Category: gadgets

Do I Need A Streaming Device?

Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick…Do You Need One?   

Are you considering buying one of these devices or are you wondering if you need one?

These devices are designed for streaming content.  In this article I’m going to give you some basic information about how they work and and make some recommendations.

TV menu for streaming services showing Netflix and Hulu

What Is Streaming?

Streaming is a method of transmitting or receiving data (especially video and audio material) over a computer network as a steady, continuous flow.  It allows playback to proceed while subsequent data is being received.

In other words, instead of downloading a movie or song and then playing it from your device, (computer, smartphone, or tablet) you watch it as it’s being transmitted over the internet from someone else’s server. (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.)

Here’s a good analogy:  when someone talks to you, information travels toward you in the form of a sound wave. Your ears and brain decode this information, allowing you to understand it.

  • Streaming video and audio, is a stream of data from a server.
  • The decoder is a stand-alone player like a Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick or a plugin (program) that works as part of a Web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari).
  • The server data stream and the decoder work together to show live (sports events, concerts) or prerecorded (movies, songs) broadcasts.

What Does Buffering Mean?

Buffering is the process of creating a buffer which is some data stored in the memory for playing back soon.  When your video stops or lags and you see “buffering,” that means the download has not happened fast enough and you’ve viewed more than was able to be downloaded.  This situation occurs when the internet connection is not fast enough.  After a few minutes the download catches up and the video starts again.

Who Streams and Why?

image of a smoking cable cord and the amazon, hulu and netflix logos

According to Hub Entertainment Research’s Conquering Content Report, 52 percent of people now watch streaming video and more than 48 percent of those use set-top boxes. (like Roku and Apple TV)

Two-thirds of them subscribe to at least one of the big three streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. More than a third subscribe to two or more services.

According to another Hub study, Decoding the Default, 78 percent of people are still subscribing to cable or satellite, but 70 percent of those subscribers are also subscribing to a streaming service. It appears people aren’t “cutting the cord” but rather, adding streaming networks.

One of the reasons is that watching popular shows like Stranger Things (Netflix), The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu), or The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime), requires a subscription to their streaming services.

In addition, traditional over-the-air (OTA) networks, such as CBS are also moving to streaming. Star Trek: Discovery, is only available on CBS’s streaming service: CBS All Access.

Do I Need A Streaming Device?

Most newer TVs have streaming capability (The LG OLEDB8P or LG OLEDC7P, are considered some of the best).  If you only watch shows from the big three streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime), you may not need a separate set-top streaming gadget.

Apple TV

Picture of a TV with Apple TV menu

Do you love Apple gadgets? Do you buy and rent videos from the iTunes store? Do you use iTunes for your personal media library? Then you’ll enjoy Apple TV.  The latest Apple TV is The Apple TV 4K. The starting price is $179 and you will need a 4K TV to benefit fully benefit from the 4K resolution but it will work on older TV’s.  (Be aware that if you upgrade your TV to 4K, you will need to upgrade any other devices you have, like DVD players. It’s a seemingly never ending cycle of consumerism. LOL

In addition to letting you buy or rent content from the Apple Store or your own iTunes library, the new Apple TV supports more third-party streaming services than it used to, but it still doesn’t support Amazon Prime Video.  It has some cool apps of it’s own like slideshows of the history of art, famous places around the world. And your personal  photos.

Other advantages to Apple TV is that, unlike other streaming devices, Apple TV 4K also supports HDR10 video, Dolby Vision HDR, Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac Wi‑Fi connectivity.

A big plus in my book is the Apple TV interface and remote controller because they are so simple and easy to use.  

Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice   Picture of a TV screen with the Amazon order page for instant videos

If you’re an Amazon Echo user or a subscriber to Amazon Prime Video, you might want the Amazon streaming gadget – the new Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice. You can use it’s remote controller or any nearby Alexa device, to start showing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and other Amazon videos.  It also supports most of the other popular streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. At $39.99, it’s an affordable, high-quality streaming gadget.

