Tag Archives: iPhone

Smartphone Tips and Tricks

By Tracey Dowdy

If you’ve owned a smartphone for more than 5 minutes, you may get the distinct impression that your device is indeed smarter than you are. These tips and trick can help you customize and make the most of your phone and maybe even give you back a little dignity, although we can’t do anything about your behavior at the office Christmas party; you’re on your own there!

Android Phones

Android is by far the most popular OS, with over 3 billion users worldwide and offering considerably more options for customization than iOS (iPhone). From audio settings to accessibility, wallpaper to widgets, Android devices are a lot of fun to play with.

Manage your data. Unless your plan includes unlimited data, you’re going to want to keep track of how much data you’re using each month. Click Settings>Data Usage and an easy-to-read graph is displayed allowing you to keep track over time. You can see which apps use the most data and set a limit so your usage doesn’t exceed your plan.

Customize your lock screen security. Android offers several options for locking and unlocking your phone.  Go to Settings > Security and then choose from None, Slide, Face Unlock, Pattern, PIN, and Password. Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6 smartphones raise the security stakes even higher with fingerprint scanners.

Add widgets to your lock screen. Widgets make it easy to get weather or email updates without ever opening the phone. They’re easy to install directly from the Google Play store and most are free. Once added, simply swipe left from your lock screen to access. (Android 4.2 or later)

Create folders. I love folders. On my desk, on my desktop, on my phone…everything is in its place. Android lets you clean up your screen by dropping apps into folders simply by dragging one app on top of another. This creates a folder you can name and on some devices even color code. Drag and drop additional apps into the folder to clear your Home screen and keep similar apps in one location.

Swipe gesture typing. Many devices include swipe gesture typing but if not you can download the Google Keyboard or a third party alternative like SwiftKey for free from the Play store. It takes getting used to but once you master it you’ll find it’s faster and easier than tapping out letters. Swipe gesture typing works by dragging your finger across the keyboard to the letters without taking your finger off the screen. The device intuitively determines the words you’re attempting to spell and the more you use it, the better it gets.

Opt in to Google Now. Google Now was included in Android 4.1 and is Android’s answer to Siri. To see if you have it but haven’t opted in, simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen. Unlike Siri, Google Now is constantly working in the background, staying one step ahead of you making your smart phone even smarter. It can be accessed via voice control from your home screen to provide alerts, reminders, dictate a text or email, get directions, have it read your schedule or latest message, and search for facts.

iPhones

The iPhone interface is much less customizable than Android devices but there are plenty of hidden features worth playing around with. You can set custom ringtones for friends or switch your phone to Airplane mode so it charges faster, or take photos in Burst mode to snap several shots in rapid succession.

Make full use of your earbuds. To the uninformed they may appear to be simple headphones, but they also function as a very handy remote control. By using the toggle button your headphones can pause, play, fast forward, rewind or skip music, or even jump back to the previous song. While on the phone, the toggle button allows you to answer calls, hang up or send a call to voice mail, or even toggle between two active calls. Finally, hold the toggle button down to control the shutter release on your camera and the volume up button to snap a photo.

Monitor data usage. As with Android devices, monitoring data usage and which apps use the most data is important. Go to Settings > Cellular to disable cellular data usage for any installed apps. This way you can decide which get to use cellular data, and which apps can load only over Wi-Fi.

Use iMessage while travelling. One of the best features of iMessage (iPhone to iPhone) is that you can still use this feature while travelling overseas even if you don’t have a data plan as long as you’re connected to Wi-Fi. Go to Settings > Messages, make sure Send as SMS is disabled and that iMessage is enabled.

Keyboard Shortcuts. By long-pressing on the keyboard, an entirely new set of characters and symbols appear onscreen. For example, hold down the letter “A” and eight different accented A’s appear, likewise for other vowels. Hold down the “-“ key and em and en dashes appear and holding down the zero key allows you to insert a degree symbol.

