Category: Buying Advice

Shopping For Computers Summer 2021

Weekly Humor

I may be wound up tight, but my mainspring is not going to break.  (That’s a watch joke, if you didn’t get it.)

Work Wisdom – Rideshare, Door Dash, Etc. 

This is not going to apply to you, but it may be relevant to one of your kids, grandkids, a friend or a neighbor.  In this “new economy” people are working for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Door Dash to make some extra cash or possibly even as a full time gig.  While working for these outfits, they are a 1099 contractor.   Expenses can be deducted but good records (like mileage) must be kept.  Taxes are not withheld.  Drivers should be saving part of every check to cover the Self Employment Tax at a bare minimum.  Additionally, these workers should purchase extra car insurance to cover  what the company won’t.  There is often a gap in coverage.  Finally, they should ask if this kind of work voids their car’s warranty.

Shopping For Computers – Summer 2021

I just want to set the expectations so that now one is surprised later on.  For the most part, prices are going up.  Discounts are few.  I’m sitting here in front of a Thinkpad T series — $2000 MSRP, that I got for $650 (new) in January 2020.  I also have a Dell Latitude 5450 that was about $1100 that I picked up almost 6 years ago for under $400 with some extreme couponing on Dell(dot)com.   Complete fairy tales in 2021!  Fiction! Most of you are buying laptops.  I still like all of my old picks — MacBooks, Dell Latitude 5000 series or 7000 series, and Thinkpad T or X series.   However, for a solid laptop (I’m not even talking about top of the line or luxury), you are looking at $1500 to 2000 for a brand new unit.   The Mac Book Air starts at $999.  However to get the 500 GB SSD hard drive its + 200.  These new Macs have such a brand new unique architecture and everything is built in, with no replaceable parts. I would seriously consider getting the 3 year Apple Care warranty for $250.  That puts your right around $1500 considering taxes.  For one of the better Windows laptops, you’ll be paying the same or more.  A client was recently considering a Thinkpad T15.  The price dropped to $1274 for a very well equipped system.  I said — TAKE IT; that’s a buy price!   In terms of iMacs, the $1699 model is the one you’ll really want.   So where can you save these days?  Well, the Thinkpad E and L series are not bad as long as they are properly outfitted.   The Mac Mini is still Apple’s bargain desktop.  With a $150 monitor, your own non-Apple mouse and keyboard, + $25 speakers, I think you could have it out the door for $1250.  (With these new M1 Macs, always buy a larger hard drive than you need (one step up).  Don’t say, I’ll never use that much space.   The larger hard drive you get, the longer the system will last.  Remember, that internal hard drive can’t be replaced.)  Finally, you could always try the Dell or Lenovo Outlets.  You have to think fast, but bargains exist.  

Conclusion and Song of the Week

It was a rough week.  You have the right to feel confused and even angry. They are your sincere emotions.  Monday through Saturday – I watched ZERO TV.  I don’t use Facebook.  I don’t use Google other than for e-mail and to look up local businesses.  Personally, I’m seeking calm in the storm while fully acknowledging that sometimes one has to hit the punching bag and let off some steam.  I thought this piano interpretation of “On My Way” by Peter Buka really fits the mood this time around.  He may not have a mainstream style, but he is doing something right with 7.5+ million views on this song alone. Enjoy!  https://youtu.be/w2IH69pFsI0

Do Not Buy Apple Watch 3

Dear Clients and Computer Students:

I wanted to send this update now — just in case you are thinking of buying an Apple Watch over this holiday weekend. 

Consider this a PSA with direct language that Apple is never going to deliver to you.  Please feel free to forward to anyone you know that has an Apple Watch.

People are getting out more.  They want to exercise and breathe in the fresh air.   I recall sitting in on a training class in 2018 about the Apple Watch and everyone other than me in the class was a senior.  I’m not surprised by this now, but I truly was at the time. 