Like other devices, it supports 4K and HDR-10 but it also supports Dolby Vision, an HDR format alternative to the more popular HDR-10.  In theory, Dolby Vision HDR is superior to HDR10 because of its potential to display more colors but you may not be able to see the difference.

Roku

Picture of a TV screen with the Roku menu

If you have an older TV that doesn’t offer streaming, the Roku Express+ for $39.99 can bring it up to speed. This device has composite A/V ports that work with older TVs.

Roku builds outstanding streaming devices and they have a simple interface that’s easy to use.  This year’s top Roku device is the Roku Streaming Stick Plus. It’s a simple stick and it supports 4K video, High Dynamic Range Video 10 (HDR10) and 802.11ac WiFi for only $59.99.

Like all Roku devices, it supports many more streaming services than its competitors so people who want to explore the hundreds of video services available will want this one.

The new Roku Premiere+ available from Walmart for $49.99 has most of the Stick Plus features and a good voice interface with audio control built into the remote but it only supports 802.11n at 2.4GHz so if your WiFi isn’t strong, it may not work well for you.

Nvidia Shield TV  Picture of the Nvidia Shield console device for gaming and streaming movies

Are You A Gamer?

If you want to both stream video and play games, you have many good choices including Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro or the Xbox One X, but for streaming, the Nvidia Shield (2017) is much cheaper at $179.  It does a great job of showing 4K and HDR video and you can use it to stream many services including Netflix, Amazon, and Vudu.

It also supports Google Assistant (because it runs the Android TV operating system).  The current model comes with a microphone, so you won’t need to buy an accessory to use Google Assistant.  However, Google assistant devices are pretty inexpensive and very useful in their own right so you might want to get one anyway. (More about assistants in another article coming soon.)

Hope this puts you “in the know” and helps you decide what, if anything, to buy.  

What streaming services do you use?  Do you have a streaming device?  Will you buy one now?

Please share in the comments below.

Enjoy!

Mardi

The gift of technology – My top 13 Gratitude List

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Doesn’t it feel so good to take time to focus on all the blessings in our lives?

One of my greatest blessings is being able to do work that I love and to be able to make other’s lives happier and richer.

You make this possible and I want you to know how much I appreciate you, your business and your referrals.

I love sharing my passion for technology and the many ways it can make our lives more simple, easy or fun.

Here’s A Baker’s Dozen of Techie Things I’m grateful for.  It’s not a complete list but it’s the things I enjoy almost every day.

What would you add to the list?  Share your suggestions in the comments section below and let us count the ways….

  1. The World Wide Web for education, communication and the answer to every question imaginable
  2. Google Search, Wikipedia, YouTube and all the researchers, educators, bloggers and writers that provide the information.
  3. Video conferencing apps that allow me to see my adult children who live far away and even tour their new homes, to offer remote Tech Support to frustrated clients and restore them to being happy campers and to share the joys of technology with more and more people.
  4. Email – It’s hard to remember what life was like before email
  5. Mobile phones, their amazing cameras and apps
  6. Photo sharing and editing apps
  7. Online shopping and online reviews of products and services
  8. Facebook – I don’t go there often but it’s always a good time when I do.
  9. Google Docs and OpenOffice – all the benefits of Microsoft office suite and it’s free
  10. Audiobooks and ebooks and all the amazing authors that provide education and entertainment on so many subjects.
  11. Google Maps and Google Earth
  12. Digital Music – iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify and others
  13. Digital video entertainment – movies, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and others

 

 

How To Clean Gadget Screens

People often ask about the best way to clean the screens on their computers and mobile gadgets. I’ve tried a lot of things and I’ve found a simple solution to be the best… plain water or eyeglass spray and a regular size microfiber towel.

Be sure to reserve a special towel that is used only for gadgets so it won’t have a bit of sand or grit in it from cleaning something around the house.