Increase battery life. There are two quick ways users can boost battery life. First is by limiting Spotlight search, a great feature for indexing but one that requires constant scanning of data for new information. Go to Settings > General > Spotlight and uncheck the items you don’t necessarily need indexed. This second option also protects your privacy, something we should all be more aware of.  System Services allows Apple to know where your phone is at all times. Go to Settings > Privacy > System Services to switch off the option and give your battery usage a boost at the same time.

Better Touch ID results. Sometimes Touch ID seems to struggle to identify your fingers. To improve recognition, go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode > Add a fingerprint. Add the same fingerprint several times thus allowing Touch ID to have more information about the fingerprint and increasing recognition which results in a faster scan.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

What to Expect from iOS 9

By Tracey Dowdy

Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference kicked off earlier this week but, in typical Apple fashion, they had our attention long before the first speaker hit the stage.

Among the biggest announcements at WWDC is this Fall’s release of iOS 9, which Apple is promoting as being “full of enhancements.” On a personal level, I was very interested to see what these “enhancements” were as I hated iOS 8 for no other reason than it ate up so much space. So, without further ado, here are some of the best and most important features of iOS 9:

Storage – As I mentioned, iOS 8 took up a significant hunk of storage – 4.6GB no less. This time around, iOS 9 takes a mere 1.8 GB, less than half its predecessor.

Battery Life – iOS 9 promises a full hour of additional battery life for your iPhone. Just as significant is “Low Power mode,” which will disable background features not needed for basic functionality and, in turn, give you 3 more hours of battery life once your phone reaches 20-10% of the full charge.

Passbook becomes Apple Wallet – Last October Apple introduced Apple Pay, giving users the ability to store credit cards, debit cards, and other payment data in the Passbook app, turning your iPhone 6 or Apple Watch into a virtual wallet at store checkouts. With iOS 9, Apple has added Discover to the list of cards that Apple Pay works with, as well as the ability to store specific rewards cards like Dunkin Donuts, Wegmans or Walgreens. In addition, users will be able to double tap the Home button when the iPhone is locked to use Apple Pay.

Proactive Assistant – Siri gets a major upgrade in iOS 9. Swipe left and Siri will bring up a list of frequently accessed contacts, apps, nearby places, news, and more. Search results will be contextual based on location, search history, and time of the day, enabling you to set location-based reminders like “Remind me to call the office when I get home.” Users will also be able search media based on dates, location or album titles, so you can ask Siri to “find videos I took in August 2014.”

As an added bonus, Siri will be able to identify incoming calls even if that contact detail is not already present in your contact book.

Maps – Instead of having to choose between driving, walking, or public transportation, Maps users will be able to combine modes. For example, if you’re taking the train into the city then hopping on the streetcar to reach your final destination, Maps will determine the most efficient route for both and provide those step by step directions we love. Some cities will have Transit detailing lines and stations and Nearby provides options for dining, sightseeing, shopping and entertainment.

Passcode – Lock screens will require a six-digit passcode to unlock your device, adding a million more possibilities to foil hackers. Users can divert back to the four digit code but why would you want to?

Search for options in Settings – If you’ve ever tried to remember where “Invert Colors” or some other useful but not necessarily frequently used feature can be accessed, you understand my excitement at the option to type a search term into Settings and be taken straight to the result.

iPad – With iOS 9, Apple finally allows iPad users Slide Over, Split View and Picture in Picture, features Android tablet users have loved for ages. Slide Over is self-explanatory, allowing users to slide over and open a second app without leaving the one currently being used. Split View, available for iPad Air 2, allows users to view apps side by side, and Picture in Picture allows users to watch a video, music clip or FaceTime and work on a secondary app at the same time.

Move to iOS – Finally, if you’re ready to take the plunge and switch from an Android or Windows phone to Apple, it’s never been easier. With iOS 9 you can download the Move to iOS app and wirelessly switch from another operating system. Within minutes you’ll securely download your contacts, messages, photos, videos, web bookmarks, mail accounts and other important data. Any free apps you had on your previous device that are available on iTunes are listed as suggested downloads and any paid apps are added to your App Store Wish List.

