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Occasional reviewer these days, still aiming to share exceptional product experiences.

Reviews written

since 17/08/2010


Argos Medium Pet Cage and Mat 07/11/2015

Canine cage, crate or doggy den?

Argos Medium Pet Cage and Mat Cruel to be kind? When our vet broke the news that our dog Lily would need several weeks of severely restricted mobility following a complex operation on her leg he recommended we buy one of these cages to help manage the situation. I had some misgivings at first, associating cages with captive animals, zoos and guard dogs, but I now see they can have a valuable role to play in the home. The cage we chose is robust and secure, easy to assemble and keep clean. The only real negatives are its weight and one sticky door latch. Other cages in the same range look very similar but will no doubt be less heavy to transport. Why invest in a cage? We had to eliminate the possibility of any jarring movement while Lily’s leg was healing. No jumping down from the sofa, for example. Quite a tall order without the possibility of 24/7 supervision! So I bit the bullet and ordered one of these cages from our local Argos, reserving online then collecting the next day - in plenty of time to set it up and give the dog some time to get used to it before her operation. On return from the surgery Lily accepted her part-time, temporary confinement surprisingly quickly. Which was a great relief as this protected her from self harm, with no apparent distress, at least for times when we were unable to keep a close eye on her. They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, and Lily’s no spring chicken! But she actually seems quite pleased now with her new den. This is probably instinctive but, for ...

Motorola Moto G 8 GB 04/10/2015

MOTO G 4G '1st edition' and arguably best value

Motorola Moto G 8 GB This phone came personally recommended. A member of the family had bought an earlier version and kept telling me it was great value for money. A year on, this updated 4G model was available for the same price of £129.99, so I decided to follow the recommendation and upgrade. I’ve been using it for over nine months now and haven’t been disappointed. It does everything I need from a mobile phone, and more, including making and receiving calls! My previous smartphone (reviewed earlier) was a five year old budget model with a proprietary operating system. But in the last year or so I’d been impressed with the Android system on my tablet and I was now looking to spend a bit more on a higher specification phone with a similar interface. I just didn’t expect to find one for the same kind of price. My new 4G Moto G cost no more than the 3G version had a year before, and not much more than I’d paid for my old phone five years ago. Some eight months later it still feels like a bargain, and it’s now available for even less. The main drawbacks to my older phone were its tiny screen, its primitive web browser and incompatibility with most apps. As a phone and messaging device it performed adequately for the most part (and still does) but the experience was hardly sparkling. The Moto is dramatically faster, feels like a much more expensive product than the price might suggest, and still functions perfectly well as a mobile phone. I have no hesitation in recommending this product in ...

Tesco Hudl 2 26/08/2015

Hudl2: second time lucky

Tesco Hudl 2 When I first heard that Tesco were offering an own branded tablet PC I wasn’t sure what to think. Could it actually be any good? Maybe a not-so-cunning scheme to promote Tesco products? Well maybe partly, but … That was the original Hudl, released a couple of years ago, around the time I bought my first tablet - a low spec budget Android model (reviewed earlier). By the time the improved Hudl 2 came out to mostly rave reviews I’d been largely won over to the Android operating system – both on my smartphone and on the tablet – and I was now looking to spend a bit more on a higher specification tablet. But I didn’t expect to find one for less from my local supermarket. Eight months later it still feels like a bargain at just over £100 then and now available for even less. The main drawback to my older tablet was its slow web browsing. Other apps performed adequately for the most part but the experience was hardly sparkling. The Hudl2 is dramatically faster and feels like a much more expensive product than the price might suggest. A JUDGELY HUDL? I seem to remember it was Loyd Grossman who coined the phrase ‘going into a judgely huddle’ to agree a verdict. No need for that here, as I have no hesitation in recommending this Hudl as good value for money. KEY FEATURES For me the most immediate and lasting impressions of this machine remain its responsiveness and its look and feel. Performance The quad core Intel Atom processor and 2 Gb memory (RAM) certainly deliver more ...

