NOT READY TO CUT THE CORD? THEN AT LEAST PAY LESS

Every year I consider dropping cable TV. Then I call AT&T and they offer me a deal. Using an ace negotiating technique — I simply ask– I got the bill down from $165 to $90  before it rose again. The discount ends every year if I don’t call to renew it. So this time I told AT&T: “ I don’t need cable; I have Amazon Prime and Netflix.” (If I miss “60 Minutes,” I’ll put rabbit ears on the set.)  AT&T offered me Internet-only service for $40 a month with a 1024 gigabyte limit. Is 1024 gigabytes enough? Currently, I’m averaging only 50 GB a month. What if I become a movie maniac? That’s OK too. A high-definition movie uses […]

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ABOVE THE FOLD

Remember the first Samsung Fold phone? You could unfold it to get a much larger display. What a dud. Now they’ve announced their third foldable phone: the “Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G.” The reviewers of the first Fold went ballistic over cracking screens, black-outs and an unsightly bulge that appeared below the display. They also hated the bulky hinge. (This follows Bob’s general rule: Never buy anything with a low serial number.) The new Z Fold 2, Samsung’s third foldable phone, is getting good reviews, even before it’s out. There’s less of a gap between the screens. The hinge is better. Though some reviewers suspected a plastic screen, it’s actually ultra-thin glass. Samsung poured dirt and gravel all over it […]

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FUN WITH WINDOWS

How do tech writers spend their stimulus check? They buy software. For $30, we got a bundle of 14 Windows programs from Stardock.com, called “Object Desktop.” One program Joy really likes is “CursorFX” which gives you a choice of 23 cursors. She chose the hand, which has gestures, like tapping its fingers when it has to wait for a program to load. Here are some other parts of the bundle we’re having fun with:  “Deskscapes” gives you animated wallpapers for your Windows computer. Right now, we’re enjoying one that shows a vintage diner, motorcycles and a blonde talking to a guy in what looks like a 1950’s Ford Fairlane. Her skirt blows slightly in the breeze. “Fences” lets you corral […]

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THE TECH SUPPORT DUNGEONS

Calling for tech support is often the beginning of a descent into gloom and doom. Here’s an example from a recent reader letter. He says: “I have recently turned eighty, my hearing is not the best. My Norton antivirus coverage expired and I needed to renew it using a new email address.” The nightmare begins. The whole process took two hours. He was told to bring up a chat screen but the “send” button wasn’t showing so he couldn’t respond.  This happened over and over with different tech support people.   After calling Norton, he writes, “I couldn’t understand the heavy European accent of a woman with a little girl voice. Soft voice, low volume, my deficient hearing, etc. The whole […]

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5G PROMISES GREATER SPEEDS, BUT HARDWARE IS CRITICAL

“What is 5G?” The question reminds us of one of Joy’s favorite novels, “Atlas Shrugged.” The characters go around saying “Who is John Galt?” but never get a good answer until the end. Some say that 5G is ten times faster than the previous generation, others say it’s 100 times faster. An article in the New Yorker claims you’ll download a two-hour movie in four seconds. There will be no lag times for online games. But is this hype or reality? Several factors come into play, such as the hardware you’re using, where you’re located, what your network can handle, how many users are sharing it, what kind of interference you’re getting, and whether you’re at home or zipping around […]

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GO GRANDMA GO

A few years ago, our friend Ida got a smart phone so she could use Uber and Lyft. We wish there’d been a connection to “Go Go Grandparent” back then. Any cell phone will do.  And imagine this: you can even call from what’s called a landline, whatever that is. Go Go Grandparent connects you to Uber and Lyft with nothing extra to do on your part. Register at GoGoGrandparent.com. Then call Go Go Grandparent from any phone. Press “1” to be picked up at home. Press “2” to be picked from wherever you were last dropped off. Press 3, 4 or 5 to be picked off at one of your usual locations. Press “O” for an operator you can […]

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STAY CALM AND SNUGGLE DOWN

Cozy up and get under the covers. “Calm,” is an app for your computer or phone and helps you fall asleep by telling you bedtime stories or providing music, nature sounds, and meditation lessons. We feel sleepy just talking about it. Their latest story is a Grimm’s Fairy Tale that claims to be the first one ever produced by artificial intelligence. It puts robots to sleep. Besides that, there are 80 stories written by actual humans. New ones come out almost every week. A couple of those are narrated by Stephen Fry, who played the helpful butler “Jeeves” in the “Jeeves and Wooster” TV series. We listened to “Blue Gold,” about the lavender trade. The only way it could have […]

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AT THE OPERA

A reader told us she’s tired of being tracked. We suggest using the new Opera web browser. It’s free and you can get it from Opera.com. Once on board you will have a built-in “Virtual Private Network,” or VPN, as the techies call it. It automatically encrypts all your data so hackers can’t get to it, which makes it safe (at least until the counter-attack) when you’re using free Wi-Fi at the airport or a coffee shop. For your phone, there’s “Opera Free VPN,” from the iPhone or Android app stores. Besides safeguarding your data, it lets you into places you might otherwise not be able to go.  For instance, some videos are restricted to certain countries. We’re looking at […]

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DEVELOPING A TWITCH

An old friend in the computer gaming business called to pitch a new product. The product was interesting though not yet ready for prime time. But his call opened a window we hadn’t looked through in many years. We hardly ever mention computer games anymore, because it has become a specialty in its own right and is too narrow for this column. And yet, they’re still out there. More than half a million people tune in daily to Twitch.TV, where they can watch other people play video games. Ten million have downloaded the app to watch Twitch on their phones. Sound pretty stupid? We tuned in (because we have to) and it was actually interesting. In fact it was more […]

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WI-FI BLUES

A reader wrote us to say he’s barely able to connect to the Internet wirelessly, even though his phone is just 20 feet away from his AT&T router. Two bars is the best he gets. We told him to call AT&T, since they’ll replace his router or add a booster for free; it’s part of the monthly contract. However, that may not work. What he’s opened up is a much larger problem that many people experience, and it’s definitely worth going into. It is a trickier subject than it first appears. The subject of radio broadcasts (which is what your wireless modem is doing) and receiving them is a special field of its own in electrical engineering. Antenna design can […]

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