April Travels 2015

Houghton Mill near Wyton.

Houghton Mill near Wyton.

Just before returning from our Easter break in France we booked the next weekend at Wyton Lakes near Huntingdon. Hardstanding ensured an all weather pitch although the forecast was fairly good.

Within a few hours of arrival we decided to book a May Bank Holiday weekend here but due to our late decision making and the popularity of this site we could only book the late May weekend. Checking out the familiar surrounding area we found a couple of changes, Hartford Mill a Whitbread eatery adjacent to the site had re-opened after a fire last year with improved food and ridiculously low prices. The garden centre opposite the site entrance had been taken over and updated. The main attraction for us here is the new butchery and deli area where we could not resist leaving without purchasing a few pies and cakes.

Well one weekend merged into the next as mid week we booked again for Wyton lakes enjoying a lazy couple of days in Wyton Delirather unseasonable warm sunshine. On Saturday after an hour out on the bicycle and a couple of photo opportunities, a trip to the Three Jolly Butchers to sit in the beer garden for a couple of hours soaking up the rays had to be done. Oh and another stocking up with pies and cakes from the garden centre.

Meanwhile we booked a P & O crossing to Calais for the first May Bank Holiday weekend.

So the early May Bank holiday weekend started as well as Easter. Another record drive time to Dover with no stops at all. The Dartford crossing changes are working well for us. Following a lot of prior searching we were heading for Le Touquet with a plan to drive straight from the late night ferry crossing to the Aire in the north of the town, get a few hours sleep then then on to Camping Stoneham were we had pre booked a couple of nights. This was also an opportunity to test our new Sanef “Bip and Go” toll tag or “liber-t” on the short stretch of A16 motorway between Calais and Etaples. More on this later.

Stella Plage Aire

Stella Plage Aire

Well the best made plans don’t always work out. The Le Touquet Aire was jammed when we arrived at around 2.00 am, the backup location at the Equestrian Centre along the road was jammed too so we headed down to Camping Stoneham but found no early arrivals area here either. Stella Plage was the next destination and we eventually found the Aire, with one space left. After a bit of messing about on Saturday morning we found we could not pitch at Camping Stoneham until after 2.00pm so we returned to Stella for a lazy morning, bit of walking and had rather a good Filet de Bouef at Le Resto de Fred in Boulevard Labrasse. We didn’t do much once pitched up at Stoneham for the rest of Saturday but on Sunday had a rather enjoyable few hours in the town centre and a bit of a tour around the area on the scooter. Lunch at Jean’s Cafe – American Bar was at best, average, the centre of attraction being a seemingly real Harley Davidson “Night Rod” on a waist high plinth just inside the door. Only the second one I have ever seen, the other being in the South of France last year.

When we returned to Stoneham, the sun was so strong late afternoon I spent a couple of hours sitting outside. Camping Stoneham is mostly a static home park with about forty touring pitches. Just out to the south of town, about a twenty to thirty minute walk to the centre, the site is fairly quiet. The amenities are a little old but the showers had plenty of hot water. The pitches vary in size from one that looks like just a Romahome would squeeze on up to comfortably fitting a tag axle Autotrail. There is a proper motorhome service point on site too. Bread and croissants are available from a kiosk early morning and there is lots of tourist information in the reception. We will revisit this site later in the year.Camping Stoneham

Returning via Calais, we were targeted for the first time by an immigrant. We were topping up with diesel at the Total garage next to Pidou, as I walked round the back of the van to pay, a young man was trying the rear garage door. A bit startled, I was lost for words, he just turned and calmly walked back behind the building.

I ordered the “liber-t” tag as we use the French autoroutes quite extensively. There is no financial advantage, discounts on tolls etc, in fact there is a €5 admin fee each month the tag is used but linking from the Caravan Club site to register for an account saves a €10 set up fee. My rationale for using the tag is I believe it will save us time when travelling long distances. The times we have sat in queues at the toll booths waiting to pay only to see lorries we had overtaken an hour ago pass through the “t” lane on the right. I think we could gain close to an hour a day in the summer season. Anyway, it worked as advertised on this trip. I will report back in the summer when it has been used for a couple of weeks. BTW, Sanef are the same company that are operating the payment scheme on the Dartford Crossing, although this uses number plate recognition, there may be a possibility of using the tag in the UK in the not too distant future.

