Microsoft Replacing Some Surface Pro 4s

Microsoft Replacing Some Surface Pro 4s

Microsoft has now announced their plan to take care of screen flicker issues with the Surface Pro 4. According to a recent article on Microsoft’s Support site, they will be replacing many of their Surface Pro 4s that have the screen flicker issue.

According to their post, Microsoft has noted that a “small percentage” of their Surface Pro 4s have a problem with the screen flickering. Customers have been posting about the issue in Microsoft’s Support section for months. Back in February, The Verge wrote about how some customers were putting their devices in the freezer so they might stop the screen flickering problem (an issue that was referred to by some as “Flickergate”). In The Verge’s article, they noted that at that time, flickering issues had been going on for at least a year, and hundreds of people had been dealing with the issue.

Now Microsoft is doing something about it. Surface Pro 4 owners who go through the replacement process within three years of buying the device can now get a full replacement for free. They do note that the device must be fully updated (to make sure the screen flickering actually does still occur) and that if the device has been damaged through other means (like having someone else try to work on the device) it won’t be eligible.

But if a customer has the screen flicker issue on their Surface Pro 4, they can contact Microsoft, get verification that they’re eligible, send the device back, and get a refurbished device within around a week after Microsoft has received the damaged one.

They also note that if a customer has “already paid an out-of-warranty fee” to take care of this specific issue, the customer can get a refund for the repair. This means people who didn’t wait around for this replacement program won’t be out a lot of extra money that other people didn’t have to pay.

If you have a Surface Pro 4 that’s been plagued with the screen flickering problem, take a look at Microsoft’s article and start taking the first steps toward replacement.

Microsoft Making It Easier to Take Screenshots

Microsoft Making It Easier to Take Screenshots

Windows 10 users may have just gotten the Spring update, but Microsoft is already talking about some of their upcoming plans. Microsoft has now announced they want to make taking screenshots easier and more intuitive.

In the past, users could open the Snipping tool and screenshot certain areas of their screen, then make some slight modifications before saving the image.

In a blog post, Microsoft outlined their plans for taking screenshots. In the future, Windows 10 users will be able to use a keyboard shortcut to open up a “snipping toolbar.” This snipping toolbar will let you screenshot whatever area of the screen you choose. The screenshot will then be saved to your clipboard so you can do whatever you’d like with it. The shortcut is WIN + Shift + S, but you’ll also have other options, including changing your settings to make the Print Screen button open the snipping toolbar.

The new snipping options will also integrate better with Screen Sketch. According to their blog post, Screen Sketch is now becoming its own separate app. With Screen Sketch, you can annotate your screen using a customizable pen, eraser, ruler, and more, then save your annotated image and share it. With the new snipping setup, you’ll be given the option to go straight to Screen Sketch to make your annotations.

These changes are just a few Microsoft is introducing in their Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 17661. The preview build is only available to select people, including certain Windows Insiders. It’s unclear when the updates will come for everyone and what the changes will actually look like by then. But it is promising that Microsoft is specifically focusing on making their screenshot capabilities easier to use.

iTunes is Now in the Microsoft Store

iTunes is Now in the Microsoft Store

If you use Windows 10, you can now find iTunes in the Microsoft Store.

According to Ars Technica, iTunes is now available to Windows 10 users in the Microsoft Store. Ars Technica notes that bringing iTunes to the Microsoft Store was actually supposed to happen by the end of 2017, making its addition now a bit late. But it seems to be a welcome addition.

The program still works the same way as iTunes does if you download it straight from Apple, says Ars Technica, but they also note downloading from the Microsoft Store has some advantages. In particular, you won’t get prompts asking you to download other Apple products, plus it won’t install things that run in the background (which can seriously bog down a computer).

iTunes was previously available for Windows and MacOS. This means it was likely already accessible to many people who can find it in the Microsoft Store now. But there were also some people who now have access who didn’t before: those using Windows 10 S devices. Windows 10 S devices can only install programs from the Microsoft Store, so these users can now download iTunes. This is useful since iTunes is still a hugely popular service. It’s not just a music service, either; you can download music, movies, shows, podcasts, and more.

The Microsoft Store previously already offered other popular music programs. You could already find the streaming services Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, SiriusXM, TuneIn, and more. So if you’re simply interested in streaming and you have an account with any of these services, the addition of iTunes may not excite you much.

But if you specifically enjoy iTunes and like having a way to organize your media and access more than just music, this new platform may be good news for you. You can find iTunes in the Microsoft Store right now.

The Week in Microsoft News

The Week in Microsoft News

Microsoft has been in the news quite a bit over the past week! Here’s your chance to catch up. Microsoft owns many different well-known services, including XBOX and SwiftKey, many of which were recently updated or will be updated soon.

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the Microsoft news you might have missed recently!

