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Will iPhone 8 ditch Touch ID entirely for facial recognition instead?

It’s OK to be sceptical about this latest iPhone 8 rumour.

According to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via StreetInsider), the OLED iPhone 8 – one of three new iPhones expected to be announced in September – will not feature a Touch ID fingerprint sensor whatsoever. The analyst has a decent track record when it comes to leaking Apple news, and he’s usually taken seriously by the media every time he puts out a new report.

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Kuo claimed the iPhone 8 will have “the highest screen-to-body ratio of any smartphone currently available worldwide”, largely due to reduced bezels and an edge-to-edge display. There will be a “notch” on the front for the selfie camera and sensors, but there won’t be a physical Home button. In fact, there will be no Touch ID incorporated into the OLED smartphone’s display.

Kuo noted Apple is still trying to overcome technical challenges with implementing Touch ID into the front display:

“We predict the OLED model won’t support fingerprint recognition, reasons being: (1) the full-screen design doesn’t work with existing capacitive fingerprint recognition, and (2) the scan-through ability of the under-display fingerprint solution still has technical challenges”.

The analyst didn’t specify whether Touch ID would be relocated elsewhere, and because there has been no sign yet that Touch ID will be moved to the back of the device, many publications are assuming that means Apple will ditch Touch ID altogether. Kuo even suggested features like “3D sensing for facial recognition” would be added as a new form of biometric security.

He said the “iPhone 8 won’t support under-display fingerprint recognition”, though Apple will roll out the phone with a “virtual Home button”. This button “will not support fingerprint recognition”, Kuo explained, so the phone will support “3D sensing for facial recognition” instead. Now, we have doubts about all this, considering facial recognition technology currently isn’t very secure.

Also, it just seems unlikely since Apple just added Touch ID to the MacBook range. For more information about what the iPhone 8 could feature, see Pocket-lint’s round up.


Best battery packs for smartphones: Portable power

There is nothing worse than running out of power on your phone. Well, there is, but when it happens it feels like the worst thing in the world.

Unfortunately, as advanced as smartphones have become in recent years, battery life is still something they haven’t quite nailed. Some will last most of the day, others might get you through most of the evening too, but that’s assuming you aren’t spending all your time on WhatsApp, catching Pokemon or stalking Facebook.

Doing any of those will see that battery bar deplete. Rapidly. That’s where battery packs and portable chargers come in. They have been around for years so when it comes to your options, there are hundreds.

You’ll find small ones that will fit in you pocket but only give you a small bit of extra juice, as well as larger ones that will charge your phone three times over. We’ve rounded up a selection of the best battery pack and power bank options out there to make sure your phone keeps up with you.



This Mophie battery portable charger is available with a Lightning cable, or Micro-USB and there are also different capacities available. There is no USB Type-C option as yet.


PRICE: Around £75.00 from Amazon (Lightning)



This RavPower power bank has the largest capacity of those listed in this feature and it comes with a USB Type-C input and output, as well as a USB port. It is also compatible with Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0 technology and it comes with two Micro-USB cables and a USB Type-C adapter.


PRICE: Around £14 from Amazon



The OnePlus portable charger comes in black and white options and it is nice and slim so should slide into your pocket. It has two connections and it is great value for its capacity.


PRICE: £16.00 from OnePlus



This Belkin portable battery pack is small enough to fit in your pocket and is compatible with any USB-enabled advice. It also comes in five colours including black, blue, pink, red and green in case you want colourful power.


PRICE: Around £10 from Amazon



This Samsung battery pack is larger than the Belkin so you’ll need a bigger pocket, or a bag. It will charge your smartphone several times over though and it offers fast charge.


PRICE: Around £45 from Amazon



This Anker battery pack is claimed to be as light as a can of soup and like the Samsung, it also offer fast charging technology. Anker says it will charge an Apple iPhone 7 nearly seven times or a Samsung Galaxy S6 five times before it needs recharging itself.


PRICE: Around £30 from Amazon



This Aukey power bank has a standard USB 3.0 port, along with a USB Type-C port and a Micro-USB port. The company claims it will charge an iPhone 7 Plus or a Google Pixel four and a half times. It has Quick Charge 2.0 on board too.


PRICE: Around £30 from Amazon



This PNY portable battery pack is quite a lot smaller in capacity than the Samsung and Anker options, but it has a Lightning and Micro-USB capable built-in so you don’t need to remember your cable, unless you have a USB Type-C device.


PRICE: Around £24 from Amazon 


Best Amazon Prime Day deals 2017 UK: The greatest deals on the build up to 11 July

Amazon Prime Day is almost upon us again.

Each summer, Amazon hosts a special day to offer thousands of incredible deals exclusively for Prime members around the world. However, this year it is extending the event beyond the usual 24 hour period, to start on Monday 10 July at 6pm in the UK.

The day will then run right the way through Tuesday 11 July, ending at midnight that night.

You do need to sign up for Prime membership, but you do get 30-days free membership if you’ve not been a member before.

It usually costs £79 a year (or £7.99 a month, if you can’t stretch to the one-off payment). You can also get it for a discounted £59 a year up to the close of play today, 3 July.

Once you have membership, you’ll be able to snag deals across the categories Amazon offers. Here then are some of the things you need to know about Amazon Prime Day and some of the UK deals available so far:

What is Amazon Prime Day 2017?

Amazon Prime Day is the company’s equivalent of a Black Friday in July. It sees the online retailer hold a one-day (30-hour) sale featuring more than 100,000 deals worldwide just for Prime members.

It was created in 2015 to celebrate the Amazon’s 20th anniversary, and the company has decided to make it an annual event, thanks to the last two years’ successes.

As before, Prime Day deals will only be available to Amazon Prime members, so you’ll need to either be a paid up member, or on the company’s free Amazon Prime 30-day trial (which you can sign up to on the day to capitalise on the bargains).

But how do you know when the deals are happening? What’s the best way to find those rock bottom prices without wasting your time, and are there any tips or tricks to get the most of the sale?

Which countries will have Amazon Prime Day sales?

New and existing Prime members in the UK, US, Spain, Mexico, Japan, Italy, India, Germany, France, Canada, Belgium and Austria will find deals across nearly all departments and categories on Amazon’s websites.


How does Amazon Prime Day work?

