Hey Baltimore, it’s time once again to talk tech – this time Poindexter has prepared 16 useful tips to help you get the most out of your shiny new holiday gadgets and gizmos. Presented in no particular order, we’ll bust some myths, encourage some good practices, and try to help make your tech purchase the best it can be.
Don’t baby the battery
Your new cell phone, laptop, or tablet will almost certainly have a LiOn (lithium ion) battery to keep your device juiced on the go. These batteries are more reliable than their decade old predecessor, NiCad (Nickel cadmium), and don’t need to be conditioned the same way. Still, there’s a ton of weird recommendations and woo on the internet about how to best use and care for your battery, from refrigeration to precision charging schedules. Ignore all of it – current generation mobile devices are designed around normal use habits. Charge when you can, use as you please, and don’t sweat it. The battery will die eventually and there’s little you can do to stop it. Just enjoy it.
Don’t butcher the battery, either
That said, there are a few things to avoid if you want your battery to have an optimal lifespan. Intense heat is a killer and will rapidly degrade your battery, which is a volatile sack of chemicals, after all. Keep it out of sustained direct sunlight (car dashboard) and saunas. Avoid moisture and intense cold, too. Never ever puncture or handle a LiOn battery roughly (they explode).
Remove the bloatware
Licensed, leased, and purchased computers, laptops, and cellular phones will almost certainly come oozing with wasteful bloatware. Carrier cellphones (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc) come preinstalled with their own branded version of most software, especially on Android handsets. Laptops will often come with awful anti-virus and maintenance software, as well as lots of gimicky photo editing and gaming programs. Disable or uninstall them without remorse.
Don’t dump, recycle
If you’re replacing electronics, don’t just throw away the vintage stuff. Most electronics come with sensitive components, chemicals, and heavy metals that need to be recycled properly. If you’re in Hampden, the Baltimore Public Works offers free electronics recycling for citizens from their Sisson Street location. If you find yourself around Towson, the local Best Buy (and pretty much all Best Buys for that matter) will recycle electronics for free. Sometimes there are limits on what items they accept and how many you’re permitted to bring each day, so be sure to contact your local Best Buy first for the skivvy.
Consider Donating It!
Before you chuck that old tech into the trash, please consider donating your computer, laptop, or mobile device to one of many not for profit foundations within Baltimore. Schools, churches, clinics, and other social welfare services can make great use of your old tech! Check out the Hampden Family Center or Bootup Baltimore for two great options.
Erase Your Hard Drive…
Before you donate or recycle your old computer or phone, always properly erase your hard drive. When you tell Windows or Mac OS X to delete a file, the operating system only erases where the file is, not the data itself. The space on your hard drive used by that data needs to be overwritten – have new data copied over it – to truly erase the file. Advanced data recovery can still retrieve deleted files. Wherever possible, look for a “secure delete” option. This will correctly erase your drive (called zeroing out), utterly annihilating your files.
Good technology isn’t just a tool, it’s an extension of you and your lifestyle. New computers come pre-set with a one size fits all wallpaper, font, and desktop arrangement. Don’t be afraid to get into the settings to change your device to suit your tastes and needs. You own it, so take control of it. Make it yours.
Use a Better Password
It can’t be said enough times, Baltimore: You need to use better passwords. Your name, last name, birthday, or dog’s nickname simply aren’t strong enough. A friend, neighbour, or half witted computer can guess your password easily, giving them unlimited access to your online life. Use different, complex passwords for every account and don’t – don’t – copy those passwords to a spreadsheet or sheet of paper. Instead, use a password vault to keep track of everything and help you make random, complex pass-phrases. Always set up two factor authentication for sensitive accounts, like your email, cloud storage, and banking services.
The Hard Reset
Most modern computers and handhelds go to sleep when you press the power button once. Laptops, for instance, will go to sleep, then eventually hibernate (even deeper sleep). iPhones and Android devices will turn the screen off, then eventually sleep. If your new tech is acting wonky or has frozen up, always try to shut it off properly using the provided system menus. If it refuses to budge, press and hold the power button until it shuts all the way off (no lights, no sounds). After a few seconds, press and hold the power button until you see it start to power back up.
