Tag Archives: Smartphone

“There’s an app for that” wedding

Our wedding. Destin, FL.

Our wedding. Destin, FL.

Last year at this time I was frantically finalizing all the details of our wedding. Flash forward a year and I’m being asked my opinion about certain wedding planning websites. Planning a wedding takes organization and patience. I carried around a journal type notebook as I went vendor to vendor to get price quotes. Apparently, I am far from a 2013 bride because “there’s an app for that.”

The wedding industry has gone mobile. It makes sense because every other industry is dealing with the rise in popularity of smartphones. A quick search on my iPhone brings up 1,999 apps so you can organize your wedding at your fingertips.

The survey was for a wedding website, and there were many questions about my use of mobile apps. Obviously, this is the next frontier of wedding planning.

Using an app never really crossed my mind. I was so overwhelmed by all the details and spreadsheets I had for addresses, RSVPs, gifts, and costs that I never thought about an app. I was in information overload and struggled to keep track of everything on a big computer screen. Perhaps if I had a tablet it would make more sense.

wedding websiteIn fact, I didn’t even use the website tools that many sites provide to organize items like your budget and checklist reminders. I simply used the websites to search for reviews of vendors and to create a website for our guests. I kept my checklists on Word documents and my figures on Excel documents. Nice and simple. Just like the wedding.

Plus, while I was meeting with vendors I often looked on my phone for other suggestions or answered phone calls. Since I had a destination wedding, I was juggling many appointments that were crammed into my three day visit to the town before the wedding. I needed my phone for other things. I couldn’t use it to take notes on an app. My handy paper journal worked just great.

While an app wasn’t a part of my wedding plan, it’s something to consider especially as these apps advance and become more sophisticated and user friendly. It might make your life easier. Most brides are looking to cut down on the stress.  That help may be within reach. After all, there’s an app for that. 

A new hotel amenity?

iPhone 4Every time I go out of town, I inevitably forget something. Usually it’s something small like a toothbrush. Sometimes I improvise or I ask the front desk for one of their small, complimentary brushes. This last out of town trip, I forgot my phone chargers. Without them, there’s not much you can do. My forgetfulness made me thing of a money-making tool for hotels.

My photographer and I joked with the front desk staff about our forgetfulness. Neither one of us had a phone charger and we had three phones to charge.

The hotel said they used to have a box of random chargers, but they found they were getting old. I guess as we advance in the digital age, people are getting wiser and forgetting their cords in the hotel room less.

The hotel scrambled in the back and found an iPhone charger. Only it was for the older model phones and didn’t fit my iPhone 5 plug. Luckily, the one  employee had an Android version in her car that fit our phones. She went out to her car and let us borrow it until her shift was over.

I thought my iPhone was simply toast until a staff member stopped me the next morning as I grabbed my takeout breakfast. She called me by name and asked if I was still looking for an iPhone charger. I was stunned that this woman not only remembered my plight, but found me a new iPhone 5 charger.

This experience got me thinking. Hotels should buy the basic chargers for phones, and charge guests $3-5 to use the charger for a night. I bet that would be quite the business with so many forgetful travelers. I would definitely pay to use a phone charger. Luckily, I stayed at a hotel with staff willing to lend me their own personal charges. I doubt every hotel would do that. Your choice at that point – a dead phone or go pay full price for a new charger.

hotel selling itemsSome hotels are making it a business to sell you products. Some hotels want you to buy their hair dryer, pillows, shower head and so on. I was stunned when I stayed at a hotel in Boston, and saw little stickers on all the products in the room including the hair dryer. Do people really fall that in love with the hair dryer at a hotel that they want to buy it?

There was an entire catalog full of hotel products you could purchase for your home including an alarm clock and lamp. I wonder how many of these products the hotels sell.

hotel selling stuffInstead, I wish they’d sell me a phone charger for a few hours. That’s all I need and want when I go to a hotel.

Cut your cell phone and landline bills in half

phoneIf you want to save money, your phone bill is a good place to start looking for savings. There is no need to spend a lot for cell phone or landline phone service. Third party companies, not associated with the major phone companies, are giving you more options to save.

iPhone 4A prepaid cell phone plan is the best way to cut your bill in half. These plans used to be marketed to people with poor credit who couldn’t qualify for a phone plan, but now they’re becoming mainstream. Pre-paid plans are now being used by consumers who simply want to reduce their phone bill. Some of the plans are offered by third party companies, while others are offered by the phone company itself.

One of the more popular ones is offered by Straight Talk. Walmart sells the plans, but you can also buy the service directly from Straight Talk online. The company offers a $45 unlimited talk, text, and data plan for smartphone users. That’s far less than the traditional plans for similar service that typically start at $75-80.