There are a host of other features in iOS 9: enhanced Car Play integrates third party apps from your car’s developer, Notes has been overhauled and now features a Sketch menu, and Newsstand has been replaced with an intuitive News App that learns your preferences and interests and gets better every time you use it. Apple is notorious for hype, but from my perspective this is one time they live up to it.

Apple will launch a public beta version of iOS 9 in July. You can sign up at beta.apple.com for a chance to test-drive this pre-release version. The full iOS 9 update will be available to all users in the Fall.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Choosing a New Smartphone

By Tracey Dowdy

With all the great options available, choosing a smartphone can feel like finding a needle in a haystack, except that the haystack is made of needles and you’re looking for the one needle with your name on it. Sure you’re going to find it if you have the time, but it’s going to take a while and it’s probably going to hurt.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The good news is that once you have a clear idea of what your specific needs are, you can sort through that haystack pretty quickly. And the even better news: no bloodshed!

Here are a few guidelines to get you started:

COST

1. Consider your budget. Before you get dazzled by all the features of the iPhone 6 or the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge and its curved screen, decide how much you can spend and stay within your budget. A fantastic phone with all kinds of features is really a waste of money if you can’t afford the data plan to support those features.

2. Don’t go for the cheapest phone just because it’s a bargain. The old adage “You get what you pay for” is just as true for phones as it is with every other purchase. Mobile phones have long since morphed from being a convenient way to make a call into handheld computers. Think long term; you’re probably going to be using the device for at least the next year or two, so choose the best phone you can afford.

3. Talk to a sales associate in store or online about what costs are involved in the various service plans. Major carriers like Verizon offer family plans that allow you to bundle services and customize them to your family’s specific needs.

PHYSICAL FEATURES

1. Weight – Are you going to be carrying the phone in a pocket or a purse? On your belt or in a backpack? Will you use it as a primary device and hold it all day or will it rest at the bottom of your bag? A few ounces can feel like a whole lot more; remember – they’re called handheld devices for a reason.

2. Screen size generally falls into three categories – Small (less than 4.5 inches), Medium (4.5 to 5.4 inches) and Large (5.5 inches or more). Generally speaking, the only smartphone with a small (4 inch) display is the iPhone 5 which makes it easy to use one handed. The iPhone 6 sports a 4.7 inch screen and the Moto X jumps up to 5.2 inches, making them harder to use one handed but that extra inch is huge when you consider how much larger the display area becomes. Devices with displays of 5.5 inch and greater fall more into the “phablet” category – a hybrid of a phone and tablet.

3. Phone size and screen size are not the same thing. There can be a significant difference between phones with equal sized displays. For example, while the iPhone 6 has a 4.7 inch display, its need for a physical Touch ID button on the home screen means it’s a larger handset than the Moto X with the same size screen.

4. Durability is another important consideration. My first cell phone was an ancient black Motorola that I once dropped down a stairwell – roughly four floors. I picked it up and made a call – the fall didn’t even make a mark on the phone. On the flip side, my first iPhone got dropped two feet onto a hardwood floor and the screen shattered like a special effect in a sci–fi movie.

5. Display quality will be more or less important depending on the primary use of your phone. If you use your phone to watch movies, you’ll want to choose a phone that offers the highest quality display with quad-HD resolution or 2560 x 1440 pixels. If that’s not a deal breaker, a full-HD panel with 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p) is often detailed enough, and screens with 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) while not great for movies are perfectly adequate for gaming.

6. We all think in terms of megapixels when we think cameras but other factors play an important role as well. A 13-megapixel camera will take poor quality photos if the lens isn’t up to par. Phones with high shutter speeds and autofocus mean less lag and better photo quality as well.

7. Ah battery life, the great white whale of smartphones. The more dependent we get on our phones the more power manufacturers try to cram in. Batteries typically start in the neighborhood of 1,700mAh and go all the way up to 3,500mAh but it’s important to remember usage plays a huge role in the length and strength of your phone’s battery life.