Here is the problem — the Apple Watch is not cheap.  It is a fitness oriented computer on your hand.   The best Apple Watch sold right now is the Apple Watch 6.  With  one of the sport bands and the standard aluminum case, it starts at $399.  That is what you should expect. It’s a $400 watch!  You have to really want to use it.  It’s not a fashion watch.  Once you get into the stainless steel case and better bands — the price goes up by several hundred $.    It’s a computer.  And you still have to charge it up every night.   The Apple Watch 6 has the senior friendly fall detection feature, tracks your heart rate, but also can measure your blood oxygen and does a basic ECG (not as good as the doctor’s office but has been very helpful for some).  

If you want most of the fitness features including heart rate, steps, and fall detection but a more modest price point – Apple started selling the Apple Watch SE in 2020 for $279.  It’s a reasonable offering for the price.

However, here is where the crimes start!!

In order to say they can sell you an Apple Watch for $199 — Apple has continued to sell the Apple Watch 3.    It is a 4 year old Apple Watch.  Those early models were not meant to go for 4 years.  Apple is fooling their customers.

DO NOT BUY AN APPLE WATCH 3!   IF YOU HAVE ONE, AND WANT CONTINUED ENJOYABLE USE — YOU WILL PROBABLY HAVE TO GET A BETTER ONE. APPLE SHOULD APOLOGIZE TO YOU IF YOU RECENTLY BOUGHT ONE.

Sitting back down at my seat, rather than standing on it, I will say that due to a recent update of the iPhone, the next update of the Apple Watch (which gets updated via the Watch app on the iPhone) will require a complete erasure of the Apple Watch 3 and a reinstallation of the operating system.  This may take hours.  The Apple Watch 3 has a hard drive that is too small to handle the new software versions as a simple update.   Apple needs to stop selling it.

So the the Bottom Line is — The Apple Watch 6 is a $400 + investment, definitely geared toward older / active adults and has the most features.  You may be able to get away with the Apple Watch SE at $279 if you don’t care about the O2 monitoring and ECG.   Do not buy  the Apple Watch 3.  You are throwing money away.  If you have one, you’ll need to upgrade sooner than later.  If you want a fitness tracker in the $100’s with heart rate and steps — The Fit Bit Charge 4 provides a great cost / function proposition.

Erasing Product Mistakes

Don’t you just hate it when technology companies remove features or services that we like?  It is so frustrating.  There may be some hope.   The 2015 Mac Book Pro and Mac Book Air had such a solid design.  These were reliable machines.  They were a joy to type on.   However, when the Mac Book Pro was updated in 2016 (and the Air in 2018), there were only two to four ports to plug things into (one used for charging) and the keyboards were flat as a pancake.  On the higher end Pro models, they added a stupid Touch Bar with animated keys instead of the traditional Esc, F1, F2, etc, etc.   Awful!!

As I have previously shared, they corrected the keyboard with the 2020 laptops.  Rumors are swirling now that Apple will remove the Touch Bar in the 2021 models and (drum roll please) bring back a Mag Safe charger.   If you recall that pre-2016 charger, it would easily disconnect if you walked into the cord — saving your laptop from damage and flying off the desk.    Apple is going back to the old paths.  I like the old paths. 

Apple also reverted to old design cues and features with the iPhone 12 models.  You should strongly consider one for your 2021 iPhone purchase.   Remember the flat edges (sharp in a good way) of the iPhone 5, 5s and iPhone SE (2016)?   Apple went back to that design with the 12’s that came out last fall.   Furthermore, they are using only Qualcomm modems once again after using inferior Intel modems for a few years. Customers are reporting better signal performance in many instances. 

Finally, not everyone likes using the Face ID on the iPhone 10 and later models.  It can be a royal pain with a mask on.   On the most recent iPad Air (the middle model), Apple re-introduced a Touch ID sensor.   We can only hope they offer this on the 2021 iPhone models as well.

