Category: Computers

Updates: Can’t Live With Em–Can’t Live Without Em

Do I need to do the updates? is a common question I get from clients.   Well, they are pretty hard to avoid in many instances.  Software updates to our devices bring us feature improvements (or new features), security and stability fixes.  Due to the fact that I deal primarily with an older client base, new features don’t tend to WOW “Bobby from Southington” that much.  However, one new feature that I think is pretty cool is that iOS 13 now offers a light mode and a dark mode. It can even automatically switch between the 2 at night which is very easy on my eyes.  The Mac and Windows operating systems had a dark mode previously.  Primarily, I think updates are important because they patch holes that attackers can use to penetrate your system.   I try to be consistent in the language I use with you.  Updates are the little fixes that come out all the time, for example 13.1.2 that just came out for iOS and iPad.  Upgrades are the major new versions of the operating system.  For Macs and iOS devices — these come out once a year.  Windows has been rolling out 2 new versions of Windows per year since 2017 — which is one version too many.  I usually put my Windows clients on a delay when possible.  In general, I like the idea of setting devices to update automatically.  Set it and forget it (no I did not pay for the trademark!).

Updates Can Wreak Havoc

Though Windows 10 has generally been very stable for my clients since it launched in July 2015, there have been more than half dozen new upgrades / new versions of Windows 10 released since then — all called Windows 10.  HOW CONFUSING RIGHT?  I think that a Windows 10 upgrade has only trashed a client’s computer three times and two of those times were with the same client. Sad, but true.  I think their PC was never really meant to be supported by the manufacturer for Windows 10 in the long haul.  I am not a commissioned salesperson, but that is why I always recommend letting me order a business class Windows computer for you.   My wife has been using a Dell Optiplex desktop — purchased in 2008 — with upgrades to hardware over the years — to this day.  It has gotten all the new versions of Windows 10 since 2015.  Minor updates can cause problems too.  On October 4th, Microsoft pushed out an update for Windows 10 that was supposed to improve Internet Explorer (who uses that anymore?) and printing functions.  Unfortunately, it blocked printing for a small but ticked off percentage of Windows users including one of my clients.   An update to the update was put out on October 7th to fix this.   Are you keeping score at home?  Good, because I’m not.  🙂

Be Careful About the New Version of Mac OS Released Yesterday

Mac OS 10.15 – code named Catalina – was released yesterday.  I often tell my Mac clients, with compatible Macs (2012 and newer in this case) to upgrade. It doesn’t have to be right away but within the first couple months is fine.  I also make myself available to clients to manage the upgrade for them and make a backup of the installer.  Things can go wrong and most feel that a 2 hour appointment for this is well worth it.   However,  for 10.15  I am pumping the brakes and telling you to do the same — IF — you have a lot of software on your computer dating back years.   Mac OS 10.15 does not support 32-bit Mac apps.  These are usually apps that are more than 5 years old that have not been updated recently.  Those apps may be very important to you.   If so, hold off on 10.15.   Microsoft Office 2016 will be fine.   All current Apple apps are fine.  However, your case may be the exception.   Reach out and ask for help if you think you may have an issue.   OS 10.15 will be great, but you may want to give yourself time to work out alternatives.

Be Careful Before Clicking

My advice for you this week is to be very careful about clicking links or attachments that come in an email or other form of electronic message.   If you are expected these items, that is one thing.   But if the attachments or links seem out of the blue — this is a red flag!  They can easily create a malware infection on your device.    In terms of links, one thing that you can often to depending on the email program or devices is point to the link or press and hold on it (iOS) to reveal the true websites.  You may be able to right click on the link (computer) and copy the link address.  Then you could paste the address in Word or another word processor so that you can see it in print before clicking on it.  Not a bad idea.   If the true address doesn’t match what you are looking for — steer clear.  

Additionally, decide very carefully whether you want to click on ads you see in your browser.   You shouldn’t really see that many of them because I have installed an ad blocker in the browser for nearly all of you.   Go to a well known technology news site — cnet.com .  Unfortunately, they are known for displaying a ton of ads.  If you see a lot of ads on their page, it means that you do not have an ad blocker installed.  Being properly protected against malicious ads should be something to add to your list for our next visit.

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. 

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.

Companies That Want Your Business

You might be surprised but I still have an handful of clients that rely on AOL as their primary email account.  “Hello 1999. I Miss you.”  Some of these clients actually PAY for their AOL accounts.  Yikes.   To the best of my recollection, back in 2006 or so AOL allowed you to “cancel billing” and just use it as a free webmail account, much like Yahoo Mail or Gmail.  That is truly the best way to go because they don’t care about you.  AOL doesn’t want a residential consumer’s paid account.   AOL is an advertising and information portal these days.  They own Huffington Post; they sell advertising services;  they would liked it if AOL.com is your homepage; and oh yeah by the way they provide e-mail as a free add-on.   Over the past 2 months, I encountered two clients that were still paying “full boat” to AOL @28.95, as if they still had a dial up connection.  I didn’t want to upset the apple cart too much, so I changed them to their $6.95 per month a month plan, which still allows phone support (and very poor phone support I might add).  Nevertheless, I helped save each of these clients $264 per year — liberating them from a company who could care less.

Do you want to know another company that really doesn’t want your business?  The electric company.  They don’t mind if you get a solar system.  They openly encourage and even facilitate green energy upgrades, which reduce your usage.  They really won’t even fuss that much if you choose “alternate electric suppliers” (which usually result in you getting ripped off).  Why?   The less energy you use, the less chance there is that their capacity has to be upgraded or new plants have to be built.  Even if rates might be on the incline, they certainly don’t mind if you use less and less kilowatt hours. 

I check out a lot of companies and products so that I can be on top of my game for you.  Want to know a company that really wants your business?  T-Mobile.  They have grown by leaps and bounds since they started their “Un-Carrier” philosophy several years ago.  They have also expanded their network significantly in the past 4 years.  No longer are they a “big city” cell phone company only.   Their price plan might not be the right move for everyone.  Also, if you live in a very rural area like northwestern Connecticut — they still may not be the best choice.  However, they are an option worth of consideration if you want to keep your # and are looking for a change.  T-Mobile will pay off your device payment plan with another carrier and if you switch from Verizon (with a late model iPhone for example) – they will pay off your phone and let you keep it as a T-Mobile customer.   T-Mobile also gives customers with 2 lines or more free Netflix, and to all customers — a better standard unlimited plan than Verizon, and free international service (no need to pay $10 / day with the big guys). 

Other companies that I know to really value your business are

Fastmail  or XYZ Mail— a paid e-mail providers that offer real customer support for consumers or businesses (and a great web mail interface by the way)

Backblaze — have files that you can’t afford to lose?  want a true backup (not cloud sync) service that isn’t subject to the quirks of iCloud or One Drive?  $5 a month, gets the job done.  They are always willing to answer questions.