Category: Buying Advice

Making Sense of New Devices

3 Premium iPhones for 2018 – Understanding the Distinctions
I wrote my 9/12 update to you within 30 minutes of watching Apple’s live event last week.  I realize it was a lot of information, but I wanted to cover it like a true techno journalist as if I were there.  I also tried to include only the deals that were relevant to my client base — typically the age 60+ crowd.
The first thing I want to make clear is that the less expensive XR (10 R) iPhone is by no means a “bastard child” of the 2018 iPhone offerings.   It is a premium phone being offered at $749 with 64 gigabytes of storage.   The XR is the phone that Apple expects to sell the most of this year.  To meet that demand, ordering has been delayed until October 19 so supply can be ramped up.  The two premium priced models — the Xs and Xs Max are being sold starting $999 and $1099 respectively.  They are available now.  The major differences between the XR line and the Xs line are that the Xs models have two cameras which aid in portrait photography and a higher quality screen.   For my typical client, I don’t think these features are tipping point to justify the higher price.  However, as you will read below, other factors come into play.    For most American iPhone users, my clients included, the iPhone is purchased on a 24 month, interest free installment plan with the cell phone carrier.  The cost of the phone is simply added to the bill.  In some cases, the cost of the actual service is slightly less than it was 5+ years ago.  Typical pricing on the 64 GB models would be about $31 / mo on the XR, $41 / mo on the Xs, and $45 / mo on the Xs Max.   These devices are truly computers in your pocket and priced like them, for sure.
Real Life Ordering Decision – Size Matters
I was with a client yesterday who upgraded his 2016 iPhone 7.  The cameras and screen quality were not deciding factors in his choice of the Xs over the XR.  The price difference, though $10 a month, was not seen as unbearable.   Size was the key issue.   The Xs with the screen stretched to the edges is closest in size to his iPhone 7 (6, 6s, and 8 as well).  The iPhone XR would be slightly larger.   The iPhone Xs Max is very close in size to the previous Plus iPhones (6 – 8 Plus).  My client told me — I don’t want to go bigger.  So, the Xs was ordered on a carrier financing plan and should be arriving by the weekend.
Android
If you are of an Android persuasion, keep in mind that Google’s own phone, the Pixel will be getting a refresh in early October.  I certainly think it is the best Android in terms of promised regular updates to the software.  Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and Note 9 phones are also terrific.  Motorola G6 Plus is superb for a budget phone that can be purchased for around $230.  The One Plus 6 is a solid choice, competing with the best of Samsung at a lower price (but does not work on Verizon).
iOS
iOS 12 was released on 9/17.  It is a brand new version of Apple’s mobile device software.  Should you have an iPhone 5s or later or an iPad Air or later, you should be installing it within the next few weeks.   Please make sure you have a full backup of your device before installing version 12.   I’m still exploring its features, but so far I think the Measure app is very useful for around the house projects.  If you would like professional help with installing iOS 12, please let me know.
Mac OS
The latest version of mac OS — version 10.14 is coming out next Monday – Sept 24th.  From that point forward, I will be taking upgrade appointments.  Some of my clients choose to upgrade themselves, while others have me do it for them.   I make sure you have a full backup of your system in place and a copy of the install media should the software ever need to be reinstalled.  I also take great care to update your apps if necessary.   These appointments usually last about 2 hours.
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Technology Update 9/4/18

New iPhones For Real – VIP Service
Apple’s iPhone event will be held on Sept 12th.  I believe pre-orders will start that Friday and shipments will commence a week later.  I mentioned the three sizes of the new phones in my last update — think small, medium and LARGE — with the medium being the least expensive.  I expect pricing to be somewhere along the lines of $700, $900, and $1100.  If its been many years since you’ve purchased an iPhone, you could buy the phone outright but what I think 90% of customers do is take advantage of the interest free financing with your cell phone carrier or Apple.  Take the phone price, divide by 24, and that’s your monthly cost.   I will offer my iPhone Ordering Service to you once again.  If you are going to have me set up your iPhone, I will order it for you over the phone at no extra charge.   I look forward to helping you get your new device.
 