Cable Clutter solved.

With an ever expanding collection of mobile phones and tablets, inevitably the chargers have to be carted around for the devices to function. My desk, and when travelling, the motorhome table get cluttered with cables and differing chargers which take up space and I find all the cables so annoying. When travelling I have lately been carrying a sizeable four gang 13amp extension cable to accommodate all the chargers.

Recently I read a favourable review about the Proporta 6 port USB charger. Having purchased some items from Proporta previously, I knew that they only supply top quality mobile accessories so I ordered one immediately.

USB boxThe charger was delivered the next working day together with, I believe for each purchase, a tea bag in the packaging. Presumably this is so you can unpack and read the instructions for your new purchase whilst having a cup of tea. The instructions for the 6 port hub are pretty straight forward. Plug in the not so long mains cable on the rear of the plain rectangular box, plug in a USB cable on the front attached to a device to be charged and the unit identifies the correct power requirement for each connection. The unit is so small and simple and works faultlessly, not even heating up with six devices attached. The only small negative is the bright blue led mains light on the front of the charger. This does light up the inside of our motorhome at night.

Desk

Desk

At an initial cost of £19.99 in black or white, it’s not cheap but I expect a long life from the unit. In fact, I was so impressed with the decluttering of my desk, I bought a white one for the motorhome which was a little cheaper using a discount code supplied with the previous purchase. For the motorhome I replaced the average length mains cable with a longer one from Amazon for about £3.50, so the cable could be hidden behind upholstery trim in the van.

USB vanA recommended purchase and check out Proporta for other mobile accessories.

Easter – Charleville Mézières. 2015.

For our 2015 Easter break we settled on Charleville Mézières in the Ardenne region of north east France. The town website is inviting and informative and the Camping Municipal, Parc du Monte Olympe looked to be within a short walk from the town centre.

Our journey started well, with an afternoon of traffic chaos on the eastern side of the M25, by the time we left for Dover around 6.30pm on Thursday evening, it had cleared giving us the fastest run to the ferry we can recall. The new toll system at Dartford, for the southbound side anyway, gave us a non stop run from home to ferry arriving just in time to be offered an earlier sailing. After disembarking in Calais, we drove round to overnight in the marina car park.  A little suspicious that there were only four others parked up plus another Bürstner we followed in, a new sign at the entrance confirmed the camping car area and the twenty four hour fee which has been reduced to €7. This was promptly collected at 8.30 next morning by the same official as previous visits.

Camping Parc du Monte Olympe

Campsite

The uneventful journey, mostly down the A26 took a little over four hours including a lunch stop at Jacks Brasserie in Rethel. Approaching Charleville, Camping Municipal, Parc du Monte Olympe was well signposted through the town and is situated next to the river La Meuse in a sports complex which includes a small marina. Due to the previously wet weather, we were offered one of six hard standing pitches adjacent to the reception building and the fairly good toilet facilities. Electric hook up is 10amp with waste and water for most pitches. The majority of pitches are of a generous size with low hedges bordering. There is free wifi within the reception building but virtually no signal outside. There is also a snack bar/ takeaway at the entrance to the site. Pitched next to us was ChasandCath who were returning to the UK ending a three month trip to Spain. Chas is known for his “Postcards from ******” blogs on the Caravan Club website “Club Together” forum.

Footbridge to Town

Footbridge to Town

Charleville, the “Coeur d’Ardenne”, has a lot of history but is also known for it’s own poet Arthur Rimbaud. There is a museum dedicated to his life and works with an entrance off the impressive  town square, La Place Ducale. The town centre is within an easy ten minute walking distance from the campsite.  Via a pedestrian bridge over the river, there are plenty of interesting buildings and shops to browse. Continuing our travelling tradition of sampling as much of the local food and drink as possible, we took lunch at the friendly Brasserie Le Chene in Rue Bérégovoy on Saturday and then a truly excellent Sunday lunch at L’antre-côte in La Place Ducale. Here we were only seated a moment when approached by an English speaking French gentleman from the next table who offered to translate anything we needed as he had learnt English whilst training as a

La Place Ducal

La Place Ducal

pilot in the US, in 1953. Later, his fairly recent partner told us her life story (including lovers). A darling 80 year old couple. The food by the way, was excellent, finished off with the best Cafe Gourmand ever.

