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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 reading so much more comfortable than I initially assumed it would be. I wondered if this feature would take away from this - but I needn't have worried. Actually, it's a neat upgrade - best of all, it's adjustable on a sliding scale, so it's never brighter than it needs to be and can be controlled and tweaked to your level of comfort. This makes it a bit more versatile than before - it's easy to read in darker light now - without losing anything or sacrificing the major advantages of the Kindle. Everything that was true of the Kindle before is true of this version - it really does make reading better - you can take books everywhere, you can juggle multiple novels, read documents, instantly buy new material when you've run out ... for me it's a revolution, and this is the logical progression in that process.
When it comes to creams and potions, I'm a pretty loyal customer - I don't go chopping and changing for the sake of it. As such, I've been a dyed in the wool Aveeno loyalist for years now, and it was only as a result of someone giving me this at Christmas (some inspired present-buying right there) that I got to try this. So how did it compare? First off, Nivea are a pretty big brand, but they're one whose products have always eluded me. To be honest, I'm not sure what sort of reputation they have on the whole, but I've never been tempted away from Aveeno, who - by the by - make an absolutely top notch moisturiser. First impressions with this product were fine - as fine as I'd reasonably expect for an item that's not likely be too earth-shakingly magnificent, whatever it does. As it comes in a relatively petite tube (75ml, for what it's worth), I decided to leave my 300ml bottle of Aveeno cream at home when I went away for a week, and give this a spin. On the face of it, the cream isn't at all dissimilar to Aveeno - the smell is a little different (perhaps this is the Aloe Vera?), but in no way unpleasant. How to explain it except for saying it's mellow and creamy, none too strongly fragrant? The smell is soft and mild, in any case, which I'm sure is what they're after - it's certainly not something that'd give you cause for concern when it comes to applying it to your skin. Texture-wise, it's fairly opaque and of a creamy, rather than watery consistency. A little goes a long way, and I was able to cover my face and neck with three or four pea-sized blobs. It massages into the skin easily, and doesn't leave much of a residue or sign of application. It is a little greasier than what I'm used to, though - there's a certain (very light) sheen that it leaves behind that I'm not all that enamoured with, but it does fade. As you apply it, it feels cooling, but this sensation doesn't linger. No issues on first use, then - although what would you expect? Over the week, I was perfectly happy with the moisture that the cream provided (or protected, whichever it is). My face didn't dry out in warm and windy weather, and I only needed to apply it once a day. Full marks there, then. My problem with this product would be that I don't feel like it's all that suited to sensitive skin - and to be fair, it makes no such claims. I'm sure there are other Nivea products which are specifically designed for this. Although my skin didn't react particularly strongly to the cream, I felt like it was a little redder and tighter in places than I'm used to. This kind of thing does come and go, so it's hard to lay all the blame at the Nivea product's door, but when I switched back there was an improvement. That said, perhaps it's just that my skin's hooked on Aveeno and didn't like going cold turkey. I would imagine most people - certainly those without sensitive skin - would get on just fine with this item. On the plus side, this little tube has some staying power. I have since switched to using it on the rest of my body after the wee face experiment, and it's been absolutely fine for that - it's a good hand moisturiser in particular. In six months' use, the cream hasn't run out, and it seems like there's still a fair bit to go. At around £5 a go, this means it works out as a rather cheaper option than my dear Aveeno, so while it isn't a replacement for me, I think it'd be a good buy for others.
It's that time of year, just about. The shed door is prised open, the garden furniture's carted out, and everyone's having a barbecue. Best make the most of it, it'll be winter any second ... We got there a bit early, actually - the first hint of sunshine and plus-zero temperatures and our table and chairs were out, for which I'm sure they're not grateful. That they've been fine with this is a plus-point, though - we haven't treated any of the furniture with anything, and a year on from buying them, you wouldn't know they've braved the darker side of an English spring, so ... kudos for that. The table and chairs (ours only came with two cushions, hence a reduction in price) are all well-made, built from solid teak, and feel entirely sturdy and hard-wearing. They've been used for dining, drawing and the like, and have stood up to everything we've asked of them without any problems. The table is unmarked, and there's no sign that the dampness or rain has weakened it at all. The chairs are surprisingly comfortable to sit on, even without the cushions. These are a little fiddly to attach, and most of the time I don't bother - the curve of the chairs is plenty comfy enough. The table's at a good height, so no issues there either. Assembly is quick and easy - the chairs pop straight up, and the table legs just need swinging into place and clipping in. When this is done, everything's sturdy and there's no wobbling or difficulties finding somewhere to stand the table. Taking everything down is equally easy, and when folded away the table and chairs take up little space. All in all, then, a great buy - this is a well-made set of furniture that'll last you a good time, and really lets you take advantage of the summer. Long may it last!
