Brief Android Update – Late May 2019

Dear Android Clients — the proud and few:

I just want to let you know that Google has come out with a new Android phone (directly) that brings back memories of its great Nexus phones from 2013 and 2015. Back then Google had a line of phones called Nexus. They were middle of the market priced phones (sub $400) but they were very aspirational. I think they were a good alternative to the iPhone. Google deviated from the plan in 2014 by releasing a huge Nexus 6 phone that was made by Motorola. It’s hard to remember this, but Google actually owned Motorola for a few years. 2015 brought us the Nexus 5X and its larger brother the 6P. Unfortunately, they did not keep the Nexus line going and have been going with a high end Pixel line of phones since late 2016.

A few weeks ago — Google gave us a glimpse of the glory days. They released a Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL. They are priced a lot like Nexus phones at $399 and $479 respectively. They are being sold directly by Google and by major carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile. These phones have a great camera and retain the traditional headphone jack. Google will support them with software updates for 3 years, which is a better guarantee than you will get from almost any Android phone maker.

Other lower cost Android phones for 2019 that I like are the Moto G7 or G7 Power from Motorola (motorola.com). The Power has a huge battery if you like that sort of thing. Both phones are priced under $300. Skip the G7 Play. It is less capable than the other two. Unfortunately, Motorola does not make a guarantee about updates. So for just a little more $$ it seems like that Google Pixel 3a is a better deal.

I don’t have a lot to say about Android devices these days because 90% of my clients use iPhones for their smartphone. I have to stay invested in this market because these are the clients that are going to regularly have me come out and help them with phone issues in significant numbers. In my heart though, I am with you. The Android platform was my first entry way into the smartphone world back in 2010. I think there is more flexibility to do tasks in multiple ways with Android. It’s more computer like than the iPhone in that regard. I miss my favorite Android app – Doggcatcher.

Android 9 is the current version these days. Not all older phones will upgrade to this version. When Google releases a new version of Android, the Google devices get it right away, also some devices that are branded Android One will get it promptly (like newer Nokia phones). The better Android phones will guarantee security updates for a period of time, like 2 or 3 years. Sadly, because there is not uniformity among Android device manufacturers, certain phones will never get the updates they need.

Switching Service Providers

A Word on Updates
Last week Apple put out minor but significant updates for the iPhone and iPad (iOS version 12.3) and the Mac.   You can go ahead and do these updates if they were not automatically installed.   Reading the bullet points that Apple provides does not do the updates justice.  These notes may make you think the updates are not relevant. Not true.  There are always security fixes that they don’t advertise (because Apple devices don’t have security problems, right? LOL).  As far as the iPhone goes, there was a major feature relevant to my cell phone carrier that was disabled the day the update came out.   When I finally installed the update 36 hours later, the feature was restored instantly.  iOS updates should be installed promptly.
WiFi Calling
This feature — available on all late model iPhones and most newer Android phones — has been a lifesaver for several clients.  The feature does not cost you anything and is offered by all major providers such as Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T.  If your cellular signal is weak at home or at a particular location, you can route all calls over your WiFi network.   This can make your phone very capable.   Avoid dropped calls and the need to change providers.
And that brings us to this week’s feature.
 
