TOE TO TOE WITH ALEXA AND GOOGLE

A child asked me which was better: Alexa, the voice inside the Amazon Echo Dot, or Google Assistant, the voice inside the Google Home speaker, renamed “Google Nest.” Until recently, I would have said Google Assistant. That was before I read CNET’s “9 Things Alexa Can Do that Google Can’t.” Of course, right after that, I read “9 Things Google Can Do that Alexa Can’t.” Let’s start with some Alexa differences. Alexa can play Apple Music as one of many choices;  Google makes Apple music off limits. Alexa listens for burglars, alerting you if  she hears glass breaking, an alarm going off and other sounds. (But you must turn on “Guard” in “Settings.”) Also, Alexa can hear your whispers and whisper […]

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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 […]

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WINDOWS 10 TO THE RESCUE

This part is going to get a bit techie, but you’ll be able to handle it. A reader told us about his unbearably slow, seven-year-old laptop. He wondered if he could make it like new again. Sure. His first idea was converting it to a Linux system. It sounded good, but he had problems. So he asked us whether he could still get Windows 10 for free. Sure we said, though we secretly thought it might slow down his PC even more. Why not restore the laptop to its original factory condition, we asked? It had a super-fast Intel i7 processor. He admitted it used to be great. His computer is a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro with Windows 8.1. When […]

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DROPPING THE PASSWORD

One of the most annoying features of Windows is the sign-in. This is the so-called “default” setting, which is to protect you from someone else using your computer. Of course, you may know that you’re the only person using that computer. But what if someone sneaks into your home in the middle of the night, just so they can watch movie trailers from Netflix?  Ah ha!  Fortunately, we can save you. To remove the sign-in, go to the search bar in the lower left of your Windows screen, and type the letters “netplwiz” without the quotes. We know that doesn’t make sense but just do it. When it comes up, uncheck the box next to “Users must enter a username […]

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A NEW SMART SPEAKER

After accidentally dumping a load of cinnamon on our Echo Dot, Alexa wouldn’t talk to us any more. No matter. We decided to get a better smart speaker: the Sonos One. The Sonos One (Gen 2), for $200, lets you talk to either Alexa or Google Assistant when you want music or answers to questions. The sound is great but it didn’t exactly blow us away. Unless we’re talking literally. Joy upped the volume on George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” during the quiet part, then forgot about it. When we asked Alexa for the time the next morning, we were blasted out of bed. Before buying the Sonos One, we looked at comparisons between it, the Amazon Echo Studio  and […]

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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 BEST WEBCAM

What with everybody staying home, so-called virtual meetings with Zoom are taking the lead. Some computers and all laptops come with a built in camera and microphone. If you don’t have one, there are plenty for sale for around $50. Office Depot was out of almost everything but the thousand dollar models when we looked. Amazon didn’t have many either, but there we found a $240 webcam from Logitech, the C615 HD, which came out four years ago. (We were ripped off, we could have gotten it for less than half that.) The quality is great however, and we get a much wider view than we do on our laptop. We can even see Harv and Marv, Joy’s two stuffed […]

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THE RULES OF THE GAME

Joy would like to contradict Bob’s complaint about updates. He recently advised not doing them, even on an iPhone, because of all the problems they cause. Joy always does updates for security reasons and because some apps require them. A reader wrote us with these words of wisdom: “My son who is chief programmer and bottle washer in his game company says there are two mandatory rules about updating software: 1.NEVER update software. 2. Be sure your software is always up-to-date.”Bob has an additional rule: No matter what you get, you have to get something else to make it work. Update on Updates “Don’t let the door hit you on the backside on your way out,” is a variation on […]

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ROBOCALLS

Over 167 million robocalls are made to Americans each day, according to YouMail. That’s about 61 billion calls for 2019.  Robocalls represent over 50 percent of all phone traffic. They have become the modern equivalent of mail addressed to “occupant.” Some of these calls appear to be coming from your own area code. That’s what really throws people. Because you think, maybe it’s Uncle Max. On the other hand, maybe you don’t want to talk to Uncle Max. We use the “call screen” feature on our two Google Pixel phones to avoid robocalls. But the new Pixel 4 has something better.  The Pixel 4 phone won’t ring at all if it senses a robocall. What happens if it’s not a […]

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YOU RANG?

Why do phones sometimes ring just once? It’s a scam. Don’t call them back. According to HowtoGeek.com, if you cave in and call back, your call may result in toll charges similar to a 900 number. The longer you stay on the line, the more money they make. The scam is called “Wangiri,” because it started in Japan. It translates as “one ring and cut.” Calls have been routed to Mauritania, Liberia, Comoros, Chad, the Cook Islands and Nauru. But it’s not always a developing country. Some go to Switzerland. If in doubt, search the web for the number to see if it’s part of a scam. Or if you get a lot of these and have an iPhone, try […]

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