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Live event: ask your questions about tech – 3pm 28/7/21

Which? Computing’s Kate Bevan was live answering your questions on all things technology and computing. Check the comments for her answers.

Our last live Which? Conversation event saw us joined by Kate Bevan. She was with us answering your questions on tech and computing.

The event itself took place in the comments with replies appearing as text – it was not a live stream/Zoom meeting.

📄 Live tech Q&A

🗓 3pm Wednesday 28 July 2021

Whether it’s our phone, laptop, tablet or smart devices, we’re more reliant on our technology than ever before – but what are the tech issues that matter to you the most?

Are you concerned about privacy? Digital obsolescence? Battery life?

Kate answered your questions in the comments.


I’ll kick this off as I wanted to ask Kate this anyway, but seems more opportune to do so as part of the event! Kate, I’m due a new phone – I currently have a Samsung S9+ that’s getting close to no longer being supported. The S21 Ultra is tempting, but given new phones come out as often as football shirts these days, should I wait until next year? When’s the sweet spot for taking the plunge?

Kevin says:
28 July 2021

S9 released 2018, so that’s 3 years ‘support’ if you bought it as soon as it was released.

You’re lucky, my own Samsung had it’s LAST Android version update the same year it was released in 2017.

I’d reluctantly advise anyone sick of Samsung’s (and others) dismissive approach to their customers security to buy an iPhone, at least you have a predictable and reasonably long software support lifecycle to show for the extravagant price.

My general view with Android is that you should buy a phone not long after its launch to get the maximum support life out of it. Samsung has recently said it will support its phones for four years, so it’s reasonable to buy a model that’s a year or so old, but I wouldn’t advise that for most other brands at the moment. Samsung’s next launch event is August 11, btw – there will be new models announced then, and the price of the current newest models will drop a bit after that, so if you want an S21, say, buy it in August when the price has come down a notch but when you’ll still get three years’ use from it.

Thanks Kate – I’ll keep an eye on the 11 August in that case to see what gets announced.

Apple does support its mobile devices for longer, so if you want a phone or tablet that’s going to get a good five years of support, yes, an Apple device is the one to go for. I’ve just discovered that my work iPhone 6s, which was launched in September 2015, will be getting an update to iOS15, so that will be six years of support.

Kevin says:
28 July 2021

When my phone was in what passes for support, Samsung would take months to roll out an Android patch on the middle range model I had, this for a phone which still cost me the thick end of several hundred pounds. So while it’s very nice to have a support lifecycle commitment, it has destroyed my former confidence in their brand.

I’m no Apple fan, but iOS 14.7.1 has just been released just five days after releasing 14.7 to address a 0-day vulnerability.

Part of Apple’s market strength is security, I’m left wondering where it features in Samsung’s business model.

I seem to have raised two, elsewhere. My first was what to do when a laptop dies (or won’t turn on) ? The replacement arrives and, by some miracle the old files and programmes are available to access on the old machine. What’s next? If they are not available, what is the best method of accessing the hard disc, who would you go to for this?
My second question follows from your article in August Which? magazine. Given the scale of the hacking that is going on out there, how much would you trust the internet for transacting things, especially personal banking? Is it possible to be without this facility for days or weeks if the hackers make a successful strike? Could they empty accounts in the process of disabling the system? What is your prognosis for the future of the internet and for the reduction of the threats that you so graphically illustrate in your article?

Hi Vynor, both great questions. To the first one, if you’ve got a laptop that won’t boot, I would personally try booting it from a USB stick into Linux. That doesn’t mess with the Windows installation, but it should show you the contents of the disk and hopefully you could then plug in an external hard drive or USB stick and copy the files on to that. But that does take a) access to another computer to create the Linux USB (more on that here https://ubuntu.com/tutorials/try-ubuntu-before-you-install#1-getting-started) and b) a bit of confidence with the tech.

On the second question, in general I trust well-hardened institutions like banks: AFAIK I don’t think there’s been a breach of an online banking system. However the caveat there is that you need to be accessing those systems from devices that are as secure as you can make them: so up to date with the latest version of the app or browser that you’re using and with the operating system up to date with security patches. And I wouldn’t do online banking or shopping on public wi-fi.

