Bluehost

Founded in 2003, Bluehost is a popular Utah-based hosting company. It’s now owned by Endurance International Group, the people behind a lot of big tech names: Domain.com, iPage, HostGator, SiteBuilder.com and more.

Bluehost’s shared hosting packages start with the home user-oriented ‘basic’ plan. This only gives you 5 email accounts with a stingy 100MB storage space each, along with 50GB of website space, but you do get a free domain, a free Website Builder to create your site, 1-click WordPress installation and even integrated CloudFlare.

Pricing? That’s, well, complicated. The website highlights it as ‘$2.99 a month’ (£2.40), but that’s only true if you pay for three years upfront at a total of $181 inc VAT (£145). The shortest billing period is a year, and that will cost you $71 (£57), equivalent to a much more average $4.95 (£4) a month plus VAT. After that it renews at $8.99 (£7.15) a year.

Bluehost’s ‘plus’ plan supports unlimited websites, storage space, subdomains and email accounts, and adds spam filtering. The yearly price is around $100 (£80), with discounts available if you opt for a longer term. After the initial deal, this subscription renews at $155 (£124) a year.

Bluehost’s ‘premium’ plan adds a couple of extra features to ‘plus’ – domain privacy and more backup functionality – but for exactly the same price. Why? Because you’ll then pay a higher renewal fee, probably: $204 (£163) for a single year.

None of these plans include SSL, but certificates are available as an add-on from $50 (£40) a year. That’s a similar price to most hosts, although a few offer deals on a wider range of products (Namecheap offers basic certificates for £1.60 – around $2 – in the first year if you buy one with your hosting).

Bluehost’s other products are more oriented to the power user than the bargain hunter. The standard WordPress hosting starts at $20 (£16) a month, VPS hosting is from $20 (£16) a month, and dedicated hosting costs from $80 (£64) a month. All these are discounted introductory rates and the long-term costs are higher. 

The main website doesn’t do a good job of presenting all this. You don’t get as much low-level detail on the individual plans as most other hosts provide, and full pricing details aren’t available until you reach the small print. We found a page on the Help site which displays extra details on each plan and enables comparing them side-by-side.

All hosting comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, although as usual, domain costs aren’t included. If you took up the offer of a free domain name you’ll have $16 (£12.75) deducted from the refund.

Account setup

The Bluehost signup process starts by asking you to enter the domain name you’d like to register. If you own the domain already you can enter that separately. There’s an option to transfer the domain to Bluehost, but it’s not compulsory and you can simply update your name servers later.

Next up is the account creation page, where you’re asked to enter the usual details: name, address, email address and phone number.

Scroll down and you finally get to the package information section with prices for your chosen plan. As we mentioned above, it’s a surprise to see that the low monthly price actually requires paying 36 months upfront, a bill which Bluehost thoughtfully bumps up even more by adding backup and SiteLock extras to your cart.

This is easily fixed – drop to a 12 month plan and clear a couple of checkboxes – but the per-month price rises drastically: $2.95 (£2.40) per month over 36 months, compared to $4.95 (£3.95) per month over twelve.

It’s important to look carefully in the payment information section, too. This only displays a ‘Pay by credit card’ option by default, but if you notice and click ‘more payment options’, you’ll find a PayPal choice. We understand why a provider might prefer you to use a credit card – PayPal is more expensive, and it’s easier for you to block renewals – but hiding the payment option still seems sneaky.

It’s not the only issue. The small print at the bottom of the page explains that ‘you may cancel at any time by calling customer support at +1 855 984 4546’. Yes, there’s no website or email cancellation option – you must call an international number. 

We parted with our cash anyway, Bluehost presented us with a summary of our purchase, and it was time to get started.

Creating a site

While some hosts take a while to set up your account, Bluehost races into action. After paying we were able to immediately create a password and log in to our customer management panel.

Moments later a welcome email provided more details: name servers, FTP logins, mail server and a temporary URL, an address where we could access our files until we’d set up a domain and its DNS. The email didn’t spell out what to do with these, or point us to a starting tutorial, but this is easy to find in the online help.