To participate in Prime Day, users must be signed up to Amazon Prime, the subscription service that gives you unlimited one-day delivery, same day delivery on certain products, as well as the company’s services like Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music, Amazon’s Kindle lending service, and unlimited photo storage for Prime Photos.

  • What is Amazon Prime and what do you get for your money?

There are two types of deals: Lightning Deals and Deals of the Day. The Lightning Deals run for a fixed period of time with a set number available, while Deals of the Day run for the whole day. Amazon will also offers several deals in the run up to Amazon Prime Day. 

Get an Amazon Prime free trial to get the deals

Amazon Prime costs £79 a year. You can, however, sign up for a free 30-day trial to get the deals. A neat trick is that you are fully entitled to cancel your Amazon Prime subscription after once you’ve got your shopping deal.

  • Amazon Prime free trial: UK
  • Amazon Prime free trial: US

As long as you cancel the trial before the end you won’t be charged the £79 / $99 yearly subscription. Amazon hopes though that once you’ve enjoyed some of the benefits you won’t hit the cancel button.



Tips and tricks to get the best deals on Amazon Prime Day?

There are a number of tricks and tips to getting the most out of Amazon Prime Day 2017.

Don’t miss a Amazon Prime Day deal

Get the dedicated Amazon shopping app on your mobile and turn on notifications.  Within the notifications settings you can turn on “Watched” and “Waitlisted Deals” so you don’t miss it.

Save even more money on your Amazon Prime Day deal

Get £1 back by opting for No-Rush Delivery if you don’t need your new bargain straight away.

Make a list to get the best deals

Rather than going in with a scattergun approach, make a list before you go onto Amazon and be targeted about the products you want. It might be July, but Amazon Prime Day is a perfect chance to do your Christmas shopping on the cheap.

What deals are available already?

Amazon has already started to offer special deals as part of the event.

Amazon Music Unlimited

Prime members who are yet to try Music Unlimited – Amazon’s own music streaming service and rival to Spotify and Apple Music can do so on the cheap ahead of Prime Day. You can sign up for four months for the total cost of just £0.99.

The service usually costs £7.99 a month for Prime members (or £79 a year on top of Prime membership).

Amazon Video

From 7 July to the end of play 11 July, Prime members have the chance to win £100,000 in cash simply by streaming Amazon Video content to a television using a Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, games console or Smart TV app.

Kindle Unlimited

Prime members can get 40 per cent off a Kindle Unlimited subscription for the duration. The service usually costs £7.99 a month and gives access to millions of eBooks to read on a Kindle or through the Kindle app on a smartphone or tablet.

Everyday Essentials

Onsite vouchers give Prime members up to 25 per cent off select Prime Pantry food and items.

Flickr / Silus Grok

What other deals will be apart of the Amazon Prime Day 2017?

We will be adding more deals as we spot them throughout Amazon Prime Day, but you can check out these popular deal pages on Amazon (UK) to see if there is a deal for you already:

  • Best Computer and Accessories deals
  • Best DVD & Blu-ray deals
  • Best Electronics deals
  • Best Kindle and Fire deals
  • Best PC & Video game deals
  • Best Software deals
  • Best Sports Technology deals
  • Best Toys and Games deals
  • Best Watch deals

What Lightning deals are part of Amazon Prime Day 2017?

Lighting deals go as quick as they arrive and will be on throughout the days leading up to Amazon Prime Day, and on the day itself. It’s worth noting that Amazon Prime members also get early access to lightning deals ahead of regular customers. Check out links below for Lightning deals in key areas on the

  • Best Computer and Accessories lightning deals
  • Best DVD & Blu-ray lightning deals
  • Best Electronics lightning deals
  • Best Kindle and Fire lightning deals
  • Best PC & Video game lightning deals
  • Best Software lightning deals
  • Best Sport Technology lightning deals
  • Best Toys and Games lightning deals
  • Best Watch lightning deals

Your help finding Amazon Prime Deals

If you’ve spotted a good Amazon Prime Day 2017 shopping deal that we’ve not listed, then let us know in the comments below. 


What we’re using in July

There’s a difference between what we test and write about for the site, and what Engadget editors actually decide to lay down their own cash for. Outside work hours, and when the review samples go back to the companies, what are our writers using? Which apps and services do we actually use? We’ve already talked about games, audio and the things we’re watching, but this is Engadget: It’s time to talk hardware.

This week, Daniel Cooper decided to take the plunge with Google WiFi’s mesh network after an accident destroyed his old wireless network. It’s a story of pros and cons.

Daniel Cooper

Daniel Cooper
Senior Editor

Wireless equipment shouldn’t provoke strong emotions in anyone who isn’t paid handsomely to care about it. After all, the point of these devices is to do their job with a minimum of fuss and then get out of the way.

But Google’s second foray into wireless networks generates a plethora of emotions in me. Google WiFi is perfect, yet flawed; user-friendly, yet anger-inducing; and even after a month of owning one, I’m still not sure if I like it.

dsc00787-1.jpgA different kind of router.

Daniel Cooper, Engadget

I was perfectly happy with my old system, an Amped Wireless long-range RTA15 router paired with a REA20 repeater. Unfortunately, an idiotic electrician failed to spot that the latter device was connected to a power strip that was intentionally pinned behind a wardrobe. Belligerently yanking his power drill to squeeze out another inch of range, he sent the repeater crashing to the floor, shattering it into pieces.

The accident was timely because Google WiFi had just been released in the UK. My fellow tech journalists filled my social-media feeds with humblebrags about how easy the hardware was to set up and use. They gushed about how beautiful it was, and how useful the companion app was, not to mention the raft of smug screenshots showing how much faster everyone’s Google-blessed internet now ran.

Google chose not to release the triple-pack in the UK, and so I threw down £229 (around $300) for the double pack. The box was clean and uncluttered: two Google WiFi pucks, two USB-C power leads and a single ethernet cable. The only other thing in the packaging was a single square piece of card telling you how to install the device. It took less than half an hour to get the first unit up and running, and most of that time was spent fiddling with the cable modem.

Once you’ve plugged it in and downloaded the app, you just have to let the software do its thing, which it does magnificently. For someone used to burrowing into the depths of and trying in vain to ensure good performance, this was a revelation. Setting up guest networks, pairing Google WiFi to my Philips Hue hub, it was almost too easy.

