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since 29/03/2005


Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 05/01/2014

Bright & Beautiful

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite After the sad passing of my previous Kindle, I decided to upgrade a notch when replacing what's become an almost essential piece of gadgetry for me. I had my doubts about how necessary the major innovation of this model was - the backlit screen, that is - but then again, I had the same reservations about all aspects of the Kindle generally before I bought it, and have never looked back. So a little faith needed, I thought. I plumped for the 3G version, which as with previous models, is fractionally more expensive - but I figured it was worth going the whole hog. It's really an advantage, if not an absolute necessity, to be able to access content wherever you are, and it bumps up the whole Kindle experience a bit for me (as well as making it even easier to drop your money on a whim ...) How is this model different to those before, then? For me, the biggest difference was the introduction of the touchscreen. Again, it's not really a must - it doesn't do anything the previous versions' paddles and buttons didn't, but it's extremely intuitive and makes the navigation of menus in particular much quicker and easier. In terms of performance, this aspect of the Paperwhite is great - responsive and tactile (obviously ...), it's a great addition. Then there's the backlighting. I was a bit wary of this - one of the best things about Kindle is how they're not-quite-book, not-quite-computer; there's none of the glare and eyestrain that comes with conventional screens, making ...

Samsung Galaxy Y S5360 27/05/2013

Y, indeed?

Samsung Galaxy Y S5360 High-end this isn't - although it could just about pass for a top-notch smart phone (notwithstanding its diminutive size), this is very much the entry-level end of the market. With the same basic stylings as the higher-level models in the Samsung Galaxy series, this certainly ticks the visual boxes - it's neat, functional, sleek - so good first impressions are made. A quick play around with the Y, however, shows up its deficiencies. Of course, it's worth qualifying this - you pay proportionately for what you're (not) getting. I - like most of the phone's owners, I imagine - got the handset free with a pretty modest contract, so expectations were hardly sky-high. Indeed, I'm actually pretty happy with what I've got. I don't feel like I need the bells-and-whistles, all-singing end of the market, so the Y feels like a good choice. It's just worth emphasising that this is very much a my-first-smartphone type thing. The basics are all here - social networking is well-integrated, there's a decent camera, sensitive touchscreen, a variety of apps and whatnot - but the quality of these is patchy, thanks to the handset. Basically, it's screen size that's the issue - there's only so much you can do with a 3-inch screen; websites need to be zoomed in so much that it's hard to work out where you are, and texts take up the whole of the screen in landscape mode, meaning you can't see what you've previously said. What's more, with so little space, all manner of simple tasks are ...

Flamingo - Brandon Flowers 27/05/2013

A Time Killer

Flamingo - Brandon Flowers I was never all that sold on the Killers. A stellar debut album aside, the vast majority of what followed left me cold - it was striking how quickly inspiration slipped into mediocrity. In the midst of this slide into humdrumity, lead singer Brandon Flowers put together his own records, and released this - his first solo album - in 2010. So what of it? A continuation of the Killers or something quite different? And if the former, is this the Killers of Hot Fuss, or something less incendiary? It becomes clear pretty quickly that this is no great and dramatic departure from the winning(ish) formula Flowers and his bandmates have established over the last decade or so. Indeed, this could almost be a Killers album. Opener Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas ticks plenty of the boxes you'd expect, and reminds us that Flowers does have a quite excellent voice that slips and slides and roars its way around a decent track. Second up, Only the Young is another high note for the album, with a striking chorus and another opportunity for Flowers to demonstrate his range; so far so good. If it'd continued in this vein, I'd be pretty clear as to how I feel about this album - instead though, it slips. Not so much that I'm keen to slam it, but enough that it's hard to sing its praises unconditionally. Magdalena is a neat, catchy track, but there are too many that are just unremarkable filler - in fact, exactly the kind of unremarkable filler that have been creeping into The Killers' ...

