Technology Shopping Realities

Apple in the News

I just wanted to touch on this briefly because there has been a lot of negative financial news lately.  Some of you have probably taken a hit ($$) with AAPL.  Financial reports and consumer reality don’t always match.  There is nothing substandard about Apple’s latest products.  Their quality is among the best on the market.   A certain segment of the population is upset because Apple is not going to report unit sales of iPhones anymore.  It also seems like the starting prices of iPhones, iPad Pros, Mac Minis, Mac Book Airs, and even Mac Book Pros are going up.   Sell less at higher prices and you still do as well on the bottom line may have been their thinking.  Multiple reports have said that Apple has cut orders for the iPhone X product line.  I saw one source that stated that iPhone 8 orders were being increased.  Could there be a rebellion  against removing the home button?  A desire for a sub $600 premium phone (not $750 or $999)?  Weakness in China and India?  All of these could be true. However, my clients who have iPhone X models love them.  They got used to the slightly different user experience in days or within one day.  They certainly appreciate the camera.  I’ll end on this note — If you stack the Mac Mini against a premium Windows desktop like the Dell XPS – it is priced appropriately for its features.  The Mac Book Air 2018 is also a pound for pound match with its closest Windows contenders in the ring — the Dell XPS 13 and Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

I saw some amazing deals on Black Friday at Best Buy on Thursday night.   There were 50 inch Samsung and LG 4K HDR TVs for $327.  55 inch models were $397. These were not top of the line models, but when paired with a soundbar (a must for most new TVs), they represented an awesome value.  Best Buy also had Microsoft’s premium Surface Pro 6 tablet computer with a keyboard for $799 or $999 depending on hard drive size.  The popular Instant Pot 6 quart slow cooker extraordinaire was priced at $60-$70 by multiple outlets.  Macy’s had Martha Stewart bedding priced at 65% off.   Lord and Taylor offered some low cost but very stylish ladies handbags at 60% off.  In some cases, but not always, orders could be placed online to avoid the retail experience.  Now that Cyber Monday is upon us here are some deals of note:

Amazon Fire Stick (watch Netflix and Amazon Prime Video on your TV) – $25

Amazon Echo Dot (small “Hey Alexa” speaker) 3rd generation + Ring Video Doorbell – $139

50 inch Westinghouse TV 4K with HDR – $199

Amazon Fire HD8 tablet – $50

(Items found on Amazon.com or BestBuy.com)

I am sure you can find many more great deals on these and other websites throughout the day on Monday.

Always Black Friday at Stub Hub

I had the joy of going to a Trans Siberian Orchestra concert this weekend.  I have never been to a major rock or metal show in my life, although I have seen Jimmy Buffet on multiple occasions. All I can say is WOW!  They left it all on the stage and performed for 2.5 hours.  The best part of the experience was that I saved 2/3 off the regular price using StubHub.com.   It is a very reputable site (and app) where ticket holders go to sell their unneeded tickets.  I’ve used this service in the past with much success.  The key to big savings is, have a desire to attend an event  but also be OK with not going, be in close proximity, and make a decision at the last minute.  We were less than 1 hour from the site of the show and we purchased our tickets with 2 hours to go.  The regular price for two tickets would have been $180 and we paid $60.08, including fees.  

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The Importance of Local Copies

A TV show that I enjoyed watching used to advertise new episodes by saying “ripped from the headlines.”  For this update, I will start with  — ripped from the customer files…

Your computer files can be so valuable.  You may need documents for legal purposes.  You may require samples of your work for future career endeavors or to get a deal completed.  Important photos can help you create promotional materials for or commemorate an event.  Your files are evidence — possibly of something exemplary or even wrongdoing. 

My point here is that separations happen.  Employment ends.  You may be forced off of the board of your HOA or community organization.  Business partners become entangled in disputes. Friendships and marriages terminate.  Hard drives fail.  Fires destroy homes. 

Cloud based backup services like Carbonite or Backblaze, even iCloud, are useful tools.  If you are running a computer with a desktop operating system like Windows or mac OS, and have important files on there, you should also have an external hard drive that backs up your entire system automatically.  Services like Dropbox and One Drive that allow you to store and synchronize selected folders can also play a key role in your technology scheme.   Today’s modern cloud based e-mail services can hold messages and attachments spanning many years worth of communications. 