OPERATING SYSTEM

1. Android offers one of the most customizable interfaces of all the major players. Phones offer plenty of features straight out of the box, but if you’re tech savvy and like to play around, Android is a great option. The Google Play Store now offers well over 1 million apps.

2. Apple devices all run off its iOS platform. It has an intuitive interface and a huge selection of apps available through iTunes. The downside is that you are pretty much locked in to Apple’s interface, as it allows for very little customization.

3. Windows (Microsoft) was late to the party but that doesn’t mean they can’t play with the big kids. The Windows Phone OS has a simple interface and the latest version (8.1) helps level the playing field with the Cortana voice assistant and a notifications center.

My suggestion is to do a little research on your own and make a wish list. Talk to your friends and co-workers about their phones and plans and see what they love or hate, what they wish they knew before they bought, and how they feel about the customer service levels of their provider. Ideally, take your wish list to your local store and talk to one of the sales associates. They’ll help you sort through features, provide you with demos of the phones, and give you the opportunity to physically hold and feel the phone before you commit.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Repair vs. Replace: What To Do When Tech Breaks Down

By Tracey Dowdy

Over the past year I’ve had to replace both my laptop and my cell phone. I didn’t drop them, spill a drink or get infected with a virus, but my laptop was a dinosaur and the phone had defective hardware. In both cases I faced the dreaded question: “Repair or replace?”

My phone was still under warranty, so that was an easy fix but that wasn’t the case with my laptop. Like most people, I depend on my laptop for everything from social media to online banking, but more than that, my laptop pays my bills. I depend on it for work as much as play, so being without it for any length of time really wasn’t an option. And like most people, I don’t have stacks of cash cluttering my desk, so repair or replace had to factor in the cost of both. In the end the cost of repairs far outweighed the value of the computer and I decided to replace it.

As a general rule, if the cost of replacing the device is more than twice the cost of repairs, go ahead and fix it. The average cost to repair a cell phone is between $50 and $150, which is a bargain if you consider that a new iPhone 6 costs up to $500. For tablets, if the cost is under $200, it’s likely worth repairing. Technology maintenance company Lexicon Technologies recommends replacing desktops every 3 to 4 years, but is more circumspect when it comes to replacing laptops.

Aside from cost, there are other factors to consider when deciding whether you should pay for repairs or bite the bullet and purchase something new.

Cosmetic vs. Hardware Damage

A cracked screen on your cell phone may be annoying but may not impact the functionality of the device. When I cracked the screen on my iPhone, I had a plastic screen protector in place and although it was inconvenient and I couldn’t see everything as well as before, the phone itself worked perfectly. (As a side note, screen protectors aren’t really necessary anymore as most phone screens are made of scratch resistant Gorilla glass. However that thin film of plastic bought me time and kept the broken glass in place until I get the screen replaced.) It’s usually worth the $30-$50 to replace the glass, especially if you don’t have an “upgrade anytime” plan or your contract has more than a year left before you can get a replacement.

On the other hand, if had dropped my phone into the pool or the ocean, water damage would have been likely and you would be looking at replacing rather than repairing. My husband dove into a pool with his phone in his pocket and we were sure the phone was toast. But after 3 days he could turn the phone on with no apparent damage to the operating system and it served him well for another 2 years. However, that’s the exception, not the rule. SIM cards survive water damage better than phones, so if your phone takes a bath, take the card out, pat it dry, and leave it to air dry further.

How Old Is the Technology?

Sometimes the cost of the repair plus the cost of a new operating system just isn’t worth it and if your phone or computer can’t support the latest upgrades, you are putting yourself at risk. For example, Windows XP and Office 2003 are considered “out of support” by Microsoft, meaning they no longer offer technical support or security updates. Considering how much of your life is accessible online, using outdated software is akin to leaving your house keys in the front door with a Vegas style marquee inviting everyone in.

Time to Combine Devices

Something else to consider is whether it’s time to combine your devices: If your flip phone doesn’t let you text anymore and your clunky desktop takes forever to open a Word document, it’s time to skip the repair and upgrade your devices.

