HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT LAPTOP

Finding the right laptop that suits your needs does require a bit of thought before stumping up the cash.

The size, memory, weight, processor speed and so on are all important factors and different things suit different people.  As I’ve said before on this blog, doing the ground work and reading the online reviews is something you should do if you are about to invest in a laptop or any other electronic device for that matter.

 Laptops have become more popular and affordable than in previous years and you can buy one starting around £200 or at the other end of the scale you can buy them for over £2000.

Whatever your budget, finding the right one can be a bit of a mine field.  Eventhough I advise it, not everyone wants to trawl through review websites at the risk ending up back where they started. 

 I found the Currys PC World website quite good as they breakdown not only the different types and spec of laptops but also ask what you actually want/need in order to find the right make and model.  There are other sites that offer filters to help you make your decision.  Paired with reading some of the reviews, this is a good way of choosing the right one.

 

On the Currys PC World website on the left side of the website under ‘Laptops’ you can filter on ‘Best For’ and select one of the following categories:

Social networking

Everyday use

Big projects

Eye-catching design

Gaming

 

Knowing which category your usage falls into is key to this.  If you like to browse the internet, scroll through Facebook or Twitter etc then lightweight or Social networking laptops might be the right choice.  Chromebooks tend to be designed purely for browsing.

Everyday use is geared toward regular internet browsing, social media, email, using software applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint and some multi-media such as watching video or music streaming. 

 Big project type laptops are at the higher end of the spectrum and tend to be for graphic design, photography and animation.

Eye catching design is exactly that – if you just want something that looks flashy.

Alternatively, if you are into gaming then perhaps a laptop with a powerful graphics card and memory is the way to go.

Make/Brand

Once you've established the type or category of laptop you want, from there you can filter on make or brand.  The big hitters are HP, ACER, DELL, LENOVO, ASUS and of course APPLE.  There are many others after that but brand is usually based on preference and price usually goes hand in hand with quality.  For many years, I have used ACER laptops with no complaints.

Platform or Type

Laptops have evolved especially since tablets and high spec mobile phones have really taken off.

There are generally the following Platforms available:

Windows laptops (comes with the Windows 10 Operating System installed)

2-in-1 laptops (a laptop and a tablet combined)

MacBook/Pro/Air (Apple)

Chromebooks

Specification

A bit of a minefield and can be confusing.  Here’s a summary of some of the stuff you’ll see in a spec (specification) list.  As I always say, if in real doubt consult an expert.

CPU (Central Processing unit)

This is heart and brain or any PC or laptop.  The size and power will determine the machine’s performance and price.  The higher the gigahertz (GHz), the faster the machine will run.  The technology moves on all the time and industry standards range from dual core, quad core, hexa core, octa core and so no.  I don’t get too bogged down with all this if I’m honest.

Intel Core i3/i5/i7  - these are the mainstream brand of processor and go up in price as they move up in series from i3 to i7. i5 is popular and can be likened to a reliable 2.0 litre diesel car. i7  is currently the fast sports car of the family.  

AMD A, FX, E series – Geared toward lower cost or budget laptops.  Still very good and more than suitable for everyday usage.

Memory

RAM (Read only Memory) measured in gigabytes, is sometimes confused with storage space (see below).  Memory is really about how much data the machine can store in its short-term memory and how quickly is can start up and load applications.  4GB to 8GB is the range.

Storage Space

Measured in gigabytes (GB) and terabytes (TB), this is how much ‘stuff’ the laptop can hold (documents, photos, video, music etc).   Generally, the bigger it is the better but in a world where we now store a lot of our files in cloud based services, storage isn’t the big deal it used to be.  That said, it depends on your needs.  SSD (solid state drives) are now becoming popular which are more expensive but load quickly.

Size

How portable you need the laptop to be will determine the size you want.  The size of a laptop is measured by its screen size.

