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A. Key "Electric Monk" (Hampshire, UK)

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Philips PerfectCare Pure GC7619/20 Steam Generator with OptimalTemp No Fabric Burns Technology
Philips PerfectCare Pure GC7619/20 Steam Generator with OptimalTemp No Fabric Burns Technology
Price: £99.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bulky and awkward and not hot enough, 4 Feb 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Well I'm sure it's very clever but the question we kept asking as we used it was... why?

You get a HUGE base unit with a water reservoir in it. Also in the base unit is a plastic descaler cartridge which stops the iron scaling up (useful in hard water areas like ours). You get three of these cartridges with the iron and you throw the cartridges away after use. Cost aside, this seems very wasteful. I'd rather just run descaling fluid through it once or twice a year, like I would with a conventional steam iron.

Connected to the base unit by a bulky cable arrangement is a smaller-than usual iron, which when not in use rests on top of the base unit. The reason the cable's so bulky is that it's both an electricity cable and a steam tube, wrapped together in one cover. Although the cable length is fairly generous, its bulk and stiffness makes the iron more cumbersome to use, in spite of the light weight and smaller size of the iron itself.

The much-touted automatic heat adjustment does work very well. There's no temperature control so you have to trust the iron, but it worked with both delicates and thick cottons and the iron could be left flat on the ironing board without burning a hole in it - which is just as well, as it's impossible to prop the iron up on its end.

However... we felt that it just wasn't getting hot enough. Clothes that we'd normally iron on "2" were not getting smooth enough. Also the trigger-controlled steam outlet occasionally dribbled hot water rather than steam onto the clothes.

The base unit needs to rest on a flat surface and it's so huge there probably won;t be space on your board for it, so you'll have to place the board close to a kitchen worktop or similar so that the base unit can rest there. We also had to clear an entire shelf of a kitchen cupboard to make space to store the thing. (Our conventional iron hangs out of the way on a wall-mounted bracket in the larder.)

So, all in all... there are problems with conventional irons and it's great to see some innovation. Unfortunately in this case Philips has innovated on the things that didn't need fixing, and made some things that *did* need fixing even worse.

If you're an absent-minded ironer with a trail of singed clothing behind you, this is worth a look, but make sure you have the space to use and store it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 8, 2014 9:00 AM GMT

Leifheit 15 m Varioline M Indoor Clothes Dryer
Leifheit 15 m Varioline M Indoor Clothes Dryer
Price: £41.82

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK but some stability issues, 5 Dec 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The sliding rails are a good idea, enabling you to adjust the distance between rails according to the thickness of the items, but it has some stability problems. My daughter has just gone off to university so we presented her with this rack to dry her laundry in her room at college. Her conclusions: "This rack is excessively large if you are intending to use it in basic student accommodation." [Note: there is a smaller size version, also available on Amazon, which might have been more suitable.] "It is also highly impractical for attempting to wrestle across the room into a position where you are unlikely to walk into it, as the legs don't seem to lock into place (perhaps they do, and I have merely overlooked this in the non-existent instructions). However, it is perfectly functional as a rack. The dictionary defines a 'rack' as either a frame on which cloth is dried, or an instrument of medieval torture. I imagine this could function as both."
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 6, 2013 9:19 AM GMT

Philips Shaver Series 7000, Wet and Dry Shaver with Clean and Charge System RQ1197/22
Philips Shaver Series 7000, Wet and Dry Shaver with Clean and Charge System RQ1197/22
Price: £140.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars HOW much?!, 18 Oct 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
At time of writing, the RRP for this shaver is £280. I'll say that again: £280. For that money you could buy a state-of-the-art sim-free smartphone, a high-end compact camera or nearly EIGHT HUNDRED triple-blade disposable razors. You might reasonably expect it to shave you automatically while you're still asleep. Even at the current Amazon price (£168) it's an awful lot of money. So when Amazon gave me the chance to review one for free, I couldn't resist the challenge of finding out what could possibly justify such an astronomical price.

First impressions: if you measure value by the number of boxes, you're off to a good start. The main reason this would make a great Christmas gift for the gadget-obsessed man in your life is that he can spend half the morning unpacking all the tiny boxes and packets that come neatly wedged together in the main container. There's even a free puzzle: try to get them all back in again afterwards. The shaver comes in a sleek red/grey/black colour scheme, a combination determined as The Colours Men Like in some research by a home furnishings company back in about 1980 and stubbornly re-used by every product design team ever since. Aside from the shaver itself, there's a trimmer head, a folding charging stand/cradle, a weird mini-bathtub object, a mysterious bottle of fluid, a bag, a protective cover for the shave head and a brush. And the instructions.

