How To Learn Windows Phone 8

lumia-822I recently had the opportunity to test the Nokia Lumia 822 smart phone from Verizon. From my review in The Northwest Herald:

 At 5-by-2.7-by-0.44 inches, the Nokia Lumia 822 is a streamlined yet speedy device. The 4.3-inch, 800×480 WVGA AMOLED display may not be the fanciest, but it boasts sharp colors and good readability even in a brightly lit room. The Lumia 822 uses the 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, and it supports MicroSD cards as well as NFC.

I was particularly interested to find out how consumers are supposed to learn this brand-new version of Windows. Good news, everyone: there’s a convenient Help & Tips section in the menu, which is only a left-swipe away from the home screen. From here you’ll find simple instructions plus videos and other helpful links. Some quality time spent browsing here will save you frustration down the road. You may also find yourself making frequent use of the Back button, as the menus aren’t always intuitive.

In addition to the Help & Tips section on your phone, Microsoft has online resources to help you learn how to use Windows Phone 8. Here are a few to get you started, including Rooms and Groups which I mentioned in my review.

Whatever kind of phone you choose, let me remind you to enable your security settings. Passcode lock, remote data erasure, and Find My Phone are all included with your phone, but you need to set them. Microsoft has a nice primer on how to secure your phone: Microsoft: Tips to help keep my phone secure

Have you tried Windows Phone 8? What do you think? Share in the comments!

 

Readers Ask: Sending DOCX Files To Macs, Troubleshooting Slow Web Sites, Choosing New Computer Hardware

computer-booksI’ve been talking with Fr. Jack Sweeley about whether he should move to Windows 7, Windows 8, or a Mac. After our initial discussion, he had some followup questions, which I am posting with his permission:

Thank you so much, Triona. This is very helpful. However, I have a few questions.

1. As I stated, I have several books written and others in process as well a hundreds of commentaries all written with Word using VISTA. Will I be able to open and edit these on a Mac?

2. From time-to-time I have sent documents I have written to someone who at that time had a Mac and they told me they could not open what I sent written in WORD on a PC. Is this still the case?

3. Contrarily, will I be able to open documents sent to me in WORD using a Windows PC on a Mac?

4. RE Macs: Could you give me comparisons between hard drive space on a Mac v. PC (is a gig a gig on both), for processing speeds what are the terms used and are they the same for a Mac and a PC, what are the terms used for memory and are they the same for a Mac and a PC?

5. What amount of HD space, processing speed, and memory do I need to do what I described in my original letter? I am impatient and go crazy having to wait for Websites to load especially when I have 8-10 sites open at the same time.

6. I know a little about the landscape of PCs and once I know what parameters I am looking for I can find one. However, I have never even looked at a Mac to say nothing about being able to compare them. So, could you cite different kinds of Macs–with their price ranges for what I need–and the pros and cons of each.

Let’s look at Fr. Jack’s needs and see how we can help him.

Opening Word For Windows .DOC and .DOCX Files On Macs

wordmacYes, you can open Word documents, both .doc and .docx, on a Mac. Apple’s word processor Pages (paid; via App Store) can open both but saves in its own proprietary .pages format. NeoOffice (donationware, www.neooffice.org) can also open both .doc and .docx but again, it saves in its own .odt format. You can spring for Microsoft Office for Mac (paid; via Microsoft), which is the most expensive option but can handle Word .doc and .docx files without conversion.

The person to whom you sent the Word file may not have had a recent Mac word processing program, or did not have Microsoft’s free .docx converter installed. You can either make sure all Word files are saved as .doc and not .docx (.docx is default from Word 2007 onwards), or make sure the recipient can convert .docx. Don’t go looking online for free converters, use the genuine ones from Microsoft to avoid viruses.

For the most part, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files can be used interchangably between PCs and Macs. The main exception is if you have code in Visual Basic (VBA) or custom macros not supported by the Mac. Everyday documents work fine, and on the rare occasions they don’t, the one-time installation of a converter tool usually fixes the problem.

Now, if you have print-ready files, a Word document just is not a proper layout tool. Better to save final drafts to PDF which will keep the pagination you want. Professionals do document layout with industry standard tools like Adobe InDesign and Quark.

When it comes to file types and permanent storage – as in, stuff you want to keep longer than the software program that created it – I am a fan of good old RTF, or rich text format. It’s a universal file type that allows formatting like bold and italic but can still be opened by nearly every word processor past, present, and likely future.

Choosing A New PC Or Mac

question-computerA gig is a gig is a gig – 1,024 megabytes, sometimes rounded off as 1,000MB. So yes, hard drive sizes are consistent across Mac and PC hardware. Processing speeds are harder to compare. You can go digging across the Internet for all sorts of bench tests, but you’re better off comparing PCs to PCs and Apples to, well, Apples.

