sound, but uncomfortable and glitchy, 3 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was looking for a set of headphones that fit around the ears which used the high-quality aptX audio codec, and the HK BTs are the cheapest model I could find that fitted the bill, so I gave them a try.

First impressions are slightly alarming, in that the box they come in is rather heavy - a bit of a worry for something you are going to attach to your head. Opening the box revealed that a lot of the weight was in the packaging, but that the phones are also on the heavy side.

I paired them with a Sennheiser aptX dongle connected to my Mac, and gave them a listen. The sound is actually very good for a Bluetooth headphone - deep bass, well-integrated treble and a nice balance overall. The treble is perhaps a bit recessed; these don't sound bright by any means, but I tend to prefer that - excessive brightness in the treble tends to be tiring to listen to for long periods.

However, there were a couple of issues. First, the Bluetooth seems to be glitchy - even with the headphones less than a metre away from the transmitter, and me sitting perfectly still, I was getting momentary audio dropouts every few minutes. Not enough to make the phones unlistenable, but enough to be annoying when spending this amount of money - the cheap Creative Bluetooth phones I have been using with this computer and dongle up until now never had this problem, so it is clearly something in the BTs.

More of a problem, however, was comfort. Headphone fit is a very subjective thing, but there were several problems with the BTs. First, the weight - these are (slightly) too heavy for comfort. There's a lot of metal in their construction, and you were never able to forget that - I own other pairs of around-ear headphones which you forget that you are wearing (Bose, B&W) - that was never going to happen with these. Two headbands were provided, and I found that the smaller one gave too much clamping force, while the larger one didn't hold the headphones securely enough - again, probably not helped by the weight. Finally, the ear cushions are comparatively thin, which resulted in the inside of the ear cups being pressed against the outside of my ears - I've had this problem with one other set of headphones (Skullcandy), and the sensation becomes very uncomfortable over time.

If you can get them to fit comfortably, and find a way of stopping the glitches, these are otherwise a well-made, good-sounding headphone, but for me, the pros didn't outweigh the cons and they've been returned for a refund.

SanDisk SDWS1-064G-E57 Connect 64 GB Wireless Media Drive
SanDisk SDWS1-064G-E57 Connect 64 GB Wireless Media Drive
Price: 79.99

19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely brilliant, but with a few flaws, 24 Feb 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This little box is an attempt to rectify a couple of the biggest shortcomings of Apple's iOS devices - the fact that they have support for a limited number of media formats and that they have no SD card slot or other expandable memory. I was sceptical that a third-party solution could usefully do anything about either of these, but this device from SanDisk has changed my mind.

Physically, it's very small and light - around half the size of an iPhone 5, a couple of mm thicker and slightly lighter. It's barely noticeable in your pocket as a result. It includes an internal memory drive (64 GB on this model) and an SD card slot for additional storage, and it connects to your iDevice via Wifi.

First, you need to download the free SanDisk app from the App Store. (Be warned - there are two of these; the older one for the SanDisk Wireless Connect Wireless Flash Drive doesn't work; you need the one for the SanDisk Wireless Connect Media Drive - I can see confusion arising there!) You then turn on the Media Drive, connect to it in the WiFi settings on your device, and launch the SanDisk app - and there you have all the files on the drive and on any inserted SD card available to browse and play. You can drag and drop files onto the internal drive just by connecting via USB to your PC with the included cable, which is also used to charge the battery.

The SanDisk app gives you a high-level view of Videos, Photos, Music and Files, and each can be browsed and files then played within the app. The design of the app mimics that of Apple's own media applications, so music files are sorted by artist etc making browsing easy. But the genius of this is that the app offers much wider compatibility than Apple's iTunes. For example, I had a couple of folders of FLAC audio files on an SD card - I stuck it into the drive, launched the app and was playing FLAC on my iPhone a few seconds later. Or just pull the card from your digital camera, stick it into the drive, and view your photos on the iPhone immediately - or even post them to Facebook or attach them to emails. Once you've tried this a couple of times, it becomes hard to imagine how you managed without this little box.

It's not perfect - the process of connecting via WiFi every time you need to use it is a bit fiddly, and it doesn't support every format - for example it refused to play the videos recorded in AVI format by my old Canon camera. There is also supposed to be the ability to connect via passthrough to another WiFi network to enable you to remain connected to the Internet, but try as I might (on two different WiFi networks) I could not get this to work.

Hopefully SanDisk will fix the WiFi passthrough issue in a firmware upgrade at some point, and improved format support might also be possible by the same method. But even with those issues, this is a hugely useful little box, which I'd recommend to any iOS user.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 28, 2014 2:20 PM GMT

HP Prime Graphing Calculator
HP Prime Graphing Calculator
Offered by Calculators-Online
Price: 99.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very powerful, but not as user-friendly as it could be, 24 Feb 2014
I'm a long-time fan of HP's calculators - I have two 20-year old HP-48G models (one for home, one for work) which get used on a daily basis and are still going strong. (In those days, HP built calculators to last a lifetime!) HP have gone through many ups and downs since the days of the HP-48, but the Prime looked interesting enough to be worth a try.

First impressions are reasonable - the build quality is fine, if not up to the tank-like standards of the old days. The keys have a decent feel, although again, not quite as solid as on the classic HP calcs of old. The touchscreen is clear and readable, but the anti-aliasing on the fonts could do with some work - rather than looking smooth, they just look a bit blurry!

In terms of power, this vies with the TI Nspire CAS calculators for the crown - very similar in terms of functionality and speed. The integrated computer algebra system is incredibly powerful, doing the sort of operations that would have required a PC package like Mathematica 20 years ago. There's a wide range of graphing tools and solvers, and for us old-timers, the USP compared to the Nspire - yes, you can use RPN on the HP.

But... I have to say that usability is nowhere near as good as on HPs of old. First of all, there is the bewildering range of apps and modes. The algebra system is very poorly integrated - it's essentially a separate application that looks like the main screen, which supports a range of different functions (and, unlike the main screen, doesn't support RPN entry). The RPN support itself is rather half-hearted - yes, you can set RPN input as an option in the main screen, but not all functions actually work in RPN mode - some of the CAS functions are available as menu options within the main screen, but they produce errors if invoked in RPN entry mode.

Old HPs used soft-keys to access the huge range of functions - the top row of keys were unlabelled, and labels were shown on the screen to indicate their functions. The Prime does something similar, but misses out the actual hard keys - you tap on the labels on the touchscreen itself. This is another poor decision - particularly given the large gap at the bottom of the display where a row of hard keys could have been fitted. The touchscreen is a bit of a gimmick; as a user, I'd far rather be hitting a hard button with tactile feedback than dabbing at an area of the screen.

The Prime uses a system of nested menus to access most functions; you can use the numeric keys as shortcuts to the function you want, but this involves looking at the screen to see the number you need to press, and then looking down to the numeric keypad to press it; the old HP system of labelling the soft keys for access to functions was much quicker to use.

Finally, a word about the documentation - the calculator is supplied with a printed "quick start" guide, but the main manual (all 600 pages of it) is only on the supplied CD-ROM. Given this is the sort of calculator that you need to read the documentation to get the best of, the lack of a printed manual is a major oversight - I'd gladly have paid another 20 or so for a proper manual.

It's a shame - this is a very powerful calculator, and the CAS adds a lot of features that are very useful over those on my 20-year old HP-48s, but I suspect the 48 will still be the machine I reach for whenever I have number-crunching to do. A Prime 2 with a set of hard keys, full RPN support and a CAS integrated with the main screen would be a compelling replacement for an HP-48; this, I'm afraid, isn't.

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