Ah, the instructions. It's tough being a multinational, you have to produce your instruction leaflet in umpteen different languages, so even if the instructions are only a few paragraphs long the booklet itself ends up being 40 pages long. Philips have radically decided to produce a booklet in just one language for their main target market.

Unfortunately that target market appears to be Ancient Egyptians.

There are no words in the booklet at all, just cryptic hieroglyphics. This might work fine for Ikea (it's not hard to draw a picture for "screw bolt A into hole Z") but the Philips Senso is a sophisticated bit of kit and the diagrams just don't hack it. I spent ages trying to work it all out. At one point there's a diagram that seems to show how you can use the beard trimmer to make your sideburns grow *longer*. Elsewhere there are little pictures of calendars, diagrams with arrows that go up and down and sideways and little thermometers with no numbers on them. After close examination and extensive advice from experts at the British Museum I still have no idea what some of the icons mean.

On the plus side, your loved one will be happily occupied for the whole of Christmas afternoon right through until Doctor Who as he tries to decipher how everything works from the pictures.

The charging cradle replaces the usual curly lead you get with most shavers, and like that lead it plugs into the two-pin shaver socket in a bathroom light fitting. You get a couple of metres of cable (non-curly, alas) but our shower room is not over-blessed with shelf space next to the washbasin. So I've had to balance the charging cradle on top of the light fitting, where it only just fits and I have to stand on tiptoe to slot the shaver into it. Worse still, if your shaver is wet when you put it into the cradle (as it often will be - see below) water dribbles down it and onto the light fitting. Not clever. The cradle folds up for travelling - it'll even fold round the shaver body, but once you've done that you'll find they won't fit into the travel bag that came with the kit. Again, not very well thought out. On the plus side, when the shaver's mounted in the cradle it looks like a red-and-grey performing seal balancing a bowl on its head. Yes it does. Really.

But how does it shave? Very well. Much closer than my old one (which was a very old Philips on its third set of shaving heads). I've tried it dry-shaving and as a wet shave using shaving foam, which gets an even closer shave but is quite messy as the heads spread the foam out. The inner workings of the unit are sealed so you can rinse it repeatedly under the hot tap. (Or possibly the cold tap. Or possibly a thermometer in a bathtub. The hieroglyphics are unclear.) The body is easy to hold but unfortunately the shave head sticks some way out from it, so to get decent control of its movement you end up clutching it at the top of the body, round the narrow "neck" between body and shaving head. However it moves reasonably smoothly, doesn't irritate too much (though users new to Philips rotary-head shavers might experience some initial discomfort) and the floating head design keeps the blades close to you skin even round awkward bends.

One thing I dislike is the separate trimming head for beards/sideburns. My old Philips shaver conveniently had this as a built-in part of the body, flipping up for use when needed. Here it's another accessory to lose or drop, and it won't fit into the travel bag. A step backwards design-wise.

Even if you've used it for a dry shave you are graphically encouraged to remove the shaving head and rinse it under the tap (hot/cold/something else, who knows) after each shave, which is why it ends up with water dribbling down it after you put it back in its cradle.

So far then, pretty good, but still not showing any solid reason why this should cost more than the £60 you can buy similar models for.

This is where the little bathtub - sorry, "Jet Clean System" - comes in. It's actually a kind of torture device for electric shavers. You remove an open container from the base, fill it with cleaning fluid from the special bottle , then replace it into the unit. When I say "fill", the instructions at this point have a helpful picture showing some wavy lines and two arrows. I haven't a clue what that means but after a bit of experimentation I decided that I needed to fill the container up until the little shelf halfway up it was just submerged. This seemed to work.

The Jet Clean System is quite big and hefty so rather than perching it on the light I had to put it on top of the toliet cistern and drape the power cord around the top of the mirror and across the wall to the toilet. No conventional mains socket is provided, but I guess you could get an adaptor and keep the claning bath in your bedroom.

