Happy New Year!

By | January 3, 2023
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Firstly, I know it’s easy to lose track of what day it is around Christmas, and sorry – I’m not trying to confuse you (honest!). It’s is, in fact, not a Monday, but this is my first day back in work after the holidays. So, Happy New Year!

I don’t know if you do “New Year’s resolutions”, but one of mine for 2023 is to have a bit of a digital de-clutter. I’ve just got so much tech in my life these days, it feels like I spend every waking minute either staring at a screen or waiting for something to beep at me.

I’ll give you an update on my progress next week, but as I was getting together a list of all the tech I use, it got me thinking.

When Tim first started writing these emails (all the way back in 2005!) they were about computers – PCs. That was all.

Now there are not only more different 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 I’m going to kick-off 2023 with a quick explanation of what these different things actually are.

Computers, laptops and 2-in-1s:
I’ll start with computers, since they’re the oldest tech on this list! When most people say “computer”, what they’re talking about is a “PC” – that just means a computer running some version of Windows. It could be a laptop, or one of the bigger ones that go on a desk.

But there are other types of computer, too. Apple have their range of Macs – iMacs, Macbooks, MacPros and so on. They work in a different way from Windows PCs – and they’re different from Apple iPads, too, even though it’s the same people making them.

Or you might have heard of a Chromebook? That’s a type of laptop from Google, where you do pretty much everything over the internet.

They all types of “computer”, though.

There are also various fancy names for laptops that could confuse you. If you hear about “notebooks”, that’s basically just a different name for a laptop. “Netbook” is another word you might hear, though they’re not so popular now. They’re basically a very small and portable laptop, but they’ve been pretty much replaced with tablets or “2-in-1s”. A 2-in-1 is a gadget that you can either use like a laptop (with a proper keyboard) or as a tablet…

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.

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… I’m not convinced they’ve quite managed that, though!

People mostly use these as fancy fitness trackers – to count how many steps they’ve taken and to keep track of things like their heart rate. If you want to know all that, I think they’re great. But I’m not so sure about the other gimmicks like sending messages and so on.

I think part of the reason is that it just feels a bit pointless to me. Most smartwatches just link to your phone, which actually does all the work, while the watch lets you glance at the screen on it to see messages and so on. So, 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 your watch.

I do get the fitness tracking thing, though.

Smart TVs
A smart TV is one that not only lets you watch normal 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 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 are plug-in gadgets like the Roku stick or Amazon FireStick that basically turn any TV into a smart TV. And things like the Google Chromecast or Apple TV, that let you show what’s on your tablet or smartphone 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 smartphones.

Home Assistant gadgets
There isn’t really a proper name for these, so I’ve just called them Home Assistant gadgets. The most popular are Amazon’s Echo or Echo dot, which runs the “Alexa” assistant, and Google’s “Nest” range, 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 actually are.

That’s not every kind of technology, of course. I’ve got various games systems and consoles, bluetooth speakers… I’ve even got a smart security camera kicking around somewhere. But those are the biggies.

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 on making it all make more sense!

One thought on “Happy New Year!

  1. Marion Warden

    Just read the above and you have omitted an important function when playing down the watch. I and several friends have bought the Apple Watch and it’s brilliant. It has a fall detection function…if you fall or are in an accident, it calls the emergency services and/or you nominated person.
    We are all 80 plus and living alone, so the watch gives peace of mind to us and our families. This is our main reason for purchase but it’s great fun too in our walking group and for health monitoring.


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