Apple tempts free iCloud users with one-month free trials of upgraded tiers

Apple really wants more people to start ponying up for more iCloud storage, as the company is now offering one-month free trials of all upgraded storage tiers.

First spotted by an AppleInsider reader, the offer appears whenever a free iCloud user (which puts up a paltry 5GB for consumers and 200GB for school-issued devices) attempts to manage their iCloud storage. This offer doesn’t appear to be valid for existing subscribers.

Naturally, it will be up to the user to cancel whatever tier they’ve upgraded to for free before the month is out, otherwise the credit card or bank account tied to their Apple ID will be charged the normal amount.

To recap, that’s $0.99 (£0.79, AU$1.49) a month for 50GB of storage, $2.99 (£2.49, AU$4.49) for 200GB monthly and $9.99 (£6.99, $14.99) every month for 2TB of online storage.

So, since we know it will be hard to resist free cloud storage, just take some advice: make sure you have some place else to store whatever you’re throwing into Apple’s cloud servers. That way, should you want out, you don’t have to delete thousands of those precious selfies.

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Intel’s rumored octa-core Coffee Lake-S CPU gets even faster

Earlier this week, we reported that Intel’s rumored first octa-core processor appeared with a 2.6GHz base frequency, but this forthcoming Coffee Lake-S chip might be faster after all.

Intel’s eight-core CPU appeared in again in the SiSoft Sandra database running at a significantly faster 3.1GHz and the processor will likely be officially announced with even faster speeds. That’s based on just the fact that these are purported preliminary engineering samples, we can expect higher clock speeds as Intel moves towards qualification and test samples.

In a bit of related news, PCGamesHardware claims to have spotted official documentation from Intel regarding the oft rumored and accidentally leaked Z390 chipset. The allegedly official documents show the forthcoming chipset will lend at least nine PCIe lanes towards USB 3.1 Gen2 ports, however, the total number of available PCIe lanes remains unchanged from Z370’s maximum of 24.

With all these Coffee Lake-S and Z390 rumors coming so fast and furiously, it almost seems certain we’ll see both a new chip and platform officially announced at Computex 2018.

Via PCGamesN

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Google and Facebook accused of breaking GDPR laws

Complaints have been filed against Facebook, Google, Instagram and WhatsApp within hours of the new GDPR data protection law taking effect.

The companies are accused of forcing users to consent to targeted advertising to use the services.

Privacy group noyb.eu led by activist Max Schrems said people were not being given a “free choice”.

If the complaints are upheld, the websites may be forced to change how they operate, and they could be fined.

What’s the issue?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new EU law that changes how personal data can be collected and used. Even companies based outside the EU must follow the new rules if offering their services in the EU.

In its four complaints, noyb.eu argues that the named companies are in breach of GDPR because they have adopted a “take it or leave it approach”.

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The activist group says customers must agree to having their data collected, shared and used for targeted advertising, or delete their accounts.

This, the organisation suggests, falls foul of the new rules because forcing people to accept wide-ranging data collection in exchange for using a service is prohibited under GDPR.

“The GDPR explicitly allows any data processing that is strictly necessary for the service – but using the data additionally for advertisement or to sell it on needs the users’ free opt-in consent,” said noyb.eu in a statement.

“GDPR is very pragmatic on this point: whatever is really necessary for an app is legal without consent, the rest needs a free ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option.”

Privacy advocate Max Schrems said: “Many users do not know yet that this annoying way of pushing people to consent is actually forbidden under GDPR in most cases.”

The complaints were filed by four EU citizens with local regulators in Austria, Belgium, France and Germany.

Analysts and regulators had expected complaints to be filed shortly after the introduction of the law, as organisations and privacy advocates argue over how the law should be interpreted.

‘Huge fines’

Some companies based outside the EU have temporarily blocked their services across Europe to avoid falling foul of the new legislation.

However, others such as Twitter have introduced granular controls that let people opt out of targeted advertising.

Companies that fall foul of GDPR can be – in extreme cases – fined more than £17m.

Facebook said in a statement that it had spent 18 months preparing to make sure it met the requirements of GDPR.

Google and WhatsApp have not yet responded to the BBC’s request for comment.