We logged on to the Bluehost control panel, and were surprised by the contents. Other hosts usually open with a customer area which is all about listing your products and trying to sell you more, and hide website management away in a dedicated console, but Bluehost presents all the main top-level tools – email, FTP, file and other managers – upfront.

If you already have your site built this will probably save you time. There’s no need to go searching for another control panel – you can use the file or FTP manager to upload whatever files you need.

Bluehost provides a simple Weebly-based Website Builder. This is very basic, with no templates – just a WYSIWYG browser-based editor to create a site of up to six pages. But it’s also more than many hosts offer with a basic account, and paying to upgrade may get you more. (While testing, the site also told us it was about to be updated to a new Weebly editor, so it’s possible there may be more functionality by the time you read this.)

Another option is the automated setup for WordPress and other popular apps. This uses a Mojo Marketplace-powered system which works in a similar way to other hosts, asking for a few basic details and then installing your app.

There’s some annoying marketing, too. While one message told us ‘WordPress installation complete’, another said ‘overall site progress… 45%’, which was really just an invitation to click through a lengthy list of ads for themes and other extras. Fortunately, you can ignore these, and as you normally only install WordPress once it’s not a major deal.

If you need more control, links at the top of the page give you access to low-level features. Clicking Email took us to an area where we could set up auto-responders, email forwarding, enable specific spam filters and more. And a Databases link displayed all the key MySQL details, including lists of existing databases and users, and tools to create more.

There’s also a separate cPanel-based area for experienced users. Whether you’re looking for AWStats, PHP Config, Cron Job or SSH management you’ll find it somewhere here.

This system doesn’t always work smoothly, but overall Bluehost deserves credit for what it has done. Other hosts typically focus on being easy-to-use, or powerful, but this system is brave enough to try and do both. And it’s often very successful.

Performance

Our hosting tests begin with a look at how the support system performs. Bluehost got off to good start with its convenient integration of help and the hosting control panel. Clicking Support doesn’t take you to a new page, but just opens a new panel with a search box. Enter a term and results are subsequently listed, then clicking an article opens the page in a new tab. Whatever hosting task you were working on before remains open in the original, so once you’ve found an answer you can test it out immediately.

The knowledgebase is far better than most of the competition. We tried our ‘how do you import a WordPress site’ question and were pointed to an excellent tutorial which covered the main steps, warned of some potential problems, and pointed us to useful articles with related advice.

We tried again with something vague – simply ‘PHP’ – but the site still gave us some useful articles, which in turn linked to others.

The search panel only displays the best five articles, but run another search from the help site and you can view up to 50, sorted by relevance, most viewed, most helpful (as voted by other customers) and more.

If you can’t find a solution in the database, there’s live chat available. We tried this with a simple query and had an accurate reply within three minutes. Bluehost doesn’t have a support ticket system anymore, though, so if chat isn’t enough then all you can do is call the company on its US support number – not an ideal situation.

To round off our tests we ran Bitcatcha and other performance benchmarks on the site. Speeds were excellent from US connections, just as you’d expect from an American host. Ping time from other locations could be a little slow, though, and Bluehost gave us average performance levels overall.

Final verdict

Bluehost’s prices can be high, and the constant prodding to buy more products is annoying. But the company scores where it matters, with lots of features, powerful site management and an excellent support site.

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Asus Releases $999 AsusPro B9440UA Laptop

Asus released the AsusPro B9440UA laptop to capture the “prosumer” market with a durable ultrabook starting at $999.

The B9440UA features an Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of DDR3-1866 memory, and a 512GB SSD. Graphics are handled by the integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 processor, which means the laptop isn’t meant for even remotely taxing games, but the package should be powerful enough to get most people through the day. Sometimes you just need something to edit a document, make last-minute changes to a presentation, and so on.

Indeed, Asus designed the B9440UA with those use cases in mind. The laptop features a new hinge that props up the keyboard at a 7-degree angle. This is supposed to make it more comfortable to use for long periods, and stands in stark contrast to the almost completely flat keyboards featured on some other laptops. A 50,000-cycle hinge test was supposed to ensure that Asus could use this new design without sacrificing any durability.