XBOX Live avatars will soon offer more options

More player avatars will be coming to XBOX Live in April. The Verge is reporting that these avatars will include a host of new options, making it easier for everyone to build an avatar that suits them.

The Verge specifically notes that there is a focus on diversity with the upcoming avatar options. For instance, there are options for prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs. Aside from these options, there will be more to choose from when customizing an avatar’s body shape, clothing, accessories, and more.

Windows 10 update coming in April

Speaking of April, more updates are coming to Windows next month. Also reported by The Verge, the next big update to Windows 10 is coming in April. The update will very likely be called the “Spring Creators Update,” and it will have a number of new features. The Verge mentions new features like Timeline. According to Windows Central, Timeline compiles your activity on your computer into a timeline that goes back up to 30 days. Using Timeline, you’ll be able to jump right back in where you left off in a program or app. Windows Central also notes how useful it is to be able to use Timeline across different devices. Aside from Timeline, there will also be other improvements to the operating system in the upcoming update.

SwiftKey has been updated

SwiftKey, the keyboard app run by Microsoft, has received an update. GeekWire is reporting that there are many new features in the SwiftKey update. One new feature includes the new Toolbar for quicker customization of the keyboard. The update also includes a bigger focus on different visuals. For instance, the app page on Google Play notes that you can now create your own stickers in the app. This update is a fairly notable one for the app that has been downloaded millions of times and is a top contender in the third-party keyboard app field.

The Battle of the Smart Speakers

The Battle of the Smart Speakers

Over the past few years, you’ve likely heard more and more about smart assistants and smart speakers. Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot have been particularly heavily advertised. This is no surprise, since the Echo is what really launched this current boom of smart speakers.

You might be thinking the Echo is the only real contender in the smart speaker race. If that’s the case, you might be surprised to learn there are actually quite a few smart speakers on the market. If you’re interested in buying your own smart assistant-enabled speaker, keep reading for the info you need to narrow down your options.

What I mean by ‘smart speaker’

You might be wondering what a smart speaker actually is. Technically, there are many different kinds of speakers that could be considered smart speakers. There are plenty of speakers out there that do more than the typical old-school speaker.

However, when I talk about smart speakers in this article, I’m referring to a specific type of smart speaker. This is a speaker that has a built-in virtual assistant. These smart speakers can usually be controlled by voice and by app. You can ask them questions, have them perform virtual tasks, and of course, play music through them.

Who are the smart assistants?

Smart speakers come with smart assistants (or virtual assistants) ready to respond to your requests. Here are the smart assistants I’ll mention again later in this article:

  • Alexa—This assistant comes from Amazon. Alexa comes ready to do all sorts of things, including answer questions, make jokes, play music, give a weather forecast, make calls, and more. She can then be personalized by enabling additional skills that let her do a wide variety of other things.
  • Cortana—Microsoft developed this assistant. You might have heard Cortana on your Windows 10 computer or a Windows phone. Cortana can do all the basic things like answer questions (using Bing search results), create reminders, and give the current weather. She also now has third-party skills available to expand her capabilities.
  • Google Assistant—Naturally, Google offers this assistant. You can access Google Assistant through many different devices, including quite a few Google and Android phones. The Assistant can answer questions, create alarms, make purchases, change settings, and more. You can also enable third-party apps that expand your Assistant’s possibilities.
  • Siri—You likely already knew the name of Apple’s smart assistant. Siri has been available for quite some time through devices like the iPhone. Siri can do all the basics, like answer questions, set reminders, change settings, and more. She can also send messages and make calls. You can also enable some apps to work with Siri.

What options are there?

There are a few main smart speakers that are typically considered the frontrunners—the best of the best. However, some others are coming up against the competition to give consumers more options.

This is not a full, completely definitive list of smart speakers. But the 9 smart speakers listed below are some of the most popular, recent, and talked about options. Keep in mind there are many more features available on each speaker, not just the handful I mention!

Amazon Echo

Ratings: 8.1/10 CNET, 4.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: A smart speaker with Alexa—from the people who created Alexa.
Some key features:

  • Built in Alexa, a well-received and popular assistant
  • Good sound quality from the 2.5” woofer & 0.6” tweeter with Dolby
  • 7 microphones that help the Echo hear and understand from a distance and in noisy places
  • Multiple wake words to choose from (“Alexa,” “Computer,” or “Echo”)
  • Style options, with 6 colors to pick from
  • Connects to Bluetooth and has an audio output
  • 4 buttons on top: action, volume up, volume down, microphone off
  • Also works through the Alexa app (for Android & iOS)

Price: $99.99

Amazon Echo Dot

Ratings: 9.5/10 CNET, 4/5 PC Mag
What it is: The smaller version of Amazon’s Alexa-enabled smart speaker.
Some key features:

