Category: Consumers

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. 

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. 

Cord Cutting Part 3 – Numbers Please

In a previous discussion on streaming I mentioned that a $70.00 a month cable internet package (or better) would be a appropriate option for “cord cutting”.  As I always strive to provide accuracy in recommendations, I want to tell you that the current (stand alone) price for the Performance (60/5) internet package with Comcast is 74.99.   I was within a Starbucks drink of the price. 🙂  Comcast does charge a bit more if you only have one product with them, but you do get that freedom of not being bound by a bundle or a contract.  Also by being an Internet only customer with the cable company (or Internet / TV, no phone), you can save $13 per month by purchasing your own cable modem.    I don’t want to leave out the phone company either.   I recently reviewed Frontier’s pricing and it seems they are offering a 45/6 package for new customers for 24.99 and a faster package for 29.99 per month.   In areas where they have true fiber to the home, the speeds will be even better. I have some clients that get by with less speed doing 1 stream at a time but I would like to err on the side of enough enough bandwidth.   Fast phone company service with your own router — can work.

Established customers usually aren’t respected. Want to get new customer pricing? Cancel your services for a few days (few weeks when you go on vacation) and then have your spouse sign up as a new customer.  .  I can confirm this strategy worked with a family member, but YMMV (your mileage may vary). 

For those of you in the West Hartford Center area and nearby neighborhoods — you actually have one more choice for internet — a true fiber optic provider that has moved into the area.  The company is called Go Net Speed.  I would strongly urge you to consider them.  They offer a 150 MB/s connection for $50 a month and no junk fees.   This may be your one chance to break free of the monopolies.  https://gonetspeed.com/ .  They hope to build out more areas soon. Fill out the form to request service in your neighborhood.

Smartphones Premium and Budget

I hope you are having a great week with your technology.


Update to the Ad Blocker Updates

Google made an important announcement this week.  They issued a partial reversal of the planned changes in their Google Chrome browser.  There for it seems that ad blockers uBlock Origin and Ad Block Plus will not be rendered useless as previously thought. While they are in the business of delivering ads, Google made it clear that they are not in the business of restricting content blockers.  Browse on!    I will keep you posted as to further developments.

New Samsung Phones – The Battle is On

The iPhone’s closest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S line of phones, was updated today.  If you like Android or are looking to try something high end but different — these Galaxy S10 phones may be for you.  Just like the 2018 iPhones, Samsung will have three new phones of note:  the Galaxy S10e (think iPhone XR price), the Galaxy S10 (iPhone XS), and the Galaxy S10+ (iPhone XS Max).   These phones will be priced starting at $750, $900, and $1000 – with the familiar interest free payment plans available from your carrier.   Like the iPhone XR, the S10e will be a premium phone.  Think of the larger sized and more expensive siblings as just a higher level trim of an already excellent phone.   That is how I see the iPhone XS and XS Max as well.  For those in the Apple world, the XR is technically a larger phone than the XS.  Pre-orders on the Samsungs start on Friday. 

Lower Cost Smart Phones

If you are interested in lower cost smartphones in the $200’s and $300’s – I have a few models in mind that could work on all of the major carriers.  You don’t have to feel forced to spend iPhone money to have a decent smartphone experience. 

You May Need to Replace Your Verizon Phone

On this train of thought, I also want to let you know that if you or anyone you know is still using an older Verizon flip phone (or even an older smart phone, ie. pre-iPhone 6) you will need a new phone by the end of 2019.  Verizon is retiring their older calling network.  Your old phone will no longer be able to make calls.

Simple Security Stuff–February 2019

I realize that the last two weeks of update were truly “honors class” material.   The take home points are — 1) I always install ad blockers for my clients.  2) You should have a second (or 3rd) browser installed should there be issues with your primary browser.  3) The ability to use my preferred ad blocker in Google Chrome may change by the end of the year.  4) I can help you with this issue should the time come.

Let’s go remedial this week.


Simple Security Stuff – February 2019

When sending out group e-mails:  put yourself in the To field, put everyone else in the Bcc field.

-Never make your password out of revealing or obvious information (Birth date, maiden name, password123, etc.).

-One trend in password creation that I like is to create a sentence (ex.  ILiketheYankeesin19).

-You need to be using a separate password for each website.  You can start with the same base and add a unique suffix for each particular website.

-Ideally, you should use a software password manager.  I set up either Last Pass or 1Password for my clients.  They are secure and they work.

-If you are not ready to use a password manager: Never ever ever store your passwords in a Word document on the computer.  If you are going to store them this way, we need to put them on a flash drive that you can plug into your computer when you need to look at them.  (Please contact me if you are in this situation).

-If you still aren’t ready to use a password manager (hint), I don’t mind you using a paper based “notebook”.  

The Ethics of Cell Phone Buying

New Year – New You

What would you like to improve in your technology picture this year?  How can I help you get more out of your devices and services?  What would you like to learn? Some areas that clients have mentioned to me already include:

-Using a password manager (finally)

-Breaking free of cable TV

-Learning how to use streaming video services (ie. Netflix + Amazon Prime)

-Upgrading the 4 or 5 year old iPhone / iPad to a newer model

-Upgrading to a new Mac now that Apple has released new consumer level models for the first time in years

Please let me know how I can partner with you on this journey.  I am ready and willing to be deployed. 

Cord Cutting Intro – Wrap Up

We had some substantial discussions about cord cutting over the past two weeks as a result of my Parts 1 and 2 e-mails on this topic.  Don’t hesitate to ask me about your situation.  I think the cord cutting movement will experience major growth in 2019.  One of our local talk radio shows, which usually has a political focus, devoted 3 hours to the idea of breaking free from these $200+ bills last week.   The bottom line is, I think it is possible to get down to an Internet + cord cutting TV service combination for about $110 a month (approx $70 + $40).  As for home phone — you may choose to go without, you can move it to a service like Magic Jack (as I have done $40 / year), or even move that number to the phone company.   And just remember, if you are not ready to be a cord cutter yet — you can always be a streamer.  Trying to drive a hard bargain and cutting features to save money on your existing cable package is another option.  Contact me for a cord cutting assessment. 

And on to this week’s feature —

The Ethics of Cell Phone Buying

You can buy your new smart phone from the Apple Store.  You could go direct through Android device manufacturers like One Plus, Google, or Motorola.  Buying an unlocked phone on Amazon may be an option too.  Best Buy sells a handful of unlocked phones and also ones connected with carriers like Verizon and ATT.  However, a significant percentage of customers (my clients included) go to one of their carrier’s stores.  If you might want to change your plan or take advantage of carrier specific promotions, shopping at an ATT Store, Verizon store, or T Mobile store may be the way to go.  I’m not telling you that you should or shouldn’t.  One thing I can say in their favor is that the salesperson jobs there are career positions.  These are not traditional retail (ie. Apple) or big box store jobs that pay at a level where the worker needs to work 2 or 3 jobs to possibly survive in the community where the store is located.  The sales professionals in carrier stores are commissioned.   You may have never known this, but if you purchase your phone there the salesperson will not make much of a commission unless you buy a few accessories with your phone.  It seems weird to me, because the acquisition of a customer who will pay bills month after month has to have value to the company.  However, this is the way compensation works.  Very often, we do purchase accessories with our new phones.   A case, car charger, and screen protector can be very helpful add-ons.    On the other hand, you may be like me.   You might be the type to buy your phone accessories from Amazon that they don’t have in carrier stores.  That’s ok too.  All I am saying is that this is food for thought.  If you shop for phones in your carrier’s store, it is a good idea to consider buying your accessories there.  You won’t have to wait for them either.