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since 08/10/2000

610

Sonos PLAY:1 01/08/2017

When is Wireless Not Cordless? When it's Sonos

Sonos PLAY:1 BLUETOOTH’S LOSS IS WIFI’S GAIN After my relatively recent purchase of a Brennan B2, which for the uninitiated can be viewed as somewhere to store all of your CDs on hard-drive without the loss of quality normally associated with compressed files such as mp3, WMA or AAC, I made some attempts to equip it with remote speakers. It connected fine with my Yamaha A/V amplifier via an optical link but I wanted more. I wanted a wireless link to a remote speaker or speakers. It came with a Bluetooth ‘dongle’ (why do I smile every time I write that word?) so buying a Bluetooth remote speaker seemed the logical path to take. However, the Brennan B2 was still at this point under development and I had trouble pairing a Bluetooth speaker that I’d bought to go with it. To give Brennan their due, they worked hard to meet everyone’s needs, but my particular speaker was proving especially resistant to working for more than two minutes without crashing the Brennan box. In the end, I kind of gave up on the idea of having a wireless speaker in, let’s say the dining room. It didn’t help that being a three-storey house, the dining room was about the limit of where Bluetooth would reach anyway. Since it was designed as a short-range wireless medium, like from phone to car dashboard, or iPod to cordless earphones, it’s hardly surprising that you can just about wander one room away in my house where even the internal walls are solid. Thanks to my BT Hub 6, supposedly one of the most powerful ...

Fujifilm X30 01/08/2017

Fuji X30 - Comes From A Good Family

Fujifilm X30 It’s unusual to be writing about something that, technically speaking, is obsolete or at least has ceased production. It’s also nice to be writing about something that is actually in Ciao’s portfolio, and even better, hasn’t yet been written about! I was beginning to wonder if they were blocking all my product suggestions. At the time of writing, the Fujifilm X30 had only just been declared an ‘old model’, and in fact there were many retailers still trying to shift the X30 at an outrageous £575 which if I recall correctly is more than the launch price! Not wishing to be totally taken for a ride, I opted for a one-year-old one from an e-bay private seller for a much more palatable £275. WHY BOTHER AT ALL IF IT’S OBSOLETE? Well, for one thing, there does not appear to be a Fujifilm X40 anywhere on the horizon, so, if like me, you absolutely love the retro-look, feel and performance of Fuji’s offerings, (and you’ve just about had your money’s-worth from the original X10), the X30 seems a logical and worthwhile ‘upgrade’. Yes, there was an X20 in the interim years, but apart from what purported to be an ‘improved sensor’ compared to the X10, plus an electronic information overlay in the optical viewfinder, there seemed little to tempt an X10 owner away, and to be honest, if I’d started out with an X20, I wouldn’t now be buying and writing about an X30 as none of the upgrades between sequential models have been complete sea-changes. However, four years down the line from ...

G-Tech Airram 22V 01/08/2017

GTech AirRam - Mark 2 Version Better Still?

G-Tech Airram 22V In 2012, The Daily Mail asked “Is this the best vacuum cleaner ever?” implying that they meant “yes it is”, referring to the Gtech AirRam. Many people might regard having the Daily Mail on your side as something of a poison chalice, (I would!) but they were after all talking about a home appliance, not telling you which way to vote. Five years down the line, with a mark II version of the AirRam upright cleaner now on the market, let’s see if that would still hold true. G-tech is a British company selling British-designed goods, made in China no doubt, ranging from electric bikes to cordless lawn-mowers, taking in vacuum cleaners as they go. I recently bought a combined kit of the AirRam 2 and the Multi, a useful little hand-held job ideal for the stair carpets in our 3-storey house and external duties like cleaning the car’s carpets. OH, THE FREEDOM! When you’ve been used to mains-powered devices, and having to carry out ‘cable-husbandry’ as you negotiate your house’s indoor floors, anything that emancipates you from this tyranny comes as a complete revelation, so the AirRam has an immediate ability to put a smile on your face. The only thing that would upset that reverie would be if it’s no good as a vacuum cleaner. Fortunately, nothing is further from the truth. Thanks to some clever bits of design, it not only works just as well as any upright I’ve ever used, but it’s light, weighing less than 8 pounds. This of course makes it ideal for our type of house with two ...