On Easter Monday we left for Montreuil sur Mer, deciding to take a virtual straight route across country to Cambrai, then Arras to Montreuil, passing through many small villages and differing landscapes. We tried to lunch at Hirson, arriving just as a huge street market was packing up. We walked up and down the rather lengthy main street, around the square, up side streets, but only found a chinese buffet and a kebab house. Eager to continue our journey, we settled for a very rare visit to McDonalds on a retail park on the edge of town. The rest of the journey was uneventful, traffic in our direction was light to say the least but as we approached the coast, traffic in the opposite direction was jammed for several miles.

Montreuil

Montreuil

At Montreuil, there were few people at the site, in fact on the first morning, only four pitches were occupied. The day started foggy but soon cleared with glorious warm sunshine so lunch at La Paloma was decided followed by a walk around town and a little light shopping to top up supplies. I then spent sometime in the afternoon sun exploring the outlying surrounding villages on the Honda whilst Anneli nursed a cold, cosied up in the van.

The return trip started with a tank full of diesel at InterMarche, for £63, twelve months ago it was £90 odd pounds to tank in the UK. Again, traffic was really light for the 45 mins to Calais, another splash of diesel at the Total garage and lunch at our favourite La Tour Brasserie in the square.

All too soon we were home and booking the next ferry to France for May and we will definately be revisiting Charleville later in the year.

Linx 10 – Windows 8 Tablet Review

I’m not a fan of Microsoft Windows for personal use, I’m quite content using a combination of Android and iMac for home and leisure, however the recent push by Microsoft to expand their presence on lower end devices and some interesting reviews of the Linx range of tablets led me to acquire their 10” tablet. Beforehand, I did get the opportunity to have a few minutes with a 7” model in Sainsbury’s. I was quite impressed by the screen and the “Metro” look of the user interface which is similar to my Windows work phone. Having read that some new users cannot get on with this version of Windows, out of curiosity, this was another reason to try the tablet. A further reason/excuse was to try PowerPoint on a tablet for work as the effort to get presentations working on my iPad is unreasonable.

Linx 10 with Keyboard Case.

Linx 10 with Keyboard Case.

There are several retailers offering the Linx range and all models are priced within a pound or two between them. The 10” model is £160. Argos though are offering a bundled keyboard and origami case for just £20 more. At the time of writing, most Win 8 devices come with one year’s free Office 365 subscription for the tablet and one other Windows, iOS/Mac or Android device. This is worth £60 and if you can trade in a working tablet there is a £50 cashback offer. So Argos it was.

For the money, the packaging and presentation of the product is good and the stylish Linx website offers some basic information, the downloadable minimalist operating manuals and a FAQ section.

At this point, I would strongly suggest that a new user to Win 8.1 checks out the excellent “Getting Started Windows 8.1 Tutorial” which will greatly aid navigating and personalising the tablet.

Out of the box my Linx battery was charged to 60% and after a few hours on the supplied proprietary charger showed only 98% but after a couple of days 100% was indicated after further charging. It does not appear to charge through the micro USB port though. Setting up the device is straight forward, made easier if you have an existing Microsoft account, enabling for example connecting to OneDrive with a click. Then the real pain with Windows really starts, updates. The updater showed that there were 66 available which took slightly more than an hour to download and install over a fast connection, plus reboot time, finishing in about ninety minutes. The next day three updates were suggested and after installation the Wi-Fi stopped working. Sorting this I noticed the Wi-Fi on the device is only 2G, no 5G channels, at this price can be excused.

Linx 10 Origami case and Keyboard

Linx 10 Origami case and Keyboard

Next task was to install and register Office 365. This was very straight forward, the files took some time to install and the complete Office suite is loaded including OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access. I have not used the additional device licence as standard Office is installed on our desktops and apps on the iPad and Nexus. A dissatisfied new user to Win 8.1 commented that once downloaded they could not find the programme’s. These are located in the “Apps by Name” area of the Start menu. Using the familiar desktop mode, mostly like Win 7, requires quite precise touches on the screen to operate, the smaller screen models must be quite difficult, however for more than light use a mouse can be used with the bundled micro to full USB cable.

