Tech Tip: Data plans when you travel with your Smartphone

Tech Tip: If you’re traveling out of Canada with your smartphone, either turn off data roaming or add a data roaming package to save money

Smartphones are fantastic tools to have when traveling.  Not only do you have maps with you to get you around, you can find restaurants, local attractions and information on the area you are visiting.  The problem is with travel outside of Canada, you have to roam on different networks to get access your phone and data packages.  Unfortunately Roaming rates for data are not exactly the cheapest around.  Even a short visit across the border can lead to some hefty charges on your bill.  There are a few ways you can mitigate the costs associated with roaming.

Turn off your Data

Most smartphones have the ability to turn off the data features while roaming outside your home area.  Although it may be inconvenient, turning off data is the safest way to prevent surprises on your phone bill.  Each phone is different, but generally you will want to look under the settings area, and look for mobile networks.  Sometimes there will be an option to turn data off while roaming, other times you just might need to turn all data services off.  You won’t be able to get your email or facebook status updates, but its a small sacrifice for a reasonable bill.

Roaming Data Package

Most wireless carriers will offer data roaming packages now.  They can range from a 24 hour package to a week at a time.  They are still on the pricier side, but a lot cheaper than roaming without adding one of these packages.  To set one of these up, a call to your providers customer service line will get you in touch with someone who can help add one.  If you already know what you need, there are sometimes options to add the package either online or via text message.  Check with your provider before heading out to see what deal is right.

WiFi only

If you don’t want to spend the money on an extra roaming package, turn the mobile data roaming feature off, and use WiFi in local hotspots.  Most restaurants, coffee shops, hotels and attractions will offer free WiFi. (although sometimes you will have to open up a web page on your smartphone to agree to the terms of service before you can access it)  If you are staying at a resort or hotel that offers WiFi, check to see if it is free or if there is a cost.  Some places will charge you access costs per device.  This can be a problem if you have a Tablet, Smartphone and laptop on your trip.  If that is the case, choose which device is most important.  If it is based on an access code like a room number, then you may be able to get away with multiple devices connected for one cost.

Specialty Roaming Packages

A few companies have popped up that specialize in offering better roaming rates than your normal provider.  Roam Mobility for example is one company that specializes in offering mobile voice and data packages through their network agreements.  The upside is you probably will get better roaming rates than your existing provider.  The downside is that you need to replace the SIM card in your device with one of theirs.  Make sure you either forward your calls to the new number or tell people to call you on that other number.  Some newer Smartphones have dual SIM card slots, designed for such instances, but they have not caught on yet in North America and are hard to find.

While this blog post is geared towards smartphones, you can be extended to include Tablets and even laptops when traveling.  Do you have any horror stories of high charges when traveling or any tips for wireless access overseas?  I’d love to hear them.  Tweet me @Stealth2377 or leave them in the comments section below.

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Tech Tip: Control your Phone with your Voice

Tech Tip: Voice recognition in smart phones has improved greatly over the years. Use it to access your phones features

Voice recognition has made some great improvements over the past few years.  When I first started using it on my old BlackBerry, I was able to just simply dial a few contacts in my phone book.  Although I was able to type out messages, I never found it worked all that well.  Fast forward to a few years later (That being now) and Voice Recognition not only does a great job picking up what you are saying accurately, it can do much more.

Recently I have been playing around with Google Now, which is the Smartphone assistant on Android phones.  I have been impressed with how well it works.  Not only will it do dictation for me in messages, it responds to questions I ask it using Google’s impressive search tools.  If I say “Set an alarm for 5 minutes” it will automatically open up the app, set the alarm and start it without any further intervention on my part.

Asking it questions also brings up some decent answers.  Sometimes it is just a search in Google it brings up, other times it scours the internet for my answer and tells me.  The Android blog Android Authority has a great infographic with the voice commands you can use for Google Now here.  Apple’s Siri assistant has a lengthy list of features it can also perform for you.  Here is a link to some of the commands you can provide to Siri.

Recently I wrote a blog about using voice commands whenever possible while driving instead of typing.  While talking to your phone may still get a few funny looks from others around you, it is the way we will interact with technology in the near future.

Tech Tip: Don’t get your phone wet

Tech Tip: Winter can be wet and slippery. Water damage is a real concern for your smartphone. Keep it safe! don’t get it wet.

Every summer I remind people to be careful not to get their phones wet. When its raining or if by the pool, water damage is a real concern. People sometimes forget though that snow is just as damaging to your phone. Dropping your phone in a snowbank (When the snow starts falling) only gives you a few extra seconds to wipe down your phone before the snow sneaks into the electronics. Once wet, the odds of rescuing it start going down.

If your phone does get wet, turn it off right away. Remove the battery if you can. (Many phones have batteries you can’t remove unfortunately) Put your phone in a bag of rice for at least 24 hours to get the moisture out. This will give you the best chance of recovering it.