This is part review, part obituary, as the laptop in question has only this day decided to shuffle off this mortal coil and join the great scrapheap in the sky (and, soon enough, the less metaphorical one just up the road). Dear Asus, you served us well - several years of dedicated service you gave us, and despite your jamming keys and inconsistent wi-fi connectability, you'll be missed. Fare thee well, old friend. The Asus was a fondly regarded member of our electrical family. Bought for a variety of everyday tasks, it performed its duties with a sense of quiet dignity. Few would have a bad word to say about its conduct and workmanship, even if it grew somewhat eccentric in its old age. It was never an especially cutting-edge piece of equipment, but it knew this about itself, and went about its work in an amiable, efficient way. It didn't balk at any task, although knowing its limitations, we didn't push it to take on more than we thought it capable of. It didn't game, it didn't use photoshop - for the most part, it browsed the internet, held photos and knew its way around the Office suite pretty darn well. It was not a looker - no modelling contract would be landed at its door. Nor was it an ugly creature, it must be said - its visual appeal was neither great nor miniscule. It was pretty slim-line for its age, which I liked - and pretty light and portable. On the other hand, it was rather square and boxy, and seemed to have missed the boat when it came to sleekness and fancy design touches. It was functional, nothing more. I forget how much we paid for the machine - such are the ravages of time on one's memory, but it wasn't a great deal; even at the time it was somewhat outdated. With a couple of hour's battery life, this isn't one of the more long-lasting machines around, and years on, this has dwindled to about ten minutes. Charge time is quick enough, but this short battery life does impact on portability. When it was working, though, it worked well - it's not super-fast, naturally, but it did everything well enough, and can cope with several programmes running at once, so long as they're not too energy-sapping. What other quibbles? The aforementioned keys - a number of these seemed to get stuck for no real reason; the keyboard was cleaned as best possible, but it didn't help much. When they wanted to stick, they stuck - although this was towards the end of its lifespan. The fan is pretty loud and obtrusive, although this is a fairly minor issue. I guess the screen size - or more its square-ness, really - was my major gripe, and really made me appreciate the wonders of widescreen. It's hard to be too critical of this laptop, though. It's an old model, and considering the price we paid and the expectations we had of it - and the length of time it carried on working well - I think it can be considered a sound investment. Given the age of the machine, and the above qualms, I wouldn't buy this particular model again (not unless I was really destitute), but I would quite happily part with my money for another Asus laptop. Maybe a trip to the dump would be undignified in the circumstances. Full Viking funeral here we come.
Urgh. Writing these reviews, I'm reminded of just how much Ikea stuff we've owned at some point over the last five years or so - like an awful lot of people, it was the cheap option when we started out in our first flat, and since then it's been a steady process of phasing out the multitude of furniture and replacing it with slightly higher-end products. I think this speaks volumes of Ikea's creations - they look quite neat in the shop, and they're certainly wallet-friendly. They even do a good job for a couple of years, but they're not the kind of thing you look forward to keeping with any sort of fondness. This table - bought with the bigger coffee-table version four years back - has been neither our best nor worst investment; it didn't completely collapse (Malm bed, I'm looking at you ...), but nor has it sailed through the years without a blemish like the goody two-shoes chests of drawers. Assembly-wise, this is your usual flat-pack affair - but it couldn't be much easier to put together. There are only five pieces, and it's all of about five minutes' work to put them together. That's probably including taking a break too. The only slight niggle is in screwing the legs on so that they're aligned properly with the sides when they're all the way in. Maybe that's just my incompetence, but a certain amount of brute force was needed, along with generous helpings of trial and error. In terms of durability, it's not bad. Considering how much use it gets, and the sheer variety of stuff that's been put, dropped, spilt and piled on it, it's stood up pretty well. When the table bought the farm after four years, there were a few chips and scuffs in the surface, and the veneer on the legs had worn away in places, but it was pretty low-level damage. All in all, for sub-£20 you're getting a solid, easy to put together table that'll hold its own until you're able to get something more beautiful.