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The Acer Predator Helios 500 is a gaming laptop that’s overclockable in all the right places

The Acer Predator Helios 500 is a gaming laptop designed for extreme gamers. Not infinitely wealthy ones, such as the lucky 300 who bought a limited-edition $8,000 Predator 21 X, but reasonably well-financed ones who could instead “settle” for a model that offers an overclockable GPU and a few overclockable CPU options as well.

That’s just the beginning. We saw the Predator Helios 500 on Wednesday, when it was announced at Acer’s next@acer event in New York. Up close, you can see this beast checks off a lot of boxes. 

Features and specs for serious gaming

acer predator helios 500 rear view Acer

CPU options for the Acer Predator Helios 500 span Intel Core i5-8300H to Core i9+ 8950HK.

The Predator Helios 500 will ship in June with a starting price of $1,999. We already liked the Acer Predator Helios 300, the lower-cost cousin to the Predator Helios 500, which offers impressive bang for buck with a starting price of $1,100. It could only get better as you move up to the Helios 500, so let’s dive straight into the specs and see. 

CPU: Your choice of a four-core Core i5-8300H, a six-core Core i7-8750H; or a Core i9-8950HK or Core i9+ 8950HK. Focusing on the latter two Core i9 chips, both of these are six-core CPUs, overclockable from a base rate of 2.9GHz to 4.8GHz. Even better, the Core i9+ adds Optane Memory to boost the speed of data drives. 

Memory: Up to 16GB of DDR4, upgradeable to 64GB via four soDIMM modules

Display: Your choice of 17.3-inch IPS-technology displays. One is simply high-resolution Ultra HD (3840×2160). The other is Full HD (1920×1080) with support for 144Hz refresh and Nvidia G-sync. The latter option will make a huge difference in your gaming experience, but it will kill your battery life—and it’ll add a fair amount to the total price of your configuration. 

acer predator helios 500 3qtr left Acer

The Acer Predator Helios 500 comes with an Nvidia GTX 1070 discrete GPU.

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, overclockable, with 8GB of GDDR5 VRAM. I can hear it now: “What, no GTX 1080?” It’s fair to point out that a laptop rig with a GTX 1080 would need to be a bigger, heavier machine than the Predator Helios 500 (which is already pretty husky—see Dimensions and Weight, below).

Storage: Up to a 2TB HDD, or SSD options including up to 512GB SATA (6 Gbps), up to 512GB NMVe PCIe Gen 3 (8 Gbps) up to 4 lanes, or up to 1TB 2D NVMe in RAID 0. 

Neato Botvac D7 Connected review

Robot vacuum cleaners are getting better. Once a gimmick, they are now big business and are actually getting good enough to replace your normal vacuum cleaner.

Some may think it’s lazy to get a robot to do the work, and they might be right. But if you can buy a robot that will clean your floor every day while you’re not even there, you might be tempted to invest – and gain a lot of time that you’d otherwise spend cleaning.

The Neato Botvac D7 Connected is a bad name for the best robot vacuum cleaner we’ve tested yet. But it is also one of the most expensive and can be frustrating to use. But, like with smartphones, the best often costs a lot, and the performance and versatility of the Botvac D7 actually make it worth the plunge.

Neato Botvac D7 Connected price and availability

The D7 costs £799 direct from Neato or Amazon in the UK.

In the US, it costs $799 from Neato or Amazon.

Neato Botvac D7 Connected design and build

While it undoubtedly still looks a little alien, the D7 Connected isn’t the most outlandish piece of smart home technology you could buy. Its shape is not random either – the curve on one side and the corners of the other side allow the D7 to fit itself into corners to clean, and to skirt around obstacles.

The circular bump on the top of the D7 is what Neato calls ‘Botvision’, and is basically the robot’s eyes. This clever, contained piece of the product means the vacuum cleaner intelligently moves around the floor and maps its progress while it does it.

It’s very short too, so it can fit under furniture where rival products cannot.

On top is the lid of the dirt bin which is easily accessible and removable. There’s also a bumper with suspension to allow the unit to gently bump against things before retreating (this is also used as a button during set up).

Otherwise, the top is fairly plain besides an LED readout and physical start button. You shouldn’t need to ever look at the bottom of the Botvac D7, but as you’d suspect it’s all wheels, brushes and rollers that work together for an efficient clean.