Microfiber towel for gadgets only
Get a nice big one and just keep refolding it into little squares until you have used all the clean surfaces. You will be able to do a lot of cleaning before you have to wash it. (Don’t bother with those itty bitty cloths for eyeglasses…they get dirty too fast and get lost in the wash.)
Spray water on cloth only
Be sure you moisten the towel and don’t spray anything directly on the glass because it might seep into the gadget.

A less “green” solution is to use eyeglass spray and a tissue.  Then you don’t have anything to launder.
If you enjoyed this tip, please share it so your friends and relatives can enjoy their gadgets more.  Thanks!

What To Do If Your Cell Phone Gets Wet

cell phone in the toilet

One Saturday night, I received an urgent call from a client who had dropped her cell phone in the toilet. It had fallen out of her pocket. I know…it’s funny….but embarrassing too. Well, she isn’t the only one. It’s a fairly common occurrence. Don’t we all know someone….?

If your cell phone gets wet, you will need to act quickly and you won’t want to be wasting valuable time doing research on the internet.

 

It isn’t always easy to find the most reliable information either. Just because it’s on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s true. Sometimes it takes a lot of time and some background knowledge to find the right answer.

I thought you would like to have the results of my research and an article to print in case of an emergency. Please share this with the people you care about so they can be prepared too. And, encourage them to subscribe to my Techie Tips. Thanks!

boy on bike in the lakeIf you do a google search, you’re going to see many articles that say the best way to prevent water damage after dropping your phone into a toilet, (or lake any other liquid) is to put it into a container of dry, uncooked rice. Conventional thought says the rice will suck the moisture right out of the phone and restore it to life.

 

The folks at Gazelle wanted to find the truth about rescuing drowned phones, so they gathered nine devices destined for recycling and put popular wisdom to the test. What they learned surprised them. See Gazelle’s Guide To Water Damage for the details.

If you just want to know what they recommend and don’t care about how they arrived at their conclusions, here’s the instructions to print: How to Save Your Phone From Water Damage

If you enjoyed this article, please share it and encourage your friends and relatives to sign up to receive new blog posts in their inbox so they can enjoy modern technology more.

Enjoy!
Mardi

​Do You Use Skype or Face Time?

Why Use Skype?

Skype is an app that lets you connect with people using the video camera on your computer or mobile device.

Face Time does the same thing, but only works with Apple products. Even if you use Face Time, it’s a good idea to know how to use Skype as well. They are both very simple and easy to use and they are truly one of the best benefits of modern technology.

A friend of mine uses Skype to play checkers with her 9 yr. old grandson who lives out of state.

Parents use it to stay in touch with their children when they have to be away on business trips or vacations. They can read the children a bedtime story, watch them get tucked into bed, and throw them a kiss goodnight.

Several clients have had me show them how to use Skype for important job interviews. We practiced calling each other, chose the most flattering camera angle, picked the most attractive background, and discussed what to wear. It is so rewarding to see people gain confidence and be optimistic about getting the job!

Video chat is great for online dating and long-distance relationships too.

Businesses use Skype for video conferencing because they can have multiple people on a video call. They save a lot of money on air travel, hotels and meals.

On an internet enabled big screen TV, it can feel like you’re actually in the room with distant family members. You can even watch each other open Christmas presents!

On mobile phones, you can only use audio for group calls, but on your computer or internet enabled TV you can do video conference calls.

Skype also supports audio calls to traditional phones. Using Skype on your tablet or smartphone, you can call somebody on a regular telephone. This is really handy if you are traveling and don’t have access to phone service but do have access to wifi.

One of my clients who is retired from the Foreign Service, learned how to use Skype so he could stay in touch with his friends all over the world for free.

All of the features of Skype are free, except calling people on regular telephones. However, Skype phone calls are a lot less expensive than traditional long distance calls.

How to Use Skype

Skype is a free download from the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store and is already installed with Windows 10 and Window phones. (It’s owned by Microsoft.)

You need to have an account to use Skype. You can set up a free account or, if you already have a Microsoft account, you can just log in with that.

