Episode 10: October 23, 2009
By Linsey Knerl
This week, I’ll share the best online destinations for free tech advice so you can make the most of your PC, iPhones, printers, and more!
But am I really that Tech-Savvy?
Are you wondering if you are qualified to seek out and use the tech resources we’ll introduce you to today? Granted, there are those computer problems that need a specialized professional and a house call to get to the bottom of. For most of our common tech-related annoyances, however, a simple setting adjustment or a new way of looking at things can get you back on the road to efficient and bug-proof gadget bliss in less than an hour. Many of the websites I’ve grown to trust have special features designed for the budding enthusiast, while others offer high-level instructions for the hacker at heart. Check out these top stops for tech savvy tips and tricks; they are all FREE to visit and use!
Kim Komando (www.kimkomando.com)
This diva of the digital age is savvy and easy to relate to. Both her weekly radio show and website offer helpful solutions to common consumer issues, including how to get the most from your digital camera, how to find the best printer for the dollar, and what privacy tools you can use to stay safe online. Parents will find articles written specifically for them, too.
Quick and Dirty Tip: In addition to her buying guides and columns, she provides readers with a Cool Site of the Day and a Free Daily Download (because you know how much the Dealista LOVES anything free.) Sign up for her newsletter to be sure you never miss a daily gem!
Long before this solid print magazine went 100% online digital, it was earning a reputation as being the first place to turn for technology tips of all kinds. With major categories covering desktops, laptops, cell phones, mp3 players, hi-def televisions and more, it boasts several active blogs and a lively community forum. The product reviews are top-notch, giving you a good place to start when you want to know which products are really worth investing in.
Quick and Dirty Hint: In the upper right side of PCMag’s homepage are several “Hot topics” links. These will take you directly to articles matching the most sought after information topics of the day!
This Best of Media website is an off-shoot of the more technically-versed Tom’s Hardware, welcoming the more average tech user to jump in and learn about what’s new and noteworthy in consumer offerings. With quirky articles offering the hottest cell phone apps and some of the more creative consumer gift guides on the net, it gives those wishing to hang out with the experts a place to call home. (And the forum, while not always in “for dummies” format, is a great way to learn through immersion.)
Quick and Dirty Hint: Tom’s is also a great way to shop, as most articles that mention a specific product will link to the lowest-priced offering online for a truly one-stop buying experience.
Another big-name print magazine that has gone digital with much of its best content, this site focuses on optimizing what you have--for better, faster, performance of all your gizmos and goodies. Their “How To” section brings everything from detailed, step-by-step upgrade instructions to the best 5-minute printing suggestions together all under one very organized roof. Beginners and hard-core techies will both find something worth stopping for every week or so.
Quick and Dirty Hint: Their Shop and Compare product pages are highly valuable, giving you a “Consumer Reports” styled 5-star rating system within a Froogle-inspired price search engine. Good stuff here.
While not specifically a technology website (it offers advice for cars, power tools, and washer/dryers), this is the ultimate peer-based advice channel. A simple search query, (like “why is my cell phone not shutting off?”) will get you a list of problems specific for your make and model of product, along with several answers that may or may not have worked for others. Because the queries are asked by common folk (and not NASA scientists), it’s likely that you’ll find exactly what you’re dealing with fast--even if a solution hasn’t been suggested yet. You’ll also get a taste for how many other consumers are encountering the same bugs you are, which may prompt you to consider if holding on to your finicky MP3 player or DVD burner is really worth it.
Quick and Dirty Hint: Perhaps the most valuable tool offered at FixYa is the collaborative sharing of product manuals and user guides. Missing the instructions for replacing the battery on your cell phone? No problem! Chances are good that someone has already provided it on the site for use by all.
How Do You Know Which Tech Advice is Good Advice?
For every tech problem you search for online, there will be at least a dozen different suggestions for how to fix it. When dealing with peer advice from forums, community groups, and sites like FixYa, it’s extremely important to use a level of discernment before ripping open the case to your computer and removing the guts for a DIY PC lobotomy. There are a few ways to judge if advice is good advice:
If several respected contributors concur on its validity, you’re probably good to go. When editors, moderators, and owners of forums all agree that a fix has worked for them (and can provide details about the same process in slightly different language), then it is generally safe to assume that it is a widely-accepted practice with a good chance of curing your tech issues. If a new user of a website with no feedback and shady suggestions is the only one giving you any answers, I would suggest digging further to verify their tips.
If a suggested tech tip would void your warranty or buyer’s protection, run-- don’t walk--to the next suggestion. Yes, we all know that there are cool things you can do by hacking or “jail breaking” your iPhone. But if you’re not interested in doing anything that may void your manufacturer’s warranty, these are not the tips for you.
If the thought of performing a “fix” freaks you out, you can ask for a professional to give you a hand. Sometimes even the most DIY-savvy consumers get a bit faint at the idea of reinstalling an operating system or adding physical memory to a PC. If the promise of saving a few bucks isn’t easing your anxiety over the pending task, go ahead and hire a professional (or a tech-savvy college student.)
This has been an episode of Dealista’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Getting More for Less, brought to you by Wise Bread, a personal finance blog that helps you live large on a small budget.