You need an unlocked phone for this service, but spending several hundred dollars upfront for the phone may be worth it because you are not tied into a hefty monthly charge or contract. Some users say that while it’s advertised as “unlimited” there are limits on the data you can consume before being throttled. I couldn’t get a straight answer on this, but a techie who uses it said he stays below 2 GB to avoid potential problems.

My NewsChannel 5 story breaks other prepaid plans and the limits with each one. Most cost around $50 a month.

Save on landline service
phone resized
Straight Talk is now offering you the chance to save on landline service too. The cost is $15 a month. My mom pays $43 a month for basic phone service. The cost is outrageous, and I’m ready to switch her to save her $28 a month.

You need to buy a $99.99 wireless home phone device to make this possible, and then you pay the monthly fee. You can keep your old number by porting it.

What’s unclear is whether your phone number remains unlisted. My mom pays $5.50 a month to keep her phone number out of the phone book. That’s an outrageous price, and she said it’s gone up considerably in the last few years.

phone book 3I read all the fine print on Straight Talk’s website, and can’t find anything about keeping your number private. I called customer service and none of the options really applied to what I needed. They were mostly for existing customers. I hit a few options when prompted, and was hung up on twice.

On my third try, I finally hit the correct prompts to get connected to a customer service representative. Or, so I thought. I sat on hold for more than 23 minutes, when I finally gave up and hung up the phone.

That’s the big tradeoff with Straight Talk. It’s hard to get straight answers because it’s hard to reach customer service. You get what you pay for in a way. If the little details are not important to you, it’s a good option for you. However, I have a feeling many of the people holding onto their costly landline phone service are not exactly willing to try new technology without asking lots of questions and reading all the fine print.

The other option is magicJack, but it requires some technical know-how to use it. A computer was once a requirement, but now you just need a router or Internet service.

That company makes it clear you can keep your private number for no additional fee, but it won’t work for my mother who doesn’t own a computer and has no desire to get one. I’m sure many people with landline phones fit into this category.

The bottom line: there are options out there to cut your phone bills in half. In my opinion, it’s worth some of the tradeoffs if you’re going to save some money. People who have made the switch seem happy they did. They’re celebrating all the way to the bank.

Waterproof electronics?

Water and electronics just don’t mix. Rice and heat may help save your device but it doesn’t always work. New devices are pouring into the market that may wash away your worries. Should you consider one this holiday?

Companies are offering after-market solutions that waterproof your electronics. It’s still a new venture, so the companies offering this service are limited as are the products that you can waterproof. Right now, Liquipel, limits the products to high end gadgets like the iPhone or a simple iPod Shuffle.

The Liquipel service costs about $60 and right now the company is waterproofing the following products: iPod Shuffle, iPhone 4, Galaxy S2 from T-Mobile and AT&T, iPhone 4S, iPhone 3GS, Evo 4G, Evo Shift 4G, HTC My Touch 4G, Samsung Charge, and Motorola Droid X and X2.

AT&T is selling a Pantech tablet that’s waterproof. We’re not talking about little spills. This product claims to last 30 minutes underwater. So, I put it to the test for a NewsChannel 5 story.

The tablet costs just under $300 with a two year contract.

Do you think the cost is worth it? Click comment below.

Social media “sharing” out of control – now you can share voicemails

Courtesy: Sprint

How much information are we going to share with the world? It seems every product or service has a way to share it on social media. Now, add voicemail to that long list. In my opinion, that’s going a bit too far.

My cell phone’s voicemail prompted me to upgrade recently, and the new feature is sharing voicemails. I couldn’t believe it. How far is this “sharing” business going to go? Can I have any privacy anymore? I’m losing control over all my information because now others are in control of it and how it’s disseminated.

Not only is voicemail sharing a bit intrusive for me, it’s almost a violation of sorts. As a journalist, I know voicemails are touchy subjects and make station lawyers cringe.  I know some journalists (not me) who have been fined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for using voicemails in broadcast stories without permission. You also can’t use a recorded phone conversation unless you’ve received permission. These rules exist for broadcasting over the airwaves on TV, but what about broadcasting on social media?

Once again, the Internet is like the Wild Wild West. Pretty much anything goes. The regulations are so far behind what’s happening on the Internet. We have very little privacy and control of our information. You’re tracked online for advertising purposes and marketing efforts. That’s why you’ll see a shoe ad on your browser for weeks after searching for shoes. There are things you can do to prevent this tracking, and the Federal Trade Commission is trying to come up with standards for information that’s collected online but the rules are so far behind technology.

