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since 06/01/2003


Accucard 25/05/2004

Steer well clear of Accucard

Accucard At first glance, a credit card with 0% for six months and cashback on purchases seems good, doesn't it? And the fancy Flash animation that allows you to 'choose your own features' also seems pretty nifty. Accucard seemed perfect for my needs... not too fussy about income, adjustable card features and a 0% offer that would provide a handy 'holding bay' for some of my card debt. And look! You can pick your own colour card, and your APR varies depending on the features you choose. It all sounds great... the site is nice and flashy and they certainly have the marketing lingo in place. I was convinced. But my experience of Accucard has, after two months, has been ANYTHING but 'good'. Let me give you a few reasons why you should pick one of the other 0% cards on the market, and steer well clear of this one. --> WEEK 1. THE APPLICATION. My application was accepted online with a credit limit of £750. I needed £2100 to cover my balance transfers so I called to request an increase. The advisor said I might not get it and I had to wait a week and a half to find out. In the meantime I applied for a Mint card, just in case, and was accepted with a £3700 limit. So, I called Accucard and said not to worry about the balance transfers... if I got the limit increase, I might re-apply. "Oh, OK, well they've been cancelled anyway." Slightly puzzled by this, I accepted what I was told. Some time later, a letter from Accucard came. Apparently I never sent my credit ...

Sony Handycam DCR-TRV22E 21/05/2004

Do the cam-cam!

Sony Handycam DCR-TRV22E I recently decided, on a whim, I'd like to make a few short videos and maybe a documentary. I had always wanted a mini DV camera but didn't realise how much prices had dropped in the past five years. I started tentatively looking around various camcorder review sites looking for a suitable model. Unfortunately, it was immediately obvious that the market is currently absolutely saturated with digital camcorders. Panasonic, Sony, Canon and JVC each have a vast and ever-expanding range of cameras which seem to look the same and basically have the same specs. The more I looked, the more confused I was. Eventually I decided to rule out JVCs and Canons due to their lack of microphone socket and motor noise (respectively) and almost arbritrarily limited myself to small models by Sony and Panasonic. The Sony PCxxx range was in my sights as was the Panasonic GSxx range. I took my shortlist into Jessops for a pricematch and naturally came out with a completely different camcorder. Here's a brief rundown of the buying process. -> CHOOSING A CAMERA It sounds obvious, but you really need to know what you're using a camera for before you buy it. Someone who wants to make short films will have different priorities than someone who has a newborn baby. The former probably wants the option of an external microphone whereas the latter may want something small and handy that won't pick up its' own humming in a quiet room. My choices are based on my needs - yours may ... 04/04/2004

Cheap rentals for telly addicts There's not much you can't do over the internet these days. Shopping, banking, talking to friends... all the things you used to do in the 'real world' are now cheaper, faster and more convenient from the comfort of your computer chair. Online DVD rental is a relatively new innovation, and looks set to be a growing industry - at least until internet connections get faster and pay-per-download films become a realistic proposition. UK customers currently have access to some fourteen DVD rental sites and their various store-branded offshoots (such as Mailbox movies, which can also be accessed via Most of these sites are offering free two, three or four week trials. So how do you choose? The simple answer is, you don't have to... you can sign up toa few of these sites and take advantage of the trials. If you can't be bothered with keeping track of your trial subscriptions, try searching for the most obscure films you can think of and see if your chosen rental site has them in stock. Screenselect had everything I wanted, so I decided to use their three week free trial to see how the service works. -> HOW DOES IT WORK? With online DVD rental sites, you create a wishlist of DVDs you want to see and prioritise them. Different sites have different terms and conditions, but Screenselect allow you to have three DVDs at home at any time, keeping each one for as long as you wish. When you've finished with one, simply return it via the freepost envelope and ...

Trust SpaceC@m 120 19/03/2004

Peek a boo!!

Trust SpaceC@m 120 It's hard to believe now, but when I first got online in around 1997, I spent a fortune on a black and white webcam that connected to my PC through its' parallel (printer) port. The camera was like a ping-pong ball on a wire, and sat in a triangular foam rubber stand. Quite a few years on, not much has changed in the webcam world. Setting digital cameras, TV capture cards and DV cameras aside (as they are not 'webcams' in the true sense, even though they can function the same way), the average webcam is still a ping-pong ball on a wire. The wire will now have a USB1.1 or USB2 connection, and the stand might be a bit fancier, but despite the pictures now being in glorious technicolour, webcams still pump out small-ish images, around 300 pixels across, at 25 frames per second. One thing that has changed, though, is the way a webcam can be used. --> WHY BUY A WEB CAM? With broadband internet access becoming common, web cams are more useful. Your chat partner can now see your image actually moving on an ADSL connection, whereas on a dial-up the results are poor. Perhaps because of this, instant messenging programs such as Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, ICQ and iChat AV (the Mac edition of AOL Instant Messenger that you have to pay for!) incorporate video chat as standard. Plug in a mic as well, and you have a free alternative to using your phone line for long-distance calls, with the added bonus of seeing the person you're talking to! Other software developers ...