That doesn’t mean the B9440UA’s new hinge doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Asus had to move the laptop’s built-in WiFi antenna from the display to the base and remove the device’s built-in webcam. The company downplayed this decision in a blog post by saying it meant “there’s no need to worry about three-letter government agencies looking in on what you’re doing,” which might be true, but it’s still a notable omission.

The B9440UA’s other main feature is the reduced bezel size, which allowed Asus to build a 14″ screen into a chassis typically seen on 13″ laptops. This has become increasingly common of late–Dell crammed a 13″ display onto an 11″ chassis with the XPS 13–and will probably be a welcome change for anyone who has to lug a laptop around with them, problems regarding webcams and their inclusion or placement notwithstanding.

You might also like the B9440UA’s fast charging. Asus said the laptop, which it claims has a 10-hour battery life, can reach 50% charge in just 30 minutes. That’s quick enough to let you top off at a coffee shop, grab some emergency charge before a big meeting, or get enough juice to at least hope your laptop will survive part of the workday after you forgot to charge it overnight. (A problem we’ve never encountered, we assure you.)

Right now there’s only one model available, the B9440UA-XS51, and it features the specs listed here. Asus did say on its website, though, that a variety of processors, memory configurations, and storage options will be available for the B9440UA, so we expect more models to debut soon. You can buy the B9440UA-XS51 from Asus’ online store and Amazon right now for $999 or $1,299 in the U.S. or Canada, respectively.

Product Asus B9440UA-XS51
Processor Intel Core i5-7200U
Memory 8 GB LPDDR3 1,866MHz
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 620
Display 14.0″ (16:9) LED backlit FHD (1920 x 1080) 60Hz Anti-Glare Panel with 72% NTSC with WideView Technology
Storage 512GB PCIE Gen3 SSD
Ports 1 x Microphone-in/Headphone-out jack
2 x USB 3.0 (USB 3.1 Gen 1) Type-C
Networking – Integrated 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2×2)
– Built-in Bluetooth V4.1
Dimensions 321.3 x 216.2 x 8.9-15 mm (WxDxH)
Weight 1.05 kg with Battery
Starting MSRP $999

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Apple's Touch Bar could be heading to the iMac next

Just a few hours ago (as of this writing), Apple said it was serious about making Macs great again. Hours later, we’ve learned that part of that plan could be a Touch Bar-equipped keyboard designed for a future iMac.

Three new patent applications (20170090596, 20170090597, and 20170090654) spotted by Patently Apple describe such a peripheral as a “Keyboard with Adaptive Input Row.” The document and drawings suggest the Cupertino-based company is entertaining the idea of adding a Touch Bar to a new version of its wireless Magic Keyboard. 

Just like the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro, this adaptive input row would add a long strip of interchangeable virtual buttons in place of the traditional function keys. These digital buttons would act as shortcuts and change according to which program users had open or what tasks they were performing.

It’s not a stretch to think Apple would introduce a Touch Bar-enabled Magic Keyboard in the future. It should be relatively easy to incorporate the touch-sensitive OLED panel into a dedicated keyboard – at least simpler than into a full-featured laptop.

At the same time, adding the digital input row would bring Apple’s acclaimed desktops up to speed with the latest MacBook Pros, protecting another line of Apple products under Touch ID. If Apple is truly bullish on its Touch Bar technology, this would be as fine a place as any to put it next.

  • We’ve got the scoop on the best Macs on the market

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Coal plummets to 1978 levels as renewables climb

A dramatic, double-digit decrease in coal production led to an overall 4% drop in U.S. primary energy creation in 2016, according to a new report.

This marked the first annual decline in U.S. energy production since 2009, according to the report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The decline in production coincided with an increase in both total energy imports and exports. U.S. fossil fuel production fell 7% from 2015 to 2016, with coal dropping 18% — to its lowest point since 1978.

U.S. energy production EIA

After ten consecutive years of decline, net U.S. energy imports grew by 6% from 2015 to 2016, outpacing the increase in gross energy exports that rose 7% during the same period, the EIA’s report showed. Most of the fuel import increase came from additional crude oil, which rose 7% as low gasoline prices led to an increase in demand.

