Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems
Question: My son surprised me this Christmas and got me a new smartphone and laptop to help me get online. The phone is a Huawei and the laptop is a HP. While I'm delighted, I'm a bit intimidated as I'm still at a beginner's level when it comes to computers. My son has gone back to Dubai and I'm not sure where to turn. Any advice would really help.
I'm pretty sure that you're not alone. While it's great to upgrade to some new tools that can get you connected, there are still considerable numbers of people who feel like total beginners. And most sources of help are - ironically - now online through channels such as YouTube. But what if you've never used YouTube before?
Based on your letter, I'm going to assume that you have had a mobile phone or a basic smartphone but have rarely used a computer much. Maybe the biggest issue facing people who get a new smartphone is the transfer of contacts. This used to be tricky, but can now be done fairly simply. As a general rule, most new smartphones allow you to transfer your 'content' (including your contacts and any photos you might have on the old phone) when you first switch the device on. For someone who has a little experience with a smartphone, it's a fairly easy, step-by-step process that your handset guides you through.
And even if the new phone doesn't offer this functionality, someone who knows how to go through a phone's settings can still do it relatively easily if you have a free Google (or Gmail) account. For your contacts, your smartphone has an option in 'settings' to copy your contacts from your SIM card to your phone or to your Google account. Once you do this, your contacts are now saved 'in the cloud', meaning that no matter what SIM card you use in future on any new phone, if you're logged in to your Google account on that phone, all of your contacts will be there automatically. (For further instructions on exactly how to do this, I wrote a previous 'Ask Adrian' column which you'll find on independent.ie if that's an avenue open to you.)
If this sounds too intimidating and you're really looking for a genuine ABC guide to setting a phone or laptop up without being expected to go online for guidance, there are beginner-friendly services available. As you live in Dublin, one service I'd recommend is Computer Tutor (www.computertutor.ie or 087 6874977). It's run by author and teaching expert Aisling Mackey, who typically charges €35 per one-on-one hourly class. That works for online basics and getting to grips with your computer, too.
You don't say whether or not you have a social media account. If you do not and you're considering one, there is quite a lot of choice. But Facebook is by far the most commonly used among older people. (Excuse my assumption as to your age: I'm guessing you're over 50 given that you mention an adult son.) While it has been criticised in recent times, older people still use it a lot as a simple means of staying in touch with friends or quickly seeing what family are doing through their photos. Signing up is relatively easy but you will need an email address (if you don't have one of those, Gmail is probably the easiest to start with - it's free and works well on almost all phones and computers. Log in to gmail.com and follow the instructions.)
I want to buy a decent entry-level camera, somewhere in the price range of €300 to €500, as I'd like to do a basic photography course. Can you advise which would be better? Any recommendations appreciated.
- Ciara Carew via email
There are a dozen I could name that will do a decent job here. But I'll confine it to two: Panasonic's GX800 (€369 with kit zoom lens) and Fujifilm's X-A5 (€499 with kit zoom lens). Both of these modern mirrorless models produce great quality images and are relatively beginner-friendly.
As well as coming with decent kit lenses, if you decide you want to pursue the hobby, both systems have a large variety of excellent additional lenses available. They're relatively compact, too, so you don't need a special big bag to lug them around in. If you had asked me this question two years ago, I might have recommended either of Canon or Nikon's entry-level DSLR cameras (around €400 with a kit zoom lens). While these still work fine (and may even be favoured by some traditionalist camera course instructors), I can't recommend them anymore as camera companies are starting to phase them out in favour of mirrorless models. This means that the lenses you buy for a DSLR will need an adaptor to work with a mirrorless model, something that isn't ideal. Canon, to be fair, has some decent entry-level mirrorless models, such as the M100 (€499 with lens) or M6 (€599 with lens). So if you really want that brand, go for one of those models.
Recommendations: Fujifilm X-A5 (€499 with kit zoom lens from Conns Cameras)
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€119 from DID Electrical
While we've written a lot about Amazon's Echo smart speaker series, Google's Home wireless speaker is a decent alternative. Using Google's voice assistant, it lets you ask for the radio, news, weather or music from Google's Play subscription service. The audio quality is good for a speaker this size.
Fitbit Charge 3
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This time of year is all about resolutions and getting in shape. If you are a creature of routine, one tech aide is a good fitness band. Fitbit's new Charge 3 adds a lot more than just steps and sleep monitoring. There's a whole fitness routine you can follow. You also get social and SMS messaging alerts and it has a seven-day battery life.