Natwest MyRewards Card 30/07/2017

Natwest MyRewards - Only They're Not All Mine! (Rev'd July 2017)

Natwest MyRewards Card I have now revised this review in the light of certain alterations to the Ts&Cs which make it slightly less attractive, nonetheless still 'costing-in'. And now back to the plot......... I started with the intention of writing solely about an incentive credit card issued by my own bank, Natwest. However, the deeper I delved into its facilities, the more I became convinced that it was only worth the trouble if viewed alongside and combined with a similar incentive scheme for the same bank’s current accounts. With a default cash-back of mostly 0.5% (there are selective incentives that better this), it's not the biggest incentive available by any means, but it's an easy card for me to get hold of as my own bank issued me with it. I GET KNOCKED DOWN.... I tried to apply for a better-paying card elsewhere (the Amazon Master card) but was turned down, the rejection letter hiding behind that alarming sentence "for further details, refer to Experian". I did, using my right to a £1.50 one-off credit record and could find nothing untoward - no fraudulent loans taken out in my name, no missed credit card payments, nada. I can only conclude that as I ALWAYS pay all of my credit card off on time, they a) had nothing to go on, vis-à-vis my ability to handle debt, or b) realised that they weren't going to make a penny out of me! I think the smart money's on the latter! I GET UP AGAIN Thankful that at least my own bank wouldn't refuse me, I stuck with them, as attempting too ...

HP Pavilion 550 103NA 04/03/2017

Reasonable Home System - Hobbyists Stay Away!

HP Pavilion 550 103NA LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO STUFF A MUSHROOM An unusual start to an opinion about a PC I’ll grant you, but it tends to indicate how I now feel about any kind of DIY work. I used to service my own car and more relevantly build my own PCs. This latter fit of false economy (it being way cheaper to just buy one) has gone to the wall in stages. My last PC, equipped with the then new Windows 7 is about 8 years old and was an anonymous new-build bought off e-Bay. Whilst new, it had been built from scratch like I would have done myself leaving plenty of upgradability. Hence it was the only PC amongst my friends to sport not only the latest SATA drives (now the norm) but also a floppy disk drive (remember those?) and two optical drives, one better suited to DVD burning than the other. Well, they were cluttering up my spare parts bin and happened to be a tasteful matching black! It still works after a fashion but did not take the transition to Windows 10 to its heart – it now takes anything up to a couple of minutes to do a full reboot, which has led to my putting it into sleep mode every night instead. This cured the boot-up time but meant that every now and then, the ever-growing list of updates waiting in the wings for a full reboot only got longer. Thus, if you were silly enough to actually reboot it, it might be half an hour before it deigned to let you use it! Finally, in a fit of pique, off I went to PC World, just about the only place around here selling PCs, to buy another. ...

OnePlus Two 64GB 03/09/2016

Good, Yes. A 'Flagship Killer? Possibly Not

OnePlus Two 64GB I’ve had a dual-SIM mobile phone for quite a while now, and having last year moved to a point in the sticks that would appear to be the ‘beware, here be dragons’ part of the map as far as cell-phone companies are concerned, I’ve had a few occasions to be glad of it. Trouble is, up to now, dual-SIM phones have tended to be ‘grey imports’ as phone shops are hardly likely to use the premise “This model runs two SIMs in case our network doesn’t give you a signal” as any kind of sales pitch! Importing can mean that you can end up with a phone that doesn’t necessarily cover all the frequency bands that the UK’s 2,3 and 4G networks use no matter how “multi-band” they say it is. For example, I’d gotten myself all interested in importing the dual-SIM version of the Motorola X Play from a French site when I discovered that this ‘international’ version didn’t have the frequency range required to access 4G on the O2 network, which also rules out GiffGaff and Tesco Mobile customers. However, in the past year or so, two interesting new start-up mobile makers have appeared on the UK market, albeit with predictably Chinese-built products. Noticeably, both could be worked in dual-SIM mode. The first is a UK-based company called *Wileyfox with their Storm model - I owned one for about two days, but sent it back thinking it wouldn’t accept my SIM card and got a refund. Pity really, everything about it shouted “quality” and it transpired that the fault in question was actually with an ...

