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Reviews Written by
A. Miles (Al Khor, Qatar)

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Pebble Smartwatch - Black
Pebble Smartwatch - Black
Price: £99.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A non-techie perspective., 26 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Pebble, I believe, was the first proper smartwatch, and was launched to great acclaim via Kickstarter a few years back. Since then I haven't heard much about it, and certainly it doesn't seem to have achieved the sort of market penetration you might have expected. I don't know anyone who owns a smartwatch, despite the fact there's a lot of them on the market. However, the impending release of the Apple version seems to have reawakened interest in the sector, which is presumably why I've been given the opportunity to review this on behalf of the Vine program.

Out of the box, I set it up on Android with a Samsung smartphone. This was a bit of a pain, - the watch is delivered with no instructions, only a sticker on the watchface saying 'press any button to start, whereupon nothing happened, and for some reason the music controller is still claiming it's not connected to bluetooth, and so on. I also thought it a bit odd that you had to set the time and date manually. Why can't it get that information from the paired phone?. Once it is working, there's a rather weedy backlight activated by a motion sensor - nowhere near the crisp contrast suggested in the adverts.

Aesthetics. Sort of 80s futurist, not as chunky as I feared , but with it's clacky plastic buttons and case and the rubber strap, it doesn't feel or look like a hundred quid's worth, or even a twenty quids worth. However, it is small enough to fit under a shirtcuff, so it's not on show at work.

In use: I work as a pastoral head in a secondary school, and spend a lot of my time running around solving discipline problems, so its great to have something to screen emails quickly to determine whether its actually an important issue or that daft cow in SEN whinging about bugger all, so it is useful. And, like all teachers, I spend my evenings drinking heavily and avoiding human contact, so its handy to wear around the house deciding you can not bother answering texts and emails.

On the other hand, it almost seems to have been designed to be frustrating for non-techies: How do you reset it for a different email account? Why isn't it alerting me to Facebook notications? Can you set it to work with more than one phone? Why does it vibrate for no reason every hour or so? I've no idea, and as the company appears to offer no online support beyond a lnk to user forums, as if the company have left all responsibility for the product to its consumers, I'm unlikely to ever find out: The apps own help page features screenshots which seem to belong to some previous version of the app, and are no help at all anyway as they offer advice like 'default to EMAP client, and I don't know what that means...

Beyond that, there are the apps, which on Android anyway seem to either be about amusing ways to customise the clockface, or things like direction finders relayed via text whereas using Google maps on the phone screen would obviously be a better alternative. There are things like calendar reminders, pedometers and fitness apps as well, which I can see as being useful, but overall it seems like a clever bit of tech thats needs to be a bit more user-friendly and have developers think of something for it to do before it is adopted by a wide consumer base.

Fisher-Price Jumbo Playmat
Fisher-Price Jumbo Playmat
Price: £34.92

4.0 out of 5 stars Quality product, but not suitable for hard floors., 26 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A very large (1×1.5m) padded playmat with baby toys attached to it and several spare straps to attach other toys. It has a brightly coloured seaside scene on it, lions surfing and likewise unlikely shenanigans.

As with all Fisher Price products, it's slightly more expensive than you might expect, but is of very high quality and will obviously last a long time. Our little boy is toddling now, but we're using it as a comfy spot for him to play in the garden (he doesn't like grass, for some reason) and on the beach. It just fits into the washing machine and dries reasonably quickly. A star off though, as it is too thin to use with confidence on a tiled or wooden floor, and also an inherent lack of grip in the material means it easily slides about if not used on carpet.

As another reviewer has pointed out, as its such good quality it will easily do for a few more babies, or could be repurposed as a counterpane or bedroom rug when he's a little older.

Rapoo Super Mini Wireless Mouse black
Rapoo Super Mini Wireless Mouse black
Price: £19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Titchy mouse for occasional use., 26 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Quite the smallest mouse I've ever seen, about the size of a matchbox. Comes in a jewel case with a tiny usb reciever thats the size of a piece of chewing gum.