11 to 12 inch  - good for carrying around, in and out of bags.  Nice and light

13 to 14 inch – good for carrying around in a decent laptop bag

15 inch – a bit bulky for carrying and weight will be a factor.  My old Acer Aspire was 15” and I always found it slightly too big when on my lap.  Fine if it’s stays on a desk

Screen Resolution

This is based on the number of pixels horizontal and vertical on the screen.  The bigger the screen, the bigger the resolution.  A pixel is basically a ‘dot’ of illumination within a display screen.  For multi-media and watching video, then a decent HD quality screen is advisable.

Operating System

The Operating system (OS) manages the software and hardware on the laptop making sure everything can access the CPU, memory and storage.  Windows is the popular choice but there are other options being Apple’s MAC OS and Linux.  Since Microsoft dominate the market, Windows is the primary pre-installed OS available on the high street.  Again it's down the preference and familiarity. 

Don’t forget there are loads of websites out there giving advice on ‘how to choose a laptop’ so don’t just take my word for it if you want to go more in-depth. 

Going into a high street store and test driving one then going home to buy the same model cheaper online is not a criminal offence!

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Was it...

a) Really useful and the best piece of writing you've ever read?

b) A load of rubbish and what a waste of time?

c) A combination of (a) and (b)?

Either way, I always like to know what people think of the posts, so leave a reply or email me.

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(sales pitch over)

 

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Fantastic Free Wi-Fi and Where To Find it

Free Wi-Fi is all over the place these days.  It makes sense to log onto a Wi-Fi hotspot instead of using your mobile data allowance for internet browsing or messaging.  Some Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t that easy to get onto once you are there.  Here are a few tips on accessing free Wi-fi in public areas quickly and safely.

 

FREE Wi-FI APPS

Installing an app on your phone is a good way of locating and accessing free wi-fi hot spots.  The Andriod and IOS app WI-FI MAP is a good one and shows the closest hot spots to your location and the associated passwords to store for quick access to save logging in manually.

 

Speed Test  - provides useful data and displays the location of the nearest hot spot with details of download and upload speeds.  This is good since some hot spots don’t offer very good or reliable internet speeds

 

WI-FI MAPPER – this is another good free app for finding Wi-fi hot spots near to your location.  This is also available on Android and IOS and cover around 500 million Wi-Fi networks around the world plus 2 million recommended free hotspots with details of what the venue is and how reliable the internet speed is

 

PUBLIC TRANSPORT FREE WI-FI

Some rail operators offer free Wi-Fi in First Class only but there are some that offer it with standard tickets. 

If you book a ticket directly with Virgin Trains East Coast, you can get free Wi-fi with the ticket.  Great Anglia also offer free Wi-fi to passenger using their Intercity services between Norwich, Ipswich and London (great if you live or travel that way, useless if you don’t). 

South West Trains also provide free internet access and Gatwick Express, Grand Central, Hull Trains and Chiltern Railways and most ScotRail trains do also.

National Express coaches are also rolling out free Wi-Fi limited to 30 minute sessions including acces to entertainment using their VUER app service.

 

INTERNET PROVIDER FREE WI-FI

BT offer unlimited free Wi-fi to their BT broadband customers at over 5 million hot spots through BT WIFI (formerly called BT OpenZone). 

BT HomeHub can also also double up as a hot spot to give stable connection.  Their app BT WI-FI is also available on Andriod or IOS devices and saves having to enter username and password details every time you access it by connecting automatically when in range.

Sky Broadband (which I use) provides its customers with a similar service through the SKY WI-FI app for Andriod and IOS. Although the last time I tried it, it looked very nice but didn’t actuall work!

Virgin Media Wi-Fi also connects it’s customers to lots of UK public hot spots in various venues (cafes, bars, restaurants, airports etc).

If you don’t have a contract with any of these providers, you can still access over 15,000 hot spots through O2 Wi-FI. O2 customers have access to around 4500 of them automatically.  If you are not an O2 customer then you can still register with tem to use free Wi-Fi in places such as McDonalds, House of Fraser, Costa and Pizza Hut which is better than using your data allowance up.

