Friday, 21 November 2014

Photobox Photobook and Canvas ft. Panasonic TZ55 Pictures

When I was invited to become one of the Panasonic Brit Bloggers, I was already really happy to be given the latest PanasonicTZ55 camera to review and keep. So when they contacted me again for an opportunity to review the printed quality of the pictures taken with my TZ55 using Photobox online printing service, I was over the moon! I have always wanted to try Photobox, but I wasn't sure whether it was worth giving them a try as the experience I've received from using other online printing services before weren't really that great. The printed pictures came out either too dark or really grainy. But when the 2 products I've ordered from Photobox have arrived, they literally took my breath away as the pictures are absolutely stunning! Even the ones with the worst quality as they were super zoomed in were gorgeous!

The products I've reviewed were a 26 pages A4 2014 Photobook, and I was also free to choose other products using a gift voucher, which I used on a large Collage Canvas. I paid extra for premium quality, and it was well worth the money!

Photobox A4 2014 Photobook:

Photobox photobook, Photobox Canvas, Panasonic TZ55 pictures printed
The beginning of creating the photobook
Photobox photobook, Photobox Canvas, Panasonic TZ55 pictures printed
Adding text - great editing choices!
Photobox photobook, Photobox Canvas, Panasonic TZ55 pictures printed
You can continue with your photobook creation after saving and exiting. Find it under My Creations in your account
Like other photobook or album you want to create, always start with selecting a good number of pictures and copy them into a temporary folder. The better the quality of the pictures, the better the result, but sometimes precious pictures are taken at the spur of a moment, and even though the quality isn't as good, it's still worth adding them in for consideration.

For the 2014 photobook, I was given an option on the screen to personalise my own book, or just add the pictures onto the book. It's much quicker and easier to just add pictures to the book of course, and the book will still look stunning because of the quality, but I wanted it to be special so I opted for personalising my book.

I wasn't expecting it to take so long though haha. It literally is like creating your own scrapbook by choosing the background of each page (a fantastic selection!), aligning pictures on each page (so many ways of alignment available, and each can be further adjusted) and adding text (with gorgeous fonts, sizes and wide range of colour choices). You can then further adjust each picture (brightness and sizes, etc), adding borders and even illustrations (speech bubbles).

The choices and the amount of personalisation allowed on each page amazed me, I assumed that companies would want you to use the least amount of ink possible as all the editing is free (you just pay extra for additional pages, paper quality, additional photobook sleeve, etc). So I ended up spending a good 2 long nights to create my photobook, making the most of the free service, and it was SO worth it!

Note: As I've spent so much time on the photobook, I wanted the best out of it so I paid extra for the photobook sleeve and premium quality glossy paper.

Photobox photobook, Photobox Canvas, Panasonic TZ55 pictures printed

The sleeve is plain grey colour but with a textured pattern, I think it looks very posh! I absolutely love the cut out 2014 shapes, and I found the most vibrant images I've taken for each of the number. The result is just WoW!

Note that the green orchid image was taken indoor under poor light with the Panasonic TZ55, so I brightened it up, increased the contrast and saturation as well as sharpened it a bit with the Photobox's built in editor (pops up for each image). Normally by doing so the pictures will come out grainy, but no! It look so natural!

The great thing I must also mention is that there is a quality indicator in the form of a smiley face on each image to tell you whether the image will come out with acceptable quality. If the quality gets poor, the smiley face will gradually change colour and turn to a sad face.

Photobox photobook, Photobox Canvas, Panasonic TZ55 pictures printed
So fluffy!!
The bottom 2 images were of the same printed picture but zoomed in.
If you enlarge this image you can see the quality of the paper and image better
Photobox photobook, Photobox Canvas, Panasonic TZ55 pictures printed
Had to add this picture to the photobook even though it's not very family, as it's one of the prettiest picture I took with the TZ55, the lighting was perfect! The canape itself not so much!
All the above images were taken with my Panasonic TZ55 camera. Some are zoomed in like the duckling, some under poor light like our mother-daughter, father-son selfie pictures (Photobox let me change them to black and white or other styles too!), but even the lowest quality image came out much better than I expected!

Collage Canvas:
(I again opted for premium finish)

Photobox photobook, Photobox Canvas, Panasonic TZ55 pictures printed

Photobox photobook, Photobox Canvas, Panasonic TZ55 pictures printed

Ever since we had our first photo canvas, I never went back to normal prints. Canvas look so modern on the wall, and it save me the pain from looking for a perfect fit frame. Photobox has a wide selection of products available, but I decided to go for another canvas as the last one was created a while ago, and with the new house, we can do with more of the children's picture hanging up on the walls.

