Avoid PayPal Foreign Exchange Fees

For those of us who don’t like being ripped off (and who does, exactly?) the thought of PayPal’s fees are a good reason not to use the service.  However I (residing in the United Kingdom) currently have a need to pay an individual in France €100 (say, for sake of argument, I’m buying off eBay or renting a holiday villa) and have limited options:

  • Pay my bank £10 for a SWIFT transfer – (since €100 is approx £78, that’s a hefy commission!)
  • Spend 3 days trying to count up the fees I (or the recipient) would pay with PayPal – 3.5% standard fee, assuming a minimum additional 3.5% for the currency exchange (on top of whatever exchange rate they decide to use?) and possibly a cross-border fee as well?
  • Use another service like TransferWise.com – this is cheap (£1 for my transaction) and paid into the recipient’s bank account, but as this is not a direct bank transfer I’m not clear if the purchase protection I would otherwise receive still applies, so a bit of a risk there.

I normally use fee-free credit/debit cards (like Halifax Clarity or Supercard) to avoid foreign exchange fees, but using PayPal in the past I thought the only option was to use a UK Sterling card and let PayPal convert into Euros, meaning you’re subject to even more extortionate fees than your bank will charge!  However, despite PayPal’s needlessly over-complicated fee structure I’m thinking it is the way to go here as I think I can discount both the currency exchange and cross-border fees.

Firstly, the easy one: PayPal have a small note at the bottom of their “Cross Border Fees” table which states:

“Cross Border Euro or Swedish Krona payments made between Accounts registered in the European Union or EEA will be treated as Domestic Payments for the purpose of applying Fees.”

Happy days? Now about that foreign exchange fee… I’ve learned that it is possible to get PayPal to bill my fee-free card in Euros, hopefully eliminating another chunky fee. The  remaining 3.5% standard fee is clearly more than double the TransferWise fee, but I figure it’s worth it for the added protection (provided by the site I’m buying through, not by PayPal – although there is that too).

Getting PayPal to bill you in your own currency is not easy, but can be done.  All the guides I found explained how to do it on the old site, which has now been replaced.  The same legacy page is still there and active, and still used within your account, but finding it is even harder than it was before.  So here’s what you need to do:

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Argos 39-inch Bush TV

I recently purchased a 39-inch Bush LCD TV from Argos at Swiss Cottage for what seemed like a reasonably good deal of £229.  OK, it was a Bush TV – but how bad could it be?  I was also worried that a 39″ TV would be too big for the lounge but when I got it set up it looked to be  a perfect size!  (The stand that I bought with it is also good, although for £60 it would need to be nice!)

The TV set up was fine.  I was a bit nervous it took so long to tune in the Freeview (DTV-B) signal but it got there in the end.  I was a little disappointed that the catalogue listing had made it appear that it was Freeview HD – but it isn’t.  It’s Freeview, and it’s HD, but never the twain shall meet.

Photo of catalogue page showing "Freeview" and "HD" logos close together, side-by-side
The arrangement of the logos implied to me at the time that the Bush TV was Freeview HD. It was only after I tuned it in I realised it wasn’t.

Anyway, I was prepared to accept that as a lesson that I should double-check everything but then I hit the real problem: the picture quality.  Despite having a review score of 4.5/5 on the Argos web site, the picture quality is absolutely awful.  The brights are too bright and the darks are too dark, and it seems no amount of playing with settings will change that.  People’s faces positively glow when they’re in any kind of brightly lit scene, and any attempt to mitigate this means that darker colours all merge into one dark mess in indoor scenes (think the pub in Eastenders).

I went back to the reviews on the Argos web site because I can’t believe these people are describing the same TV.  I was slightly suspicious of reviews on the site selling the product and whether there would be some form of censorship in play.  When I tried to leave an honest review reflecting the true quality of this TV I couldn’t find any option to do this, though I think their site was redesigned the other day, so hoping this is just an oversight there rather than anything sinister.

So it turns out that the Bush TV was indeed pretty bad – I should’ve paid more heed to my dad’s opinion of Bush products but it seemed like a good deal.  Talk about buyer’s remorse!  It needs to go back to the shop, Argos should really be embarrassed to be selling products like that in the first place, much less trying to make out they’re worth £350.