Pros: Very portable, will fit into a laptop case or pocket, which is doubtless the point. Plug and play, connected instantly on both my Mac laptop and Windows XP desktop. Works from across the room. Nice graphics. Very reasonably priced.6 month battery life.

Cons: It's too small, I think, to be used all the time comfortably, so is more something you might use when taking a laptop into a meeting to make a presentation.

Also, I've owned several remote keyboards by the same company, but inevitably manage to lose the tiny usb doohickey quite quickly. The mouse does have a little storage bay for it, and of course you could just leave it permanently in the spare usb port, but if you're as scatterbrained as I am it might be something to consider.

However, that's my fault really and can't be taken as a criticism of a good quality product. Does what it says on the tin.

Hornby R1138 GWR Passenger Freight 00 Gauge Electric Train Set
Hornby R1138 GWR Passenger Freight 00 Gauge Electric Train Set
Price: £64.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to the hobby., 26 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Every child should own a train set, and lately I've started suspecting that every middle-aged man should have one too, so I ordered this so that me and my little lad will have a shared interest. (And, if he turns out to be more interested in video games and hoverboards and whatnot, that's OK too: I shall move the layout to my shed and drink homebrew alone, whilst building titchy windmills).

It's nice to see, after not handling a set since the early 70s, that Hornby still maintains that quality old-school feel, lots of detailed modelling and reassuring metal components. This starter set represents a small pre-war Welsh local service, with both passenger and freight carriages, but comes with a printed landscape mat which shows you how you might extend this into a more ambitious layout.

It's very difficult to find anything to criticise about this set: I guess everyone knows that Hornby are the Dons of the model railway game, and the price is what it is: They've always been quite expensive toys. One issue might be that most larger layouts now are apparently controlled digitally, whereas this is on an old style analogue controller, which I guess means that if you decide to build up to a set with more trains, etc, this set would have to run on a separate track?

So, I'm really glad i own a trainset again, and am looking forward to spending my dotage buying tiny little tins of humbrol enamel in shades like GWR Olive Drab and staring into the windows of model shops wondering whether to invest in the 1/72 00/H0 Village Garage with Petrol Pump.

Thomas & Friends Motion Control Thomas
Thomas & Friends Motion Control Thomas
Price: £31.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Interactive tech. for the teenies., 26 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A really impressive interactive toy for preschoolers.

First impressions: It's much, much bigger than I expected it to be, nearly a foot high, and nicely packaged: The four AA batteries needed are included in the box. It's a sturdy, well built toy, as you'd expect from Fisher Price.

The tester, my little lad Vinnie, is still a little young for interactive toys, but he loves Thomas and was delighted by the movement and Thomas conversing with him in a clear, giggly voice. I think this toy will entertain him for some time to come.

The toy has 3 settings: A simple remote control, a 'Simon Says' game, and a 'Race Thomas' game. It's nice to see a toy where interactive technology has been used at an appropriate level for a child's age; these games would be accessible yet stimulating for a 2-4 year old.

A final word of praise for the toys powerful motor, which means it works equally well on our tiled floors and Vinnie's carpeted play areas.

An excellent toy.

Go MINI Twin Turbo Raceway
Go MINI Twin Turbo Raceway

4.0 out of 5 stars Slotcars for the teenies., 11 Oct 2014
This review is from: Go MINI Twin Turbo Raceway (Toy)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a great toy, a scalextric - style slotcar racetrack redesigned for younger punters, with bright graphics and grinning mini cars, with an additional feature for the young 'uns where you can ensure the cars won't leave the track.

It's an almighty faff to set up, of course, as these things have been since time immemorial, but you could have taken that as read. However, it has a small footprint compared to a standard race set, so could be set up semi-permanently on the floor or table. One definite star off though, for the fact that no 12v adapter is included and you have to run it off 8 AA batteries, which aren't even included with the toy, so one would have to either spend another tenner on an adaptor or be prepared to spend a lot of time buying and changing batteries.

