Category: Consumers

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. 

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.