We are taking this “sharing” a bit too far. Luckily, I haven’t seen too many people sharing voicemails on social media yet. Is it a phone’s way of staying relevant since soon we probably won’t even leave voicemails or make phone calls in the future? I don’t know, but I do know I won’t be sharing voicemails and I hope one I leave for someone isn’t shared without my permission until I hear on your voicemail  “Hi this is Susy. I can’t get to the phone right now. If you leave a message, I’ll get back to you or I may just post it on social media.” BEEP! That way I can just hang up.

Pre-paid cell phone plans help you cut your bill in half

How much do you pay for your cellphone bill? If it’s more than $50, you may be paying too much. Pre-paid cellular plans are gaining in popularity as consumers realize they can cut their cell phone bill in half.

The thought of paying $45 a month caught my husband’s attention when he saw the Walmart ad for Straight Talk. He wondered if it was really possible? The answer: yes and in speaking with people who use the service it’s pretty good service.

Walmart and Straight Talk are not in the cell phone business, but they are re-selling service on some of the major networks. There’s a lot of competition in this market, and the plans are attractive to many consumers because there is not  a contract. You can come and go as you please.

The one tradeoff is that problems may be more difficult to resolve since you’re not dealing directly with the cellular network. Also, coverage may be spotty. Straight Talk’s coverage map looks very spotty, but people who use it say it’s actually really good. Before you hop into a plan, talk to friends and family members and check reviews online to make sure you’ll get the coverage you want and need.

Even the major carriers are getting into the no contract pre-paid plans. Most offer some version of the plan.

While most say “unlimited” talk, text, and data the data is typically limited. Straight Talk doesn’t give you a straight answer on data limits. Users say they don’t get throttled or limited if they stay below 2 GB. Other carriers make it clear how much data you truly get for the discount price. The amount of free data varies dramatically.  T-Mobile’s $50 plan offers you 100 MB of 4G data and Boost Mobile offers you 2.5 GB of data.

With these plans, your phone selection is also limited. The companies sell some phones or you can buy an unlocked phone online. An unlocked phone means it’s not tied to a particular cellular network. It will work on any.

Most unlocked phones were typically older models one. This is changing as Google now sells its phones directly to the consumer.

Want to see if you are paying too much for your phone? Try online tools like Bill Shrink and My Rate Plan. Have your phone bill handy before you use the tools. You’ll need to know the number of text messages you send, minutes you spend on the phone, pictures sent and received, and data used.

Keep tabs on when your carrier implements bill shock alerts so you don’t go over your data, text, or voice limits

The government is cracking down on those unexpected charges that appear on cell phone bills for going over your voice, text, or data plan limits. The government estimates one in six cell phone users have experienced what’s known as bill shock. That’s when unexpected charges appear on your bill. Cell phone carriers and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are working to put an end to the shock by next spring. A new chart makes it easy to keep track of what your carrier is in the implementation process.

Starting October 17, 2012, carriers will automatically alert when your usage goes over your plan for at least two of the four types of charges. These include text messages, data, voice and international roaming. The carriers will have until April 17, 2013 to let you know about the other charges.

Some carriers have already started offering you this service for some of the features. You will get an alert when you approach an overage charge, and one when you go over the plan limits. To make it easy to know when your carrier starts the alerts, the FCC started a char that breaks down which carrier is doing what.

T-Mobile is offering the most alerts including voice, data, and international roaming alerts. Automatic alerts are set up, and you can check your minutes, text messages, or data by dialing a code on your phone. To check Whenever Minutes, dial #MIN#. Text messages, you dial #MSG#, and data is #WEB#. To check your balance, due date, or payment history you simply dial #BAL#. If you are a prepaid customer you dial #999#.

AT&T is offering data alerts. You can get a courtesy text or email when you reach 65, 90, or 100-percent of your data usage for the month. You can dial *3282# or *DATA# to get a text message with your usage, or check online or through an app.

According to the FCC chart, Sprint is offering international roaming alerts.

Verizon offers data and international roaming alerts.  There is an online tool that you can check for your limits, or you can dial #MIN or #DATA for the respective information. You can also setup usage controls, but there is a small fee attached.

Will cash and credit be replaced by mobile payments in 2020?

Will our smartphones take the place of cash and credit in the next ten years? According to a study by “Pew Internet & American Life“, it’s estimated mobile payments will be so mainstream in 2020 they could take the place of the methods we use to pay today. It sounds crazy, but ten years ago did you really think you’d be checking your email while you walk down the street? Technology is moving at lightening speed and who knows what we’ll be using next.