Update 11/03/2020

Small Biz Spotlight

(Unsolicited)  If you don’t believe in Chiropractors, you have my permission to skip this section.  I realize that some in the profession have made dubious claims.  However, many of us out there  feel that chiropractic care helps us feel better and move our joints more freely. If this is how you feel, please let me introduce you to Dr. Rick Araya of West Hartford, CT.  Dr. Rick is a straight shooter. He doesn’t try to rope you into some $5000 treatment plan with a bunch of gimmicks.  He runs his business like I run mine.  If you want to pay by the visit – you can pay $45 per visit (even less if you are 65 and older).   He doesn’t waste your time by doing massage, lighting candles, or any of that stuff.  Most follow up visits are 5 to 10 minutes – in and out.   As an advocate for senior consumers, I can’t think of a better chiropractor — if that’s your thing.  To learn more – http://goodchiro.net and if you go let Dr. Rick know I sent you.

Another Apple Event

Apple is really hitting it out of the park this year.  Last week there was a report of record Mac sales — powered by all models but especially the Mac Book Pro.  According to Bloomberg, Apple will be holding their 3rd big event in as many months next week.  They are expected to release new Mac Books this time with their own CPUs (just like the iPhone and iPad).  This will be the 3rd processor transition in the Mac’s history.  In 1995, they went to IBM Power PC chips and in 2006 Apple migrated to the current Intel architecture (just like PC’s).  Apple feels that they can deliver a better Mac when they control the entire manufacturing process and that is just what they are doing.   Are your Intel Macs junk now?  Of course not.   Even if you are buying a new Mac before early – mid next year you may still want to get an Intel Mac.  However, Macs with Apple silicon inside will be with us soon and are here to stay.   Rumor has it that Apple will continue to support current Intel Macs with updates for about 5 years from a certain date (to be announced).  I don’t think this will be a painful transition. 


Black Friday – Holiday Shopping

Black Friday is coming early this year. Traditional stores and online sellers are slow rolling their deals.   While the discounts on Apple products may be in the low hundreds of dollars, there are bound to be terrific deals on other items.  Just today I helped some clients order Thinkpad X1 and T laptops ( every bit as good as a Mac) that are normally about $2000 plus, for $999.  Those deals are going to be gone by the time you read this.  I will be your scout for other bargains.  Keep in mind, as long as there is no wall mounting required I can help you set up most TV’s as well.   For as rotten as the cable company can be, there is nothing quite like a new TV with an X1 cable box and voice remote from Xfinity.  You can speak and have it take to you any channel or available movie.

Older iPhone? The $399 iPhone SE Is For You

It feels like March 2016 again only better.   Apple — overpriced?  An Apple Tax to buy all of those Apple products?  Not right now.  First of all, they came out with a 2020 Mac Book Air a few weeks ago, with the good keyboard and LOWERED the price to $999.  Apple knows that buyers are scared and budgets are constrained.  So what did they do?  They released a $399 iPhone SE on Wednesday, with the SAME CPU inside as the iPhone 11 / Pro.

I am not making this up. It is 100% for real.  In March 2016, they first launched the SE line @ $399. However it was a really small 4.0 inch design based off of the 2013 iPhone 5s.  I bought one that summer and used it as my daily driver for more than 18 months.  The SE is back and better than ever.  The screen is now 4.7 inches.  If you have an iPhone 6, 6s, 7 or 8 — the new SE is the same size and timeless design put out by Apple back in 2014.  Especially if you are still using a 6 (which will not get any more updates), 6s or 7 — this phone purchase is a no brainer.  Do it!   You may just choose to buy it outright or you could do interest free payments with your carrier for $16.66 a month for 24 months.

$699 iPhone 11?   $999 iPhone 11 Pro?  Unless you need to have 2 phone lines on 1 phone or some of the advanced features, you probably don’t need that more expensive phone.   An iPhone SE would suit most of my clients just fine. 

Small Biz Spotlight – Buddy’s Jeans

They don’t make ’em like they used to. Soon that will be true for a great American company.  Since 2009, Buddy’s Jeans have been the only ones I’ve worn.  In an age when a designer pair of jeans can easily be $70 to $100 and an American made pair can go for $200 — Buddy’s have been a true gem.  Jane Little took over the factory in Mississippi in 2002 and has sold the brand in her store ever since.   At $50 per pair, they are hard to beat for men’s jeans.  Unfortunately, Jane made the difficult decision to close the factory.  It seems as though there is still a sizeable inventory left but when they are gone, they’re gone.  I just talked to the staff last week.  So here you go — http://buddysjeans.com/products.html   Odd sizes and lengths are their speciality.  The relaxed fit or original fit are going to be most likely what you want as they are 100% cotton denim.  The “cowboy” jeans are a much more rugged variety.    

