Everyday Tips from the ComputerMom 

December 2016
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Wow, my final newsletter for this year, and what a year it's been! I know it's a terrible cliche, but it seems every year goes by faster than the last.

With the holidays upon us, I am often asked about "bargain" laptops from sales flyers. This month's newsletter details what I look for in a bargain computer, and how I evaluate whether or not it's a good deal. Even if you are not looking for a bargain, my shopping tips can help you with any tech purchase.

The second article is my holiday present to you - a way to eliminate those annoying robocalls, which always seem to come at the most inopportune time. If your phone provider is on the list, enjoy!

Happy Holidays to one and all!

Julie Marto 
P.S. I will be on vacation December 9th through December 16th. As always, I can be reached by cell phone or by email, so don't hesitate to contact me if you have an emergency.
How to Buy a Bargain Laptop 

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have both come and gone, but there are still plenty of flyers advertising inexpensive laptops out there. I often get asked my opinion of this advertised system or the other. Computer geeks are like car aficionados - we prefer to spend more for speed and quality. But, as a bargain hunter myself, I certainly understand the lure of the ads!

Although there is no need to spend thousands on a new laptop these days, bargain systems often have compromises in build quality or specs. Here's how I look at a bargain to see if it's actually a good value.

Brand - I prefer Dell, HP, and Lenovo, although Asus has some very good specs for the dollar. I really don't like Samsung or Acer, and have had a lot of bad luck with Toshiba. However, remember that just like with cars, there can be good and bad models in every brand. Check out the rest of the specs as well.

Build Quality - This is one of the most important factors, and requires a bit of hands on time with the laptop. Although the most expensive laptops are famously thin and light, this is not necessarily a plus in the lower price range - you want the system to feel substantial. Look for hinges that open and shut easily and allow you to adjust the screen to a comfortable viewing angle. Look for a keyboard with enough give in the keys to type comfortably. Look for more metal than plastic. 
CPU - Look for an Intel CPU, not AMD. However, not every Intel CPU will do. You want to find one with the label i3, i5, or i7. In general, the higher the number the faster the CPU. Avoid Intel CPUs that say Pentium or Celeron - those are older branding labels and signify very slow, under-powered processors
Hard Drive - Most bargain laptops have high capacity standard hard drives - either a 500GB or 750GB, maybe even more. Any drive over 250GB should be sufficient for most normal user's needs. You are unlikely to find a bargain system with an SSD in it, but if you do, it will most likely be a very small one. I have seen several bargain systems with 32GB SSDs - that is a VERY small drive, and really insufficient for a modern laptop. Don't believe the guy at BestBuy, who will tell you that you are keeping everything in the cloud anyway - that drive just plain old won't do. 
By the way, you can almost always upgrade a bargain laptop with an SSD, which will markedly increase the speed and performance of any computer.

RAM - Look for 8GB, which is the current sweet spot. You can get by with 4GB, but some bargain laptops don't let you upgrade RAM, and more is better!

In general, if you find a great deal on a laptop that meets the specs listed above, you will probably be OK. Some other tips to ensure you end up happy:
  • Follow the ads for a few weeks before making your decision. There's always a new "doorbuster" next week. If you go over the offerings carefully you will be able to spot value
  • You might have to purchase a new copy of Office, or a new anti-virus program, but don't let the salesperson load you up with extras. Store warrantys are generally a very poor value, as are the high end cables they often tell you that you need.
  • Rather than buying the store's warranty, purchase your bargain with an American Express card, or another premium credit, that will double the manufacturer's warranty. This gives you some purchase protection in case your bargain turns into a lemon
  • In that same vein, Costco has very generous return policies, so check out their bargains as well. Wherever you buy your system, make sure you know their return policies, especially if it's a gift and won't be opened for a few weeks
  • Once you open your new system, make sure to test every aspect of it while still in the return period, to make sure nothing is defective and to ensure it will meet your needs
Stop Robocalls with NoMoRoBo

How do you feel about robocalls? You know, the phone rings, you pick it up, and Heather from Cardholder Services tells you "this is your last call" - hah!  I thought so - they are one of the most annoying daily occurrences in our modern world. Well, if you get your phone service from either Comcast Xfinity Voice or Verizon Fios Digital Voice, I have great news for you. Using a free service called NoMoRoBo, you can now actually stop those annoying robocalls from interrupting your dinner!

I signed up for NoMoRoBo a few years ago, but it took until this year for our local providers to actually offer the service. You will have to create an account with NoMoRoBo, and make some changes in your account settings at your phone service provider. It takes a little bit of effort to set the whole system up, but once you do, incoming robocalls will just ring once and hang up.

Comcast instructions are here, and Verizon Fios instructions are here. I've set this up for myself and for several of my clients, and I can attest to the fact that IT WORKS! I found Verizon's instructions to be a bit trickier to follow than Comcast's, so if you need any help getting this working for yourself or a family member, just get in touch with me to schedule a house call.

By the way, other providers are on the list, and iPhones can be blocked for a monthly charge. If you are not an Xfinity Voice or Fios Digital Voice customer, you might be covered as well - check the NoMoRoBo webpage to find out.