 

USE YOUR MOBILE PHONE AS A WI-FI HOTSPOT

Tethering is another useful way of accessing the internet through your phone if you can’t find a free Wi-Fi hot spot.  Not all devices support Tethering so it’s a case of checking your phone’s settings under Wireless and Networks and looking for ‘Portable Wi-FI hotspot’ or ‘Internet Sharing’.  Warning – check your mobile phone tariff as this method can run up additional charges as it piggy-backs on your mobile phone network.  Therefore, you need to still be within mobile signal range.  Tethering also drains the phone’s battery quite quickly.

If you are accessing the internet on a laptop (Tethered) then you will use more data than if you were loading the same webpages on a mobile phone or tablet.

To track how much data you are using  - there is a useful app called GLASSWIRE for tis purpose.

 

PUBLIC WI-FI SAFETY

When you access the internet via Wi-fi in public areas, security and privacy risks become more of an issue.  It’s worth checking the terms and conditions of the hotspot provider to see what personal information your device is expected to share when using their service.

It's also advisable to try and use websites that support secure ‘https’ connections in favour of the standard ‘http’.  You can tell the browser session is secure when yo see the small padlock in the address bar.  This prevents potential hackers from intercepting yor data.

If you want to be really secure online then going to the next level is installing a VPN which encrypts your internet traffic. 

A recommended free VPN to use is CYBERGHOST which is available on Windows, Android and IOS.

 

Another tip when using a laptop in a public place to access Windows is to turn off ‘file sharing’.

Go to Control Panel

Click ‘Network and Sharing Centre’

and ‘Change Advanced Sharing Settings’

 

Finally, for any online banking or payment type tasks over the internet in public, it is best to use your mobile phone data allowance instead of public hot spots.

 

Did you find this post useful?

Do you have any tips or methods for finding free Wi-Fi access?

 

If so, let me know by leaving a reply below.

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Popular Website Tweaks & Fixes

Turn-off Amazon suggestion emails

I used to be a fan of Amazon until the relationship hit a few bumps in the road.  After almost being duped into signing up to Amazon Prime without actually asking to was the last straw.  One of my biggest ‘other’ gripes with Amazon was their email pushes which are based on searches or past purchases.  Some find them useful but I find them a pain.

Unsubscribing from the emails is straightforward so here’s how:

  • Open your Amazon Account page
  • Scroll to the bottom right-hand corner and select ‘View or Edit your browsing history’
  • Click the drop-down menu titled ‘Manage History’
  • Select ‘Remove all items’
  • Click the switch to turn off Browsing History
  • Select ‘Your Recommendations’ from the ‘Your Account’ drop down menu
  • Click the button ‘Improve your Recommendations
  • On this page tick ‘Don’t use for recommendations’ box against each past purchase

Repeat the process for ‘Videos you’ve watched’ (if applicable), ‘Items you’ve marked “I own it”, ‘Items you’ve rated’, ‘Items you’ve marked “Not Interested” by clicking the options in the side bar

 You should now no longer receive purchase suggestion emails from Amazon.  Be aware you will have to repeat the process for future purchases

Receive GMAIL notifications when you receive emails

GMAIL for some reason has no default option to let you know you’ve received an email.  Here’s how to get a pop-up notification.

  •  Open GMAIL Settings page
  • Go to the General tab
  •  Scroll down to Desktop Notifications.  This is set to ‘Mail notifications off’
  • Select ‘Important mail notifications on’ or ‘New mail notifications on’
  • Scroll down and click ‘Save Changes’

Block Facebook FAKE friend requests

Every now and then you may see a friend request on Facebook from someone you have never heard of or have no association with or mutual friends. There is a very good chance these are fake requests generated through online content marketing companies to lead you to products they are selling.

These can be filtered out by changing your settings.

  •  In Facebook, open Settings
  • Click Privacy
  • Net to the ‘Who can Contact Me?’ heading there is an option ‘Who can send you friend requests’
  • If this is set to ‘Everyone’, click Edit
  • Select ‘Friends of Friends’

 Note – by clicking this option, anyone you meet who doesn’t share a mutual friend with you will not be able to add you to their Facebook network.  Although they will still be able to direct message you.