I went for the collage canvas as I spotted several pictures of Abby and Clay together that kind of shows off the love between siblings, they really make me melt whenever they play so well together!

Again, there is many layouts available, and each image can be adjusted and edited. The only thing I didn't have to think about is the backgrounds and texts (although you can add them), making the canvas much faster for me to create.

Photobox photobook, Photobox Canvas, Panasonic TZ55 pictures printed

Photobox photobook, Photobox Canvas, Panasonic TZ55 pictures printed

I went for the biggest canvas size I can afford (24" x16"), and I love it! The images came out beautifully, and look at the canvas up close, very different from other canvas isn't it. It's made of 100% premium cotton!

Photobox's premium canvas are hand mounted, hand stretched and hand finished, giving me the guarantee that it has been made with care, so I'm not just paying extra for the materials and thicker frame only.

Overall we are very happy with the photobook and canvas. The Panasonic TZ55 pictures came out much better than I expected with the Photobox online printing service (I have to admit that some were taken under the wrong settings and others under bad lightings). The colours are vibrant, especially the ones taken using ISO function (my favourite for taking lights in a dark environment), and even the zoomed in pictures are clear. We took our selfie shots with the tiltable screen, making it so much easier for us to see where we are going to be in the picture!

I think that price wise Photobox is very competitive, especially with the quality of service they provide as well. Have I mentioned how quick they delivered my creations? I ordered them on Friday night, received the canvas on Tuesday and the Photobook on Wednesday! They have also kept me up to date with the process even over the weekend. Then there is always a discount code available here and there too, so I really have nothing to complain at all.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Nintendo 3DS - Disney Magical World

Nintendo 3DS and Disney combo, how could we resist?! I had to feature it on my Christmas Gifts Guide even before I get my chance to review it (Abby took over the reviewing) because the concept and description alone sounds fantastic already to make it a great game for the Disney fans and for those who love adventure/ problem solving games! And I was right, I had so much fun I had to tell myself to stop playing so Abby can continue her game!

Nintendo 3DS Disney Magical World (rrp £34.99, suitable for age 7+) is a 3D (2D on 2DS) fantasy adventure game featuring over 60 iconic Disney characters. After creating their own character, players arrive at Castletown, a magical kingdom where Disney characters live and mingle (reminds me of the hub in Wreck it Ralph). Players are free to explore (collect materials, visit shops, talk to the characters, etc) and embark on adventures (solve characters' requests to get to the next stage and unlock more areas) in Castletown and its surrounding worlds inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Aladdin and more.

Players can also create outfits, accessories and furnitures, unlocking new recipes along the way, and design and look after a Cafe to earn in-game coins.

Each copy of the game allows one player character created, so unfortunately I can't log onto a different character to play the game without affecting Abby's game. However, if you get another copy of the game, you can connect 2 accounts through Local Play to play together.

There are many more features, which you can find out about on Nintendo's website.

I really love the in game character creation choices, characters in this game have much cuter features than Nintendo Mii character creation I think. It's a shame I can't have my own character! After I tested this and let Abby create her own character, mine disappeared. I guess I'll have to add another Disney Magical World 3DS game on our Santa's wishlist!

When your character lands in Castletown, you can chat with the people around, or head straight to where the red pin shows on the map on the touch screen to find out what you have to do next to follow the adventure.

Abby's character. This is the screen you'll see after the next log-in.
Basic materials for making items and quests can be found around Castletown.
You can also sell them for money

Like other adventure/ problem solving games, players should explore the area and talk to as many people as possible to find out more clues for the quest they are on. If they get stuck, and they have another quest available, try do the next quest first as they are sometimes connected.

Once a quest is solved, players will get a sticker to mark their completion of the sub level, this also means that something from the shop or a level restricted area might be unlocked.

As mentioned above, materials collected from Castletown and other worlds can be used to create items as well as solve requests.

The game will automatically save at certain stages, but you can easily save the game by going to the menu screen (X), where you can also see all the outfits and items you have collected, recipes, requests, etc.