  • Built in Alexa, a well-received and popular assistant
  • Small and easy to place anywhere without taking up much space
  • 7 microphones that help the Echo hear and understand from a distance and in noisy places
  • Multiple wake words to choose from (“Alexa,” “Computer,” or “Echo”)
  • Connects to Bluetooth and has an audio output, so you can improve sound quality by connecting to another Bluetooth speaker
  • 4 buttons on top: action, volume up, volume down, microphone off
  • Also works through the Alexa app (for Android & iOS)

Price: $49.99

Apple HomePod

Ratings: 8/10 CNET, 3.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: Apple’s smart speaker with their popular voice assistant Siri integrated. This smart speaker is set up by using an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad.
Some key features:

  • Built in Siri, Apple’s well-known smart assistant
  • Good sound quality from its high-excursion woofer and 7 tweeters
  • Visually stylish, with a mesh exterior
  • Intelligent sound, with the ability to hear from across a room and through noises, as well as change its sound based on where you are at the time
  • 6 available controls on top of the device: play/pause, next track, previous track, volume up, volume down, Siri

Price: $349

Google Home

Ratings: 8.3/10 CNET, 3.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: Google’s smart speaker with their Google Assistant built in.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • Connects with Chromecast
  • Uses Voice Match to recognize who’s speaking and perform tasks appropriately
  • Works like a Bluetooth speaker, so you can connect other devices
  • Multi-colored lights on top indicate what the Home is doing
  • Responds to touch: mute, wake the Assistant, play/pause, change volume

Price: $99

Google Home Mini

Ratings: 8.2/10 CNET, 3.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: The smaller version of Google’s smart speaker with Google Assistant.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • Style options, with 3 different colors
  • Small and easy to place anywhere
  • Connects with Chromecast
  • Uses Voice Match to recognize who’s speaking and perform tasks appropriately
  • Works like a Bluetooth speaker, so you can connect other devices
  • Dots on top indicate what the Home Mini is doing
  • Responds to taps: change volume, start/stop, mute

Price: $39

Harman Kardon Invoke

Ratings: 7.3/10 CNET, 2/5 PC Mag
What it is: The first smart speaker with Microsoft’s Cortana built in.
Some key features:

  • Built in Cortana
  • 360° sound from its 3 woofers, 3 tweeters, and 2 passive radiators
  • Connected Skype for voice calling
  • 7 microphones and multiple technologies to hear commands from all directions and in noisy environments
  • Touchpad on top for touch controls
  • Lights indicate when Cortana is responding

Price: $99.95

JBL Link 20

Ratings: 8.2/10 CNET, 4/5 PC Mag
What it is: A Google Assistant-enabled smart speaker from speaker and electronics company JBL.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • Recognizes commands from across the room with its far-field voice recognition
  • Connects with Bluetooth so you can play audio from other devices
  • Battery powered and portable—its battery can last up to 10 hours
  • Waterproof and durable
  • Built in Chromecast connection so you can cast to the Link 20

Price: $149.95

Sonos One

Ratings: 8.7/10 CNET, 4/5 PC Mag
What it is: A smart assistant from electronics company Sonos, with Alexa built in (and Google Assistant coming soon).
Some key features:

  • Built in Alexa
  • Wide variety of music services available to connect (including Amazon Music and Pandora)
  • 6 microphones that help the One hear commands from a distance and over noise
  • Built for good sound quality using Class-D amplifiers
  • Touch controls on top: volume up, volume down, skip, mute
  • Moisture resistant
  • LEDs on top to indicate the One’s status

Price: $199 or two for $349

Sony LF-S50G

Ratings: Not available on CNET or PC Mag
What it is: Sony’s smart speaker with built-in Google Assistant.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • 360° sound and a speaker with a two-stage diffuser & bass reflex duct
  • Bluetooth connectivity so you can listen to music from other devices
  • Responds to touchless gestures—wave to change the volume
  • Volume adjustment that automatically changes volume based on sound in the room
  • Splash-proof
  • Digital clock on the side of the speaker
  • LEDs to display what the speaker is doing

Price: $199.99

Don’t forget…

This article gave some of the basics you need to know when choosing your smart speaker. Take a closer look at the speakers you’re most interested in to see even more about their features!

Google Docs or Microsoft Word—Which Is Right For You?

Google Docs or Microsoft Word—Which Is Right For You?

Depending on how much you write, you may already know that you have options when it comes to the software you use to create documents. But many people are unaware that they really do have choices.

Document creation has come a long way since the earliest word processors—especially considering they were often their own separate machines. Eventually, word processors became available as software, leading to word processors like WordPerfect (which was hugely popular for years). Microsoft Word, after being released in the 80s, eventually rose to take the top spot and has remained the standard word processor since.