Upgrading Computers
One of the nice things about 2012 (and earlier) Mac Book Pros and MOST Windows computers is that the hardware can be upgraded.  The hard drive can be replaced to give you more and faster storage.  Memory (RAM) can often be increased to allow smoother moment to moment operations.  Sold state hard drives (SSDs) are cheaper than ever before.  Contact me to find out if its possible / worth it to perform an upgrade to your existing machine and what the costs would be.  I will take great care to back up your data and then give you a “clean install” of the Mac / Windows operating system.  If you’ve had your computer for at least three years and want to keep it going, it’s just what the Doctor ordered.
Remote Support
I want to make clients, especially those new to the VIP family, aware that I offer remote support for simple Windows and Mac issues that may not require in in-person visit.  With Windows 10, I make use of the built in Quick Assist application.  With Mac users, I utilize Skype.  Do not worry, I’m not interested in seeing your beautiful face after you had a night of poor sleep.  I strictly use the screen sharing Skype feature.  For remote appointments, I bill in half hour increments. I will ask you to pay at the end of the session by directing you to my payment page or taking a credit /debit card from you over the phone.    Other remote services I have offered for clients in the past include comprehensive research and answering of questions in report style format, constructing / editing simple websites and social media profiles, and document / image conversion.

Technology Update 8/28/18

Start With a Tip
Some clients tell me, I love your updates but I only understand 1/3 of it.  One client told me recently, I just realized I have a Mac.  It’s the teacher training within me that seeks to set a high bar.  Transformations may not be instant, but it is my goal to raise your technological competence over time.  Have you ever heard your plumber, electrician, or carpenter say that to you?  That’s why I’m special and I value our special relationship. 
—-> Copy and paste text — the need comes up all the time — from one e-mail to another, from an e-mail to a Word document, from one Word document to another, or how about from a web page to an email or word document.  The sequence is very simple.   Windows:  Highlight text with mouse >> Ctrl C (on keyboard) >> Click on insertion point >> Ctrl V.   Mac: Highlight text with mouse >> Command C (on keyboard) >> Click on insertion point >> Command V.   ** Caveat:  Copying text from a web page to another application can present problems. Web based text is often heavily formatted. I have always told clients who are doing this to keep their computer’s “text editor” open to use it as a conduit.   In Windows, the built in text editor is called Notepad (part of Windows since 1985); on the Mac it’s called Text Edit.  In this workflow, you would copy the text from the website, paste it in the text editor (remove the formatting if necessary) and then copy and paste it into its destination.  Getting familiar with your system’s text editor has other benefits as well.  You may not always need to open up the large and often slow Microsoft Word.  Notepad and Text Edit handle light word processing tasks just fine.
Catalog Those Files
Occasionally, I come across a situation where a client has all of their files stored on multiple hard drives, with folders located here, there, and everywhere.  It may be a good thing to have these files spread out, but please remember to have backups of originals (ideally using multiple methods).  However, there may be times when you want to consolidate.  You may be wondering, what is where?  So that no data is lost, you really need to establish a catalog for your files.  These are not backup applications; they are solely Windows and Mac utilities for making a master catalog.  They are under $40 each.  For Windows — it’s simply Win Catalog https://www.wincatalog.com/.     For Mac — Neo Finder http://www.cdfinder.de/.   Avoid data loss!
The New iPhones Are Really Coming – September of My Years
The cat is slowly jumping out of the bag.  Apple is going to have an iPhone event in mid-September.  Like clockwork, pre-orders will start a few days later.  The new phones will begin shipping about a week after that.  So I want you to look at your current iPhone, diagonally please. You may want to get out a ruler or a tape measure.  The screen sizes of the iPhone 6, 6s, 7, and 8 are 4.7 inches.  The iPhone 6 Plus, 6s +, 7+, and 8+ are 5.5 inches.  If you have an iPhone X, you measure in at 5.8 inches.  (If you are on the iPhone SE, 4.0 inches, I doubt Apple is updating this form factor but keep enjoying the phone by all means.)  The 2018 models will all have the visual aesthetics of the iPhone X, meaning the screen will push to the edges of the phone. There will be no home button (you swipe up from the middle, bottom to get the home button functionality).  The model names are not set in stone.  There will be a “new iPhone X” measuring 5.8 inches.  This is not that much larger than the iPhone 6 – 8.  This will be the middle priced model.  There will also be a “6.1 inch iPhone.” This will be the least expensive model.  The size will be similar overall to the iPhone 6 Plus – 8 Plus.  For those who want a “large and in charge” phone, there will also be an “iPhone X Plus” coming in at 6.5 inches.  That’s almost like a small tablet if you ask me and it will be the most expensive.  Keeping these design changes in mind, you may want to pick up one of the current 8 or 8 Plus models if you want the traditional home button and do not want to take the minimal amount of time required to learn the new functions.  With that in mind, Apple is going all in with the iPhone X design motif for all.
(Sent while listening to Rodrigo y Gabriela – Look them up on the music app of your choice. Great stuff.)