I love problem solving games, and this game is so cute too. But solving one request after another can be repetitive and boring, so the added elements of creating new outfits and managing a cafe is a fantastic idea, to keep children interested and motivated to continue solving puzzles. They can also visit another person's game to explore and swap items, which is very handy if you are short of one material and the other person has plenty to share!

Abby is 6 and she has managed to play the first 7 stages on her own without needing much help (I doubt she needed help with the request I finished for review purpose either). There was just the one time when she was confused as the character said that he has dropped something in the garden and someone could have picked it up, but she only took on board the first part of the clue so she was looking everywhere on the floor. It is a fantastic way of training KS1 children to take the time to think and comprehend what a sentence actually mean, which was exactly what Abby's teacher wanted me to practise with Abby as her new target for literacy as she's too far ahead with her reading but emotionally can't quite click with the characters yet (she's too young!).

Apart from problem solving and comprehension practice, simple addition and subtraction (gathering the right amount of materials, removing materials from those in their item box), a touch of trading (through maintaining the cafe and swapping with friends) are all really useful things for children to learn, and without them noticing either so they won't feel like they are doing homework.

This is the type of games I can expect from Nintendo, educational yet fun with beautiful and cute graphics (an obvious distinction between games and reality so they won't mix the 2 up. This is important for me as things are obviously different in reality!), which are perfect for young children as a development support material. Of course, everything in moderation, but for video games for young children, I can't recommend Nintendo games enough.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Chef'n Cookie Stamp - Winter Stamps

Christmas Baking, Chef'n Winter Cookie Stamp, handmade Christmas Gifts

A while ago I've reviewed Chef'n Cookie Stamps, and we really love it! They are easy to store and comes in 5 lovely patterns that stamps really well on cookies. The pattern comes out perfect without missing a bit here or there, and icing them was so much easier too. I also recommended their Winter Stamps on my post as I thought, and still think, that these cookies will make amazing homemade Christmas Gifts. You can ice them yourself or include coloured icing tubes in the gift for the recipient to ice themselves, either way they will look amazing.

Before I got a chance to buy it, the lovely PR has sent me the Winter Stamps as a gift as she has read my commend, thank you so much!

Although we are busy packing and moving, and it's still too early for me to bake these cookies for Christmas, I want to show you how good these cookie stamps are, in case you fancy buying a set yourself. I wish I can show you now what they will look like with icing on as well but I've packed everything away without thinking (the cookie dough lacked baking soda too haha). So I'll just quickly show you what these stamps and plain cookies look like, and when I start unpacking, I'll show you how they look iced.

Christmas Baking, Chef'n Winter Cookie Stamp, handmade Christmas Gifts

Chef'n Cookie Stamp - Winter Cookie Cutter and Stamp Set (£10.10 on Amazon UK) comes with a container, 5 cookie stamps in red and white (Gingerbread man, Gingerbread woman, Snowflake, Snowman and Christmas Bauble), a lid that acts as the cutter and an instruction leaflet with cookie dough recipe.

The stamps are really easy to use and to clean, takes minimum space to store and are kept tidy inside the container (unlike my other cookie cutters that's everywhere in a bag...). Press the big red button to stamp, and if the cookie dough gets stuck on the stamp, simply press the button a few more times to release it. Do of course flour the stamps and cutter first to make the release easier.

Christmas Baking, Chef'n Winter Cookie Stamp, handmade Christmas Gifts
The Joseph Joseph rolling pin I mentioned on my previous Chef'n Cookie Stamp post, I bought it and it's one of my best buy! Look at my beautifully flat cookie dough!
Excuse the amount of flour I used to dust my table, I couldn't find my little sieve!
Christmas Baking, Chef'n Winter Cookie Stamp, handmade Christmas Gifts

My cookie dough sheet is 6mm thick, but I think I'll try 4mm next time. It's definitely better than my cookies I made with the original stamps, where the edge of the stamp showed on the cookies as the dough was too thick. You can see the pattern clearly even after baking and the cookie has expanded.The patterns are really cute and I would have iced these with sky blue and white icings only, or you can do green and red with a sprinkle of edible gold dust before the icing dries up completely. There is so much you can do, but with the pattern printed on, it saves you from drawing the patterns with icing yourself for every single one.

I didn't have space in the freezer to freeze the cut out cookies first before baking, which I would recommend doing as it does keep the cookies slightly flatter. I've also used a different cookie dough recipe as I prefer this recipe. I'll definitely bake these as part of my Christmas gifts to teachers, and I'll post the result up when they are done!

Happy baking!

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