Here’s an amusing parable about how good Google WiFi is. I sometimes forget that the bridge that controls my Philips Hue bulbs is a first-generation model. In those moments of memory lapse, I’d try to pair my home’s lighting with HomeKit on iOS, only to be told that I need to buy a new bridge for £50 ($65). Expecting it to fail, I tried to connect Google WiFi to my Hue setup, only for it to work first time. That’s pretty telling.

Then there are the speeds and, hoo boy, if you’re looking for faster internet, you should really look into Google WiFi. My desktop is connected to the internet via a wired ethernet connection that goes through the router. When I was using my old router, my desktop download speed was around 80-ishMbps. With Google WiFi, it’s closer to 100Mbps, although upload speeds have remained constant at 12Mbps.

Wireless speeds, however, are another story. Before I made the switch, I tested my WiFi speed in every room of my home. In my bedroom, the speed was 53.25Mbps, while close to the router itself I pulled down 59.9Mbps. Swap that out for Google WiFi, on the other hand, and I managed to pull down 174.94Mbps with a ping time of 20ms. That’s almost the internet speeds I actually pay/ for, which is unheard of. I was blown away by the result that I actually giggled like an idiot child.

It was when I began installing the second Google WiFi puck that things became problematic. I should have known they would, because nothing has ever been this good or useful or effective, ever. I put the device in the same place as the Amped repeater, in the back bedroom, about 45 feet away from the router. But as soon as installation began, I started getting error messages, saying that the Google WIFi puck needed to be no farther than 30 feet from its parent.

Google: not understanding the point of why people buy mesh networks since 2017.

— Dan CoopEUr (@danielwcooper) May 1, 2017

This can be a problem in a lot of British homes, which are often far narrower and longer than their American counterparts. My terraced home was built in 1890 and is bisected by a cluster of aged pipework that, even now, I’ve not been able to remove. If I put the WiFi module the other side of the plumbing, there’d be little point in bothering, since I wouldn’t get signal beyond the bathroom.

This is why I was such a slavish devotee to Amped’s high-powered, long-range offerings, which had cut through my home with ease. The router was at the very front of the house, the repeater at the back, and while it was slow and sometimes a little flaky, at least it worked. In the end, I wound up putting the second Google WiFi puck in my kitchen, 30 feet from the base station. But reliability in the further reaches of my home isn’t great by any means, and my bathroom and back bedroom don’t get great coverage.

“I was getting almost the internet speeds I actually pay for.”

The solution to this is simple: Buy another Google WiFi device and harness the power of mesh networking to its fullest. But I’m not going to, because Google should have offered the triple pack in the UK instead of just a double. As a consequence, those of us who need to buy the third module are cheated out of the bulk buy discount offered in the US. Sure, it’s only a £29 ($38) difference but it’s the principle of the thing, you know?

Right now, I don’t know if I’ll stick with Google WiFi or switch to another option like Eero, Orbi or BT’s Britain-only mesh product. On one hand, it is a pretty nice system, and if you live in a small apartment or two up-two down home, it’s worth every penny. But for me, I’m not sure if I’m prepared to spend another £130 to make it work. For all of the excellent bells and whistles, if it doesn’t do the job it’s meant to, it’s not a good deal, is it?

“IRL” is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they’re buying, using, playing and streaming.


Two Year Anniversary of Beats 1 Celebrated in New Interview With DJs

Two years ago Apple Music officially launched, alongside the debut of the service’s 24/7 streaming radio channel Beats 1. In celebration of that anniversary, Beats 1 DJs Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga have given an interview to Highsnobiety to discuss their career high points working on Beats 1, the evolving landscape of digital radio, and more.

Zane Lowe has spoken about his origins with Beats 1 and Apple Music in the past, and in today’s interview he again references “perfect” timing in his move to Apple and hosting Beats 1. Lowe mentioned excitement about sharing new music with listeners — from a live demo of Vince Staples’ new record to discussing the Baby Driver soundtrack with Edgar Wright — and said that he hopes Beats 1 is the “ultimate clubhouse for artists.”

Image via Highsnobiety

When I found myself in a room with Drake and Oliver and Future for the first time, talking about what OVO SOUND Radio would feel like, that was only a few weeks after I arrived. That was a pretty mind blowing experience to have. The quality and vision of that show. I get that feeling every time I turn on Beats 1 and Mike D is doing a radio show or Lorde is taking over the station and playing in a personal and talking about us in a personal and engaged way. Every time something exciting happens on Beats 1 we get closer to our goal which is to be the ultimate clubhouse for artists to be able to express themselves and enjoy the process of sharing music and sharing information.

Concerning Beats 1 and its musical genres, Darden mentioned that just because he’s known as “the hip-hop guy” doesn’t mean his show won’t take the chance at highlighting other genres.

People think I’m “the hip-hop guy”, and I am that. But I’m also a music fan across the board. I’m amazed at how much great music is out there from all around the world. I get put on to new sounds from a myriad of genres and countries every day. There are tracks in other languages that I don’t understand, but I feel the message regardless. Beats 1 has definitely expanded my worldview.

When asked about the most difficult moment he’s been faced with working on Beats 1, Lowe said it was deciding the basic definition of the service, mentioning that he asked himself, “…is this even radio?” With the rise of streaming services, like Apple Music, Lowe mentioned that the Beats 1 team had a chance to do something different with their version of traditional radio and decided to create a foundation of trust for artists that “let them drive their own conversation.”

We had three months to build Beats 1 from scratch… the first question we asked on Day One was… is this even radio? Radio had been driving pop music in the world for 50 years, and for all of those years, that was the only way to get a hit record. I’m not sure that’s still the case. Radio listenership like that is declining and in some cases gone.

We had to face up to the reality that the old expectations may not fit the artist anymore. We have to trust the artists. Let them drive their own conversation. Trust that they know their audience. They know how to get the results. They know how this works. With that in mind, we built Beats 1, where artists can own their own real estate, drive their own message, satisfy their audience in their own voice, and hopefully, add value. Free has to lead somewhere. It has to collaborate. It has to build trust. And it’s working.

A few months after Apple Music launched, Beats 1 began saving replays of recent shows so listeners could revisit a segment that they missed at any time. Now, the “On Demand” section of Beats 1 includes recent shows, playlists, and a topic description for each of the DJ’s shows after they air live.