Technology Update 8/15/18

Preview
It’s the middle of August already and the busy season in the world of technology is almost upon us.  In short snippets let me cover everything that we can expect to see over the next couple of months:  new iPhones, new Pixel phones from Google, new iPads, new Macs, new Surface computers from Microsoft, a new version of macOS, a new version of iOS, a new version of Android, and a new version of Windows.  It will be a busy time for us.
Small Laptops
I admire small, highly functional laptops. Back in the day, I fondly recall owning both a 12 inch PowerBook and 12 inch iBook laptop.  Ten years ago “netbooks” were a thing.  Do you remember these $300-ish Windows laptops in 9 or 10 inch flavors?  The problem was, they were very under-powered and after a year we got tired of them.  Apple basically killed the netbook when they released the iPad in 2010 and updated the Mac Book Air later that year, with a design that in my mind became one of the greatest laptops of all time.  Apple offered 11 inch and 13 inch Mac Book Airs until the 11 was killed off in 2016.  I have clients who still love their 11 inch Mac Book Airs.  The best sub 13 inch Windows laptop in my eyes is the Thinkpad X280 (12.5 inch). However, it is a $1300 machine.  Microsoft has just come out with a small portable, the Surface Go, that aims to bridge the gap between premium portable and the netbooks.  It’s $650 for a usable configuration, which includes the keyboard.  It may not be a primary computer for all, but it’s worth checking out if you want to go small.  https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/p/surface-go/8v9dp4lnknsz
Privacy Package
Google isn’t making a lot of friends lately.  They are facing a huge fine in the EU for their practices.  This week we found out that even if you had “Location Tracking” set to off in your Google apps and services, THEY ARE STILL TRACKING YOUR LOCATION.  This is true even on Apple devices.  Another setting has to be turned off called “Web & App Activity”.  This is really shameful.  I’m not trying to single Google out for punishment either.   These concerns and others I have shared in the past have prompted me to offer a Privacy Package to clients for the first time.  At a bare minimum I will
– Install a VPN for you ($40 to $60 per year), so that all of your internet activity is hidden from your internet service provider and  your internet location is hidden the websites you visit.  It can be automatic, no complex configuration for you to mess around with.  It will work on smartphones and tablets as well.
-Set you up with a private search engine that does not collect and sell your personal information (Don’t worry, you can still use Google occasionally if needed).
Optional Services
– Another option I can set you up with is a “as private as possible” cell phone service.  You can use your existing iPhone or Android.  I will set you up on ATT.  You will have to take a new number.  However, they will not know your name or address.  $45 a month for service.
-For Gmail users only:  I can make sure you are checking your e-mail in a e-mail program instead of Gmail.com in your browser.  After all, when you are signed into Google services in your browser — who knows what they are collecting on you.  I think as pure e-mail they are fine, but can’t be trusted beyond that.
Support the Free Software You Use
My final thought for today is, we need to support the small time developers who provide free software that we use all the time and take for granted.  It would be terrible if these small operations were gobbled up large entities (and radically altered) or ceased to exist because the developer didn’t feel like the project was worth continuing.  I would suggested donating at least $5-10 once or twice year to the developers of this software that you rely on so they can stay in the game for years to come.  Most of you use one of these apps that is freely provided, but please ask me if you are not sure.   A few common apps that come to mind are
NAPS 2 – scanning software for Windows (https://www.naps2.com/)
VLC – media player for Mac and Windows – (https://www.videolan.org/)
Libre Office – alternative to Microsoft Office for Mac and Windows (https://www.libreoffice.org/)
Maintenance – system cleanup utility for Mac (https://www.titanium-software.fr/en/maintenance.html)

Windows Update: Warnings and Advice

Dear Windows Clients:

I decided to keep this message to my Windows users only, after all why would those with the fruit-flavored computers care about this anyway?

