Happy New Year!
Well, it’s New Year’s day morning and I have to admit I wrote an email for today in advance, so I don’t have to concentrate this morning! All I need to do is copy and paste it – and here you go:
With all the adverts for new technical kit going on at the moment, it made me think about what a variety of different types of equipment there is.
When I first started writing these emails, they were about computers – PCs. that was all.
Now there are not only more kinds of computers that you might have heard of but also tablets, smartphones and all sorts of other things – and half of them sound very similar because they start with the word “smart”.
So here’s a quick explanation of what these different things actually are.
PCs and laptops:
This usually means a computer running some version of Windows. Strictly speaking you don’t need to say “and laptops” because a laptop is a type of PC, but lots of people tend to think of PCs as the bigger ones that go on a desk.
There are other computers of course. Google have their range of Chromebooks, which work in a different way. And Apple have their range of Macs – Macbooks, MacPros and so on. Again, they work in a different way from Windows PCs – and different from Apple iPads, too, even though it’s the same people making them.
If you hear about notebooks, it’s basically just a different name for laptops. Netbooks is another word you might hear, though they’re not so popular now. They’re basically a very small and portable laptop, but now that tablets are around, they’re not so popular as tablets tend to be even better for carrying around and using in different places.
You probably know what a tablet is – like a screen that you can control by touching the screen. They don’t usually run the same kind of system as PCs. Most of them are either iPads (which are made by Apple) or run Android of some kind (Android is made by Google, but most of the tablets running it are made by other companies).
One thing that tends to confuse people: iPads are just a particular type of tablet, so if you have an iPad, then you have a tablet.
You can also get plug in or bluetooth keyboards for tablets which I suppose turns them into a very small laptop, but it’s not what people usually mean when they say laptop.
You can get tablets that run Windows, but they’re not that popular. There’s also the Amazon Fire, which runs a version of Android that Amazon have made a lot of changes to, so it doesn’t look or work much like Android.
A smartphone is a type of mobile phone that can connect to the internet, is controlled by touching the screen (like a very small tablet) and that you can install new apps on to let it do all sorts of things.
The most popular ones are iPhones (again, made by Apple and you control them in a similar way to an iPad) and ones running Android (again, these are made by all sorts of companies but Android itself is designed by Google).
There’s also the Doro smartphone, which runs a version of Android but has been tweaked a lot, so it doesn’t look much like other Android phones. Doro’s aim is that it’s so easy to use that you don’t need instructions… judging by the phone calls we get asking if we do a book on it, they haven’t quite managed that! (We don’t have a book on it at the moment – sorry. The official manuals are on the Doro website – go onto there, find your particular model and the scroll down and click on “Tutorials and Manuals” and then on “Manual”.)
A year or so ago there was a lot of fuss about smartwatches – but they didn’t seem to catch on. Not yet, anyway.
I think part of the reason is that most of them aren’t really “smart” – they just link to your smartphone, which actually does all the work, while the watch lets you glance at the screen on it to see messages and so on.
It means if you go out and forget your phone, the smartwatch won’t do much. And if you’ve got your smartphone in your pocket and want to do something on it, you could just take it out of your pocket rather than using a smartwatch.
A smart TV is one that not only lets you watch normal programmes, as they’re broadcast and may let you record programmes as they’re broadcast, but will also let you watch online TV – like you could on a PC, tablet or whatever.
Of course you could just watch it on your tablet or laptop if you have one, but your TV usually has a bigger screen and is better for sitting back and relaxing in front of.
Most of them will play the main channels, like BBC iPlayer and the catch up services for ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. They’ll often also let you watch YouTube and if you subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime, you can usually watch those on it too.
If you don’t have a smart TV, there are various gadgets that let you use your TV as if it was one. There’s the Amazon FireStick (which I’ve written about recently) and things like the Google Chromecast or Apple TV, that let you show what’s on your tablet or laptop on the big TV, so you can play something from the internet on your tablet (say) and watch it on the TV.
On some smart TVs you can also play some basic games and even browse the web, but to be honest they’re not generally so good for that, so I’d leave that for PCs, tablets or maybe smartphones.
Home Assistant gadgets
There isn’t really a properly name for these, so I’ve just called the Home Assistant gadgets. The most popular is Amazon’s Echo or Echo dot, which runs the “Alexa” assistant – you might have seen TV adverts for it. And Google have got in on the act too, with their Google Home Assistant.
These sit in the corner of the room, listening for you talking to them. Then they can “understand” what you say and react. For example you could ask it to tell you the weather forecast for tomorrow, or play a particular piece of music. Or you can link it to other devices from TVs to lighting, to let you control them by talking to them.
I find it amazingly clever, but I’m not sure how useful they’ll actually be – we’ll see if they catch on properly of if they turn out to be a fad.
(If you’re an Inner Circle member, by the way, Mike and I recorded a video about these a month or so back – you can find it on the website and see us trying one out.)
That’s not every kind of technology, of course. I even heard of a bluetooth sideboard the other day (it turns out it’s a normal sideboard with bluetooth speakers in it so you can play music from your phone or tablet – but because they’re built into the sideboard you don’t have to have speakers out on show). But it is the most important gadgets, so I hope that’s made it all a bit clearer.
There’s certainly a lot of stuff out there – I know it can make life confusing but hopefully that article has given you a start of making it all make more sense!