Switching Service Providers
This write up is not a sales pitch.  I am not asking you to switch with me.  I want to provide an honest review of switching to T-Mobile from Verizon Wireless.  The switch happened during the first week of March.  I had been part of the “Big Red” (Verizon) family, with limited interruptions, going back to 1999 when I got my first cell phone.  Back then they were known as Bell Atlantic Mobile.  I always trusted that Verizon had the best network in more places across the country.  I still believe that statement to be true in terms of total coverage, with AT&T being a close second.  However, I did my research.  I took in a lot of data points about how T-Mobile coverage improved since 2013, when their merger with ATT failed and they were given billions of $$ in compensation.   Those funds were used to build a better network and played into T-Mobile marketing themselves as “the Un-Carrier.”  My wife and I did not switch our lines because we would have significantly more on regular monthly pricing.   With that said, our service cost is $120 a month and no additional taxes versus $170 a month for a comparably adequate Verizon plan that does not include taxes.  The main reasons for switching were
-The potential for a less expensive international plan:  My wife was about to embark on a 21 day international trip that would have required a $210 charge due to 21 days of Travel Passes (at $10 / day).  T-Mobile offers free international on their ONE unlimited plans.
-The promise that we could continue to use our Verizon smart phones and that T-Mobile would pay off the balances on our device payment plans with Verizon.  This promotion was known as “Get out of the Red” and was only available to Verizon switchers.
I am pleased to say that T-Mobile came through with their promises.  We submitted our final Verizon bill at the time of sign up and although it took me a few extra days to submit the installment contract on my phone specifically, T-Mobile provided us with 2 prepaid Mastercards within 15 days to pay off our $300 +  balances with Verizon.  Someone may wonder why they would even do this in the first place.   T-Mobile recognizes there is an acquisition cost for new customers.  They make this very public and use it to benefit new recruits.    Next, I want to say that T-Mobile has some of the best customer service I have ever received from a company in the realm of technology services.   While their phone based support has been fine, I have received outstanding service when I have contacted them numerous times via private messages on Twitter and Facebook.   Using those 2 platforms puts you in touch with their TForce team.  They really care.
Drawbacks?
T-Mobile offers free international service in many countries with their ONE plans @ a speed of 128 kbps.  To give you an idea of what that speed means, the dial up internet connection you used 20 years ago was 56 kbps. It is adequate for messaging apps and e-mails only.   Paying $15 more a month for a T-Mobile ONE Plus plan will gets you 256 kbps international speeds.  Many of you could probably get by with that.  However, my wife likes to do data based voice and video calls on What’s App when she travels as well as play A LOT of You Tube.  Those speeds were not going to cut it.  Fortunately, T-Mobile offers two more options for those who need the ultimate in high speed international data.  For $50 a month, they give you 15 GB of 4G LTE data.  This is comparable with the best speeds offered here in the U.S.  On day 3 of her trip, I added the plan to the account.  It worked.  At $50 vs $210 with Verizon, I guess you can say that it was still a victory.    Back home — on state roads in rural parts of CT, I was surprised that T-Mobile had good service.  However, I found some places off the beaten path with no service.  I like to listen to podcasts and often download new episodes when I am out walking or getting into the car away from home.  In the places I frequent, I have noticed those downloads to take longer than when I was with Verizon.   Furthermore, while T-Mobile coverage inside buildings is improving and will improve even more in the near future when local TV stations change frequencies — I have noticed some in building data service to be lacking.   These minor issues did not usually affect basic Google searching or calling.
My bottom line conclusions are –  great customer service, promises kept, better prices, big improvement in recent years, some rural coverage gaps, slower downloads on cellular data, and somewhat worse penetration inside buildings in certain areas.  
Teacher’s Letter Grade:  B+

Hacks and Non-Scams

HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY

I want to talk about hacks and non-scams this week, but first I want to clarify a point I made last week about Frontier. Several of you have contacted me on my commentary.

I was really speaking to Internet service only when I referred to the troubles I have had on behalf of customers with Frontier. In general, whether it’s Comcast, Cox, Charter, etc. – I think the customer will have a better technical Internet experience (faster / more reliable) than with the phone company, especially when you own your own router. Areas that ATT had upgraded to fiber optic, prior to the sale to Frontier, and the very limited fiber optic areas that Frontier has added — may be an exception. These neighborhoods make money for the phone company. They will pay attention to you. If Frontier has come through for you when issues came up, by all means stay with them. However, if you are on an older “copper phone line” based Internet plan and want to do streaming video and fiber optic is not available — cable may be the only way. Cable services are generally not cheaper (after the first year or first 2 years promo you may get), but in the case of Comcast you get many ways to consume your content including watching TV on iPad, computer, and smart phone. Comcast’s phone service is internet based (as is Frontier’s fiber optic, non copper, service). This means that you may not have service during a power outage. However, you can answer home phone calls and check voicemails from your smart phone with Comcast’s Xfinity Connect app.