Recap:  Windows 10 – 1803:  How to delay and who can delay

I have been sharing a lot of advice lately about Windows 10 – version 1803.  It is literally the 6th new version of Windows to come out since the original Windows 10 in late July 2015.  Each one, while called Windows 10, has been a new version of Windows thrown at your computer. I think it’s excessive that they want to push 2 versions of Windows 10 per year. It was true last year and it will be the reality for 2018 as well.   In a previous post, I detailed how to delay your “Windows feature updates” (aka new versions of Windows) by 120 days while still letting the security updates come as scheduled.  The post with instructions can be found here.  https://theacronym.com/2018/02/22/windows-10-version-1803-how-to-delay-it/ On every Windows computer that I’ve touched over the past few months, where possible, I’ve implemented the 120 day delay.  Others have followed my lead and set up the delay themselves.

You can only delay new versions if you have the Pro version of Windows 10.  I’ve chosen this for you if I’ve ordered your computer or deliberately flipped the switch to Pro for you.  If you purchased your Windows computer on your own, there is a very high likelihood that you have the Home version of Windows 10. You are forced to take new versions of Windows at Microsoft’s whim.  As you will read below, that can be very dangerous.

A computer rendered useless by 1803

So far I’ve interacted with a couple clients’ computers who have successfully upgraded to 1803.  These systems all happened to be Dell desktops, 2 consumer grade and 1 business class, and ranged from about 4 to 8 years old.  I personally upgraded 2 of them to 1803 and on the 3rd one, I did some maintenance after the fact.  They are fine.  However, I got a very troubling report from a client last week.  Windows 10 1803 made her computer basically inoperable.  The screen was very dark and there was no way of making it brighter.  It definitely seemed like this supposedly ready for primetime version of Windows was not interacting properly with the video display hardware on her computer.  No major changes had been made to the system other than the new version of Windows, which was forced on Windows 10 Home, with no way of delaying it.  I suggested contacting Microsoft as they should take some responsibility for the damage that their mandatory software caused. 

Here is the rather interesting verdict.  The computer, although purchased in 2012 (Dell, consumer laptop), is obsolete. For all I know, it could have been a 2011 laptop that was sold in 2012, but I don’t know for sure.  However, it’s important to realize that each version of Windows 10 is truly a new version, just as if they called it Windows 10, 11, 12, 13, etc.  Each time Microsoft churned out a new iteration they had to decide which hardware they would support (just like Apple does with new versions of mac OS).  Having worked on this computer before I know that I did not have one of the mainstream Intel Core (like Core i3, i5, i7) processors that were common back from approximately 2010 through today.  It featured an Intel chipset that either didn’t sell in great volume or was simply deemed not powerful enough by Microsoft to run Windows 10 1803 effectively.  Fortunately, the Microsoft employee was able to do some special programming and revert the laptop to Windows 1709 (a feature built into Windows) and block all future updates.  I don’t know if security updates are also blocked, but the good thing is that it buys the client a little more time with the computer.

Shame on Microsoft for letting the situation go this far!   When Windows decides to check for new updates (including new versions), they have the power to do a basic hardware scan of the system. They know what Intel chipset (or AMD) is installed inside.  If a particular version of Windows 10 won’t run properly, it should never be pushed out to those particular computers.  Apple certainly does this with their software. Where is the quality control here Microsoft?

Buying advice

With all of this expressed, I recently installed 1803 on my wife’s 10 year old business class Dell Optiplex desktop.  The latest version of Windows 10 runs very well. The Optiplex 330 line from that era was purchased in millions of units by governments and large corporations.  Microsoft knows this and was not about to render it obsolete.   I want to give some general advice here that you can’t go wrong with. Let me order your next Windows 10 computer for you.  If we don’t do it as part of an appointment, I can do it for you over the phone and set it up when it arrives.  I don’t charge more for this service and I don’t make a commission off of the computer. The kind of Windows computers that I order are typically business class systems from the likes of Lenovo, Dell or HP. They are not found in big box stores or on Amazon.  Intel’s CPU’s are currently on the 8th generation of core processors.  An 8th or 7th generation, Core i3, i5, or i7 processor, with at least 8 GB of RAM, and Windows 10 Pro will stand the test of time.  While I can’t promise 10 years, I think you will be happy with its lifespan.  These should be your purchasing parameters.

Delaying 1803 further

Wherever possible, I have delayed or had you delay your Windows 10 – 1803 upgrade by 120 days.  The maximum delay you can impose is 365 days. You will still get security updates because you have left that delay at 0. If you do nothing further, you will probably get 1803 pushed out to your computer sometime in September in Windows 10 Pro.  Following the instructions at https://theacronym.com/2018/02/22/windows-10-version-1803-how-to-delay-it/ I have no problem with you upping the delay to 365 days IF IF IF…. you have an image backup of your system.   If your computer crashes in the next year, you will want to restore to the version of Windows you had and not be forced into Windows 10 1803. An image backup will allow you to do that.   On many of your computers, I have installed my preferred imaging program Macrium Reflect (not a Mac program).  If you know your computer is backing up to an external drive via Macrium Reflect – then go ahead and delay the new version to the max of 365 days. 