Because Microsoft Word is so popular, and because it so often comes along with PCs being purchased, it can be easy sometimes to forget there are other avenues for document creation. In fact, there are quite a few available word processors, like Apache OpenOffice Writer, WordPerfect, and Pages (Apple’s word processor).

An interesting, and newer, addition to the word processing family is the web word processor. Instead of only being offered as software to download, some word processors are accessed on the web. Google Docs is a good example of this kind of word processor. Released in the mid-2000s, Google Docs has become one of the better-known word processors. It can be downloaded on some devices, but it’s primarily a web application.

Microsoft Word and Google Docs are two particularly popular word processors, one of which is primarily used as downloadable software, the other typically accessed online. In this article, I’ll go over some of the basics of the two offerings, make note of what they have in common, and talk about what makes them special. This can help give an idea of which word processor sounds best to you!

What are the basics?

Before we get into more details, let’s take a look at some of the basic information on both word processors.

Microsoft Word

  • Cost—Depending on the package, as low as $6.99/mo.
  • Compatibility—For PC & Mac; Android, iOS, & Windows devices; web version available
  • Number of devices—Depends on the package; from 1 computer to multiple computers, tablets, and phones

Google Docs

  • Cost—Free
  • Compatibility—For any computer with access to a modern browser; Android & iOS devices
  • Number of devices—As many as you want

What do they have in common?

Microsoft Word and Google Docs are alike in some ways, including some shared features. Some of these features are basic and what one would expect from a word processor. Here are some of the ways they’re alike.

Both Word and Google Docs:

  • include basic formatting features, like font choice, text color, highlighting, and paragraph spacing
  • can include tables, charts, and footnotes
  • offer spell-checking, dictionary look-up, and word count
  • can include images
  • provide formatting presets, like headers, footers, and a table of contents
  • offer the ability to review or analyze documents with word counts, comments, and accessibility checks
  • have options for view modes, like page orientation, zoom, and rulers
  • have extensive help services for better understanding how to use them
  • work with keyboard shortcuts
  • offer document templates
  • offer the ability to save to the cloud

There are many more basic similarities, many of which are standard across most word processors.

What makes Word different?

Word does differ from Google Docs in some ways other than the fact that Google Docs is web-based. Here are some of the ways Word sets itself apart:

Some special features:
Image use—Though it’s not necessarily easy to manipulate or place images in Word, there are more ways to do so than you can find in Google Docs. For instance, Word users can add frames and effects to their images, and there are quite a few options for changing how they’re laid out on the page.

Mail options—If you’re using Word to create mailings, you have useful features available to you. You can create envelopes and use features like Mail Merge, which makes it easy to create personalized versions of your document for each person on your mailing list.

Extensive reference choices—With Word, you can expect to have all the options you need to format your academic or professional documents. There are options for footnotes, citations, cross-references, and more that get into the smallest of details.

Connections
Microsoft Word connects well with other Microsoft products, like those found in the Office suite. It also connects to OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service.

Ease of use
Because Microsoft Word is typically accessed offline, it’s usually easy to open and manage files, even without an internet connection.

Of course, one complaint some users have about Word is that there are simply too many options, making it overwhelming and confusing. It can be difficult to find what you need, considering there are so many different ribbons with different content and options.

What makes Google Docs different?

Google Docs has things to offer that Word currently does not. Here are just some of the ways Docs is different from Word:

Some special features
Collaboration—Though there is a way to collaborate with others using Word, Google Docs makes it much, much easier. Anyone added to the document can add comments, track changes, and see what other collaborators have already said. You can even watch the document being edited by others in real-time, making it easier to work together. And there’s a chat option, so if you have the document open at the same time as another collaborator, you can message them directly.

Easy version tracking—With Google Docs, it’s easy to keep up with edits to the document. Collaborators can see who made which edits, and you can also name your different versions for easier access later. The different versions are displayed in an easy to follow column, including color coding when there is more than one person working on the document.

Connections
Google Docs connects well with other Google services, like their cloud storage service, Google Drive. It can also convert and open Microsoft Word documents.

Ease of use
Despite what you might think, it’s easy to access your files with Google Docs—even offline. Many worry that using a web-based word processor means their files can only be accessed when they’re connected. However, Google Docs allows for offline access as long as this is enabled in your settings. You also aren’t restricted to saving documents into just the cloud. You can save your documents to your computer, including saving them in multiple different formats, like .docx (Word format) and PDF.

Also, one of the main reasons Google Docs is so popular is because of its clean and usable interface. Though there are certainly fewer features (including fewer available add-ons), meaning you can’t necessarily customize your document as fully as you can with Word, it does make Google Docs less intimidating.

Everything is clearly displayed in the toolbars and dropdowns. One of the only times someone is likely to become confused is if they’ve switched from Word and are trying to look for a specific feature that isn’t included. Also, many features Word users are used to are only included in add-ons, which isn’t as intuitive as it would be if the features were already included. However, this does allow Docs users to decide which features they need instead of becoming bogged down.