However, if this data really matters to you, you should think about manually making physical copies of certain items on a periodic basis.  If your life, career, or project depends on it — protect yourself.  iPhones and iPads can be plugged into a Mac or Windows computer and backed up locally to that machine through Apple’s free iTunes software.  Love it or hate it, Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail program (Windows or Mac) can be used to back up all of your e-mail into a single file.  Again, if it’s critical to you, a periodic archive may be a good idea.  Who could forget floppy disks from 25 years ago?   Today, we use flash disks (or thumb drives) to copy smaller batches of files and folders.  These disks are cheap.  It would not hurt to have a few on hand (or an additional external hard drive) to copy specific items when the situation arises.   Here are Samsung 32 GB flash drives on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Samsung-BAR-Plus-32GB-Champagne/dp/B07BPHML28/ref=dp_ob_title_ce

Multiple copies never hurt. There are potential dangers with living our technological lives on autopilot.

Technology Update 11/12/18: Resisting Technology

1.  Although I covered the new Mac computers and iPad Pro at length in a blog post for my Apple clients on 11/1 (https://theacronym.com/2018/11/01/recap-of-apples-brooklyn-event/) I wanted to make everyone aware of these new models.   Apple has a new Mac Mini desktop that starts at $799, a Mac Book Air laptop that starts at $1199. If you’re frustrated with Windows and want to go Mac, these are your points of entry.  The iPad Pro is an interesting device.  It has as much or even more raw power than almost any personal computer out there.  It’s extremely portable.  Apple even sells a magnetic keyboard that makes it like a laptop.  With the keyboard, it will cost at least $1000.  For some it could become a primary computer.  For others, the iPad Pro may represent a strong secondary device.   If you can learn to play within its rules, it’s a much simpler device than a desktop Windows or Mac environment.  Don’t forget the regular iPad @ $329.  It is the best value in the Apple family.
2.  With all of this Apple excitement, I don’t want to leave out the Windows world.  New models are out as well.  If you want something like an iPad Pro, that still runs a full version of Windows  — look no further than the new Microsoft Surface 6.   With Windows systems, I will always go back to my clubhouse leaders.   For a premium product, you can’t go wrong with the Dell Latitude 5000/7000 laptop, Lenovo Thinkpad T480, or Thinkpad X1 Carbon.  These are systems built to last.  In terms of desktops, I am still a fan of the Dell Optiplex and Lenovo Think Centre systems.   Most of these computers are custom orders and not found in stores.  Occasionally, I do go on a shopping trip with a client at a big box store and last week there was such an occasion that arose.  I didn’t want to pull just anything off the shelf.  At about $500, this HP desktop met my standards.  It looks good on the desk and there was only one junk program that I had to remove.  It is a great option for the budget conscious.  https://www.bestbuy.com/site/hp-pavilion-desktop-intel-core-i3-8gb-memory-1tb-hard-drive-128gb-solid-state-drive-hp-finish-in-natural-silver/6290502.p?skuId=6290502
3. Resisting Technology
I know that some of you are hesitant to embrace new technologies offered by the devices you own.  One that I don’t think you should avoid is Apple Pay (or for those of you with Android phones that support it, Android Pay).  Adding your credit or debit card to the Wallet on your iPhone costs you nothing and takes only about 5 minutes to set up for one card, if that.  Stores like Panera, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Stop and Shop, Best Buy, Costco, Macy’s and thousands more will allow you to pay by tapping your phone.  Why should you do it?  If you would already pay with a card, using Apple Pay helps prevent identity theft.  The store never gets your 16 digit card number. It gets a very long, randomized string of numbers.  If a particular store suffers a massive breach, like Target or Home Depot did a few years back, you will be in the driver seat.  The super secure card number you used via Apple Pay cannot come back to zap you.  Your Apple Pay device generates a dynamic security code for each transaction. I use Apple Pay whenever I can.  Check out the Wallet app on your iPhone if you’ve never looked at it.