My objective for using this device was to use PowerPoint presentations on site with customers so a test, fully animated file with embedded videos was installed from a micro SD card. This runs faultlessly with no lag and there are some worthwhile improvements in this version of PowerPoint. In bright light, the glass screen does show reflections though. So objective achieved.

The Linx range consists of three screen sizes, a 7, 8 and the review model 10” and as mentioned, the 10” can be bundled with a keyboard and Origami case in the box or can be purchased separately. All run an Intel Quad Core up to 1.83GHz Atom processor with slightly bigger battery capacity for the increase in screen size. The 10” tablet has twice the RAM at 2GB DDR3L, memory for all models is a 32GB Solid State Hard drive which can be expanded up to 64GB with a Micro SD card. I think there was about 20GB free on the “C” drive after the initial Windows updates were completed and I’m saving all files pictures etc. to the SD card. I did try installing the Chrome browser which was quite slow so it was uninstalled immediately. This 10” model has a mini HDMI outlet for external displays with options to mirror or expand the views. A mouse as mentioned, can connect to the micro USB port and Bluetooth can be used to connect a keyboard so a mini PC can be created for light computing. I have transferred files and pictures from a Nexus 5 to the Linx too using Bluetooth. My Canon wireless printer connected fine after installing a utility file from the Store.

The bundled keyboard acts as a travel case and by folding up the cover becomes a kickstand. The keyboard is fine for light

Linx 10 Keyboard

Linx 10 Keyboard

work, the keys need a good positive prod and the touch pad is not brilliant, but for the price is adequate. The speaker quality is poor, making the Nexus 7 sound like a B & O product and the integral microphone is next to useless. Skype is bundled with a free call allowance but this would be fairly redundant considering the mic quality. Headphones work fine but audio quality is thin.

In conclusion, this has been a great buy, affordable enough to try the hardware and software. I intend to use the Linx mostly for its portability and PowerPoint capability and to keep a few essential files with me on the road without having to carry a laptop. For more serious use, the available memory would be an issue, but attaching a hard drive would be feasible. I find Windows 8.1 quite easy to use and pleasantly surprised how easily it mixes touch screen user interface with desktop, You can see where Microsoft are going with this, Windows 10 will undoubtedly integrate phone, tablet and desktop into one interface which will be familiar on each device you use, as Android/Chrome and Apple are.

If this article has captured your interest, there are further, more professional reviews at TechTalkUK and GeekonthePC.

There is also a new Forum for Linx owners which covers General and technical topics which is worth a visit.

This article was written, edited, photo edited and posted from the review Linx 10

Christmas at Cambridge and the Cherry Hinton CC site.

Cambridge Street

Kings Parade.

Cherry Hinton CC

Cherry Hinton CC Site.

Our Christmas motorhome break started on Boxing Day this year. Often ignoring locations close to home, Anneli suggested Cambridge would be good to explore offering not only cultural, historical interest but shopping and eating opportunities. Thirty five minutes from home we arrived to check in for four nights at the Cherry Hinton Caravan Club site on the southeast edge of the city. The pleasant and welcoming warden checked us in and a suitable pitch selected. The site is small by our CC experience with just over fifty pitches set at different levels in an old chalk quarry exuding an intimate atmosphere. In winter, pitch choice is not too crucial but in sunnier weather there are few pitches to choose if you like the sun for most of the day. Facilities available are of the usual high Caravan Club standard and the Cambridge Blue kiosk provides a wealth of local information.

Pembroke Gdns

Pembroke College Gardens

Pembroke Chapel

Pembroke Chapel.