Netgem I Player 19/03/2004

Jack of all, master of none?

Netgem I Player Ahh, Makro. That strange, closed community of small business owners where you have to beg, borrow or steal a Tradecard or risk being physically removed from the foyer. Shame, really, since Makro often have a few bargains in their monthly mailouts. This month, the bargain was the Netgem i-Player. We really like Freeview, having had a Goodmans GDB2 for nearly a year. But seeing as we are both internet addicts, and have just sold our second computer, we were starting to miss having internet access. We're in a small flat, too, and two computers makes the front room look a bit too much like an office. --> SO WHAT DOES IT DO? The i-Player is, primarily, a Freeview set-top box which allows you to receive around 25 free TV channels, and some digital radio channels. Many receivers do this, so in that respect the i-Player is not so special. However, the i-Player goes one step further. The box also has a phone socket so you can use a dial-up connection to connect to the internet and use email. It also has its own USB port, which opens up a world of options for expanding your set-top box into a primitive mini computer terminal. With a USB to ethernet adaptor, you can connect it to your home network, or access the internet through the i-Player through a broadband router. This effectively means you get ADSL access through your TV, although browsing with a keyboard and remote is obviously slow and awkward. Using the USB port, you can also play mp3s connect the box to your ...

Acoustic Solutions PORTAL2 17/03/2004


Acoustic Solutions PORTAL2 My Dad has been after a DAB radio for a while now. He's in his sixties but has always been interested in radio and has recently become interested in the internet and Freeview too. I had never really been interested in DAB until I saw the Pure Evoke 1 radio reduced to £66 and then £40 at the beginning of 2004 - and missed both offers! But this kicked off my interested and I decided I wanted to give DAB a try. --> WHAT IS DAB? DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting. Like Freeview and digital satellite, signals are encoded (captured) and digitally transmitted. There are three ways to receive digital radio for free – through the internet, through Freeview or free-to-air digital satellite, or with a DAB radio. Digital radio is designed to eventually supercede FM and AM broadcasts. Although Freeview is an option, the stations available through Freeview are limited. Most people buy a DAB radio to get a full range of digital stations, which can be played without being tethered to the TV set or computer. Depending on your location, you should be able to get 30-60 DAB stations – including an intriguing test channel that broadcasts the sound of birdsong! On the downside, DAB receivers receive low-quality versions of their Freeview and Dsat counterparts, and the majority of DAB broadcasts are actually in mono which is a tad worrying for something that’s supposedly a technological advance. DAB apparently suffers less hissing and fading than FM, which is true, but ...

Samsung SGH C100 02/02/2004

So good I bought another for my boyf! (UPDATED)

Samsung SGH C100 The world of internet bargain hunting is fast-moving. When one eagle-eyed David Dickinson protoge finds the buy of the month, hundreds, or even thousands of people flock to take part in the deal. In the run up to Christmas, the Samsung Fun Club became the site of choice for eagle-eyed surfers. Just before Christmas 2003, Samsung began a competition issuing £50 cashback vouchers to one thousand Fun Club members every day. Less of a competition, more of a game of chance, the trick was simply to submit your form on their website until you 'won' your cashback prize. No doubt Samsung's aim was to clear abundant stocks of the unpopular C100 and outdated A800 to make way for new models, but it still meant a colour screen mobile phone could be had for £20 when trading in an old 'brick', and to me, that's an offer too good to refuse. So the C100 and I met under unusual circumstances - and for a long time I didn't even think I would buy the phone, as it looked rather bland and the features didn't seem particularly special. At the end of December I needed a Virgin SIM card for temporary use, and decided I had nothing to lose by spending the extra tenner on the phone and card together. I can honestly say I've not been this impressed by a mobile phone for some time... and even considered retiring my £150 T610 for my £20 Samsung. Recently I also came into posession of a Nokia 3510i through another online offer, so I'll do a few comparisons along the way. At normal prices, these ...

