Category: Consumers

Apple Card

*Disclaimer:  This is not an endorsement of the Apple Card or for anyone to take on revolving lines of credit.   With that said, Apple is getting into the credit card game.   There has been an Apple Rewards Visa for years (most recently offered through Barclay’s Bank), but with the new Apple Card, the world’s most beloved technology company is taking a much greater degree of control over the process.   Let’s start with some basic facts.   Credit is being granted to customers through Goldman Sachs.   Yes, you read that right.  They are not merely an institutional investment bank anymore.  Goldman has branched into consumer finance in recent years by offering high yield savings accounts and personal loans through its Marcus brand.  The Apple Card card is a Mastercard.  Apple designed the physical card, which, apparently has a very nice titanium feel to it.   Apple was very involved in the entire process.  In fact they are saying the Apple Card is “offered by us, not banks.”   Security is the highest priority.   There will be no printed number on the card, no expiration date, and no 3 digit code.  There will be no signature on the card.  You can still use it in stores via the chip readers.   On your iPhone, iPad or Mac, you will be able to use the card with any merchant that accepts Apple Pay.   So yes, the card will only be relevant for online shopping for those of you who have one or more of those devices.  Interest rates range from pretty good for those of you who have high credit scores, to very average for those with lower scores.   A check of your Trans Union credit report is required for approval (for those of you who may have a credit freeze in place), but reports have come out that credit scores as low as 620 are getting approved.   Never have I read this much “buzz” in my life about a new credit card on the market.  Customers will be able to accumulate rewards for purchases with Apple.   Let’s see how successful Apple is with this venture.  On one hand, I don’t think they want to encourage irresponsible debt, but they are also doing things with this instrument that other banks are not.  It’s a unique card. The application has been opened up to a limited audience at this time (via the Wallet app) with general availability coming soon.

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. 

Control of Technology in the Hands of Too Few?

I am concerned about this issue and I know many of you are too.   An increasing amount of space in both traditional and online media has been given to the great power that so few companies have.  There was a big NY Times article on the subject not long ago.   We are talking about it at work.  We bemoan the technological giants with friends.  I could write a ton on the matter at hand, but I want to keep it simple, give you something to nibble on, and invite your thoughts.

As great as Google Assistant is, this story gave me cause for concern.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/05/google-gmail-purchase-history-cant-be-deleted.html

When you delete an item, it should be gone.  However, Google still has access to it in this instance. 

So who I am I really talking about when I say the “technological giants” ?   Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter,  Apple and Microsoft. 

Consider Facebook’s power in social media and messaging.   Facebook.com, Facebook Messenger, What’s App, and Instagram!  Wow.   With the exception of traditional text messages, and Apple’s iMessage (blue messages on your iPhone) platform, that is such as large chunk of our digital experience.   Facebook owns all of it.

I like to put Apple and Microsoft in a different sub group within the powers that be.  They primarily sell stuff that we use.  Yes they engage in some data collection an analysis, but Facebook, Google, and Twitter feast off of user information.  (With the exception of some Google business services), you don’t really pay for anything from these three.  They are in the business of harvesting information for the purpose of selling ads.      Amazon is the most well known online retailer.  They also have a massive division that provides paid data management services to businesses.   Yet, they know everything about our shopping habits.  I’m sure they can share some data with manufacturers.  Their control of merchandise can make or break a new product or upstart company. 

Consider this hypothetical.  You really are a big advocate for this one diet.  And there are a couple of books that are like “the bible” for your program of eating.  However, this diet is controversial.  You don’t have any local bookstores you can go to.  Amazon is the place to buy the books for this program.  You often shop there to buy new copies for the support group you run.  Some food lobby starts putting pressure on Amazon to stop carrying these books.  A health association chimes in.  Amazon decides to stop carrying the books.  It becomes much harder to easily disseminate the required information. 

Ultimately, Amazon is a private bookstore. They can choose to carry the volumes they want.  The problem is — for some Amazon is the only choice.  They have put so many of our cherished local bookstores out of business. 

