Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Foreign-language expert Babbel has relaunched its online collection of courses and tutorials. The site looks very smart, is incredibly easy to navigate and has a simple but really effective design; it’s basically all about learning a language in the best, most interactive way possible. Babbel’s web-based courses in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian are very well-structured and tailored according to your previous experience of the language. The testing process doesn’t leave you feeling overwhelmed, and you can get a free taster of each course before you pay from around £4.50 per month, with a 20-day money-back guarantee. You can also chat to and practise with other students. Some of the example phrases given are a little random but that’s our only criticism of this brilliant educational resource.

National Rail Enquiries
The National Rail Enquiries website has been a source of national embarrassment for the past few years. However, the terribly dated design has at last been addressed and the refreshed website is now much less frustrating to use. Start and destination fields now autocomplete, for instance, and clickthroughs are provided to vendors selling journey tickets. There are other welcome touches, too, such as the ability to generate week-long ‘pocket timetables’ (in PDF format) of any chosen journey. The website is still far from perfect but at least it’s getting back on the right track.

Bid & Deliver
Similar to Shiply (www.shiply.com) – reviewed in Web User last year – this service helps you arrange delivery of large items with people who have the means to transport them. List your goods on the site and couriers and haulers will contact you with shipment quotes. You can then select the best offer to get your item delivered as cheaply as possible. The system is simple to use and real-time bids are displayed at the bottom of each page – we saw a Ford Fiesta when we visited. Yet the design is uninspiring and some prices are given in dollars.

Is immigration good or bad for Britain? Are footballers good role models? Is democracy dead? Share your thoughts on these topics and more and find out what other people think at this site, which aims to serve as an independent space for public opinions. Categories include Business, Politics and Sport, and you can watch and rate clips of folk expressing their views, vote in polls and submit your own comments and videos. Britainthinks is neatly laid out, with colour-coded sections, thumbnail images of contributors and a strong interactive element.

PPI Claims
This site has been set up by Q&A Law solicitors to help you claim back mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) from your bank, credit card company or loan provider. Clarity of information is important in this area and the site succeeds by providing key points in plain English. We also like the fact that you only pay (25 per cent plus VAT) Q&A Law if your claim is successful and there are no upfront fees. On the downside, you can’t interact with the team directly through the website – only by phone.

If you love reading but worry about the drain on natural resources that books entail, you’ll appreciate this green online bookstore. Bookatree.co.uk promises to replace the wood used to create its wares by putting 15 per cent of its profits towards planting trees in or near your neighbourhood. It sells a wide range of paperbacks, hardbacks, maps and audiobooks at competitive prices – some cheaper than Amazon. It won’t win any prizes for design but Bookatree.co.uk’s eco-friendly approach is very commendable.

Phone-comparison websites are ten a penny but SellMyMobile.com turns the concept around. Instead of hunting for the lowest price for a particular handset, the site compares the best cash offers mobile-phone recyclers will make you for your old one. Just tap in your phone model and peruse the chart to see which company will pay you the most in cash, credit, vouchers or loyalty points, then click through to complete the deal if you’re tempted. It’s a great idea that seems to work well. The site did throw up a few errors, but these are probably teething troubles.

Popular clothes-recycling community Bigwardrobe.com has relaunched with a spruced-up design and useful new features. The eye-catching layout now includes a Bottom Drawer area, where you can buy, sell and swap books, CDs, gadgets and more; an Alerts tool that notifies you when your favourite brands and most wanted clothes, shoes and accessories are listed; and a social-networking function that lets you set up groups of friends and send instant messages. Unlimited access to this superb site now costs £12 per year, but you can still browse and swap stuff (one item per month) for free.

If you want to know what, where and how to drink, check out this online magazine. Dedicated entirely to the wet stuff, Dwink has been set up by two alcohol experts aiming to broaden our imbibing horizons with drinking advice, bar reviews, cocktail video recipes and much more. Design and content are both on the quirky side – there’s an area called Muckin’ Abaht, a page about French wrestler Andre the Giant and entertaining news stories – which all give the site a distinct flavour. It’s a shame there’s no blog or forum, but with lots to quaff, great competitions and a fun, friendly tone, Dwink is well worth a sip.