Premier DC-2302 02/02/2004

The best £50 you'll spend this year

Premier DC-2302 My mum was talking to me before Christmas about buying a digital camera. She's had a 35mm zoom for a few years but is always frustrated by the fiddly controls and steep learning curve. She asked me how much she'd have to spend to get a good enough digital replacement. "Oh, about £100, maybe a bit more" I replied - and she quickly lost interest. A few weeks later, I noticed a £49.99 digital camera on Amazon. "Oh, just one of those crap webcam things", I muttered... until I saw that it was a 2MP digital camera with 3x optical zoom. Yep, not digital. Optical. The reviews were good, with only one recurring problem: it eats batteries. Yep, well, all digital cameras do that, and it wasn't enough to put me off. I ummed and ahhed over the camera for a week or so - mainly because I thought it would be a waste of money. Eventually, I brought it to my mum's attention. We decided to take a chance on it. I thought it wouldn't be that great, but it would be fine as a point and shoot, and it had the zoom that she wanted. We placed the order, and I waited particularly nervously for her to tell me the camera had arrived. After all, my neck would be on the line if it was no good, and I'd probably have to go over to her house to pack it up and send it back. To my amazement, it's the best digital camera I've used, in terms of features and picture quality vs preice. I'm seriously thinking of buying my own - because I don't think I'll be able to give this one back if I don't. --> ...

Boots Waxing Strips 19/01/2004

The ultimate skin-peeling solution

Boots Waxing Strips I've used Boots' Facial Wax Strips in the past, and they haven't been that bad. Not that they really took much hair off, and yes, obviously they hurt quite a bit... but at least there was no real detremental effect. Call it a lesson learned - my wallet was a bit lighter but otherwise, no real regrets. However, in a fit of madness I decided to try the strips again. January has proven to be a harsh month on my skin and with Boots' recent free £5 facial skincare voucher offer, I needed something to budge my purchases over the £10 mark to get the voucher. £2.75 was just about right, so I picked up a pack of the strips and headed off home to see if the new packaging meant the product had been improved. Maybe they would work a little better. --> USING THE PRODUCT The pack contains 16 strips which are quite small - about the size of your average Elastoplast. You also get a small instruction leaflet which gives general instructions on how to deal with different types of hair growth, the directions to apply the strips, and how to remove them. The general idea is to apply in the direction of the hair growth, checking the hair is at least 4mm long or the strip probably won't work. You then have to rip them off as quickly as possible, as slow removal - despite being less painful - won't have the desired effect. However, the desired effect is probably not the complete removal of your upper epidermis. --> USAGE/ RESULTS The instructions advise that you should dust your ...

Virgin Mobile 07/01/2004

Versatile, and very very cheap

Virgin Mobile I write a lot of mobile ops on Ciao, and am a notorious gadget freak. I do drive my boyfriend insane with my constant buying, selling and upgrading, but technology has always been something that has interested me, even since my junior school project on the network of bulletin boards that was soon to become the internet - and that was a good 14 years ago! So when I got to the age where I was allowed my own mobile, I went through a few different networks and cheap phones. My first was Vodafone, and when the aerial fell off, I went to my local Virgin shop to check out their phones. In those days, Virgin shops stocked a lot more refurbished handsets than they do now, so I actually got a Philips Savvy for £25 with calling credit and SIM included. I only switched away from Virgin when I made new friends who all had mobiles and were mostly on the Orange network (as it's cheaper to call on your own network than to call 'cross network' mobiles). Even though I have stayed with Orange since then, I can still see the benefits Virgin mobile offer. However, their service does have some small but significant differences to most other mobile companies, and that's the reason I won't be going back to them fully at the moment - although I do have a Virgin phone as a spare. --> ABOUT VIRGIN MOBILE Virgin Mobile is a so-called 'virtual' network. Rather than operating their own mobile network as the four major UK networks do, Virgin rent space off T-Mobile (formerly One-2-One). In ...

Tesco Value Soya Milk 06/01/2004

Soya wanna cut down on dairy?

Tesco Value Soya Milk OK OK, so my op titles are getting worse. But give me the benefit of the doubt! Today's my first birthday on Ciao, and aptly, my 50th review. Hopefully this review will also make me turn purple too (not literally, silly!). So let's celebrate the occasion with a look at one of the best products Tesco have come up with in their (mostly) great Value range - the Soya Milk. --> WHY SOYA MILK? If you've read back through a few of my ops, you might have noticed that I generally avoid sugary, starchy food and get my vitamins and minerals from fruit and veg. This is more commonly known as a low carbohydrate way of eating, although I wouldn't want to scare you off in the second paragraph by putting too much emphasis on that! Anyway, regular cow's milk has a relatively high sugar content - in fact, the lower in fat your milk is, the more lactose you'll be ingesting. I have a metabolism that simply can't cope with high sugar intake and the insulin responses that blood sugar spikes can bring, so I use soya milk in tea, and a mixture of soya milk and cream where soya milk alone doesn't quite taste right. As for calcium, I get more of that from all the spinach I eat than I ever got from milk! --> BUT DOESN'T IT TASTE NASTY? It is true that soya milk is a bit of an acquired taste. There are two types - sweetened and unsweetened. Bear in mind, if you are trying to reduce your sugar intake, that sweetened soya milk contains sugar anyway, so you really need to learn to love the ...

