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Stucumber "Stucumber" (N. Wales)
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Canon PowerShot SX500 IS Digital Camera - Black (16.0 MP, 30x Optical Zoom) 3.0 inch LCD
Canon PowerShot SX500 IS Digital Camera - Black (16.0 MP, 30x Optical Zoom) 3.0 inch LCD

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Feature packed, lacks image quality., 2 Dec. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's fair to say that I have, so far, enjoyed using this Canon camera. It's fun, easy to use, has a wealth of features for a compact camera and allows for some good snaps. That said, it is not perfect and is let down, somewhat, by some major aspects of image quality.

Firstly, what you get with the SX500 IS is a 'bridge' camera, that is one that is a bridge between point-and-shoot compact and a more fully featured dSLR. Like most bridge cameras, it signals its pretensions to being a serious camera by modelling itself on its bigger siblings (themselves modelled on film SLRs). It is much smaller than any SLR, fitting comfortably in the palm of the hand. Unlike an SLR, there is no viewfinder, instead the rear is dominated by a screen, about the size of a small smartphone. I had little trouble using the screen in any light condition, though there will be some sacrifice on battery life. There are also several dials and buttons which, at first, seem a little daunting but don't be put off because they're fun to play with and are what make a bridge camera worth getting in the first place. It uses a proprietary battery and charger which are included, meaning that purchasing a complementary charger and set of batteries is not needed.

As a point-and-shoot on automatic, it doesn't disappoint but of course, you want it for more than just snaps. There are many features to choose from, some allow you to select a scene and let the camera do the rest, such as shooting fireworks or in snowy conditions. Others allow you to apply an effect, such as fish-eye or miniature (which blurs parts of the image to obtain a mock tilt shift look), still more give a toy camera effect or monochrome. Once you've run through all of the automatic settings and effects, then all that is left is to play around with aperture and exposure settings and this is where you can be more creative. I found it easy to take long exposure shots, which opens up possibilities for low light level shooting, that a compact simply can't do, though these images are very noisy - something I'll touch on later.

One stand out feature on this camera is the 30X optical zoom, which is an astonishing amount and really does deliver. Further zoom is available, digitally, up to 120X but this is fairly pointless because the results are really not good.

Once you've taken your masterpieces, of course you're going to want to sit back and appreciate their stunning quality, this is were you might be in for some disappointment. When viewed on the camera's screen or below full size, the images can look fantastic, when viewed at full size a few problems become evident. First off the images are quite noisy, with a grainy, jagged appearance, this precludes having your photos printed at full size and leaves them fit for small formats only. Second, areas of high contrast are plagued with very noticeable colour fringing, such that, toward the edges of images they take on the appearance of 3D anaglyph photos viewed without the glasses.

I can see this being of use to an enthusiastic beginner, ready to move on from point-and-shoots. How long before they're aching for something which gets better results though, can't be long. The more experienced photographer may find the super zoom does little to outweigh the poor image quality. I was ready to award this camera a high score based on features alone but the image quality has forced me to reassess downward.


Philips LivingColors Aura Colour Changing Mood Light - Black (Integrated 1 x 8 Watts LED Bulb, Remote Control)
Philips LivingColors Aura Colour Changing Mood Light - Black (Integrated 1 x 8 Watts LED Bulb, Remote Control)
Price: £49.21

44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and novel, not completely practical., 14 Nov. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Length:: 0:29 Mins

The video shows the full colour cycle, the clicking sound is a wheel that is spun to select the desired colour from the spectrum. The wheel also functions as a four-way button, this can be used to alter the saturation of the colour and also the brightness of the light.

Philips claim that there are 16 million available colours, I'm not sure that in practise that most people can effectively discern that many colours but you are able to select quite fine gradations of hue from a circular spectrum.

As well as determining your precise favourite colour, you can increase and decrease the saturation, that is, how intense the colour is from virtually white to deep, full colours. With the same controls brightness can be varied.

With the three variables it's possible to set a colour to suit your mood with precision, whether this is from a choice of 16 million, again I remain sceptical.