Recap of Apple’s Brooklyn Event

So — after months of me telling you that new Macs, with more “consumer” oriented pricing, would be coming that day finally arrived on Tuesday.  I have been very critical of Apple’s 2016 and 2017 laptops, but I am a firm believer in what they did with the new Mac Book Pro laptops released over the summer and also this week’s releases.
The event opened with a tribute to what Tim Cook called the most beloved laptop of all time — the Mac Book Air.  The crowd got really excited.  Apple pundits had doubts over whether they would keep the Mac Book Air line going.  It lives on!   Let me give you a run down of the 3 major product announcements.
Mac Book Air
This 13 inch customer favorite is all new with a high resolution Retina display screen.  It has 2018, 8th generation, Core i5 Intel processors.  There are two USB-C ports on the laptop, both of which could be used for charging.  As these are ports of a new shape, you will need a $10 to $20 adapter to plug in your hard drives, printers, etc.   8 GB of RAM is standard.  Apple claims the Air is made from 100% recycled aluminum.  For the smallest hard drive, 128 GB SSD, the cost is $1199.  I just want to caution you about this size hard drive.   If you are only dealing with documents, this model may work for you.  However, if you are keeping a measurable collection of photos, music, and videos on your internal hard drive — please opt for the 256 GB model (same speed, just more storage) which goes for $1399.   Another option that some of my clients utilize is to put photo and music libraries on a separate external hard drive.    You may wonder, what is the difference between the $1399 Mac Book Air and the $1799 13 inch Mac Book Pro?  The Pro has a faster processor and 4 ports to plug things into instead of two.    I think the Mac Book Air would serve many of my Mac clients well.
Mac Mini
Wow!  They finally did it.  Apple updated their entry level desktop for the first time in 4 years.    For those of you in need of a primer — the Mac Mini is simply a small computer that is about the same size as a cigar box.  You can plug it into a monitor of your choosing ($100-150 model at Best Buy, Amazon works fine) and any USB mouse / keyboard ($30 Macally set from Amazon is A-OK).   Fortunately, the 2018 base model is not the stripped down, sluggish configuration from 2014.  It comes with 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD hard drive, and a Core i3 CPU.   It rings up at $799.  This would be a very adequate model for my typical client.   However once again, if you have a significant collection of pictures or music, you will want to get the 256 GB model for $999 (or should possibly upgrade to the faster i5 processor for $1099).   Should you ever need to add more RAM, the memory (not hard drive) is actually up-gradable.  Thanks Apple!     The Mac Mini has plenty of ports to connect all of your devices — including an HDMI port, 4 USB C / Thunderbolt 3 ports,  2 traditional USB-A ports, and an Ethernet port for hard wired internet.    If you want a reasonably priced Mac desktop, this is your baby.
iPad Pro (A True Computer?)
The iPad Pro was refreshed with all new models that push the screen edge to edge like the iPhone X models.  The smaller model is now 11 inches and the larger model is still 12.9 inches.  The home button has been removed and replaced by Face ID, just like the iPhone X models as well.   Apple claims that the new iPad Pro is more powerful than 92% of personal computers on the market today.   With all of the language used, Apple is really promoting the iPad Pro as a computer.  They showed a graph during the event that showed that more iPads were sold than any other brand of computer over the past year.  One of my clients has already started to use her iPad Pro as her primary personal computer.   Pricing starts at $799 for the 11 inch model (64 GB hard drive), and $999 for the 12.9 inch model.   If you are going Pro, you will probably want to get Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio for $179-199.    For those of you with more basic iPad needs, like occasional e-mail reading, news reading, and media consumption — the $329 iPad is perfect.

Technology Update 10/12/18

I am not going to make this update overly complicated for you, but I want to deliver value in brevity.

Naming Your Files
Remember back 25 years ago? We could only give our files 8 character names. That was very limiting. Today we can be quite descriptive. Ultimately, please remember my two simple rules when naming your files. I think these really help when moving files between different types of media and with online backup services.
-Do not spaces in your file names or punctuation. You may use hyphens – or an underscore _ .
-While 8 characters may be too short, try to keep your file names to a reasonable length. 20 characters or less seems reasonable.
** Additionally, you may want to put dates in your file and folder names to help keep them organized. I have seen computers that change the timestamp of a file with no rhyme or reason. In these cases, the traditional sort by date will not work. Do not name the item "May292018_MyFile". It should be "20180529_MyFile".

Backup: Self Assessment
– (Some of you just use your computer as a dumb terminal to get on the internet and check e-mail in Chrome (or another browser). If so, this segment is not for you.")
-However, if you have files that you don’t want to lose — what is your backup system? Do you have multiple methods of backup? Can you name them?
-Are your e-mails backed up on a server somewhere?
-If you need help completing this quiz, please ask the professor.

