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Mr. Clg Bell "Christopher Bell" (Tiverton, Devon)
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War With Russia
War With Russia
by General Sir Richard Shirreff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A (wholly justified) rant at the British political establishment disguised as a work of fiction ... I hope., 31 May 2016
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This review is from: War With Russia (Hardcover)
War with Russia in the Baltic states is used as a backdrop for a series of complaints about how far UK government defence "reviews" have eroded Britain's fighting capability. But don't worry, Tommy Atkins wins in the end despite it all ...with a bit of incidental help from GCHQ and Uncle Sam.

OK, I'm being quite unkind here, but I did get a bit irritated by this book and found myself finishing it mostly to find out how the author was going to manage to win the war against Russia in Kaliningrad using a multinational force armed only with pea-shooters. But I was disappointed even in that because he jumps straight from initial assault to postwar outcome with barely any description of how the battle unfolded. In fact it feels very much as if a chapter or two have gone missing. I can't help comparing this book unfavourablywith Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising which is a much tauter piece of writing.

All of which is sad because I agree with the author that the cuts to Britain's military have been insanely deep, a message which needs to be shouted from the rooftops in planet Westminster, and this book is a good way doing that. It is actually not bad for a first novel, and from the way it ends I suspect that there are plans for the key characters to reappear in a sequel.

So please keep writing Sir Richard, your message matters and - importantly - it comes over loud and clear. I think Kipling would both approve and understand.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 2, 2016 9:19 AM BST


Nikon Dk-19 Rubber Eyecup
Nikon Dk-19 Rubber Eyecup
Offered by Carmarthen Cameras
Price: £15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 31 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Nikon Dk-19 Rubber Eyecup (Camera)
Exactly as advertised, delivered promptly.


SodaStream Source Plastic Sparkling Water Maker - Black
SodaStream Source Plastic Sparkling Water Maker - Black
Price: £71.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brings a smile to your face as well as a sparkle into your water, 26 Oct. 2015
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This machine is well made, easy to use and brings a sparkle to my water. Once you've got the hang of using it the whole process takes about 15 seconds, and makes some really quite satisfying noises (think Darth Vader having a gargle). It also brings back fond childhood memories of its predecessors in the 1980s, although this one is far better designed.

It offers three levels of carbonation (ie bubbles) with a really simple and easy-to-understand set of led lights to measure this, and the life of the gas cylinder is obviously dependent upon how heavily you like your water carbonated. I find that the lowest level is fine, and so far (2 months) I am still running on the original cylinder that came in the box.

I will eventually have to sign up for Sodastream's replacement service, but since I haven't used it yet I can't comment on that. I'll update this review when I eventually do.


CVLIFE 1800Lm Zoomable CREE T6 LED Lamp Light Flashlight Torch Free 18650 & 2 Chargers
CVLIFE 1800Lm Zoomable CREE T6 LED Lamp Light Flashlight Torch Free 18650 & 2 Chargers
Offered by cvlife-uk
Price: £30.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very bright and easy to use, but slightly flimsy construction, 26 Oct. 2015
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This torch is indeed very bright. The ability to alter the focus variably from a small square to a wide circle makes it extremely useful outside since you can use it both as a means of illuminating a task you are performing, or a way of hunting for a distant (and not very obedient) dog. It is small enough to slip into a pocket, reasonably lightweight, and despite daily use I find I only need to recharge it every three weeks or so.

I bought it to replace the 1000 lumens product from the same manufacturer (Cvlife 1000 Lumens CREE XM-L T6 LED Zoom Lamp Light Zoomable Flashlight Torch With Free 2200mAh 18650 battery and charger) which has packed up after 2 years. While this one is a bit brighter it is not as robustly made, with plastic rather than aluminium construction in part, and in particular the focusing mechanism is a plastic ring with a coarse thread that extends beyond the head of the torch, and I can foresee that this will break the first time it is dropped. If I had known that before buying it I would have gone for another of the more physically robust ones mentioned above.

So five stars for ease of use and brightness, but only four stars for the flimsier construction.

