Category: Cellular

Beware of Unlimited Cell Phone Plans

If I were to think of my customers’ cellular plans as a whole, I would say most are with Verizon or AT&T.  Coming in 3rd place would be Consumer Cellular and 4th would probably be one of the Tracfone brands.   Verizon and AT&T are increasingly trying to push their customers into Unlimited plans.  I want you to be careful about what you are getting sold.  Verizon and ATT offer multiple levels of Unlimited plans.   Sorry to make this into a comedy sketch — but isn’t Unlimited – Unlimited? What’s going on here? Why do you need 4 plans called Unlimited, Verizon?  Here is the problem, Verizon’s LTE network is very congested in many parts of the country.  It’s getting better, but still jammed.  The same could be said for ATT, but I think it’s not as bad.  To compensate for this, Verizon and ATT have set “deprioritization limits” for their unlimited plans when network congestion occurs.  So you have Unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and unlimited use of data.  However, during those times of congestion — you will not be able to access data with the same priority / speed as other prioritized customers.   This means when you really need to search something on Google or send an important e-mail out or other activity that uses data, you may struggle to surf the Internet.  (Keep in mind no part of this discussion applies to use on your home WiFi.) The first level Unlimited plans with Verizon and ATT actually have a 0 deprioritization limit.  This means you are subject to deprioritization at ANY TIME.   You may never be affected by this, but I just want you to know the facts.  If you are a heavy data user and like to watch video on cellular data – I would suggest at least the 2nd tier Unlimited plans.  On the ATT Unlimited Extra plan, the first 50 GB of data is prioritized.  On Verizon’s Play More Unlimited the first 25 GB of data is prioritized.  Better unlimited plans exist with each carrier.  If I needed Unlimited I would start with those plans.  By comparison, T-Mobile’s base level Magenta unlimited plan (including the age 55 and over 2 for $70 plan discount option) comes with a 50 GB deprioritization limit.

The good thing is, many of my clients don’t use that much data.  You are on “metered” data plans giving you 2 GB or 4 GB, etc. of data per month.  If this is you; you are in the fast lane.  These monthly billed, metered data plans from ATT and Verizon are prioritized.  You will have priority over the fake-o Unlimited, always deprioritized plans.

Apple Reverses Course On Laptops

Comcast E-Mail Scare That Wasn’t

I had a little difficulty communicating with some clients on their Comcast e-mail accounts last week.  Messages were vanishing into thin air and getting routed into Junk folders.  Anyway – I took a little survey on Thursday and send out a Test E-Mail.   Just about everyone wrote back and I know that the messages are flowing freely.  Some of you using a client like Apple Mail or Outlook to fetch mail may have some spam filters that need to be tuned up.  Also please make sure my e-mail address is in your address book.  If ever you are expecting a reply from me — perhaps an appointment confirmation —  and you don’t hear from me — please don’t hesitate to reach out to me by call or text. 

Cellular Plans

I am not a master at drilling and running wires through walls or putting a satellite dish on the roof, but one thing I do know really well is the marketplace of cellular plans available.  If you think it’s just a choice of Verizon, ATT, T-Mobile, and Sprint (the big four)– you are just scratching the surface.  There are dozens and dozens of directly owned prepaid brands and MVNOs.  What is an MVNO?  It stands for mobile virtual network operator.  These are companies that buy minutes, data, and texts in bulk from the aforementioned big four and then resell plans under their own brand.  Perhaps the best known one is Consumer Cellular.  You must have seen their very senior focused ads by now.  They use the ATT and T-Mobile networks.  Some of you are Tracfone customers.  They are another MVNO, which, depending on the phone you buy, could operate on any of the big four.  A few of you are Great Call / Jitterbug customers.  They operate on Verizon.   For the past 6 years, I have had my 91 year old grandma my on a different Verizon MVNO called Page Plus.  She has a simple 500 minute flip phone plan and pays $12 per month.   If you are financing a phone or use a lot of minutes or data, it may be best to stick with the big four.  However, if you own your phone outright and want to explore options — you know who to contact. Me!  The possibilities are almost endless in American cellular.