Depending on how you use technology on a daily basis, a smartphone that combines phone, text, camera and access to the Web may be enough. For me, each device plays a different role: I work off my laptop, read and play on my tablet and, ahem, live on my smartphone. My life and lifestyle are fully integrated with technology.

I recognize that for someone who never uses a phone for anything except phone calls, a feature phone may be enough. My mother isn’t Instagramming, checking her bank account or taking selfies; in her situation a basic phone and her tablet are all she needs.

Take stock of your needs and how connected you want or need to be. Consider the cost, the learning curve involved with new devices and the immediacy of the need. But don’t wait until one of your devices dies. Evaluate where you are now, do some research, familiarize yourself with what warranties are still active and where you are in your service contracts. Then, when the inevitable happens and your device breaks down, you won’t feel rushed into making a decision.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Best Dr. Seuss Apps for the iPhone and iPad

By Tracey Dowdy

Oh the things that we find when we clean up a mess!
Oh the things you will find are often the best!
Like woozles and snoozles and other surprisles
Or stories and pictures by Theodore Geisel!

Okay, that last rhyme was a stretch but I like to think my attempt at rhyming would be appreciated by Dr. Seuss himself.  While clearing out his disused office in 2013, Geisel’s wife found a box of manuscripts and illustrations she had set aside years ago. Now, the Dr. Seuss foundation has announced a new book coming our way in July called What Pet Should I Get?

That’s great news for Seuss fans like me and apparently I’m not alone – currently three of his books are on USA Today’s best seller list: Green Eggs and Ham (#16), One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (#19), and The Cat in the Hat (#35).

In honor of this news, and the fact that Dr. Seuss’s birthday is just around the corner on March 2nd – he’d be 111 years old – here’s a list of my favorite Dr. Seuss apps for the iPhone and iPad.

Dr. Seuss Bookshelf compiles all the Dr. Seuss books and games in one place. Sort by type, price or age or use the search feature to find exactly what you’re looking for. You can view apps on your device, see upcoming or new releases, or create a Favorites list (iPad only). (Free)

Dr. Seuss Treasury offers over 50 classic Seuss books in one app. Parents can track their child’s reading progress through statistics for the number of books read, hours of reading, word count, and the number of words tapped. Try it free for 7 days then choose to subscribe for a monthly or annual fee. ($4.99 per month, $49.99 per year, or $99.99 to purchase all 55 books)

Dr. Seuss Band turns your iPhone or iPad into a musical instrument. With two ways to play, you can compose your own wacky tunes with over 120 sounds to choose from or play along with Seussian soundtracks from The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and more to gain high scores and unlock additional features. ($0.99 with additional in-app purchases)

Dr. Seuss Beginner Collections package ten interactive books into two bundles of 5 books each. Narration is highlighted so kids can follow along and users can record their own narration and share it with others. Vocabulary words and illustrations are tappable so kids can learn new vocabulary. ($14.99 each)

Dr. Seuss Camera is available in four versions: The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch, and Who Me? and Happy Birthday. Choose a picture from your photo library and transform yourself into a Who. You can change the background, clothing, hair, accessories or other features to create your own unique character. Photos can be saved or shared to social media directly from the apps. ($1.99 each)

Dr. Seuss Fun Machine Game is a companion to the Dr. Seuss Fun Machine Game Tiles available online or in stores. Three fun games challenge users to “guess-a-roo”, slap-down, or match the tiles with what’s on screen. There’s no reading required so it’s fun and accessible for all ages. (Free)

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Best Free Apps for New iPhone Users

By Tracey Dowdy

If you’re a new iPhone user, transferring email, contacts and your calendar is as simple as adding a new account, or you can use an app like Copy My Data. Photos, videos, books, music and documents are easily transferred as well.

The one thing that won’t transfer is your apps but not to worry – many of the same apps are available for iOS that you loved on your Android phone. In fact, one of the perks of being an iPhone user is that new apps are often introduced before they are available for Android devices, and some stay exclusive to the iOS platform.