Hacks
I want to acknowledge that some customers had their e-mail accounts hacked in recent weeks. The incidents were all unrelated. The outcomes can be devastating and quite embarrassing. E-mails get sent out on behalf of you, asking recipients for a favor. Of course, gift cards to specific stores are requested. Sadly, gift cards were purchased and in some cases the #’s were given out to the scammers. Passwords had to be changed. Recipients had to be contacted. One good thing that came out of this was that I learned Comcast has a way to retrieve recently deleted e-mails. I haven’t been too high on using an @comcast.net address in recent years, but if that is how you like to e-mail — by all means — keep doing it. One client was hacked and had all recent messages deleted. Through the Xfinity Connect web mail interface, clicking a special button provided the option to restore these e-mails. Hackers love to take your contacts and delete them. I like the idea of syncing all contacts with an iCloud or Gmail account. If your contacts REALLY matter to you, you should also make manual exports of your contacts on a periodic basis. I can’t say it enough, but please do not use the same password for multiple e-mail accounts. Turn on 2 factor authentication for your accounts whenever possible.

Non-Scams

I don’t know if you have shopped a lot at B&H Photo and Video over the years, but I have. I have purchased many Macs for clients from them. Not only does this NYC superstore have the designation of being an Apple Authorized Reseller, they have an extensive supply of photo and electronics equipment. I often refer to B&H as the “Best Buy of NYC”, but that doesn’t really do them justice. They are local and prices are usually very competitive. I will continue to use them in the future. UNFORTUNATELY, I received an e-mail on Monday from their CEO which was placed in my spam folder. It seemed very scammy. Basically, Mr. Horowitz wanted to give customers a preview of the real e-mail he would send out the next day about his special plan to help us all avoid sales tax. As you may or may not be aware, a Supreme Court decision in 2018 mandated that online retailers must collect sales tax, even when they don’t physically operate in given states. Consequently, B&H was negatively impacted by this. The initial email from B&H was a bit uncomfortable and generated a lot of chatter online. On Tuesday, I received a second e-mail from the CEO. It was also routed to my spam folder. Essentially B&H rolled out its own store credit card, called Payboo (who came up with this name?). With all purchases made using the card, shoppers will receive a statement credit equal to their sales tax. Some stores offer 10% off your first purchase. Some do 0% financing for 6 months. The sales tax refund scheme is B&H’s way of leveraging their financing arrangement. I think this announcement and the multiple e-mails could have been handled differently. Yes, I will continue to use and recommend B&H. I’ll pass on Payboo.

Not As Good As They Used To Be

A lot of things right now might not be as good as they used to be — perhaps it’s taxes due, the cost of a trip to the Red Sox game, or the tolls going over the Bronx Whitestone Bridge.   This sad tale also extends to the technology services and products we use.

The starting price of an iPhone is now $749.  It used to be $649 not that long ago.   The starting price of the Mac Book Air is $1199, but used to be $999 for the 2017 model.   Verizon and ATT are charging more for cell phone service, but they are giving you “unlimited,” right? Are prices going up because there are fewer sales or is the technology incorporated simply better, justifying an increase in cost?  It may be a little of both.

Most of my clients are Comcast / Xfinity customers.  One thing is for sure — the deals they are offering are not as good as they used to be.  They are feeling the crunch by having more and more of us cancel services and go with Internet only.  However they want to keep ARPU (average revenue per user) the same.   Therefore, the price of Internet only has increased (as a standard price — new customer offers are still low) and the cable company is clinging for dear life for those who have 2 or 3 services.  Once the $10 broadcast TV fee (local channels) and $8 sports channel fee (for those of you who have them) are tacked on — it becomes a losing battle.   The phone company can be good in certain areas where they have fiber or VDSL internet, but you can be certain that they aren’t eager to maintain the old copper lines anymore.  Watch out!  Some experiences I have had with Frontier, on behalf of clients lately, have been “teeth pulling” ordeals.   Overseas “customer service”?  I don’t even want to get started with that today.

