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since 11/01/2001


T-Mobile 06/04/2008

T-mobile is clearly no longer just for hoopers

T-Mobile Over the years I've been with all the main networks, having started out on Cellnet (now O2), progressed to Vodafone, then Orange and now T-mobile. Bascially, whenever my existing provider annoys me with their ineptitude or another network offers me a better offer, I up sticks with my Portability Authorisation Code (PAC) and move across. Having been with T-Mobile for a year now, I don't expect to move from them anytime soon. Customer service is important to me. I don't want to have to ring these guys up every five minutes (in fact, I've only had cause to speak to a real person at T-Mobile twice) but when I do have to contact them I expect them to answer me promptly, understand what I want and deal with it. I'm prepared to pay more for a good level of service, and thought I'd found it with my previous provider, Orange, to whom I paid extra to be part of 'Orange premier'. It wasn't long before they lumped me in the rest of their customers and had me hanging on the phone for hours like everyone else! Anyway, back to T-Mobile. I was initially attracted by the Web'N'Walk option which allows unlimited browsing for £7.50 a month. The only restriction is that MSN is blocked - you have to pay £15 for this version (the £15 version is also faster) but compared to paying £1/MB on other networks, I found this to be a bargain. I use my mobile extensively with my laptop when I'm out on the road, and probably pull 500MB-1GB across a month - which could have cost me £1,000 on Orange - ...

Zopa Loans 20/04/2007

The wacky loan-zone

Zopa Loans What's good about a Personal Loan? If all the junk mail and newspaper ads from the big banks are to be believed, a Personal Loan is a great product that everyone should have! In reality, the best thing is usually receiving the money, and buying your big-ticket item or paying off those debts... it's rarely the loan itself, but that is about to change, thanks to Zopa. Zopa (short for the "Zone of Possible Agreement") is an online exchange offering savers the chance to lend money to borrowers in a safe and straightforward way. Savers wanting to earn a higher rate of interest than they might get from a bank can pay money into Zopa and offer it to potential borrowers at rates and terms (length of time of the loan) that suit them. Borrowers can similarly be matched to these lenders. The beauty of the system is this - your money is 'lent' and 'borrowed' in £10 parcels, which are spread amoungst the users - meaning that if you were unlucky enough to lend to a borrower who then failed to repay, your exposure to this borrower would always be limited - in fact, Zopa spreads your money around 50 borrowers, if you put up £500. That said, arrears and non-payment are well below bank-averages on Zopa, as it uses three credit agencies to reference potential applicants, and has a tight lending criteria. This has been reflected this year in a bonus to lenders - as the overall 'bad debt' provision for the Zopa system was much lower than expected. Once loans are approved, ...

Webster Telecom 20/02/2006

Calling abroad is quick and easy-and FREE for me!

Webster Telecom Webster Telecom is a low cost calling service that offers calls abroad cheaper than BT or cable or mobile providers for FREE using your inclusive minutes, without the need to open an account or have a credit card. Sound good? Thought so.. so how does it work? Rather than make customers register or buy any cards (from newsagents, etc), they operate a selection of telephone numbers which fund the cost of the calls. These cost from 3p per minute from BT lines, according to their website up to 90% cheaper than BT standard calls! The website provides information on various services offered by the company that offer the possibility to make international calls cheaply using a variety of different calling methods. There are a number of information and FAQ pages which provide answers to common questions. The website address is Customer services is provided through the website only, which at first I thought was a little concerning. I did make use of the contact form and was very impressed to receive a response within 10 minutes. The response was polite and comprehensive, so I can't fault this side of the service. So let's have a look at some of the services they offer: Mobile users can call for FREE! How's that for a money saving deal? You'll like this.. and it has been recommended in the National Press by Martin Lewis. I have a mobile with Orange, and pay through the nose for it! However, this does mean that I get 1000 free minutes every ...

Morrisons (Shop) 20/02/2006


Morrisons (Shop) Our "Local Shop" is Morrisons at Merrion Centre, Leeds. If you ever visit from out of town, please; be very careful, for there's nothing for strangers here.... I should point out that this opinion doesn't cover Morrisons as a whole, just this particular store - and I will get on to the product selection, layout, freshness and all that later on, but first I think it would be useful to give you an idea about the atmosphere of this store, and the strange goings-on within. Morrisons (Mossers, as it's known to the locals) is the 'flagship store' of the Merrion Centre, although this flag is probably flown at half-mast. Merrion Centre itself is probably the worst shopping centre in Europe - and that's no idle boast! It houses Britain's first multi-story car park, which remains, pretty much unchanged since the day it was born in the late 1950s along with the rest of the concrete-and-tiles abomination. The Merrion Centre never closes: it has a kind of footpath running through it which is open day and night. Perfect for attracting tramps, drunken louts and dog turds, which it invariably does. On a good day with the wind in the right direction, the smell of pee can be savoured for miles around. First thing every morning, a strange leprechaun dressed in green pushes a mower up and down the ageing floor-tiles of the centre, ensuring that they are kept slippery enough for people passing though to fall over, and possibly break their necks. I digress.... Morrisons. Tubbs works ...