Within a five minute walk from the site entrance, there is a nature reserve, the Cherry Hinton Chalk Pits, pub, a few local shops and bus stops serving the city centre. We used the C3 bus each day which is £4 each, return, and we could have used other buses around the city with the same ticket. The journey is about thirty five minutes, stopping at the Addenbrooke hospital and railway station on the way. Cambridge is a busy city, “Sale” shoppers and many obvious overseas tourists increased the numbers on the streets. The shopping centre offers a good mix of national chain stores together with a great variety of local stores. The highlight of our stay was a street walking tour of the city centre booked at the friendly and helpful Tourist Information Centre in Peas Hill. An accredited Cambridge City guide, Derek, took us on a ninety minute tour informing us about the history, buildings and people that have made Cambridge famous throughout the world. We were escorted to various buildings with historical significance, including St Bene’t’s Church and the Cavendish Laboratory. At other times of the year it is possible to view inside some of the colleges but as this was the Christmas break, only Pembroke was open. We were given a short tour of the Court, Chapel and gardens which provided a little insight into the college world. The tour was excellent and we learnt a lot about a city on our doorstep we take for granted. The low point of our visit was lunch at Wagamama in St Andrews Street. A chain we visit occasionally, the last one at Spitalfields market was a little disappointing but the Cambridge branch hit a new low. I had Pork Ramen noodle soup which had as much flavour as a stock cube in a litre of warm water and the “sliced pork” was just slices of pork fat. Anneli had a chilli dish that was just as bland. Both dishes were beautifully presented though and the serving staff were excellent.

The return bus usually meant a visit to the Robin Hood pub, situated conveniently between the bus stop and the site. Essentially a family eatery, one of the Greene King “Eating Inn” brand, service was good and we had a reasonable meal on the first night of our stay.

A really enjoyable few days, we then moved to Clockhouse Farm, Glemsford and saw in the New Year at the Bull, Long Melford.

If you have read my previous Chromebook blog, this is my first article that has been created edited and posted entirely using Google Docs and a Chromebook.

Honda Vision 50 Scooter.

Honda Vision 50

Honda Vision 50

Following our summer break in the South of France last year, we decided to look for a scooter or motorbike that could fit into our motorhome garage. We thought we could possibly explore a little further afield with motorised transport which would have been really useful on the Cote d’Azur.

We eventually settled on a Honda Vision with the 50cc engine option, there is a 110cc version but I really didn’t have the time or inclination to do the driving test. Apart from considering the weight, the main criteria was the height  and width so it would fit through the garage door. The Honda fits, just, with the rear view mirrors removed. When travelling, the bike is tied down front and rear with ratchet straps and a handlebar support strap positioned on its centre stand with a ply board on the garage floor to dissipate the weight through the centre stands feet then a rubber mat so stop sliding. A Fiamma bike rack would be an easier solution but this raises the bike too high. A simple folding aluminium bike track for loading and unloading was purchased too.

Soissons Camping Municipal.

Soissons – Camping Municipal.

The construction and finish of the Vision 50 is surprisingly good. With electric start, performance from the tiny engine is outstanding, aided by fuel injection, electronic ignition and a catalytic convertor. Brakes are excellent, the left hand lever operates the front hydraulic disc and drum back brakes together in what is described as “anti lock”, and the right hand lever operates the front brake only. (It is a little odd after some use to go back to a normal bike setup where the clutch lever is on the left). The petrol tank holds about 5 litres and at the time of writing we have covered 650 miles on £25 of fuel. Some of the scooters in this category are two-stroke but the general opinion is that the four stroke petrol options are quieter. The cast aluminium wheels are a little larger in diameter than some makes which aids stability and handling. The headlight is more than adequate for night riding.

Our first outing using the bike was to the Aldeburgh Food Festival at Snape Maltings. the nearest campsite we could book was Whitearch Touring and Caravan Park near Saxmundham about four miles away. Fortunately the weather was dry and sunny for late September making it an easy first outing. The food festival and a couple of other venues visited since, has highlighted the

Chateau - Chenonceaux.

Chateau – Chenonceaux.

closer proximity to the entrance of events for motorbike parking over cars. An unexpected bonus.