Apple Reverses Course on Laptops

And now for the big announcement:  Apple (partially) revised its Mac Book Pro lineup for the second time this year and has introduced a 16 inch laptop that completely replaces the 15 inch product line.   AND, the big and…… they have gone back to the 2015 style Mac Book Pro keyboard.   Hooray!  They finally did it.  Without a big apology, they have made their apology.   No longer must you worry about stuck keys and expensive failures.   Remember — on all 2016 to 19 Mac Book Pros and the 2018 – 19 Mac Book Airs, they have given a 4 year extended warranty to everyone on those keyboards.   The fix has arrived — well — we’re halfway home.  That 16 inch Mac Book Pro is $2399, for starters (same as the 15).  Most of my clients did not buy the 15 inch model in the past.  You have 13 inch Pros or Airs.  That new keyboard is coming to the 13 inch models.  Expect all Apple laptops to have the new keyboard anytime between now and mid-2020.  For some reason I think the beginning of Spring sounds about right, but I am open to surprises.   If you need a new MacBook now or by the end of the year, I’ll support you with whatever you need to get.  However, if you can wait — can you wait just a bit longer?  Apple has made things right.

Technology Nostalgia

Streaming Video Specialist

I just wanted to remind you or make you aware that I am your streaming video specialist.   You may be looking to looking to cut the cord — cancel traditional pay TV and use a live channel replacement service like You Tube TV or Hulu TV or piece together streaming services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Apple TV + or others in lieu of channels.  You may be looking just to supplement your traditional TV subscription with those streaming services.   I can help.    I can also set you up so you can watch all of your Comcast / Xfinity live channels on your computer, smartphone or tablet.   I can set you up with streaming players like the Apple TV, Roku player, Amazon Fire Stick, or the software baked into your Smart TV (which usually isn’t as good).   I always prefer one of the streaming players that gets added to the TV.  They can be as low as $50 or less.  Of course you will pay monthly for the streaming services you want to use (with the exception of plain You Tube or rentals).  Amazon Prime Video is included with your Prime membership.   I have helped clients open up new dimensions to their video viewing.   You know who to call. 

Remote Clients

I do support some out of state clients through “screen sharing” software that allows me to view and in some cases control (with permission of course) their computer.   I have also been receiving referrals to Connecticut clients outside the Hartford area. I am very appreciative. I do charge more for example on a job “east of the river” or “down by the shore” but I will still gladly help those clients. I will disclose rates to a client before beginning work so there are no surprises.   A basic statement of rates is found on my website — westhartfordtechsupport.com .  I also have a 1 page complete statement of billing policies, which can be provided to you at any time upon request. 


iOS 13 Frustrations Continued

You should all have iOS 13 (known as iPad OS 13 on the iPad) on your Apple mobile devices by now.  Last week an important update, 13.2, came out.  A client brought a concern to me — that saving pictures from a text message / iMessage has changed in iOS 13.   I looked into it and found that there may be just one method available for older iPhones.  Previously, you could press and hold on the picture and press SAVE or you could tap to “open” the photo and then press the share button (the square with the upward arrow).  While both methods still work for me (iPhone 11), on the client’s iPhone 8 only the press and hold method worked.  Please be aware of this.


iOS 13 Lessons

Given that there are these changes that seem a bit jarring in iOS 13, I want to offer the opportunity of having a few lessons with me in the new operating environment so that you can function at your full potential.  One thing I did with clients 2 years ago, when iOS 11 came out, was work through a “field guide” together.   The current version of the e-book we used is called “Take Control of iOS 13 and iPad OS 13”.   Even if you did not want to work through a few chapters with me to improve competency, I would highly recommend the $15 e-book.   https://www.takecontrolbooks.com/ios-13-ipados-13/

Technology Nostalgia

I was thinking about how far we have come with technology.  These days we are using pocket sized phones and tablets as the computers we spend the most time on.  Everything is so digital.  A few nights ago I felt like I was being forced to file an insurance claim online.  I just wanted to talk to a live person.  Finally, I was able to.   I began reflecting on how far I have evolved in the area of phone technology.  Going back to my earliest days with the computer, I would dial into the internet on the home phone line (tying it up so no other calls could get through).  Talk about a way to cut down on scam sales calls!   Later on as I was starting my first business, and about 2 years before my first cell phone, I had the need to make cheap long distance calls.  I subscribed to a quarterly billed phone called “Phone Tel” — not to be confused with other companies with the same name.  I think I was a customer until about the year 2000.  Working in healthcare, my father was a regular pager or “beeper” user.  I got one when I turned 18 but ultimately didn’t find it that useful.  AOL Instant Messenger or AIM and AOL e-Mail were my messaging tools of choice for several years.  My first cell phone was a Motorola Star TAC.  This was the phone to have 20 years ago.  If you don’t remember it — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorola_StarTAC