Statement on Mesh Routers

I wanted to issue a clarifying statement on the topic of “Mesh Routers” because someone had questioned whether I was against mesh routers and that I might want to reconsider my position.  

Mesh routers are 2 and 3 unit + router systems that can help to bridge the gaps for WiFI in large homes or homes that may have trouble getting a signal in specific areas.   Well known mesh router brands are Netgear Orbi and Eero.   Xfinity also providers their own mesh solution called XFI pods, make for them by a company called Plume. 

For the record, I am not nor have I ever been against mesh routers.   I have been setting up mesh router systems for clients since 2017.  I have worked with a precursor to the modern day mesh systems (ie. Netgear Powerline) for over 10 years.  In my experience, the mesh systems work in some instances and do not work in others.   If you are in a WiFi challenged situation, it may be worth it to buy a mesh system from a vendor with a good return policy (like Amazon) to try out.   If they don’t work out, you can always go back to your old router system.

Also, keep in mind the cost.  While a good single router is going to cost you approximately $200, a mesh system will cost you $300 to $400 for the Eero or Orbi.   The Xfinity XFI pods are $119 for 3 pods and $199 for 6 pods, depending on the size of the house. You need to be renting a “modern” modem from them (approx $15 per month) to use these specific pods. 

Be flexible.  Be willing to try out a couple of solutions to find what works best for you.

Best Stuff Out There

I haven’t shared one of these in a while — but I wanted to let you know what I think are the best devices out there.   I am thinking of my typical client — not a video gamer or a professional video editor.  I think these would work well for most of you out there. 

-Desktop Computer 

* 1st choice – Mac Mini — Apple FINALLY revised the Mac Mini last year after not refreshing the Mac Mini since late 2014.  It’s full of ports to plug things into in the back and comes with the FAST hard drive by default (unlike the iMac).  You do need to provide your own keyboard, mouse, and monitor, but these won’t cost a fortune.  A $100 to $150 monitor on Amazon will be just fine, as will a 3rd party Apple compatible keyboard. 

* Close 2nd – Dell Optiplex 5000 or 7000 series, Lenovo Think Centre desktops — when custom ordered and appropriately equipped — these systems are rock solid and will stand the test of time

-Laptop Computer

* Lenovo Thinkpad T series or X1 Carbon (current models) – These laptops have the best typing experience imaginable.  They are business class systems and you get to deal with Lenovo’s US based support

* Close 2nd – Dell Latitude 5000 or 7000 series — These business class systems will not disappoint.  They are plain looking but packed with power and durability.  You may even be able to snag a super price from the Dell Outlet. 

* Close 3rd – Lenovo Thinkpad L or E series (current models) – They offer the same keyboards as their more expensive siblings, but they are slightly heavier and are a little bit lower grade in terms of the materials.  For a decent laptop under $1000, I highly recommend them. 

(Leaving Apple out was not an oversight on my part!)

-Smartphone

* Premium –  iPhone XR — I think there is no comparison for a premium smartphone.   Most of my clients do not need the advanced features of the XS or XS Max.  It is Apple’s best selling smartphone.

* Budget – Google Pixel 3a – At under $400 – You can’t go wrong with this model.  It is probably better than the significantly more expensive Pixel 3. 

-Tablet

– iPad (2018) or iPad Air (2019) — No explanation needed.   There are no significant  Android tablets to speak of.  iPad Pro is only necessary if you really plan to use it as your primary computer. 


