Hard to believe but there are still people out there thinking about getting their first smartphone. That’s a cellphone that can search the web and take selfies. About 80 people a year die while taking selfies. Sometimes they step back too far at the edge of the Grand Canyon, sometimes the flagpole on the 10th floor is slippery.
Well, this has happened to us twice now. Not getting killed taking a selfie, but talking to older people who have decided they want one of those smartphone things. In one of the great marketing coups of all time, Apple has somehow made people believe that a smartphone is an iPhone.
This is despite the reality that Android phones – those using the Android operating system instead of Apple’s – outsell iPhones by a staggering ratio of 6-to-1. And yet, in both recent examples of older women who have asked for our help, each thought that only iPhones were smartphones.
There are considerable difference in prices. But for our friend Nancy, who uses a wheelchair, Joy got on the case:
At the bottom you can get an Android phone for $40 from TracFone.com. But it can be aggravatingly slow at times, and tech support is almost nonexistent. For tech newbies, even an older iPhone has great tech support. What’s more, you get the latest operating system on all models starting with the iPhone 5, which came out six years ago. The latest iPhone operating system, iOS 12, lets you enjoy video conversations with up to 32 people at once. (We want to emphasize that, because wouldn’t you know it, it comes up all the time. There’s no way to get a mob together for a spontaneous demonstration unless you can get everyone to agree on where and when to be spontaneous.)
Back to Nancy: Joy suggested the iPhone 6s for $200 or the $160 iPhone SE. Big savings there. Unfortunately, the iPhone 6s isn’t waterproof, so if she needs to text anyone while diving it’s not going to work out. The biggest difference between the 6s and the SE is screen size. The iPhone 6s has a bigger screen; it’s about $40 bigger.
Blocking spam calls
We recently got a voicemail saying the license key of our computer “had been expired.” Besides using bad grammar, they wanted us to call an 800 number to fix it. Sure, we’ll get right on it.
Remember this: Computer companies never call you, you call them. The call we got was labeled “spam” on our Android phone, but they were still able to leave a message. To make sure it didn’t happen again, we blocked the number. Here’s how: Tap the phone icon on your phone and go to “Recents.” Tap a number, then tap “Block.” But what if the number you want to block isn’t on the list? In that case, tap “settings” from within the phone app. Then tap “Blocked Numbers,” and “Add a Number.” On an iPhone, go to “Settings,” tap “Phone,” and then “Call Blocking and Identification.”
Spamming has gone wild. By the end of the second quarter this year, which went to the end of June, 4.1 billion robocalls were placed in the U.S. That was up a lot from the 2.5 billion placed in the first three months. That’s about a dozen calls per person for everyone in America, including little babies, who must wonder what to make of it all.
The number of robocalls, recorded messages that often start out with “Do not hang up, this is an important message,” are not exactly the same as the number of spam calls, which can be from a live voice, but the purpose is the same. Believe us: whenever you get a call that starts out “Do not hang up,” hang up.
This is big business. Spam calls brought in an estimated $9.5 billion last year and there are very few businesses that bring in that much. If it starts by saying “This is an important message,” it isn’t. And that free cruise to the Bahamas isn’t free.
A reader told us he couldn’t figure out how to block pop-ups on his computer. He writes: “Using a Toshiba laptop – and with no grandchildren around – I’ve been going in circles with Chrome trying to block the growing number of stupid ads (some blatantly sexual).”
We thought at first he meant the kind of ads that you can block with the free “Ad Block Plus,” from AdBlockPlus.org. But he was talking about the kind that flash up in the lower right of the screen. Those are called notifications. Often, you’ll be on a site and something will pop up to give you two choices: “Allow” or “Block.” If you choose “Allow,” you’ll get notifications.
For a while, we were allowing notifications from one of our favorites, ZME Science, but they got too frequent. Joy likes FEE.org, ”Foundation for an Economic Education,” but its notifications got to be too much, too. To block a notification in Chrome, click the stacked three dots in the upper right. Then click “Settings” and scroll down to where it says “Advanced” and click on it. Now click the right arrow next to “Content Settings,” and click the arrow next to “Notifications.” For any you don’t want, click the three dots next to it and then “Block.”
• “Think Dirty” is a free app for checking out the chemicals in makeup, sunblock and other products. The Natural Resource Defense Council says 80,000 chemicals are not fully tested. Federal agencies test about 20 a year, so this may take a while.
• “EWG’s Healthy Living” is a free app for testing skin products and food scores. We learned that our Neutrogena T/Gel shampoo is a cancer risk, but the Neutrogena Triple Moisture Shampoo is only an allergy risk. Moving on to food, we looked at one of Joy’s favorite products, tomato paste, and learned which ones don’t use BPA in the lining of their cans. (Muir Glen, for one.) EWG.org, the home of the Environmental Working Group, also has guides on its website.