Typically a sub-$500 PC is not going to be worth the cost. In my experience they fail more quickly and catastrophically than more expensive models. A midline PC, in the $700-1,000 range, offers better and faster hardware. Laptops will be more expensive than desktops, and bear in mind that if you choose Windows 8, you’re going to want a screen with touchy-swipey capability for the best experience. That is, assuming you can find one; it’s not available for every model.

Macs may cost more, but in my experience they also make up for the price difference by outlasting their PC counterparts in the long run.

Troubleshooting Slow Web Sites

slowWaiting for web sites to load may be a function of your network connection and not your computer. Or, if your computer is gummed up with adware and malware, you’ll notice the drag particularly when using the Internet. For optimum speed you need to use a modern operating system – Windows 8, Mac, or Windows 7 as long as Microsoft deigns to support it – because you need to use a modern browser.

Your web browser is your window to the Internet. That means it’s also a vulnerable point. If your software is out of date, your connection will seem slow or you’ll be unable to load pages or images. The older the browser, the slower the connection, until you finally throw your hands in the air and buy a new computer. This is another reason it’s good to keep your software up to date, it’ll stave off that new computer moment as long as possible.

If you don’t know which browser you use, you’re probably using the default for your system. Common browsers as of this writing are as follows, but this information changes rapidly. Your best bet is to use the “check for updates” feature of the program to find the current version for your computer.

Windows 7 and 8

Mac

Note: there is no current Internet Explorer for Mac. If you’re still using the old versions, switch now!

Choosing A Mac Model

choose-appleThe easiest way to see the available Macs is to pop over to the Apple store: store.apple.com. They have a clickable list in the Mac section which shows the Mac model options.

In my experience, you are almost always better off opting for an iMac or a Macbook Pro than trying to cut corners with a Mac Mini. For one thing, you have to factor in the cost of the screen, and for another the Mini really doesn’t have the oomph for what most people want. You don’t have to go nuts on one of those bigger, expensive tower Macs. Those are usually purchased by designers and video experts who need the extra processing power and expandability.

When configuring a Mac using the Apple Store tool, get the fastest processor and best graphics you can for the model you want. You can always add more memory or a larger hard drive later, but with an iMac or Macbook you’re stuck with whatever processor and graphics card it has. You can go Macbook Air instead of Macbook Pro but remember you’re sacrificing processor speed for a lightweight form factor.

Apple Store has a nice comparison tool to help you make the choice.

Finding Discounts On Macs

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention you can look for discounts on warrantied refurbished Macs on Apple’s site. You can also find discounts at Mac retailers like Mac Mall and OWC. A good time to buy is right after Apple announces new hardware; you can get a discount on older models that still have solid tech specs. (Insider’s tip: Apple usually has events in the spring and fall; the next one will be in March 2013.) If you’re an educator or student, be sure to check out Apple’s education discount. Many colleges and universities have deals through the campus computer store.

Ask Your Computer Questions On Tech Tips!

Do you have a computer problem? Leave a comment and let the Tech Tips community help. Your question could appear in a future Tech Tips article!

Image courtesy of (1) ddpavumba (2) Danilo Rizzuti (3) Idea go (4) Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hybrid Devices: You Got Smart Phone In My Tablet!

I recently had the opportunity to test-drive the Samsung Galaxy Note II, a hybrid device that lies somewhere between a smart phone and a tablet. Are these hybrid devices just a fad or will they stick around?

From the review I wrote for The Northwest Herald:

The Galaxy Note is a hybrid Android device. At approximately 3.17-by-5.95-by-0.3 inches and weighing 6.44 ounces, it’s large enough that it may feel awkward while making calls. But the 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED display (1,280 x 720) is so gorgeous that you might not notice. (read more)

These hybrid devices are called by a variety of names, including phablet which I personally think sounds phabulous. They can be powerful devices. The Galaxy Note I tested has enough oomph to run some seriously resource-intensive apps. Hybrids also have larger screens but are still portable enough to fit in a pocket.

I can understand the attraction of a device like the Galaxy Note. There are a lot of things I would do with my smart phone if it were big enough for me to see what I’m doing, and it would be nice not having to schlep a full-sized tablet around.

I’ve seen a lot of tech gadgets flash then fizzle. I remember when everyone and their brother had a Palm Pilot, and I recall Microsoft’s original attempt at a tablet. But the technology’s gotten to the point where the things we wanted to do with those devices is both possible and affordable, like handwriting recognition and the ability to watch video or play games.

So I think phone/tablet hybrids or phablets or whatever you want to call them will stick with us a while. They may not be for everyone but there is a segment of the market that wants a single device to replace the cumbersome smart-phone-plus-tablet combo.

As I reiterated in the column, you need to secure your mobile devices as well. Here are some previous Tech Tips articles on mobile security and more:

Disclaimer: Galaxy Note II provided by Verizon; my opinions remain my own.

Have you tried a hybrid device? Which mobile devices do you prefer? Share in the comments and don’t forget to  subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

The High Cost Of Cheap Computers

Those glossy ads for inexpensive computers look good, don’t they? Imagine a brand new PC for less than $500! But there’s a catch: those computers may not last long enough for you to get your money’s worth.

