We were in a Lyft taxi the other day when the driver voiced a familiar complaint: Mapping apps rarely give you a straight shot to your destination.
Both Google Maps and “Waze,” which is free for iPad/iPhone and Android phones, make too many turns and too many diversions. We prefer Waze but it’s far from perfect. Both make us follow a crazily twisted route half the time. It’s as if we were secret agents on the trail of a master spy. Bob always says to Joy: “Turn that off.” He prefers looking at a map.
For those who want voice directions, start by installing Waze from Google Play or the iPhone/iPad app store. To make the directions less twisted, tap the turquoise icon in the lower left corner. Next tap the picture of a gear in the upper left corner. That’s “Settings.” If you scroll down to “Navigation,” you can change the default setting from “fastest” to “shortest” route. Of course, the shortest route might take you nine miles on local roads instead of 10 miles on the highway. But Bob prefers the local roads and streets because there are fewer big trucks. You can always change the settings again, depending on where you’re going.
You can also set it to provide traffic warnings. Bob thinks this is as close as you can get to useless. Traffic problems, particularly those caused by accidents, tend to be short-lived. So there’s a time lag. By the time news gets to the sender and is then rebroadcast to you, the problem is usually gone. Construction problems are of course longer term.
By default, Waze shows you speed cameras, traffic jams, police cars (possible speed traps), and several other variables. You can add more items to the map. You might want to hear an alarm when you’ve gone beyond the speed limit. If you change your mind about your destination, which we do frequently, tap the bottom of the screen where you see the time displayed and tap “stop.” Now you’re ready for your next adventure.
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If you use Google Chrome instead of Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer or some other browser, here are a few tricks.
- Start where you left off last time. Click the hamburger icon in Chrome (looks like three stacked lines in the upper right corner) and then “settings.” Under “on start up,” check off the box for “start where you left last time” or choose another option, such as starting with a specific set of website pages.
- Zoom in and out to change type size on a website by holding down the “Ctrl” key (or “Cmd” on the Mac) while you move the scroll wheel on your mouse. If you don’t have a scroll wheel, hold “Ctrl” and tap the plus or minus signs to enlarge or shrink the page. This is a quick way to eliminate the column of ads that are often put along the right side of a web site; as you enlarge the site’s size, they get pushed off the screen.)
- Scroll down a web page by tapping the space bar. Scroll back up by holding the “Shift” key and tapping the space bar.
- Quickly clear your browsing history and other items such as stored passwords: Hold “Ctrl” or “Cmd” and the “Shift” key and tap the delete key.
- If you find a website you want to visit again and again, click on the tiny lock to the left of its address and drag it to your desktop. It will make a shortcut there.
- If you accidentally close a website tab, hold down the “Shift” key and the “Ctrl”or “Cmd” key and tap the letter “T.” It brings back the page you accidentally closed.
For more tips, look for PC Magazine’s article: “30 Hidden Features of Google Chrome.”
iPhone users like Apple’s Siri, for communicating with their phone by voice instead of text. Android users like Google Voice. But a Windows phone user wrote to tell us he hates Microsoft’s Cortana. It’s always listening.
To turn it off on a Windows phone, go to settings, then “privacy,” “speech,” “inking” and “typing.” Select “stop getting to know me.” This will disable dictation and stop Cortana from collecting info on your contacts, calendar events, speech patterns, handwriting and typing history.
If you don’t like Cortana on your Windows 10 computer, disable it there too. Use the search bar on the lower left of your screen and type “Cortana settings.” When it comes up, click the button to turn it off.
We had been ignoring Cortana in Windows 10 until this question came up. Now we’ve discovered it can be fun. Click on its “ask me anything” bar to bring up the news. We then clicked the microphone to issue a voice command. We said “Play the Beatles,” and to our surprise 13 Beatles tunes started playing one after another in the Groove Music app. We said “Show Times for Mr. Holmes” and it gave us the trailer for this 2015 movie, along with its audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and other sites, and a link to websites where we could watch it, such as Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and Vudu. Naming a current movie, “Bad Moms” gave us show times in local theaters.
Cortana also does reminders. We said “Remind me to turn off the stove in 20 minutes,” and 20 minutes later it popped up to remind us. There’s also a free Cortana app for Android or iPhone to get these reminders and other Cortana features on your phone.
If you want some tricks for talking to Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, check out Hey-Siri.io. The site explains 489 Siri actions for both iPhone/iPad and the Mac. For instance, you can say “Take a photo,” “Enable airplane mode,” “Read my messages,” “Convert dollars to Euros,” and many other commands.