The effect is certainly not room-filling and as such requires a fairly neutral wall to appreciate the full effect. I'd also not want to use this as the main light source for most activities, though can see some few possibilities; movie night, a romantic evening, listening to music, parties etc. Since receiving the light a month ago, apart from playing with it, I have found no opportunity to use it, which may be more to my busy work/family/study life; you may find more use for it, particularly with more leisure and social time.

The controls aren't particularly intuitive and the instructions are fairly cryptic, though i did finally get the hang of them. As well as the aforementioned controls, there is also the ability to set two favourite colours for future use.

On its own merits the light functions well and I won't mark it down for my lack of use, though the conical design precludes using it to light a ceiling and the slightly confusing controls do detract.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 25, 2014 8:58 AM BST


What's in the Witch's Kitchen? (Lift the Flap)
What's in the Witch's Kitchen? (Lift the Flap)
by Nick Sharratt
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Instant hit., 14 Nov. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My little boy loves this picture book and it's had him in fits of laughter as we read it together. There are are a variety of objects in the Witch's kitchen, each with a flap, that through some clever paper engineering (think milkman's wallet - if you remember them), can open in one of two ways. Lifting a flap in one direction reveals a treat, lift it the other and you're in for a less savoury surprise. The humour is suitably childish (you can guess what rhymes with tart), and for a nearly three-year-old - who is just discovering toilet humour - hilarious.

Nick Sharratt's artwork is his usual bold, colourful stuff, though this time a fittingly lurid colour palette is used. Sharrat, who seems to be publishing more solo work, also is the author.

If you love the sound of a laughing child, I highly recommend this book, as long as you are happy with the occasional use of words like fart and wee.


Breville Brushed Stainless Steel Brita Filter Kettle with Spectra Illumination
Breville Brushed Stainless Steel Brita Filter Kettle with Spectra Illumination
Price: £44.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not hugely impressed., 24 Oct. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
On a positive note, the water from this kettle makes a nice cup of tea, since using it I've noticed how foul tea tastes made with water from my area that hasn't first been filtered. However, I'm not completely convinced of its practicality, particularly for frequent use.

First off, as this is a combined filter/kettle, one has to first fill the filter compartment, then wait for it to pass through the filter before boiling. This is quite time consuming, particularly as the filter compartment has a smaller volume than the maximum allowed volume, meaning two refills are required before it is full. Even then, if you intend to make tea for more than two people, you'll find you'll have to refill and boil again. This can be somewhat infuriating during the morning rush. As there are just the two of us then it isn't too much hassle, should there be more of us and filtered water for hot drinks is important enough, then a filter jug and a standard kettle would seem more feasible, at least then we would have the option of filtering a large enough volume of water before-hand.

An LCD display on the top estimates when you need to replace your filter. This isn't based on how much you use your kettle but rather how long since you've last replaced it.

Once it does get going though, the speed of boiling is quite rapid. The rough temperature of the water is indicated by the colour of a light which illuminates the kettle jug, this is not a bad idea as it allows you to gauge whether the water is hot enough to make a cup of tea after boiling or if it should be boiled again.

The illumination feature is extended, rather pointlessly, into a colour changing display for twenty minutes after boiling. In these twenty minutes I'm sitting drinking tea and eating biscuits in the front room. I'm not stood in the kitchen gawping at my kettle (who is this for?).

Given the seventy quid asking price, I do think it's possible to achieve the same results, much more practically, for far less money. Unless you're really impressed by coloured lights.


Fancy Dress Christmas
Fancy Dress Christmas
by Nick Sharratt
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant comic picture book for young toddlers., 16 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Fancy Dress Christmas (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Nick Sharratt does what he does best, and creates a vibrant, rhyming picture book for young children. Much in the same vein as his previous children's books (some authored by others) such as Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose or Octopus Socktopus. This is another wonderfully silly book, perfect for toddlers and their silly Dads. Great surprises are on every page and as usual they're brought with Sharratt's trademark bold style.