More broadly, there is definitely a risk from malicious actors to online infrastructure. We are lucky that it hasn’t really happened in a major way thus far: hackers have focused on other targets. And where infrastructure has failed, it’s been c**k-up rather than conspiracy – I’m thinking of the Akamai outage of the other week, for example, which was a misconfiguration of DNS. But yes, it’s a risk, and one day it will probably happen.

Great idea of booting on Linux from a stick (and yes, Vynor – had to log back in again!).

Thankyou. There have been bank “outages” that have denied access for a day or two.
Who do you trust, out there to repair a computer?

On a related note, how safe and secure is it to use the NHS’s online appointment booking service for GP appointments?

Em says:
28 July 2021

If it is not just a Windows boot error, then you are unlikely to be able to boot another operating system either. (No power – screen – keyboard broken, etc.)

My preferred method is to remove the 2.5″ hard drive (usually hidden under a flap in the base of the laptop, and install it in an external 2.5″ SATA to USB 3.0 disk caddy. This then attaches to your new laptop via two USB ports (one for data and one for power). You will need a small Philips head screwdriver to remove the drive from the laptop.

If the disk still works, it should appear as D: / E: / F: drive.

Sabrent is a reliable brand, on Amazon for less than £10.

There are always going to be outages despite the best efforts of everyone to keep websites up and running. The outages of the past couple of weeks have been down to big content delivery networks failing rather than the infrastructure of the banks themselves. Chris Stokel-Walker is one of my regular freelances and he wrote this very good piece for Computing which we’ve just put online that explains how those work https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/07/the-anatomy-of-the-internet-how-does-data-get-sent-to-your-device/

For repairing a computer, I’d have a look on Trusted Traders for someone local to you. Or if you’re feeling brave there are loads of tutorials online for fixing just about every problem you could possibly imagine. I always work on the principle that someone somewhere has had the problem you’re trying to fix and has documented it somewhere online!

I absolutely trust the work done by NHS Digital to create and maintain those apps, so I’m comfortable using it to interact with my own GP.

Thanks Em.

Thanks Kate.

yes, that would be my next step if you can’t boot it off a Linux live USB stick. But it does involve getting the disk out of the laptop which can be tricky and can also invalidate your warranty.

Is there an appointment booking app now? I thought it was website only. It was when I last looked a few years ago for my GP practice

Depends on your GP – they’re implemented at individual surgery level. Here’s some detail on the NHS app (https://digital.nhs.uk/services/nhs-app#introducing-the-nhs-app) and check with your surgery if they allow booking via the app.

If searching the internet for a solution to a problem, I never accept the first answer I get but try to find corroborating solutions.

A poster once asked a question on a forum and got a reply with a solution. The poster asked the answerer how they knew that was the correct solution and the reply was ‘I just found it on another forum’.

20+ years ago, there were a lot of people eager to learn and share their knowledge of computers, these days everyone seems to be asking the same questions and very few know the answers unless it is ‘Download this . . .’ that can rarely be trusted.

yeah, treat an answer that starts with “download this” with caution!

With a lot of newer laptops, separate hard drives are no longer used, so the old fashioned recovery option of removing the hard drive may not be possible. This will be especially so, if the hard drive is solid state and soldered onto the motherboard.

So I would say that anything precious should be regularly backed up.

Hi Kate. For infrequently used passwords I find it easy to click ‘Forgot password’ which now usually results in a prompt email with a single-use passcode, allowing me to set up a new password. I have not used this approach for anything financial but wonder if there are any risks in using this approach, which avoids the need to save these passwords.

I have always considered that “Forgot password” is an appalling misuse of the English language. What’s wrong with “Password forgotten?”

Hi wavechange 🙂 The main risk in that approach is if your email account isn’t secured. This is the classic tale of what can happen when a hacker takes over your email account https://www.wired.com/2012/08/apple-amazon-mat-honan-hacking/ – your email account is basically the key to everything. So at the very least your email account should have two-factor authentication set up on it, and preferably use either an authenticator app or, better, a hardware key such as a Yubikey as the second factor (https://www.yubico.com/) Here’s our guide to how to get started with an authenticator app, btw https://computing.which.co.uk/hc/en-gb/articles/360006153539-How-to-set-up-an-authenticator-app-for-two-factor-authentication

My email accounts (my work email, my personal email and the email I use for all my shopping/account registration etc) are all secured with a strong unique password and a Yubikey.