Flymo 300 09/08/2015

Still doing the 'Shove'n'Vac'

Flymo 300 FLYMO 300 ‘EASYGLIDE’ This is my third Flymo hover lawnmower and an improvement on previous models, like the old Mow’n’Vac that finally gave up the ghost at the start of the season. For a relatively lightweight budget mower, the ‘Easyglide’ does an equally good job of keeping our grass in reasonable trim. It’s also quicker and easier to use – information I felt might be worth passing on. I did have some reservations about investing in yet another Flymo, having had some trouble with the on/off switch on my first model and with the plastic cutting blades on the more recent Mow’n’Vac. But thankfully both of these issues are resolved on the Easyglide and the handle is more robust and usable too. Otherwise, much of my earlier Flymo review still applies and some of this might sound familiar. ‘Less bovver’? To coin a phrase from another manufacturer, this ‘hover’ is actually ‘a lot less bovver’ than my other lawnmower, and it’s almost as effective. (We were lucky enough to win a half-decent rotary mower nearly 30 years ago in a raffle run by one of our local garden centres before it was relocated from the delightful walled garden of Hopetoun House). This rugged wheeled German model is, needless to say, still more or less functioning today – but compared with the lightweight Flymo models it is quite bulky and awkward to carry from its home in the garage. I use the Easyglide regularly to trim at least one of our three grassy areas (I hesitate to call them ‘lawns’!), often in ...

BT BT6500 03/02/2014

Peace in our time - with the BT 6500 Digital Cordless Phone

BT BT6500 As its name suggests, this is an up-to-date cordless phone from BT, with all the usual functions including answering machine. As such, it works perfectly well. Calls are clear and messages reliably recorded and played back. Battery capacity and range are fine for most purposes, and there’s room to store up to 200 contacts. You can send and receive text messages. In fact, all the usual functions seem to be supported, and more. But this is also a phone with a difference: it’s designed to block nuisance calls, and that’s the main focus of this brief review. The BT6500 is available with up to 4 handsets. The model reviewed here is the twin handset version. What price peace and quiet? If, like us, you’ve been increasingly plagued with calls about PPI etc., despite being registered with the Telephone Preference Service etc., you might like to investigate this product. Since installing it a month or so back, our house has fallen strangely silent. We’d become so used to cold calls constantly disturbing us that this actually felt quite odd at first. I couldn’t quite think what was ‘wrong’! It may not be quite 100 per cent, but it’s definitely a big improvement for such a modest investment. At under £50 this was a good investment last year, having almost entirely eliminated our nuisance calls since then. The only extra cost may be from your network provider to enable caller display if, like us, you’re not BT subscribers. I can confirm this product works fine with a Virgin Media ...

Roberts CR 9971 30/11/2013

Wind back to basic radio times

Roberts CR 9971 ROBERTS CR9971 Chronologic VI Clock Radio – Silver As the name suggests, this little alarm clock radio comes from a well established manufacturer and does a pretty good job of waking us up on time. It has dual alarms and weekday/weekend options, as well as automatic time, summer/winter and date settings (see below). There’s a backup battery to preserve these too. The radio is not digital, so the choice of stations is limited to fm and medium wave, and the clock isn’t radio controlled. But sound quality is quite acceptable for a compact clock radio. This may not be the cheapest analogue model, but at under £20 it is well presented, functional and good value compared with DAB units. Back to basics When our digital clock radio expired prematurely (reviewed previously here), I was reluctant to replace it with like-for-like and resigned myself to relying on phones for those morning alarm calls. But we both prefer to wake up to the gentler sound of the ‘wireless’ (Radio 4, to be precise), and we do sometimes need to rise at different times. A dual alarm radio clock ticked all the right boxes, and I was very lucky to be given one as a present not long afterwards. I was actually quite relieved to see this was a relatively ‘old tech’ analogue model from a quality manufacturer, as it seemed less likely to break down before its time, so to speak. That was many months ago, and the Roberts is still going strong. Availability and price This model is widely on offer at the moment ...