Takk - Sigur Rós 27/05/2013

Ethereal Thank-Yous

Takk - Sigur Rós It's kind of hard to review something like this - the fourth album from iconic Icelandic group Sigur Ros, Takk rather defines efforts to pin it down with precise words and definitions. It's not just that I don't understand Icelandic; even if this were in English, I'm not sure it'd help all that much. The lyrics and vocals feel like embellishments on the instrumental side of the music, little flourishes that gild the already quite exceptional lily. That's not downplay the haunting presence of vocalist Jonsi's tones, rather to praise the astounding soundscape that plays out in the background. The instrumentals are quite a feat throughout this album; ranging from clashing, visceral thunderstorms of music to barely-there trills and scatterings of percussion, there's never a beat too many or few. Sigur Ros manage to paint pictures with their sounds, and they're invariably ones that seem to ally themselves with the band's wild, remote homeland - volcanic swells and fields of emptiness that pull you irrestistably into the narrative of the music. I lack the technical vocabulary to describe exactly what Sigur Ros do, but they do it expertly. Hoppipolla is the tour de force that will have drawn more newcomers to the band to buy this album, and it remains the stand-out track on the album, invigorating and sparse in turn, soaring and contemplative, and ultimately wonderfully evocative and uplifting. This isn't the only winning track here though - Glosoli and Andvari are both ...

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern 16/05/2013

Anything Buy Black and White

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern Conceived and written - in its embryonic form at least - during NaNoWriMo (or National Novel-Writing Month, to the uninitiated), the Night Circus is a novel that probably should have been brilliant. The ideas behind the story are clever, the characters promising and the tone wonderfully mysterious and seductive ... but it never quite comes together. Adorned with a quote from Audrey Niffenegger, the novel does bear comparison with The Time Traveller's Wife - the star-crossed lovers, the slightly magical twists that cleave the book's world from ours, the faintly epic span (can an epic be faint?) Unfortunately the concept doesn't match up with the storytelling. Celia and Marco are both inextricably bound to the titular circus, which springs up without warning and is comprised of rings of tents full of curiousities and wonders. The circus opens from midnight to dawn, and is followed around the country by a band of devoted fans called reveurs, or dreamers. Celia and Marco are central to the operation of the circus, and to a larger, darker purpose - but are largely unaware of their full, true destinies, and instead play out their own, intimate love story. The atmosphere created is beguiling .. almost. You feel like something's always just about to happen, that you're always just about to find out how good the story is, and how much you like it. It never happens, though. It's all somehow unsatisfying. You're constantly told how magical and ethereal the circus is, but you ...

FIFA 13 (Xbox 360) 16/05/2013

The Dark Side's Looking Bright

FIFA 13 (Xbox 360) I give in. I'm weak-willed and short of spirit. I'm a flaky, free-wheeling quitter. In my defence, I've hung on a while playing Pro Evolution Soccer while the rest of the world was having a whole heap of fun with the newer incarnations of FIFA. In fact, I'm probably the last one out of the Konami house, so bear with me while I get the lights ... These kinds of seismic divides crop up from time to time in gaming - and in many ways the rivalry between FIFA and Pro Evo mirrors those in the real footballing world they ape. Are you the red half or the blue half of Manchester? Barca or Real? Boca or River? Except lately it's become more like the North London derby circa 1999-2010; a world of pain for one side and the kind of raw, semi-inevitable drubbing that comes with being on the wrong side of an imbalanced fight. Pro Evo used to be great - far greater than FIFA, a game that had fallen from its heyday and was all style, no substance. It was a gaming Ladyboy; all gloss and glamour on the outside working hard to conceal some less appealling secrets. That was then, though - now things are different. FIFA's found the gameplay to go with the glitz, and suddenly Pro Evo's treading water. It took a long time to persude me to jump ship, even when people were singing the praises of the reformed franchise. I'd been burnt by FIFA too many times. Pro Evo 2012 was one disappointment too many for me, though - it sucked. In bitter, epic ways. So now it's FIFA for me - and I only wish ...

