Feature on Soapbox Jury

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Web Review: Pricerunner.co.uk

Pricerunner.co.uk - a simple and effective site,
with good navigation and search facilities.

If you've never heard of a 'shop bot' you'll find no better example than Pricerunner. A shop bot is a consumer friendly database that searches for the cheapest seller of a wide range of popular goods. Pricerunner is probably the best known UK example and it's database is huge - hundreds of thousands of products from thousands of retailers. It also has a very diverse product range - from contact lenses to long haul flights, but it's for electrical goods that Pricerunner comes into its own. The site has very good navigation, search and filtering capabilities.

I'll use the example of shopping for an Apple iPod Video, 30 GB in White - a very common and popular object. Within only 3 clicks I have discovered that this item is priced between GBP £231.90 and GBP £314.14 (including delivery) depending on which retailer you go to. That's a potential saving of a massive GBP £82.24 (USD $156.90) in about 5 seconds of effort. Pricerunner also offers consumer reviews on the products and retailers and information about delivery costs and availability. Furthermore, some retailers offer a discount for purchases made via their Pricerunner link.

Pricerunner is a top site that will save you some time, money and effort in your shopping!

Movie Preview: Borat

You have got to go and see this movie. I'm not usually a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen and can't stand all the gangster rap crap of his Ali G character but Borat is different. The movie is about a roving reporter from Kazakhstan who travels through America with an eye on finding and marrying Pamela Anderson. Borat has a very, erm, distinctive journalistic manner which doesn't always agree with western values of sexual and racial equality - but it's absolutely hilarious none the less. Have a look at the movie trailer:

What makes this movie so good is the spontaneous wit of Baron Cohen, who never lets the pretence of the Borat character slip for one moment. Many of the background characters in the movie were unaware it was a spoof and were completely drawn into the Borat storyline. The movie is out in the US now and opens in the UK on 3rd November. Book those tickets now!

Web Review: MoneySavingExpert.com

MoneySavingExpert.com - a brilliant site, useful for everyone.

The tag line, "UK's Free to Use, Free of Ads Consumer Revenge", sums up the site nicely. Martin Lewis is a journalist with a difference - instead of muck raking and scare mongering he tells people how to save money on everyday products and services. Martin is well known and well respected by the UK audience because of his regular spot on Radio 2 and numerous TV shows.

MoneySavingExpert.com attracts over a million visitors a month and is the biggest personal finance and consumer site in the UK. It doesn't take much browsing to find out why this site is so popular - it is packed with sound advice on how to haggle for goods, cut insurance premiums, save on household bills and get great value travel. Whatever you want to buy you can be sure that it is mentioned somewhere on this site.

As a sneak preview I'll reveal one of Martin's money saving tips: how to make money by recycling your old mobile phone. Let's face it - nearly everyone has at least one mobile phone (cell fone for our US readers) that they'll have no need for when they upgrade. Martin explains that recycling your old mobile is:

"... a simple process. They give you a price, and send you a jiffy bag for the phone which you can return Freepost, yet they don't accept responsiblity for non-delivery so it's worth considering sending the phones by Recorded Delivery which insures it up to GBP £32.

Send the phone charged, switched off, without the Sim card, and remove any security or PIN codes that'll hamper its testing. If it isn't up to scratch (usually only 20% of phones are rejected) you'll generally be contacted and offered a reduced price, which you can accept or have the phone returned free of charge."

Find out more by visiting Martin's site. It is free to use and no registration is necessary - literally surf, use the tips and save money. The site is perfectly safe to use - you'll not find any annoying pop-ups or spyware. It couldn't be easier. Definitely gets a big thumbs up.

Web Review: Dabs.com

Dabs.com - a great place to find reasonably priced
computer accessories and good service.

Whenever I need any PC components or peripherals the first place I head now is dabs.com. I had a bad experience with PC World - I mistakenly ordered the wrong component, quickly noticed and tried to cancel within the hour. Unfortunately PC World processed my order regardless and it took me a fortnight to recover the money for components that never left their warehouse shelf! I've had no such trouble with dabs. I've ordered from them numerous times and I've always found the the site easy to navigate, order easy to place, goods reasonably priced and quickly delivered - you can't ask for any more than that. One of the first things you'll notice with the dabs homepage is tabbed browsing. This comes in very handy for finding what you want quickly, and there is always a very good search facility to fall back on. Once you've located the product you want it is also very easy to find those extra add-ons because they are automatically listed. There are detailed product descriptions which are complimented by an extensive range of unbiased customer reviews. Arguably the best part of the dabs empire is it's value range, which is easily seen by clicking on the 'shop by brand' tab. Do not be fooled that the low price reflects the quality of these products - the dabs adage is to pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap - high quality unbranded merchandise at a very affordable price. Worth a visit just to check out their extensive range.

Web Review: Freefoto.com

If you have never heard of Freefoto (www.freefoto.com) I recommend you go and take a look sometime. I have this site bookmarked and visit regularly to borrow from their massive array of images. They have a photograph suitable for all occasions. Often they have several photos of the same setting but with different angles, light, shadow and contrast.