Another thing that won’t be as good as it used to be is Uconn Women’s Basketball.   A new deal between their conference, the AAC, and ESPN was signed recently.  As of the start of the 2020 season, you will not be able to watch the games on the SNY channel anymore.  And if you have Frontier TV, you wont even be able to watch the Mets or Uconn on SNY effective right now (4/16, per Hartford Courant).  Frontier said they don’t want to carry the channel anymore.  Content is too expensive. I hope it gets resolved.  Starting with the 2020 season, many of the Uconn women’s games will be on the ESPN + app.  It’s a reasonable $5 per month, but you will need some help to set it up.  I am ready when you are ready.  You will be able to watch the games on a computer or iPad, but the best way to watch them will be via a streaming box hooked up to your TV (Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, or Apple TV).   I tend to prefer the Roku because it’s cheap.  Once you get get the hang of it, it will be easy to switch between your streaming box and regular TV.  However, you will have to learn something new.

And I know something from working with a lot of individuals in the 65+ age bracket — seniors don’t always like change.  

It’s not as good as it used to be.

Ripped from the Customer Files

A popular TV show used to run promotional spots saying this week’s episode is “ripped from the headlines.”  This update is chock full of valuable info.  You may want to print it out for digestion in small bites.

Ripped from the Customer Files

Not Selling Window Dressing

A new client recently approached me and inquired if I could do any maintenance procedures to make the computer a little faster.  I DID NOT rush out with little care, acting in an overconfident manner, simply to generate a 1 hour appointment for myself.   I gave the client a proper “triage” over the phone.   We talked for a half hour.  I took a mental note of key facts, the most important being that it was a Toshiba laptop.   Toshiba was a big name in the history of laptops and consumer electronics in general.  In fact, they were a big seller at Best Buy up until about 6 or 7 years ago.  Since that time, I don’t know any clients that have bought them.  I don’t see them at the stores.  I knew the computer had to be at least 6 years old.  In fact it is and possibly a little older.  I really put the CARE in VIP Computer Care.   On a slow computer, you could certainly back up the data and reinstall the operating system (Windows or Mac).  You could replace the hard drive with an SSD (solid state drive).  Both of those would likely be at least 3 hour jobs.  I explained how I thought those would be reasonable on a 3 or 4 year old computer, but I don’t think I would want those done on my 6+ year old computer.  A software only solution doesn’t make up for bad or degrading hardware.  Solid State Drives have been wonderful for many of my clients but they don’t negate the fact that the rest of the computer is subject to failure.   I emphasized that the best thing to do would be to buy a new computer and that in the $500s to $600s, the safest bet is a business class system from the Dell or Lenovo outlet (not sold in stores).   At the right time, the client will have me set up this new computer for them. 

Rather than try to gain a customer for one visit, I established what I believe can be a long term relationship.  It’s my nature; it’s who I am.  🙂

Group Emails

But I was just sending e-mails to a church prayer group!!  I worked with a client recently that literally had their Google account temporarily suspended for inappropriate activity.  The client is 80 years old!!  What were they doing?  How bad could it really be?   Here are some lessons.  A lot of us send group e-mails.   You are receiving this message as a part of a group email.    With personal accounts especially, inappropriate composition of the message could trigger some red flags.   Here are some good tips.   With a group e-mail…

1. Put yourself in the To field

2.  Put your recipients in the CC or BCC field.  (CC if you want everyone to see each other’s addresses, BCC if you want the list of recipients to remain private.)  I always send my messages out via BCC. 

3.  If your list of recipients approaches 50, sent out 2 (or more) emails with distinct groups of contacts

4.  Even with these precautions, you may still have an issue with e-mail going into the SPAM folder of the recipients

4a. You may want to consider a paid e-mail address for your business, club, or group (i.e Microsoft / Google) for about $5 per month

4b.  You may want to consider an easy to use newsletter e-mailing service like Mail Chimp.  Mail Chimp has a free option for small businesses, groups, and non profits.