Ending the interview, Lowe mentioned that even two years into the life of Beats 1, he’s “never been more excited about where Beats 1 is at this moment, and this is just the beginning.” Check out the full interview with Lowe, Darden, and Adenuga on Highsnobiety here.

Tags: Apple Music, Beats 1
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These are the best 6 Moto Mods for the Moto Z Play, Moto Z2 Play, and the Moto Z Force

Moto Mods — the modular add-ons that slot snugly onto the back of Lenovo’s Moto Z Play, Moto Z2 Play, and Moto Z Force — are some of the most innovative accessories around. The best Moto Mods run the gamut from external cameras and speakers to battery packs and chargers, and new ones come out like clockwork. Just this year alone, Motorola, a subsidiary of Lenovo, debuted a game controller, an illuminated charging case, and a horizontal stand that taps into Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa. Lenovo even recently challenged developers to create new Moto Mods, resulting in a wave of innovative accessories that have made their way to various crowdfunding platforms.

But the sheer wealth of Moto Mods on the market can make choosing the best ones challenging. To make your purchase a little easier, we’ve whittled down the list to the very best Moto Mods for the Moto Z Play and Moto Z Force. Read on for all the details.

Moto TurboPower Pack ($80)

If you need a little extra juice to get you through the day, Motorola’s TurboPower pack is the perfect solution. The slim, external 3,490mAh battery snaps onto the back of a Moto Z Play, Moto Z2 Play, or Moto Z Force and supplies up to a full day of additional battery life. Better yet, it charges quickly — when plugged into a compatible wall adapter, the TurboPower case takes just 20 minutes to reach 50-percent capacity. It’s available at Best Buy starting July 30, and Verizon and other retailers beginning August 10.

Buy from:


Moto Style Shell with Wireless Charging ($40)

Envious your friend has a phone with built-in wireless charging? Be envious no more and pick up one of Lenovo’s Moto Style Shells with Wireless Charging, which gives any Moto Z Play or Moto Z Force the ability to charge sans cables. When affixed to your phone’s cover, they enable dual-mode wireless Qi and PMA charging, which is perfect for any aging wireless docks you may have sitting around the house. If you don’t have one, then check out our best wireless chargers roundup. These shells will be available in a variety of styles starting July 30, at Best Buy.

Buy now from:


JBL SoundBoost 2 ($80)

The Moto Z Play and Moto Z Force are fantastic phones, but they aren’t exactly known for their sound quality. Thankfully, you don’t have to settle. The JBL SoundBoost 2, the second generation of JBL’s sound-centric accessory, packs two 27-millimeter drivers, which can produce up to 80 decibels. The mod has a 1,000mAh battery that lasts about 10 hours on a single charge, and you don’t have to worry about sticking it next to water given its splash-proof exterior. You can reserve one from Motorola beginning July 10; from Best Buy beginning July 30; and from Verizon and other retailers on August 10.

Buy now from:


Incipio Vehicle Dock ($65)

If you’re a car-bound commuter who spends a lot of time on the road, you likely want to ease the pain of gridlock however you can. That’s where Incipio’s Vehicle Mount System, a dashboard mount for the Moto Z Play and Moto Z Force, comes in. The device works by securing to your car’s air vent, pairing to your Bluetooth-enabled sound system (if available), and plugging into any and all available charging ports. The result transforms your phone into a self-contained, rotatable infotainment system that pairs magnetically. It’s truly a wonder to behold.

Buy now from:

Motorola Verizon Wireless

Moto Insta-Share Projector ($250)

We’ve all been there: You’re about to kick off the annual sales meeting in front of a boardroom of higher-ups, when you suddenly realize that you forgot to transfer your presentation to the company’s convoluted computer system. Thankfully, if you have the Moto Insta-Share Projector on hand, you’ll always have a Plan B. Lenovo’s diminutive pico projector snaps onto the back of a Moto Z Play or Moto Z Force, supplying a 70-inch WVGA (854 x 480 pixels) screen onto walls, floors, and ceilings. It packs a 1,100mAh battery that adds up to an hour of extra screen time, too, and has a lamp life of up to 10,000 hours. Other accouterments include a USB-C charger, a carrying pouch, and a tilt adjuster.

Buy now from:

Amazon Motorola

Moto GamePad ($80)

There’s no better way to channel your inner gamer than with the Moto Gamepad, a new peripheral from the folks at Lenovo. It’s principally a controller that snaps onto the back of of your Moto Z Force and Moto Z — one that adds dual control sticks, a D-pad, and four tactile buttons to your device. Even better, it packs a discrete 1,035 mAh battery that supplies up to eight hours of additional power, a USB-C charging port, and a low-latency interconnection that’s less prone to input lag than Bluetooth. The GamePad is scheduled for release this summer.

Buy now from:



Project Fi’s mysterious mid-tier phone rumored to be the Moto X4

Upcoming Motorola mid-tier phone could be the first non-Google phone in Project Fi’s roster.

Late last week, Google said that one of its partners would launch a mid-tier device on Project Fi. According to seasoned leaker Evan Blass at VentureBeat, that partner is Motorola, and the device in question is the Moto X4.


There’s not a whole lot of information regarding Motorola’s upcoming mid-range phone, but a leaked roadmap from earlier this year suggests a dual camera setup with a “SmartCam” feature and a 5.2-inch Full HD display with 3D glass. The device will allegedly be powered by a Snapdragon 660 chipset, along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage. Motorola is also said to be mulling IP68 dust and water resistance.

Blass says that the Moto X4 will debut sometime in the fourth quarter of 2017, and if the rumor pans out, the Moto X4 will be the first phone outside of the Nexus and Pixel devices to support Project Fi. The MVNO uses three different carriers — T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular — automatically switching between them to deliver the best signal quality and speed. It costs $20 per month for unlimited talk and texting, along with $10 per gigabyte of data.

Google Project Fi

  • What is Project Fi?
  • Get the latest Project Fi news
  • Discuss Project Fi in our forums
  • Phones: Google Pixel | Nexus 6P | Nexus 5X | Nexus 6
  • Sign up for Project Fi



I thought this Anker 26,800mAh portable battery was too big — I was wrong


The landscape of mobile battery packs is just as diverse as the people who buy them.