Final thoughts

Overall, Microsoft Word and Google Docs do offer many of the same basic word processing features. However, Microsoft Word offers more extensive and detailed formatting of documents, while Google Docs is excellent when it comes to collaboration and ease of use.

It might be as simple as this: if you want access to a great deal of detailed features and are willing to pay for it, Word may be best for you, especially if you’re too used to relying on its many options.

However, if you don’t mind having fewer options, Google Docs could easily meet your needs for free while also taking away some of the stress of collaborating with others and eliminating the confusion that comes with so many different options.

Edge Browser Released for Mobile Devices

Edge Browser Released for Mobile Devices

Edge Browser, Microsoft’s replacement for Internet Explorer, is now available on smartphones. You might remember that I recently wrote about how to choose a browser, and Edge was included in the list of options. If you chose Microsoft’s browser offering, you will now be able to use it across your devices! If you didn’t choose it, its new mobile versions might just be enough to finally convince you to give it a try.

According to Mashable, the apps started being tested publicly in October of this year. Now Microsoft is officially releasing the apps. As this article is being written, the app has already been rated a couple hundred times on Google Play and has just over 4 out of 5 stars, while the App Store shows over a hundred ratings and gives the app 3.5 out of 5 stars. Of course, the apps were only just fully released, so time will tell how the ratings will change as more people take the opportunity to give Microsoft Edge a chance.

The release of these apps is just another step forward in pushing Edge and trying to draw in new users. As I mentioned in my previous article, Microsoft Edge simply has not gained a decent following yet. It followed a widely disliked browser (Internet Explorer) and it has had its setbacks since its release.

However, Microsoft Edge certainly has some good features (like tab previews, Cortana, and the fun trick that lets you draw on pages before sending them to people). And according to their Google Play app page, Edge on mobile devices has something called “Continue on PC,” which lets you “seamlessly mov[e] content” back and forth with your mobile version and your browser with an updated version of Windows 10. That means you could be browsing websites on your mobile device, decided to hop on your computer instead, and just switch over what you’re doing without hassle.

If you haven’t tried Microsoft Edge yet (or even if you have), this might be a good opportunity to try it out without going through the trouble of installing it on your PC. Head over to the App Store or Google Play to download Microsoft Edge and see what you think.

Internet 101: Childproofing Your Devices

Internet 101: Childproofing Your Devices

The internet can be a wonderful place, but for people with children, it can also be a cause for concern. It’s pretty common these days for children to have regular access to the internet. Whether it’s a family computer, a parent’s tablet or smartphone, or even the child’s own device, many kids are able to get online every day.

For some, letting children use smartphones, tablets, or computers at all is troubling. At least one study has showed that children getting too much screen time can be bad for their mental health. And of course, some people believe that using the internet and playing video games just isn’t a worthwhile way for a child to spend their time. Some argue that there are better things kids could be doing in their off time.

While these ideas are obviously worth considering, many parents weigh the pros and cons and decide they want their children to have access to the internet through some kind of device. Depending on how old their children are, parents will likely find it extremely difficult to keep kids off the internet anyway. And though there are some serious downsides to consider, there are certainly positives when it comes to letting children have access to apps and certain websites. It’s hard to argue with the idea that there are a lot of different educational apps, games, and websites available for kids. Plus, it seems as though it’s most important to just limit screen time and keep watch on a child’s activity. A little screen time, then, can be fun.

When someone wants to let their child have access to a computer or smart device, there are a lot of things to consider. Specifically, how can adults keep their children as safe as possible, and how can they protect their devices, too? Childproofing can seem complicated, but depending on what you want to do, it might be easier than you think.

Before we get started…

It’s important to note that if you’re looking into childproofing your devices, you should also talk to your kids about how to be safe on the internet. Communication is key when it comes to letting your children use computers and smart devices. If kids don’t know what to watch out for, they could still get themselves into bad situations. And if children know they can talk to an adult about what’s been going on in an app or on a website, it’ll be easier to stop negative experiences before they can escalate. Whatever action you take to childproof a device, make sure you first talk to your kid(s) about why it’s necessary in the first place. The Federal Trade Commission has a page dedicated to talking to your kids about online communication.

Childproofing your computer

There are a number of options for childproofing a computer. Here are a few options you can consider:

Use your computer’s settings

If you have a Windows computer, then there’s a pretty straightforward way to monitor and childproof your child’s time on the device. In your settings, there is an option to set up and customize a child’s account. You can find instructions online about how to set up a restricted account on different Windows versions. For Windows 10, you’ll need to open your settings, go to “Accounts,” select “Family & other users,” and choose “Add a child.” Then you’ll fill in the necessary information to complete a new account.

