Archive for September, 2007

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Review of Comfort Inn Motel

September 24, 2007
Comfort Inn Motel, 825 Polk Street, San Francisco, California, CA 94109, USA

A gem of a hotel in a slightly rough area but fantastic value with all the services you need and a bus downtown around the corner for $1.50

I recently had to make a last minute trip to San Francisco. I assumed that leaving the hotel booking until the day before the flight would work in my favour and I would get an amazing downtown bargain somewhere. I was wrong. It turns out that there were three big conferences on the same days so nearly everywhere was booked out.

I spent the entire day using all the classic sites like lastminute, kayak, google, discount this, cheap that, blah-hotel-blah with little luck. Hotels seemed to be in three categories:

  • Reasonable price but 15 miles out in Airport
  • Roach motels in terrible area of town
  • $850 a night luxury hotels

All I wanted was somewhere clean between $100 and $200 per night where I wasn’t risking my life and I could get to the conference with not too much effort.

Most of the cheaper ones turned out to be hellholes, some only had shared bathrooms. All seemed to be in the Tenderloin which is supposedly this awful area of San Fran full of hobos and hookers.

Finally on Kayak I found the Comfort Inn and it looked ideal apart from location. Luckily I did some more reading to discover that hobos and hookers are pretty ubiquitous in SF and generally they don’t bother you. It looks like all those other reviews I read were by people who had never visited a big city. I then used the awesome Google Street View to effectively walk from downtown to the hotel. Sure, I could see that the area got a bit poorer the closer I got but I’ve seen a lot worse at home.

So I went for it and I’m so glad I did. I flew BA from LHR to SFO, grabbed a Super Shuttle which is a mini-bus you share with others going to the same area as you. The driver didn’t know the hotel or the street but luckily I’d printed off Google maps and directed him. I noticed that there was an enormous number of homeless people everywhere including the tourist downtown areas.

I arrived to find a motel-style place where the rooms opened out to a parking lot. A slightly dodgy looking cinema was across the road but there was a Subway on one side and a Quizno’s on the other. The guy at reception was very friendly and I headed up to the room.

Wow, what a surprise. A big modern room with a good double bed. Coffee maker, flat screen TV, ironing board, hair-dryer and both wired and wireless free internet. I was thrilled.

I stayed three nights and it fit my needs perfectly. The maid forgot to restock shampoo one day and coffee creamer the next but I could easily have got them down in reception. There was quite a bit of traffic noise from the street but anyone used to living in a city wouldn’t notice it. Internet accesss was quite fast. The shower had body jets and was superb and all linen and towels were clean and not old.

Due to the multiple conferences, taxi access on the first two mornings was always going to be a problem. But the manager pointed out that I could get a bus from around the corner for $1.50 to the door of the conference on Market Street. OK, so I was the only guy in a suit with a laptop on the bus but it was fast, efficient and regular. I did walk past several homeless on the way but they just ignore you. I love saving money like that.

I got cabs back from downtown and they were only $6 or so at night which is cheap. On the final day, checkout was instant and they called me a cab which only took five minutes to arrive. I think they did “continental” breakfast in the hotel but I didn’t bother. My guess is that it consists of a croissant and coffee.

Using kayak.com I got it for $117 on the Sunday night, $99 on Monday and $90 on Tuesday. Considering some of the roach motels were nearly the same price, this is an absolute bargain.

If you are visiting SF and don’t mind being a few minutes from downtown then this hotel is perfect. I’ll be using it the next time I go over.


Rated 4/5 on Sep 24 2007 by Mr C

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Review of SUVPR 350W Power Inverter Model DY8105

September 12, 2007
SUVPR 350W Power Inverter Model DY8105

This amazing piece of kit gives me 220V out from a cigarette lighter socket in my car. Perfect for charging laptop. Also has USB power out. Absolute bargain.

I had heard mention of power inverters for cars recently but I assumed they cost a fortune. My brother in law was considering one for running an old XBox in the car on long trips.

Whilst browsing around eBay I noticed this one and was shocked (pun intended) to discover that it was only €22 including P&P to Ireland. There were two models and I went for the more powerful one just in case.

350W Power Inverter Pic 1

It arrived today and it is exactly what I want. A small box that sits on the passenger side floor of the car. It plugs into cigarette lighter and I plug the laptop into it. Laptop reports that it is charging. Awesome!

350W Power Inverter Pic 4

It comes with a USB socket too so I can also charge MP3 players and phones at the same time.

It also comes with car battery clamps which surprised me. But the instruction booklet explained that anything which uses more than 200W needs to be connected directly to the battery. Good safety tip there.

350W Power Inverter Pic 3

Not much else to say. It does what I had hoped. The only tiny negative is that the power socket itself is not of the highest quality so you need to be careful plugging in and out. You may also run into problems if your lighter socket is in an odd place since the power lead is quite short.


Rated 4/5 on Sep 12 2007 by Mr C

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Review of kabrothers 200 Channel FM Transmitter

September 11, 2007
kabrothers 200 Channel FM Transmitter

So far this seems to be giving far better sound quality than my much more expensive VR3 FM transmitter. Only wish the audio cable was longer.

Another winner from my Hong Kong guys. €8.07 including P&P for something which is working brilliantly for me.

I’ve struggled with FM transmitters for nearly four years now. Both of the ones I’ve bought previously were VR3 ones and I suffered constant interference, volume and sounds quality issues.

It looked like I’ll have to spend either €60 to get an aux-in adapter for my Ford RDS6000 car-stereo or just replace it with some no-name chinese thing for around €90. Instead I decided to give FM one last chance with this transmitter since it offered 200 channels.