The Simplicity of the Chromebook

I was with a client recently who uses a Chromebook as her primary computer.   Chromebooks are amazing (along with their desktop sister -Chromebox).  A Chromebook is a limited computer but the safest one you can buy.   Think of what you can do in your computer’s browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari).   I am pondering online banking, shopping, e-mailing, searching Google, letter writing, and other tasks.  You can do all of those things on a Chromebook.  You can’t do anything else.  There are no programs. It runs the Chrome browser — that’s it.  It’s operating system is called Chrome OS, not Windows or Mac.  The Chromebook has graduated beyond those 11 inch $200 devices you may have seen 5 years ago.  There are mid range ($500’s) and even high end Chromebooks available now.  A Chromebook is a great secondary computer, for example to take some stress off or extend the life of your primary computer.  It may be a primary computer for some.   There are lots of options out there, but if you are looking to dip your toes, I think this Lenovo model makes an excellent starter Chromebook (amazon link)  https://amzn.to/2UN3RoK

So the real story here was that the client’s Chromebook was corrupted.   After entering the login password — a wheel on the screen kept spinning and spinning.   In plain, English the operating system was messed up.  On a Windows or Mac system, resetting the operating system and copying the files back might be a 2 to 3 hour ordeal (or longer if lots of files were involved).   How long did resetting the Chromebook take?   5 minutes.  No joke!


Free Credit Reports and Credit Freezes

I meet clients all the time who are worried about their credit reports being jeopardized because of security breaches with department stores, utilities local governments, and other entities.   You have worked a lifetime of building up that near perfect credit score — why leave anything to chance?   I think I mentioned it about a year and a half ago but I can help you obtain your free credit reports (via the only site authorized by the U.S. government) and if need be, place security freeze on all 3 of your credit reports.  We can typically accomplish this in a 1 hour session.   Please be advised that should you need to apply for credit in the future, you will have to log onto the website of the bureau being checked and unfreeze that credit report for a few days or however long is needed (your lender may also be willing to do this for you also).   That process takes all of 5 minutes.   I will make sure you have all of the passwords and user names needed to successfully manage your credit freezes.  Remember, I do not hold onto customer passwords. 

Updates and Services

I don’t have any major product or service announcements to tell you about other than…

-An update came out for both the iPad and iPhone last week.  Even if the FEATURES don’t interest you, the update contains many security and stability fixes that are essential.   With your device plugged into power, please go to to Settings >> General >> Software Update.  Follow the prompts to complete your update, if you haven’t already. 

-Windows 10 version 1809 is being fully deployed to just about all computers right now.  This is the major new version of Windows that was finalized in the Fall of 2018.   If you are prompted to install it, make sure you are closed out of all of your work.  Go for it.    Eek!  The next new version of Windows 10 is right around the corner. 

I would like to take this opportunity to let you know about some services that I offer that may be new to you. 

Shopping Assistant – I can research product options for you before our appointment, during, or we can even go shopping for gear together.  Can you say — technology field trip?   There are many instances where I can order products for you (ie. Amazon, Best Buy) and bring them to our next appointment.  I do not charge a markup on the items themselves, but I will bill you for my time to go to the store, etc.  Unless it’s multiple shopping destinations involved – usually this amounts to a half hour charge added on to the appointment billing. 

Collages – I started making photo collages when some family members wanted to create a framed poster (20 x 30) for my sister’s bridal shower last summer.  I found a program that allowed me to create the perfect memory.   You may want a collage for your own digital collection, perhaps to create a record of multiple people or items, moments in time, or to give as a gift.   I can create a collage for you with anywhere from 2 to 16 photos.   The collage will be saved as a normal picture file.   Then you can take it and order prints of an appropriate size (with my help or by yourself).  I have attached a sample of my work to this e-mail.   Your collage need not have words on it, if that is your preference.   Note:  this collage was a challenge because not all of the photos were from the digital era.  None the less, all were quite happy with the result. 