Remove YOUTUBE's Auto play feature

If you watch a lot of YOUTUBE content but don’t like the constant stream of videos from the Auto Play feature, you can turn this off.

  •  In YOUTUBE, open Options menu
  • Tick the box to ‘Stop Auto play’

This then lets you enable auto play if you want to when playing videos without a web browser extension.

Or

When playing videos in YOUTUBE, in the top-right hand corner above ‘Up next’, there is a switch labelled Auto play.

This can be turned ON/OFF

Remove eBay suggestion emails

Similar to Amazon, eBay like to send us suggestion emails based on past purchases and searches.  Here is how to remove them/turn them off.

  •  On the eBay webpage, click ‘See All’ next to Your Recently Viewed Items
  • Select ‘Clear All’ and ‘Confirm’
  • Choose ‘Searches you follow’ from the sidebar
  • Click ‘Unfollow’ below searches you no longer want to see on the eBay homepage

If you also follow sellers:

  • Click ‘Sellers you follow’
  • Repeat the steps above

 To view everything, you follow on eBay:

(your-username being your eBay login)

  • This allows you to unfollow previous interests on one page
  • You’ll continue to see recommendations on the homepage but they will no longer be suggestions based on your previous searches or purchases

 

Do you have any similar fixes or website tweaks to share on Digital speak?

If so let me know by leaving a reply below.

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CLOUD BACKUP SERVICES

Cloud backup is becoming more and more popular at the moment taking away the need to save your files to either an external hard drive device or online storage services such as Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive (both of which I happen to use).  The backups can happen automatically in the background and if you have large archives of files then cloud backups are worth looking at. 

Here's a quick rundown of the some of the best currently out there.

CRASHPLAN

  • Price £49.00 per year
  • Unlimited storage
  • 5 GB data uploaded in about 2 hours
  • Able to backup from external drives or network shares
  • Scheduled backups hourly, monthly,
  • Can select specific files or folders to backup and specific times

ACRONIS TRUE IMAGE 2017

  • Price £29.99 per year
  • 50 GB Limit
  • 5 GB data uploaded in about 2.5 hours
  • Able to backup from external drives or network shares
  • Online storage and cloud backup options
  • Good value for money if you don’t have huge amounts of data to backup

CARBONITE

  • Price £49.00 per year
  • Unlimited storage
  • 5 GB data uploaded in about 1.5 hours
  • Online storage and cloud backup options
  • Continuous/running all the time backup features
  • Windows Explorer integration

BACKBLAZE

  • Price £40.00 per year
  • Unlimited storage
  • 5 GB data uploaded in about 4.5 hours

LIVEDRIVE

  • Price £60.00 per year paid monthly
  • Unlimited storage
  • 5 GB data uploaded in about 2.5 hours

Do you use Cloud backup services or had good/bad experiences?

Let me know by leaving comments below.

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Useful Apps….and they’re free, free, free!

There are loads of free apps available for mobile phones and tablets on the Android and iOS (Apple) platforms. 

Some are great and we wonder how we got by without them in the past and some are so lame we wonder why we bothered installing them in the first place.  I tend to make sure I’ve at least read the reviews before installing which is a rule to live by these days.

Below is a shortlist of some highly rated apps according to Web User magazine.  There are plenty more so I will no doubt be posting more on this topic in future.

METEOR

Platform: Android

What does it do?  Wi-Fi speed and performance checker 

This useful app tests your internet connection over Wi-Fi to get the best out of resource intensive apps such as Facebook, Netflix or WhatsApp.  Useful for checking which apps perform best on mobile devices around different parts of the home.

CHROME FOR ANDROID

Platform: Android

What does it do?  It's a web browser app

For mobile devices such as phones or tablets, Google have updated their Chrome app for Android to allow download of web pages quicker and easier.  Useful for downloading WebPages offline to read later.

NATS Airspace Explorer

Platform: iOS (iPad only)

What does it do?  For geeky stats on aeroplanes.

If you’re interested in Air Traffic Control then knock yourself out with this app from National Air Traffic Services. It allows you to view stats and information on planes in flight in real time.   Uses radar information to track aircraft (not military) in UK airspace. 2D and 3D modes give a pictorial view of the planes as they move through the air.  As it happens, I used to be a plane spotter – fact.