Also I suspect that you only get this sort of brightness from a small LED by over-running it. As I say above my previous torch from this manufacturer lasted about 18 months before suddenly going dim. It still works, but its brightness is a mere fraction of its former self (still perfectly useable, but think ordinary torch where once you had a lighthouse), and I suspect this one will go the same way. But you pays your money and you takes your choice.


Kenko 1.4X PRO 300 Teleconverter DGX Nikon AF Digital SLRs
Kenko 1.4X PRO 300 Teleconverter DGX Nikon AF Digital SLRs
Offered by WAA Electronics
Price: £144.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genuinely usable with affordable zoom lenses, with good image quality, 18 Oct. 2015
I have used this both my trusty D700 (FX format) and my older D200 (DX format), principally with the 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens, and this combination is genuinely usable on both cameras. The electronic coupling between lens and camera works correctly, with the camera "seeing" the modified focal length and aperture, and the VR function of the lens works correctly too. That is a "G"(elded) lens with no aperture ring so information is transmitted digitally, but this converter also has the necessary mechanical coupling to transmit manual aperture settings from older lenses to cameras using the old N-AI fitting, in other words it works with my pre-digital lenses too.

A 1.4x converter loses 1 stop of light, so auto-focus works pretty reliably on that lens up to about 250mm focal length (on the lens), but between 250 and 300mm you need good light and a reasonably contrasty subject for it to work properly. This seems especially true for distances near infinity where the camera can sometimes just give up making manual focusing necessary, but for closer subjects it seems pretty reliable. It is slower than with the lens on its own, and prone to hunt a bit in lower light, but for the most part perfectly usable.

Image quality is good: definitely better than using the lens without a converter and magnifying digitally by 1.4x, which is after all the point of using a converter. No, it's probably not quite as good as a lens with the "true" focal length, but you pays your money and you takes your choice!

Build quality is a bit "plasticy", especially when compared with my old (pre-digital) TC200 Nikkor converter, but good enough unless you plan to bash in tent pegs or the like with the camera. Others have complained about a slightly sloppy fit, but on my cameras and lenses it seems tight enough. It's quite slim, and when fitted you don't really notice that it is there.

A slight digression about 1.4x versus 2.0x converters, but hopefully helpful to some readers.

I also have the more powerful 2.0x version of this converter Kenko Teleplus DG Pro-300 2X Nikon Teleconverter, which is optically good but which necessarily loses 2 stops of light. This means that the sort of zoom lenses I can afford, which are typically f5.6 or slower at the long end of their range, quite quickly drop below the f8 or so aperture threshold at which auto-focus ceases to work. For example the 2x converter fails to auto-focus on the 28 - 300 lens mentioned above much beyond 180mm focal length, which means that it actually has *less* useful range than the 1.4x converter plus that lens for situations where I need auto-focus, as well as being 1 stop slower.

So if you are dithering about whether to buy the 1.4x or the 2.0x times version and, like me, you can't afford the faster aperture long lenses, my advice is this: if magnification is important and you are happy to use manual focus (and possibly a tripod) then go for the 2x version, but if you will be working hand-held and your subject is fast-moving then stick with the 1.4x since it is much easier to use.

A final point: just for fun I stuck the 1.4x and 2.0x converters in series (so a theoretical 2.8x magnification). Total disaster with the modern "G" lens since it seemed to lose the ability to transmit information electronically between camera and lens, which remained stuck at f22, so the result was unusable. However with an older mechanical lens it worked just fine, although the viewfinder becomes pretty dark which makes focusing a bit of a challenge. So if you want 3x magnification on a modern lens you'll have to buy a 3x converter. (Kenko do one, but it's not on Amazon).


Kenko Teleplus DG Pro-300 2X Nikon Teleconverter
Kenko Teleplus DG Pro-300 2X Nikon Teleconverter

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good poor man's solution when manual focus is acceptable, 9 Oct. 2015
This does what it says on the tin, which is to magnify 2x, lose 2 stops of light, and not auto-focus at longer focal lengths if the lens is darker than about f4.