On the curved end of the robot are metal charging contacts that the unit automatically aligns to the contacts on the floor charging dock.

So, it is what it is – a functional, black and grey robot vacuum cleaner. It’s the features and performance that make the D7 Connected stand out.

Neato Botvac D7 Connected features and performance

The Neato Botvac D7 Connected relies on Wi-Fi to function, and you’ll need a strong connection. In our testing, without a decent Wi-Fi signal the D7 becomes frustratingly useless, so be warned.

It works with either 2.4GHz or 5GHz Wi-Fi networks (basically, it’ll work) but just make sure your router and set up covers all the areas of the house you want the D7 Connected to cover.

When you set up the D7, think about where you will place the charging dock. The robot remembers where it is and will cleverly return to it once a clean has been completed. You shouldn’t need to move the base at all if it’s in a discreet location, but if you do move it you’ll need to re-map the floorplan.

Then, your attention moves to the app and stays there. On Android or iOS, the Neato app is a minimalist but largely decent user experience. In testing it was sometimes unresponsive, and we were able to put it down to our initial Wi-Fi set up. The app and D7 communicate seamlessly when everything is running properly.

But then sometimes the robot simply wouldn’t connect to the app, and the app is so sparse and uninformative at times that it says there’s a problem, but doesn’t prompt you to know the solution. This is a real shame, as you might find yourself not being able to restart the vacuum and randomly pressing the power button.

But once it’s working and you’re worried that the D7 Connected will miss any of your floor, don’t be – it is amazingly manoeuvrable despite its 3.5kg heft. The rounded and boxed design at either end allows the Botvision to seek out corners of the room, and then the angled end can back into it, ensuring full coverage.

The Botvac D7 also does very well working its way round obstacles. When you start a clean it scans the perimeter of the room in a lasso fashion and then cleans every open space inside it.

Errors can plague use, damaging the user experience

There’s an option to map off parts of the room that you don’t want the vacuum to go to, but in our testing it’s just easier to make space for it. But once you have a mapped area saved, you can draw no-go areas. This means the D7 can run around your home only cleaning the areas it knows are clear and makes it very efficient.

The only thing it struggles with is cables – you might want to put something solid in the way of any cables on the floor (or input some no-go areas) because otherwise the D7 is going to get stuck – and this is its biggest flaw.

The detection system can’t handle avoiding cables, but otherwise the automatic mode proved very good. You can have it on turbo (louder, faster) or eco (quieter, slower, uses less energy) and there’s even a manual mode if you want to drive it about like a remote-controlled car, but this defeats the point – you might as well just use a normal vacuum cleaner.

Other than spot mode, which cleans a square area, you’ll be using the Botvac D7 Connected in auto mode. Using the app, you can schedule it to clean at certain times and also remotely from anywhere, which is great. If you’re at work, you can set it off and be safe in the knowledge it’s cleaning away back home.

Also useful is Amazon Alexa and Google Home compatibility, so you can control your Botvac Connected using your smart speaker. It’ll need to be on the same Wi-Fi network, but with a simple “Alexa, tell Neato to start cleaning”, you won’t even have to open the app to get a nice clean floor. Ah, the future, eh?


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1&1 Online Accounting

1&1 Internet may be best known for its web hosting products, but the company has bigger ambitions than that. The latest addition to the range is 1&1 Online Accounting, a cloud-based set of bookkeeping packages aimed at freelancers, small and medium business users.  

The software is powered by sevDesk, a brand of the German developer SEVENIT. SevDesk has only been around since 2014, but the company has been working hard to internationalize it, and the 1&1 Online Accounting service is now fully adapted to the legal and business requirements of the UK.  

Online Accounting plans start with Invoice, a simple package for preparing quotes and invoices only. Standard templates make it easy to get started, and you can brand documents with your own letterhead and logo. It is licensed to a single user for access on any device, and can be yours for £4.99 ($6.69) a month over the first year, £9.99 ($13.38) on renewal.

That’s a little expensive; ClearBooks gives you more functionality in many areas (though no VAT on the starter product) and supports unlimited users for the same price on monthly billing, dropping to £8 ($10.70) a month if you pay for two years up-front. 

