Digital Life: Get smart - 5 ways gadgets can make your life better
The sting of the Christmas credit-card bills has yet to fade and the swingeing Budget cuts have taken a renewed toll on your pay packet. But for a modest outlay, and even for free, technology can save you time, hassle and especially money.
1 Buy a smartphone
Any mobile that just makes calls and sends texts is a "dumbphone". Trust me, a smartphone will change your life in small but significant ways. It puts the computing power of a laptop in the palm of your hand, squeezing your address book, email, photos and the internet into one portable package.
Of course, not everyone can afford an iPhone but mobiles based on Google's Android software are a perfect alternative and offer a broad range of choice to fit all budgets. Low-cost smartphones such as the LG Optimus One (reviewed opposite) or HTC Wildfire go for as little as €50.
2 Load up on apps
The humble app forms the bedrock of the smartphone revolution. More than 10 billion have been downloaded from Apple's store in less than three years. These miniature programs perform almost any task you can imagine and often cost zilch, zip, nada.
Money-savers to look out for include Pumps.ie (find the nearest cheap petrol station) and Amazon Mobile (scan a product's barcode to see whether it's online for less).
3 Switch to internet calling
Phone companies still gouge us for overseas calls but with free software such as Skype and Fring, you can natter for hours and it won't cost a bean. Most laptops and desktops now include microphones and even cameras for cost-free communication with far-flung loved ones, usually in better quality than with a landline.
Smartphone owners can even call for free with Skype while out and about, using the mobile internet connection.
4 Make a back-up
Technology need not only save money, it should give peace of mind too. The old adage suggests there are only two types of people in the world -- those who've lost precious computer files and those who will.
Buy a cheap external hard drive to back up your precious photos, documents, music, and so on.
Or use a free service such as Microsoft's SkyDrive to save everything over the internet to a secure location.
5 Don't pay for antivirus software
Your new Windows PC usually comes bundled with a load of crapware, including trial versions of antivirus software that require a hefty annual subscription.
Ditch the lot and go for alternatives from Avast or AVG, which cost nothing except the occasional nag to upgrade to the paid version.