As the little brother (or sister, but it looks more masculine to me) of the 4-drawer Malm chest of drawers I earlier reviewed, much of the praise I sent the way of that piece of furniture could also be applied to this. Likewise, the negative points, but there aren't so many of those. One of Ikea's more utilitarian pieces in terms of the meeting-place between form and function, this is a solid, reliable, throroughly trustworthy product that'll last you years, though it probably won't attract too many envious glances. We picked up our set of drawers from Ikea's reduced section in the warehouse; it had a few scuffs around the back, but was otherwise absolutely fine. As such, we got it fully-formed, but I would assume these come flat-packed. If it's anything like its bigger, heavier-duty sibling though, it'll be a breeze to put together. There aren't too many parts to fit together here, and though there are moving pieces, it wasn't difficult to assemble the aforementioned 4-drawer version. Price-wise, we paid £27 for the slightly duffed-up model of this, so I suppose it'd be nearer £40 for the shiny new one. In terms of function, there aren't any negatives here - the unit is boxy and sturdy, and is very hard-wearing. The wood used is solid and has survived two years of regular use, included a house move - all without complaint or visible damage. The drawers are spacious and easy to open, with a tilted lip that's easy to get your fingers around and pull out. The surface is wipe-clean, and there aren't any stains or marks on ours, so this would be a good choice for children's bedrooms, I'd imagine, although some of the corners are a little angular. Things of beauty aren't really Ikea's raison d'etre, and this product is no exception - however, as a practical, affordable option that'll last you for eons, it's a solid buy.
We've got to the point now where we're steadily replacing the vast mass of Ikea furniture that we kitted out our first flat with four years ago - and it's testament to the staying power of this particular item that it's not one of the pieces set for the cull. In fact, it's barely aged, and though it's not the most beautiful set of drawers you could dream of owning, it's more than made the original investment - around £80, as I recall - more than worth it. As with the vast majority of Ikea's products, this comes flat-packed - and I'll admit I thought something of this size (with moving parts, oh the horror!) might be beyond my modest assembly talents. It's really not all that tough to put together, though - the instructions are - for once - clear and accurate, and a methodical approach had us a fully-functioning set of drawers within half an hour or less. Made from the same light but hard-wearing wood as the rest of this range (we have side tables as well, not to mention a bed which has not lasted nearly as proudly), this is a solid, well-designed piece of furniture. Four years on, everything works as it should, the drawers open smoothly and nothing has bowed or sagged. It's surivived two house moves, and it shows every sign of battling on until it's eventually retired. Ikea products can be rather hit-and-miss, but this is firmly in the hit column. For less than £100, we got a reliable, well-built piece of furniture that has served us well and given us no problems. Recommended.
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 fiddly, and frustration can be substantial. The hardware underpinning it all does its job just fine, and it's a generally well-designed phone. It's just well worth being clear on what you want and asking yourself whether you wouldn't rather pay a little more for a phone that really makes the most of the smartphone experience.
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' more recent efforts. There's nothing outright awful here, but enough bum notes to drag this album into the grey and murky waters of *okay*. Flowers is capable of producing outstanding music, but the evidence of this is only fleeting here. You won't hate the record, but neither will you love it. Unlike the city to which it pays homage, it's all a bit missable.
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 excellent. In fact, the album works as one unit almost perfectly - the whole is arguably a greater triumph than any one song. If you haven't already got this album, you've almost certainly heard the band's music - it's provided the soundtrack to any number of things, although it's so much more than background music. It's an intense, immersive, inventive experience that really stands out in any field. It's a storm of sound and imagination. Basically, I liked it. An awful lot. I'm sure you will too.
