Review of "Computeractive"
Why do publishers persist in sticking pictures of semi nude women on the front of Internet magazines ?Silly question really I suppose because if we are honest (blokes that is) it does attract us to the mag, if only just to pick it up under the pretence of flicking through it whilst ogling the front page ! Then again though how many people are actually influenced to buy it because of that? I would hope that people aren’t so shallow as to be so easily influenced but you never know.
Anyway, what am I going on about ?Well, sometimes you come across a magazine that doesn’t try and sell itself by any other means than how useful it actually is, this is exactly what Computer Active does. There is no scantily clad model on the cover just a pretty basic front with details of what’s inside.
For example on the issue I’m reading at the moment the main picture depicts a monk meditating with a laptop and the headline “At peace with your PC – How to take the stress out of technology”. Alongside this is a brief rundown of some of the other highlights and contents. This list includes a very useful section called “Workshops” which I’ll talk more about later.So all in all its probably not the first magazine your eyes will be drawn to on the rack, however, once you actually look at the actual contents of the relative magazines you will see that Computer Active is without doubt very good value for money. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s the best but it certainly ranks up there and for £1.20 it certainly doesn’t hurt your pocket as much as some of the others.
The actual content obviously change every month but there is always a similar type of structure to the magazine so what I’ll do is go through this one particular issue and explain the type of subjects covered. I wont put it in a list type format because I find those a bit boring and much prefer to set out reviews like this in a story book fashion, to do this I have simply highlighted what the title of that particular page is when I talk about it.First of all there is a News section, this as the title suggests is a couple of pages of short news flash style articles about current issues. For example in this issue there’s stories about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers act which gives employers the right to read employee mails, a story about a web site under investigation by the police for specialising in selling stolen goods, a new version of cyber pet whose green eyes light up if you tickle it, a new PC from Time etc etc. As you can see the array is quite wide ranging, however, none of the articles are very long so it only really gives you a taster.
It then has a couple of pages on Your Consumer Rights which again as you would expect covers off stories relating to your eeeerrrrrrmmmm, consumer rights. These include such things as a story about Freeserves capacity problems (quite apt really considering my recent review on BT/Freeserves little trick) and a guy who has been ripped off on an auction site.The next main story is all about Computer Fairs and how to go about using them, this story gives you some very useful tips on what to look out for and how to go about getting the best bargain at these events.
This is then followed by the “cover story” Find your Zen which is basically an article on how you can find yourself stressed out by modern technology and the best ways to go about countering this, its not quite a serious article but it does offer one or two sound pieces of advice.There then follows a slightly larger section where there are reviews on several Hot new products, again I don’t think the content of this section needs any further introduction does it?
The actual reviews are surprisingly thorough and give you a very balanced view about what is good, and bad, about the reviewed product. To give you an idea of the type of product covered this issue included:Time Entertainment Power Plus (Home PC)
Ms Sidewinder Game Voice (Gaming device)
McAfee Quick clean (Utility)
Toshiba PDR M60 (Digital camera)
JVC GR-DVX10 (Mini DV Camcorder)
Mesh Matrix (Home PC)
LaCle Electron22blue 111 (Flat screen monitor)
Umax Actionbook 350T (Budget notebook)
Norton System works 2001 (Utility suite)
As you can see the range of product types is also quite varied. In addition to this there is also usually a section highlighting one particular type of product and reviewing some of the available models. For example this issue included two such articles. The first titled Pack of cards looked at the various notebook PC expansion cards available and compared their relative good and bad points. The second article examined the various CD recorders available in a similar manner.Next in line was a look at the various pieces of software available for people to indulge in a bit of Movie Magic, this highlighted several different techniques and associated software for video editing, again, like the rest of the magazine it doesn’t go too deep into technicalities and keeps it simple. In fact it’s an interesting enough read even if your not really planning to use the knowledge you pick up from it.
