Each week, I receive tons of questions from my listeners about tech concerns, new products and all things digital.
Sometimes choosing the most interesting questions to highlight is the best part of my job.
This week, I received questions about cost-effective phones, coded texts, Windows spies, and more. Do you have a question you'd like to ask me?
Q: I don't want to spend hundreds or a thousand dollars on a phone. Can I get a decent phone for say, $50 to $75 that will text?
A: Nowadays, if you only need to make calls and send text messages, you can buy a prepaid phone for as cheap as $10, and many devices with basic data plans cost less than $100, with inexpensive plans to match.
Understand, the quality is still wide-ranging, and you generally get what you pay for. But unless you’re chasing the best technology and use your data plan religiously, you can save a lot of money and still have everything you need.
You may also consider buying one of these devices as a secondary or backup.
How much Microsoft knows
Q: I keep hearing about how Facebook and Google track everything you do. I use Microsoft Windows and Office. How much does Microsoft track and can I see what they have on me?
A: Alexa. Facebook. Google. Smart TVs. They have all come under fire for collecting our data and our voices because it’s hard to know what they do with all that information. Yet Windows hasn’t attracted nearly as much ire from the media.
Does that mean it’s safer? Or is Microsoft just flying under the radar somehow, and we’re all waiting for a damning headline?
Whatever the case, you would be smart to check out Microsoft’s privacy settings. Not only can you reduce the amount of data that the tech giant knows about you, but you can find out everything it’s already collected.
Translating teen texts
Q: My granddaughter lives with us. When I look at her phone, I see all these letters that are not real words. Can you tell me what to look for that she might be doing wrong?
A: This problem is epidemic, and it’s not just annoying: it can be downright dangerous. Parents who can’t read their children's “secret language” may fail to understand an entire correspondence with a stranger.
Kids have always found clandestine ways to communicate, from passing notes in class to using complex slang, but it would be naive to deny how powerful a cell phone can be, especially in the hands of a predatory adult, or even an aggressive peer.
It’s wise to school yourself in this cipher as much as possible, even if it’s uncomfortable because you’ll know certain codes to keep an eye out for.
Netflix vs. Amazon streaming
Q: I cannot afford to subscribe to a ton of different services every month. What's better, Netflix or Amazon Prime Videos?
A: To start, it may depend on whether you want to pay a bunch of money upfront, or make smaller payments each month.
Let me be straight with you: both are excellent services and have completely changed how we consume television. You could try Netflix for a few months, cancel your subscription, and then splurge on Amazon. Or you could try Prime for a year, decide whether you like it, and ultimately switch to Netflix.
But if you really have to pick just one, and you want to commit for a long time, you’ll have to catalog exactly what you’re looking for - what shows, what movies, and what special features - and then line up the two services side-by-side. Basically, what you need is a chart.
Repurpose old phones
Q: I have a few old phones laying around. Is there anything I can do with them now? I hate to have them sit in a drawer. It seems like such a waste of money.
A: Lots of people trade up every year or so, brandishing the latest iPhone or Galaxy. But unless you trade in your old phone for a discount, what do you do with that outdated model?
Some of us recycle them. Some destroy them. Many phones remain perfectly functional. Once they connect to Wi-Fi, many phones behave just like regular tablets and computers, but even more portable.
Yet how many of these phones (like you said) lie in drawers, collecting dust with the binder clips and rubber bands? How many of these old phones could be used as cameras, surveillance devices, and even alarm clocks?
And think of what a needy person could do with your donated device, once you’ve fully cleared its memory. The truth is, there are lots of things you can do with that old gadget.
What questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.