Goldilocks
Goldilocks
by Allan Ahlberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An immediate favourite., 16 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Goldilocks (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
When I first saw this book, I thought a long-lost work had been found and published. Seeing two Ahlbergs on the front cover led me to believe, momentarily, that an unpublished work by husband and wife team Allen and Janet Ahlberg had been released, years after Janet's sad demise. The family team were responsible for some classic children's work during the seventies and eighties, (Allen writing, Janet illustrating) all of which are in print and enjoyed to this day - as my 35 month old boy will attest. However, this is a brand new work, written by the much respected Allen Ahlberg yes, but this time joined by another family member: his and Janet's daughter Jessica.

It is such a charming book too. Ahlberg senior takes on the classic Goldilocks tale and spins from it a series of wonderfully comic variations, each more absurd than the last. As well as an irreverent retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, there is the tale of Goldilocks and the Thirty-three bears, and the Bliim (space-aliens) and the (alive)Furniture, as well as a couple of other linked stories. The prose is vintage Ahlberg, all of his humour and his understanding of the way children think is on display here; he also makes it easy for parents to be master storytellers.

The illustrations of Jessica are always going to compared to her mother, which is perhaps a daunting legacy to live up to. However, though there is some familial similarity, she is very much her own artist and her superb work stands on its own merit. It is vibrant, lively and accomplished, with a degree of humour that complements the text well.

The pop-up and pull-tab elements of the book are used sparingly but effectively (sometimes hilariously), in the service of storytelling, rather than for novelty value. That said, perhaps the most exciting feature is the inclusion of another little pop-up book, that comes out and can be enjoyed on its own. This is an illustrated play script, which has a super-cute little pop-up stage and set in the middle.

The stock on which the book is printed is of very high quality, lending the line and wash drawings an almost hand made quality. The construction is of good quality too but I'd be apprehensive leaving this alone with my boy until he can be a bit more delicate - parents will know when their own can be trusted!

Overall, this is a charming book for young children that is also a delight for adults, thoroughly recommended.


ASUS TF300T 10.1-inch Multitouch Tablet with Keyboard (Blue) (Nvidia Tegra 3 1.4GHz, 1GB RAM, 32GB HDD, WLAN, BT, 2x Cam, Android 4.0)
ASUS TF300T 10.1-inch Multitouch Tablet with Keyboard (Blue) (Nvidia Tegra 3 1.4GHz, 1GB RAM, 32GB HDD, WLAN, BT, 2x Cam, Android 4.0)

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All that most people will ever need., 27 Sept. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
On its own the Asus TF300T is a full-featured Android tablet, the inclusion of a dockable keyboard makes it much more than that, such that it should be able to contend with traditional PCs for most people.

Undocked, it is a familiar experience for Android users, albeit one that is considerably higher spec than the average. It runs Ice Cream Sandwich - one of the latest Android iterations - so that it is up to date in terms of software compatibility, most apps will happily run on it. Bizzarely some big developers haven't updated their apps to run on ICS - Electronic Arts I'm looking at you - so you may find an occasional one that isn't compatible, no fault of Asus or Google though. One app that currently does work is the BBC's iPlayer, which is worth mentioning because the recent update renders it incompatible with a great many Android devices (including the tablet this one replaces and has gone to my Mum, sorry Mum), though the Beeb still haven't paid enough attention to Android as they have iOS for Apple.

Graphically the device is superb, the screen looks great and you really do get the benefit of HD video content, such as that offered on YouTube or Vimeo. Making use of the display is the onboard graphics chip from Nvidia, this allows gorgeous 3D gaming, GTA III runs perfectly and looks good too.