Panasonic MC-E 8011 20/02/2006

Nippy little green thing

Panasonic MC-E 8011 Well who'd have thought it? Me writing a review about a hoover of all things. Takes all sorts I suppose. I recall that the decision to buy a new vacuum wasn't mine, but I was being repeatedly advised (some might say "nagged", but let's not split hairs...) that the old one was rubbish. Lost all it's suction, you see. Just didn't have enough "puff" (or indeed "suck"), so in the bin it went and I went online to order a shiny replacement. Of course I considered a Dyson, but since it's nowadays something of a "chav" status symbol, as much as the Burberry cap, and also that it's no longer made in the UK, I decided to plump for one it's many and cheaper rivals. The Panasonic MC-E6011 seemed to fit the bill nicely. An attractive (well, if you like that sort of thing) dark green colour with a space-aged removable dirt-box, this one really looks the business. I was very much attracted to the idea of a bagless cleaner, as getting replacement bags for the old one was becoming more and more arduous, and the "compatible" ones sold at ASDA were indeed compatible, when installation was aided with a Stanley knife and screwdriver. This machine packs some punch (read: "it's a real sucker!") and has 1800 watts of power. In practice, I think it's definitely powerful enough and seems to get all the bits off the carpet (including cat hair, which often balls up and stubbonly holds on to the carpet - it's no match for the Panasonic). I had to wait a week for it to arrive so by the ... 17/02/2006

A little bit of Sainsbury's to you Updated this a couple of times now! Updates at the bottom! Having moved house in Summer, I was fairly keen to get to grips with this online grocery shopping lark. And I think Sainsbury's is a fantastic place to shop in - so much easier than "roughing it" at Tesco! So I registered with the site at - which was painless. A few details such as name, address, email and Reward Card number (now Nectar card) and I was away, with my very own online shopping account. Seems then I let it slip my mind. Until I received an email from Sainsbury's offering me £50 free shopping if I did just three £50 shops with them. We thought this was fantastic value, and set about putting together our first order. Items on Sainsbury's To You are arranged in the same "aisles" you will find in a Sainsbury's store. Pretty much everything instore is also online, and the prices are exactly the same - as are the weekly offers. Offers in Sainsbury's generally get changed on a Tuesday (in my region anyway, this may differ across the country - keep an eye on the "offer end" details printed on the end of aisles in your local Sainsbury's and I'm sure you'll be able to work out when they start and end). When you go online and log in, you are first asked to book yourself a delivery slot. These are extremely convenient as you can see what is available at a glance. The delivery slots are two hours long, and range from morning, to afternoon and even late evening. At the ...

Just-Dial 15/02/2006

Just save yourself a fortune

Just-Dial "Thanks for calling Just Dial, the service that lets you call abroad for the cost of a national call" says a friendly voice at the end of the line whenever I dial 0870 794 7990. Just Dial is quite revolutionary, and very cool! It first came to my attention a while back when I was travelling on the London Underground and noticed one of those ads above the windows. Back then, I hadn't got a pen on me, so I busied myself memorising the number. I'm glad I did - it's saved me a load of hassle and cost since! So tell me... how does it work? When you dial the access number BT (or your cable company, if you're with them) charge a normal national rate call to your phone line. This national rate charge is split between BT and Just Dial - and amazingly Just Dial use their share to connect you instantly to places as far afield as America and Australia - at no extra charge! It's really as simple as that! Many companies exist that will put a "code" on your telephone line so that you can dial over their network at rates lower than BT's. However these will then bill you separately, meaning you have another bill to pay each month, and, of course, you need to sign a contract. You can use Just-Dial from your mobile phone too - giving you massive savings compared to international mobile tariffs. With some mobile tariffs UK National (0870) calls are bundled with your free minutes package - In my case it used to be free but now Vodafone have stopped 0870 calls being part of ...

Everything that starts with C ... 17/03/2005

Cow Picture Rating: Rate My Cow!

