Tag Archives: iPhone

What to Expect from iOS 9.3

By Tracey Dowdy

Apple released the beta version of iOS 9.3 to developers in early January and those with access are starting to roll out their reviews. These are some of the features that are generating the most buzz as we wait for a final version of 9.3 to be released in the coming weeks.

As a chronic insomniac and someone who uses my phone or iPad later in the evening than I should, Night Shift has definite appeal. Going beyond “night mode” (white text on a black background vs. black text on a white background), Night Shift changes the colors on your display to “to the warmer end of the spectrum,” thus reducing the amount of blue light that tricks your mind into thinking it’s still daytime. Night Shift will kick in at sunset and turn off at sunrise based on your location. It’s likely to be an optional feature as there are obviously times you need to be awake and alert after dark.

Notes isn’t new but going forward it will be password or fingerprint protected, giving your memos an added layer of security. Apps like Evernote and Day One have offered this feature for awhile so it’s nice to see Apple catch up.

I have never been a fan of the News feature. Consequently, it’s in a folder labeled “Stuff I Never Use” on my phone only because it’s native and I can’t delete it. Apparently I’m not alone in my opinion. Apple has responded by redesigning News with features like inline video that allows you to watch without exiting your feed, landscape capabilities through the iPhone version, and more intuitive content in For You.

Likewise, HealthKit, another feature that hasn’t taken off the way Apple hoped it would, has been revised. Originally designed as a framework for all the third-party health related apps we use, iOS 9.3 will recommend HealthKit apps to install related to Weight, Workouts and Sleep. It will also include a section for Reproductive Health, something that was noticeably missing from previous versions. If you use an Apple Watch, it will also integrate the move, exercise, and stand data that’s collected.

CarPlay users will now see New and For You in the Apple Music app, and Maps now supports Nearby so you can easily locate gas stations, restaurants and parking.

The education features may be the most significant of all the updates and changes. Schools that use iPads in their classrooms will get an Apple School Manager portal to allow teachers, administrators and support staff to “easily reset passwords, audit accounts, create IDs in bulk, and create customized roles for everyone in the district.”

Teachers will now be able to see what their students are looking at on their individual iPads, as well as the ability to lock apps via Remote Control to help students stay on task during a lesson. Students can look forward to a new shared iPad feature that allows access to their unique content and lets them pick up right where they left off.

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.

The Problem with Tech Shaming

By Tracey Dowdy

Articles warning us about the negative social and emotional impact of technology are almost as common as Kim Kardashian selfies. Those warnings are nothing new – people have been warning about the effects of progress on society for as long as there have been, well, people. Socrates warned the ancient Greeks about the dangers of writing, since it could “create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories.” (Side note, I feel that could have been a prophecy about Google!) And in 1936, Gramophone Magazine cautioned readers that radio had caused children to develop “the habit of dividing attention between the humdrum preparation of their school assignments and the compelling excitement of the loudspeaker.”

Jennifer Lawrence chastising a reporter for looking at his phone during a Golden Globes press conference is just the latest example of tech shaming to hit the media. His reasons for being on his phone at that time are his own, as are her reasons for chiding him. But it speaks to a bigger issue: is tech shaming becoming an acceptable part of our culture?

You may recall Gary Turk’s video, “Look Up,” that made the rounds on social media a while back. Turk cautions us not to disconnect from face-to-face interaction and chastises those whose only relationships are online. The video makes some valid points and of course it’s wise to guard against becoming a ”slave to the media we mastered.” But to judge someone who chooses to work on the train in order to be able to do homework with their kids or enjoy a night out with friends isn’t being a slave. Those people haven’t disengaged from society; they’ve simply prioritized their time and decided that chatting with a fellow commuter isn’t as important as time spent with family or friends.

Perhaps no group is more judged when it comes to media use than parents. Managing screen time is arguably one of the greatest challenges in parenting today. In fact, if you’re ever in the mood for a spirited debate, ask a group of parents how much is too much when it comes to screen time, then take three steps back and watch what happens.