Pew studies show more than a third of smartphone owners use their phones for online banking services like checking an account balance or paying bills.  It’s not just smartphone banking. Research from comScore showed 38% of smartphone users bought e-books, movies, music, clothing, tickets, or daily deals with their mobile device. With services like Google Wallet, you can even pay for certain purchases by just swiping your smartphone instead of cash or credit. Your phone acts like a wallet. More virtual payments systems are in the works.

Personally, I am not a fan of mobile payments. I think the technology is too new and there are still security issues. Checking my email, Facebook, and Twitter on my phone is enough of a security risk for me.

Supporters of mobile payment systems say they are simpler, more convenient, and enhance your shopping experience offering you recommendations and special deals based on your location and previous purchases. I’m not comfortable at this time with the security features to make the switch. The benefits simply don’t outweigh the risks. I already worry about losing my costly phone. I can only imagine my worry if I knew my credit card number was somewhere hidden inside. Even if it was securely contained, I’d still worry.

The question is — will my attitude change by 2020? 65% of the experts surveyed by Pew said most people will be fully using their smartphone for purchases instead of cash and credit by the year 2020. Only 33% thought people would not trust the technology and not use the mobile payment technology.

It will take a lot to get me to make the switch. Pew said the experts it consulted believe the transition will develop generationally with younger smartphone users using mobile systems before older generations. It will be just like computers. The majority of older generations have no interest or use for a computer. I’m in the middle, and it will take a lot of convincing.

Some of the experts said it’s realistic that we’ll make this switch by 2020 because we’ve already moved to digital currency with credit and debit cards instead of cash. That’s a good point, however, a lot of security questions will need to be addressed in eight years. That is an eternity in the technology world, so we’ll see.

Microsoft’s principal researcher, Jonathan Grudin, pointed out that there has to be a financial stake for companies to invest in this technology and infrastructure.

“The driver here will virtually 100% be whether or not the credit card industry decides it can make more money through changing technologies,” Grudin said.

Will we see new fees associated with this technology? There’s already a fee to use a credit or debit card. Businesses pay the charge, but indirectly pass it on to us by factoring it into the cost of products. Some businesses are so fed up with the interchange fees they only accept cash or offer a cash discount.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done on infrastructure and logistics before I’m convinced. One anonymous expert raised the question about battery life. What happens when your cell phone dies? Essentially you can’t buy any more purchases. Maybe it will keep people out of credit card debt. All joking aside, that’s a huge issue. Batteries simply don’t last that long.

As I look back on the past decade, which is my career plus two years, the phones we used back then were huge and often immobile. They were these clunky devices that were permanently fixed in our news car. Now, we walk around and talk, text, and surf on a device that fits in the palm of our hand. We posted news stories on the web, but the Internet was not a huge driver of news like it is today. We got emails, but that was the extent of our viral interaction with viewers. Today, mobile devices are a new platform for television. Facebook and Twitter also drive our news. I never thought the business I got into 12 years ago would be what it is today. In my view, anything is possible in the next ten years. Who knows what my new habits will be — maybe I will be swiping my phone to pay for my purchase.

What do you think will happen in the next decade? Click “comment” and predict the future.

Wireless companies work together to protect your stolen phone

So many people can’t live without their smartphone. If you ever stand on a street corner, you’ll see one person after another talking, texting, or scrolling through emails. That $2-300 device you have in your hand, wallet, or purse are wanted by thieves. In major cities across the country, 30-40% of robberies involve cell phones. Now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and cell phone carriers are teaming up to make that stolen device useless.

Smartphones are full of personal information. If it ends up in a thieves hands, he could wreak havoc on your financial and personal life just by pushing a few buttons.  Within six months, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon will beginning deterring theft and secure customer data. If you report your wireless device stolen, the provider will make it impossible to use that electronic item again. The program will be roll out over the next 18 months.

As part of this effort to deter theft, consumers will also be encouraged and educated on safety mechanisms. A password is a good place to start. Some phones allow you to draw a diagram or punch in a numeric passcode to unlock the phone. These can be annoying especially if the phone times out every few minutes, but it’s a huge safety precaution. There are also apps that allow you to remotely lock, locate, and delete your phone’s contents.

Don’t wait to be a victim. Protect your information today.

Navigating Facebook Timeline

Facebook Timeline is topping my news feed again as more users are forced to convert. All those procrastinators who didn’t make the change on their own time, are now dealing with the Timeline on Facebook’s timeline. It is a bit scattered, and sometimes hard to find things but it’s the new reality for this free service we’re all addicted to. It’s time to revisit what the Timeline is all about and how to customize it for you.

