Category: Buying Advice

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. 

New iPads and Macs – The Product Matrix

*For expert technology consultations in the Hartford, CT area — specializing in age 55+ (residential consumers, their businesses, and non-profits) – contact VIP Computer Care today 860-656-6439.  Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, and Android.  We transform lives through technology!  Prepare to be excited and encouraged.*
New Stuff From Apple
Apple launched a silent refresh of some major products this week.  There was no big event, no streaming video broadcast.  It really makes me wonder what they will reveal at their March 25th event.  Hmm. TV Service?  Well on to the sure things —
For the first time since the fall of 2015, Apple has updated the iPad Mini and they want it to be known as just the iPad Mini, but some are calling it the iPad Mini 5.  This is the perfect iPad for those of you who want to use it as more of a reader, to check emails, maybe do some surfing and messaging or who just otherwise think that the 9.7 inch iPad is too large.  In a bit of a surprise, Apple is keeping the price the same at $399 for the 7.9 inch device, while the regular 9.7 inch iPad is still $329.  Very interesting, but I think it will be well received.
Apple also brought back a name from the past — and released an updated iPad Air (aka. iPad Air 3).  The iPad Air name has not been used on a new product since the iPad Air 2 came out in the fall of 2014.  At that time, it was seen as Apple’s standard 9.7 inch iPad.  This time around, the 2019 iPad Air is positioned as a mid-tier iPad and starts at $499.  It sports a 10.5 inch screen.  It has a more powerful processor than the regular $329 iPad and also can be used with the Smart Keyboard.  Old name, new parts, and the previous $499 price.  Got that on your scorecard?
iPad Product Matrix
With these new iPads, it’s really important to have the cheat sheet for this current family of iPads.  Here is how I keep them straight:
* iPad – 9.7 inch – starts at $329
* iPad Mini – 7.9 inch – starts at $399
* iPad Air – 10.5 inch – starts at $499
* iPad Pro – 11 inch and 12.9 inch – starts at $799
My thoughts — I think the iPad progresses from being more of a tablet to a computer as you go up in the various price levels.  I have clients that are using their iPads as their primary computers.  As long as you can live within their limitations, they can be a fine option, but for many will still be a secondary computing device.  iPads are simpler than a Windows or Mac computer.  They are safer.  On the models that allow for the Smart Keyboard, they are more laptop like than ever.  I memorably stated a little over a year ago that an iPad Pro with a keyboard is the “best Mac” offered.   I said this as we were just coming off of horrific 2016-17 Mac Books.  Apple redeemed themselves with strong 2018 Mac Book Pro and Mac Book Air offerings.  However, it’s clear that they are offering us a competing computer universe called the iPad.   If it’s calling you, make the most of it. I would like to help.
New Macs
Apple also put out a refresh of their beloved iMac desktops.   We hadn’t seen new models since 2017.  The 2019 all-in-ones certainly do not reinvent the wheel but offer the current generation of Intel processors.  I will always tell it to you as I see it with technology.  The iMacs are the only Macs that are still sold with traditional spinning hard drives as the base option.  These are hard drives are QUITE SLOW.  I refuse to let you get stuck with them.  If you are an iPhone or iPad user and are accustomed to how responsive they are,  you need an iMac with at least the Fusion hard drive or ideally, the SSD hard drive.    So here is the rundown:
*The entry level  21.5 inch, $1099 iMac is not the one you want because it has the bad screen, the slow hard drive, and the 2017 processors.
*The next level of the 21.5 inch iMac comes with the gorgeous 4K screen and new processors (check!) but comes with the criminally slow hard drive @ $1299.
How to overcome this?
-Do a custom order from Apple with the fusion 1 TB hard drive ($100) or the 256 GB ($200) SSD drive.  Among these choices are where you should focus your vision.  Stay away from store bought iMacs!
-Of course, Apple still sells a VERY LARGE 27 inch iMac, fully updated as well, but I think the sweet spot lies in that mid-level 21.5 inch model with the upgraded hard drive — for my typical client.

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. 

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.