So if you’re new to iPhone, these are some of the best apps for new users. Many of these are likely to be familiar to you and others are iOS exclusive, but best of all – they’re free!

Facebook Paper
Facebook Paper is designed to make your feed have more of a magazine or newspaper feel. Designed specifically for the iPhone (no iPad version), content is posted in a grid so it doesn’t feel as cluttered and is easier to read. Content isn’t limited only to what’s been posted by your friends but is curated by a team of Facebook staff to include what’s trending across social media.

Spotify
The Spotify streaming music service allows you to search by artist, album, genre, playlist, or record label to create custom playlists of your favorite music from a vast catalog.  Accounts can be integrated with your Facebook and Twitter accounts and premium accounts are ad free. Spotify radio lets you choose by decade or genre and, unlike Pandora, you can skip as many tracks as you like.

Onavo Extend
Onavo Extend works in the background compressing incoming images to help limit your data use. The app automatically turns itself off when Wi-Fi is available and tracks data usage so you can see what apps or activities are using the most data. It’s especially convenient if you travel outside the U.S. when every mega-byte counts.

Pocket
Pocket allows users to save articles or webpages to a list that can then be read later offline. Pocket syncs across devices so an article you saw on your phone during your morning commute can be read later on your laptop or iPad.

Brewster
Brewster combines all your contacts from across your networks into one address book. You don’t have to download an app – simply authorize Brewster through your Google or iCloud account and contacts will automatically be synced. Now when you start to type in an email or text, Brewster will auto-fill the field based on your contacts.

SwiftKey
SwiftKey is an onscreen keyboard that intuitively picks up on your commonly used words, typos, and even the emojis you use most often. Sign up through Facebook or Google Plus and the app discerns your writing style based on your posts and email. The more you use it, the more accurate and customized it gets.

Flipboard
Flipboard follows the trend of magazine style layouts to provide users with an uncluttered view of RSS feeds and social media pages. Create an account with Flipboard, then choose which social media account you want to pull content from. Choose from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+, and YouTube. You can customize the layout and create a “magazine” of preferred content.

Of course, apps like DropBox, Google Maps, Skype and Evernote have virtually become smartphone essentials. Needless to say, with over 1.2 million apps available, you’ll have no trouble making your new iPhone unique to you.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

5 Things to Think About Before Buying Your Next Phone

By Tracey Dowdy

With so many options out there, the prospect of buying a new phone can be more than a little daunting. But, if you take the time to do a little research, think through exactly what you want and sort through your options, you’ll end up with the phone you need and not just what’s trending.

Cost

Before you start shopping you’ll need to decide whether you want a smartphone or a feature phone, as there is a significant cost difference between the two. Smartphones are more expensive as they function like handheld computers, with access to the Internet and a range of built-in and third-party apps. Feature phones, which are significantly cheaper, are used primarily for making calls and sending texts. There are often added features like a camera, a basic calendar and a few games, but again, the primary function is to communicate through calls and texts.

Not only will you need to look at upfront costs when choosing a phone but also the ongoing cost of a service plan. It’s great to have access to Netflix and Facebook, but the cost of carrying a data plan can be significant, especially if you go over your plan’s limit. Keep in mind that you’re investing in a product that should last you at least two years, which is the length of a standard contract. Low cost may seem appealing upfront, but two years is a long time to be stuck with a product that wasn’t worth the investment or doesn’t offer the features you really wanted.

Operating System

Currently the two most popular operating systems are Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Android is by far the most commonly used, is available on dozens of devices in a multitude of designs, and is highly customizable. Apple, on the other hand, aims for quality over quantity, releasing only one or two phones a year. Apple offers a myriad of third-party apps but iOS allows very little customization of its user interface and configuration options are much more limited.

A third option is Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS. Users can integrate popular programs like Office and Outlook, which can give the phone a familiar feel even if the hardware is new to the user. If choice and customization are important to you, an Android phone is your best choice. To compare, the Apple store currently offers just four options: iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. In contrast, the Verizon store alone offers 26 different Android models.