On iPads, iPhones, Android phones, and Android tablets, each version of Skype will look a little different but the functionality is the same. There are just a few minor differences on each device

When you login you will see three screens

  1. RECENT- shows the most list of people most recently talked to
  2. FAVORITES – shows the contacts you have marked as favorites
  3. PEOPLE – is your list of people you can call on Skype. They have to have an account also and they have to agree to be connected with you.

To Add a Contact

Search for the person in the Skype database. There are millions of people in the Skype database and lots of people with the same name…even unusual names. It’s amazing!

Therefore, the quickest and easiest way to find people is to search for their unique Skype name. Email address work sometimes too because there aren’t duplicates of those but it’s really easier to ask your person for their skype name.

When you find them, tap the button that says “add people.” Then tap “send a contact request.”

The person’s name will show up on your contact list but, they will not show up as online and accessible until they have accepted your request.

After they accept your request, you will be able to see their status next to their name, which lets you know when they are online for you to call them.

Note: some people leave the Skype app open all the time to receive calls. Other people text or email each other to set a time and then open the app. It depends on how often they use it.

To make a call

Select a contact and you will see buttons at the bottom of the screen. You can choose to do a video call or an audio call. They both work pretty much the same. Tap on the button for audio or video. The camera starts running right away so you can frame up your shot while you wait for the other person to pick up.

After you start talking, the buttons at the bottom of the screen will fade out of the way, but when you tap on the screen, they’ll pop up again.

You can mute and unmute your audio by hitting the mute button.

You can disable the camera by hitting the camera button if you want to talk and see them without them seeing you.

When you’re done, just hit the red hang up button.

To receive an incoming call

The app will make a sound and you will see a choice of buttons.

If you don’t want to answer a call, you can just hit the red button.

If you want to answer but only want to use audio, then hit the green button in the middle.

To see video and hear audio, hit the camera button.

To hang up, tap on the screen to bring up the controls and hit the red button

You can also use Skype to have a text chat.

On the screen, with a contact’s information, tap on the field that says “type a message”. Type and then hit the Send button. When he responds, you’ll see his response pop up.

Calling regular telephones

This feature is particularly useful when you’re traveling to a place where you won’t have a cellular phone connection, but you will have wifi.

This is called Voice Over IP, or VOIP. Using this feature, you can call a regular phone as long as you can connect to Skype on your mobile device.

This is the one feature that is not free but Skype is much less expensive than traditional long distance rates. To get an idea of the pricing options, check out their website. http://www.skype.com/en/

You can login to your Skype account on the website and add Skype credit to your account.

Or in the app on your mobile device, you can hit the “my account” button (top right), and there’s an option for “Skype credit”. This way, it’s an “in-app” purchase and it will be charged to your iTunes account or Play Store account. It will ask for your password for confirmation. Then hit “Buy”.

To make a call to a regular phone

At the bottom of the screen, there’s a dialer button and you can just dial a regular phone number. Also, there’s a button at the top that links directly to the address book on your device so you can find the person and tap on the number. When you hit the phone button at the bottom, it will dial. When he answers, you will be having a conversation just as if you were using a regular telephone. To hang up, just hit the red button at the bottom

Skype is a great app for video and audio calls because it runs on all mobile devices and computers no matter what platform. Group video calls are not available on mobile devices but video calls to individuals work.

I hope you will try this and enjoy it. If you need help, just let me know.

Please share this with your friends and relatives. Your referrals are the heart of my business and my mission is to help people more fully enjoy the many benefits of modern technology.

Thanks,

Mardi

Best Way To Backup Your Computer and Mobile Devices

Cloud Computing Diagram

Do you have a backup strategy for your computer and mobile devices in the event of a catastrophe?  Are you wondering about the easiest and least expensive way to do it?

I recently received an email from a client with questions like these and I thought you would like to know my recommendations….

“Is iDrive the best cloud storage company?  The cost is $45/year and it says it’s for all devices.  Is there a cloud storage system that automatically updates my iPhone and PC?  I pay Apple for extra storage and it still is not enough….and I have an external hard drive for my PC back-up.”