1&1’s Accounting plan adds online cashbook management, document filing, an overview of cost centers, DATEV export and separate access for tax advisors. Your account can be accessed and managed by up to three users, and it’s priced at £9.99 ($13.38) a month for year one, £19.99 ($26.76) on renewal. Again, competitors like ClearBooks offer more features for less.  

The high-end Inventory Manager plan also includes warehouse and stock management features, including an up-to-date inventory overview, speedy options to write and dispatch delivery notes, and tools to check customer and supplier prices. The service can be accessed by up to ten users, and it’s priced from £19.99 ($26.76) a month for year one, £39.99 ($53.53) on renewal. That’s not cheap, but inventory management is a valuable feature which isn’t always an option elsewhere.

All plans are supported by a couple of mobile apps. SevDesk gives you access to the core service, and sevScan digitizes receipts for including in your records. Both apps are available for Android and iOS.  

No business can afford to have this kind of critical service go down for long, so it’s good to see that 1&1 Online Accounting includes 24/7 support by email and telephone.  

There’s another welcome safeguard in 1&1’s money-back guarantee. You can try Online Accounting for up to 30 days, and if you’re unhappy, you can cancel the product online (no need to fight your way through customer service) and receive a full refund of all your costs. 

Setup 

The 1&1 website does a reasonable job of presenting the features of its Online Accounting plans, and most users will quickly be able to decide which product they need.  

Tap the Buy button and you’re able to purchase the plan on a monthly or annual contract. There’s no initial discount for monthly contracts, so they’re not the most appealing of choices; for example, 1&1 Inventory Manager costs £39.99 ($53.53) if you choose the monthly option, £19.99 ($26.76) if you go for annual. Even better, annual contracts are billed monthly, so there’s no chunky up-front bill.  

Hand over your cash by card or PayPal and you’re prompted for your personal details: name, physical and email address, phone number, company name and type.

A couple of emails arrived soon afterwards with confirmation and acknowledgement of our order, but nothing related to the Online Accounting product itself, no product summary or description, no ‘getting started’ details, no clear links to help resources.

The Welcome email didn’t even mention the word ‘accounting’, as we’d signed up for the Inventory Manager product, and if anything it seemed to suggest we had purchased web hosting (at the bottom of the email a line told us ‘If for any reason you are not satisfied with your website you can cancel your package within the first 30 days from date of purchase to receive a full refund’).  

We read between the lines and followed the link to 1&1’s Control Panel, where there was an icon for Online Accounting, and tapping that started the real login process.

Although we had chosen to register the product for personal use, 1&1 Online Accounting started by demanding we enter our company name. It also asked for our country, preferred language and currency, as well as asking us for our phone number for a second time.  

By default 1&1 Online Accounting treats you as VAT-registered, but you can choose non-VAT registered status with a click.  

Login complete, the service finally takes you to your web dashboard where you’re able to get started. 

1&1 dashboard

Interface 

1&1 Online Accounting opens with a visually appealing overview of your accounts, including a summary chart of revenue and costs and a list of any to-do-type tasks you might have set up.  

A drop-down list enables carrying out common actions in a couple of clicks, including creating recurring invoices, proposals, order confirmations, delivery notes, contacts and tasks. Most of these areas use the same document creation tools, with boxes to enter customer information, invoice details, header content, footers and more. There’s a lot to look at, but once you understand one of these actions you’ll quickly be able to figure out the others.  

A left-hand sidebar gives you speedy access to service modules, including Contacts, Orders, Invoices, Receipts, Payments, Documents, Reports, Tasks and Inventory. You’ll probably want to use this early on to create your list of contacts, or import existing details via CSV, and use the Inventory section to build up details of your products.  

Each of these sections gives you multiple views on its data. At its simplest, clicking Contacts enables focusing on suppliers, customers, partners or prospects, or displaying everyone. All screens have options to create further custom filters of their own, and most of your data can be easily exported in various ways (PDF, CSV, ZIP and more.)  

While this might sound complicated, you only need to delve into the full modules when it’s absolutely necessary. A Search box on the Dashboard enables finding contacts, orders, invoices and more by keyword, and a Last Viewed list means recently-accessed records are only ever a click or two away. 

Inventory

Workflow 

The 1&1 Online Accounting Dashboard presents itself as a summary of your setup, but you can do a lot of work from the page, too.  