TUBI TV

Platform: Android, iOS

What does it do?  TV & movie streaming

A free movie and TV show streaming service.  Not in the same league as the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime and not somewhere to go for the latest blockbusters or new TV shows but still a good range of content.  If you like streaming older movies or TV shows then it’s worth a look.

EXPENSE IQ

Platform: Android

What does it do?  Manages finance, income and expenses

This app used to be called Easy Money and was updated in its version 2.0.  Handy for managing personal income, spending, bills, savings etc.  The initial set up means entering your income and expense information manually in preset categories or create your own.  It then arranges the information into nice graphs and tables with an overview to track things such as overspending.  It doesn’t link to your actual bank account (which is probably a good thing for security purposes) so it’s a case maintaining the records manually to show an accurate view of your finances. 

AVAST PHOTO SPACE

Platform: iOS 8

What does it do?  Photo library manager

Designed specifically for iPhone or iPad this app manages and automatically backups up your photo library securely online.  Displaying only a thumbnail version of the photo on the device then allows you to download a high resolution version whenever you need to.

Also comes with its own camera app which automatically transfers the photos to your chosen online storage service such as iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive.

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Windows 10 – Love it or hate it? Here’s a few handy tips

Install Windows updates when it suits you (sir)

Windows 10 is designed so that you have to accept software updates to the operating system when you are told to.  There is the option available to change the install time and delay for up to six days later. 

Follow these steps:

Open the Start menu

Goto Settings, then Updates and Recovery

Choose Notify to schedule restart

Open Windows File Explorer to 'This PC'

You may have noticed that Windows 10’s File Explorer (the tree of folders on the left where all files, network drives and directories are stored on the machine) by default now opens to a view of your recently used files and folders.  It’s supposed to be for quick access but I find it a bit annoying.

So if you’re a creature of habit like me, you can change it back to the more familiar view setting by following these steps:

Click on the View ribbon at the top of File Explorer

Click on Options

Change the drop down menu from Quick Access to This PC

Bypass the Windows 10 login screen

You can skip straight to the Desktop screen when starting up your PC/laptop instead of going through the process of logging in.  This only really applies if you are the only person using it with no other user accounts set up.

Follow these steps:

In the Start Menu type ‘Run’ which brings up the Command prompt box

Press Enter

Type netplwiz in the Command prompt box

Click OK

Highlight your account shown in the list

Untick ‘Users must enter a username and password to use this computer’

Click Apply and enter your password twice to confirm

Restart your PC/laptop to make sure it has worked

It should then go straight to the Desktop screen upon Start up

*If you want to restore the original settings just repeat the process and add the tick back into ‘Users must enter a username and password to use this computer’

Turn off unwanted features

This is useful if you need to remove stuff you don’t need in Windows 10 to free up storage space and resources on your PC/laptop. 

Follow these steps:

Click Start and type ‘Programs and features’

 Select ‘Turn Windows features on or off'

Make sure you know what it is you are uninstalling and what it does before continuing!  If in doubt don't uninstall it.

Recommended things to remove are:

Internet Explorer 11  - Windows 10 comes with a default web browser called Edge so there isn’t really a need for both.  Chrome and Firefox are also widely used web browsers these days also

Legacy Components: DirectPlay – Only keep this if you like to play installed games on your PC/laptop that are over 10 years old

Media Features – The old Windows Media player which is pretty much buried in Windows 10.  A better option is VLC Media Player

Print and Document Services – Entries such as ‘Windows Fax and Scan’ are no longer much use and can be removed

Windows Process Activation Service – Used by developers only

Work Folder Client – Used in businesses and start ups.  Not much use in home computing

Remote Differential Compression API Support – Rarely used and can be removed

Windows Powershell 2.0 – This is an old version of Powershell and the latest version 5.0 should already be installed in Windows 10

XPS Services and XPS Viewer – Alternative to PDF and rarely used

 

 

Source:

Web User magazine

www.pcworld.com

 

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