On my D700 I've found this aperture limit for auto-focus to be slightly pessimistic in good light: using my 28 - 300mm f3.5/5.6 Nikkor auto focus is OK up to about 120mm focal length, iffy from there to about 150mm, and forget it beyond that. On my old 70 - 300mm f4/5.6 Nikkor, which has the older "camera drive" (slow!) auto-focus, it will auto-focus to about 180mm.

So what this means is that if you need auto-focus there is no point in using it with these "affordable" zoom lenses since you will have to revert to manual focus at about 1/2 way through their range, which rather defeats the object of the exercise since all you will have achieved is some loss of quality and a dimmer viewfinder. I suppose that if you have a vibration reduction lens the VR will still work with manual focus, so maybe that is a small advantage, but in practice you still need a pretty fast shutter speed if you are hand-holding at 600mm focal length.

However it is small enough to fit in a pocket and weighs almost nothing, so taking it along just in case you want to catch a distant (and slow moving) object makes sense. Obviously for reasonably static subjects, and especially when you are using a tripod, it is absolutely fine.

Quality is better than the original lens magnified 2x, and while not massively so it is more than acceptable given the price.

So essentially good for reasonably static subjects where manual focus is acceptable and your viewfinder is bright enough to permit this ... and you don't want to spend the money on (or carry around the weight of) the equivalent long lens.

As an aside I also have an old purely manual Nikkor TC200 2x teleconverter and an equally old 500mm reflex nikkor. So just for fun I connected the two teleconverters in series with that lens, giving me 2000mm focal length, although I'm not sure what it will be good for since the effective aperture must be about f32. However it proves that the concept works, and magnification is awesome! Perhaps I'll try some lunar photography next time there is a moon...


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens
Price: £649.00

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant all-rounder that replaces a bag full of lesser lenses, 31 Aug. 2015
This is a brilliant "do it all" lens. I splashed out on it when going on a trip to Romania, and mounted on my trusty old D700 it coped with everything: indoors in dim light, outdoors at long range, close-ups, shots from a moving bus, landscapes, the lot ... and the tripod was 1500 miles away back at home.

I found that for "holiday mode" photography (where I tend to shoot first and think afterwards, if at all!) it was best to work in aperture priority mode. I used f8 or f11, an auto-iso setting in the range 200 - 3200, a minimum shutter speed of 1/125th second, and left the vibration reduction on the lens set to normal. This pretty much guaranteed a sharp image with a reasonable depth of field even at the full 300mm zoom setting, and the use of 1/125th was more to deal with moderate subject motion than to control camera shake.

In "concentrate on what I am doing" mode it has produced some excellent images: sharp, contrasty and as good as or better than those from any of my existing fixed or zoom lens, most of which are now looking rather redundant. (Note: my D700 has "only" 12MP resolution, which I find plenty. I can't comment on how well this lens performs on something like a D800 with 35MP.)

Pleasant surprises:

(1) Just how close this lens will focus, even at 300mm focal length. You don't need a macro lens for flowers, insects and the like, and being a bit further from your subject means you are less likely to disturb it, you get a more natural perspective and you are less likely to cast unwanted shadows.

(2) Just how useable this lens is in low light conditions, in other words VR works. OK, if your subject is moving it may become blurred if you use a low shutter speed, but I was astonished at how well it did at static interiors. In a few places where my naked eye couldn't work out what that dim image was in a dark corner a photograph at 300mm (hand-held of course) followed by a magnified inspection on the camera's LCD display solved the mystery.

(3) Autofocus on my D700 was brilliant. Fast, easily controllable and absolutely spot on (when I pointed it at the right thing of course...). When tracking a moving object, including one coming towards the camera at speed it got it absolutely right. (I'm talking about getting detail of a horse-shoe on a trotting horse when I was in a bus travelling at 30mph in the opposite direction, that's impressive.)

Unpleasant surprises:

(1) It may be that the firmware on my D700 is out of date, or that having a wide angle / long zoom allows me to compose images that confuse the camera's light meter, but either way neither auto white balance nor matrix metering mode seemed to work well for me with this lens. I found that I had to set the white balance manually for anything other than a bog-standard "landscape at normal focal length" image, and likewise adjust the exposure by anything up to +/-1.5 stops to get the image I'd expect. As I say, it may just be the camera, but nevertheless my experience is that this lens is so versatile that it demands a bit more than a simple "point and shoot" approach.