Perhaps the issue here is for people for whom English isn’t a first language? I think both are pretty clear, but I can see how someone who doesn’t speak English fluently might find the first clearer.

Thanks Kate. I will follow up your links. My laptop uses Touch ID so I hope I don’t need a Yubikey as well.

I’m not mad on using biometrics for authentication, tbh. Touch ID is ok, but I don’t use facial recognition for authentication: if your attacker is with you, all they have to do is hold the phone up to your face and they’re in. And by “attacker”, I mean anyone from a burglar who’s grabbed your phone in the street to a heavy-handed border official somewhere or even a child who’s picked up your phone and wants to buy in-game loot – it’s happened before! https://www.wired.com/story/10-year-old-face-id-unlocks-mothers-iphone-x/

It’s a bit worrying that banks let you access accounts using facial recognition. 🙁

yeah, I don’t love that, either. I turn off facial recognition on any device I’m taking outside my own front door.

I now access my bank and credit card accounts mainly via phone apps because this is so convenient. I have a subscription for anti-malware software for the iPhone but many people I know do not take this precaution. It would be unthinkable to use a computer without anti-malware software installed but is there evidence that phone users are really putting themselves at risk without it?

I’ll be interested in the reply to that Wavechange.

Although I have anti-malware software on my computers and phone I see that my bank is currently offering a free subscription to Malwarebytes Premium.

I would say that you don’t need antimalware on an iPhone so long as you’re up to date with all the patches to the OS and the app: iOS is the most secure operating system. Antivirus vendors love people installing their software, including the free versions, as it provides them with insights into not only threats that make it on to those devices, but also the configurations of those devices. For the record, I think the datasharing from antivirus is a good thing, but there are potential privacy issues.

More generally, it’s not a terrible idea to install antivirus on an Android device, but make sure it’s from a reputable vendor that does well in our desktop tests (we don’t at present test mobile antivirus). However, if you’re using an up to date version of Android and you’re only installing apps from trusted companies via the Google Play store and not from third-party app marketplaces and not sideloading apks, you’re probably ok without antivirus on a mobile. I don’t use it on my Android devices.

I wouldn’t use a Windows or Mac computer without antivirus, though.

I’m here, signed in and ready to read for the next hour. Sadly, usually, to get the latest posts I have to leave the site and come back in again. This means signing in once more. If this is the case, I’ll be coming and going every few minutes. I might ask why this is necessary, if it seems to be happening.

Your message system is broken and it won’t let me send a message to you. This is what I typed there…
Viewing a page is fine, but once on it, it stays frozen and no updates appear on that, or the Recent Comments page if I click back on that. Leaving the Which? site and coming back in refreshes the page and I get the latest comments – frozen in time until I repeat the process. When I type a comment, it is posted, but is not visible on the Recent Comments page until I leave the Which? site and return. It might take a minute or two before it appears in the page it was written on. I’m using Microsoft Edge. This has been the case for years and I’ve simply put up with it. Today, I tried refreshing the page Kate was on and this had mixed results. I am not sure how effective it was and so went off and on the site to make sure I could follow her latest posting. I’m using a laptop not a desktop by the way. Occasionally I have to sign in several times before I get let in. Other times it is instant. I have just been told that there was an error sending this, so I don’t know if you will ever read it?

David Goulsbra says:
28 July 2021

How about an easy to use article on how to backup your PC and restore it including the differences between, full, incremental and differential backup?

hi David, that is a really good idea – I’ll ask Jonathan Parkyn, who writes Just The Basics, to cover backups in a future issue of Computing.

David Goulsbra says:
28 July 2021

Thanks Kate

Hello everyone! I will start by answering, or trying to answer, the questions you’ve already posted.

Thanks Kate.

Hello everyone and welcome to our latest live event. Kate is with us for the next hour – please do say hello and leave your questions in the comments 🙂

Nursal says:
28 July 2021

Is there a way of getting Windows 10 free of charge?