Official Announcement: Verizon Delays Shutdown of CDMA Calling Network

https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/knowledge-base-218813/

This is an update to the announcement I have shared with you before.  Verizon has been relying on an older calling network called CDMA for at least 20 years.  About 5 years ago, they sought to supplement this with a more advanced calling network known as LTE.   If you look at the top of your smartphones, you often see the letters “LTE” when you are not on your home based WIFI.  Verizon first announced sometime in 2017 that they were shutting down the CDMA network at the end of 2019.   I first started making you aware of this earlier this year.  Notable phones like the iPhone 5s and older do not support LTE calling, likewise with older flip phones.  As of a few months ago, Verizon stopped activating phones that do not support the newer technology.  I helped several of you upgrade to newer phones on the Verizon network (be it with Verizon, Xfinity Mobile, or even Great Call / Jitterbug).  I don’t regret that for one minute because you are all set for the future.  In light of the fact that they have many customers with older phones, especially businesses, Verizon has delayed the shutdown of the old network by 1 year — to the end of 2020.  You still cannot activate a new CDMA calling only device should your device die.  It is definitely time to upgrade if you are on an older device.  You just have a bit longer to do it.  LTE calling capable iPhones, Android phones, and yes — flip phones, are widely available. 

How Old Should I Go?

Verizon PSA

I just wanted to make this announcement one more time because it came up in the past week.  Verizon is shutting down their legacy CDMA calling network on 1/1/2020.  If you are on the Verizon network (including 3rd party providers) and have an iPhone 5s or older or an old flip phone or an older Android phone — you need to upgrade.   Please ask for help if needed.    This announcement does not affect ATT or T-Mobile customers

How Old Should I Go?

I had conversations with several clients last week about getting new iPhones or smartphones in general.  I get asked, which iPhone should I get?  Firstly you have to remember that Apple is really not competing on price.  They will claim that their devices are just better and offer a premium user experience.  If you buy an iPhone, you are buying a computer for your pocket and a device that is priced like a computer.  I knew that some of the major carriers were still selling the iPhone 6s, possibly for a price in the $200s or maybe through some hocus pocus for “FREE”.  It came to my attention that there may even be some iPhone 6 models for sale as new.  WOW.  I think its a shame that they are doing this.  Here is the thing, even if an iPhone 6s was produced last year or this year, it is a 2015 era phone.   It features 4 year old technology.   I know what you might say — well, I don’t need all of the newest features so this will probably work great for me.   It might!   However, remember that Apple does not support iPhones with feature and security updates after about 5 years.   Starting this fall, the iPhone 6 will no longer receive the new version of iOS.  The iPhone 6s will still receive the new software.  Next year, it may not.  So if you buy an iPhone 6s now, you may only be buying an iPhone for 1 year. 

If you really want an iPhone — the oldest I would go at this point is an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus.   That was released in September 2017.  It is also the last iPhone that supports the traditional design with the Home Button.  All newer iPhones have no home button, you simply swipe on the screen to mimic the home button.  Most clients learn this in about 1 day or so.  No big deal.  So if you buy an iPhone 8 now, you are likely buying an iPhone that will be good for 3 years provided you don’t break it or it doesn’t slow down to a point where you can’t use it enjoyably anymore.  In general, I think an iPhone XR would be best (unless you really want the camera superiority of the XS or XS Max and want to pay for it), but an 8 will be just fine.  Keep in mind, new models will be coming out in September (based on Apple’s past track record). 

There are many great less expensive phones too.  I think the new Google Pixel 3a is the best phone you can buy for under $400.  https://store.google.com/product/pixel_3a  It works on all the major carriers and can also be used on Google’s FI cellular service which starts at $20 per month. 

The Moto G7 Power from Motorola is $250 and is also a very powerful phone for the price.  If battery life is your thing, this phone is like the Energizer bunny. 

The carriers sell several inexpensive Android smartphones between $100 and $200.   Some of these phones are OK, while others are not great.  It depends on your needs and what you want to do.   If its just calling, texting, a little e-mailing, and Google searching — a less expensive Android phone will probably work out just fine.   Keep in mind, these Android phones are usually 2 to 3 year phones. 