Performance wise, the Honda is a little underpowered for two people and the UK restriction of 30 mph for 50cc bikes means the automatic transmission slows the bike dramatically on inclines, one up, let alone with two people. On the flat, in light wind, the bike is adequate for use in holiday traffic around resorts etc but I avoid main roads if at all possible. To improve safety, read that to be, a similar speed to vehicles in urban speed limits, I have uprated the transmission to increase the available top speed. Early on in the purchase cycle, pardoning the pun, I noted

Malossi

Malossi Multivar Variator Kit

that several makes of 50cc restricted bikes could be derestricted by various means, removing exhaust restrictors or washers and bushes placed in the transmission train. There was little modifying information on the internet for the Vision 50 except for a YouTube video showing the removal of a bush on the crankshaft which restricted the transmission speed. Simple, but that was for a German spec bike where the speed is restricted further. The UK spec models do not actually have a restrictor fitted. I then found Malossi. A manufacturer of performance parts for bikes and go-karts. They manufacture a kit that replaces parts in the transmission which increases the top speed to around 40 mph. For around £70 the installed kit just changes the gearing ratios and clutch tension which has little effect on the engine or fuel consumption. The end result is a much more driveable bike in urban and holiday traffic.

Honda Givi Top Box

Givi Top Box with optional Backrest.

Because the engine is so small and set low down in the frame, there is generous storage under the seat, large enough for a helmet and gloves. We have supplemented the storage with a Givi top box which is large enough to store another helmet and a small amount of beach stuff or shopping whilst the helmet being worn.

Honda Saint-Cyprien Plage.

Honda – Saint-Cyprien Plage. South of France.

Although the bike has only covered 650 miles in just over a year, it has actually been used in Northern France, Loire Valley, Mediterranean and along the Atlantic coast of France. I did not intend to use the bike at home but I am using it more and more. Its excellent for popping into town for a quick shop, collecting parcels from the Post Office etc, and parking is free. I went to view the Cambridge to London stage of the Tour de France, accessing a great vantage point easily with the scooter.

Running costs are low, compared to a motorhome anyway. Road tax is currently £17 a year, and insurance with the Caravan Club Insurance for the first year was about £180 as a first time motorbike insurer and £127 for this year. I have not worked out the true fuel consumption but a quick calculation works out at about 140 mpg. Will have to check that further. The first annual service at the supplying dealer, John Banks Honda of Cambridge was £120 and carried out quickly whilst I worked in the motorhome in their car park. Servicing to schedule is essential to maintain the Honda two year European warranty but I will possibly skip the next one as the interim mileage has been minimal. John Banks have been an excellent supplying dealer, the purchase price was a little lower than list and included two Duchinni helmets and a security lock.

To sum up, we are delighted with the Honda. We do prefer fair weather outings on the bike so it stayed in the garage on a couple of trips over last winter but it has brought another level of freedom to our motorhoming adventures.

Saumur Tank Museum

Saumur Tank Museum – France

No-nonsense Laptop for travelling connectivity – HP Chromebook 14

HP Chromebook 14

HP Chromebook 14

There are two different aspects about this review. First, it’s not on a tech blog but a motorhome blog, and the second, this is not a new model but has just been discontinued at the time of writing.

To cover the first point, the tenuous connection with motorhoming is that I have purchased this laptop to use when travelling. For the last couple of years I have moved to using tablets when travelling, the excellent Nexus 7’s to be precise and an iPad for Anneli, but they are not great for large amounts of text input and I didn’t get on with using third party bluetooth keyboards. I do find the touch keyboard on the iPad is particularly good but is not always available when I’m in the mood to write. So, reading some tech stuff online about Chromebooks, curiosity got the better of me and I checked around to see what was available.

One element critics level at Chromebooks is that they are not proper laptops and need Internet connectivity to work, as the operating system is basically a Chrome web browser. After a little research, screen sizes on these basic laptops are generally around 11” inches but the reviews kept mentioning the Hewlett Packard Chromebook with a 14” screen. An 11” inch version is also available. All Chromebooks have WiFi connectivity so the Chrome browser can connect. This is great at home, school or the office networks but not always available on campsites or Aires but I spotted that HP made a version with a 14” inch screen and additional 3G connectivity via a SIM card slot.

From L to R: Sim Tray, USB , SD Card, Mains Input with Led indicator.

From L to R: Sim Tray, USB , SD Card, Mains Input with Led indicator.