Hi Nursal, I have in fact just unpublished our rather old guide on computing.which.co.uk to getting Windows 10 as a free upgrade as I wasn’t sure it still works and I don’t have an older laptop to try it on. So I’m afraid I don’t know the definitive answer, although having had a quick Google just now, there are pieces on reputable tech sites such as ZDNet (https://www.zdnet.com/article/heres-how-you-can-still-get-a-free-windows-10-upgrade/) and TechRadar (https://www.techradar.com/uk/how-to/software/operating-systems/how-to-upgrade-to-windows-10-for-free-1325764) that suggest you can. If you give it a go, do let me know how you get on – email me at whichcomputingnews@which.co.uk

As far as I know, you can still get free W10 if you install it on PC’s that have valid W8 or W7 licences. It has been a few months since i last used that trick, but I’m sure it still works.

I think you can also just take a valid W8 or W7 licence code from an old computer and use it on another computer, but you can only use each code for one particular computer.

If you have a PC that came with Vista or XP, then it will probably be too old and too slow to run W10 anyway, so you might be better off just installing a lightweight version of Linux.

I have a question about tracking cookies and tracking pixels

Under EU privacy laws, GDPR, websites have to obtain consent from someone before they place tracking cookies on your computer or smartphone. However not all websites do that in practice. Instead they insist that if you continue to use their website, it will be taken as given that you’ve consented, and they don’t give an opt out

All of the cookie privacy choice websites that supposedly let you choose which commercial companies to stop cookies from, are broken and don’t work. When you try to deny cookie consent, you’re told it’s failed and to try again

GDPR also doesn’t apply to tracking pixels, which are small 1×1 pictures embedded into webpages and emails. They allow websites and advertisers to track people across the internet and build a picture of you and your preferences. Most websites and email senders don’t tell people that they now have a tracking pixel on their device

What has Which? done to highlight tracking pixels and campaign against them and other tracking technologies and methods not covered by privacy laws? What has Which said to MPs in Parliament about them? And does Which think tracking cookies and pixels should be completely banned?

Don’t even get me started on how poor the implementation of cookie consent is on SO many websites – it’s a huge bugbear of mine. My colleague Matt Patchett has done two big pieces on cookies for Which? Money, in the December 2020 issue and more recently in the March 2021 issue – I’m not sure if those have gone online (I can’t find them via a quick search, but you might do better digging through the website). If you can’t find them online, drop me an email at whichcomputingnews@which.co.uk and I’ll send you the PDFs.

Tracking pixels and cookies is a huge, murky area and it’s something we’re focusing on as part of our bigger workstream on data and privacy – watch this space for more as the year goes on.

Kate,I use my iPad 6th Generation all the time. The battery is gradually starting to drain quicker than it used to, which I suppose is inevitable. Can the battery be replaced and if so, do you have a ball park cost?

Hi Mark, I think you’d need to take it into a Genius Bar and talk to the techies there. Depending on the cost, it might well be worth doing as it looks as though your iPad will get iPadOS15 (scroll right down to the bottom of this page to see devices that will get that update https://www.apple.com/uk/ipados/ipados-preview/) and I suspect at least a couple more updates over the next two or three years before it goes out of support.

Thank you Kate.

Hi Murray – According to this page the cost of replacing an iPad battery is £99: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/ipad/repair/service#ipadcost As with other tablets, the screen has to be heated to melt the adhesive at the edges of the screen to remove the screen before the battery can be replaced.

A Youtube channel called OpenRightsGroup has made a youtube video called “Stop the Global Privacy Race to the Bottom”

It’s 5 minutes long, and talks about how if our country joins the CPTPP, it could put our privacy laws in danger because of the way technology and the internet works. Would Kate and Jon be willing to watch the video and say then whether you agree or disagree with what the video says? And would Which be willing to write to the government about so called side letters and side agreements with individual countries in the CPTPP, to keep our privacy laws unchanged and at the EU standard?

ORG does a lot of good work on privacy and some of their work aligns with ours, but we have our own priority areas on privacy.

Kate, my wife has an iPad Mini 2 running with iOS 12.5.4. It’s obviously a bit long in the tooth now, so is she likely to have security issues?

Hi Murray, it is definitely time to replace that iPad, I’m afraid. There are potential security issues with a tablet that’s gone so long without patches, especially with Safari – unpatched browsers are a big risk. But she’s also probably increasingly finding that apps are not updating or simply not working.

Thanks Kate.