Once connected to the internet via WiFi, browsing is a pleasure, though most sites direct you to their mobile version, this tablet also handles the desktop versions with ease. This is helped by the relatively generous screen size and resolution, making viewing pages in their full format easy. It becomes a toss-up between using a site's app or visiting using the browser, as the latter is so good. Given the portability of a tablet, accessing the internet whilst out and about is fairly easy. This is not straightforward if you are unable to find a WiFi hotspot, as this particular model doesn't come with mobile internet capabilities (another version allows the insertion of a micro sim for 3G internet), however if you have another device, such as a mobile phone, that allows Bluetooth tethering, then that device's mobile internet can be used. Just check your operator's mobile internet download limits first, before spending an afternoon streaming HD video. There is still no LoveFilm app for Android that supports streaming, though hopefully that will change soon but I did manage to watch The I.T. Crowd last night on 4od without any hassle.

There is a sizable 32 GB internal memory, which is a fair amount in itself but this can be augmented using the micro-SD slot on the side and the full-size SD card slot on the keyboard. Further potential for storage is the USB3 port, again found on the side of the keyboard, this easily found a 2GB dongle I inserted. Again more storage potential comes with the bundled My Net app, which allows connection to storage on your home network via DLNA link. If this still isn't enough storage, ASUS give you access to a free 5GB of cloud storage.

While the USB3 port, Bluetooth and WiFi allow connectivity with other devices, HDMI allows you to connect to a TV with an HDMI port - as most newer TVs do. If you have an HD TV, this means that you can connect the tablet to it and use it as a monitor; handy for games or video.

While this ASUS on its own is a decent tablet, it is the ability to dock with the supplied keyboard which make it more interesting and increases the possibilities. This is a full qwerty keyboard, the same size as the tablet, it is much easier to use than the onscreen Android tablet and allows the composition of fairly long bodies of text (this review is typed on it). This makes tasks such as emailing more feasible, as well as posting comments and the like. ASUS have bundled a scaled down office suite called Polaris, which allows the creation of Word compatible documents, so that a tablet becomes a serious consideration for work or study. Being an OU student, I can readily appreciate the ability to take my work around with me and be able to edit it on a device that is much more portable than a laptop. It will still be better to use the laptop for creating scientific work to a high standard, as the tools are more developed and the hardware has more oomph but there's no reason that much of the work shouldn't be generated on the tablet. The keyboard also features a row of shortcut keys and media controls along the top.

Battery life is good, upto 15 hours which comes from both sections having batteries, while the keyboard can act as a power source for the tablet.

Overall, I'm very impressed, it's so much easier to pick this up and do some of the things I want to, than it is with the laptop. In fact I would say that I prefer to use this than the laptop, its much handier to take around and it's a lot more fun too. Power users are going to want to stick to PCs and Macs for anything processor intensive, such as serious gaming or media production, but for most uses, for most users, this is a great little machine.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 24, 2012 4:13 PM BST


Braven 600 Portable Wireless Speaker - Red Aluminium
Braven 600 Portable Wireless Speaker - Red Aluminium

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 22 Aug. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Braven 600 is the little brother to the Braven 650 but, seemingly, in only one way: a much reduced battery life down from a huge 20 hours, to a reasonable 12, all for thirty quid difference. As such, most of the next review is the same for the 650, just because in almost every respect they're the same product.

I already have a portable speaker, a cheap little thing that takes three triple As and connects via the headphone port. Predictably its not great sounding and the power doesn't last long. Other portables I've had suffered from the same underpowered performance, sometimes drawing on a device's battery, which ends the fun really soon. What is needed is decent sound and battery life, which on both counts the Braven 600 provides.

First impressions are of a compact but solid and weighty, little unit, the size of a small packet of biscuits. The aluminium body has a minimalist design, which is little more than a metal cuboid, in a striking red colour, with black, plastic ends that contain the interfaces and controls. An initial four hour charge, after unboxing, and it is ready to be played with.

Connectivity is very simple via Bluetooth, press and hold the unit's connect button for five seconds, then search through your audio device's Bluetooth screen and connect. Super simple. I tried connection through two different Sony Xperias, a Samsung Galaxy s3 and an iPhone, all connected first time. Should this method not work (or you want to conserve your battery's power), you can connect easily through a 3.5mm audio cable.

