Category: Buying Advice

The Ethics of Cell Phone Buying

New Year – New You

What would you like to improve in your technology picture this year?  How can I help you get more out of your devices and services?  What would you like to learn? Some areas that clients have mentioned to me already include:

-Using a password manager (finally)

-Breaking free of cable TV

-Learning how to use streaming video services (ie. Netflix + Amazon Prime)

-Upgrading the 4 or 5 year old iPhone / iPad to a newer model

-Upgrading to a new Mac now that Apple has released new consumer level models for the first time in years

Please let me know how I can partner with you on this journey.  I am ready and willing to be deployed. 

Cord Cutting Intro – Wrap Up

We had some substantial discussions about cord cutting over the past two weeks as a result of my Parts 1 and 2 e-mails on this topic.  Don’t hesitate to ask me about your situation.  I think the cord cutting movement will experience major growth in 2019.  One of our local talk radio shows, which usually has a political focus, devoted 3 hours to the idea of breaking free from these $200+ bills last week.   The bottom line is, I think it is possible to get down to an Internet + cord cutting TV service combination for about $110 a month (approx $70 + $40).  As for home phone — you may choose to go without, you can move it to a service like Magic Jack (as I have done $40 / year), or even move that number to the phone company.   And just remember, if you are not ready to be a cord cutter yet — you can always be a streamer.  Trying to drive a hard bargain and cutting features to save money on your existing cable package is another option.  Contact me for a cord cutting assessment. 

And on to this week’s feature —

The Ethics of Cell Phone Buying

You can buy your new smart phone from the Apple Store.  You could go direct through Android device manufacturers like One Plus, Google, or Motorola.  Buying an unlocked phone on Amazon may be an option too.  Best Buy sells a handful of unlocked phones and also ones connected with carriers like Verizon and ATT.  However, a significant percentage of customers (my clients included) go to one of their carrier’s stores.  If you might want to change your plan or take advantage of carrier specific promotions, shopping at an ATT Store, Verizon store, or T Mobile store may be the way to go.  I’m not telling you that you should or shouldn’t.  One thing I can say in their favor is that the salesperson jobs there are career positions.  These are not traditional retail (ie. Apple) or big box store jobs that pay at a level where the worker needs to work 2 or 3 jobs to possibly survive in the community where the store is located.  The sales professionals in carrier stores are commissioned.   You may have never known this, but if you purchase your phone there the salesperson will not make much of a commission unless you buy a few accessories with your phone.  It seems weird to me, because the acquisition of a customer who will pay bills month after month has to have value to the company.  However, this is the way compensation works.  Very often, we do purchase accessories with our new phones.   A case, car charger, and screen protector can be very helpful add-ons.    On the other hand, you may be like me.   You might be the type to buy your phone accessories from Amazon that they don’t have in carrier stores.  That’s ok too.  All I am saying is that this is food for thought.  If you shop for phones in your carrier’s store, it is a good idea to consider buying your accessories there.  You won’t have to wait for them either. 

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Christmas Eve 2018 – $1000 Present For You

Still Falling for Tech Support Scams

I think I do an exceptional job at educating my clients about consumer issues as they relate to technology.  It still blows my mind that some of my clients continue to fall for “tech support scams.”   Some of these scams may be outright fraud — money for the taking with no intention of services ever being provided or the intentional infection of the computer and subsequent (hallelujah) we’ve fixed your computer ma’am.   Others may employ unethical business practices, actually coming to you through a pop-up ad or a phone call with the intention of providing tech support services.  They will typically imply that you have a corrupted computer and they can fix it.   You may be asked to pay a one time charge of $300 for the incident or be offered a “deal” of $800 or more for “lifetime” support.   I am calling scam on both types of schemes.  They could ask to get paid by credit card, but their favorite method is the CHECKING ACCOUNT NUMBER.  Do you know that anyone with even limited technology / payment processing skills can run an ACH on you as long as they have your routing number and checking account number found at the bottom of your check.  This is really scary.   A recent customer was told by a scammer to put their filled out check on the scanner and let them remotely scan it for payment purposes.  Before I even helped her, I had her go to her bank and close the account.  In the future, this is how I will handle it.  We can always take care of the computer later, you must take care of your identity first.   In this most recent example in my consultancy, the tech support scam incident was likely triggered by a malicious pop up ad telling them that their computer was out of date and in trouble.