Tiso Heaties USB Rechargeable Hand Warmer 25/11/2013

Hands up if gloves just aren't enough!

Tiso Heaties USB Rechargeable Hand Warmer When gloves just aren't enough (again!) As the cold weather seems to be with us once more, I've been charging up this handy little device. These are still available through Amazon at a slightly increased price, and mine is still working well. Hence this brief review update: Hands up if gloves just aren't enough! A handy gizmo Here’s a neat gadget to help you through these cold winter months: this cunning little device charges directly from your laptop or any USB source then keeps your hands warm for up to two hours. I got mine as a timely present the Christmas before last and it has proved a real boon when out walking the dog or scraping the windscreen. It could be handy at home too, during a power cut! At first I was quite sceptical as to whether it could really provide enough warmth to make a significant difference. But this isn’t just a gimmick – it really does help. I just slip it under alternate gloves when out and about in very cold weather and appreciate its gentle warming effect. I’m even considering investing in another – one for each hand! (Maybe it's time to do this now it's passed the test of time and still working well!) Design & construction I quite like the simple design and rugged anodised aluminium construction. The neat little sock into which it fits may well provide insulation and keep it warm for longer, but I soon realised the unit was much warmer without this and I just keep this as a protective pouch when not in use. Without going into ...

ProAction 10 Sheet 21 Litre Cross Cut Shredder 08/11/2013

What price security?

ProAction 10 Sheet 21 Litre Cross Cut Shredder ProAction 10 Sheet 21 Litre Cross Cut Shredder As its name suggests, this product securely shreds sheets and has a large waste basket. It also copes well with CDs and credit cards but not quite as well as I’d hoped with multiple sheets of paper. I’m not so sure about the claimed 10 sheets at a time, as it slows down and can overheat if overloaded, triggering its thermal cut-out. But at just under £35, it’s not bad value and a big improvement on our old strip-cut shredder. Not a bad choice for the home office. What price security? With all the dire warnings in the media about stolen identities and security generally, I decided to upgrade to a cross-cut shredder for greater security some time ago. As well as the usual documents, I had a number of CD and DVD data discs that needed secure disposal, and the old shredder couldn’t handle these. At the time, this model seemed to tick all the right boxes and was available at a reasonable price from our local Argos when I checked their website. As it was the last one in stock I reserved online and collected the next day. Since our purchase, this model has been discounted by Argos and is currently on offer for £29.99 which, for example, brings it just below the price of a similar product from Ryman. Specification and performance While this is described on the Argos website as ‘industrial standard’, I’d have some reservations. For example, the member of sales staff was at pains to point out that, despite claims to the contrary, it ...

Versus Touchpad 9 Android Tablet PC 8GB 01/11/2013

Versus Touchpad : home and away

Versus Touchpad 9 Android Tablet PC 8GB Update, November 2013 Since I've been using this budget tablet off and on for the best part of a year now, my main problem has been with the Android 'Kindle App' that refuses to function correctly. Otherwise, the only other issue worth noting is response time generally -- higher spec devices may now be available at a comparable price offering faster performance. Update, February 2013 After using this budget tablet quite extensively for some time, my only real disappointment was being unable to print with the Android system. Luckily, Epson's free iPrint app for Android has resolved this issue and I am now happily printing using the excellent little wifi printer that I reviewed back in November. (Epson SX435W: 'Small, smaller, smallest 'Small-in-One' ') I've also established that the latest version of the Touchpad for 2013 has been upgraded, which should further improve performance and responsiveness, for much the same price. --------------- --------------- --------------- --------------- --------------- --------------- --------------- - Versus Touchpad : home and away This version of the Versus Touchpad, also badged as an identical ‘CnM’ product, represents good value for a slim and very portable 9 inch tablet PC. It may not be quite as fast as expensive ‘high end’ tablets but I find it generally performs well enough for the price. The ‘multi-touch’-sensitive screen is responsive and easily personalised, as the Touchpad comes with a fairly recent version of the ...

Capital - John Lanchester 01/11/2013

Capital rich, capital poor?