Dropped And Spooky Phone Calls

Travel Tips

After bringing and picking my wife up from the airport due to a weekend trip, I thought I would share a couple of tips with you.   If you are thinking of traveling from Bradley Airport (BDL) and don’t mind a quick, relaxing, and scenic trip to T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island, you should really check out fares from PVD.  My wife was able to save $300 on a round trip to the Ontario, California (ONT) airport.  PVD is only 1.5 hours from Hartford and seemed quicker.  As the old saying goes, your mileage may vary.  Another suggestion is to try alternate airports.  These landing spots may be less expensive, more convenient, or both.  The friends she was looking to meet were about 20 minutes east of ONT.   Getting there from LAX when arriving at about 1030 PM would have been a challenge for her.

Responsible Recommendations 

As many of you know, I made a BIG SWITCH to T-Mobile for cellular service with my wife back in March.  The initial reasons I joined was because of their cheaper / possibly free international service for a trip she was taking to southeast Asia and because of the reports I had read from a plethora of sources about how good the coverage had gotten in recent years.  5+ years ago T-Mobile was truly a 3rd rate carrier.  I’ve shared that the experience has been mostly good and the financial perspective got even better about 4 months in when we were able to sign up for the age 55+ plus plan (2 lines for $70 including taxes and fees, with unlimited everything).  This was half what we were paying with Verizon.  Given that I have so many clients that could benefit from a plan like this, I could have pumped them hard and made good money marketing TMO to you.  I did not jump on that opportunity because I wanted to give my experience more time.   More recently, I have noticed some shortcomings.  When helping a client far from downtown Glastonbury (near Portland actually), I had no service.  When taking the smooth, rural, Route 165 into Rhode Island I had no service for about 3 miles.  Additionally, last week I had about 3 dropped calls in the Hartford area.  It was a new development.  After extensive conversations with TForce (customer support), I found out that there are tower upgrades going on in the area and they should be completed by mid-November.  I did not have any more dropped calls outside of those 3 days, so I’m inclined to believe what I was told.   So here is where I stand with T-Mobile — as far as my client base is concerned:  If you want to save money with T-Mobile, you can go to a T-Mobile store or I can certainly help you.  However, there are potential limitations.  One reason to keep your Verizon or ATT service is the reliability of the towers.   Considering the country as a whole, Verizon and ATT have a much higher percentage of towers with fuel powered backup in the case of power outages and natural disasters than T-Mobile.  At times, you just want the call go through. While we are spared from a lot of the worst weather, you never know when a “2011 Snowpocalypse” will hit us again.

Spooky Phone Calls

Are you getting more scam phone calls?  I have two clients that may have been called by fake or moonlighting Comcast representatives the other day.  “Hi, I’m calling from the Cable Department.”   Good thing I was there.  We hung up.   I want to make sure you can recognize a scam call.  On Monday morning, I received a call on my business line saying that my Social Security Number is being suspended.  Hmmm, I feel so scared now.  I might be in big trouble. NOT!

The Perils Of Buying Used Smartphones

4K TV Is Coming

Most of the TV’s you have bought over the past 2 years have been 4K TV’s.  However, there hasn’t been much 4K live TV content.  Netflix and Amazon Prime offer 4K video as does You Tube.  I just saw the ad tonight — Comcast will be offering Notre Dame Football games this year on NBC in 4K.  To make this happen with Comcast / Xfinity — you need 2 key components:  1) a 4K TV and 2) a cable box that supports 4K. 

The Perils of Buying Used Smartphones

The following write up originally started as an e-mail to a client last week concerning a used smart phone issue we were dealing with.  I polished it up a bit and realized it was good to share with all of you.

Used smartphones, especially iPhones and high-end Android devices can be a nightmare unless you know who you are getting them from.  Take these 2 lessons to heart

1)  Ideally they should be UNLOCKED.   Locking is a nasty trick that carriers use on their phones to keep you on their service.  After the phone is paid off or a contract is fulfilled –they are not automatically unlocked.  A customer has to call up and ask for the unlock code and then go through some motions after the fact which are usually pretty easy.  People can buy unlocked phones directly from Apple and that does happen in some instances.  ** Verizon has always been the one exception with carrier financed phones, since about 2011 they have not locked their smartphones because they had to make  a deal with the FCC.  As of July 1 that policy changed with Verizon now locking smartphones for 60 days (to prevent theft they say).  They have no power to go back and retroactively lock existing phones.  Buying a carrier locked smartphone, with no ability to go back and contact the seller to get in unlocked, could mean that you are unable to use it with the carrier of your choice.  FYI, Apple says that most iPhone models purchased through their physical stores or apple.com (with the exception of some ATT models) are unlocked.   