Lumberjack SCMS210SB 25/08/2016

You 'Mitre' Find A Use For This Lumberjack

Lumberjack SCMS210SB I bought this electric saw after a neighbour lent me something similar when he heard me struggling the hard way to cut 45 degree angles in fence posts! I’ve not been disappointed especially as the Lumberjack compound mitre saw came in at under £90, post-free. SO JUST WHAT IS IT? A mitre saw is one that can cut through material, not always wood, at set angles. The sort of thing you need if making the four sides of a picture frame only this saw can handle wood somewhat thicker than that. How does 3 inches thick and 6 inches wide sound? To save on physical effort, this is an electric circular saw mechanism that hinges down and then along on two smooth rails. The maximum vertical angle away from 90 degrees that it can cut is precisely 45 degrees. There are ways of going ‘more acute’ than this which I’ll outline later. This saw also ‘bevels’ wood as it cuts. This allows the sliding mechanism to be turned on its side up to 45 degrees out of the vertical. I couldn’t actually picture just what a combined 45-degree mitre and a 45-degree bevel would even look like so I had to try didn’t I? See photo. After a degree of faffing around to work out which bit did what, and more to the point which bit you had to move or disengage before you could make it work (understandably, it comes with various safe-guards to stop you activating it before you’re ready), first cuts were impressive up to a point. That is to say that if you’re only cutting fence posts, not ‘cabinet-making’ you’ll be ...

Clever Dog Smart Camera WiFi 19/07/2016

I Spy With my Little........Clever Dog

Clever Dog Smart Camera WiFi Being afraid of the effects off a power cut on your freezer contents whilst you’re away on holiday might seem an odd way of justifying buying a security camera. It wasn’t till we moved from London to Somerset that the likelihood of a power cut even occurred to me since I couldn’t remember the last one in London, and here am one year later able to remember the last five! Of course, in most cases, all is well and the power comes back on in a short space of time. What worries me are the minority of outages which trigger our main power breaker, leaving the freezer to slowly melt even after the power to the area is restored. Coming home and finding this happened the day after you left for your annual fortnight away doesn’t bear thinking about (unless you like maggots and bluebottles that is). What is needed is a means of detecting whether your house is still on the mains remotely – yes, you could try to get access to your answering machine, but depending on where you are, that could be an expensive option. Ever one for a gadget, I opted for the higher-tech solution by investing in ‘the internet of things’. If that ‘thing’ could be useful and an enhancement to our existing home security, then so much the better. I figured that anything that was able to use my home network to give me remote access to it would fail the instant my router gets turned off, and since the freezer is good for say 24 hours as long as it’s closed, that gives plenty of time to do something about ...

Brennan B2 11/07/2016

Brennan B2 - A HiFi With Its Own Website

Brennan B2 Just before we moved house last year, during a slash-and-burn effort to reduce what we were taking with us, I gave my Yamaha CD player to a charity shop, thinking that the LG DVD-Player would serve just as well. Big mistake; CDs don’t sound anywhere near as good when played from this source. Likewise, to compound the felony, and to de-clutter the lounge at our new house, we have our CD collection ‘filed’ away on one of our very ample landings which now looks more like a library! It’s taken me about a year to notice that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d actually sat down to listen to music. OK, my entire CD collection is now available to me in MP3 format in my car, courtesy of a 32gb USB memory stick, but good though that is, it’s just not the same. So I set about looking for a replacement for the CD player. I remembered that Les ‘Floon’ Berger had written about the Brennan JB7 Hard Disk Hi-Fi player a while back, and this got me looking at the www.brennan.co.uk web-site. The only problem for me that I could see from the JB7 point of view was that its CD database had to be loaded from a CD-ROM and presumably renewed at intervals, especially if it started failing to recognise the disks you were trying to ‘rip’ to it. Thus it didn’t seem very ‘integrated’, just a compact ‘juke-box’. I lied: there is another problem – it’s no longer available new. Whilst this machine could handle 1000s of tracks depending on disk size, they were in compressed MP3 format. I can’t ...