Cellular Services  – Here is another niche service that may be just what the doctor ordered in your time of need.   Do you need a temporary cell phone number?   Do you need a US # for an international visitor or just a local number for someone staying with you for a while?  Do you know someone going through a divorce or who is looking to branch off from the family plan in some way?  I have the answer.   I have SIM cards for cellular providers that operate on all of the major networks — Verizon, ATT and T-Mobile.  In short order, I can generate a new # for you or convert (port) your existing number to the new service.   I will pop the SIM card in your phone, you will pay for the first month of service (typically $30 to $50 depending on the plan) and you will be good to go.  For light use cases or an emergency phone, I also have per minute rate options I could set you up with. 

News Flash:  I read an article recently about a major big box store (that rhymes with “Sophus Repo”) having to pay the federal government $30 million in a settlement because they were running a tech support scam on their customers.  They were luring them in with a “free malware check,” and then telling almost everyone they needed an expensive malware cleaning whether they truly needed it or not.   You won’t get those scams with me.   Thank you for supporting small business — the HEARTBEAT OF AMERICA. 

Technology Appetizers

Welcome to this week’s installment of my Update.  Hope you’ve enjoyed the La Croix seltzer.  My servers will be around with the technology appetizers for you.   Oh, here comes the first one….
1. Samsung’s new S10 smartphones (S10e, S10, S10+) appear to be selling well.  As I mentioned before, if you are sick of the iPhone or want to try a phone of that caliber with a slightly different look and feel — this would be the one to grab.  In general, my clients are iPhone users.  However, there are some Android enthusiasts among us.  Others simply don’t want to get involved with Apple products or prefer an Android phone (like the Galaxy S) for very specific reasons.  The two that I can think of are — better voice dictation (no doubt) and better cameras in some instances.   I am glad Apple has followed their lead by offering promotions (either directly or through carriers) if you buy a new iPhone and trade an old one in. In a mature industry, Apple can’t sit on its hands.
Oh boy, this tray looks a little stale.
2. Password Problems:  I’m still coming across customers who are using weak passwords or who don’t take password security seriously.  It’s really frustrating after I keep bringing up this topic over and over again.  Passwords should be different for EVERY WEBSITE.  Sensitive passwords should be changed at least every 6 months.  If you have trouble coming up with one, start with a secure “base” for each website and add a unique ending to each one.   Think of something that is easy for you to remember but hard for others to guess.  A password manager (whether manual or electronic) is critical.  Some of you use browser based password managers — in Safari, Chrome, or Firefox.  The teacher in me will give you a passing grade for that.  Take advantage of the features offered, such as when they suggest a secure password.  Make sure you know how to look up the passwords in the browser.  Better yet, if passwords really matter to you, use a paid password manager such as 1Password or Last Pass.   If you are at the back of the class, you are using a paper based password manager.  At the very least — keep this organized.  
Look here comes another round of…..
3.  Apple News:  Apple had their event on Monday.  Some analysts have called it a big dud.  One thing is for sure, Apple is getting deeper into the media business.  They are now offering Apple News + on iPhone, iPad and Mac.   It will cost $9.99 / mo after the free 1st month.  You will get access to leading newspapers like the WSJ and LA Times along with a library of major magazines.  Major papers such as the NY Times and Washington Post have declined to participate.   However, the real entree was Apple TV+.   This umbrella service will include Apple’s existing catalog of TV shows and movies for rent, plus original programming (similar to Netflix), plus easy access to cable channels and premium channels.  It will not only be available on Apple TV boxes (overpriced with a terrible remote if you ask me) but also on other streaming boxes like Roku (great) and smart TV’s.   It all sounds very exciting.  It could very well be the ultimate portal for cord cutters.    But — there’s a big but — what is the price?
They didn’t say. What?  That will be mentioned later.   And this was an Apple event?    It seems so half baked.  I think they are still making their content deals with the various channels and content providers.  It wasn’t all ironed out yet.   It will be very interesting to see how competitive they are with You Tube TV and Hulu Live TV — the leaders in the clubhouse that charge $40 to $45 per month.    One thing is certain, Apple wants to make this available to as many people as possible and not only those who own Apple hardware.  Let’s wait and see.
Hope you have a safe drive home.  Thanks for stopping by this little gathering.