When you go to manage the child’s settings, you can choose from a number of different options. You can have the child’s activity tracked so it can be sent to you. You can block or allow specific websites, or you can click a button to block websites inappropriate for children, and you can also restrict apps. You can even set certain times that the child is allowed to use the computer. Microsoft’s childproofing option can be extremely helpful.

If you have a Mac, you have just as many options for childproofing. If you go to System Preferences and choose “Parental Controls,” you can create a new account and set it up for a child to use. With Mac’s childproofing, you can restrict or allow certain websites and apps, set up time limits for use, restrict other kinds of content, view a log of visited websites, and even make the desktop easier to use by enabling “Simple Finder.”

Manage your browser’s settings

You can also set up a browser to be more child-friendly. For instance, Google Chrome allows users to create a supervised profile that blocks websites, lets you see what’s been visited, block new installations, enable SafeSearch, and more. Also, Firefox offers some extensions for parental controls.

However, browser settings can only do so much if your computer isn’t safeguarded as well. Also, changing your browser settings or adding an extension won’t do much at all to stop an older child from figuring out how to sidestep the parental controls. Browser settings should really be considered an additional layer of safety, not the primary source.

Block content through your router

You can use a service to block certain content on any device connected to your internet. One popular service is OpenDNS. They have some free and some paid services. Their free Family Shield service allows you to block adult content on the devices using your internet. Circle is another service that pairs with a router and lets you customize what devices are allowed to access when connected to your internet.

Childproofing your tablet

Tablets are popular devices for children. Here are just some ways you can childproof a tablet:

Create a restricted profile

If you have an Android tablet, you can create a restricted profile specifically for your child to use. In your tablet’s settings, find something similar to “Users” or “Profiles.” Then choose a “Restricted profile” or “child profile.” From there you can create a new profile and manage its settings. For instance, on the Kindle Fire you can enable certain books to be available, let the child use certain apps, and enable a kid-friendly browser. As long as you have a lock set for your own profile (like a PIN), when switching back to your profile you’ll encounter a lock screen.

These settings can change from tablet to tablet, so take a look at your tablet and scroll through the options. Most devices do their best to make restricted profile settings as clear and straightforward as possible.

iPads also offer Restrictions for childproofing. In your iPad’s settings, you can create a passcode for your restricted settings and customize your settings. You can restrict certain apps, music, and websites, and you can disable Siri, location services, volume controls, and more.

Lock the app store

To stop children from downloading certain apps, you can lock up a device’s app store. If your device uses Google Play, you can enable parental controls. You can create a PIN and restrict app, TV, and movie downloads to a certain rating range, restrict “sexually explicit” books for download, and restrict explicit music.

As mentioned before, iPads can also be customized for children. You can restrict app downloads in your iPad’s restrictions.

Use screen pinning or guided access

If you have an Android tablet with a later version of Android installed, you can use screen pinning when you’re letting a child use a shared device. Some tablets won’t have this feature, but some do. To check it out, try going to your Settings and tapping on your Security settings. Look for some mention of screen pinning. Screen pinning will let you open a specific app and pin it to the screen so a child can’t navigate away from it. It can be extremely useful if you want to know exactly which app your child is using at the time.

On an iPad, guided access can do the same thing. In your iPad’s settings, go to “General,” then “Accessibility” and find “Guided Access.” You can turn Guided Access off or on, set up a PIN, and learn how to restrict the device to show a certain app on the screen so a child can’t switch to a different app.

Download additional apps

You can also download some other apps to help you childproof your device. You can download an app like AppLock to restrict access to certain things. You can do the same with McAfee’s Safe Family. You can also download some child-specific versions of popular apps. Specifically, YouTube Kids lets you give a child access to some YouTube content without having to worry about the child wandering off into inappropriate content.

Childproofing your smartphone

Childproofing a smartphone is extremely similar to the techniques listed for tablets. In fact, all of the above is applicable to smartphones except for one key difference: restricted profiles do not seem to be available yet for Android phones.

Other than this, you can follow the same steps for smartphones as you would for tablets. iPads and iPhones have the same parental control features that let you restrict content or use guided access, and Android phones (as long they have a later version of Android installed) can enable screen pinning.

Internet 101: Choosing a Browser

Internet 101: Choosing a Browser

You might already know this, but not all browsers are created equal. Many people buy a new computer and simply use whichever browser is already installed, never switching or looking into other options. Others may download and use whichever browser they’ve always used, or whichever one seems to be the most popular. But there’s more than one option.

What should you consider?