Vax Air Lift Steerable Pet U84-AL-Pe 03/05/2016

VAX Steerable Air Lift - Much Easier to Use on Stairs

Vax Air Lift Steerable Pet U84-AL-Pe I’ve been thinking about getting a second upright vacuum cleaner for a while now. We now live in a 3-storey house which, with the exception of the lounge has all of its remaining carpet upstairs. In truth we’d have been quite happy with a second Dyson DC33, except that:- a) It’s obsolete and b) I’ve never been too impressed with the Dyson’s somewhat intractable accessory hose arrangement which is so stiff that your frequently pull the machine over if you so much as stretch a little more than intended. As such, it’s not much use for stair (or car) carpets and we keep a hand-held Dust Devil for the former - much quicker as long as you don’t mind being on your hands and knees. At this stage, I hadn’t actually started looking for the new machine when as luck would have it, I received an e-mail from Vax, from whom I’d recently bought a carpet cleaner (and ‘Revoo’d’ it). The gist of it was “Review this new model Vax ‘Steerable’ Air Lift U84-AL-Ue for us and you can buy it for 60 quid (RRP £299)” Well, I looked around for reviews and they didn’t seem to be too bad at all so I jumped in. It later transpires that nobody pays the RRP, with Argos, always a reasonable yardstick, having it for £189. Nevertheless, VAX’s offer represented a sizeable discount just for stringing some words together. (This isn’t my review for them by the way. They don’t want me mentioning price or making brand comparisons.) The delivery process was a tad fraught, as I’d specified delivery a week ...

Casio Edifice ECW-M300EDB-1AER watch 12/03/2016

Casio Edifice - Have I Got The Right Time? Certainly Have!

Casio Edifice ECW-M300EDB-1AER watch I’ve always liked the idea of a radio-controlled watch, i.e. one that synchronises its time with one of the world’s atomic clocks via a radio signal. My first one was branded TCM, from the Tchibo Shop (remember them?). It was only a knock-about resin-plastic affair and last me about 5 years if I recall, having needed a battery change in the meantime. Once I had managed to lose it on holiday I was pleased to get a good e-bay price on a nearly new Casio Wave-Ceptor, which looked somewhat smarter with a stainless steel strap and a supposedly stainless steel case, although as the years went by, the ‘stainless effect’ began to rub off to reveal, you guessed it, a resin- plastic case beneath. This needed a mid-life (expensive) battery change, but on failing again only a few days ago, it refused to acknowledge a new battery, and so was resigned to the scrap heap too. That roughly accounts for my first 15 years of radio-controlled watch ownership. Why do I like them so much? I was reminded why only recently when a teacher accused me of bringing my cycling training group back to class 10 minutes early which was proving very disturbing for the rest of the class. Now that puzzled me, and it wasn’t until I checked the clock in the school’s staff-room, with which my watch agreed, I realised that the clock in the classroom had gotten itself out of sync by 10 minutes. I’ve even gone to Greenwich Park with a school group and, with my back to the Observatory, told the kids when the time ...

Kärcher WV 5 Premium 05/03/2016

Kärcher WV5 Premium - Great After a Bit of Practice

Kärcher WV 5 Premium We’ve just recently moved from a 4-bed semi in west London to a 6-bed detached in Somerset. This raised a few eye-brows with family along the lines of “thought you’d have bought yourselves a nice little bungalow now you’re both retired”, but heh, in one sense we have downsized – price-wise that is. Anyway, an old ‘boy or girl’ needs his/her hobby room as they get older! However, with a bigger house come a couple of pitfalls especially if you ‘like’ housework as much as we do! One, the British Gas service agent was a bit surprised to find that for maintenance contract purposes, he was ‘adopting’ a house with 19 radiators, and two, I was a bit surprised when I realised that we now had 25 window apertures of various shapes and sizes to keep clean, two of which were double French doors. All in all, a lot of glass. OK, the window cleaner covers the outsides of the ground and first floor windows and all of those on the second floor can be accessed from inside, being a mixture of ‘Veluxes’ and tilt’n’turns. However, that still leaves the insides to keep sparkly especially on the south-facing front of the house, where the slightest smudge shows up like a sore thumb whenever the sun shines. At least none of them are bay windows any more, unlike our old house so they all represent a ‘straight run’ on the flat although all bar the French doors have two panes. It was at the last ‘Back Friday’ sale, miraculously extended to a whole week of Fridays by Tesco that I saw the Kärcher* ...