If you are not sure if you have an image backup or if you even have Windows 10 Pro, please feel free to ask questions.  Let’s keep our Windows computers running smoothly without forced mandates and outside interference.

Mac Books and Their Keyboards

I wanted to revisit a subject that I covered in the near past — current Mac Book Pros and their “wonderful” keyboards.  https://theacronym.com/2018/02/02/ipad-pro-best-mac-laptop/

Apple came out with a substantial redesign of the Mac Book Pro in 2016. These new systems featured a radically different keyboard than the one that Mac laptop users had come to love in the 2015 and many prior generations.  The keyboards were panned by reviewers and users had their troubles as well.  They suffered from an unusually high failure rate.  For what reason?  Apple wanted to shave a couple of millimeters off of the overall thickness!  Apple rushed out an updated model that looked identical in June 2017.  Customers are still having issues with the keyboards in the 2017 models and they cost close to $600 to replace out of warranty. 

I have some Mac clients who will likely be looking for a new laptop this year.  If using an iPad with a keyboard as a laptop is not the right solution, I want to share some honest thoughts. 

I spent more time with a 2017 MacBook Pro and I really wanted to give it an objective try.  The keys do not travel like they do on the laptops that are known for better typing experiences.  However, Apple has offered up a trick and it seems to work. The keys make an unusual clicking sound when I pressed them, giving the allusion that there is more depth than there is in reality.  So, the truth is, I could likely live with the keyboard on a long term basis.  I still have serious doubts about their reliability. 

I think the 2017 Mac Book Air is a better laptop for consumer use than the 2017 Mac Book Pro.  Best Buy was recently selling it for as low as $699.  If you are not married to specific Mac applications, I can think of a couple other Windows laptops that are better than the Mac Book Pro.   

-Lenovo Thinkpad T, Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon

-Dell XPS 13, Dell XPS 15

-Dell Latitude 5000 series, Latitude 7000 series

With all of this cold water being thrown at Mac portables, I still think a custom ordered iMac is one of the best desktops on the market.

Ultimately, I know there are some clients who are joined at the hip with certain Mac apps or have a massive library that has already been organized in Photos.  The Mac Book Air may be discontinued later this year, so the Mac Book Pro could be the only option. You’ll live with the keyboard, but If you buy it, you must get the 3 year, Apple Care warranty.  It is your firewall against expensive repairs due to design flaws. 

Desktop, Laptop, or Tablet

I was recently asked by a willing buyer, should I get a desktop, laptop, or tablet?

It certainly depends on the user’s habits and preferences.   I think a desktop is wise choice for someone who doesn’t mind doing their work in one place all the time and prefers using a larger screen.   The typical desktop monitor is 22 to 24 inches these days.  The standard high resolution (meaning everything is smaller) can be magnified or scaled up to give you a very comfortable viewing experience. 

Laptops are appropriate for users who want the flexibility to move around a lot (or at least once in a while) and don’t mind a smaller screen.  Some laptops can even be purchased with 17 inch screens, in the Windows world, so there may not even be that much of a compromise.  There is a wide spectrum of quality in the laptop game.  You could pay anywhere from $400 to $2500 for a laptop that works for you.  It simply depends on the purpose and features required.  As a final note on laptops, I will mention that I have had great experiences buying high quality, business class laptops for clients through the Dell and Lenovo outlets over the years.

Tablets (or even Chromebooks) are becoming a more popular choice for a consumer’s computer.  I set up a new iPad for a client over the weekend who will be using her iPad Pro as her primary personal computer.  I worked with a client today who only uses a Chromebook.   With an iPad or Chromebook, you can e-mail, compose documents, share files, edit photos, print (with a compatible printer), shop, do online banking, save files, and organize those files into folders.  Your device will be very SAFE compared to a Windows or Mac system.  However, you may not be able to run your favorite application for X (whatever X is for you).  For example, I like to use a program called The Journal in Windows to write personal journal entries.  I would not be able to use this program on an iPad or a Chromebook.   The greatest benefit to either of these devices is that you can KISS – keep it simple stupid.   As long as you can play within the sandbox, an iPad or Chromebook might just be your future computer.