A few things to remember: Winter gloves make it hard to use your touchscreen phone, and also make your hands a little clumsier. Cold hands also make it hard to hold your phone and increase the risk of dropping it.

What can you do in the Winter to keep your phone intact?
There are gloves you can buy which will work with touch screen phones. These gloves tend not to be as bulky while still providing some protection for your hands from the elements. I would also recommend using voice dialing, voice dication and other voice commands where possible. Its easier to press 1 button to access the voice options than it is to type with cold hands.

Make sure your coat as a pocket that is easily accessible for your phone, that also provides some protection from the cold and moisture. If its a particularly wet day (or you decide to shovel the snow while listening to music on your phone) consider putting your phone in a zip lock bag in your pocket. That will also help keep the moisture out.

Stay warm and dry this winter and keep your phone safe.

Tech Tip: Smartphones help in traffic

Tech Tip: many smartphone map Apps include realtime traffic conditions. Use these to plan your commute, but not while driving. BE SAFE!Smartphones have become great companions for us in many aspects of our daily lives.  Commuting is no different.  There are a number of apps that do help with directions and location, but some mapping apps will help plan your commute home.

Google Maps has a feature that gives real time traffic updates.  Using Green, yellow or red to mark the road conditions, you can see how well traffic is moving.  If you are planning a drive home, its great to check to see what the road conditions are like and get an approximate ETA on your commute home.  You can also then plot a new route using Google Maps and see how long it would take and determine which route is best.

Just a reminder though, that in many jurisdictions, using your phone, even as a GPS unit is illegal while driving.  Having your phone mounted on a bracket will help, but focusing on driving is essential.  Plan your route ahead of time and stay safe on the roads.

Tech Tip: Now is the time to start shopping around for a Wireless Plan

Tech Tip: Looking to change your Wireless plan? Mid November is when the holiday deals start. A great time to start shopping around

I have been involved in the mobile phone industry for in some way, shape or form for many years.  Either working directly for a wireless provider or providing consulting and analysis on the industry.  One thing I have learned is that the holiday season is the best time to shop around for a new phone and plan.

The Christmas and holiday season has always been the busiest for retail in all forms, and the wireless industry is no exception.  Even in the day past when giving a phone as a gift was very difficult due to contracts and phone subsidies, it was still a huge business time.  With family plans, unsubsidized phones, tablets and prepaid services, giving phones has become big business.

But if you are already on a contact, how does this help you?

This is the time when wireless plans also get very aggressive as providers look to increase their subscriber numbers before the end of the year.  Even if you are on a plan, even in contract, shop around at different providers and look for a deal that would work for you.  Now you can use this as leverage when contacting your existing provider.  It doesn’t always work, depending on where you are in a contract, but if the saving you can make switching can offset any cancellation penalty, then it may be worth pursuing.  Plus you would get a new phone if you switch, or get your old phone unlocked to take with you.  (If its not unlocked already)

Use this time to either shop or negotiate for the best package for your needs.  Remember, if its been over a year since you last changed your wireless plan, there is a good chance that your needs have changed.  It is at least worth a few minutes of your time to check it out.

Tech Tip: Sync Chrome on your Phone and Desktop

Tech Tip: Sync Chrome on your Phone and Desktop

Most Android phones still come stock with the generic browser, however downloading Chrome for Android has a lot of advantages. Apart from running fast and having browser tabs, you can sync the pages you are viewing with your desktop client. Chrome for both desktop and mobile allows you to sign in using your Google account. By signing in, you can view web pages on your mobile phone, and then open up your desktop browser and find the same link without having to copy and paste into your browser.

To access browser tabs from your phone on your desktop, open up Chrome on your computer (Assuming you are signed into your Google account) Scroll down to “Recent Tabs” and open up the sub menu. You should see Tabs from your computer that were opened, but you should also see a section with your Mobile phone, followed by open tabs. Select the tab you want and instantly you will find the webpage you were looking for available to you.

Its a small feature, but very useful.

Stop your computer from booting up Slowly

Tech Tip: Stop your computer from booting up slowly

Tech Tip: If your computer is booting up slowly, check to see what programs are launching at startup. You can probably turn some off

When your computer starts up, it needs to pre-start some programs to allow them to be ready to boot up when called upon. Some of them are required, but others are there for no other reason than to be ready. Some programs will run in the background, even if not called upon, just so they will start up faster when you do click on them.

One of the easiest ways to see whats booting up is to look in the start menu at the different file folders, and look for a startup file. Click on that to see some of the programs that are running at launch.

You can also press Ctrl-Alt-Del and then select “Start Task Manager” to view what programs are running. You can look through the “Applications” and the “Processes” tab to see what programs are running. If you find programs that are running that don’t need to be, you can disable them to help speed up the computer. Beware though not to shut down programs just because you don’t know what they are. You can cause some major problems if you shut down the wrong program.