The Harder Reset
If just holding your mobile devices power button doesn’t seem to help your frozen device, try removing the battery. Unplug the device first, then pull the battery out carefully. Leave it out of the device for a few minutes, replace it, then try to power back up. If the battery is non-removable, you can always use a specific combination of key presses to simulate battery removal. In the case of iPhones and iPads, you need to press and hold the Home and Power keys for a few seconds, until the device shuts down. For Android phones and tablets, it’s usually some combination of Volume down or Volume up, and the power button. Consult your device’s manual for details.
Slow Internet Isn’t a Slow Computer
Most folks use the internet extensively on their computer or phone. When your internet connection isn’t up to snuff, loading websites can be frustratingly slow. There might be nothing wrong with your computer itself; the issue probably lies in your wireless signal, internet router, or internet service provider. If your computer isn’t loading websites quickly enough, try a speed test to figure out how quick your connection is – most home internet connections receive a download speed of 10-100mbps. How fast you download is determined in part by your service package (what you pay for) and oodles of other factors, like your router and modem. If you’re getting far less than what you’re paying for, contact Poindexter for advanced network troubleshooting.
Cut the Cord
For many, this is a no brainer. For others, streaming television and movies via the internet is a miracle come true. If you’re among the latter, be sure to check out Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime Video. Most modern devices can connect directly to your television, so you can watch the latest shows on your big screen for a tiny fraction of what standard cable costs. You already already pay for your internet service; use it to its fullest with streaming video. Heck, most streaming services offer a month or so of free service, so there’s no harm in trying. We promise, it will feel like the future.
Don’t Forget Music
But it’s not just about movies and television shows – internet services like Spotify, Google Music, and Apple Music offer up nearly all of humanity’s recorded music, sometimes for free, most times for a small pittance. Stream all of the music you could possibly want anywhere with your new mobile phone or laptop. It’s incredible.
Clean the Screen
Our new tech needs to be kept clean, especially if it includes a sensitive touch screen (mobile phones and tablets, mostly). Do NOT use Windex or any other ammonia based cleaner on your screen. Most manufacturers include special coatings that reduce glare and smudging (oleophobic) – these coatings can be stripped or discolored by harsh cleaners, especially ammonia. Most electronics vendors offer gentle, screen suitable cleaners with lint-free cloths.
Protect the Screen
It goes without saying that your computer, tablet, or phone screen is an essential part of your new tech. Nowadays, the screen is oftentimes the only way to interact with your device (Android and iPhones, especially). It makes sense, then, that your screen has got to stay healthy and happy. Consider a tempered glass screen protector and bumper case to protect your phone or tablet. Tempered glass feels more natural, resists finger prints, and will spare your screen scratches, dings, and minor crack damage. A worthwhile case will protect your device from short falls smacking its weak spots (the corners). If you do crack your phone’s screen, replacements are usually available for $100-300 depending on make, model, and age.
Backup, Backup, Backup
Which leads me to one of the most important, and now one of the easiest, things to set up right away on your computer, tablet, or phone: Cloud backup. Apple provides 5 GB of cloud storage for backups free for users. Google provides 10 GB free. For Apple, be sure to say “YES!” to iCloud backup when you first setup your device, otherwise hop into the Settings menu and set it up under iCloud. For Android stuff, find “Backup and Accounts” or some such to verify that your accounts are correctly syncing with your service of choice. Also, to be extra sure, it never hurts to do a local backup to your computer using iTunes or some other manufacturer provided solution. However you do it, always have a backup. For some devices (iPhones), damaging the screen can mean losing all access to the phone and, without a backup, all of your data (contacts, photos, notes…).
Baltimore calls Poindexter
Closing our our semi-random, free flowing list of 2016 tech tips is probably the most important tip of all: When in doubt, call Poindexter. We can recover your data, install new hardware, setup your devices, and explain away tech questions and doubts. Whether you’ve got an under performing website, cranky computer, or questions that you need answered, Poindexter is here to help. We’ve never heard a silly question and absolutely adore talking and teaching tech. Let us share our love for gadgets and gizmos with you and your family. Don’t suffer your tech headache anymore! Schedule a Poindexter visit today.