Karin Herzog Eye Cream 15 ml
Karin Herzog Eye Cream 15 ml
Price: £42.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to review fairly - I'll update in a month or so., 11 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As my Grandma used to say, you never really know whether moisturisers work or not, because you don't know what you'd have looked like if you'd never used them. Plus, skincares certainly much more about prevention than cure: You can't really start using products like this in middle age and expect them to miraculously undo decades of lifestyle damage. So this is a difficult product to review for Vine, hence the ambivalent 3 stars. All I can really say at the moment is it's easily absorbed, and might have been slightly more nicely packaged given the price.

I've substituted it for my usual eyecare serum - a high street chemists' own brand that costs 2/3rds of the price of this one - and I'll report back when there's an identifiable difference Excitement mounts to fever pitch, eh?

Update 1 -28/11/14

Definite reduction in puffiness. Lines the same.

Scandinavian Baking: Loving Baking at Home
Scandinavian Baking: Loving Baking at Home
by Trine Hahnemann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Nordic treats for fairly serious bakers., 11 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Firtst of all, a beautifully presented and photographed book, with all recipes illustrated clearly explained. I acquired this to learn how to make all those hearty Nordic breads and interesting crispbreads I'm so fond of, and the book offers a section on these and sections on cakes, pastries, savoury buns and side dishes(such as bacon and beetroot muffins and grain-based salads) , and Christmas cookery.

There's a clear focus here on regional ingredients - rye and spelt flours, unusual whole grains, foraged preserves, autumn fruit and winter spices, together with an unashamed embracing of comfort eating - lots of cream and choux pastry. It's all pretty mouthwatering, and as a collection of recipes is wholly recommended: There's a lot of interesting ideas here.

However, do bear in mind before investing that it's aimed at fairly committed cooks. It assumes quite a level of prior knowledge and technical ability and a lot of the ingredients are unlikely to show up in the baking aisle at Tesco, though health food stores often stock unusual flours and dried fruits.

Starred Up [DVD]
Starred Up [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jack O'Connell
Price: £7.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'Porridge' on steroids., 22 Sep 2014
This review is from: Starred Up [DVD] (DVD)
Just because something's 'gritty' it doesn't necessarily mean it's realistic, and 'Starred Up' is a case in point. A fairly simplistic, if harrowing, tale of prison life, it's saved by the lead actor's remarkably intense performance: However, the writer seems to have gotten his idea of what prisons are like from watching 'Porridge' and 70s B-movies. So we see that the prison has it's Grouty-like kingpin (who we can tell is an intellectual type of villain because he has a chess set in his cell), the weak and biddable Mr. Barraclough stylee- warden, and going back to those 70s prison films, the naive social worker and the corrupt prison governer (This last particularly confusing, as the guv' seems to have taken on the role of drugs mule in his own prison, at great risk to, but of no evident benefit to himself. But at least it establishes that he's a bad'un)

However, as I've said, Jack O'Connell is excellent in the lead role, and this makes it worth a watch.

H2D iR Ionic and Infrared Professional Hair Dryer
H2D iR Ionic and Infrared Professional Hair Dryer
Price: £71.86

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pro quality dryer., 15 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I haven't owned a hairdryer since my goth days in the early 80s, but have long hair again now as the most visible evidence of an ongoing midlife crisis, so was on the market for anything to make my thinning barnet look a bit more frou-frou.

After years of exposure to the beauty industry's fondness for misleading pseudoscientific gibberish, one is naturally rather suspicious of terms like Infrared and Ionic. However, I've done some research and those are real things that exist, and they do help to dry your hair quickly and make it shinier, so that's that out of the way.

Simply put then, this is a very high quality hairdryer designed for professional use, high powered and with various speed and heat levels, plus something called a 'cold shot' - a blast of cold air to set the final look. It comes with a diffuser, concentrator nozzle and brush, and it's worth mentioning the sleek packaging, which would make makes this very suitable as a gift. It dries my hair in about 60-90 seconds.

As with other reviewers, I thought this was quite pricey, but a bit more research shows that a ton plus is about the market rate for this sort of caper, so it could be seen as a bit of a bargain at the price Amazon's currently charging

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