Tag Archives: Amazon Prime

Give the Gift of Streaming

By Tracey Dowdy

Though there has been much progress on getting a vaccine approved to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the CDC warns we’ll still be wearing masks and social distancing for the next few months. Once approved, the goal is to have all those who choose to be vaccinated receive the vaccine by the end of 2021.

That means that for the foreseeable future, we’ll continue to spend time at home, and with the colder months upon us, we’ll be indoors. That means finding ways to entertain ourselves and stave off cabin fever. And, with the holidays just around the corner, this year’s most popular gift may be the gift of a streaming service. 

Not only can it help keep your quarantine team entertained, but you can also share with extended family and friends, near or far, through features and extensions like Teleparty (formerly called Netflix Party), Disney Plus GroupWatch, and Amazon Prime Video Watch Party.

Here are a few options:

Disney Plus allows you to gift a one-year subscription for $70 (it usually costs $7 a month, saving you $14 over a year). When the subscription is up, the recipient will have the option to add their payment details and continue subscribing. Go to Disney Plus to purchase a subscription, enter the recipient’s email address (must be a U.S. resident, new subscriber, or willing to create a new account), choose a delivery date, and write a personal message. On the date you’ve chosen, they’ll get an email with instructions on how to redeem their gift subscription. All Disney Plus subscriptions include Disney Plus GroupWatch, which syncs your streams so you can watch any title on Disney+ with your personal friends and family virtually through the app. 

Though You do not need to have an Amazon Prime membership to use Prime Video, it can’t be gifted as a stand-alone service. It is bundled with an Amazon Prime membership ($119 a year or $13 a month), bringing plenty of perks besides streaming. To gift someone a Prime subscription, go to Amazon.com/giftprime. Login to your account and choose either the one-year or three-month option. At checkout, you’ll enter the recipient’s email, the date you want it delivered, and be able to write a personal note.

To gift a Netflix subscription, you’ll need to purchase a gift card online through AmazonWalmartBest BuyTargetNewEgg, or Kroger. You can buy in-store at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, 7-Eleven, Dollar General, and Safeway. Gift card values range from $25 to $200, and Netflix subscriptions range from $9 to $18 a month, depending on the number of screens you choose to stream at the same time and if you want HD. The recipient can use the gift card for new or current subscriptions with the card’s value applied as a gift balance. Netflix notifies account holders when the balance is running out. The subscription includes Teleparty, which synchronizes video playback and adds a group chat feature to Netflix, Disney, Hulu, and HBO (subscriptions to each required for all participants).

Hulu also offers gift cards ranging from $25 to $100 that you can purchase online or in-person (TargetWalmartBest BuyKroger, and Paypal. A subscription to Hulu costs $6 a month with ads, $12 a month to go ad-free, or $55 a month for Hulu Plus Live TV. The recipient can redeem their gift card through their Account page on the app or website. If they are a new subscriber, they’ll need to update their payment details after the gift card balance is up, or Hulu will cancel the account.

 Video streaming isn’t the only game in town. Spotify is a great option for the music or podcast fan in your life with a Spotify Premium individual plan costing $10 a month. You can buy eGift cards online at TargetNewEggKroger, and PayPal or purchase physical cards online at Amazon or Best Buy, or in-store at Walmart, Target, Staples, CVS, 7 Eleven, Kroger, and Simon Malls. Choose from $10, $30, $60 or $99. Note, gift cards can be used only for Premium Individual plans — you can’t use them for Premium Student, Premium Family, Premium Duo, or trial offers. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Top Deals for College Students: Streaming Services

By Tracey Dowdy

Like everything else in our lives, students heading off to college will be heading into uncharted territory. While many schools are keeping classes virtual this Fall, some higher learning institutions are implementing changes to resume in-person classes despite COVID-19. Students will be required to be tested, wear masks, and maintain a safe social distance.

Secondary education can be costly, and the challenges that COVID-19 restrictions place on students means that money will be even tighter for many. The good news is, whether online or on-campus, students qualify for discounts on a multitude of products and services.