After you've shaved, you place the shaver head down in a special cradle that sticks out the top of the Jet Clean System. (Tip: Don't try to insert the shaver into the cradle until after you've plugged the system in - the cradle doesn't move to the right position until the device is switched on.) Then you press the button on the front and stand back to watch the fun. Like something from an old Thunderbirds episode there's some humming and flashing of lights, then the device slowly tilts the shaver over and lowers it, head-first, into the bath of cleaning fluid underneath. The shaver screams in agony for a few seconds (well, OK, spins its blades) and is then lifted free of the fluid. A few seconds' pause for it to get its breath back,and it's dipped under again. And again. Yes, it's a sort of interrogation technique for small devices. (Another tip: make sure you press the shaver firmly into the cradle. If it's not quite slotted into place, the cleaning bath will operate but the shaver motor won't, and your cleaning operation will have been a failure.)

Supposedly this leaves you with a clean, hygienic and smoothly lubricated shaver. Every month (or every full moon, or every solar eclipse - I'm guessing from the diagrams again) you are supposed to throw the cleaning fluid away and refill the tub from the bottle. By my reckoning the bottle's got about six months' worth in it; a fresh bottle currently costs £6 on Amazon.

The thing is, I used my previous Philips shaver for over a decade. I never put it through a special Jet Clean but the occasional brush-down seemed to keep it in fine condition. The Jet Clean System really feels like the solution to a problem nobody had.

Still, it's fun to watch it at work and it may make the blades last a bit longer or run a bit smoother, who knows.

I wouldn't spend £280 on this myself (or even £168) - the Jet Clean system is totally superfluous and many of the smaller design details are a triumph of style over practicality. It feels as if it was designed by the Philips marketing department primarily as a way to justify charging even more for an electric shaver that was already quite expensive. But... if you know a man who watches the Gadget show religiously, reads every issue of T3 magazine on his iPad,and is in need of a new electric shaver, you can splash out on this as a gift for him and he will absolutely love it.

Just make sure he puts aside a day or two to work out how to use it.

Sugru Multi-Colour (Pack of 8)
Sugru Multi-Colour (Pack of 8)
Price: £12.99

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does what it says on the pack - but don't expect it to be pretty, 4 Feb 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Well, it definitely works as described. I tried it on two projects: first was a bike light with a cable that connects into a separate battery pack. The cable outer had started to come adrift from the light, so it was only a matter of time before the inner wires started to pull loose. I used black Sugru to cover the gap, waterproofing it and reinforcing the cable to prevent it detaching. It worked a treat: I put it on one evening and by the morning it was a permanent rubbery cover.

My other project was also bike-related but too fiddly to explain here to non-cycling enthusiasts. If you've ever had to fit a cadence sensor magnet to a modern crank with a concave inner, you'll immediately recognise the problem I had, and a wad of Sugru solved it more effectively than any other method I could think of.

So yes, it works and I'm sure I'll find uses around the house for the other packets. I've deducted a star for the manufacturer's wildly optimistic claims that it will look good. It won't. It will always look like you absent-mindedly left a lump of Plasticine(TM) stuck to a household object.

PhotoPlus X4 (PC)
PhotoPlus X4 (PC)
Offered by Empire Group
Price: £39.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good value, 27 Dec 2012
This review is from: PhotoPlus X4 (PC) (CD-ROM)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As with other Serif products I've bought, PhotoPlus does most of the things the big name packages do, but at a fraction of the price. PhotoPlus in its various incarnations has been our 'go-to' program for photo manipulation for some years now. As an occasional user I didn't find that X4 added much of use compared to previous versions, but if you feel the need for a sophisticated graphics editor and you don't already have one, you can't go far wrong with this.

Shakespeare's Restless World
Shakespeare's Restless World
by Neil MacGregor
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £16.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Listening, 27 Sep 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I did originally hear parts of the original radio series that is contained in its entirety on this CD collection, and was pleased to find it available having missed so many or the episodes.

Each episode takes one object from Shakespeare's day and derives from it a history which is used to explore different aspects of the life and times of both the ordinary people and the more exalted. Political and religious history is explored alongside the story of the theatre of the day, and the major 'characters' of the time.

I would recommend this to any students of Shakespeare's work or anyone interested in the Elizabethan or Jacobean period. So much social history is put across in an interesting and engaging way and Neil Ferguson's narration/commentary is perfectly measured.

Certainly worth more than one listen.