A slight negative might be the slight bias towards UK scenery and objects, mainly because the site owner is British. Notwithstanding this there is a healthy collection of European and North American images and some from elsewhere across the globe. The collection is constantly growing - sourcing and publishing the images is obviously a true labour of love for the owner. In addition to the usual scenes of breathtaking rolling countryside, Sunkist golden beaches and snow-capped mountains there are also many useful 'down to earth' images of everyday objects - the sort of objects that aren't incredibly ingenious or attractive, but that you might like to use in a presentation or document. Best of all is the price - Freefoto, as the name implies, is absolutely free of charge for non-commercial users. No need to register either - just surf and save! All they ask in return is that you acknowledge the source. Go take a look - you'll not be disappointed.


About 4 months ago I took out a new contract with Vodafone. I used their online store, chose my handset and selected an 18-month call plan which included 200 anytime minutes, 200 texts and their 'Stop the Clock' promotion. All this for the princely sum of £25 per month, which was £2 cheaper than a comparable O2 deal I was also eyeing up at the time. It was probably the £2 saving and the 'Stop the Clock' that swung this deal in Vodafone's favour.

Last month, out of the blue, I noticed that my line rental had crept up to £27 without warning. I dug out my email confirmation to double check the details and, sure enough, I had only agreed to £25 per month. I rang Vodafone to discuss my bill. I was slightly miffed that they had stolen an extra £2 out of my bank account without informing me beforehand, in accordance with their own pay monthly terms and conditions. It took a bit of explaining, what with the huge language barrier between me in Durham and their call centre 20 miles away in Stockton, but eventually we agreed that I would fax my order confirmation which stated the £25 price. I should have realised something was amiss then - the suggestion that I should fax it, when a multinational telecommunications giant should have computers slightly more powerful than a Spectrum ZX and capable of receiving a forwarded email.

I went to the fax machine, blew the dust and cobwebs away and after about 10 minutes of warm up time I was ready to send. About 10 minutes later on I realised that their machine at the other end had no intention of receiving my document. The next day I rang Vodafone again, regurgitated everything I had said previously and explained about my failed fax attempt. "Can you go and check the fax machine is working before I try and send it again?" I said the the chap on the end of the phone, "no problem" he replied and after 10 minutes of canned music he returned to tell me the fax machine was fully operational. I confidently strode down to the fax machine, the scent of resolution in the air, and tried to send my document again. Much to my frustration the same result ensued - my machine dialled, but the Vodafone machine didn't bother to answer. Unperturbed I headed to a second office and asked to borrow their fax - yet again there was no answer at Vodafone's end. On the third day I rang Vodafone again and got a different call centre. They had a fax machine that did work, but in the intervening fortnight they have failed to correct my account despite their hollow promises to the contrary.

So a simple message to Vodafone - improve your customer service. If I was to renage on the contract you wrote you would no doubt feel hard done by. If I refused pay the disputed £2 you'd have me put on a credit blacklist. Nobody is claiming that £2 is a lot of cash but what gives Vodafone the right to dip my bank account, like a thief in the night, without asking me beforehand? On reflection I should have gone to O2 after all.

Welcome to Soapbox Jury


Welcome to our blog, Soapbox Jury. As the name implies, it is a site for voicing opinions and passing judgement. The exact purpose of this blog to critique websites (mainly), products, services and ideas. We will try and give a balanced, fair and honest review of any item we include. Whatever the content of a Soapbox Jury review it will heighten awareness of the item featured.

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HSBC - The World's Local Bank?

HSBC - whores of the financial services industry.

I was reading in the Metro free newspaper that HSBC drove a poor lad to suicide by constantly hounding him over his bank charges. Debt-ridden Geraint Banks-Wilkinson, a 20 year old university computer design student, was found hanging in his flat after HSBC launched an unwavering attack and cancelled his £1200 overdraft. He had already tried to pacify 'the world's local bank' by cashing in his student loan cheque, but to no avail. With debts mounting up and bills to pay, it was all too much for Geraint and he decided he couldn't face the grim reality of life anymore. A very sad story. A tragedy that HSBC, who waste millions of pounds on pointless frivolities every single day, didn't have the heart to work out a payment plan with anxious Geraint.

In another case highlighted in the article Aaron Robinson, 24, of Balham, South London, said he was targeted by HSBC after completing his degree. According to Aaron HSBC would ring him every 2 hours "demanding I pay my £2,000 student overdraft off in full or face serious repercussions." To add to his worries "they (HSBC) then rang my parents from 6.30am to as late as 10pm." This is a trick befitting a tin-pot communist dictatorship - trying to take your pound of flesh from a grown man's parents when you don't succeed at extracting it from him. An HSBC spokesman tried to defend their scaremongering tactics by saying "I don't see multiple calls as badgering people. It's trying to get a message to someone in financial difficulty." How out of touch 'the world's local bank' seems to be with reality.

Fortunately I don't bank with HSBC myself, but a straw poll of HSBC customers I work with gives a very negative impression of their banking services. Customer number 1 has banked with HSBC for the last 6 years. He recently lost his HSBC credit card, rang them to report the loss and had the card cancelled. It transpired that the card had been used fraudulently in the hour or so between it being lost and reported. HSBC tried to inflict the fraudulent charges on my friend and it took about 10 phone calls and several weeks of effort before HSBC credited his account. Customer number 2 is a Portuguese national - where better for him to bank than 'the world's local bank'? After about 3 months they told him they "no longer wish to provide you with banking services". That was it, their final word, a condecending snooty letter with no word of explanation. Twats.

So if you need a bank account, don't go to HSBC. They are the whores of the industry.