There is then a section which I have found invaluable in the past, its simply called Workshops and is a very helpful step by step guide to common (and not so common) programmes or processes you can perform with your computer. As I said earlier I have found this a brilliant feature in the past as it clearly shows the steps you have to follow to achieve whatever you are trying to do.The actual structure of each “workshop” is very straightforward and although it is not covered in too much detail it does give you, accompanied by screenshots, enough detail to get you started …. and finished.
The subjects covered do vary in the extreme but they are mostly the sort of thing you would look at and think, “oh, I’ve no need for that”. I can guarantee however that in a couple of month’s time you will be digging out your back issues to find that particular issue. For example the subjects covered in this issue are;Make your own business cards
Download and use Openexpert
Set up a home network (part 2)
Custom fonts in Excell
Analyse your finances with Quicken
Enhance your images
Hints and Tips
Along with these workshops there is also a number of pull out Hints and Tips cards, I don’t personally find these very useful as the info contained on them is quite basic, however, for a beginner they would probably come in very handy.After this we have two sections where the latest CD-ROM’s and Games are reviewed, these perhaps aren’t as extensive as some other magazines but I think if you were really interested in this sort of area you would be buying a more specialised magazine.
There is then the seemingly obligatory Net Chart that most magazines seem to feature, this is basically a listing of sites to visit, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for this section and personally I can usually make up my own mind about where I want to go so I usually just give this a cursory once over as I do the next bit which is Computers for Kids. This is just a couple of pages of site reviews and CD ROM software designed for … yep, children.There are then three regular articles from the following “celebrities”;
The Debbie Barham column
The Uri Geller column
The Michael Hewitt column
A much more useful feature is next in line and that is the Question and Answers section called No Problem, yes, your getting the hang of this now aren’t you? This page is dedicated to answering users problems.
In much the same vein but more of a soapbox than a Q&A page is the Letters page, this is usually quite enjoyable with a lot of input from readersFinally we reach the last article in this issue which shows us a few Gadgets, being a bit of a gadget freak this is one of my favourite bits, the offerings this time include a wind up torch, an MP3 player necklace, a digital Dictaphone and a mini spy cam.
There then comes a plug for the next issue which is imaginatively named Next issue !!
As you can see the descriptions are pretty straightforward, I think that’s probably one of the reasons behind why the magazine won a “Plain English” award, there’s no sensationalist or misleading titles here, just straightforward descriptive headings and equally descriptive articles. To accompany these articles a glossary box appears on most pages to help uninformed readers understand some of the terminology contained within the articles.So taking all the above into account I think this is a very helpful magazine. In fact all in all I believe this is one of the best value “Internet/computer” magazines about and I never miss a copy. However, like everything it is not perfect and I would probably say it tries to cover off a bit of everything computer related and perhaps is aimed at people with a broader interest in computers as a whole and not just a particular niche target audience. Then again I personally feel it’s got the level about right but others may not agree for the reason pointed out above.
Although the above opinion will be based on each readers own preferences a more universal negative aspect to the magazine as a whole would be the amount of adverts in it, although it’s almost 120 pages thick there were nearly 40 pages of adverts included in it. This though is commonplace nowadays in magazines and it is something that I think most people are used to. The amount, and quality of adverts however in Computer Active certainly don’t affect your enjoyment of the magazine anyway so I can forgive them this.Incidentally to expand a bit on the “quality” of adverts comment. What I mean by that is the fact that a lot of the adverts are actually quite useful as they do show a lot of new products and are in some cases almost reviews in themselves, albeit only including the positive aspects of the product concerned.
Again from a personal angle I also think there’s some sections that I’m not that bothered about but these aren’t too long to not bother reading. Besides, even if I don’t read them they are short enough for me not to think I’ve wasted my money by not reading everything in the magazine, if that make sense ?Anyway, to sum up, give it a try sometime (its out fortnightly) and see what you think. After all it’s only £1.20 and if you don’t enjoy it you could always make that back by writing a review on here telling us why.
Product Information : Computeractive
Manufacturer's product description
Listed on Ciao since: 27/06/2000