Recently, we bought a $21 smart phone for our 97 year-old friend, Ida. It was not only economical (meaning cheap), but it’s been fun and instructive.

The keyboard on the cheap TracFone is too tiny for anyone but a teenager to type on, so we taught Ida how to use Google’s voice assistant, called “Google Now.” If you have an Android with an operating system that came out before 2012, you can download Google Now from the Google Play store. (IPhone users can download the Google app from the App Store.) We never used it much ourselves, but we’re not 97.

Talking is usually faster than typing whenever you need to search for something or give information to an app. To wake up the Google Now assistant, tap the microphone or say “OK, Google.” With Ida, we said, “OK, Google: What day is Halloween 2016?” Back came the answer: “Monday.” We tried several more queries, like “What’s the weather?” “Where’s a good Chinese restaurant?” If it’s a complex question, like “Why did Germany lose World War II,” you’ll get a list of links that take you to the Internet.

We asked Ida to try it. She said, “OK Google:  No More Questions.” She thought she was saying goodbye to the app, something that had never occurred to us. But anything you say to Google Now is the equivalent of a request, so the app responded by listing a rap song called “No More Questions.”

Moving right along, Ida wanted to watch a video on her new $21 phone. We tapped the YouTube  app and watched a nine year-old girl singing a tune by Adele, which cracked her up. Next she wanted to play a game, so we downloaded the free “Word Chums,” a Scrabble look-alike. She loved it, and it was good tapping practice. Because you have to tap quickly and lightly on these phones, not slow and hard. She also practiced calling Lyft, Uber’s rival in the taxi business, using only voice commands to set the pickup point and destination.

Finally we taught her to turn on the cellular connection when she leaves her apartment. It should be off when you’re connected to your home or public Wi Fi so as not to incur charges from overuse. But when you go out, you may need to take a call. For many phones, just tap “Settings” and then turn the mobile data switch to the “on” position.

Reader Quandary

amazon-fireA woman who described herself as “low tech” wrote us with a quandary. Her tablet, a Samsung Note, wasn’t working and she wanted to get something new.

We suggested she try a “factory reset” first before ditching any tablet or phone. First, save your photos and other data. The reset is usually done by holding down the power button while you press the up volume knob. (Search on “factory reset” and your model number if that doesn’t work.) The end result is your tablet or phone is as new and fast as the day you bought it.

If we didn’t already have one, we’d buy a Kindle Fire for $50 to $80 rather than a Samsung tablet for $375 to $500. We’re cheap. The $50 Fire lets you do all of the things most people want to do, such as photo sharing, text messaging, reading books, watching movies, playing games and listening to online radio. For text messaging, we added the free apps “Facebook Messenger” and “Text Me.” You can even print from the Kindle Fire, if you have a compatible printer. Search on the phrase “Printing from the Kindle Fire” to see if yours is on the list.

The new $90 Fire, called the “Amazon Fire HD 8,” is slightly larger (eight inch instead of seven) and comes with Amazon’s new voice assistant “Alexa.” Alexa will answer your questions, tell you jokes, remind you to do stuff, etc.

Facebook Ins and Outs

facebook“Facebook Groups” are a fun way to share posts with like-minded people without the rest of your family and friends joining in. Joy belongs to a group for her women’s club and another for those who grew up in her hometown.

If you’ve never joined a Facebook group but are curious, click “Discover Groups” on the left side of your Facebook home page. When we did, we found several, such as a high school reunion group, a book exchange for fellow college alumni, and “Blissful Warriors” for yoga nuts. You can also create your own group. On the left side of your home page, under “Discover Groups,” you’ll find the option “Create Group.”

If you want to download all the photos you’ve ever posted to Facebook, you’ll find the option under “Settings.” To find “Settings,” click a tiny down arrow in the upper right of the home page. It’s hard to see but it’s a couple icons to the right of the globe. After you tap “Settings,” go to the bottom of “General Account Settings” and tap or click “Download a copy of my Facebook data.”

For a video tutorial on Facebook basics, search on “How to Navigate Facebook for the New User.” There are many Facebook tutorials on YouTube, some oriented to business users.

Finding Solitaire

solitaireA reader wrote us that his Windows 7 laptop didn’t have Solitaire, and he really missed it. So do we all.

He tried downloading a version from Download.com, but it wanted him to pay $30 for something that wasn’t Solitaire. This is a common problem. In fact, our favorite tech guru, Kenny S from helphelpnow.com, says that many of his tech support customers start with problems from Download.com.

But it turns out we don’t need them anyway; Solitaire is included in all Windows 7 machines and is free in the Windows store for Windows 8 and Windows 10. If you don’t see Solitaire in Windows 7, it’s probably because games are turned off. To turn them back on, click “Control Panel,” then “Programs,” and under “Programs and Features,” click “Turn Windows features on or off.” Select the “Games” check box, and click “OK.”



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