There are a number of things to consider when looking at the different browsers being offered. One thing that makes some browsers different from each other is that they might have different rendering engines. A rendering engine is what reads certain information (like HTML, typically used to create websites) and then displays it. All that really means is that different browsers might have different programs that they use to show you content (like websites). Because of this, some browsers might display certain things differently or even be unable to correctly load certain bits of content. When it comes to this aspect of choosing a browser, your best bet is just to try out the browser of your choice and keep an eye out to see if any of your usual websites look odd or won’t let you see certain content. If this happens, try another browser and see whether the problem goes away.

It’s also important to consider safety when choosing a browser. Because the different browsers are made differently, some are typically considered safer than others. One safety concern is whether a browser can easily be hacked. Earlier this year, Digital Trends reported on the Pwn2Own hacking event that tests how safe and secure browsers really are. The hackers found that Google Chrome was the most secure, as it was unable to be hacked over the course of the event, and that Microsoft Edge was the least secure, hacked five times. (Firefox came in second place, while Safari came in third.) Of course, this is only one consideration when it comes to safety, but it is still worth noting that, as the Tom’s Hardware website mentions, Google Chrome is typically the most secure browser among the major browsers being tested.

What many people find most important is that their browser is easy to use and has helpful features. For instance, some browsers may have bookmarks that are really easily organized, access to additional extensions (like extensions that let users block ads or put slideshow articles on one page), and ways to customize what the browser looks like. Some browsers have special features, so it’s important to consider which features are really the most important to you and which you might want to do without in order to have a faster or potentially safer browser.

What are your options?

Despite how it seems, there isn’t really just a handful of browsers out there. Because there’s not enough room in this article, I’ll be talking about five browsers that are among the most well-known, but they’re definitely not all you have to choose from. Other browsers sometimes branch off of these bigger browsers and create something new. Keep in mind that if you choose a lesser-known browser, you should research it first to verify that it’s safe and has the features you need.

For this article, let’s take a look at some of the more well-known browser options. Scroll through the list to learn a bit about each one.

Google Chrome

Google Chrome is an extremely popular browser. Chrome was first released less than ten years ago, and since then, it has become many peoples’ default browser. It’s available on several operating systems, including Windows and Android, and it is available on Apple’s mobile iOS, though it isn’t as well-supported on Apple products. As mentioned earlier, Chrome often leads the popular web browsers when it comes to safety. Google Chrome works well whether you have an account or not, but if you do have a Google account, it becomes even more convenient. For instance, if you use Chrome on your computer and on your phone, and you’re logged into your Google account on both, your bookmarks are saved to your account and you can access them wherever you go. Chrome is typically considered one of the more quick-moving browsers. It has typical features most people will want, like easy-to-use bookmarks, themes that can change the browser’s appearance, an optional home button, and plenty of useful extensions to make the browser even better. Many people particularly enjoy Chrome because of the wide variety of extensions available and its incognito mode that prevents the browser from keeping history or cookie information while turned on.
Visit the Google Chrome website

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge is Microsoft’s newest offering meant to replace the much-scorned Internet Explorer (IE). Though Edge has not gained a huge following yet, there are some who might prefer it over other browsers. It was initially released a couple of years ago, but it got its major release earlier this year when it became the default browser on many computers instead of IE. It’s used on Windows 10 and Xbox One. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, in some cases Edge has been found to be less secure than the other major browsers in certain scenarios. Since the browser is still fairly new, there will certainly be more changes and improvements over the coming years. Edge can also be used on Windows 10 Mobile, so it can be used on some Windows phones. It has a pretty cool way of using tabs—like other browsers, you have tabs at the top of your browser for each page, but it also has a display that lets you preview your tabs and easily click on the page you want to navigate back to. It also has Cortana, its “personal assistant,” built in to the browser, which you can use to ask questions with your voice and possibly find information more quickly. And if you want to share personalized content with others, it lets you draw on pages and share them with others. Like Chrome, it does of course have basic features like bookmarks, and though there are fewer available extensions, you can still do things like block ads.
Visit the Microsoft Edge website

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox is another extremely popular browser—it’s typically considered the second most popular (behind Chrome). Its release was in 2004, and during the time since then, it has occasionally found itself at the top of the list in popularity. It’s available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and both Android and iOS, meaning it can be used on a wide variety of devices. Firefox works to keep up to date on current standards; this means that there is an emphasis on making sure content is displayed as well as it can be. As mentioned before, it recently came in second place during one security testing event, though it is worthwhile to note that in the past, Firefox was typically considered less safe. By all accounts it has become much more secure over the years, making it a very reasonable choice. Firefox has some cool features available, like the ability to customize your toolbar, access to your bookmarks and other info from anywhere when you use your Firefox account, themes, and private browsing. They also have a nice collection of add-ons that do really useful things, like block ads or do a reverse image search (search using an image instead of text). And of course, like the other browsers, it has bookmarks and all of the other typical features you would expect in a browser.
Visit the Mozilla Firefox website