(2) Weight. I'm not too sure about the layout of nerves and blood vessels where neck meets shoulder, but I did discover that the weight of a D700 (heavy) plus this lens (no skinny chicken) when slung diagonally over one shoulder was enough to cause numbness in that arm after a couple of hours. If you are going to be lugging this lens plus a DSLR any distance try a practice run before setting off for real, and organise a sensible carrying arrangement with some padding if necessary.

Other thoughts:

I suspect that reviewers who accuse this lens of lacking contrast in poor light are probably leaving their cameras in program exposure mode, which tends to revert to wide open aperture in order to maintain a decent shutter speed, and no lens is at its best at maximum aperture. In my view this is an error on a modern DSLR with good high ISO performance, and unnecessary anyway when you have a reasonably static subject and a VR lens to control camera shake. I think you are better off confining the camera to work in a better aperture and shutter speed regime, and letting it adjust the ISO to handle exposure - certainly on my D700 you need quite an enlargement to see much difference between ISO 200 and ISO 3200. Of course others may disagree...

Also, as I have remarked under "unpleasant surprises" above, my camera tended to get both exposure and white balance wrong at times, and this could produce dull-looking images as well.

In conclusion I am absolutely delighted with this lens as it allows me to get photos in such a wide range of situations. Moreover these are never worse than acceptable even when I am being sloppy in difficult conditions, and if I take sufficient care they can be excellent - in other words the limitation is not the lens but me. I think it would probably be easier to use on a more modern (and lighter!) camera where metering and white balance might "understand" it a bit better, but that is a minor quibble. It is also clear that most of my existing lenses are now redundant.


Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Pavane (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Keith Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and thought-provoking book about an alternative 1960s England ruled from Rome., 14 July 2015
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Keith Roberts' most famous book, and justly so.

The Spanish Armada succeeded and in the mid 1960s England is still a theocracy ruled from Rome, where the church has banned many modern inventions by decree. So most transport is still based on steam engines (although this isn't what I would call a "Steampunk" book); electricity is in its infancy; the land is still ruled by an aristocracy in castles served by a peasantry who work on the land; medicine is primitive; weapons are the sword, the musket and the cannon; long distance communication is carried out by semaphore towers; and the Inquisition is alive and functioning. Yet change is afoot and this book, a series of conected short stories, tells of that change in a variety of ways the culminate in a revolution.

All the above would make an interesting tale in their own right, but this book is more than that: it has a degree of human interest and a sheer variety of characters that make it compelling reading. In addition Roberts has a way of getting under the skin of his characters in a totally believable way that, to me at least, is somewhat reminiscient of the way that Ian Fleming made James Bond come alive. Although there is definitely no trace of 007 in this book Roberts has something of the same hard-edged quality of Fleming, telling stories that are both original and also thought-provoking. If we consider this as Science Fiction, which is probably more its genre than anything else I can think of, it's easily as good as John Wyndham, Arthur C Clarke or Robert Heinlein, and that is high praise!


Kiteworld
Kiteworld
by Keith Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A well written and thought-provoking series of stories set in a post-apocalyptic world., 14 July 2015
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This review is from: Kiteworld (Paperback)
An interesting and thought-provoking book from the author of the more famous Pavane.

Roberts postulates a post-apocalyptic world (a bit reminiscient of "The Chrysalids" by John Wyndham) in which the enemy takes the form of ethereal beings which can be deterred by flying kites. Larger kites are manned by an armed force which is both religious and military in nature, and this book is a series of connected short stories following this common theme. It is a much darker and more adult book than Pavane, and in my view (as a parent) is really only suitable for 15 years old and upwards, however it does have a happy ending.

Roberts is a compelling story teller, good enough that now that I have been introduced to his books I am slowly working my way through those that I can find in print.