Nike GatoStreet Shoes 13/05/2013

A Touch of Class

Nike GatoStreet Shoes Most football boots look like they've been designed by over-sugared five year-olds these days - indoor boots, all the more so. As such, a big part of what attracted me to Nike's Gato boot - designed for indoor football and futsal - was the fact that it's not *too* garish. Granted, the flashes of dayglo yellow aren't exactly inconspicuous, but on the whole, this could just about pass as an everyday trainer. Looks aren't everything, of course. A good indoor football boot should be close-fitting, sturdy and offer a strong grip on the surface to stop you skidding about and slipping - ideally without feeling like you're wearing a hiking boot. This isn't normally an issue for Nike's footwear - on the contrary, they tend to be rather lightweight, even flimsy affairs, so the question here is whether they're tough enough to stand up to the demands of close-quarters, high-intensity indoor football. When I first starting playing futsal, I imagined I could get away with regular trainers, but you really notice the difference between these and proper, specifically-designed boots. Happily, these deliver on all the counts that matter - they're a snug fit (for my fairly wide feet), but they still feel like they're protecting you sufficiently. The sole offers a good amount of support; the cushioning is almost like a lightweight running shoe; enough that it helps take some of the impact away from your delicate knees, but not so much that you lose the "feel" that's so important for this ...

Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360) 13/05/2013

Dark Skies

Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360) It's been a long wait for the third installment in the Bioshock franchise, and after the critical acclaim heaped on the first two games, hype was appropriately sky-high. Before dicussing whether that clamour was justified, however, a caveat is called for - contrary to much of what you might have seen relating to the game, this is no blood-soaked shoot 'em-up. Sure, there's plenty of sending enemies tumbling from rooftops with sniper rifles and no small amount of wasting grunts with shotguns to the face - but for every clip of ammunition, there's more than a dollop of quantum physics and mind-bending plot twists. But if you've ever played Bioshock, you knew to expect that, right? This is a game as cerebral as it is stirring. ~~~ The City in the Clouds ~~~ Set in 1912, some three decades before the underwater city of the first two games was even built, we join our protagonist Booker Dewitt in a rain-blasted rowing boat off the coast of Maine. He is bound for Columbia, a floating sky-city which ceded from the United States years back and disappeared into the clouds. He is handed a case containing a photograph of a young lady and a pistol, and is reminded of his mission: Find the girl, clear the debt. Imprisoned somewhere within this labyrinthine fortress in the clouds is Elizabeth, the girl in question. He is tasked with bringing her back to New York, but knows nothing of his employers' motives. As he arrives in Columbia, however, one thing quickly becomes clear - they ...

Paul Smith Man 2 Fragrance Gift Set 24/10/2012

A Woody Winner

Paul Smith Man 2 Fragrance Gift Set This isn't one of my regular favourites - in fact, I didn't even know that Paul Smith made fragrances, but it managed to sing to me from the shelves in Boots, and I'm rather impressed with it. I'm not sure what persuaded me to pick it up - the bottle is pretty functional and doesn't exactly grab the attention, but maybe this helped. This isn't a flashy or overstated perfume, and the simple-yet-bold packaging hints at the kind of product contained inside. In truth, top notes aren't the most promising. It's a spicy, rich fragrance on initial application, with sharp, strong touches to it. Happily, this fades, and only seconds after spraying it, the aroma is a much more pleasantly soft and woody one. At the same time, this depth and faint smokiness has fruity highlights mixed into it - hours after application, there's a pleasant hint of raspberries and cherries, but in a thoroughly strong, masculine way. The staying power's pretty good with this product; in fact, it's a grower. It's not as distinctive or full-bodied as some other fragrances, but it's a good solid option that would be suitable for all sorts of occasions. In fact, it's probably best-suited to work or casual wear - a background aroma that doesn't shout too loudly or gas people with its pungency. All in all, I'm a fan. I like the design, I like the smell, and I think it's pretty good value for money.