The EIA attributed the decline in coal demand to relatively low natural gas prices, especially in the first half of 2016, and relatively flat electricity demand. Petroleum and natural gas production also declined, falling 5% and 2%, respectively, as prices for both fuels were below their respective 2015 levels. For the first time on record, gross U.S. exports of natural gas from the exceeded those of coal in energy-equivalent terms. EIA projects that the U.S. will become a net exporter of natural gas on an annual basis by 2018, as domestic production continues to grow and additional natural gas export capacity, particularly to Mexico, comes online.

U.S. energy production coal EIA

Meanwhile, after a slight decline in 2015, U.S. renewable energy production increased 7% in 2016. Wind energy made up almost half the increase in renewable production, while solar energy accounted for nearly a quarter. Both renewable energy sources saw substantial electricity generating capacity additions in 2015 and 2016, the EIA stated.

Hydroelectricity also accounted for almost a quarter of the increase in renewable energy production, largely because of easing drought conditions in the West Coast states, where most of the U.S. hydroelectric capacity is located.

On a percentage basis, renewable energy grows the fastest compared with any other energy source because capital costs fall with increased penetration and because current state and federal policies encourage its use, according to the EIA.

The renewable energy industry has also been leading in job creation. One out of every 50 new U.S. jobs last year came from the solar industry, with growth in that industry outpacing the overall U.S. economy by 17 times, according to a recent report.

Overall, there were 260,077 solar workers in 2016, representing 2% of all new jobs. Solar employment increased by more than 51,000 workers, a 25% increase over 2015, according to the report. Solar industry employment has nearly tripled since the first National Solar Jobs Census was released in 2010 — rising at least 20% annually for the past four years.

U.S. energy exports EIA

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Sunvell T95P

The past decade has seen a number of manufacturers attempt to squeeze a working computer into a plug. Marvell kick-started the trend with the Linux-based SheevaPlug and Quanta almost did it with the Windows-powered Compute Plug.

But we have yet to see one based on Android; until now, that is. Meet the Sunvell T95P, a TV Box that is housed in an enclosure barely bigger than a traditional plug. Available with a US, UK or EU plug, it connects directly to your plug socket and, well, just works.

All three versions cost around £39 (about $50, AU$65) with free shipping at online Chinese retailer Gearbest. Note that this price is exclusive of any taxes that may be levied by HMRC or the courier companies on behalf of the vendor. Want to buy tech from online Chinese retailers? Read this first.

The PC-in-a-plug is sold as a TV box, but there is far more to it than just running the popular Kodi application. It comes with an HDMI cable and a remote control, a clear indication of how its manufacturer expects the device to be used.

Obviously enough, its size (53 x 53 x 68mm) means the T95P can find its way into almost any location where there’s a free power socket, which in theory includes hotel rooms and even offices where its price should prove to be attractive.

Bear in mind though that this is first and foremost an Android-based TV box with a proprietary, non-customisable launcher that sits atop Android 6.0.1. Curiously, there are two update applications, neither of which work.

The T95P is based on an Amlogic S905X system-on-a-chip, a popular chip that features four ARM Cortex-A53 cores clocked at up to 2GHz and a Mali 450 GPU. Power dissipation/consumption is a trivial problem with an always-plugged-in device, and when running, this tiny PC was barely warm to the touch.

It has 2GB of RAM, 8GB on-board storage and a microSD card slot that supports up to 32GB. Other than 802.11n Wi-Fi, it offers one USB 2.0 port and an HDMI connector that supports 4K at 60Hz, a claim that was successfully tested. Note that there is no Bluetooth.

The design of the box can best be described as conservative. There’s nothing particularly notable about the device, except for some slits on the side to allow air circulation to cool the chip inside. Other than the logo, there’s nothing much to be seen on the outside.

Although the T95P is pitched as a TV box (or more precisely an OTT TV Box Android Player), we wanted to find out how it would perform as a business desktop replacement. Connecting our TeckNet X500 keyboard with integrated touchpad was flawless. That said, it did take some time to acclimatise to using this input peripheral on something that’s designed primarily for a touch-first environment. 

On paper, the combination of a decent amount of memory with a multi-core system-on-a-chip and a recent operating system makes the T95P a reasonably potent desktop alternative, and an attractive proposition for small businesses.