I look forward to serving you.

Technology Update 10/03/18: An Absolute Liar

The world of technology is really disgusting at times, with its scams and trickery.  I’m here to help you make sense of it, to provide some I.T. therapy.  We have to fight back or at least mount a strong defense.
** Want to get one quick point out of the way:  No new consumer focused Macs have been announced yet.  I expect laptops and desktops, along with a new iPad Pro by the end of the month ***
Fake E-Mails and Calls – A Lesson for All
I made an emergency visit to a client earlier this week.  The report I got was that a SPAM email was opened and then calls started pouring in from “Microsoft.” Then the client claimed to have found the number for Microsoft and called them with a message and an expectation of a call back.  This really had my wheels turning.  The client used a Microsoft email account (Outlook.com, formerly known as Hotmail.com).  When I got there, I saw what had happened.  The email talked about an email upgrade in 2018.  To be fair, sometimes Microsoft or other email providers do upgrade their services and let users know the details.  However, the e-mail was sloppily composed.  It was as if an elementary student decided to try out size 48 font.   Furthermore, the sender’s address was @outlook.com.  An official e-mail from Microsoft would never look like this.   It seemed like the mere opening of the e-mail triggered the sender to make a phone call to my client.  The sender did not work for Microsoft.  They are an absolute liar!   Then my client searched through the MSN.com website for a Microsoft phone number, using the Bing search engine. Stuff like this wants to make me pull my fingernails out.   They were asked to log into a Microsoft partner website on a Microsoft.com website address, then receive a call back.  Calls were made to and from a phone number with a 425 area code.  It’s very convenient that that area code pertains to the part of the country where Microsoft is headquartered.  When I arrived, the client was waiting on a call back from the 425 number.   I investigated the phone number and the advice I gathered said to avoid it and do not take the calls.   Therefore, the second call after the initial scam call was very suspicious. Another liar?  It doesn’t even matter at this point. With the right software, bad actors can pretend to use legitimate numbers.
Due to the fact that my client used a Microsoft e-mail account and they logged into Windows 10 with this account (the default option these days), and was logged into the Edge browser with it as well, I immediately had them change the password to the account.  I also ran a malware scan on the computer and found no infections.  The client is already using one of my strategies to defeat scam calls — a cheap answering machine with an external speaker.  Taking it to the next level, a call blocker can be used as well.  This model gets outstanding reviews on Amazon and blocks up to 2000 numbers. https://amzn.to/2OyFwzG   An upgraded model that blocks 5000 numbers costs a few $$ more.
 
In less than one hour, I helped to restore sanity to a troubling situation.  Had a different career path worked out for me, I would have become a psychotherapist.  Right now, I’m just happy to be your technology therapist.  🙂
Bottom line:  Microsoft, Google or Apple are not going to call you.  In some cases, these companies will call you after a case has already been opened.  With the exception of Apple, which makes their support number public, do not go Googling numbers for Microsoft and Google.  I have seen this end in pain too many times.  Also — leave SPAM e-mails alone unless you are sure it was mistakenly placed there.
Musical pick of the week:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnVUKES-mDE

 

10 Best Android Phones of All Time

With it being the 10th anniversary — how about the 10 best Android phones?

https://www.androidpolice.com/2018/09/25/10-years-android-phones-ten-important-handsets-last-decade/

That OG Droid (meaning original Droid) from Verizon in 2009 was amazing and featured almost Apple like marketing. They went after the iPhone head on. It was so meaningful in the success of Android in the US. It was the fall of 2009 and Verizon didn’t get the iPhone until almost 18 months later. (It was an ATT exclusive for almost the first 4 years). Verizon customers were stuck on blackberries for the most point until that time.

I personally think the Nexus 5 should be on there also. It was sold by Google starting in late 2013. It worked on all major carriers and proved that inexpensive didn’t have to mean cheap. It sold for $349. The Nexus 6 sold by Google the following year was a dud, but the Nexus 5x (and larger cousin 6P) that went on sale in late 2015 were the beautiful "grand finale" for Google’s mid-ranged price, very competitive phones.

These days — Google competes directly with the iPhone for premium priced $700-1000 phones. They really need a winner with the Pixel 3 that is coming out in 2 weeks. Given that Apple is pricing the iPhone XR at $749 — I think its going to be really hard for a premium Android phone to sell for more than that unless there are actual features to justify the price.