Everything that starts with C ... With the plethora of "hot or not?" style websites growing almost daily (together with their more seedy counterparts, but enough about those already) it was only a matter of time before animals started to get in on the act. Step forward: ! According to the website, RateMyCow came about due to an EU directive that all cows should be hooked up to broadband by 2007. Realising the (cattle) market opening, an enterprising young bullock going by the name "Hugh Heiffer" decided to invest in a cowserver for the barn and the rest, as they say, is history. RateMyCow appears to work just like the photo rating/dating sites emplyed by the cows' human counterparts, with the exception that it is acceptable for the cattle to appear on the site naked as "cow don't often wear clothes". Heiffers are allowed to rate each other's photos, send messages ("moosages") to one another and to comment on each other's photos - and it appears to get quite heated between them. The incumbant "cow" champion, Daisy Pasture, has been known to leave facetious comments on other cows' photograph pages, with particular reference to the size of their big wet noses, udders or just the "cut of the gib". The site states that many cattle have formed long lasting relationships through the system, with randy bulls able to fill their seasonal diaries within just a few hours. The cattle on the site appear to be from all backgrounds, a German cow, Stefanie is appealing for a bullock, alongside ...

Caffè Nero, Oxford Road, Manchester 05/03/2005

Treat yourself and relax a while

Caffè Nero, Oxford Road, Manchester If you're the sort of person who likes their coffee to be more like a froth of sterile, bubbly milk that tastes like it's been boiled too long, then Caffe Nero's definitely NOT the coffee shop for you. However if you like your coffee to have a rounded and full taste, together with a full-on "kick" - you've come to the right place: Caffe Nero is just out of this world. The magazine Tatler reviewed Nero saying "The best espresso this side of Milan" and Nero's are rightly proud of this remark, displaying it prominently on the blackboards that adorn all their stores. In Manchester, Nero have 4 branches, and in Leeds they now have three, having opened two more recently, including one on Briggate that they bought from the defunct Coffee Republic and have turned into just about the best branch in the city - with switched on staff who a) remember you amoungst the thousands of other customers they serve (and also remember what coffee you like) and b) provide an excellent friendly atmosphere that's obviously appreciated - the shop's packed! They actually have over 100 stores UK wide now, mostly in big cities and towns, and their formula seems to be proving successful - as whilst the market as a whole has expanded to the extent that other chains are suffering (Coffee Republic now closing some of the store estate it built up so rapidly, and Starbucks finding their stores are so close together that they are cannibalising their own trade) Nero's is proving profitable, successful, ...

Halifax Sharebuilder 12/02/2005

Dabble in the markets at an affordable cost

Halifax Sharebuilder Halifax launched their "sharebuilder" service in 2003 following the success of the "sharebuilder" service in America to which they bought the UK rights to produce a similar service. To my knowledge they are the only company in the UK that offer this type of share account. How does it work? The headline rate of £1.50 dealing cost is obviously attractive. However there is a "catch" - buying shares is not done in realtime, rather, you choose one of four purchase dates spread across the month. Halifax then combines your share purchases with those of its other Sharebuilder customers and buys the shares, distributing them back to individual customer's holding accounts. This is what allows them to offer such a super purchase rate. How much do I need to invest? There is a minimum of £20 per month which is taken by Direct Debit from your bank account. This is then held in the Sharebuilder account to buy your shares. You can alter the amount you wish to invest at any time, and there is no monthly maximum. You don't have to buy shares each month if you don't want to, for example if you don't currently have any companies in which you want to buy shares, of if you want to wait to see what the market does. In this case, the money you have paid in is simply held on deposit, and earns you interest, and you get the opportunity to use it on subsequent share purchase dates. Selling shares: For share deals under £250, there is a discounted online sales rates of ... 22/08/2004

The price is right - but sadly that's all! eh? The online retailer that's clearly the bane of many a Ciao member. It seems that only the banks attract more critism! I have had cause to use dabs a number of times now, with varying levels of success. Despite having problems with the first order I placed with them, I assumed good intent on their part (should have read the other Ciao reviews first then!) and have ordered again. Out of five orders I have had problems with three. Still, I suppose that's a pass in some people's books! It does have to be said that dabs prices are keen. They often have 4-8 page adverts in the main computer magazines full of keen prices and special offers - and the prices online are markedly better. They also pay for advertising on price comparison sites such as Pricerunner and Kelkoo, and these prices again are usually at the lower end when compared to their competitors. The site is reasonably laid out, with products arranged into sensible categories. You will notice that dabs doesn't hold stock of many of the products on the site, and that lead times are indicated instead - often showing just a few days. From my experience these are woefully inaccurate - in the case of one order the indication on the site was (and continued to be) 1-3 days, whilst I was actually waiting, without any update being sent, for three weeks! At this point I got tired of waiting and cancelled the order. Cancelling orders that have not been despatched is actually very straightforward, and your credit ...