Flymo Lithium-ion Robotic Lawnmower 1200R
Flymo Lithium-ion Robotic Lawnmower 1200R

173 of 177 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doing a really good job in the tough situation of a bumpy and congested orchard., 14 July 2015
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We have an orchard containing semi-standard trees, so while they are tall enough for weeds to grow underneath - and hence to require mowing - they are also so low that going under the trees on either a lawn tractor or with a walk-behind mower means that you get scratched to pieces, and lots of twigs and spiders (and worse) in your hair. It's also on about a 10 degree slope in places, is very much ex-field rather than lawn, and has suffered visits in the past from my dairy farmer neighbour's milking herd, so it is not exactly the velvet smooth lawn so beloved of lifestyle magazines. I've added some photos of the mower itself, the docking station and also a general view of terrain and trees to show what it faces.

In summary it is quite a difficult proposition: rough grass, bumpy surface, reasonable slope and plenty of obstacles in the form of trees, and its area is 400 square metres which is at the top end of this machine's capability. Yet this little chap (and he's definitely male) copes really well.

Installation: is straightforward. Read the instructions, then read them again to make sure you've understood all the concepts. In particular obey the minimum spacings recommended for the various cables, and if you need to route cable through a narrow gap I suggest that you peg it down first and try it out, as you may end up adjusting its location once you see how it is used. Note that it tracks a variable distance to the *side* of, not on, the homing wire (to the left as viewed going "home") to avoid leaving marks, so you need to leave more space on that side than you might expect. As others have remarked once you've got the cable routes worked out you need to bury them, especially if your surface is rough. This is a time-consuming and messy job, but is simple enough.

Coverage: as I have remarked above I have plenty of obstacles in the form of trees, and this means that there is a fair bit of "bump into tree, stop, head off in a different direction" going on - it's a sort of slow-motion pinball game effect. This works, and the random choice of a new direction works reasonably well, however there is no getting round the fact that an area of garden densely populated with obstacles will get more mowing attention than a more open area, and you should consider this when siting both the docking station and the intersection where the homing wire meets the loop of wire that goes around the boundary. The mower can be programmed to start mowing at the far end of the homing wire (at its intersection with the boundary wire) at various frequencies ranging from rarely through to always, and if you have both open and congested areas it will probably pay you to locate either the docking station or the intersection point in the open area, since this will give you some degree of control over the time it spends in these different areas.

Terrain: it copes surprisingly well with rough ground, but you will soon learn from observation if you have any localised holes that flummox it. Either they cause it to "nosedive" in, think it has hit an obstacle, stop and head off in a different direction; or in the worst case it simply gets stuck. The solution is simple enough, just fill in the hole; however if your lawn is at all rough be prepared to find it stuck a few times in the first weeks of operation until you have identified and filled in these hollows. Molehills present less of a problem since it just hits them, stops and moves away, and molehills can be a convenient source of earth for filling in the aforementioned hollows!

Rain: doesn't seem to affect it much, although it does increase slightly the chances of it getting stuck in "difficult" areas where rough ground is combined with a confined space. This is fair enough, and you soon learn where these are and sort them out. So far as I can tell rain does not affect the quality of the cut, although it does increase slightly the chances of leaving wheelmarks in difficult regions where it has experienced some wheel-spin or has had skidded when turning.

Safety: I would say that it would be near impossible for a dog, child, chicken or anything else to get injured. It moves at a slow walking pace, detects any sort of contact via a very soft bump at which it stops immediately, and it also knows if it has been lifted up or toppled over and again stops itself immediately. Sorry to any personal injury ambulance-chasing lawyers reading this, you'll have to look elsewhere for business.

Cut quality: I've only used it on the highest setting (it gives a range of 1cm to 5cm) since my ground is rough. Where is has made sufficient passes the grass looks as if it has been cut by a conventional rotary mower, ie short but no stripes. It does miss the odd tuft in the more open areas, but as I have remarked above I think this is a feature of the variable "obstacle density" in our orchard, which has clumps of trees in some areas and open expanses in others. The good news from my point of view is that it does lots of bumping into trees which, in turn, means it does lots of mowing *under* trees, which is exactly the bit I find difficult. I'm happy to whizz over the more open areas occasionally with the lawn tractor, and I think that a more conventional lawn would not suffer from this problem anyway.