Physical Characteristics

You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it and a phone is no different. Take the time to visit a store and actually hold the phone in your hand. Does it feel comfortable? Is it too heavy? Too flimsy? Are you going to carry it in a pocket or your purse? How big is the screen? Think about it: if the primary use of the device is as a phone, screen size is less important than if you wanted to use your phone to read documents, watch videos or play games.

You’ll also want to consider your lifestyle. If you work or play in an  active or outdoors environment, you’re going to want a phone that can stand up to being dropped or knocked around. You can buy good cases to protect the phone, but you’re still going to want to choose durable hardware to put in that case.

Features

Innovation in technology moves at the speed of light but just because something is touted as hot or trending doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Consider what features are important to you and choose a phone based on those guidelines. Will you be on-the-go and have limited access to a charger? Look for a phone with a long battery life. Will you use it primarily as a phone? Look for a phone that offers call quality with clear speakers and a good mic. Touch screens are popular but if a QWERTY keyboard is more familiar, you may want to skip the iPhone and look at the options Android phones have to offer.

User Friendliness

It won’t matter how many features your phone has if you never learn how to use them. If you’re not tech savvy and don’t care to be, the simpler the phone the better. You don’t want to pay for features and services you don’t want or need. On the other hand, if you’re tech savvy or at least willing to learn, look for a phone with the features you want. Have the staff at the phone store walk you through a demo of what the phone can do and how to access those features. Once you’re home, there are countless online tutorials that will help you make the most of the camera, music player and other fun features.

Choosing a phone doesn’t need to be a chore. Think about what you need, set a budget, and explore. Take your time and ask your friends or family for their opinions and whether they’re happy with their own phones. Choosing a phone is a big investment and ultimately you want to choose the phone that’s right for you.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

8 Favorite Features from iOS 8

By Tracey Dowdy

Three very important, world changing events happened last past week:

1. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club voted to admit female members;
2. The TV networks launched their new fall line-ups and season premieres; and
3. Apple released iOS 8.

Granted, in the grand scheme of things, numbers one and two may not actually count as world changing, but humor me. You can at least see the importance of #3.

Here are my favorite features from iOS 8:

1. Siri can now “name that tune.” Shazam has long been everyone’s go-to music search app but now Shazam is integrated into Siri, so you can more easily identify music whether it’s playing on your device or part of a movie soundtrack.

2. Family Sharing allows up to six users to share purchases from iTunes, iBook and the App Store, without having to share the same account. Kids under 13 can now have their own account linked to yours for billing purposes via “Ask to Buy,” so all purchases are pre-approved by you. If you’d prefer your children not have access to your collection of hardcore rap albums, you can choose to hide individual items.

You can also take advantage of the Family Photo album, with anyone in the circle being able to curate and add to it. Perhaps my favorite feature is the Family Calendar, so I can keep track of work schedules, appointments and plans from one central location. I’ve had a dry erase calendar on a cabinet door since we moved in to our current house – and it still says “October 2013.”  Kudos to Apple for finally getting my family on the same page.

3. “Find my iPhone” has been around for a while, but with iOS8 you now have the added Send Last Location feature, which syncs with iCloud to send a “distress signal” when the battery is about to run out.

4. I would say my single greatest complaint about my iPhone 5 is how quickly the battery drains. Now, iOS 8 identifies which apps are the worst offenders, so users like me can decide what to keep, what to delete, and what to adjust. (Settings > General > Usage > Battery Usage).

5. One of the best new features in Messaging is the ability to name, mute, or leave a conversation that involves more than two participants. Simply click “Details” in the top left corner and run away.

6. Some of the biggest changes are to the Photos app. When you open your Photos, you will note a change in how albums are organized. Tap the new search tool and you are presented with auto-populated categories for your current location, photos shot one year ago, photos shot at your home address, photos tagged as favorites, and a list of recently found images. There are also enhanced editing categories: Light, Color, and B&W, with over a dozen additional manual editing features between them.