Sony MZN10 Net MD 07/07/2004

Set your life to music

Sony MZN10 Net MD I've owned the Sony MZN-10 minidisc for a year now and it's still Sony's "flagship" NetMD, at the top of their Minidisc range. The first thing you notice about the player is it's size and weight - it's ultra-slim, made of shining magnesium and weighs very little - it's 12.9 mm thick and weighs 83g if we're being precise! It comes complete with headphones and a neat external controller to clip on to your coat or shirt. Both the controller and the main unit look great in Silver - Sony have obviously put a lot of effort into the design. As I work as a software developer I need peace and quiet or at least some banging tunes to drown out the chatter in the office -- this does the job! Sony claim that it will play for 53 hours on a full battery -- well I've not timed it myself, but I certainly get a full week's play out of it before it needs recharging. An internal battery recharges in a couple of hours and you're off again. In case you forget to recharge, Sony provide a handy add-on battery compartment which clips on to the side and provides power from a standard AA battery -- very handy! As a net MD player it connects to your PC via a handy cradle and USB connector - you can then transfer music to it from CDs, port MP3s directly over or download music from one of the new "paid for" music websites. The software that is included, SonicStage is particularly easy to use and has caused few difficulties. A nice touch is that you can insert a CD into the PC to ...

Panda Antivirus Platinum 6.0 Complete package 07/07/2004

For great protection, follow the (Panda) bear

Panda Antivirus Platinum 6.0 Complete package Awwww....! The Panda is so cute! Several weeks ago after getting frustrated with my PC slowing down yet again, I decided to invest in some paid-for anti-virus, spyware and SPAM protection. Previously, I had used Norman Anti-Virus (free with Opistat), ZoneAlarm (free) and AdAware (free). These received regular updates over the internet, so I thought I was reasonably well protected, especially as I make a point of keeping windows up to date with the number of vulnerabilities that have been/are constantly found in that! The market leaders in this field are of course Norton and McAffe, two large American anti-virus protection firms. Now I've nothing against the Yanks you understand, but have to say the fact that Panda is a European product had some bearing on the purchase decision (Panda are based in Spain, but have offices all over the world, including one here). The main reason for my considering Panda was the small footprint -- I didn't want some huge and intrusive software slowing my machine down just to keep me protected. In my experience so far, I have chosen wisely. Panda doesn't tie up all my system resources and has been extremely effective. After uninstalling my mish-mash of different protection tools (Norman, ZoneAlarm and AdAware) Panda went on without any installation difficulties and required only one reboot. Upon restart it went to the internet for a virus file update and I was protected from start to finish in about 20 minutes. Then I ...

BT 27/05/2004

Broke my heart to leave BT

BT BT has been in for a fair amount of critism over the past.... well since it's inception really. In the early 1980s, they made so much money that the embarrassed owners (the Tory government of the time) ordered them to reimburse some of the lucre to subscribers (as they were called pre-privatisation) before selling the whole thing off to willing investors. BT was highly profitable throughout the 80s and early 90s, but I think it would be fair to say had a few service issues. Nowdays, I am pleased to report, things are a whole lot better. So, to the title of this review - clearly I have left BT - so why? Well, NTL, the cable company who supply my broadband (1mb - so faster than BTs) and TV service basically bribe me to be a telephone customer by not charging any line rental. I'm loyal to BT, but not to the tune of £15 a month! In my last house, we had BT and they never failed to impress me with their level of service which is streets ahead of that of NTL and other rivals. 1. Telephone calls are answered immediately by their customer services people, who have in my experience without exception been extremely polite, courteous and genuinely helpful. This is a world apart from NTL where you hang in a queue for ten minutes only to be told that the system has routed you to the wrong call centre, and the operator needs to (you guessed it) place you in a queue for the right centre... ten minutes later you find you were in the right queue the first time, and that's ...

Npower 05/10/2003

N-Power yourself by leaving

Npower Are you an N-Power customer? It seems that those Npower customers on Ciao! aren't a happy bunch - judging by some of the articles in the section for this power company. Well let me tell you a story. I moved into a new house in April, which was served by Npower. I had previously been with Powergen, and had decided that I'd stick with them despite some previous problems, because it was obvious that they had moved mountains to solve their service issues, to the point that they were good - and now, frankly, are damn good. Still, this opinion isn't about Powergen, it's about NPower. When I moved in I took the electricity and gas readings, and started the transfer over to Powergen. Powergen duly contacted me for meter readings, which they recorded and sent to NPower. NPower chose to ignore these readings, and send bills where the start reading was way higher than the actual reading when I moved in. Additionally, rather than take the correct change-over readings from Powergen, they used their own estimated reading - again, way higher than what had actually been used. In three months, the problem still hasn't been sorted out by NPower, and in this space of time they have sent me over 40 letters, each asking for payment and in some cases threatening disconnection if the bills are not paid. The bills are completely incorrect of course. Try telling them that. "Npower yourself..... it's later than you think.....!" Firstly, you can not get through to them ...
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