Edges: our orchard is fenced, and I have buried the the perimeter wire about 8 inches (20cm in heathen units) in from the fence. Since the cutter is a rotating disk that is about half the width of the machine this means that you will inevitably end up with an uncut fringe of grass if your lawn is bordered by obstacles of any height and you need to be prepared to cut these manually. You'll get the same fringe effect around any interior obstacles - but then you'd get pretty much the same effect with an ordinary mower, so it's not really very different in that respect.

Timing: it has a built-in clock and can be programmed to mow within a set period. The default setting is 7am to 11pm, but despite our orchard being 400 square metres, the supposed maximum for this machine, I have cut its hours down to 9am to 8pm since it clearly did not need all that mowing time - and this is in warm wet Devon where grass grows like crazy. Perhaps this is because I have it on the highest height setting (5cm), but nevertheless I think it could easily cope with at least a 30% larger area in our conditions, and probably more in a dryer area with less grass growth.

Noise: as near silent as makes no difference. There is a whirr from the drive motors and another from the motor spinning the cutting disk, but the loudest noise is from the blades hitting the grass and you'd need good hearing to pick that up above ambient noise from more than 20 yards away. The beeps it makes when it stops after it thinks it might have hit someone are loud enough to be audible without being intrusive. While charging in its docking station it is absolutely silent.

Security: it has a PIN number that has to be typed in to re-activate it any time is it stopped manually, picked up or generally handled. This is the lowest level of security and you can go to higher levels which will sound alarms and things if it is picked up. We live 1/2 mile from the public road so I'm not too worried about thieves and use the lowest setting, but if you are going to use it in a very public area that doesn't have someone nearby who would investigate noises promptly you will need to give this some thought. I suspect a thief would feel a bit embarrassed walking around with a bright orange terrapin shaped object under his arm that was shrieking its head off, but that might not stop him smashing it out of annoyance. Realistically I think this sort of technology is only suited to reasonably enclosed and secure areas which, to be fair, is probably a description of most large lawns.

Aesthetics: Flymo colour their products orange, bright orange. Yuk! Hopefully even the marketing folk will eventually twig that not everyone wants a bright orange thing burbling around their lawn, and produce it in different colours. In the meantime a judicious application of black silage tape works wonders...

Maintenance: I've found that the blades have got pretty blunt after about 6 weeks so that it barely cuts which - in theory - means removing and replacing both blades and screws, which is a two minute job requiring only a screwdriver. It uses three blades, and Flymo provide 9 spares + screws in the box with instructions to change the screws as well as the blades in case wear of the former leads to blades flying off. When I took mine apart a visual inspection showed that the screws were absolutely fine and the blades were just blunt, so after a bit of honing on a whetstone the original blades and screws have gone back on, and it is cutting beautifully again. Make up your own mind about whether to replace or sharpen, but I think inspection and common sense is the way to go. Otherwise I muck out compacted grass and mud from its underside about once a fortnight, or after very wet weather, and that's it - no other maintenance has been required during the cutting season.

Problems: so far no significant ones. The setup needs tuning, and in particular I've had to learn where and why it gets stuck and adjust things accordingly. Given the variable congested / open nature of our orchard it is a bit frustrating not to have more control over where and how it cuts but you get what you pay for. I think I may in fact end up adding artificial obstacles to the more open areas as a way of forcing it to spend more time there, but then I'd still have to hand mow around them, so maybe it's not worth it. Bigger wheels to give a better capability on rough ground would be useful for us, and in fact the bigger Husqvarna models have this ... at a price.

Quality and performance: after three months I am increasingly impressed. The grass obviously likes the "little and often" treatment since it looks better now than it has ever done in the past. My wife thinks it looks better than when I cut it which - given how much I hated doing it - is a definite case of mixed emotions! Despite bumping into trees 100s of times a day the machine shows no obvious signs of wear and is still working perfectly.

In summary I'm impressed, in fact more impressed than I expected to be. It's not perfect, and it's a hideous colour, but I really hated mowing that orchard and now I don't have to. In other words it does what it says on the tin, and does it better than I expected. If you are dithering because you are not sure whether it will do the job my experience is that it will, and I would recommend it.