Capital - John Lanchester ‘All human life is there’ – that was the motto of a certain recently demised national newspaper, based in Wapping. John Lanchester’s ‘Capital’ might not have quite the same cast, but it’s not a bad title for a novel based on a London street, its residents and the recent financial crash. London lives! At nearly 600 pages, the story somehow managed to sustain my interest to the end. Despite the absence of a single character with whom it was possible to fully identify, and the lack of any truly gripping plot, its success lies elsewhere. It’s all about change and values. We follow the turbulent events affecting the lives of a wide range of households over a few dramatic months in recent history. The ‘Capital’ cast ranges from City dealers and ‘yummy mummies’, through Premier League footballers, to legal and illegal immigrants and potential terrorists. There’s conspicuous consumption, crime and craziness, and hand-to-mouth poverty. The art world doesn’t come off too lightly either, with street art naturally in Lanchester’s sights here. This is not East Enders or ‘The Street’. It could all be the stuff of soap opera but somehow succeeds in rising above this. The quality of writing has a lot to do with it, and the main storyline is just sufficiently engaging, being something of a ‘whodunnit’. But there’s also humour in the parody of excess, and empathy with some all-too-human characters and their foibles. I particularly appreciated the portrait of the Pakistani family and its ...

Standing in Another Man's Grave - Ian Rankin 13/05/2013

Plots, twists and turns along the Highland Highway

Standing in Another Man's Grave - Ian Rankin Back in 1982 Films of Scotland produced a documentary on the remaking of the main A9 road to the highlands: a ten year civil engineering project. Reading Ian Rankin’s latest crime novel recently, I was reminded of watching this on an early VHS video, then driving along the upgraded route shortly afterwards. The road features prominently in the book, which also marks the welcome return of Rankin’s popular Detective Inspector John Rebus. Regular readers will find all the required ingredients here, along with familiar characters from previous stories: Siobhan Clarke, Cafferty etc. Rankin cleverly reintroduces ‘old school’ Rebus, now working in a ‘cold case unit’ and considering a return to mainstream policing with the recent extension to the official retirement age. He’s as sharp and witty as ever, doggedly determined to pursue, by any means, an investigation into a series of disappearances linked to the A9 north of Perth, going back at least a decade. The plot is as complex as ever, too, but with the scene in this latest story shifting back and forth between Rebus’ Edinburgh and all points north to Inverness and beyond: an effective combination of ‘road movie’ and crime novel. Rebus may be out of his comfort zone here but there’s life in the old dog yet, despite all those years of booze and fags (of the cigarette variety!). He is still all-too-human: a flawed, unconventional but brilliant detective. Rankin skilfully sets him against the more recently introduced Malcolm Fox, ...

Lepai TA2020 Tripath Class-T Hi-Fi Audio Mini Amplifier 19/03/2013

Lepai leaps to the rescue

Lepai TA2020 Tripath Class-T Hi-Fi Audio Mini Amplifier This incredibly neat little amplifier can transform almost anything with a headphone socket into an audio device capable of powering a pair of medium range hi-fi loudspeakers. It’s powerful enough to fill our living room and also suitable for a car, caravan or boat (if you’re lucky enough to have one). While maybe not quite up to the exacting standards of hi-fi purists, the sound quality seems amazingly good for such a low price. I ordered this from Amazon for under £25 when one of the speaker channels on our Denon audio system (reviewed some time ago) suddenly stopped working. Everything appeared to be functioning apart from the final audio stage powering one of the speakers. The digital radio, cd player and USB etc. were all fine. Crucially, the headphone socket still worked and both speaker units were ok, so with a bit of lateral thinking it occurred to me there might be a simpler solution than attempting a repair to the Denon itself. There had to be something designed for use with MP3 players, phones, laptops or tablets, and indeed there was – in the form of the Lepai mini amp. Installation, setup and usability Connecting this to the headphone socket and speakers was simplicity itself, using the 3.5 mm stereo input jack and the spring terminal speaker connectors. The controls are equally straightforward. The tone controls can be bypassed, leaving only a volume control to adjust for optimum level. There’s very little to go wrong. Without going into too many ...