So a quick visit to the Amazon store revealed an offering of different colours and specifications. I chose the Snow White version with 3G which duly arrived, except that it was not the 3G model delivered. A quick check back on the website and I had definitely ordered the right one so assumed that it was a picking error. The delightfully friendly customer services arranged an immediate replacement but this turned out to be incorrect too. Both were returned to Amazon and at this point I had lost a little interest in this project. Looking for alternatives I then found that the HP range was being refreshed for 2015 with a different processor and different memory options. I did find that the new Asus C300, available in bright red, had a Sim card slot in the press pictures but is not available in the UK. After a fair amount of Googling, I found out that HP UK was initially only offering the basic versions of the new model with no 3G option. Not giving up now, I started looking to find HP resellers that could possibly have some old stock then stumbled upon Laptops Direct who were offering a refurbished A1 graded 3G model in Snow White and for £40 less than the new price. It was worth the risk, it is in perfect, unmarked condition. Being picky, the accompanying quick start guide was for a Windows 8 laptop. I even managed to register the warranty on the HP website and claim two years free 100Gb Google Cloud storage. Result.

So what is the specification and what does it do?

Topline, the Chromebook runs on a 1.4GHz Intel Celeron low voltage Haswell processor with 4Gb of Ram on the 3G version and a 16Gb solid state hard drive, (SSD). Because, in theory, files are stored in the Cloud and programmes or Apps cannot be installed, storage space is not that crucial. The great advantage of a Chromebook is the instant start up, partly helped by the quick access SSD. It is literally ready to use when the lid is opened. The processor and matching graphics processor ensures that tasks and video run smoothly. There is a SD card reader and I am using a 32Gb card to store documents, photos, music etc for when connectivity is unavailable. Battery life is around 6 hours. Three USB ports are provided to add a mouse, keyboard, external drive, USB stick etc and an HDMI port to connect to a TV or monitor. There is a headphone out and mic in combined socket. Our of the box, new, this model has a Sim card provided with 250Mb a month data free for two years. Being a “seconds” or graded model, this was not included so a fresh GiffGaff Sim was installed, registered and working within ten minutes. 500Mb a month for £5. To complete the connectivity options there is Bluetooth connectivity and WiFi that can connect to the 5Ghz channel for improved video streaming and to overcome local interference on the more crowded 2Ghz band.

Keyboard with Chrome specific keys.

Keyboard with Chrome specific keys.

The anodised look silver keyboard with contrasting white keys works well for me and the standard layout for Chromebooks swaps some keys to take advantage of Google shortcuts. There is a large palm rest with a generous sized trackpad that works with multi gesture touch for scrolling and panning. Under the front side edges are stereo speakers with surprisingly good volume and clarity but with little or no bass response. Above the screen is an average quality webcam for video calling and taking snaps.  A fairly sensitive microphone is fitted next to the camera and works well for dictation and Google search. The outer case has a rubbery textured, golf ball like finish to the base which has two ventilation grills in addition to the speakers and a smooth matt

Textured base.

Textured base.

white finish to the lid. After three days of use I noticed that there is a ventilation fan, it is that unobtrusive. A large chrome HP logo is in the centre of the lid with the trademark Chrome logo on the top left side.The laptop construction feels really sturdy and weighs about 1.9kgs.

All good so far then. The 14” inch screen is the weakest part of the package. It is low resolution with a gloss finish and although there is a brightness control, looks washed out most of the time. Viewing angles are narrow, but for my purposes, this is an advantage when used on trains and planes. Your neighbour is unlikely to be able to read the screen. I have not had the opportunity to use it outdoors  in sunlight yet. For me though, this is an occasional travel companion with a decent keyboard and large screen. My iMac handles heavy tasks like, photo and video editing. Battery charging is via a bulky standard laptop mains cable and brick, a Micro USB connection would have been preferable.

Chromebook Lid

Verdict – I really like the simplicity of a Chromebook. This HP series suits my requirements, at £210 offers good value, in the first couple of weeks ownership it has worked well using Wifi on a train and 3G connectivity is acceptable camping in Suffolk. The screen is poor compared to any of my other devices but I am really content with all other aspects of this Chromebook. Chrome is developing quickly, and appears to be working towards merging with the Android mobile OS.  At the time of delivery a few Android apps were made available to use and most Chromebooks now support connecting Android phones by USB cable to transfer files and photos. A recommended solution for the mobile traveller looking for basic computing on the go.

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