Epson ET-2500 22/02/2016

Epson ET-2550. At Last! The Freedom To Splash It About!

Epson ET-2500 I dare say most of us are aware just how cheap a colour printer can be, even the ‘all-in-ones’ that include a scanner/copier. However, their low initial and probably loss-leading price hides the cost of their voracious appetites for fairly expensive inks – it’s rather like buying a remarkably good-quality hammer from Poundland only to finds that compatible nails cost 15 pence each, and more to the point, if you use someone else’s cheaper nails, you invalidate the hammer’s warranty. Another reason I’ve gone right off this approach is that I like to make regular A4 colour prints on glossy paper which consume ink at a crazy rate. Worse than that, the process can turn out to be very wasteful. I’ll illustrate why. Let’s say I’m about to make an A4 photo-quality print. I notice that my magenta ink cartridge looks a trifle low compared to the rest but decide to ‘chance it’. After all, there are no prizes for putting in a new cartridge too early. Inevitably, on such a big task, this can lead to the magenta running out mid-print, wasting not only an expensive sheet of paper but using up large quantities of the cyan, yellow, and black cartridges for no real reason. I’ve learned that the ‘ink low’ warnings often come too late for a large high quality print since what looked like quite a lot left at the beginning can actually run out before the end. What we really want is a printer of similar quality without constantly running out of ink, sometimes mid-way through a ...

Cambridge Audio SX-60 21/02/2016

Cambridge Audio SX60 - Just The Right Size, Just The Right Price

Cambridge Audio SX-60 Buying a new pair of hi-fi loudspeakers is a rare enough event, especially since ‘hi-fi separates’ are probably outnumbered these days by complete home-cinema systems or mini hi-fis bought complete with speakers. Buying a new pair of speakers because the old ones, some 20-year-old Tannoy Mercury M2s, have broken is understandable. Limiting yourself to new ones that are an exact fit for your existing speaker stands, not quite so understandable. However, I’m quite proud of my speaker stands having made them myself to a high specification from some ‘unusual’ ingredients and therefore allowed this to be factored into the selection process. However, I wasn’t prepared to be that compromised – the replacements had to be from a well-known and preferably British company and to have received a more than adequate review from a respected source. Therefore, I was more than happy to find that Cambridge Audio made a stand-mountable speaker called the SX-60. Within a millimetre or two, it had the same footprint as my old ones, although, height-wise it was quite a lot shorter, which didn’t really matter. Of commendably solid construction and finished in walnut veneer they made a welcome break from the black austerity on the Tannoys, which just managed to add a glimmer of ‘real wood’ if you took the front covers off. I was also more than happy to discover that Richer Sounds were knocking them out for less than £130 per pair, which is less than I paid for the last lot, going from ...

Microsoft Windows 10 06/12/2015

Roll Up, Get Yer Free Windows 'Ere!

Microsoft Windows 10 Before I start, let me say that this is the perspective of private PC user coming from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Much of what I write may well be true of 8 and 8.1 also. I’d held off upgrading to Windows 10; partly because, despite the icon telling me my Windows 7 PC was eligible, I obviously wasn’t going to be included in the first tranche of up-graders back in July and have had to wait till now in late November 2015 before getting the ‘all clear’ from Microsoft to download the new operating system. Rumours surrounding Windows 10 abounded. It was either Microsoft’s swansong gift to desk- and lap-top owners before going down the route of a combined system for phones/tablets and ‘other things with keyboards’, or it was recompense for Vista (arghhh, we’re all gonna die!), and Windows 8’s “Hey Dude, where’s my start button” distress causing them to issue Windows 8.1 in rapid succession. With actual free systems like Linux, Chrome OS and Android taking appreciable market-share, they clearly felt the need to do something, although those with little faith in Microsoft will possibly see this ‘free’ system as a means of getting it beta-tested at no expense to themselves. The gap between July and November 2015 served me well. I was able to keep one ear to the ground and find out any snippets of useful information, one of which rang an alarm bell with me. In their quest for a speedier boot-up, from Windows 8 onwards, MS had done away with the ability to tap the F8 key on boot-up ...
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