Category: Cellular

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. 

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. 

Switching Service Providers

A Word on Updates
Last week Apple put out minor but significant updates for the iPhone and iPad (iOS version 12.3) and the Mac.   You can go ahead and do these updates if they were not automatically installed.   Reading the bullet points that Apple provides does not do the updates justice.  These notes may make you think the updates are not relevant. Not true.  There are always security fixes that they don’t advertise (because Apple devices don’t have security problems, right? LOL).  As far as the iPhone goes, there was a major feature relevant to my cell phone carrier that was disabled the day the update came out.   When I finally installed the update 36 hours later, the feature was restored instantly.  iOS updates should be installed promptly.
WiFi Calling
This feature — available on all late model iPhones and most newer Android phones — has been a lifesaver for several clients.  The feature does not cost you anything and is offered by all major providers such as Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T.  If your cellular signal is weak at home or at a particular location, you can route all calls over your WiFi network.   This can make your phone very capable.   Avoid dropped calls and the need to change providers.
And that brings us to this week’s feature.
 
Switching Service Providers
This write up is not a sales pitch.  I am not asking you to switch with me.  I want to provide an honest review of switching to T-Mobile from Verizon Wireless.  The switch happened during the first week of March.  I had been part of the “Big Red” (Verizon) family, with limited interruptions, going back to 1999 when I got my first cell phone.  Back then they were known as Bell Atlantic Mobile.  I always trusted that Verizon had the best network in more places across the country.  I still believe that statement to be true in terms of total coverage, with AT&T being a close second.  However, I did my research.  I took in a lot of data points about how T-Mobile coverage improved since 2013, when their merger with ATT failed and they were given billions of $$ in compensation.   Those funds were used to build a better network and played into T-Mobile marketing themselves as “the Un-Carrier.”  My wife and I did not switch our lines because we would have significantly more on regular monthly pricing.   With that said, our service cost is $120 a month and no additional taxes versus $170 a month for a comparably adequate Verizon plan that does not include taxes.  The main reasons for switching were
-The potential for a less expensive international plan:  My wife was about to embark on a 21 day international trip that would have required a $210 charge due to 21 days of Travel Passes (at $10 / day).  T-Mobile offers free international on their ONE unlimited plans.
-The promise that we could continue to use our Verizon smart phones and that T-Mobile would pay off the balances on our device payment plans with Verizon.  This promotion was known as “Get out of the Red” and was only available to Verizon switchers.
I am pleased to say that T-Mobile came through with their promises.  We submitted our final Verizon bill at the time of sign up and although it took me a few extra days to submit the installment contract on my phone specifically, T-Mobile provided us with 2 prepaid Mastercards within 15 days to pay off our $300 +  balances with Verizon.  Someone may wonder why they would even do this in the first place.   T-Mobile recognizes there is an acquisition cost for new customers.  They make this very public and use it to benefit new recruits.    Next, I want to say that T-Mobile has some of the best customer service I have ever received from a company in the realm of technology services.   While their phone based support has been fine, I have received outstanding service when I have contacted them numerous times via private messages on Twitter and Facebook.   Using those 2 platforms puts you in touch with their TForce team.  They really care.
Drawbacks?
T-Mobile offers free international service in many countries with their ONE plans @ a speed of 128 kbps.  To give you an idea of what that speed means, the dial up internet connection you used 20 years ago was 56 kbps. It is adequate for messaging apps and e-mails only.   Paying $15 more a month for a T-Mobile ONE Plus plan will gets you 256 kbps international speeds.  Many of you could probably get by with that.  However, my wife likes to do data based voice and video calls on What’s App when she travels as well as play A LOT of You Tube.  Those speeds were not going to cut it.  Fortunately, T-Mobile offers two more options for those who need the ultimate in high speed international data.  For $50 a month, they give you 15 GB of 4G LTE data.  This is comparable with the best speeds offered here in the U.S.  On day 3 of her trip, I added the plan to the account.  It worked.  At $50 vs $210 with Verizon, I guess you can say that it was still a victory.    Back home — on state roads in rural parts of CT, I was surprised that T-Mobile had good service.  However, I found some places off the beaten path with no service.  I like to listen to podcasts and often download new episodes when I am out walking or getting into the car away from home.  In the places I frequent, I have noticed those downloads to take longer than when I was with Verizon.   Furthermore, while T-Mobile coverage inside buildings is improving and will improve even more in the near future when local TV stations change frequencies — I have noticed some in building data service to be lacking.   These minor issues did not usually affect basic Google searching or calling.
My bottom line conclusions are –  great customer service, promises kept, better prices, big improvement in recent years, some rural coverage gaps, slower downloads on cellular data, and somewhat worse penetration inside buildings in certain areas.  
Teacher’s Letter Grade:  B+

Not As Good As They Used To Be

A lot of things right now might not be as good as they used to be — perhaps it’s taxes due, the cost of a trip to the Red Sox game, or the tolls going over the Bronx Whitestone Bridge.   This sad tale also extends to the technology services and products we use.

The starting price of an iPhone is now $749.  It used to be $649 not that long ago.   The starting price of the Mac Book Air is $1199, but used to be $999 for the 2017 model.   Verizon and ATT are charging more for cell phone service, but they are giving you “unlimited,” right? Are prices going up because there are fewer sales or is the technology incorporated simply better, justifying an increase in cost?  It may be a little of both.

Most of my clients are Comcast / Xfinity customers.  One thing is for sure — the deals they are offering are not as good as they used to be.  They are feeling the crunch by having more and more of us cancel services and go with Internet only.  However they want to keep ARPU (average revenue per user) the same.   Therefore, the price of Internet only has increased (as a standard price — new customer offers are still low) and the cable company is clinging for dear life for those who have 2 or 3 services.  Once the $10 broadcast TV fee (local channels) and $8 sports channel fee (for those of you who have them) are tacked on — it becomes a losing battle.   The phone company can be good in certain areas where they have fiber or VDSL internet, but you can be certain that they aren’t eager to maintain the old copper lines anymore.  Watch out!  Some experiences I have had with Frontier, on behalf of clients lately, have been “teeth pulling” ordeals.   Overseas “customer service”?  I don’t even want to get started with that today.

Another thing that won’t be as good as it used to be is Uconn Women’s Basketball.   A new deal between their conference, the AAC, and ESPN was signed recently.  As of the start of the 2020 season, you will not be able to watch the games on the SNY channel anymore.  And if you have Frontier TV, you wont even be able to watch the Mets or Uconn on SNY effective right now (4/16, per Hartford Courant).  Frontier said they don’t want to carry the channel anymore.  Content is too expensive. I hope it gets resolved.  Starting with the 2020 season, many of the Uconn women’s games will be on the ESPN + app.  It’s a reasonable $5 per month, but you will need some help to set it up.  I am ready when you are ready.  You will be able to watch the games on a computer or iPad, but the best way to watch them will be via a streaming box hooked up to your TV (Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, or Apple TV).   I tend to prefer the Roku because it’s cheap.  Once you get get the hang of it, it will be easy to switch between your streaming box and regular TV.  However, you will have to learn something new.

And I know something from working with a lot of individuals in the 65+ age bracket — seniors don’t always like change.  

It’s not as good as it used to be.

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.