Both the quality and volume of the audio are impressive, more than adequate for trips to the park but also able to fill a medium room easily. In fact, in a shop where I work, with several noisy refrigerators and customers and staff talking, I found it was possible to have thing up too loud. It can, however, produce clear audio at high volumes, both for music and speech.

A twelve hour battery usage life, might not see you through a whole weekend, particularly if using as a power source for other devices, so you need to ration use a little. It's still a good battery life though but if you think you would want more use out of it, consider the 650. My main, intended, use for this is to play downloaded radio programmes and podcasts in the bedroom and garden, away from my usual, larger and less portable, speakers in the kitchen. Foreign holidays should be covered too, as the wall plug comes with a variety of different pin types as standard.

Positive points:
.High quality build
.Looks good
.Truly portable
.Easy connectivity
.GREAT sound
.Ability to charge other devices from it
.Long battery life

Negative points
.Packaging could have had more recycling information (I'm stretching, I know.)


Braven 650 Portable Wireless Speaker - Silver Aluminium
Braven 650 Portable Wireless Speaker - Silver Aluminium

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent., 22 Aug. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I already have a portable speaker, a cheap little thing that takes three triple As and connects via the headphone port. Predictably its not great sounding and the power doesn't last long. Other portables I've had suffered from the same underpowered performance, sometimes drawing on a device's battery, which ends the fun really soon. What is needed is decent sound and battery life, which on both counts the Braven 650 provides.

First impressions are of a compact but solid and weighty, little unit, the size of a small packet of biscuits. The aluminium body has a minimalist design, which is little more than a metal cuboid, with black, plastic ends that contain the interfaces and controls. An initial four hour charge, after unboxing, and it is ready to be played with.

Connectivity is very simple via Bluetooth, press and hold the unit's connect button for five seconds, then search through your audio device's Bluetooth screen and connect. Super simple. I tried connection through two different Sony Xperias, a Samsung Galaxy s3 and an iPhone, all connected first time. Should this method not work (or you want to conserve your battery's power), you can connect easily through a 3.5mm audio cable.

Both the quality and volume of the audio are impressive, more than adequate for trips to the park but also able to fill a medium room easily. In fact, in a shop where I work, with several noisy refrigerators and customers and staff talking, I found it was possible to have thing up too loud. It can, however, produce clear audio at high volumes, both for music and speech.

This will hopefully find some use on camping trips, not just as speakers but also as source of energy for charging up mobile phones. With twenty hours of charging and playing promised, weekend trips should be covered. My main, intended, use for this is to play downloaded radio programmes and podcasts in the bedroom and garden, away from my usual, larger and less portable, speakers in the kitchen. Foreign holidays should be covered too, as the wall plug comes with a variety of different pin types as standard.

Positive points:
.High quality build
.Looks good
.Truly portable
.Easy connectivity
.GREAT sound
.Ability to charge other devices from it
.Long battery life

Negative points
.Packaging could have had more recycling information (I'm stretching, I know.)


Stanley's Stick
Stanley's Stick
by Neal Layton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastick., 14 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Stanley's Stick (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Before going into much detail, the most important thing to know, in a review of a children's book, is has the child asked to have this read again? Indeed, our little boy has, more than once; which may be all you need to know.

Other than that, the story, though in a well-worn theme, is a thoughtful take on the idea of the imaginative potential of simple objects. This isn't to say that the author lectures the reader on 'the-importance-of-imagination', rather that he reflects back to children, in a way they'd relate to, something of their own nature.

Hegley is a poet and this comes through in his prose, there is a rhythm to the words that I recognized from seeing him perform. It is somewhat different to the usual children's book style, though it does have a lovely lyrical quality.

The illustration may divide people due to its deliberately naive style, it's a style that I appreciate requires a great deal of practise (it's not actually that easy), though it's not one that I enjoy. That said my boy (two and a half) did enjoy it, he talked animatedly about certain pictures and showed a great deal of interest in it.

Despite my own prejudices about the illustration (I must be getting old, it'll be oil paintings of Lancaster bombers for me next), I and my boy both enjoyed reading this together.


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