Perhaps the reason I like Counting Crows so much is that they're kind of difficult to pin down on the rockometer. At times they're heading in a country direction, but sometimes they're mellow and west-coast Americana ... but they can also do the (relatively) hard stuff too. Underpinned by an effort to try and actually say something vaguely erudite with their lyrics, it's a formula that works for me - there's an electicism to their work that makes each album a complete listening experience. Having said that, this - their fifth studio album - is a more clearly divided offering. As the title attests, this is a story of two halves; first up Saturday night, with its heavier, dirtier rock offerings, then Sunday morning - when things are pared-down, cooler and more tranquil. It's not a staggeringly original concept, but for a band who tend to span the rock-spectrum regardless, it's a neat way of focusing their output. Things start strongly. 1492 is a thumping, positive track that showcases how good Counting Crows and Duritz can be at this kind of thing (incidentally, I generally much prefer their cooler, more contemplative stuff, but this is pretty good). Cowboys is an equally impressive song, setting an affecting, irrestistable tempo from the outset. In fact, as a whole, this half of the album is a winner - the songs aren't all equally striking, but they run together well and work as a unit. When things go all mellow in Sundays, quality takes a bit of a hit. There are still decent tracks here - Anyone But You compares favourably to their earliest (and best) work, and the angsty, soulful vibe matched up with the lilting Californian feel to things is as effective as ever ... but there are too many nothing tracks here, something Counting Crows are rarely guilty of. You normally feel like enormous thought and effort and personality have been worked into each and every track - even if they aren't ultimately knock-out songs - but things are a little uncohesive here. Some songs show this kind of investment, but others feel like half-ideas that have been picked up off the cutting-room floor and dusted down for an easy release. They're not *bad* songs, exactly, but the band normally produce better. So a mixed-bag then, and not one of their stronger offerings. It's a nice listen, and worth it if you're a fan of their thing, but it doesn't stand prettily next to their first two albums.
Disturbingly, this is ten years old now - how time flies and the like. The fourth studio album from one of my favourite bands, this is a slightly patchy affair, but the stand-out tracks are of such a quality that it's hard not to love Hard Candy. At its worst, it's catchy, well put-together background music, while the best of the songs here are quite exceptional - from the suitably sweet and summery American Girls that opens the album to a top-notch cover of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi that compares pretty favourably to the original. The vocals of lead singer Adam Duritz sit perfectly with the track. I know Counting Crows can be a bit safe and unremarkable for some - an inoffensive slice of mid-American soft rock that doesn't threaten to pull up any trees musically, but for me it's their understated, mellow buzz that appeals - the tracks are infectious, lyrically clever and well-crafted, and underpinned by consistently brilliant vocals from Duritz. Alongside the two previously mentioned tracks, Up All Night and Holiday in Spain are exceptional songs, with quite wonderfully strong choruses. The latter in particular is an enduring favourite for me - it just scores on every level, with some of the best lyrics the band have put to paper. It's a wonderful piece of escapism that manages to sit ambiguously between emotions and leave an evocative, bittersweet aftertaste. It rocks. The rest of the tracks are okay-to-good, which is fine. They punctuate the lulls between the big hitters well enough, and there are certainly no stinkers here. This isn't the stunning success that August & Everything After was, nor is it as consistently strong as Recovering the Satellites, but overall it's an extremely strong album that contributes some great songs to the Counting Crows canon.