Students can start by asking what discounts are available on devices and software at the campus bookstore. If your student lives on campus, have them talk to the school’s housing department about any streaming services that may be available for no additional charge. Once they’ve done their homework there, it’s time to check out these deals. 

Spotify Premium with Hulu and Showtime

My recommendation is Spotify’s $5 ad-free bundle that includes both Hulu and Showtime. Purchased separately, they run $10, $6, and $11/month, respectively, for a total of $27, so the plan represents significant savings and a massive library of entertainment. Students who already have a premium account can switch to the student version. 

Amazon Music Unlimited

Separate from Prime Music included with an Amazon Prime subscription (or Prime Student), Music Unlimited is Amazon’s answer to Apple Music and Spotify. Anyone with a Prime Student subscription has access to Music Unlimited for just 99 cents per month, making it hands-down the most inexpensive music-streaming option.

Apple Music/Apple TV

In addition to hardware discounts, Apple offers its Music subscription service at half price for students – $4.99 a month vs. $9.99 – providing access to over 50 million songs. You also get Apple TV Plus free for one year. 

YouTube Premium

Regularly priced at $11.99 a month, students can get YouTube Premium for $6.99 with a subscription. Watch ad-free YouTube videos (also available to download them for offline viewing) and take advantage of unlimited access to YouTube Music. As a standalone service, YouTube Music is $4.99 per month for students (regularly $9.99). YouTube offers a free one month trial, so it’s a good idea to set a calendar reminder to decide before the trial period is up. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Your Smart TV is Watching You

A recent study of smart TV privacy and security by Consumer Reports asked, “How much does your Smart TV know about you?” They looked at several major TV brands: LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL—which use the Roku TV smart TV platform—and Vizio.

Smart TVs connect to the internet, allowing users to stream videos from services such as Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix. Consumer Reports found that all smart TVs can collect and share considerable amounts of personal information about their viewers. Not only that, so can the countless third-party apps that work within the platforms. 

The Oregon office of the FBI released a warning back in December cautioning consumers that some smart TVs are vulnerable to hacking and a number of them have built-in video cameras. The good news is that newer models have eliminated the cameras – Consumer Reports’ labs haven’t seen one in any of the hundreds of new TVs tested in the past two years.

However, privacy concerns are still an issue. Researchers at Northeastern University and Imperial College London discovered that many smart TVs and other internet-connected devices send data to Amazon, Facebook, and Doubleclick, Google’s advertising business. Nearly all of them sent data to Netflix –  even if the app wasn’t installed – or the owner hadn’t activated it. 

A third study, this one conducted by researchers at Princeton and the University of Chicago, looked at Roku and Amazon Fire TV, two of the more popular set-top streaming devices. Testing found the TV’s tracking what their owners were watching and relaying it back to the TV maker and/or its business partners, using a technology called ACR, or “automated content recognition.” There were trackers on 69% of Roku’s channels and 89% of Fire TV’s channels – the numbers are likely to be the same for smart TVs that have Roku’s and Amazon’s native platforms. 

Testing found the TV’s tracking what their owners were watching and relaying it back to the TV maker and/or its business partners, using a technology called ACR, or “automated content recognition.”

On the surface, we love the technology behind ACR because it’s what makes our systems intuitive and recommend other shows we might enjoy watching. The downside is that the same information can be used for targeted advertising or be bundled with other aspects of our personal information to sold to other marketers. 

Justin Brookman, director of privacy and technology at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, says “For years, consumers have had their behavior tracked when they’re online or using their smartphones. But I don’t think a lot of people expect their television to be watching what they do.”

If you have privacy concerns about your Smart TV, check the manual on how to revert the device TV to factory settings and set them up again. Be sure to decline to have your viewing data collected.

For a more detailed analysis and instruction on protecting your privacy, check out Consumer Reports story How to Turn Off Smart TV Snooping Features.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Tips for Shopping on Amazon

Once upon a time, big-box and department stores ruled the earth like gentle retail behemoths, and the thought of purchasing an item online, sight unseen, was madness. Who in their right mind would share their credit card information, home address, or shipping details like “leave package under the mat on the porch?” Then along came Amazon, and everything changed. Through my Amazon Prime membership, I’ve purchased everything from patio furniture to my Mother of the bride dress, and the possibility of never having to walk inside a mall again fills my heart with such happiness it brings a tear to my eye.