Think about any conceivable situation in which you’d need to charge up your phone, tablet, accessories or even laptop away from a wall socket, and there’s a battery out there to serve you. I typically carry a 10,000mAh battery with just a single USB port — it’s something compact I can always carry with me, and I’m willing to take the trade-off of only charging up phones one at a time.

But then I bought a new MacBook Pro, and started to transition more aggressively to making everything in my life USB-C — considering every phone and tablet I have also has the same port. The number of great USB-C batteries out there is small, and the number properly supporting the USB-C Power Delivery spec is even smaller — but it’s something that I’d ideally have to charge up my MacBook Pro just as well as any phone or tablet.

I found this Anker PowerCore battery with its massive 26,800mAh capacity, and my mind has been changed about carrying big external batteries.

See at Amazon


Yes I realize I’m legitimately talking about buying a $100 battery pack in a world where you can get some really great ones for less than $30. But this Anker PowerCore 26800mAh battery if worth it, at least in my case.

Having USB-C Power Delivery immediately changed the calculus of lugging a big battery around.

I typically scoff at such large portable batteries because I feel I’m never going to be away from a wall plug long enough that I’d need to charge a phone eight times or a tablet three times. And at the same time, such a huge battery typically takes forever to charge back up. My flip-flop on both of these feelings comes from one thing: USB-C Power Delivery.

USB-C PD lets the battery output 30W of power — enough to charge a MacBook Pro 13-inch, but also charge many phones (Pixels, Nexuses, the HTC U11, LG G6 and more) at their fastest possible rates. Just as importantly, the battery also uses USB-C PD for recharging itself. So now instead of waiting overnight, or connecting two chargers at once, it takes just 4.5 hours to get this big battery from dead to full. A game-changer, in both respects.

Beyond the USB-C port, there are also two high-speed USB-A ports for plugging in whatever you want. No, there isn’t Qualcomm Quick Charge here, but these are “PowerIQ” ports that output 5V/3A — plenty capable for your phones, tablets, accessories and cameras. Having a portable (well, relatively portable) battery that can charge my laptop, phone and tablet at the same time is awesome and extremely important when I’m traveling. When I can’t find a wall socket, or just don’t want to carry a wall charger, it’s immediately worth more than that $100 price.

Then there’s an extra bit of nice-to-have kit in the box: a 30W USB-C PD wall charger. This little charger, with its foldable plug, can of course charge up the battery but also works perfectly with a MacBook Pro as a travel charger or with any of my USB-C phones or tablets. A real value-add that’s worth factoring into this $100 price.

Let’s quickly address the one downside here. Yes, the battery is huge compared to your typical choices — but moreover, it’s dense, weighing in at 1.29 pounds / 590 grams. Part of that weight comes from its hefty metal construction, but it’s mostly the massive battery capacity inside. It is far too big to put in a pocket or easily carry around while you’re using your phone. But it is comfortably under the 100Wh limit for carrying on a plane. Good call, Anker.

This isn’t a go-anywhere portable battery; it’s a venerable power station for all of my devices.

But this isn’t supposed to be a go-everywhere super-portable battery for just your phone — you can find those anywhere. This is a venerable power station that you can take out knowing it can not only recharge a phone eight times, but more importantly can charge up your phone once while also giving a 100% charge to your MacBook Pro or other USB-C laptop on the go.

Am I going to get rid of all of my smaller batteries and just stick to this monster? No, that’s just not practical. Sometimes all I need is a 5000mAh battery to slip into a jacket pocket to top up my phone, and I’ll keep using those. But for a battery that’s going to stay in my bag, ready to charge up anything I need while I’m out of the house or traveling, it’s going to be this Anker PowerCore 26800mAh battery.

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The (re)making of ‘Crash Bandicoot’

Facedown in the sand, a figure wakes up on a desert island.

The tide has been dragging him up the shore.

He looks over his shoulder, before disappearing into the jungle.

Three years ago, Sony ended its E3 press conference with a surprise teaser for Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Observant fans, however, saw it as an homage to one of the studio’s most iconic introductions: the opening level of Crash Bandicoot.

It was there, on “N. Sanity Beach,” that the world met Crash some 20 years ago. It was there that we were treated to Crash’s sense of humor, and introduced to lush environments that had previously been unseen on a console. Palm trees leaned into a canopy, beckoning Crash forward; waves slowly pulsed from the bottom of the screen, washing over golden sand where an ancient vessel stood half-buried.

The attention to detail evident in the intro is now synonymous with a Naughty Dog production. In a single composition, Crash Bandicoot built a relationship with its players while communicating its fundamental gameplay hook: perspective.

For the past two years, Vicarious Visions has been learning to hold itself to the same standard. The studio has just completed Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy, a full remaster of the original three games. Throughout development, the team oscillated between waves of inspiration and the ghosts of platformer past. It quickly became apparent that, along with the remaster contract, it had inherited a legacy — and a passionate fanbase.

In trying to understand what Naughty Dog was going for, and how it achieved so much with so little back in 1996, the team found itself constantly referencing a wealth of original concept art, audio files, level geometry and the legacy games themselves.

With two decades’ worth of advancements at its disposal, a simple touch-up didn’t excite the team. “We felt the standard remaster approach, of moving geometry over and raising the resolution of textures, would not be the right course for such an iconic character,” said Dustin King, the game’s lead artist.

“We’re fans. We’ve spent a significant amount of time — the previous six months before joining the Crash project — working on the franchise, working on what makes Crash Crash,” said lead level designer Leo Zuniga. “When we joined [this] team, we had plenty of lessons learned but were still thinking, ‘How are we going to emulate [the originals] and do Naughty Dog justice?’”

“That’s huge pressure.”


When remastering three games simultaneously, choosing where to start is a tough decision. Crafting any single element of Crash Bandicoot would be a challenge, whether translating Crash’s design, fine-tuning the weight in his jump or nailing his crate-destroying spin. So which did they choose? In a way, it was all of the above. It was “N. Sanity Beach.”

“N. Sanity Beach was the benchmark of just … everything,” said Zuniga.

