WHEN IT COMES TO A LAPTOP, IT CAN PAY TO SPEND LESS

You don’t have to buy an expensive laptop to get a fast machine. I like Google Chromebooks, but learned my lesson on the more expensive ones. Chromebooks are fast because they aren’t gunked up with software. Almost everything takes place online. Any errors are automatically fixed each time you boot up. But reviewers often encourage you to spend more money than necessary. Except for a cheapish Lenovo, everything listed on “The Best Chromebooks for 2020,” at TheVerge.com is around $600 on up, with one well over a thousand. Same goes for CNET and Wired reviews. For more than a week, I used a friend’s $199 HP Chromebook 14, comparing it with my own $650 Pixelbook Go from Google. Sure, the […]

Read more

FREE CALLS AND TEXTS

If you’re on a limited calling plan, you don’t have to buy more minutes when you run out. A free app called “Signal Private Messenger” lets you call for free using a WiFi signal. It beats the heck out of WhatsApp and the other free WiFi calling apps I’ve tried. Using the Signal app, my voice calls are as clear as any on my landline or cell phone service, whether I’m talking or listening. Ironically, 60 of my friends are on WhatsApp, but until I sent invitations, none were on Signal. Yet in my experience, the sound quality in WhatsApp is lousy. When I tried it, the sound kept cutting out. In Signal, it’s great. Signal lets you make calls […]

Read more

DATA NAKED

A reader got upset when I said Chrome was my favorite web browser. He wrote: “You do realize that Chrome keeps track of everything you do on the internet–  browsing, searches, and anything you write? I switched to Microsoft Edge after being a Chrome user for many years. I finally realized how data naked I really am.” It could be worse. According to Google’s privacy policy, your personal info is not for sale to anyone. Google uses it to show you ads for products from Google partners or Google itself. If you’re worried about privacy, go to myaccount.google.com and click on “data and personalization” to automatically turn off tracking and delete every trace of everything you’ve done on the web […]

Read more

LET’S COLLABORATE

I just started using Google Docs to collaborate. It’s fun. I enjoy collecting web links, poems and photos in a place where loved ones can view or add to them. That way, there’s no hunting for email attachments or cycling through photo galleries looking for stuff to see or share again. After someone shares an item, you can go to Drive.Google.com and click “Shared With Me” to see it. It will always be there to view or edit unless one of you deletes it. Another way to view your stuff is with the free app “Google Backup and Sync.” It adds a Google Drive shortcut to your computer. But if you use that program, be sure to select which folders […]

Read more

PRINTER PROBLEMS

Over the years, companies have sent Bob Schwabach and me a lot of printers for review. We once lined up six of them and they were all clogged. After hearing from readers on this topic, I’m tempted to start a Cloggers Anonymous. “My sister has an Epson XP-446 that seems to have been clogging up since just after she bought it,” one guy wrote. “She doesn’t print much and suspects the printheads are clogging between uses. Is it worth buying the $25 kit to clean the heads or should I just get her a new printer? I am concerned it will just clog up again.” “You probably don’t need a new printer or a cleaning kit,” I told him. “You […]

Read more

KEEPING TRACK

Sometimes we forget to write about programs we’ve known about forever. Here they are now. Our friend Olga is using a notebook to keep track of her day trading. Now she’s more organized than we are. Which isn’t hard to do. But there are programs that make organization easier. Our favorite is Evernote, a free app for your computer, phone, or tablet. It’s been around for 20 years, but gets easier and easier to use. It gives you as many notebooks as you have ideas. They’re displayed  in a master index. Joy has an Evernote notebook called “Favorite Recipes.”  Though she could use Microsoft Word, Evernote makes it easy to flip through her whole collection, as though it were a […]

Read more

PLAYING WITH FIRE

Several readers followed up on our review of the Amazon Fire tablet. Their comments led us to discover some features we didn’t know about. One reader was confused when he first tapped the “Books” tab on the home screen of his Fire. It looked like he had to join “Kindle Unlimited” to get books. But you don’t. It’s free for 30 days, then it’s $10 a month. Kindle Unlimited gives you a rotating library of ten books, audio books, magazines or some combination of all three. We noticed they have the Economist magazine, which is normally $189 a year. If we let our subscription drop, we could get it for $120 a year plus nine other magazines or books.You can […]

Read more

KABLOOEY

Bob’s three-year-old Windows 10 computer went kablooey. Joy attempted to bring it back and made it worse. So we turned to our master fixer, Kenny. Kenny has never failed us. If the problem is easy for him, there’s often no charge. You can find him on the web at HelpHelpNow.com. Here’s what happened before we thought to call. Joy tried a “system restore,” and it failed twice, with the two available restore points. Next she tried “Windows Recovery,” choosing the option to back up files first. It failed too. So she tried it a second time. This time, it erased all the files and still didn’t work. Kenny told us to hold down the power button while Windows 10 was […]

Read more

THE WALKMAN LIVES

The first portable electronics gadget we ever had was a tape recorder, though we both remember the portable record player in a suitcase. Later, we both had Sony Walkmans. Did you know they’re still popular? Over 400 million Walkmans as of 2014– mainly used for listening to music on the fly — have been sold, according to TheVerge.com. In the 41 years since the first one, they’ve gone from cassette players to CD to Mini-Disc to MP3 to streaming music. Recently, we wondered why people still buy Walkmans, instead of listening to music on their phones. A reader told us the Walkman is superior. For one thing, you can store music in the “wav” file format, which takes up more […]

Read more

JUST GOOGLE IT

More often than not, the best way to solve a problem is to Google it in the same words you would use when describing the issue to your techiest friend. Recently we were trying to digitize our CDs so we could play them on our computer, but Windows Media Player couldn’t identify any of the tracks. We were stuck with “Unknown Album” and “Track 1,” “Track 2,” etc.  Windows Media player is supposed to name your tracks automatically, but it didn’t. The Windows Troubleshooter popped up to tell us that our media player was corrupted but offered no solution. It dumped us out on a general Microsoft page where we could search vast reams of info from other users. So […]

Read more