Tesco Value Antiperspirant Deodorant 06/01/2004

Kicking up a stink

Tesco Value Antiperspirant Deodorant In order to get our weekly or monthly shopping bills down, we have a number of tactics. We print reams of internet vouchers, collect points at Tesco, use online voucher codes and often pop into two or three different shops on the route home to get everything we need at the cheapest possible price. Money saving is a big thing in our house and I'll be the first to shout about the considerable savings you can make on the supermarkets' own 'Value' ranges. Whenever I can get a special offer, free trial or a good price on something, I will, provided that it's something I will use anyway. Household essentials can take up a deceptively large proportion of the weekly spend, and since deodorant is pretty much a household essential for any vaguely hygenic adult, so what could be better than Tesco's ultra cheap anti-perspirant? Well, pretty much anything, actually, and I'll tell you why. --> APPEARANCE The Tesco Value range is always clearly marked with white labels and blue vertical stripes top and bottom. They have recently improved the font on their Value packaging to make products a little more easy on the eye, but the basic look is the same as it always was, and the Value products are easily recognisable because of this. The Deodorant is no different. It comes in a 200ml blue and white can with white cap, and there's not much else I can say about it. It looks quite bland but does stand out on the shelf. --> PRICE COMPARISON Tesco Value Deodorant in a 200ml can ... 05/01/2004

Free money for every shopaholic! I must admit, I'm sceptical of reward cards. I have a Morrisons petrol card, a Tesco clubcard, a Boots Advantage card and probably a few more somewhere. I drew the line at getting a Nectar card since I think their rewards are pitiful given the expensive shops you have to use to collect points, and the meagre rewards you get. There is some correlation between online points sites and loyalty cards, since the system is vaguely the same. By using affiliate links on points sites, the site owner gets paid for 'referring' you to the site. The points site then splits the reward between the customer, and themselves. Of course, the one marked difference between a site like Greasy Palm and a reward card is that you are not 'tracked' in the same way. Yes, the site owner could probably see how much you had spent if they were really that interested, but it's not as though Mr Sainsbury is getting information about your weekly spend and eating habits. So points sites offer a good compromise between value and compromising privacy (if this is something that bothers you) - and offer a lot more versatility, as you can shop from different retailers and have your points collected in one central account. --> HOW DOES IT WORK? When you need to buy something online, it's worth having a quick look through the Greasy Palm site before you make your purchase, to see if you can earn any money back on what you're spending. Retailers are organised in categories - Books, Mobile Phones, and so on ... 04/01/2004

Brilliant - until something goes wrong. I've ordered from the Carphone Warehouse online twice now, and had quite mixed results. One order was for a Pay As You Go Sony Ericsson T610 which was pricematched for me - the other was a bargainous free 3510i and free line rental for a year. I'm always out for a bargain and if I can avoid smarmy salesmen I always will... so buying online seemed like a good option, and with Carphone Warehouse, you think maybe they know what they're talking about. I don't want this to be a 'Buyer Beware' op as such, so I'll go through the site and ordering process first - then tell you about the downsides I've experienced. --> THE SITE The Carphone Warehouse (from now on, CPW) site is distinctive, and follows the branding of most of their literature. The menus are clearly laid out on the left-hand side, with buttons specific to ordering - cart, account, etc - across the top of the page. Selecting the product(s) you are interested in is relatively easy... you can view contract or Pay As You Go (PAYG), then search all phones on one network, or one particular phone on all networks, depending on which is most important to you. On each phone page there is a small summary of the phone, a picture, and CPW's own rating and comments. I don't normally pay much attention to the comments and scores, as naturally they are trying to put you off cheap phones and get you to consider a 'better', more expensive option. In the case of PAYG, you simply choose your phone and network, then check ... 17/12/2003

Dixie tricks (updated) *See the bottom of m op for freephone customer service numbers and complaints addresses* Most people reading this op have probably seen, or visited, a Dixons store. What becomes more obvious when browsing their site is that they are part of the Dixons Group, a high-street monopoly incorporating The Link, Currys, PC World and lesser known shops and sites such as Partmaster Direct, Mastercare, UniEuro and something called Electro World. Of course, this allows each company to 'borrow' something of the others' identity and no doubt offers huge money-saving practices for the companies involved. For example, Mastercare provides delivery and installation for PC World, and Partmaster Direct is promoted in the email confirmation you get when you order from It's usually the case that once a company grows too big, it has no reason to provide customer care any more. Indeed, the Dixons group seems to have one 0870 number that serves five different stores, which might explain why you can never get through to discuss an order. Here's a quick run-down of my first order and my first impressions of their site and service. --> DIXONS.COM The Dixons website is laid out in more or less the same way as the PC World, Link and Currys websites. It uses the same shopping cart system which, instead of simply placing an item in your basket, tries to sell you a gold SCART lead or an extended warranty at a so called 'bargain' 10% off (i.e at least 25% more than any other ...
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