Hi Kate,
You might remember some time ago I brought up mobile phone reviews.

Products have been reduced to 10 per page and 2 of those 10 are Samsungs S10s that are over 2 years old now, one of them in position 3 of Best Buys.

The front page of product reviews used to have the launch date that saved you having to waste your time going into each review, as after all, if you are going to spend that amount on a phone you want a new release not something that will be very soon unsupported.

I have brought this up before and was told ‘it works for most people’.

I don’t know who ‘most people’ are and being forced to use the filters doesn’t justify the new design is working.

If this best buy page can show a detailed table with more information, why can’t the rest of the reviews do the same?

Anything you can do to restore a sensible number of products per page along with the launch date please?

Hi alfa, I don’t have any oversight of the online reviews, but it’s a big ongoing project to make sure the reviews are current. I will pass on your comments to the online team, though.

Thanks Kate

There are lots of antivirus apps for computers like Malwarebytes and Norton. Some are free, some you have to pay for

Which ones are the best free, and for which reason, like scanning speed or detection rate?

And how much better are the paid ones, and in which areas?

Is there any benefit or downside to having two or more antivirus apps on your computer running at the same time?

Also how good are these apps at finding rootkit viruses and wurms, and which ones are the best for that, free or paid?

Lots of questions there! For the best free/paid-for ones, have a look at our reviews here – they are up to date https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/antivirus-software-packages

The paid packages will give you more features, and it’s up to you, really, whether you think those are worth paying for.

You should only run one antivirus package at a time, otherwise you’ll get conflicts and your PC will probably slow down.

All antimalware is good at finding rootkits, worms etc, but again, have a look at our detailed reviews for which packages do that best (you’ll need to be a signed-in member to see those)

A friend has called to say that the screen display on his Acer laptop is upside down. Any bright ideas, please. I’ve already done the joke about Australian settings. 🙂

Edit: I found the solution online. Hold down Ctrl and Alt, and press the up arrow. It worked.

yikes! A quick Google suggests trying CTRL + ALT plus the down arrow key.

We now know to annoy our friends. 🙂

Hi Kate, I’d love to know any tips on prolonging a mobile phone battery. I’m due an upgrade, but holding out for as long as possible, but my battery only lasts half the day – on a good day! I have an iPhone 8. Should I just bite the bullet and upgrade?

gah, batteries on older iPhones are often a bit of a trial! I would make sure you shut down apps you’re not using as they can drain battery; turn off the wi-fi and Bluetooth and use Dark Mode, which cuts down the battery drain. But that phone has a good two or three years of life left in it, so it might also be worth going into a Genius Bar and asking about a new battery if you don’t want to shell out on a whole new phone.

Em says:
28 July 2021

You could also get a rechargeable battery pack and plug your phone in from time to time.

Pre-Covid, I used to carry one with me on business trips of 2-3 days, so I could recharge my phone on a plane/bus, rather than wait to find a plug for a mains charger. It would easily keep me connected for the whole trip.

And good battery pack will take the load off your phone if you can leave it “plugged” in – the discharge/charge cycle is what ultimately kills a lithium-ion battery.

Anker brand packs are £20-£30 and a lot cheaper than a new OEM battery replacement.

Hi Alex – Which? has reviews of power banks here: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/portable-power-bank-chargers Although my phone battery is fine at the moment the power bank is useful if I forget to charge the phone before I go out or am using the phone as a wireless hotspot for a laptop for any length of time. I chose a Duracell power bank which offers ‘pass through charging’, as some types do. That means the power bank can be on charge itself at the same time as providing power.

As Em has said cycling lithium batteries reduces their life. It’s best to avoid letting phones and laptops run out of power too often if you want to maximise the lifetime of their batteries.

That’s great advice – thanks for adding it! I will have a short feature called Should I buy a power bank in the October issue of Which? Computing, btw.

Kate, is there much benefit of the AVG antivirus paid for versus the free version for my MacBook Pro?

The paid version will give you more features, but the free version will give you more than adequate protection. It’s up to you if you think the extra features are worth paying for. The free version got 72% in our latest tests, though we thought it was a bit basic. We don’t have a review for the paid-for version, though.

Thanks again Kate.

That was a lot of clicking in and out of the site which is clearly very much in need of an overhaul!!

RSI from F5 😉