And before you condemn me for the collapse of the American small business economy, I buy local when I can. But, there are times when the convenience of Amazon collides with the time constraints of my life making it my go-to option in those moments. There’s a lot more to a Prime Membership than just free two-day shipping on many items, including Amazon Prime Music, Pantry, and Video. Make the most of your membership by taking advantage of these lesser-known features.

When you shop through Amazon Smile, The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the charity of your choice. There are over one million charities to choose from, so no matter the cause near and dear to your heart, there’s certain to be a charity that resonates with you.

Pay attention to your stage of life. Are you a student? If so, through Prime Student you’re eligible for six months of Prime for free, and a half-price discount going forward (only $59 per year). If you’re a parent, sign up for Amazon Family to get a 20% discount on items like diapers and baby food, a free Baby Registry Welcome Box, an emailed newsletter with parenting tips, product reviews, and exclusive deals. Plus, you get a 15% Baby Registry completion discount.

If you’re in the market for furniture, Amazon’s Ar View lets you view products in your home before you buy them. To use it, open the Amazon app on your smartphone, tap the camera icon in the search bar, and then scroll “view in your room” and select a product.

Make sure you’re getting the best price by paying attention to three things:

  • If you don’t need the item right away, check to see if a third party seller is offering it at a lower price. Many offer free shipping, and if you’re willing to wait a day or two longer, you may get a better deal. Just make sure you review their return policy as their terms may differ from Amazon’s.   
  • Check out Amazon Warehouse deals. These are products that have been returned by customers like you and me, so many are open-box but still quality products, often deeply discounted. For example, currently, there are Sony WH-CH500 Wireless On-Ear Headphones for just $14.12.  
  • Amazon’s Outlet offers closeouts, markdowns, and overstock deals for Prime members. Items are discounted anywhere from 10-70% off list prices.

While we’re talking savings, take advantage of Subscribe & Save to save up to 15% on items you frequently purchase like paper towels, pet food, baby wipes, and pretty much anything else you use regularly. There’s no long-term commitment, and you can cancel any time. You can also take advantage of ordering through Alexa Prime-eligible physical products. On supported devices, you can also ask Alexa to place orders for music.

Finally, take heart if you’re one of the 26 million Americans who’ve lost packages to porch pirates, Amazon may replace that package for you at no additional cost. To make your case to Customer Service, you’ll need to have purchased directly from Amazon, not a third-party seller, and include your tracking numbers. Don’t expect to be compensated if this is a recurring issue – Amazon tracks who reports stolen items – and in future, consider using an Amazon locker or Amazon Hub to protect your purchases.

Tips for Voice Shopping with Alexa

 By Tracey Dowdy

I’m not that old, but when I think of grocery shopping back when my children were little, it’s a blur of car seats, dropped toys, cereal negotiations, and the occasional tantrum – not always by my children. But the gods have smiled upon moms and dads everywhere and given us the power of voice shopping with very own personal assistant – Alexa.

If you’re new to using Alexa for more than checking the forecast or settling an argument about trivia, you’ll be glad to know that with a few simple steps you can use Alexa to add items to your Amazon shopping cart, complete the purchase, and even track your order.

The first step is, of course, to become an Amazon Prime member at the cost of $119 per year. Once that’s complete, go to your Alexa app and choose Menu > Settings > Alexa Account > Voice Purchasing. Click on Purchase by Voice. Then go to 1-Click Preferences on the Amazon website and set up a payment method. To purchase an item, simply say, “Alexa, add (product or item) to my shopping cart.” Alexa will add the item to your cart. Repeat until your shopping list is complete, then say, “Alexa, order items in my shopping cart.” Alexa will ask you to confirm your order, allowing you to review the items and make changes before the order is sent. You can specify Prime Now for faster delivery, but you’ll have to specify by saying “Alexa, order (item) from Prime Now.” If the item is available for two-hour delivery, it will be added to your cart and be to your door in two hours.

