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Newer isn't always better for consumer in high-tech industry

by BOB AND JOY SCHWABACH | December 22, 2018 at 1:43 a.m.

We were roped in by Google's one-day offer of a nice discount on a new phone; it came with a gift card from Airbnb, worth the cost of the phone, plus $225 for our old phone.

But when we got the new phone, the Pixel 3, we decided to return it. The sound quality was muffled, Bob said. Joy couldn't tell if it was better or worse, but she's not the audiophile Bob is.

This opens the way for a bit of high dudgeon. That is to say, an incensed tirade. One of the great flaws of the high-tech industry is adding improvements where none are needed. We have been writing about this stuff for so long that we now get asked to review products we first looked at 20 years ago. "Yeah, but this is a new version," people tell us. They mean new to them.

INTERNUTS, online home of Conde Nast Traveler, has an interesting article on "The World's Best Cities for Arts and Culture." Bob has been to all of them, Joy just two: New York and Washington.


A reader wanted to use his wife's old iPhone and was looking for a service to go with it. It turns out his current service, Net10, lets you use most phones.

Net10 is just one of many cheap ones; it starts around $35 a month. It gets poor marks for customer service. Well, you win some, you lose some.

We searched on "how to bring your own iPhone to Net10." As expected, there was a YouTube video on the topic. It tells which activation kit is needed, which was enough for him.

He wants a smartphone for the maps and GPS. Bob hates it. The directions are sometimes just dead wrong, and the usual approach is to direct you to the nearest interstate highway. What a great idea -- not! -- because then you're competing for road space with tractor-trailer trucks five times your size and weight, all going 60-70 miles per hour. On the other hand, Joy says that without GPS, she'd be lost most of the time.

But you can go even lower than Net10. Tello, which uses the Sprint network, costs $14 a month for unlimited talk and text and one gigabyte of data on a 4G network. US Mobile, on the Verizon and T-Mobile networks, has a $6 a month plan. It offers 40 minutes of talk, 40 texts and 100 megabytes of data. That sounds low, but GPS uses only about five megabytes per hour of driving.


A reader asked us for a substitute for Windows Movie Maker, a nice program no longer available for Windows 10. Microsoft Photos has taken its place. You can get it by typing "Microsoft Photos" into the search bar in the lower left of the Windows 10 screen. It lets you put video clips and photos into a movie or slideshow.

Microsoft Photos starts by asking whether you want the program to create a video or edit your own. We chose the automatic option, checking off the photos and video clips we wanted to include. The program pulled these together and added some jazzy music. You can edit the finished movie, adding captions and even 3-D effects.


When our new-ish Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 desktop computer wouldn't start, we tried to warn a reader we had just recommended it to, but it was too late. He had just bought one for his wife. Fortunately, we fixed the problem.

It turned out that a thumb drive plugged into the back of the machine was causing the PC's failure to launch. When we took out the memory stick, Windows 10 came right up. This had to be a problem with the BIOS, which stands for Basic Input Output System. It tells the computer what to do, basically how to get up in the morning. When you flip on the power, the current goes to the BIOS chip or part of a chip, and triggers built-in instructions like "Go to the hard drive, see if you find an operating system and poke it in the ribs to get it running."

However, it can also be set to go to an outside drive at startup. Why would it ever do this? You might have more than one operating system. Some people like to use a Linux system, but still keep their factory system. Linux is a system derived from UNIX, which is what giant mainframe computers used in the old days. It's still around. Every time you search the Web or send an email and add that "period," usually referred to as a "dot," as in "dot com," into the address, that is an old UNIX command telling the computer to go to a certain place and look for what the user asked for.

What used to be called the BIOS is now called UEFI, which stands for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface. It works the same way but by changing the name the folks in Silicon Valley can make it their own and keep the rest of us from catching up too fast. Actually, the real reason for the change is that storage drives have gotten very large and the old BIOS didn't recognize anything bigger than 2.2 terabytes.

Bob and Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at [email protected] and [email protected]

Business on 12/22/2018

Print Headline: Newer isn't always better for consumer in high-tech industry


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