7. Being able to take a time lapse photo has been an option via third party apps but now it’s integrated into the iOS 8 camera functions. Swipe all the way to the left on the camera mode dial and set the timer for three or ten seconds. There are also options to set exposure levels.

8. Finally, continuity between devices will be a big feature going forward. OS X Yosemite (projected for release in late October) will pair with iOS 8 for seamless integration between Apple devices. You’ll be able to answer iPhone calls on your Mac, receive texts on your computer, and even pick up where you left off in a document by a simple one touch sweep of an icon.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Who Will Buy the Apple Watch?

[This updated article was originally published in September 2014.]

By Paul O’Reilly

Yesterday’s event in San Francisco cleared up a lot of uncertainties about Apple’s brand new Watch but still left many people wondering whether there is a significant market for wearable technology that basically mimics a few select smartphone features.

The Watch will come in three different finishes – stainless steel, anodized aluminum and 18-karat gold – and a range of different wristbands and clasps will allow users to personalize their Watches to suit their own individual tastes and styles. This emphasis on style is an indication of how Apple intends to market its new product, and could also be the first hint that establishing the Watch as a must-have device might not be the slam dunk that most people think it will be.

When Tim Cook first introduced the Watch back in September of 2014, he took great pains to let everyone know that the device would actually tell the time. In fact, the description of the Watch as “an incredibly precise timepiece” is one of the first things you see when you delve into the functionality of the device on Apple’s web site.

This surely reflects the belief that if Apple is going to have success with the Watch, they are first and foremost going to have to sell it as a timepiece rather that a wearable computer, and that could present some problems.

When the iPod first came out, most people didn’t have an MP3 player. Apple reinvented the portable music player and made a strong case why everyone should own one. Apple pulled off a similar trick with the iPhone and the iPad. Not everyone was sold on cell phones and tablets but Apple showed us why we needed them and we dutifully fell into line.

The problem is everyone already has a watch.

Not only will Apple be asking you to buy a new device, they will be asking you to ditch the device you already own, and if that device is a Rolex, a Patek Philippe or a Cartier, then you might not want to play ball. OK, not everyone owns a luxury watch but plenty of people own a watch they are very comfortable with, and unless you’re going to wear two watches – surely a fashion no-no, even for geeks – then you’re going to stick with what you know and like.

But what about all the software, GPS mapping, and other apps? Well, you already have all those on another device that you take with you everywhere you go: your smartphone. Apple is now asking you to purchase another device that does almost exactly the same things as your smartphone does, only not quite as well.

Instead of swiping and tapping your smartphone with both hands to send an email, find out what’s showing at the local multiplex, or get directions to a restaurant, you now have to use just one hand and play with an awkward side wheel to do the same thing. And didn’t Apple concede that we prefer big screens with the introduction of the iPhone 6 Plus?

Of course, the Watch has a strong emphasis on health and fitness, which continues to be the single strongest selling point for wearable technology. Sensors in the back of the Watch will track your every move, suggesting fitness goals and monitoring performance. However, there are already lots of wearable fitness devices on the market and the user experience has been mixed. People tend to wear them a lot during the first few days and weeks, and then use tails off dramatically after that. For runners, cyclists and workout fanatics, the Watch is probably a dream come true but that is clearly not the only audience that Apple is targeting with its new device.

So who will buy the Watch? The answer, of course, is millions of people, but much will depend on the reaction of early adopters. While the Sport edition will cost $349, the regular Watch starts at $549 and goes all the way up to $1,049. That’s a lot of money to give you the same functionality that you already have on your smartphone.

If we learned anything over the years, it’s not to bet against Apple. Despite the most intense competition, their devices remain the gold standard in nearly all categories, continuously winning accolades for both design and functionality. But the Watch faces a different set of obstacles: a watch industry that doesn’t need reinventing and a tech-savvy customer base that may finally decide it has all the gadgets it needs.

Follow Paul on Twitter @TheTechDad