The reconstruction of N. Sanity Beach became an obsession. It’s the “World 1-1,” the “Green Hill Zone,” of Crash Bandicoot. To stick that landing, and thus receive Sony’s blessing in return, was an essential milestone. “At some point, we had to do a vertical slice of N. Sanity Beach: audio tracks, sound effects, animation, lighting, the art in our levels. It allowed us to test out the workflow, test out the systems and schedule out the project.”

A few boxes; a red crab; a pit; another crab; another pit; more boxes; and then, suddenly, vertical movement.

Rhythm is established early in Crash Bandicoot, and it’s easy to take each basic element for granted until you have to re-create them all. Early on in the project, the team had many prototypes but were conscious of the careful balancing act when dealing with such a nostalgia-driven project.

Footage from a 2015 “N. Sanity Beach” development build.

It’s said that memory relies on recognizable shapes. Video games, which require players to interpret a lot of information quickly, have their own tricks to take advantage of that. Valve, for instance, is well known among designers for how it used color, silhouettes and lighting to its advantage when building Team Fortress 2. King recognizes this as well. “We didn’t want to lose important silhouettes in the trilogy that had been established by the original games,” said King. “We know that many people will consciously or subconsciously remember things of this nature.”

“Embellishment.” Nearly everyone on the team used this word as it became key to their vision, especially when addressing the idiosyncrasies of the trilogy. The conclusion of “N. Sanity Beach” is one that every level in the original Crash Bandicoot shares: If you hit every box, a gleeful Crash is awarded a gem. Miss any, however, and they barrel down on him between levels.

“We played around with how Crash reacts to [the boxes], gradually getting more and more knocked out. Sony loved it.”

“I’ve run N. Sanity Beach I don’t know how many times — just in testing the game — so [I kept getting] to the end of the level,” said animation and gameplay lead Curtis Orr. “One of the things that we first tried to add was the boxes hitting his head. At some point, there’s so many boxes. It just took forever!”

Faced with a frustratingly repetitive sequence, Orr experimented with ways to make it more interesting. “We played around with how Crash reacts to [the boxes], gradually getting more and more knocked out. Sony loved it. That allowed us to realize that we had a little bit of freedom and flexibility to improve upon the game, without it drastically not feeling like Crash.”

The crate shower is an elaborate way to present progress on a collectible, yet, for all the work that went into it, it appears only after the original Crash Bandicoot levels.

“[Working on] N. Sanity Beach meant a lot to me — Toad Village, the first levels of each game. So many memories and nostalgia,” said character artist Cory Turner. “Those were what I remember so much as a kid, every time I went to Toys ‘R’ Us and saw the demo of the game running.”

The individual and collective passion that went into these kinds of details was infectious, and excited the rest of the team for the long haul. “I actually came in later to the project. When I saw N. Sanity Beach, it was eye-opening,” said Zuniga. “It was like, ‘Vicarious Visions is really serious about this project. We’re not going to phone it in — this is amazing.’”

Sketches-ForestVillage-Diptych.jpgcrashaside.gifA wireframe Crash pulls a pose.

Orr recalled a question the team had asked itself a lot: “What is Crash’s core expression?” Before work could begin on Crash’s detailed animations, the team had to land on a character design that would better unify the trilogy visually. “Off the bat, some of our concerns were: ‘Which iteration of [Crash] did we want to home in on?’” responded Turner. “He’s changed in look over the years. We knew there were concerns about what Crash should look like — there’s a lot of passion around that topic.”

Turner is being kind. When it comes to which iteration to build from, there’s no contest. The second you complete the old Crash Bandicoot and boot up its sequel, Cortex Strikes Back, it’s immediately evident how much Crash’s character model was improved. He looks sharper, his gestures and freedom of movement feel snappier. Understandably, this became the “archetype” for their iteration. “From there it was an issue of building out the character,” said Turner. “How angular and polygonal does he need to be? How much roundness do we bring in? Where do we want to try and match something, like, say, a feature film character?”

“There’s a lot of room for interpretation in those old graphics, being that there’s so few polygons.”

It’s this back-and-forth that became another recurring theme: What does “newer” look like? “There’s a lot of room for interpretation in those old graphics, being that there’s so few polygons,” Turner continued. “People can take away a lot of different things from their own play experience.”

Play through the original Crash and you’ll notice recurring themes: death and missed boxes. To help soften the blow and play up their dark humor, the legacy games featured a plethora of ways for Crash to react to any run-ending mistakes. Inspired by the antics and body horror of Looney Tunes, Crash was originally designed to cooperate with any amount of stretching and squashing Naughty Dog could put him through.

The team kept Crash’s angular shapes and proportions while still refining aspects of his structure for “cohesion and solidity.”

To create such an expressive character, Naughty Dog directly manipulated the vertices (corners) of Crash’s polygons. Emulating this technique with today’s best practices in mind became key — no matter how extreme each geometry-melting pose could get, Crash still needed to look good. “Building that kind of character now, with modern techniques, vs. the way [Naughty Dog animated him], is actually a very tricky proposition,” said Turner.

The remaining threads to Crash’s more dramatic side are in his repetition and his subtleties. “We spent a lot of time doing his basic move sets — and his move sets are ridiculous,” said Orr on animating Crash. “He’s by far the most elaborate character that I’ve ever animated.” “Crash’s handling is so integral to the experience,” said Nicholas Ruepp, executive producer. It’s not just how jump looks, but the distance it rockets Crash in any direction, or the momentum he builds while running. “There’s such a difference from the original to the new one,” stylistically speaking, acknowledged Orr. “We tried our best to nail simple things, like how he looks when he’s running, his basic expression or when he’s standing there idle. We agonized over that kind of stuff.”

Meanwhile, scanning the Crash Bandicoot subreddit became a pastime for Vicarious Visions.

There’s a common saying among creatives: “You can’t fool your peers.” For Vicarious Visions, its peers include the fans who make split-second assessments of the studio’s work. Some fans — ranging from newcomers to hardcore — were even invited to provide feedback on builds of the game. Meanwhile, scanning the Crash Bandicoot subreddit became a pastime for Vicarious Visions. A range of moods are exhibited from post to post, such as “This ‘you’re just nitpicking’ shit needs to stop,” “The originals will still exist, you know” and a personal favorite, “THE LIZARDS HAVE IMPROVED.”