1. First, add a cover. This is the picture you want profiled. Pick a good one, because it’s large. I originally had a vertical photo, but the cover space is more wide than tall so I think a horizontal photo works best. You can tweak the picture a little, but not enough in my opinion for a vertical photo.

Uploading a new photo takes some time, but it happens so be patient.

You want your cover photo to be different than your profile picture as that will appear in a box to the lower left of the cover photo.

2. Now, it’s time to review your posts on your Facebook Timeline. Hover over a story or post and click the star icon to feature an item and make it widescreen.

When you do this, it disrupts the flow a bit but experiment and see if you like it. It’s easy to minimize if you don’t like it. The pencil icon will allow you to hide or delete a post.

3. Facebook decides which posts will be part of your timeline and which ones will be hidden.When there is a post along your timeline, there is a dot. Look closely. Some of these dots are not associated with any posts because the dot represents a hidden When you notice this, hover over the dot  and you can see what the post says that’s hiding. While hovering, you can decide if you want to feature it or add it to your timeline.

4. Go to the upper right corner just under the cover photo and click on the Activity Log. It’s a way to manage everything you share on Facebook and it’s private. On you see the log.  Here, you can control what hits your Timeline and who sees it.

It’s much more obvious who is seeing your posts with this activity log. I recently discovered on the old Facebook profile that even if your page is private, people can see your wall posts that you made on other people’s pages and are thus subject to their privacy policies. Now, with the activity log it’s easy to control which posts are public and who actually sees them. For example, a wall post about a friends birthday showed me that all his friends can see that. It might not seem like a big deal for a birthday, but on a more sensitive post be careful if you want to keep certain aspects your life private. Having a private profile doesn’t mean everything is private. The activity log really makes this easy to follow.

An open circle on the activity log means it’s allowed on your timeline and a circle with a line through it means it’s hidden.

For more about the activity log, I highly recommend you read the Facebook explainer for more tips and tricks.

5. Map your pictures. You’ll notice the map just below your cover photo. Click on it, and you’ll be taken to a large screen of map with pictures above it. I was amazed at how many are already mapped. Things you think Facebook doesn’t know about you but really does because someone checked you into a place or previously tagged the location of a photo.

When you try to add the location of some photos, Facebook doesn’t always know where that location really is. For example, I took a girls trip to Belize recently, and Facebook mapped it in Houston, Texas.  See below.

It had one picture mapped correctly in Belize, but another friend tagged it with the name of the place we stayed. If you go generic and just do the city like Placencia, Belize it may not show up in the right place especially if it’s a different country.

It’s an interesting feature, but I think it tells a little too much about you. I think I’ll proceed with caution. I don’t mind telling people where I’ve been, but not where I am. It’s clearly a way for Facebook to get more users to use the Places feature so it might be hard to control if friends tag you as being at that place while you’re still there. For me, it’s sort of like Foursquare especially since any changes to your map are added to your News Feed. I understand social media is meant to be social and allow you to gather in places outside the Internet, but this is a little bit too much information if used and broadcast while you’re visiting that “Place.”

6. Privacy, privacy, privacy. Do we have any with all these social media changes? It’s hard to keep your information personal without doing a lot of work. I think it’s worth the time if you are somewhat interested in privacy and truly only want to share information with your true friends.

Ever wonder what your profile looks like to someone who is not your friend? There’s a button next to your activity log that with a drop down box that says “View as.” Click that and you’ll be able to view your profile as the public sees it. This will really help you decide if your privacy settings are what you want them to be.

7. You need to give Facebook your phone number to post photos from your smartphone. Want to make sure your phone number is not public? Watch this extremely information tutorial from CNET to find tips and tricks to make sure your page is as private as you want it to be. It’s worth the 3 minutes and you’ll learn a lot.

Overall impression
Overall, Timeline is not as intimidating as you might think. It just takes some time to go through your posts and make sure the ones you want featured are visible, and the ones you don’t want people to see are not visible. This is really time consuming if you are a frequent poster, don’t filter your posts, or you have been on Facebook for an extended period of time.

Also, make sure your uploaded pictures are good ones because they are quite large and prominent in Timeline. Pictures associated with a link remain about the same size.

I’m not a fan of the layout as I think it’s a bit sloppy as it Timeline’s your life. I also think it’s hard to find things on individual pages. You really need to know when something was posted.  Before I’d just click “more posts” and I’d eventually find what I needed. Really, when I use Facebook I mostly read the news feed. I don’t interact with the Timeline much at all. So, it’s a headache at first but give it some time and it will dull.

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What do you think? Click comment below.