Just something to think about!   What are you going to do to combat THEIR power?  Use a VPN?   Use paid e-mail service?  What about searching on DuckDuckGo.com instead of Google? 

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+

Hacks and Non-Scams

HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY

I want to talk about hacks and non-scams this week, but first I want to clarify a point I made last week about Frontier. Several of you have contacted me on my commentary.

I was really speaking to Internet service only when I referred to the troubles I have had on behalf of customers with Frontier. In general, whether it’s Comcast, Cox, Charter, etc. – I think the customer will have a better technical Internet experience (faster / more reliable) than with the phone company, especially when you own your own router. Areas that ATT had upgraded to fiber optic, prior to the sale to Frontier, and the very limited fiber optic areas that Frontier has added — may be an exception. These neighborhoods make money for the phone company. They will pay attention to you. If Frontier has come through for you when issues came up, by all means stay with them. However, if you are on an older “copper phone line” based Internet plan and want to do streaming video and fiber optic is not available — cable may be the only way. Cable services are generally not cheaper (after the first year or first 2 years promo you may get), but in the case of Comcast you get many ways to consume your content including watching TV on iPad, computer, and smart phone. Comcast’s phone service is internet based (as is Frontier’s fiber optic, non copper, service). This means that you may not have service during a power outage. However, you can answer home phone calls and check voicemails from your smart phone with Comcast’s Xfinity Connect app.

Hacks
I want to acknowledge that some customers had their e-mail accounts hacked in recent weeks. The incidents were all unrelated. The outcomes can be devastating and quite embarrassing. E-mails get sent out on behalf of you, asking recipients for a favor. Of course, gift cards to specific stores are requested. Sadly, gift cards were purchased and in some cases the #’s were given out to the scammers. Passwords had to be changed. Recipients had to be contacted. One good thing that came out of this was that I learned Comcast has a way to retrieve recently deleted e-mails. I haven’t been too high on using an @comcast.net address in recent years, but if that is how you like to e-mail — by all means — keep doing it. One client was hacked and had all recent messages deleted. Through the Xfinity Connect web mail interface, clicking a special button provided the option to restore these e-mails. Hackers love to take your contacts and delete them. I like the idea of syncing all contacts with an iCloud or Gmail account. If your contacts REALLY matter to you, you should also make manual exports of your contacts on a periodic basis. I can’t say it enough, but please do not use the same password for multiple e-mail accounts. Turn on 2 factor authentication for your accounts whenever possible.

Non-Scams

I don’t know if you have shopped a lot at B&H Photo and Video over the years, but I have. I have purchased many Macs for clients from them. Not only does this NYC superstore have the designation of being an Apple Authorized Reseller, they have an extensive supply of photo and electronics equipment. I often refer to B&H as the “Best Buy of NYC”, but that doesn’t really do them justice. They are local and prices are usually very competitive. I will continue to use them in the future. UNFORTUNATELY, I received an e-mail on Monday from their CEO which was placed in my spam folder. It seemed very scammy. Basically, Mr. Horowitz wanted to give customers a preview of the real e-mail he would send out the next day about his special plan to help us all avoid sales tax. As you may or may not be aware, a Supreme Court decision in 2018 mandated that online retailers must collect sales tax, even when they don’t physically operate in given states. Consequently, B&H was negatively impacted by this. The initial email from B&H was a bit uncomfortable and generated a lot of chatter online. On Tuesday, I received a second e-mail from the CEO. It was also routed to my spam folder. Essentially B&H rolled out its own store credit card, called Payboo (who came up with this name?). With all purchases made using the card, shoppers will receive a statement credit equal to their sales tax. Some stores offer 10% off your first purchase. Some do 0% financing for 6 months. The sales tax refund scheme is B&H’s way of leveraging their financing arrangement. I think this announcement and the multiple e-mails could have been handled differently. Yes, I will continue to use and recommend B&H. I’ll pass on Payboo.

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.

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.