I’m publishing this in the hope that some other poor sod about to make the same mistake will be spared the disappointment.  Do yourself a favour, go to Richer Sounds instead – or at least somewhere you can see the TV you’re getting in action.  Or failing that, just don’t buy a Bush TV – they are as bad as you think!

Change Windows Startup/Logon Background

Today I got a bargain netbook in the Carphone Warehouse clearance sale – I’d ordered one yesterday online within minutes of the sale starting to be told they were out of stock and were cancelling my order a few hours later. Gutted. So I trapsed round their shops today and eventually picked up a brand new Toshiba NB250 “half-price” for just £120! Bargain!

But it seems Toshiba netbooks have a disgustingly garish OEM/branded background screen that’s displayed during startup and logon (though Win 7 starter still has the standard Windows 7 desktop background).  Turns out this isn’t too tricky to get rid of (and yes, it works on Windows 7 Starter).

Just head on into the registry and find the key called: HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Authentication\LogonUI\Background – change the value from 1 to 0 and you’re back to the default Windows background.

You can apparently also change the background to any picture you want if you’re so inclined, but I just want something slightly less distasteful than Toshiba’s background so I’m done there.  Hope this helps someone.

Car Body Repair in Belfast

For those who don’t know, my Astra was attacked in Donegal at the end of July.  Woke up to the damage on the Saturday morning. The windscreen was fixed for just the £60 excess on the Monday (apparently these guys don’t do weekends).  The Garda were nice but never inspired much hope of catching anyone and were ultimately useless.  Anyway, having left work I finally got around to shopping around for estimates and thought I’d share my experience for anyone else looking to get a car repaired in the Belfast area.

My Experience

I actually got one from Bodytech Collision Repair in Carrickfergus a few weeks ago, because they seem to be the only car body repair outfit open on a Saturday morning.  They came in at £666 + VAT which was £783.31 to you and me. They seemed very professional (nice modern office, ample parking, full-time receptionist) despite the out of date web site which still reports an operation in the Village area of Belfast (I think they said that branch just closed in March or April, though don’t quote me on that).

I would have probably just gone with that, since getting another estimate outside of office hours was so bloody difficult; I could tell people over the phone what it needed (a new tailgate) but they all wanted to see for themselves. Since I knew I’d have 2 weeks between jobs coming up I thought I’d wait though, and I’m glad I did (so far).

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PortableParts.co.uk Review (I got my battery)

A while back I posted a request for help tracking down a cheap replacement battery for my Acer Aspire 5003 laptop (thanks for the overwhelming response on that!) and eventually ordered one from a site called PortableParts.co.uk. I’d never heard of them before and, in common with the other shops selling the battery I needed below the £45 mark, the site, while perfectly usable, didn’t look overly impressive.

I Googled about for a few reviews and found nothing so I’m recounting my experience here in the hope it helps someone else (this is not a recommendation for or against, just my experience. I accept no liability for anything whatsoever).

As I mentioned, I ordered the replacement battery from PortableParts.co.uk. They were among the cheapest and out of those selling for under £40 they had the best site (and a phone number, which I foolishly never checked out) which made them seem more legitimate (whether that’s true or not is not for me to say).  For those of you who haven’t been following my twitter tweets, I ordered the battery just before midnight on Thursday 7th August. To my delight, the postie delivered it on the Saturday morning – to Northern Ireland no less. Better still I fired it in, charged it up and it seems to hold a longer charge than the original battery ever did (though as the original struggled to make it through a 2 hour lecture, I suppose that’s not setting the bar very high).

Anyway, I just wanted to let everyone know that my experience with Portable Parts was very postive. Delivery was fast and to date the battery I have is working fine and I’m delighted to have a truly portable computer once again.  I didn’t try the phone number to make sure it was real or anything, but thankfully that’s because I never had cause to.  Might be worth giving them a ring to see how easy they are to get hold of before ordering anything, but I got what I ordered quickly and at a good price (£38.98 after a 10% discount).