RETURN OF A CLASSIC

A reader wrote to say she had been using a Windows XP computer forever. But recently she bit the bullet and bought a Windows 10 machine. Ouch! The wound still hurts. Mainly, she hates the clutter in the Windows 10 start menu. We suggested she try “Classic Shell,” which is free from classicshell.net. It replaces the Windows 10 start menu with something that looks a lot like Windows XP but makes no other changes to your computer. The main difference between the XP start menu and the one in Windows 10 is text, or the lack of it. Windows 10 seems to assume you’re either an idiot or you don’t speak English. At first, everything is an icon, not words […]

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NEW ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER

We were roped in by Google’s one-day offer of a nice discount on a new phone; it came with a gift card from AirBNB, worth the cost of the phone, plus $225 for our old phone. But when we got the new phone, the Pixel 3, we decided to return it. The sound quality was muffled, said Bob. Joy couldn’t tell if it was better or worse, but she’s not the audiophile Bob is. This opens the way for a bit of high dudgeon. That is to say, an incensed tirade. One of the great flaws of the high-tech industry is adding improvements where none are needed. We have been writing about this stuff for so long that we now […]

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HOW MUCH IS THAT IN AMERICAN MONEY

What do people really want? This sounds like a twist on Sigmund Freud’s last words, but we’re talking about cell phones here and he was gasping about something completely different. The main thing people want in a smart phone is battery life, according to a survey of 1,894 U.S. users by market research firm Morning Consult. Over 95 percent of respondents said it was the most important feature, and after that they wanted “ease of use,” “memory and storage,” and “camera quality.” Are we all wasting money on our phones?  Here’s an interesting report from Flipsy.com, a site that buys old phones: The average selling price for a smartphone in North America is $567, with an average upgrade cycle of […]

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A HEART-WARMING TALE

The cat came back. Not the very next day, but it did come back. They thought he was a goner. It all happened after we wrote about a $30 security camera called “Wyze Pan Cam,” The price was right, so they bought it. The reader wrote to say that she and her husband put one in their open garage to see if they could find out where the cat went. “It took over a week, but we finally saw our beloved kitty,” she said. “He is coming regularly now. He was a feral (wild) cat to begin with, so it will take time to get him back inside, but you have no idea how helpful this is for our emotional […]

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GETTING A SMART PHONE

Hard to believe but there are still people out there thinking about getting their first smart phone. That’s a cell phone that can search the web and take selfies. About 80 people a year die while taking selfies. Sometimes they step back too far at the edge of the Grand Canyon, sometimes the flagpole on the tenth floor is slippery. Well, this has happened to us twice now. Not getting killed taking a selfie, but talking to older people who have decided they want one of those smart phone things. In one of the great marketing coups of all time, Apple has somehow made people believe that a smart phone is an iPhone. This is despite the reality that Android […]

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LET THE ROBOT TAKE IT

“Robo calls” are getting worse. Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, has been accused of making 97 million spam calls and is facing a $120 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission. There’s a call-screening feature in the new Pixel 3 phone from Google, and it’s a sure bet you will soon see it in other makes. When your phone rings, you’ll see a “screen call” option. Tap it and a recorded voice in the Pixel phone asks the caller to state their name and the nature of the call. The caller might say something like “You have won a free cruise.” (We win an amazing number of those, which is unfortunate because Bob doesn’t like cruises.) At this point, you can […]

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OUR FAVORITE PHONE SERVICE

We like Google’s “Project Fi” cell phone service so much we wish it were available on every phone. Until recently, you could only get it on a Google Pixel or Nexus phone. Now they’re branching out to LG and Motorola. The price is the best part. Project Fi offers unlimited calls and texts for $20, with each gigabyte of data costing $10. You only pay for what you use. Our bills have ranged from $26 to $36. If you use more than six gigabytes, they cap the maximum charge at $60, the rest is free.  The service itself, despite the Google name, comes from T-Mobile, US Cellular and Sprint, whichever signal happens to have the strongest signal for your location. […]

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DRONE JOURNALISM

It used to be that aerial photography was available only to the richest newspapers. When Bob was the food critic for the Chicago Tribune, he remembers a photo shoot from a helicopter costing $10,000. Now with cheap drones, anybody can get an aerial shot. It’s called “Drone Journalism.” Two researchers from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland have a new book by that name. Besides the usual tips, they point out that a journalist’s drone can be stopped by the government. Dictatorships are famous for this, but even the U.S. government sometimes calls a halt. In 2016, Sioux Indians staged a major protest against a proposed oil pipeline in North and South Dakota. When the first dramatic aerial images of […]

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OUR NEW PHONE

There are 4.66 billion cell phones in the world. Ours cracked. Water got in and they just don’t work as well when they’re submerged. ‘Hooda’ thought it? It was the third gone gadget in a year. So bye-bye Google Nexus 6P and hello Google Pixel 2. All 158 apps from our old phone transferred over automatically as soon as we signed into our Google account. (Who needs 158 apps? We don’t even remember what they all do; they went in just to test ’em for the column.) The data in some of those apps was gone. Unfortunately, Joy had a couple hours of Bob’s deep voice recorded on the old phone, telling her about his adventures in Morocco as a […]

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AUGMENTED REALITY

What’s hot? Fake reality, that’s what’s hot. What’s really great about the technology business is the number of things you can do and make even if nobody wants them. Who knows? Somebody might buy it. We thought the Netflix series show, “Stranger Things,” was pretty strange. Strange enough, for us to drop out and not return. But stranger still, some of the show’s characters, like “Eleven,” can drop into whatever you’re shooting with your smartphone. Characters from Star Wars can also drop in — your shopping trip can be guarded by Imperial storm troopers — and no one but you will know that you’re nuts. They drop into the scene in 3D, like from the moon, from thin air, and […]

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