But in this respect, the reality of the experience was a big disappointment initially. We first placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of terrible Wi-Fi connectivity, with speeds of around 0.25Mbps recorded during our testing. We could live with the unfriendly user interface, but this snail-paced internet access would drive even the most patient user up the wall.

However, the real culprit here wasn’t the Wi-Fi hardware itself, but the placement of the device. We created a hotspot using a 4G-capable smartphone, placed it next to the T95P and got 21Mbps out of a potential 25Mbps – and the experience improved dramatically.

Total available internal storage was less than 5GB and that can be explained by the presence of a number of pre-installed applications, all of which can be removed. AppInstaller, Root Explorer, Skype, Netflix and even Kodi can be deleted to make room for more business-oriented applications.

Running on Android rather than say Chrome OS or Windows allows you to tap into a much larger pool of applications, free or paid, rather than depending entirely on a browser-based solution. There will be a learning curve, though, as the UI on these apps will be different from their desktop-based cousins.

Writing documents, browsing the web or producing a simple spreadsheet on the T95P proved to be easy enough to consider it as a low-end machine. Bear in mind that this is a £40 (about $50, AU$65) device that can be carried in your back pocket (well, almost).

Early verdict

The T95P offers solid performance – provided it is located in the right place – and the form factor is promising. We’d love to see one with a passthrough plug and more ports (an Ethernet connector would be smashing), also perhaps with the ability to be powered via a USB port. 

One problem we had was the fact that the launcher is designed primarily to be controlled using the bundled remote, not a keyboard and mouse.

Competition obviously comes from traditional TV boxes like Sunvell’s own T95X, which is essentially the same model, but it costs less and boasts an improved feature set (LAN port, extra USB port) and a power supply unit. A tablet with an HDMI-out port could potentially do the same job, especially when paired with a portable battery charger, but these are becoming rarer.

If you can live with all these considerations, alongside the not-so-great Chinese translation of the user interface, and potential placement issues (most plug sockets are located behind pieces of furniture), then the T95P is a great purchase even for businesses. Although some folks might want to wait for the next iteration or other competitors to adopt this form factor.

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'Serious Sam VR: The Second Encounter' Hits Vive, Rift

Croteam and Devolver Digital released Serious Sam VR: The Second Encounter for the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and OSVR. The game’s title makes it clear that it’s a follow-up to Serious Sam VR: The First Encounter and is part of Croteam’s efforts to make the franchise a mainstay of VR experiences.

The sheer number of Serious Sam titles available in VR can make it hard to know what to expect. This newest entry is a first-person shooter that emphasizes arcade action over silly things like crouching behind waist-high obstacles or peeking around corners. That action is present both in The Second Encounter‘s 12-level campaign, which allows single-player and co-op play, and the game’s “various multiplayer modes” with up to 16 players.

Serious Sam VR: The Second Encounter – Launch Trailer

You can change various aspects of The Second Encounter to suit your preferences. There are five difficulty settings for the single-player campaign, and the co-op campaign lets you decide if you want to enable friendly fire, infinite ammo, or an arcade-like mode where you and your buddy have a limited number of lives. You can also choose from capture the flag, deathmatch, and other multiplayer modes depending on what suits your fancy.

Croteam announced in February that it had three more VR titles on the way: Serious Sam VR: The Second Encounter, Serious Sam VR: The Third Encounter, and The Talos Principle. All three, much like Serious Sam VR: The First Encounter, were ports of existing titles to VR. The company also said it will continue to update the new Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope as well as a bunch of graphics updates made via Serious Sam Fusion 2017.

You can buy Serious Sam VR: The Second Encounter on Steam for $30 as part of a 25% off launch sale. The game supports the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and OSVR; accepts input from motion controllers, gamepads, and keyboard and mouse; and can be played seated, standing, or in room-scale setups. Movement can be handled either via Croteam’s Blink teleportation-based Serious Warp system or via trackpad/analog stick full locomotion.

Name Serious Sam VR: The Second Encounter
Type Virtual Reality, First-Person Shooter, Arcade
Developer Croteam
Publisher Devolver Digital
Platforms
  • HTC Vive
  • Oculus Rift
  • OSVR
Where To Buy Steam
Release Date April 4, 2017

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Apple Mac Pro design was a bad bet, admits firm

Apple has acknowledged that the design of its standalone desktop computer, the Mac Pro, restricted its ability to update the model.