Breville VKJ556/VKJ557 09/03/2013

Cool blue hot water (again)

Breville VKJ556/VKJ557 Breville VKJ557: illuminated jug kettle Breville’s VKJ557 illuminated jug kettle is a good looking, fast boiling model with a reasonable water capacity and all the basic features that we’ve come to expect from a modern cordless automatic kettle. It’s ergonomically designed, with a 360 degree rotational base and dual illuminated water level indicator windows, for right and left handed use. The on/off switch and lid release button are both at the top, which might not be to everyone’s taste but are in fact perfectly usable. This may not be the lowest price electric kettle on the market but it does represent pretty good value for a quality product. It feels robust, performs well and looks quite sleek in our recently refurbished kitchen. Ours is shiny black but it is also available in white (model VKJ556), for potential colour co-ordination. Why ‘again’? This is our second Breville kettle, replacing our previous VK396 model reviewed here some time ago. Our old kettle was very efficient and gave good service for several years until its base was accidentally submerged in water last year and it became the first of several electrical appliances to bite the dust within a few weeks of each other. (Still, at least that means plenty of replacement products to review this year…!) The old appliance could probably have been resurrected but for the sake of safety I decided its time had finally come. So it was down to Argos again for the nearest equivalent at around the same price – just ...

So He Takes the Dog - Jonathan Buckley 18/02/2013

A value-added murder mystery

So He Takes the Dog - Jonathan Buckley So he takes the dog – Jonathan Buckley Not so much a ‘whodunnit’ as a ‘who-was-it’, this is a mystery with a difference. The title doesn’t give much away, referring to a dog-walker who discovers the body of a vagrant on a beach. The story follows the lengthy police investigation into the apparent murder. But it’s the identity of the apparent victim ‘Henry’ and the gradual revelation of his background that provide the real interest, along with the unexpected effect all of this has on the somewhat diffident narrator. This is something of a slow burner but ultimately worthwhile. The narrative style seemed slightly eccentric, demanding some effort on the part of the reader. Perhaps it was just me, but at times I had to deduce the identities of speakers and narrator. This might not appeal to all mainstream crime fiction fans, but the plot is original and perseverance is ultimately rewarded. The main setting is a small seaside community on the south coast of England, with the scene shifting from town to town as we retrace Henry’s peregrinations. He remains an enigma throughout much of the book, defying all lines of enquiry, and the final ‘reveal’ certainly took me by surprise, as did the unexpected outcomes for our narrator/investigator. ‘So he takes the dog’ is essentially a story of lives and relationships profoundly affected by events. Populated by a colourful cast of characters and personalities, on one level this is a tragic tale of death, loss and infidelities, but it is ...

Bissell Featherweight 3106J 11/12/2012

Not just a feather duster

Bissell Featherweight 3106J The Bissell FeatherWeight is a full size, lightweight vacuum cleaner that’s much lighter than a traditional upright but better suited for carpets than a handheld. It has a long handle which, I find, means less bending down or fiddling with tubular attachments. It’s lighter to use around the house than traditional vacuums, and far easier to carry upstairs for a quick clean up. At under £40, the current asking price seems quite reasonable too, compared with some other products. As this appliance is mains powered, no charging is required and there is no need for a separate charger. It can be a handy tool for lightweight cleaning, but it does have to be plugged in and the mains lead has to be wound manually. I’m no expert but I have found this a useful addition to our household cleaning arsenal, if not a complete substitute for existing tools. It’s certainly better suited to family members who now struggle with heavier appliances. About this review I wouldn’t normally review anything that I hadn’t acquired new, but I was sufficiently impressed with this to make an exception. It was no longer required by elderly relatives who had moved from a two storey house to a bungalow and now have help with the cleaning. So the lightweight Bissell was actually more use to us now - hence this brief review. Our model appears to be a 3105J but to all intents and purposes identical to the 3106J. A hybrid design When I first saw this appliance, it struck me as slightly odd: a kind of ...
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