Nokia C2-02 23/10/2012

Best of No Worlds

Nokia C2-02 There was a time when Nokia were the kings of the mobile phone business - using this phone only confirmed for me that this time is long past. Taken as an upgrade on my old Nokia - a 7110 - things sounded pretty positive before I actually received the handset. A hybrid model, halfway between a touchscreen phone and a slider, it sounded like it would be a good intermediate model for someone who wants the benefits of a modern smartphone without completely leaving behind tradition. Having fat, clumsy fingers, I wasn't sure I was ready for a full touchscreen. In the flesh, though, this phone is enormously underwhelming - so much so that I returned it after a week and demanded a different model. It's that bad that I just couldn't use it. What's the problem, then? Well ... five or six years ago, this would have been an acceptable phone. Not a great phone, but an acceptable one. Now, though, it's just been left behind by its rivals - as much as the idea of the phone might work, the reality doesn't. The touchscreen is simply terrible - to say it's sluggish barely does it justice; you stab and prob at the screen in the hope more than the expectation of it reacting. When it does, it's rarely what you've asked it to do. Just navigating the menus is a chore, let alone doing anything complex - scrolling is simply horrible. It just struggles to do the basics. Internet usage is a nightmare; not only is access painfully slow, it has enormous problems displaying a webpage in ...

Black & Decker KA 300 - Electric Sander 23/10/2012

Enter Sandman

Black & Decker KA 300 - Electric Sander Smooth as a baby's behind ... rough as a ...? Complete the phrase. A dehydrated camel's tongue? A baked hedgehog? Daniel Craig's stubble? In any case, the wall in our living room was as rough as something extremely rough a few weeks ago. We'd just installed a new fireplace - which is great, but unfortunately the old fireplace was about twelve times the size. It was the kind of furnace that could power an ocean-going vessel, and even after a bit of patching-up, everything looked a bit of a mess. Enter Sandman. Or, me. Only I needed a sander - and this Black & Decker model was chosen for the job. Mains-powered, it has a head sized around 3x3 inches, and removable sandpapers that are clamped on ready for action. There's also a bag that is designed to extract the considerable amount of dust created while you're working. Other than a simple on-off switch, that's it - there's not much to get wrong here, and it's pretty much fool-proof (although fools usually tend to find a way). First impressions - it was a whole lot better than sandpaper. I guess that's obvious, but it really does cut through rough surfaces in seconds, and leaves a super-smooth, buffed-down finish. On the flip-side, it also kicks up a staggering amount of dust. Again, it's probably stating the painfully obvious, but you'll want to cover or remove everything that you don't want buried in the stuff. Leave anything uncovered, and you'll be recreating that authentic archaeologist's experience in no time. ...

Morphy Richards Accents Pyramid 43772 23/10/2012

Everything Stops For Tea

Morphy Richards Accents Pyramid 43772 Due to a moving-day mishap, our recently-purchased kettle - a similar model to this one - only had a short life. Its corpse is still sitting in the shed, sadly apparently unfixable. Back in the day, they'd have given it a buff-up, popped in a couple of replacement pieces and it'd have been back to life ... but we were told it'd be cheaper to buy a new kettle than to try repairing the old one. What's the world coming to, eh? When this were all fields, etc ... Anyway, we figured we were perfectly happy with the Morphy Richards model we'd bought - at least until it got dropped on its head from a great height - so we went looking for a like-for-like swap. In fact, this is a slightly newer version, even if it does much the same thing much the same way. This design of kettle comes in a number of colourways - there's a metallic range, a pastel set and the neon-bright family that our model (as shown above) comes from. The rich cyan blue really shines with a gloss finish, and there's a range of coordinating toasters - although we've still got our original, non-busted one. Much of the praise I heaped on our previous Morphy Richards applies here too - it looks great, fusing retro vibes with modern stylings, and it does its job perfectly. A half-filled kettle takes around a minute to boil, so it's from zero to tea in no time. It's well built, with a good solid feel to it, and I find it really easy to lift free from its cradle and fill with water through the spout. The lid's a ...