To listen to critics, you’d think that prior to the invention of the iPhone, mothers spent their days entertaining their children by crafting, singing and playing games, always giving them their undivided attention. I can tell you as someone with a pre-cell phone childhood that just wasn’t the case. Like most families, my mom shooed us out the door when the weather was good and encouraged us to read, play or otherwise entertain ourselves when it wasn’t. In later years, we would even listen to music on a Walkman or watch a video.

In a post for The Atlantic, Alexandra Samuel describes the three schools of thought most parents fall in to when it comes to technology: Digital Enablers, Digital Limiters, and Digital Mentors. The first two are self-explanatory but the third – Digital Mentors – deserves a second look. These are the parents that realize we all live in a digital world and it’s part of our responsibility to prepare our kids for dealing with technology. Instead of using technology as a reward or allowing unlimited access, these parents take an active role and model healthy behaviors and attitudes toward connected devices and the Internet.

We can’t parent with the same media rules our parents used, so it’s important to model the relationship you want your kids to have with technology and carry it into the next generation. Modeling appropriate behavior – with technology and without – is a fundamental part of parenting. By the way, bullying is never okay; isn’t that basically what tech shaming comes down to?

Friendships can be strengthened through social media; families can stay connected even when they’re miles apart; and WebMD can help you decide if it’s just a cold or something more serious. There are times when using your device isn’t just to pass the time or shut out the world around us. Sometimes you need to know now, need to connect now.

The key is balance. Become a Digital Mentor like Ms. Samuel suggests. Be present with friends and family and don’t be so quick to judge if they pick up their phones. Technology isn’t the enemy – shaming one another is.

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.

Fixes for Common iPhone Issues

By Tracey Dowdy

Having a smartphone has put a calendar, a camera and a music library in our pockets. I depend on mine for everything from online banking and scheduling appointments to snapping photos at a wedding last weekend.

I love my phone and am absolutely dependent on it, but because I use it so frequently and for so many purposes, I run into three issues fairly frequently: lack of storage, battery drain, and cutting it close on my data usage. These tips and tricks have helped me work around those issues and make the most of my iPhone.

Storage

Problem
I have a16G iPhone 5C. The catch is that with the operating system and native software factored in, I really only have 12.6G of available storage. Videos, photos, music, messages and apps eat up space so trimming them is the easiest way to free up space.

Solutions
Delete Apps: Go to Settings app > General >Usage > Manage Storage to get an overview of what’s taking up the most space. You can delete any unused or unnecessary apps from within settings by tapping on them in the list. You can also delete apps by holding down the app icon on the home screen. The apps will start to shake and simply tap on the X that appears to delete.
Delete Messages: Swipe left and tap Delete from within your message history.
Delete Photos and Videos: The easiest way to clear out your photos and videos is to open the Camera Roll or Video albums. Tap Select, tap each photo or video you want to delete and then tap the trash can icon.

Battery Drain

Problem
I’m one of those people whose anxiety spikes when my battery level drops below 30 percent. Who am I kidding, I hate when it gets below 50 percent! Several things can contribute to battery level dropping quickly and if you know it’s going to be a while before you can recharge, the following changes can make a big difference.  

Solutions
Lower the Brightness: Lowering the brightness level on your display has a big impact on how quickly your battery drains. Go to Settings>Display>Brightness and slide the cursor to the left.
Turn off Location Services: Location tracking services are a constant drain, as once you’re off Wi-Fi your phone starts searching for the nearest tower. Open Settings> Privacy >Location Services to toggle off.
Close Apps Running in the Background: The fastest way to close apps running in the background is to double tap the Home Button. Your phone will display all the apps currently open, just swipe up to close them. Your other option is to turn off Background App Refresh. Go to Settings > General > Background App Refresh and toggle off.