External hard drives can fail just like internal hard drives and won’t do you any good if burned in a fire or stolen.  You still need to have a cloud backup.

IDrive Online BackupI like iDrive the best.  The $45/yr. includes 1T (terabyte) of storage, which is more than enough for most people, and it includes backups of mobile devices.

Carbonite is also good but doesn’t include mobile devices.  It’s 59.99 for unlimited backup.  So if you need lots of storage and don’t have a smartphone or tablet to back up, this would be the best option.

It’s gets a little more complicated when you are using devices from two different companies, like an Apple phone and a Microsoft PC.  An iPhone backs up to iCloud but a PC doesn’t.

If you have an Apple computer and an iPhone and/or iPad, everything backs up to iCloud.  Apple offers some inexpensive plans but if you need a lot of storage, it can get expensive.

20 GB: $0.99/mo, 200 GB: $3.99/mo, 500 GB: $9.99/mo, 1 TB: $19.99/mo ($239.40/year)iCloud

Many of my clients are complaining having to upgrade to more expensive iCloud storage plans.  This is usually because of their photos/videos or music collections.

You can save money on iCloud storage by moving files to your PC and deleting them from iCloud but be sure have a backup plan for your your PC.

If you aren’t making changes to photos or docs and you just want to archive them, you can slide them onto a flash drive and save money on cloud storage.  Be sure you have more than one copy.  Flash drives can get damaged or lost.  You might store copies with friends or relatives or in a safe deposit box.

If you have an Android phone, Google has your back…almost.Android Phone

Google will save app data and all of your phone’s settings including Wi-Fi passwords to your Google account. When you sign in using this Google account on another phone, all of your preferences, photos (via Google+), and contacts will be imported automatically.  Be sure all the options are turned on in “Accounts & sync” in “Settings.”

This does not include your text messages, you’ll have to back them up yourself.  Or or you can save your text messages and call logs to your Gmail account by using an app called SMS Backup+.

To save the music, movies and other media you’ve saved on your phone’s memory card, you need to connect your phone to a PC and copy everything that’s in the micro SD card. This is a manual process so you’ll need to establish a routine for doing this.

When it’s all said and done, it’s simpler, easier and safer to just pay for iDrive cloud storage.  Think of it like paying for insurance for your house and renting mini storage for your extra stuff.

I hope you have found this information helpful and that you will get your files protected.  It’s really sad when computers crash and mobile devices get lost, but at least they can be replaced.  Your files cannot.  Having good backups will preserve your files and make it easy to restore them when you get new devices.

Please share this information with your family and friends so they will be protected too.

Enjoy!

Mardi

Have you heard of Mophie?

Have you heard of Mophie?

It’s a compact battery that can charge almost any device.  It stores enough juice to charge two tablets at the same time… and it charges fast!

It’s great for keeping your cell phone or laptop charged when you don’t have access to electricity.  It’s perfect for long bike rides, camping trips, and road trip adventures.

It’s handy at home too. When your phone battery is low, (which seems like all the time) it’s nice to be able to talk on the phone while it’s charging without having to be tethered to a cord in a wall socket.  I think it charges my phone faster than a wall socket too!  I can charge my phone several times before I need to recharge “the Mophie.”  I’ve used it to charge my Chromebook also.

There are other “battery packs” on the Market but my friend who told me about it, did very thorough research and determined that the Mophie powerstation is the best.  If you’re constantly frustrated by your gadgets running out of juice, you might want to consider getting one.

There are smaller, less expensive models available but the Powerstation XL has the most power for the money.  Here is a link their website.

I hope you find this tip helpful and that you will share it with your friends and family members.  Please help me to connect with all those people who could be enjoying their computers and gadgets more if they just had a little help.  Your referrals help me to “restore peace and joy in the world through computer and mobile gadget education” and are much appreciated.

Enjoy!

Mardi

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