Opera

Opera is a browser that has been around for a pretty long time. Its original release was in 1996, making it over 20 years old. Opera is sometimes credited as helping lead the way in some popular features that browsers would later pick up and incorporate, which is not much of a surprise considering its longevity. Opera is available on many devices—it’s free for Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as Android and iOS. There’s even a version you can download onto a flash drive and take with you anywhere. Over the past few years, Opera has undergone some changes that have not always gone over well, but in general it’s seen its share of downloads and has been pretty popular. One of Opera’s biggest selling points is how fast it moves. Opera uses a technique that helps load pages extremely quickly, so if you have a somewhat slow connection, or even one that’s just average, Opera is a great choice. It has some very nice features, including the ability to block ads without adding a special extension, visual bookmarks that give you previews of pages, the ability to access your info anywhere with an Opera account, and, quite different from the other browsers, a built-in VPN feature. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a way to connect to the internet and stay even more secure, and many people use them. Opera was the first browser to have a VPN built in. Opera also has a lot of add-ons available, like reverse image searches and extensions meant to improve social media navigation. It also has what you would expect, like bookmarks and themes.
Visit the Opera website

Safari

Safari is the browser you’re probably using if you’re reading this article on an Apple device. Safari is the default browser on Apple products, and it’s been around since the early 2000s. Though the browser had a bit of a short-lived run on Windows, it’s no longer supported on Windows, instead being offered on Mac and iOS. You might remember that Safari came in third place in a recent security test—but of course, this was just one test. Safari is typically considered a secure browser. It offers the ability to browse privately, and it also tries to prevent advertisers from targeting you based on your browsing. A big selling point for Safari is that it’s the pre-installed browser for Apple products and ties into other Apple offerings, like the iCloud. It’s also promoted as being the fastest and most energy-conserving browser on Apple devices. Some of its particularly good features include stopping auto-play videos, a Smart Search that gives intuitive suggestions, and, yes, plenty of add-ons. It also has the basic features you want, like bookmarks and some customization.
Visit the Safari website

Vivaldi

Vivaldi may be the browser you’re least likely to have heard of. Vivaldi is not one of the most widely used browsers, but it does have a good following. Vivaldi is very new—it was created after some people were less than impressed with changes made to the Opera browser, and it was just released last year. Vivaldi is meant to bring back some features people missed from Opera and to create what they hope will be a better browser. Since it’s so new, there’s not a lot to note about its security yet, though most view it as a safe choice. Vivaldi is designed to be minimalist—there’s not a lot of distracting stuff going on. However, it can be quite heavily customized, allowing you to reposition where things are, change colors, and much more. It also lets you do some cool and different things with tabs, like group certain tabs together. It has bookmarks, of course, and a browser history. Its history is cool, though; it can display your browsing habits as visual data, giving you an interesting look into your own browsing history. These are just a few of the nice features on Vivaldi. Plus, since it’s based on the same browser engine as Chrome, many Chrome extensions can be installed in Vivaldi. It’s still a pretty new option, but it certainly has a lot of features you might want to give a try.
Visit the Vivaldi website

Major Search Engines Incorporate Fact-Checking

Major Search Engines Incorporate Fact-Checking

With so much information available on the internet at any moment, it can be easy to get bamboozled by false claims and widespread rumors. It can also be pretty easy to fall for fake or satirical news sites and blogs. To combat this, Google announced earlier in the year it would offer a fact checking option on some of its news stories and searches. Since they implemented this, some Google searches have begun to show fact checking underneath certain results. For instance, if a story is false, an article about your search subject might have text underneath that states the claim, says it’s false, and says which source found it to be false.

Recently, Bing became the newest search engine to incorporate fact-checking into its own search results. Bing, the Microsoft-owned search engine, announced earlier this month that their search engine would follow in Google’s footsteps and work to stop the spread of misinformation. Bing’s new system will work a lot like Google’s. Both search engines rely on the websites and articles having certain markup on the page that indicates the claim and its truthfulness. Bing displays schema.org ClaimReview markup, while Google looks for the same markup, plus a widget called Share the Facts. The search results on both Bing and Google pull their information from this markup when it’s available and make it easier and quicker to verify information.

This all came after Facebook announced last year that it was implementing a way to address the spread of false news through shared articles on their social media platform. Facebook added “It’s a false news story” to its list of options when reporting an article, saying flagged articles would be sent to fact-checking sources for review.

It has been clear for some time now that hoaxes and fake stories can spread quickly and are very difficult to stop. These attempts at stopping the spread of misinformation might do some good once they’re fully working and any kinks have been worked out. Of course, earlier this month, Politico noted that Facebook’s feature didn’t seem to be working, basing their claim on a study from Yale University. Whether Google’s and Bing’s new setup will help or not remains to be seen, but it seems like a huge step toward finding more truthful stories.