In my experience, bargain-basement PCs are typically made with less-than-stellar components, so they break down faster and cost more to repair. They often come with minimal memory and hard drive space, meaning you’ll have to upgrade sooner than you would with a midrange model. That’s assuming you’re able to upgrade at all. Some of the low-end models don’t have the capacity to be upgraded, or use proprietary parts that cost a fortune.

Bear in mind that the practical lifespan of a computer is about 3 years. Yes, most of us use ours longer, but the manufacturers design computers with that lifespan in mind. You can buy a $1,200 PC that lasts you 3 years or longer, or you can buy a $500 PC that lasts you less than a year. The computer manufacturers love that because they can pretend they’re saving you money while locking you into a continual re-purchase cycle.

Consider your computer an investment. The more you spend up-front, the longer that investment will last.

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Planned Computer Obsolescence

Planned obsolescence is the idea that computer manufacturers deliberately design hardware to force customers into continual replacement.

Does planned computer obsolescence exist? If not, recent manufacturing quality (or lack thereof) certainly leads to that impression. I am positive that computer printers made fifteen years ago last longer than those made today. Cases in point: the high percentage of ancient HP LaserJet printers I encounter, bless their little electronic hearts. On the other hand, newer printers of all brands, especially the low-end models, seem to suffer a less-than-two-year lifespan.

Computers are the same. That $500 PC… well, you may get what you pay for in a few years. Then again, you could buy a $5,000 PC and have the same experience. In general, Macs seem to resist planned obsolescence more readily, perhaps because Apple’s stranglehold on the Mac hardware market limits competition. Even so, design decisions like the Intel Macs force customers to invest in new hardware.

Sometimes you have no choice but to follow the industry’s “rip and replace” mantra. A recent flaw in the wireless security protocol WPA may soon mean that if your wireless access point is more than a few years old, you will have to replace it or risk being hacked. But it’s not always feasible to spend yet more money on another piece of equipment when you feel like you just bought the one you have.

What can you do? Don’t worry if your computer isn’t the latest and greatest. If it does what you want, fine. If it’s slow, try software repairs before resorting to a new system, or see if you can upgrade rather than replace. Not only will this curtail planned obsolescence, but it’s better for your budget as well as our ewaste-encrusted planet.

Next month I’ll share with you the biggest secret in the tech world, Should You Buy PC Or Mac? If you have any computer questions, click Comments below this article, and be sure to sign up for the email version of Tech Tips for bonus tips and product reviews.

Alert: Problems With Windows XP Downgrades

Many people are experiencing difficulty exercising their Windows XP downgrade options on new machines.

Since the June 30 cutoff date, Microsoft no longer ships Windows XP on new machines. If you want to run Windows XP, you must obtain a Windows Vista machine with “downgrade” option – which usually involves installing Windows XP from an included set of CDs.

However, there seems to be trouble with this process. I have experienced downgrades that did not include a valid Windows XP serial number, as described on this blog concerning HP dx2450 microtower PCs. In this instance, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that HP does not have the correct driver software for this model on their web site. Other PC manufacturers and models are also affected by poorly executed downgrades.

Before purchasing a computer with “downgrade to Windows XP” option, check with your vendor to find out the details. You may be in for a bigger headache than dealing with Vista.

Disappointing Computer Store Service

When’s the last time you had good service from a large-scale computer store or Internet provider? I’m beginning to wonder, because I’ve witnessed an increasing lack of quality from both.

There’s a particular reseller – I’ll call them Charlie’s Dynamite Wares – which used to be terrific. They stocked just about every part and had fantastic customer service. But slowly, the quality of service began to degrade. It started with a change in sales rep. My dynamite dude was promoted, and I ended up with some joe I’d never worked with before. The first few orders had tiny flaws, nothing major but not the usual top-notch service. But when minor errors became major hassles for my customers, I drew the line.

One client received three brand-new laptops, all with broken wireless out of the box. Another customer went through four print servers that wouldn’t work with his printer, despite our giving the sales rep the exact model. My own orders went wrong, too. I had to physically go to the store to look at one particular part to make sure it was correct – turns out it wasn’t, and I had to wait a half hour while they found the right one. Changing reps made no difference; the entire concept of customer service has been redefined.

So, too, with some Internet service providers. Sneaky fees, unreliable connections and nonexistent tech support equals unhappy customers. Worse, many people have no cost-effective alternatives for high-speed Internet.

Interestingly, it’s my home users and small businesses who are having the most trouble. The big companies, who pay extra for SLAs (service-level agreements), are still getting good service. It’s the little people left in the lurch, the ones who don’t have the cash for a dedicated rep or special support.

On the other hand, there’s my local mom-and-pop shop. The owners are friendly, knowledgeable, and quick to fix anything that goes awry. It doesn’t matter if the part I’m ordering is for a gigantic company or my neighbor’s grandma. Have these larger companies forgotten that all customers are worthy of quality service?