If you really want to block ads from even getting a breath of internet on your computer – let me know.  Most of you have browser based ad blockers.  I am not talking about that.  I have something better in mind, on a per computer basis, that prevents the ad servers from seeing the light of day.   


Microsoft or Apple or Google are not going to mysteriously pop up on your computer with a phone number (or call you) telling you that you have a problem and that you need support. 

^^^ Please copy this sentence  to your memory. Read it several times.  Then, copy it and paste it into Word or your word processing program.  Make the print really big!  Print it out.  Tape it to your wall or your desk.   This is a $1000 tip offered completely FREE!  Merry Christmas!

A Note on Saving on Services

Numerous clients have contacted me since last week’s update about saving money on home telecommunications services.  With some I have been able to help save on services  – in a big league way – and in one case I was not.  I don’t think I oversold this idea.  If you shoot me a private e-mail, I would be glad to let you look over my Comcast bill and see that I pay $112.xx indeed for TV + a very fast internet package, with three TV’s and owning my own Internet equipment.   I have been asked about saving money on the cable modem, which runs about $11 / mo.   A good one — Arris or Netgear brand — will cost you $100 and easily last 3 years, short of “Acts of God”, etc.  The math works in your favor.  However, if you have phone service from Comcast, you will have to pay about the same $11 a month for a combined modem / router device.  These cost more than a standalone modem in the store — and may not be worth it to buy outright.  The reason why I have always advocated for a separate cable modem (rented or not) and router (owned by you) – is because it is SUPERIOR ON TECHNICAL MERITS.  It’s not a matter of cost.  And since I have been asked this recently — well Mr. Computer — do you use a separate cable modem and router? Yes I do.  I have a Netgear modem and a Synology router. 

With that out of the way, there are basically three ways that you are going to save in the BATTLE FOR COST CUTTING —  1) hoping you qualify for a package discount on like services because its been a while (and by that I mean like a year or two) since you qualified for such a promotion, 2)  MAKING SACRIFICES, or 3) Cutting down to Internet only and then subscribing to a service like Hulu Live TV at $40 which will give you most of the channels you want.  If you insist on the “24 hour cattle ranching channel” (or pick your niche channel) that is the highest cable tier, I don’t know how successful you will be at cost savings.  I could easily be paying $200+ a month.  I got it to where it is, consistently, by making sacrifices.   If you want to save, please let me know your circumstances.   We should look at the cell phone bill also!

Saving on Services

Most “Mac-like” Windows Laptops

I had this conversation with a client lately.  We were trying to come up with Windows based alternatives to the Mac Book Air.  While there may be others worth of mention, here is my list, in no particular order.  

Microsoft Surface 2 Laptop (currently available at a bargain holiday price)

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon

Dell XPS 13

And if you want an alternative to the $2700 15 inch Mac Book Pro,  check out the Dell XPS 15  ($1500-ish models are worthy alternatives).

Saving on Services

For a couple of years, I’ve told you that it is possible to save big on your home communications package (ie. with the cable company) if you know how to do it.  If you just have one service with them or signed a new agreement 2 months ago — there is not much hope I can offer you at the moment.  However, I have been at peace with my cable company (Comcast) since 2014 by making some sacrifices and making 2 year agreements.   The package I have with Comcast is called Internet Pro Plus.  I get a very fast Internet package, digital economy TV (which includes all local channels, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, CNBC, Bloomberg, A+E, USA, History channel, Food Network, and others), plus HBO.   My TV package does not include regional sports networks, ESPN or Fox Sports.  Home phone does not matter in my household, although we do pay for that with a separate provider at $40 per year (WOW!!!).   I do not pay a modem rental fee with Comcast.  I have my own modem and router.  With 3 TV’s, I pay a total, including taxes of $112.xx per month.   If only 1 or 2 TV’s were involved, the price would be less.   If your bill makes smoke come out of your ears, there may be something you can do about it.

I have a real client example of serious savings.   I recently met with a client who was receiving TV, phone, and Internet from Cox (generally a fine company in my opinion).  However, their bill almost made me fall over.  It was about $323 a month.  Unbelievable!! That’s a car payment.   While my best success has always been negotiating with Comcast, I suggest we give it a try.   I was able to get them savings of $36 per month.   That comes out to about $432 per year.   They were thrilled. 

If you think I may be able to help you in this area, let me know about your current package. 

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.  

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.

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.

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.