The beauty of ordering through Alexa is that you can be as vague or specific as you like. If you’re ordering a Lightening to USB cable, you can say, “Alexa, order one SEGMOI Apple certified USB Lightning cable” and it will be added to your cart. Or, say, “Alexa, add a Lightning to USB cable to my cart,” and Alexa will choose an Amazon Prime product for you unless you’ve ordered the item before. In this case, Alexa will default to your previous specifications. If you’re not looking for a specific brand or style, you can say, “Alexa, find me deals on (item),” and Alexa will find options, list the sale price and ask if you want to purchase it. Simply say “yes” to add it to your cart or “no” to move to the next deal. This is particularly useful if you’re shopping for gifts and need suggestions. CNET has excellent guides for using Alexa to buy gifts or gift cards.

By now you’ve likely heard examples of kids – or parrotswho have ordered hundreds of dollars of items through Alexa so learn from them and add a four-digit code to authorize purchases. Go to the app, tap Menu > Settings > Alexa Account > Voice Purchasing. Then tap Voice Code, type in the four-digit code you’d like to use, and select Go.

Once you’ve placed your order, you can track it by saying, “Alexa, track my order,” and Alexa will tell you the date of purchase and when they are scheduled for delivery. You can have Alexa provide automatic shipping updates through the app. Go to Settings > Notifications > Shipping notifications. Choose the notifications you want to receive. When new information is available, Alexa will notify you.

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Amazon Offers Cloud Storage for All

By Tracey Dowdy

One of my favorite quotes from Anchorman is the line, “Boy, that escalated quickly.” That’s kind of how I feel about Amazon’s latest move in the cloud storage arena.

Last year they announced free, unlimited photo storage on Cloud Drive for members of Amazon Prime. That was a significant boost for Prime when coupled with membership perks like free two day shipping and unlimited streaming video. Yesterday, with their announcement of Unlimited Photos or Unlimited Everything for members and non-members alike, they’ve changed the landscape of cloud storage again.

Amazon certainly isn’t the first to offer cloud storage but they are the first to offer it to anyone, regardless of membership. Unlimited photo storage will still be free for Prime members, but for everyone else the service is offered at $11.99 for photos and $59.99 for all other media – video, documents, music – per year and when compared to other cloud storage providers, there’s a significant price difference.
amazon-cloud-storage
Amazon has recognized one very important fact: the average consumer has accumulated a significant amount of media over the years from photos and video to documents, all scattered across multiple devices, and most of us really have no idea how much storage we need.

“Most people have a lifetime of birthdays, vacations, holidays, and everyday moments stored across numerous devices. And, they don’t know how many gigabytes of storage they need to back all of them up…With the two new plans we are introducing today, customers don’t need to worry about storage space–they now have an affordable, secure solution to store unlimited amounts of photos, videos, movies, music, and files in one convenient place.” Josh Petersen, Director of Amazon Cloud Drive

To make the deal even sweeter and lure potential users from other cloud services, Amazon is offering a free three month trial. They’re banking on both the sweetness of the deal and the fact that frankly, most of us are not going shift again in three months once we’ve taken the time and trouble to upload in the first place. Plus, once you’ve chosen to store everything on Cloud Drive, how much more likely are you to choose Prime membership to take advantage of that free, two day shipping? And since you’re already buying books, why wouldn’t you just buy your music…and your movies…and your groceries…

But before you jump from DropBox or iCloud, stop and consider what you need. A terabyte is a lot of storage and for most of us, more than sufficient. Plus, if you’ve already invested time and money uploading to other cloud services, moving everything over is daunting and may not be worth it. On the other hand, if you’ve been debating what to do and just need to get everything tucked away to sort through and manage at some point in the future, it’s hard to argue with Amazon’s price point. And as several commentators have pointed out, at the very least Amazon’s announcement may force other cloud storage providers to examine their prices and services in order to stay competitive.

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.