While perhaps not always aspiring to the poetry of Reddit, creative direction always returned in-house and aimed high. “There might have been some initial eggshells,” said Orr. “‘Do they want us to just re-create it, or to be artists and make a better version?’” In the end, the team settled on what it hopes will be the best of both worlds.

The newest addition to the remaster is the inclusion of Coco, Crash’s sister, as an alternate playable character throughout the entire trilogy. Previously, she was reserved for only certain levels in Warped. “Once we were like ‘Hey, let’s add Coco as a playable character,’” said Orr, “while still being a huge task … it was a matter of reanimating it and keeping within her character.” “There was room there to invent a little more personality, [too]” added Turner. “We still needed her to play exactly like Crash does,” noted Orr. “You should be able to do a timed-run sequence [with] either character. It was still a lot of work, but that was fun. She turned out great.”

“That was definitely a tricky question: ‘What can we change? Where is the wiggle room?’” pondered Zuniga, returning to what still seemed to be on everyone’s mind. “Every discipline had to go through this. Thankfully, we had a ramp of evolution: Crash 1 vs. Crash 2 — there’s a huge difference there. And then [with] Crash 3, again, a big leap. We always had to catch ourselves.”

If the original games were changing so often anyway, the team felt it could embrace that as part of its legacy as well. Zuniga boiled the team’s approach down to two sentiments: “There is no sacred cow” and “What would Naughty Dog do?”


Naughty Dog’s most significant gift to the team at Vicarious Visions was the original level geometry it had on file. This answered a lot of questions, especially in terms of scale and the spacing between obstacles. But none of the source material was ultimately usable. “In the original levels, excessive geometry had been deleted on a per-object basis if it could not be seen by the camera,” said King. If Vicarious Visions wanted to leverage modern graphical techniques as much as possible, it would need to re-create the environments from the ground up, referencing the old geometry as guidance — with some exceptions.

“We’ve mentioned a lot about the digital archaeology of this project. But what happens if you don’t find a level? That happened about five times,” said Zuniga. “There were five levels that we could not find. We had to develop a whole new workflow so we could make those levels just as well as the rest. Hopefully no one will notice!”

“There were five levels that we could not find. We had to develop a whole new workflow so we could make those levels just as well as the rest.”

If anything highlights the staggering evolution of video games, it’s environmental art.

“The original textures … fell in the 16 x 16– or 32 x 32–pixel range. This was about to take a massive leap to 1,024 x 1,024 or 2,048 x 2,048,” said King. While it used to be common to repeat a single texture across an object or surface, the Crash team used “up to 11 textures for a single surface, depending on its complexity.”

Another qualitative enhancement was the way they filled out the more theatrical scale of every frame. “Our draw distance is about ten times farther out, with ten times more elements on a single frame,” added Zuniga. The original games made aesthetic decisions based on gameplay needs — it’s why Crash has gloves (to create contrast when his arms swing alongside him), or why there are no lava levels (orange on orange).

Even with the non-interactive details, embellishing them required similar justification. In order not to visually overwhelm the player, Zuniga said the team had to consider what [are these additions] representing? We [also] have to keep it interesting — it can’t just be green leaves everywhere. You have the birds and the ambience and all that stuff now.” This atmospheric diversity ranges from levels like “Orient Express,” with its more sweeping mountainscapes, to the realistic rainfall of “Turtle Woods.”

Perhaps the biggest visual change in the game comes in the form of dynamic lighting — a source of early consternation among fans. “We would see some of the feedback from the early demos, and people would already ask, ‘Are you going to fix the lighting? Are you going to fix the shadows?’ All of that stuff was definitely in our minds,” said Zuniga. Fans were nitpicking: ‘This orange — are the crates going to be this orange?’ ‘Are the cracks going to be the proper crack width?’ And we’re like ‘Oh, just you wait.’”

While the original games faked lighting by essentially coloring in textures, the team’s Alchemy engine allows it to set and adjust the time of day, the color of the sun and how it casts down onto a level’s environment. This is common for modern games, but it’s incredibly new for the legacy Crash games. Leaves, water and stone can now determine whether or not light passes through them, as cave-dwelling fungi and fireflies become their own sources of it. “The jungle feels like a jungle,” said Ruepp.

If there is to be any subconscious connective tissue for returning fans, chances are they’ll find it in the soundtrack. One can imagine how, in some cases, the exact same sound effects from the late-’90s versions of Crash would have a powerful effect in the remaster.

“We had access to all of the original sound effects, and many of them were used untouched,” revealed Justin Joyner, the N. Sane Trilogy‘s audio lead. Some, however, were unusable due to the lower quality. In these cases, the team either rebuilt them or “used the original as a base while adding other elements.”

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The original Cortex theme.

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The remaster.

In an interview last year, Josh Mancell, the game’s original composer, discussed the memory constraints of the PlayStation and how it prohibited him from using any sustained notes or chords in the soundtrack. With that limitation removed, Joyner decided to “expand the sound of the music,” describing his goal as “to be faithful to the original compositions, yet update the tracks with higher-fidelity instruments.”

Certain sounds, however, proved too hard to replicate, so they were implemented as is. “If you listen closely to the music throughout the game, you will hear [them],” said Joyner. These include the vocal chants in “The Great Gate” and the sound effects in “Heavy Machinery.”

High-quality sample libraries were also joined by live instruments, including keyboards and guitar, which further pushed the soundtrack toward its jungle surf-rock vibe. “Our starting point for the music was using the original MIDI files, which allowed us to remain faithful to the songs, as well as get creative with the instruments we used. We consistently compared our tracks to the originals,” said Joyner.

“There are a lot of things that we just do better as an industry now, and the franchise needs to benefit from it.”

Just as the audio team interpreted the original music as a framework for its embellishments, so too did the level designers. “Some of the hazards in Crash 1 are pretty brutal,” said Zuniga. “Spikes are just gonna come out, no matter where you are — and you have no idea!” This is exactly the sort of thing game design aims to avoid, so the team worked on how to present and clearly communicate the game’s many challenges. Infusing the trilogy’s art with this philosophy introduced it to more modern sensibilities, said Zuniga. “There are a lot of things that we just do better as an industry [now], and the franchise needs to [benefit] from it.”