We bought this television about a year and a half ago, shortly before it was swifty superseded by a shiny new smart model which makes this look immediately dated. So it goes - that's technology, I guess. Still, smart-envy aside, this is still pretty much the perfect TV for us. It's slick and sleek, modern enough to look good and do everything we need, and comes in at a pretty reasonable price - we paid getting on for £500, but you'd be looking at £300-400 now, I'd have thought. Upon choosing a new TV, you're presented with a pretty overwhelming, dazzling display of models, all of them looking new and shiny, and all of them playing Avatar. What made this model stand out? It's hard to say - I think it just ticked all the boxes for us; affordable, a good size, an excellent picture and a neat, unfussy design. It's a big TV, but it doesn't always feel like one; it's pretty slim and trim, and is free of too much extraneous gimmickry, so insomuch as a 42-inch TV can be unobtrusive, it is. Setup's pretty straightforward too - the base is a bit fiddly to get on (and twice as fiddly to get off - when we moved house we just had to give up and send it in the van as is), but this isn't a major sticking point. We had it up and running in no time at all, really, and the interfaces and menus are all extremely intuitive, so there's little standing between you and your working, gleaming TV. The picture has proven to be as good as it initially appeared - I'm sure there are better models out there, but for everyday viewing it's great, and it's ideal for watching sport on; the colours, crispness and sharpness of the image is just fantastic, and makes the investment seem entirely worth it. We had heard that the sound quality of this type of TV wasn't great before - we were told that the rear speakers tended to project into the wall and create a slightly muffled sound, but this hasn't proven to be the case. Perhaps it's more of an issue if the TV's wall-mounted, but we've had no real trouble, save for a slight vibration/echo that high volumes occasionally produce. If there's one aspect that isn't ideal, it's that the TV only has the one Scart connection, meaning I have to manually swap over the Xbox and Wii each time I want to use one or the other. Not a big deal, but an occasional nuisance. There's probably some extremely easy solution to this, so I guess the fact that I haven't been driven to track it down shows that it isn't really that big a problem. I also like the ease with which you can plug a USB stick into the slot on the side of the TV and scroll through photos, films and the like - this has always been quick and easy, and photos look great on the screen. All in all, it's been a great buy - if you're looking for a mid-range option that looks great, delivers excellent picture quality and suffers from only the most minor of niggles, this is a good option.
It says something for the unrelenting, grim bleakness of our interminable winter that it's only in the last few weeks that I've finally found it too warm to wear a base layer when I go out running; for what's felt like half a year now, it's been just about the only thing standing between me and freezing to an icy death. I was given this at Christmas, and aside from being a size too small (which has in its own way been a good thing - another incentive to get out there on those dark winter runs and shift the holiday fat), it's been the star turn of this year's presents. Worn either on its own, or for those of us without ripped pecs and washboard stomachs, under an outer layer, I was surprised to find it so effective at keeping out the wind and chills. Like most base layers, it's close-fitting, but not uncomfortably so - it's well-designed, and hugs the body in all the right places, never rubbing or riding up. I'd imagined beforehand that I might find the garment somewhat restrictive or overly warm when I started working up a sweat, but happily it seems to represent the best of both worlds - it provides initial insulation when you start exercising, shutting out the wind and keeping your temperature up, then seems to allow your body heat to escape once you get going. I'm not sure how it does it, but it does an excellent job of regulating your core temperature. As a piece of design, it's a winner too - neat and simple in looks, not too heavily daubed with logos and an all-round pretty unobtrusive piece of kit. After several months of regular use it's as good as new, so seems pretty agreeably durable too. There's nothing especially welcoming about those dark, cold January runs, but they need to be done - and this is just the helping hand you need to do them.
I take it back - contrary to my earlier assumptions, these aren't the embodiment of all footwear-based evil. They're actually quite good boots. I've always been put off this kind of horrendous neon-splattered paint explosion, and I certainly wouldn't have gone out and chosen this pair. However, with my usual pair of boots dying a death and falling more or less in half, and my other pair having chosen a useful time to vanish, I borrowed these from a friend with dubious taste ... and I'm ashamed to say I actually really liked them. After all, it's just the colour that I had a problem with - and you know, books and covers and all that. As bad as the aesthetic design may be, the actual physical design of the boot and all the practical details that go with such a product ... Nike know what they're doing, and this pair were pretty faultless on the pitch. Designed to play on artificial surfaces, I wore them on very hard grass, and they were great. They hug the foot really well without ever getting too tight, and give you a really good feel for the ball. The traction from the sole is excellent, and they manage to combine a lightness of touch with a real durability. For such a flimsy-looking boot, they show no signs of coming to pieces any time soon. I'm still not sold on the looks, but if this isn't an issue for you, you'll be well pleased with this product; a good, solid, reliable boot that'll serve on a variety of surfaces.