Joop! Go Eau de Toilette Spray 20/10/2012

Go Green

Joop! Go Eau de Toilette Spray I think it's fair to say that the Joop range don't really represent your typical male line of fragrances. Visually, the bright and vivid packaging stands out from the competition on the shelf, the colour of the fragrance continues the luminous assault on the senses, and the scents involved further this impression. This isn't the most subtle of fragrances you'll come across, but that's not to say it's lacking in charm. I have to say, first impressions of the product didn't raise my expectations too high - the bottle is a simple affair, with a plastic lid which doesn't really scream high-class. The fragrance, though, is better - a sniff gives you a fresh, fruity scent that's rather sweeter than most men's products, but not in an entirely negative way. It's light and spicy, with definite citric edges to it - it smells like orange zest with hints of lime and grapefruit, something slightly bitter alongside the initial sweetness. On application, it's fairly strong, but the smell mellows, and becomes fairly appealing. The fruitiness is still there, but is balanced out by softer, deeper notes, and the fragrance lingers nicely for several hours - it's perhaps not the best for applying in the morning and lasting all day; I find the results fade after a while. I'm in two minds about the Joop range, really. They're better than they appear at first glance, with a nice blend of scents making up a pretty pleasing whole. On the other hand, they're still a little too light, bright ...

Armani Acqua Di Gio Eau de Toilette 20/10/2012

Fresh and Spesh

Armani Acqua Di Gio Eau de Toilette I'm a big fan of the Armani fragrances; I find them to be full of refreshing, deep, enduring aromas - and this is no exception. Armani Code is the mainstay of my fragrance collection, and the one I keep coming back to time and again, but this is a twist on that winner that I really like. The design and branding of the product are great here, because they manage to communicate the appeal of the fragrance - and the perfume itself lives up to those promises. Both design and fragrance are clean, simple, clear and refreshing; in the former's case, the packaging and bottle are all about simple, straightforward, stripped-down design that still delivers on quality - and the same is essentially true of what's inside the bottle. There are citric notes there, but they're subtle ones, with only hints of limey, grapefruity tones. There's also a musky woodiness that sits behind these up-front fruity flavours, and these two influences work wonderfully together; it's sharp and ever-so-slightly sweet, but there's a down-to-earth muskiness that brings this together and stops the top notes being overpowering. Armani Code is a deeper, darker fragrance, while this - just as the bottle is the off-white sibling to Code's blue-black - is from the same stable, but speaks of airy daytimes rather that dusky nightfall. Basically, this is a winner. If you've got this and Code, you're pretty much set. It's fresh, it's stylish, it's energetic - but in a pared-back, classy way. A welcome ...

Kenzo Flower Eau de Parfum Spray 20/10/2012

Flower Power

Kenzo Flower Eau de Parfum Spray I bought this fragrance for my girlfriend last Christmas, and I have to say it's perhaps my favourite women's perfume out there at the moment (in my limited, male experience!). It cost around £40 at the time; various sizes and box sets are available, but I'm not unhappy with the value of this price. It's certainly a great-looking perfume, with the red poppy motif carried through from the packaging to the bottle itself. I love the bottle; it's an elegant, curved design that really reflects the flowery style of the product - it's sleek, minimalist, unfussy and modern, and I think it works. In terms of the perfume, there's a lot to admire here too. It goes without saying that there are plenty of floral hints to the scent, but this could come across quite stuffy and old-fashioned if done badly. Happily, it doesn't - it's a classy fragrance, with a sharp, deep edge to the floral notes and a lovely, understated, lingering smell. This can be applied lightly and creates a beautiful background aroma that doesn't fade too quickly. It's a versatile perfume too, one that I'd see as being equally at home for day to day use as it would be for a night out. All in all, this is a great buy. The aroma's memorable and pleasantly complex, with a variety of notes playing off against each other and complementing each other exquisitely - and the packaging and overall design makes this a lovely gift. For me, it's well worth the price, and this is one that you'll buy again and again.
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