** There is one asterisk I want to put on this conversation**  I don’t know if they have changed their policy in the last month or 2, but to the best of my knowledge, ATT has been very nasty about not allowing clients to use all the features of their phones IF THEY DON’T PURCHASE THE PHONE DIRECTLY FROM THEM.   iPhones will be fine.  But if you buy an Android phone directly from the company that made it or from a 3rd party, they may not be willing to activate LTE calling or WiFi calling.   I think that’s just plain wrong.  Verizon and T-Mobile customers have less of these issues.      A phone is a phone, a network is a network.   With that said, I do not have major problems with ATT as a network.   Their service is quite adequate across the country. 

Review of Apple’s Big Event | Time for New Phones and Tablets?

This event has already been reported in the mainstream media, usually in snippets and soundbites. Clients have already asked me to clarify the confusion. I wanted to break their “state of the state” address into a very specific focus for you — 1) What it means for your Macs, 2) What it means for your iPhones / iPads, and 3) What it means for iTunes. Feel free to print this out or save this e-mail or share with your Mac / iOS using friends. This info will still be valid in the fall and ongoing.

Apple held their WWDC keynote address on Monday. Aside from a new Mac Pro desktop (which is intended for designers, people in video production, and engineers — users outside my typical client demographic), this event was all about software. Like clockwork, Apple is coming out with a brand new version of iOS and macOS. These are the BIG annual upgrades that I often tell you about. They will be available in the late summer / early fall. These will be known as iOS 13 and macOS 10.15. Apple is essentially “forking off” the software for the iPad and calling it iPadOS. This will be coming out in the fall for existing, compatible iPads as well. As I told one client today, ALL OF THE NEW SOFTWARE WILL BE FREE. These new editions of the respective operating systems offer guidance as to which Macs and iOS devices will no longer be supported.

For the Macs that you need to know about — macOS 10.15 will support
Mac Book Pro – 2012 and later
Mac Book Air – 2012 and later
iMac – 2012 and later
Mac Mini – 2012 and later
*Usually my rule of thumb is, when it’s the first version of the macOS that does not support your Mac — you have a little time.  Once its the next full year and it’s that second version of the mac OS that doesn’t support your system — you really need to get a new Mac.  (For example, if you have a 2011 Mac Book Pro (and some of you do), macOS 10.14 (2018 version) was the first one your Mac did not support.  If this Mac is still in operation, you should be thinking about a new Mac once the new software comes out in the fall. Take a deep breath, you don’t have to make a purchase exactly on that date.)  Of course, this only applies if you are going to stay with a Mac.  Alternatively, you can upgrade to a new computer whenever you want.  If your Mac is getting slow or if it fails, you may not be waiting until the end of its software life cycle.
 
As for the iPhones and iPads 
iOS 13 / iPad OS will support
iPhone SE and later (the 2015 iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are not included).  iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are OK.
iPad Mini 4 and later
iPad Air 2 (2014 model) and later
*With the iPhones and iPads, you can see they are not supported as long as the Macs.  This is just my personal opinion, but I think that when these device are no longer supported it’s time to get an new device.   So, you can see essentially, that the iPhones and iPads are 4-5 year devices (from initial release).  They may break; you may be unhappy with the performance, so in that case you can upgrade on more frequent intervals if needed.   From this compatibility / obsolescence schedule, I hope you can see that there is no point in buying a 2 or 3 year old iPhone.  That’s why the carrier or Apple are offering them for next to nothing.   I think it’s a sin that Verizon stores were recently offering the 2015 iPhone 6s for “0 dollars”. They are selling paperweights!   I know many of you have iPhone 6 or 6s models or even the original iPad Air.  It’s time to start thinking about upgrading.   And, you can certainly wait until one of the new models comes out in the fall.

iTunes is Going Away – Sort of 
One of the other big announcements was that Apple is replacing iTunes in macOS 10.15 with 3 apps — Music, Podcasts, Apple TV.   Most of the music synchronization, purchasing, organization, and iOS device management will take place in the Music app on the Mac.  Windows users — do not fear.   iTunes will still be available and remain your destination for all of these tasks on the Windows platform for the foreseeable future.