Every level had its own fork in the road. The third game’s jet-ski sequences, for example, featured waves built from simple polygons. With the move to a modern engine, the team had the option of building physics-based waves with accurate buoyancy. Introducing realistic physics, however, would change how the levels felt to play.

“Should we try and mimic the activity of the waves from the legacy games?” asked Zuniga. Or “leverage our technology and emulate the pacing and layouts of the old levels?” While the team had its own opinions, it also reached out to “old-school fans” for feedback. Ultimately, it was decided that the latter option — new tech, old layouts and pacing — would give the best gameplay experience. “Think about the player” was a phrase commonly echoed among the team.

Platforming around booby traps, Crash’s bread-and-butter, was eventually subjected to inspection too. “For example, when a hazard wouldn’t have a ‘tell’ — a little warning sign that something is about to happen,” said Zuniga, “can we add one, because the testers are not getting through all of a sudden? We would go back and forth, and Curtis [Orr] would say, ‘You know what, that’s totally worth it. Maybe Naughty Dog couldn’t afford the extra polygons or the animation data, but it’s going to make the game better, right?’”

“It was [about] understanding the intention of what was there,” Zuniga added. “At its core, it’s a platforming game. We have to keep that true.”


In one of Uncharted 4‘s most memorable scenes, you — as Nathan Drake — sit down on the couch to play the iconic “Boulder Dash” level from the original Crash. Later, players find themselves revisiting this as a young girl, to whom the game was handed down. It’s easy to imagine similar scenes out in the real world as parents who once fell in love with Crash hand the controller to their children.

Vicarious Visions’ reverence and love for Crash’s legacy has built an encapsulation of its roots. It’s impossible to separate the N. Sane Trilogy from its history, of course, but the team has nonetheless created something that in many ways feels new.

Reviews have been largely positive, with the major sticking point being the unforgiving “retro gameplay,” but to the team, perhaps the most important assessment came during the game’s development. “Sony periodically gave Naughty Dog a look at it,” said Ruepp. “The feedback we got was great — ‘Looking good!’ ‘Two thumbs up!’ It was nice to get the vote of confidence from them.”

Having earned the approval of reviewers, Sony, Activision and Naughty Dog, the only opinion that matters now is that of the series’ rabid fanbase. It’s been 21 years since Crash first captivated players with his style and energy, creating memories between brothers, mothers and daughters; siblings, lovers and friends. If Crash can reach them — and a second generation of gamers — maybe, under Vicarious Visions’ stewardship, he can head to new islands and adventures.

Image credits: Activision / Vicarious Visions (‘Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy’); Activision / Naughty Dog (‘Crash Bandicoot’ screenshot, concept art and level geometry); Activision / Joe Pearson (Castle Cortex concept art).


DeepMind’s data deal with the NHS broke privacy law

An NHS Trust broke the law by sharing patient records with Google’s DeepMind division, the UK’s data watchdog has ruled. The long-awaited decision falls in line with the conclusion drawn by Dame Fiona Caldicott, the UK’s National Data Guardian in May. The pair’s agreement “failed to comply” with the Data Protection Act, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office, because patients weren’t informed that their information was being used. The ICO also took issue with the volume of data — 1.6 million partial patient records — leveraged to test Streams, an app for detecting acute kidney injury and other serious medical issues.

In April 2016, New Scientist revealed that DeepMind and Royal Free London NHS Trust had started working together. As the ICO notes in its letter to the Trust, their agreement was actually formalised in September 2015, with Royal Free serving as the data controller (owner) and DeepMind as the data processor (partner).

Initially, the deal was hashed out so Streams could be further developed by DeepMind and put through clinical safety testing. During this period, the ICO says the Trust — which ultimately takes responsibility, as data controller — broke four principles in the Data Protection Act. The first, which requires processing to be “fair, lawful and transparent,” was broken because the Trust and DeepMind didn’t go far enough in their efforts to contact patients. Common law states, however, that consent can be implied if the data is being used for “direct care.” Tests and full-blown medical use are different, however, so the ICO disregarded this defence.

“The Royal Free did not have a valid basis for satisfying the common law duty of confidence and therefore the processing of that data breached that duty,” the ICO said in its letter to the Trust. “In this light, the processing was not lawful under the Act.”

The second principle, which is the third in the Act, requires data processing to be “adequate, relevant and not excessive.” Following its investigation, the ICO concluded that the 1.6 million records were too much for DeepMind’s purposes. The Commissioner considered the Trust’s arguments, but couldn’t see why the sheer volume of information was needed for the trials. “The Commission is not persuaded that it was necessary and proportionate to process 1.6 million partial patient records in order to test the clinical safety of the application. The processing of these records was, in the Commissioner’s view excessive,” the ICO said.

The Trust’s failure to alert patients broke another principle that states data should be processed “in accordance with the rights of data subjects.” Under section 10 of the Data Protection Act, patients should have the opportunity to remove their information from any data processing. The lack of transparency meant there was no way for patients to know, never mind act on this right. “Put plainly, if the patients did not know that their information would be used in this way, they could not take steps to object.”

The final principle concerns data protection standards. The ICO notes that additional agreements, including a privacy impact assessment, were drawn up in January and November 2016. By this time, however, DeepMind had already processed patient data. The watchdog is content with how DeepMind handles the data, but disagrees with the documentation that was drawn up back in September 2015. It doesn’t go far enough, the ICO says, and could have resulted in a breach of the Data Protection Act. “The Commissioner does, however, recognise that the Royal Free has since improved the documentation in place between the Trust and DeepMind.”

The documentation drawn up last November means that Streams is now on a better legal footing. That’s important, given the app has now passed the testing phase and is being used in hospitals. Nevertheless, the ICO has asked the Trust to commit to a series of changes. These include establishing “a proper legal basis” under the act for the current DeepMind agreement, and any future trials, completing a new privacy impact assessment and commission an audit of the initial Streams trial period.

The ICO has stressed that it doesn’t want to impede innovation. It recognises the work DeepMind does and the impact Streams has already had on the National Health Service. Privacy, however, should not be at the cost of progress, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham argues. “What stood out to me [after] looking through the investigation is that the shortcomings we found were avoidable,” she said in a blog post. “The price of innovation didn’t need to be the erosion of legally ensured fundamental privacy rights. I have every confidence the Trust can comply with the changes we’ve asked for and still continue its valuable work.”

Source: ICO

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