FM Transmitter for MP3 Player (or N770)

Initial signs were not great. It uses a proprietary sub-mini-USB connector from the cigarette lighter power adapter which doesn’t even fit well against the transmitter casing. However I did smile when I saw the top of the power adapter.

Cigarette Lighter Power Adapter with USB out

It also comes with a USB connection which I hope is a full USB-power-out so I can use it with my mobile phone.

I was surprised that the transmitter needed both 12V power and batteries. It actually worked without the batteries but caused a bad hum on the audio. I guess it is to keep the clock powered. I was happy to see that it has one extra feature not mentioned on eBay – a temperature gauge. Not needed by me since my car has one but still, a nice touch.

I connected the overly short audio cable to the headphone socket of my Nokia N770 and started playing some music. The 200 channels are brilliant because I found it very easy to locate an unused channel with no cross-talk. The sound quality is excellent and more importantly the volume is high so I don’t have to crank up the car stereo volume and have all the noise amplified too.

It has three memories for channels which is perfect if you travel any sort of distance and find yourself constantly retuning to avoid local stations.

What can I say, another winner.


Rated 4/5 on Sep 11 2007 by Mr C

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Review of kabrothers 7 Port USB 2.0 Hub with colourful LEDs

September 11, 2007
kabrothers 7 Port USB 2.0 Hub with colourful LEDs

I’m becoming a real fanatic of the incredibly cheap but highly functional products from the kabrothers shop on eBay. This hub is a gem even if lights very distracting.

The kabrothers shop on eBay is a treasure trove of gadgets and peripherals at very low prices. Many of the things I review on this blog come from them.

I have a large collection of USB hubs most of which are unreliable and all of which are 4 port only and seem to run very very hot.

I decided to give this 7-port hub a go considering it was only €7.60 inlcuding P&P from Hong Kong.

7-Port USB Hubs with Multi-Coloured Lights in day

It arrived today and I’m extremely happy with it. The hub itself and the psu are both very small. It runs very cool and so far has been much more reliable connected to my phone than any other one I have tried. Unlike most full sized ones it uses mini-USB to connect to PC.

7-Port USB Hubs with Multi-Coloured Lights in dark

The lights are unbelievably bright and annoying but I’m not remotely bothered, I’ll just put it out of my line of sight,

An absolute bargain.


Rated 5/5 on Sep 11 2007 by Mr C

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Review of DabsValue COLORSit 480W PC PSU

September 6, 2007
DabsValue COLORSit 480W PC PSU

A DabsValue branded PSU. Dirt cheap. Ultra quiet but a pig to install due to cheap connectors.

I tend to go for DabsValue products from Dabs.com when I just need the bare basics. So far most of the things I have bought have far exceeded expectations.

I was wary about taking the same approach with a PSU on an important PC but the reviews on the site said I’d be pleasantly surprised.

It’s a 480W “Gold” PSU with a massive fan for quietness. Lots of connectors but only one SATA one.

It came with no instructions and I ran into trouble with the two main motherboard connectors being too big. Eventually I realised the the large connector could be split in two and the smaller one could be “offset-inserted”.

Unfortunately the problems didn’t end there, that main connector took 15 minutes of wiggling and jiggling before it would finally slot fully into the motherboard connector. It just looks like they used a very cheap header. Also, that cable is very short and it was a real stretch to get to the motherboard connector.

Finally the motherboard powered up and all is well. I’ve been running for a week problem free and I have to admit, it is whisper quiet.

For important machines I’d spend a few quid extra in future but for most, it is an absolute bargain at €21.


Rated 4/5 on Sep 06 2007 by Mr C

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Review of CNet 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub

September 3, 2007
CNet 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub

A low end piece of rubbish which has been unreliable since day one. You are better off getting no-name stuff on eBay

I got this hub over a year ago. It was the cheapest USB hub I could find at slightly over £10 if memory serves.

It is a chunky box with semi-transparent casing. It comes with a PSU and cable for connection to PC.

Whilst it does the core job it has three basic problems:

  • The power connector is wobbly
  • It gets incredibly hot and so should not be stacked
  • It is unreliable, losing connectivity to daisy-chained hubs all the time.

I’ve just ordered a no-name 7-port hub off eBay for less than half of what I paid for this CNet. Avoid.

 


Rated 2/5 on Sep 03 2007 by Mr C
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Review of VR3 VRFM8 FM Transmitter

September 3, 2007
VR3 VRFM8 FM Transmitter

I bought the precursor to this over three years ago on eBay. Whilst it worked ok, the range of channels was not good enough and I suffered constant interference with radio stations as I drove around.

I replaced it about two years ago with this updated model. Its purpose is to allow you to play back music/podcasts through your car stereo. It plugs into your cigarette lighter and provides a USB connection and 2.5mm jack. A simple LED display shows the transmit frequency and there are buttons for channel, song up/down, play/pause. Some of those are overloaded e.g. volume up/down.

The USB interface works fine with most thumbdrives but takes forever to scan anything big. The audio jack comes with an adapter cable for 2.5mm to 3.5mm. I have used it with various music players, PDAs and mobile phones and it works fine.

Biggest problem continues to be the lack of channel selection. I spend an inordinate amount of time changing channel as I drive to avoid interference. The quality is quite low and is better suited to voice podcasts than music. Also the volume is low too (and only adjustable for USB) so you really have to crank it up on the radio itself which increases the perceived noise.

I’ve just ordered a generic no-name replacement off eBay which has fewer features but 200 channels. I hope it works better. In an ideal world I’d have an aux-in on my car stereo!


Rated 3/5 on Sep 03 2007 by Mr C
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