The firm has announced a limited refresh of the machine, the first time it has upgraded its innards since 2013.

But it said it would not be able to release a “new model” until an unspecified point after 2017.

The tech firm had faced criticism that it was not addressing the needs of its professional users.

It released a new line-up of MacBook-Pro-branded laptops in October, but was attacked for not including more powerful graphics cards in them and for removing several of the ports found in earlier models.

One expert said the latest announcement would reassure graphic designers, video editors, scientists and other power users that Apple was not abandoning them to focus on iPads and iPhones, which outsell the Macs.

Apple’s engineering chiefs told a small group of journalists – which did not include the BBC – that the company had been constrained as a consequence of how it had expected graphics chip technology to develop.

The firm had believed it would become more common to use multiple graphics processing units (GPUs) to carry out complex tasks. The Mac Pro was designed to use two in parallel.

Instead, component-makers have focused on designing parts that maximise the output of a single GPU and give out more heat as a result.

This caused problems for the trash-can-like design of the machine. It did away with the multiple heat sinks and fans found in earlier Mac Pros, and instead used a single triangular piece of aluminium to conduct heat away from its processors, helping it to run more quietly as a result.

“The way the system is architected, it just doesn’t lend itself to significant reconfiguration for somebody who might want a different combination of GPUs,” Techcrunch quoted Apple’s hardware chief John Ternus as saying.

“We realised we had to take a step back and completely re-architect what we’re doing and build something that enables us to do these quick, regular updates and keep it current and keep it state of the art, and also allow a little more in terms of adaptability to the different needs of the different pro customers.”

The firm’s software engineering chief Craig Federighi added: “I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner… being able to put larger single GPUs required a different system architecture and more thermal capacity than that system was designed to accommodate.”

The refreshed models add more powerful CPU (central processing units) and dual-GPUs than before. But otherwise little has changed, including a lack of USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports common to Apple’s other high-end systems, which offer data speed benefits.

“I think it was simply untenable for Apple to continue to remain silent on the Mac Pro front,” commented the tech blogger John Gruber, who was also invited to the meeting.

“No matter how disappointing you consider today’s speed bump updates to the line-up, they’re certainly better than no updates at all.

“[But] if they had released these speed bumps without any comment about the future of the Mac Pro, people would have reasonably concluded that Apple had lost its… mind.”

This is the second time in a week that Apple has been in the news because of GPUs.

On Tuesday, Imagination Technologies – the British designer of GPUs for its smartphones and tablets – revealed that Apple planned to go it alone and design its GPUs in-house.


What’s the difference between a CPU and a GPU?

In basic terms, a CPU calculates single sets of instructions more quickly (or two sets of instructions simultaneously if a dual-core chip is involved), while GPUs specialise in carrying out many calculations at the same time.

This makes GPUs better suited for “parallelisable” tasks – jobs that can be broken down into several parts and run simultaneously because the outcome of any one calculation does not determine the input of another.

As the name suggests, powering graphics is one example, but others include speech recognition and pattern matching.


Things that happened since Apple last updated the Mac Pro:

Apple released the last version of its top-end desktop computer way back on 19 December 2013, but opted not to update it at its latest event.

The “trash can” was targeted at video editors, 3D graphics artists, engineers and other professionals who wanted a powerful workstation.

But three years is a very long time to go without a refresh, and a lot has happened in both tech and beyond in the interim.

To give an idea of how long it’s been, all the events below have occurred since the computer went on sale:

  • the European Space Agency landed a robot on a comet
  • Scotland voted no in its independence referendum
  • video game Flappy Bird was released, pulled and released again
  • Apple unveiled two generations of its smartwatch
  • the Ashley Madison infidelity site was hacked
  • the comedian Robin Williams died
  • celebrity photos were stolen from iCloud accounts and posted online
  • the Robocop movie reboot was released at cinemas
  • movie director Michael Bay quit the stage part way through a speech at a Samsung event at the CES tech show
  • the iPhones 6, 6S and 7 have been released

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