The Vintage Tea Party Book
The Vintage Tea Party Book
by Angel Adoree
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Style AND Substance, 23 May 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As recipe books go these days, most are pretty well-presented, fully coloured and completely impractical for keeping anywhere near messy food which might spoils its beauty. The Vintage Tea Party Book is no different, apart from the fact that it exceeds all others on the market in terms of presentation. The standard mouth-watering pictures of food are paired with quirky illustrations, vintage fonts and handy hints. In addition to its fantastic appearance, the content itself is diverse and seems to include everything you can think of that might be required for a tea party. Sweet and savoury, hot and cold recipes are broken up by instructions on how to make table decorations, bunting, and apron, even where to find vintage clothing and how to do your hair in 40s/50s styles.

But what about the actual recipes? Well, many of the savoury ones really are vintage. They are reminiscent of some of the strange things featured in 1950s editions of Good Housekeeping Cookbooks, so might introduce some odd tastes to a modern palette and frighten off a fussy eater. However, there's nothing which will hold back a determined chef or an open-minded gourmand. As for the sweet recipes, there are many delicious and extremely easy things to make. I particularly like the lemon scone recipe - which essentially requires only cream, flour and lemonade - and the apple crumble cake.

All in all a beautiful book to be in possession of so it would be a good gift and many of the recipes are simple and yummy. Why not try using it to throw your own vintage tea party like I did? It was so fun and so easy but wouldn't have been quite as much of either without this book.

AsRock A75M-ITX Motherboard
AsRock A75M-ITX Motherboard

3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Didn't work, 18 Mar 2012
The PC started up, but nothing appeared on the display at all. I checked the manufacturer's website, which suggested there was a known problem with VGA output which could be solved by updating the BIOS. (Brilliant - your PC won't boot, but you can fix this by booting your PC and updating the BIOS. Notice the flaw in the logic there?) So I shifted everything downstairs to the TV (the only display in the house with HDMI inputs) and tried the HDMI output. Still nothing.

Back to the web, and a number of forums suggest that the BIOS is set by default to look for a separate graphics card. If no graphics card present, no boot. Now, bear in mind that this is an FM1 board - specifically designed for the range of AMD APU processors with built in graphics. If I was planning on using a separate graphics card, I probably wouldn't be buying this in the first place!

But never mind. I borrowed a suitable graphics card from a friend. Still nothing. Back to Amazon it goes. Several hours of my life wasted. I won't buy an Asrock board again.

The only other thing to note is that the included back plate is very flimsy indeed.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 1, 2012 10:26 PM BST

A Life in Frocks
A Life in Frocks
by Kelly Doust
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.01

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to turn my rambling thoughts into a book.", 10 April 2011
This review is from: A Life in Frocks (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Review by my 16-year-old daughter:

As a book, this shouldn't work.

Normally one would expect the life of a respected but not well-known (out of her field) blogger and fashion writer, told through the pieces of clothing she has lived through, would be suitable for a 2-page article in a magazine, nothing more. That was, in fact, how this book started, as Doust explains in the introduction. Her article in Vogue about how music influences out style sparked her desire to keep on telling the stories of clothes in her life. I can only speak for myself, but taking a journey through somebody else's purchases was actually pretty fun. This book is brilliantly written and very entertaining, with something most women can empathise with on every page. It helps that she is a well-travelled, experienced person with lots of different stories to tell, but everyone has that kind of thing to a certain extent. The real pleasure that one takes in Doust's writing is the beautiful way she describes clothes. Even when you have already made up your mind that you dislike a particular kind of garment, her gorgeous description draws you in and forces you to reconsider. I also find it easy to relate to the way she can become obsessed with a particular trend or item, and her fascination with how you can change who you are in the world's eyes through what you wear.

However, I must say that the book would not have been nearly as enjoyable if it had not been for the stunning illustrations by Zoe Sadokierski which adorn the both covers and the dust cover, plus many more beautiful drawings inside. All of them just give the stories that something extra, and it helps to have something visual to refer to when considering clothing, which is a highly visual medium after all. I love how the dust jacket has clothes on the front, then when you take it off, dozens of sets of lingerie are revealed on the actual cover!

Overall, this is a fantastic read for anyone interested in fashion or personal style and perfect for keeping as a handbag read. I would recommend it to anyone, as long as you like clothes!

The Nemesis List
The Nemesis List
by R J Frith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.92

3.0 out of 5 stars Well-crafted, 4 Mar 2011
This review is from: The Nemesis List (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
There are so many SF novels about cynical, care-worn space freighter captains that Amazon should create a separate sub-category for them. This isn't the most original of the genre but it's well written with plenty of intrigue and action and plot twists, so really I've nothing to complain about. There are no exciting new ideas or concepts but if you like your SF simple and straightforward, you won't be too disappointed.

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