Reduce your Data Usage

Problem
Unless you have an unlimited plan, you run the risk of going over your data usage. However, a few simple changes can keep you within your plan’s limits. The most obvious choice is to disable your mobile data and only turn it on when needed but that’s a hassle and there are better ways to reduce usage and prevent those expensive overage charges.

Solutions
Change your Settings: Go to Settings>Mobile>Mobile Data Usage. Two counters are displayed: Current Period and Current Period Roaming which lets you know where you are in your usage since the last time you reset – if ever – the counter. Below the counters is a list of apps using mobile data. Simply scroll through the list and toggle off any apps you don’t want using data when Wi-Fi is unavailable. If you reset the counter each month, you’ll have a fairly accurate picture of where you are in your usage but keep in mind there’ll be some delay.
Change Settings within Apps: Some apps have their own settings that let you chose data or Wi-Fi only. Open the app in Settings and toggle off any you don’t want eating up your usage.
Disable Background App Refresh: Background App Refresh is great if you want updated information when you open your apps. If you’re okay with the information being downloaded just when the app is launched, go to Settings>General>Background App Refresh. You can disable it completely or choose specific apps to restrict.

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.

How To Avoid In-App Purchases on Apple Devices

By Tracey Dowdy

Back in 2013, Paula Marner thought her credit card had been compromised when $3,000 in unexpected charges suddenly appeared on her account. Her 7 year old twins had been playing Clash of Clans and while the game was free, unbeknownst to Marner, the game required in-app purchases. Her boys were frequently prompted to make purchases ranging in price from 99 cents all the way up to $99, so that’s what they did. “That kept coming up consistently and they kept tapping it, because it’s just tap purchase, tap purchase, tap purchase,” said Marner. Before she knew it, the boys had racked up significant charges.

Since then, the FTC has made changes so that it’s harder for children to buy apps and in-app purchases without the consent of parents. In fact, last year Apple Inc. consented to FTC demands and paid $32.5 million in restitution to affected customers.

Whether your kids don’t understand that they’re dealing with actual currency or whether they don’t understand the real world consequences, there are safeguards you can put in place to make sure there are no surprises when next month’s statement arrives.

Restrict their access: Go to: Settings>General> Restrictions. Under Allow, choose Off for in-app purchases. Remember: Restrictions requires a password to lock the settings. It’s not the same as the passcode to unlock your phone and don’t be tempted to use the same password. Above all, don’t tell your kids the password so they can’t bypass your restrictions.

Eliminate the 15 Minute Window: Newer versions of iTunes give users the choice of requiring a password every time there’s a purchase or allowing a 15 minute window after the password has been entered for an in-app purchase before requiring it again. Do yourself a favor, disable the grace period and require it immediately.

Free vs. Paid apps:  There are a lot of great free apps available but sometimes it’s worth going for the paid version. Free apps often require in-app purchases to access certain features and it’s often cheaper in the long run to go for the paid version.

Don’t Add a Credit Card: I learned this trick back when my kids were still using my iTunes account. Instead of using a credit card for purchases, I used gift cards. There’s no risk of going over your spending limit: once your card is out of money, it’s over. Parents also have the option of setting up an allowance for their kids: Go to Send iTunes Gifts> Learn More About Gifting> Set Up an Allowance.

Set Clear Boundaries: It’s not enough to set restrictions in your phone’s settings. Have a conversation with your kids about whether or not you’ll pay for in-app purchases. Let them know there’s a limit to what you’ll spend or tell them it’s part of a monthly allowance.

If charges appear and you’re not sure if they’re from in-app purchases, it’s easy to figure out.

  • In the iTunes store, click on your username.
  • Click Account info – login if prompted
  • Under Purchase History, click See All
  • If the charge is from your most recent order it will be at the top of the screen. If it’s not there, click on Previous Purchases and click the arrow next to the date of the order you want to review.
  • In the Type column, look for In-App Purchase.

If it turns out your child has made an unintentional or unauthorized in-app purchase, you can contact Apple support to request a refund.

Use this link for details on setting restrictions and Parental Controls on your Apple device.

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.

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.