THE RETURN OF THE PANIC BUTTON

Stand-alone push buttons are getting hot. Out of printer ink? Just push a button to order more. The buttons are only $5, ink quite a bit more. Is there any inconvenience in this convenience? We can see some.

So here’s how it starts: Amazon sells $5 “Dash” buttons that you stick around the house. Press one labeled “Charmin” to automatically re-order toilet paper. Press “Tide” to get detergent. (Amazon then kicks in and sends you whatever quantity you normally order.) The office giant Staples has a trial version of an office supply button. And there are others. Remember the old “Panic” push-buttons that were sold as a novelty item? We’re getting there.

We tested a “goButton” from a company just getting started on Kickstarter.com, the site where you raise money from strangers. The pitch is this: What if employees could push a button whenever they needed printer ink, had a plumbing problem or a paper jam? They’d push the goButton (terrible name) and a service professional would arrive. The buttons are configured in advance through an app on your phone, and can be changed as the need changes.

The company sent us a couple of prototypes. One was labeled “support.” Another was labeled “Refill.” Pushing either one brought a text message and an email saying our order had been accepted or support was on the way. The messages included the name of the person who pushed the button and the company that responded.

Any potential problems with this? We can see a couple hundred. At a business, for example: What if every time a printer jams, someone pushes the “help” button? A tech would arrive but the person sitting next to you has already fixed the problem. Sorry, you have to pay for the tech guy’s time anyway.

How about home use. How many people do you know who would push a “help” button every time they had some problem with their computer or the internet? Got any kids around who would think it’s fun to push buttons? How about cats doing their “kitten on the keys” walks?

Remember: There’s always time to panic.

Flipping That Phone

Flipsy.com bills itself the “bluebook of phones.” It tells you what you can get for your old phone at trade-in sites, as well as from private parties. We got $55 for a Samsung Galaxy S3 we sold on eBay last year but could have gotten $104 through Flipsy.

Type in your phone and click “private party value” to see what you might be able to get. For an iPhone 6s, you might get $436 selling it yourself, $335 at a trade-in site, or $235 from your cell phone service provider. Big spread! Trade-in sites linked on Flipsy include Amazon, Exchange It, Buy Back World, and some others.

A reader told us he was scammed on eBay, so he now avoids it. We didn’t have any problems selling two devices there. However, on other sites you can get faster payment. We almost got scammed on CraigsList, one of the first trading and reselling sites.

Apple iPhones hold their value better than Android phones. The current iPhone 7 would fetch $395 at a trade-in site.  A Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, the latest model, would fetch around $240. If you go back three generations, a popular phone of either type will go for around $100.  Go back further and you get much less. Amazon will give you $20 for an iPhone 4s. If you were to buy one from Amazon, however, it would cost $92 to $170. That’s quite a markup.

App Happy  

  • DriverMode aims to prevent distracted driving. Using your voice or simple taps on a nearly blank screen, you can make calls, get directions, and play music. (Or, you could just pull over to the side of the road.)
  • EasilyDo Email: This recently came out for Android, after first coming out on the iPad. It organizes your email into handy categories, like travel info and package alerts. We liked it.
  • “Word Chums.” This is Scrabble on steroids. Joy’s addicted to it. Play with friends; the scoring system lets you rack up gonzo points. Tap any starnge word to get its definition. If a word doesn’t light up green as you lay down your tiles, it isn’t a word. Saves time.
  • Google Photos, a free app for your smart phone, now offers photo books. A 20-page, seven-inch soft-cover book starts at $10 while a 20-page, nine-inch hardcover book starts at $20. (We knew a guy who liked taking photos of donuts.)

Talking Boxes: Google vs Alexa

We’re still undecided on which nosy box is better: Google Home or Amazon Echo. So we got both. (We figure everyone in the known universe is already hip to this trend, but just to recapitulate, both are small gizmos that answer questions and play music and games.)

Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot have 71 percent of this market. Could 71 percent of the buyers possibly be wrong? We like our Echo, which has some poor woman named Alexa inside, but Google Home seems smarter. We asked her to play the opening number from the movie “La La Land” and she did it. Asking Alexa, we heard, “I don’t have a song called ‘Opening Number.’”

We asked Alexa how many genes a wheat plant has. She said “2,017” and then started telling us about fashions in blue jeans, such as plastic pants (they must literally be hot stuff). Google Home said there were around 164,000 wheat genes (which is a lot more than we have), depending on the variety. We then asked Google Home for an “intense ab workout” on our TV, and it started playing immediately. (You have to turn on the TV first, select the right input, and make sure a $30 Chromecast is plugged in.)

This year, an estimated 36 million Americans will use one of these devices at least once a month. Ninety-five percent will likely use one from Google or Amazon, other makers are entering the lists, among them Lenovo, LG, Harmon Kardon and Mattel. What matters most is not the brand of the gizmo, but the extent of its knowledge

 

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