[Update March 2016] I bought this in summer 2015 and after a winter's hibernation it is back working again. When first reinstalled it simply would not work properly, detecting "false" collisions every few seconds and stopping repeatedly. Finally it showed a "rear sensor faulty, get it serviced message".

Well, it has a 2 year guarantee so I could have sent it back, but instead I decided to attempt a bit of amateur fault-finding and solved the problem really easily. The instructions state that you should store it upright, and in fact I left if (one could say this is "upright") on its nose all winter, which led to the four flexible rubber supports which connect the shell to the body become permanently bent forwards. This meant that the magnet attached to the shell was not central in the collision sensor slot on the body, hence the detection of false collisions. It was easily fixed by rotating two of the rubber mounts by 180 degrees, cancelling out the overall bending, and now it is absolutely fine and back working happily. So, with hindsight, my fault - but if you get one don't store it "upright", but rather "flat" on its wheels!

Also I was so impressed with it that I have bought a second one, which is now busily cutting a different area of lawn. That's a pretty serious endorsement of how good these machines are.

One word of warning: these little machines will not cope with the long (eg 4+ inches) and dense wet grass that grows over a typical winter, so when you first install them in the spring you need to cut the grass manually. Cutting once a year is a small price to pay for relief from weekly slavery, but I'm afraid that you can't throw away the conventional mower altogether.

[Update June 2016] Herbie I (orchard dweller) is fine; Herbie II, installed at the beginning of April, is doing well in his separate area of grass.

Herbie II's domain is a much larger area, probably around 650 square metres (the 150m metre drum of cable that came in the box wasn't enough to go round the perimeter, and I had to buy another reel) yet he is keeping it down without any trouble. This is a more garden-like area with flower-beds as well as shrubs, and it is roughly "U" shaped so I have his docking station in one leg of the U and the junction with the boundary wire going round the bend into the other leg. This is the solution given in the destruction manual, and configured to start remotely at the far end 50% of the time it seems to work well with even coverage in both legs of the U.

There are various "tight" areas and near cul-de-sacs in this patch of garden, and I have had to leave the tightest of these outside his working area to avoid his getting trapped in them. The manual suggests that 2 metres is the minimum width and, based on observation of his behaviour, this feels about right. We have one salient that is about 3m x 3m and when he goes in there he can end up doing a lot of toing and froing before he finally escapes again. Not only does this waste time and battery power, it also results in the ground becoming a bit trampled by the continuous turning.

I couldn't be bothered to lay boundary wire around all the flower-beds, and anyway if you use a spade to tidy up the edges you could end up exposing or cutting the boundary wire if you forget exactly where it is. So instead we have been experimenting with different edging solutions, and at the moment the favourite is pieces of wood, about 8" long x 1.5" wide, wired together in a roll. (Available pretty cheaply from the nation's most ubiquitous supermarket.) Held in position in the "precipice" around the edge of the bed by short bamboo canes these extend about 2" or 3" above grass level forming a low-level barrier which doesn't look too bad. The arrangement has a little bit of give so Herbie hits gently, pushes it back slightly in the process before stopping, and so cuts pretty much up to the edge of the bed without leaving a fringe of longer grass. And where this doesn't quite work you can strim up against the wood without damaging anything. It's not a perfect solution, and I have been mulling over alternatives, but so far haven't come up with anything better that is cost-effective.

He is currently working at the factory preset of 7am to 10pm, 7 days a week, and that was necessary in May when we had a flush of grass. However now that growth is slowing down I will cut his hours back a bit since he is coping easily with this area. Like our orchard it is ex-field, hence rye-grass which doesn't look good if cut too short, so I have his height set to about 4.5 cm.

So, once again, I'm very pleased and the grass looks miles better than when I did it myself. I think this improvement in appearance is a feature of rye-grass and uneven ground: my tractor has a 42" cut so, inevitably, grass on raised areas gets cut too short exposing the lighter-coloured base of the blades of grass. Herbie rides over the bumps and only cuts a swathe about 8" wide, so he follows the contours of the ground more closely and gives a more even cut as a consequence.
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 16, 2016 1:16 PM BST


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