tracfone-alcatel-pixi-pulsar-smart-phoneWe tried an experiment. We went out to the drugstore and bought a $40 cell phone. It wasn’t the cheapest one; we could have bought one for $13, but Bob noticed it was a so-called clam-shell or flip phone and you can’t load apps onto those.

The impetus for this experiment was our 97 year-old friend Ida. She said she may have to give up driving one day and switch to using one of the ride services, like Uber or Lyft. So then, she would have to get an iPhone so she could call a cab.

Uh-uh, we said. You do need a smartphone or a computer to call one of those ride services but you don’t have to spend $649 to $749 for an iPhone. So we went and bought a $40 smartphone at Walgreens to check that out. We could have bought one for $21.60 at Walmart, but we were on deadline and didn’t want to fool around. So we got a “TracFone,” (the “Pixi Pulsar”) made by Alcatel, a joint French and Chinese company. It uses the Android operating system.

There’s no contract with this phone. You can buy your phone minutes, texts and web time right there at the drug store or order it on the phone itself. We chose the $20 plan for 90 days. You don’t get much data downloading on this plan, but when you surf the Web while connected to your home or public Wi-Fi, you don’t use any cellular data.

What’s astonished us the quality of this little phone, which is about the size of the original iPhone. We put all our favorite apps on it, including “Lightning Bug,” which plays nice background sounds for sleeping. The little phone played ocean waves for us all night, and the battery was only a third less full than where it started. We were truly impressed by the quality and volume of the music we played from Spotify. We signed in to our Gmail account. Then we tried summoning a Lyft driver just to be sure we could if Ida needed to. Oops. We thought we were just trying things out but he showed up to get us in about two minutes and we had to pay a $5 cancellation fee.

What’s the downside here? Well, the phone is smaller than a regular smartphone, so the on-screen keyboard that shows up has really tiny letters and would be hard for some people to use. Joy had no trouble, and Bob could handle it too, but more slowly. Fortunately, the phone took speech commands. Bob was amazed at that. That’s also how we lost $5 to the Lyft service. “Try giving it a command to take us to an address downtown,” Joy said to Bob. So he did, and the phone understood it perfectly.

So this is a keeper for us. If we go to Walmart, we can buy thirty of them for the price of an iPhone. Maybe we’ll give them out as Christmas presents.

Free Slideshows

ashampoo-slideshowThe strangely-named company “Ashampoo” has a free slideshow program we like. It brought back the joy of looking at photos.

SlideshowStudio 2017” from starts by asking if you want to make a simple slideshow or a more advanced one. We chose simple, but still got “Ken Burns” (famous maker of historical documentaries) effects and music thrown in. You choose the song you want from whatever music you’ve stored to your computer. If you haven’t stored any, just pop in a CD and follow the on-screen prompts to “rip” music to your machine.

This worked great. Our only warning is to avoid large folders of photos. Bob wondered why Joy was in the office for hours. She was transfixed by the slideshow creation process. She thought she’d turn to stone waiting for a photo to load after she clicked the add-photo button but she couldn’t stop. The solution was to reorganize her folders, limiting each to a dozen or so photos. Otherwise, the program attempts to load hundreds each time you want to add one.

When ready, click “produce” to create slides from cell phone quality on up to the highest resolution (4K).  Even after production, you can edit it, if you notice heads cut off or sideways photos. (By the way: the Ashampoo company took the name after a reviewer said their clean-up utility cleaned his Windows computer “like a shampoo.”)

App Happy

Music DoodleWe’ve written about “Shazam” twice before, but it’s been a while. So when a reader recently said it was his favorite for bringing in music, we thought why not bring it in again for those who were take a brief nap when we did it before.

“Shazam” was the secret code word that turned an ordinary boy into comic book super-hero Captain Marvel. (This was one of Bob’s favorites, but no matter how earnestly he said the magic word, nothing happened.)  It’s a free app for Android phones, iPhones, iPad, or tablets, and its secret power is that it can identify music you can hum or sing and play it for you — though frankly, it worked better listening to the radio. Tap the “Shazam” button to let it listen. In our test, it knew in seconds it was listening to “Minuetto” by Luigi Boccherini. (This was the prominent piece in the movie “The Lady Killers.”)  It remembers your selections and you can play them again.



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