This social network for iPhone users provides a place to discuss, share and build killer apps. You can browse and download thousands of the things in the Apps section, which spans everything from books to weather and includes both paid-for and free options. Each app can be rated, reviewed and commented on, which helps create a community feel, as does the ability to see who has added an app to their collection. Best of all is the App Farm area, where you can suggest an idea for an app and earn $500 (about £312) if iWikiPhone develops it. With an airy, ad-free design, there’s lots here to keep iPhone addicts happy.

Best Buy
US electronics chain Best Buy is opening its first UK high-street stores in spring and has launched this swish-looking site to whet your appetite. You can browse categories such as TV & Home Cinema, Computing and Mobile for in-depth buyer’s guides, FAQs and glossaries of technical terms. There’s an impressive emphasis on community, with blogs, social-networking pages and forums for sharing your views and tips, and a useful Inspiration & Advice section where you can find out about home-help service Geek Squad. The main gripe is that the site hasn’t actually started selling anything yet, but watch this space!

The Zouk
Booking hotel accommodation online can take hours of comparing rates and availability before finding the perfect room. The Zouk saves you time by doing the hard work for you. Simply submit a request specifying your preferred dates, destination, price range and other requirements and the site will search for matching hotels. You can then review the results and accept the best offer to arrange your room. This ‘reverse bidding’ system is a fantastic idea and is complemented by the site’s friendly design that couldn’t be easier to use. It’s completely free, too. Accommodation types include apartments, pubs and private residences.

Save money when booking flights online using Airfarewatchdog.co.uk. Owned by TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.co.uk), this UK version of a popular US site lets you instantly view the lowest air fares by entering the name of a departure city on the homepage. It presents its hand-picked results as an alphabetical list from which you can then choose a destination, before viewing details and checking availability for your desired dates. Alternatively, you can search for fares to a specific city or browse the Top 50 fares to find out which place is currently the cheapest to fly to. Airfarewatchdog.co.uk is very easy to use and offers handy email alerts and airline route maps.

The NHS has launched Start4Life to help new and prospective parents give their baby “the building blocks for a healthier and happier future”. It covers such topics as the benefits of mother’s milk, the best food to give your child from birth up to the age of five, and how to keep your tot active to help develop brain and muscle power. There’s a very short video explaining the purpose of the site and a set of links to family-help websites. While Start4Life’s intentions are honourable, it’s skimpy on content compared to most other online parenting resources and the garish, cartoony design seems more geared towards kids than parents.

Wispa is a brand that inspires real affection – just ask the Facebook users who successfully campaigned for its return to the shelves in 2007 – and this is reflected in its revamped online home. The lively site offers lots of fun things for fans of the Cadbury chocolate bar to do, from creating a personalised virtual Wispa to composing a song celebrating its tastiness. You can also view a video about ‘the Facebook affair’ in the ‘Wis-tory section’ and read the latest chocolate news. The illustrated layout is pleasantly messy yet easy enough to navigate, and it’s sweet that Cadbury is acknowledging the loyalty of Wispa lovers.

Virtual Farmers Market
This site applies the concept of a virtual-shopping mall to the traditional farmers market, letting you buy fresh, independently produced food from the comfort of your PC. Stroll around dozens of stalls in a 3D environment and click anything that takes your fancy to watch videos of the producers discussing their fare and farms. It’s a brilliant idea and there’s tons of tasty stuff, including meat, cheese and seafood – all delivered to your doorstep in a temperature-controlled box. To experience the full 3D market, you’ll need to download the 27MB farm file, or you can browse in the usual way.

Japan Journeys
If you’re considering a trip to the land of the rising sun, this relaunched site has a selection of tours on offer, whether you’re interested in Japanese cuisine, Manga or bonsai. There are also options for exploring the country’s gardens and hidden islands. Information is presented clearly, if a little too concisely, within the tasteful red-and-white design, and the site includes a new About Japan section covering topics such as etiquette and expenses. Sadly, you can’t book your trip or rail pass online – instead you’ll need to pick up the phone or download and post a reservation form – and it’s a shame there aren’t any videos to further entice you.

Source of Information : WebUser January 28 2010

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