Choose Add Proposal from the drop-down list on the right, for instance, and a form enables entering your contact’s details, product details, header and footer content and more. You won’t have any stored contacts or products just yet, but that’s okay – 1&1 Online Accounting allows you to create new ones from the Add Proposal and other document creation screens.  

Save the proposal and it’s saved on the system. Revisit the document later and you’re able to convert it into an order or an invoice, generate it as a packing list, maybe mark it as ‘order denied’ if you know it’s not going to happen. 

Invoice

1&1 Online Accounting follows much the same principle with other documents; the service does its best to help streamline your workflow by allowing you to carry out relevant actions from any item with a couple of clicks.  

The service is a little underpowered in some areas. The Reports section offers only two report types, for instance, Income Statement and VAT, and neither are particularly configurable. Exporting is relatively easy, though, with for example the ability to download a PDF copy of your income statement with a click.  

Interesting productivity boosters include smart receipt scanning, where you can add a scanned receipt as an image or direct from the app, and a text recognition system attempts to automatically detect and add the date, amount, supplier and other fields to the system.  

A handy built-in task system enables creating reminders for calls, emails, appointments and other custom to-dos. It’s no substitute for a standalone to-do manager, but the integration with the system makes it worth having.  

If you’re confused by any of this, tapping a Help icon in the bottom right of the screen opens up a very basic text knowledgebase. This covers the essentials, but no more – advanced options are often ignored, and there’s very little general advice or overviews on how to use different areas of the program.  

1&1 does at least have its 24/7 support, a very valuable extra if you run into problems. Response times are fast, but diagnosing accounting issues requires a very different set of skills to 1&1’s usual web hosting issues. If you take the 30-day trial, test the support team carefully before you sign up. 

Final verdict 

1&1 Online Accounting has a decent core set of features and is straightforward to use once you’ve mastered the basics, but the big-name competition often gives you more and charges less.

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GDPR: US news sites blocked to EU users over data protection rules

A number of high-profile US news websites are temporarily unavailable in Europe after new European Union rules on data protection came into effect.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) gives EU citizens more rights over how their information is used.

The measure is an effort by EU lawmakers to limit tech firms’ powers.

But the new measures saw websites such as the Chicago Times and LA Times post messages saying they were currently unavailable in most European countries.

Under the rules, companies working in the EU – or any association or club – must get express consent to collect personal information, or face hefty fines.

Lawmakers in Brussels passed the new legislation in April 2016, and the full text of the regulation has been published online.

Misusing or carelessly handling personal information will bring fines of up to 20 millions euros ($23.4m;£17.5m), or 4% of a company’s global turnover.

In the UK, which is due to leave the EU in 2019, a new Data Protection Act will incorporate the provisions of the GDPR, with some minor changes.

All EU citizens now have the right to see what information companies have about them, and to have that information deleted.

Companies must be more active in gaining consent to collect and use data too, in theory spelling an end to simple “I agree with terms and conditions” tick boxes.

Companies must also tell all affected users about any data breach, and tell the overseeing authority within 72 hours.

Each EU member states must set up a supervisory authority, and these authorities will work together across borders to ensure companies comply.

The new chair of the European Data Protection Board Andrea Jelinek told the FT they expect cases to be filed “imminently”.

“If the complainants come, we will be ready,” she said.

Ireland’s data regulator Helen Dixon also spoke to the newspaper, saying the country is ready to use “the full toolkit” against non-compliant companies.

Both Facebook and Twitter have their EU headquarters in Ireland.

A data headache

By Kevin Connolly, BBC Europe correspondent

Millions of email inboxes all over Europe filled in recent weeks with messages from anxious companies seeking explicit permission to continue sending marketing material to and collecting personal data from their customers and contacts.

The new rules govern not just the collection and storage but its sale and exploitation for marketing – some companies based in the United States have decided to stop trading in the European Union at least temporarily rather than risk falling foul of the new law.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) see themselves as global leaders in a battle to reduce the power of giant internet technology companies and restore a degree of control to citizens and their elected representatives.

The new rules come amid growing scrutiny about how major tech companies like Google and Facebook collect and use people’s personal information.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg faced questions from MEPs earlier this week about his company’s collection of data.

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