2)  The second concept I want to introduce to you  is the idea of “financial locking” or blacklisting.  Most customers finance their iPhones and expensive smartphones these days.  On Craigslist, Offer Up, or other known sites for peer to peer sales — there will be many deals for “great phones” that seem way too good to be true.   Think of  an iPhone XS for $200.  It is a totally fake deal.  I have a good friend who got burned on the buying end of this a few years back.  Let’s say the $900 phone has a couple scuffs on the back but is otherwise very operable.   He sells it for $200.  The buyer thinks they are the luckiest dude on earth!!  The seller had insurance on the phone and puts in a claim for a STOLEN phone.  The insurance company has the authority to blacklist the phone with all carriers — basically worldwide.  The seller is shipped a new phone and the original is blacklisted — it is rendered in operable and cannot be activated.  Maybe just maybe it could be used on WiFi only.   Another version of the scam goes like this.   A young kid (18+ of course) buys a $1000 phone.   A maxed out iPhone 11 Pro Max with monthly payments is about $55 to $60 a month.  He decides — Oops I’m over my head can’t make the payments.  He does not go through the proper channel of having a buyer legally assume the contract on the phone.  He sells it for a steal of a price — $200.  The buyer is in heaven or so they think.  Wow.   2 months later when the seller’s cellular account gets cancelled for non payment — the phone gets blacklisted under the same process.  It is a paperweight.

Oh – the perils of buying used smartphones!

6 Months Into The Cellular Transition

Mac Security Woes

I didn’t want to bother all of my Windows clients with this update that I sent out late last week, but I thought you would be interested to know that all of the malware, browser hijacks, or whatever you want to call these intrusions I have dealt with this year have been on Macs (and in one case on a Chromebook).  None have been on Windows PC’s.  Here is a link to the blog post I wrote.  https://theacronym.com/2019/09/06/a-note-on-mac-security/

Doubling Down

You know you can get objective advice from me.   I got a good response to my “best computers” segment awhile back.   I think the best desktop for the kind of consumer that I serve is the 2018 Mac Mini, with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor (which need not cost more than $150), of your choosing.  The better Dell Optiplex and Lenovo Think Centre Desktops are close seconds.  The best laptops are the Thinkpad T490 and the Thinkpad X1 Carbon, with the Dell Latitude 7000 series being right up there too.  The Latitude 5000 series (which I am typing this on), Thinkpad L and E series are just a degree under that.   The 2016 – 2019 Mac Book laptops have not been up to Apple’s past standards even if failures are happening in 10% of cases or less.  The main problem is the keyboard.   I can type on it just fine.  I have grown warm toward the sound, but the concern is dust and debris getting underneath.   Apple has put out a warranty on these keyboards for 4 years including the 2019 models.  The Apple store will not tell you this.  I am being straight with you.  I am telling no one to junk their computers or switch, though I help  Windows to Mac and Mac to Windows switchers all the time.  Apple is expected to go back to the old style of keyboards next year (and possibly with a high end laptop model by the end of this year). 

Still Going Good With T-Mobile

My wife and I have now been with T-Mobile for 6+ months.  I have never had a major complaint.  I did take one trip into Litchfield County where I lost service for about 1.5 miles several months ago.  If I spent a lot of time in rural areas I may have more of a problem, but that is not representative of my travel patterns.  T-Mobile will be adding many band 71 (600 mhz) towers to the Hartford area which will help increase coverage, especially in buildings.  iPhone XR and later and the latest Androids support band 71.  Pricing was “a little better” than Verizon when I first reported to you on the transition but there were added benefits like higher data limits than the plan we had previously.  Earlier this summer, we scored a major coup.  Due to my wife being age 55+, we were able to change our plan to the Magenta Unlimited 55.  We got the same unlimited data at $70 per month, inclusive of taxes and fees, for 2 lines.  Wow!   The coverage from Verizon might be a little better, but it is not 2x the price better.  They are in our rear view mirror.  T-Mobile also offers Veterans’ plans, as do some of the other carriers.

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.