Black Friday, Cyber Monday…

BFCMApparently it’s Black Friday tomorrow and Cyber Monday on Monday….

If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry – it’s much better than the names suggest.

Those of you from across the pond will know that Black Friday originated in America – it’s the day after Thanksgiving, the day when people traditionally start to think about their Christmas shopping. So back in the 1930s and 40s some high street shops began to offer great deals to encourage customers to buy early.BLack Friday queue

According to the BBC, the term Black Friday was originally coined as a reference to a New York Stock Market crash in 1869, but came into use as a national term with its current meaning in America in the 1990s.

It’s a bit of an odd name, with its connotations of disaster, for a day that spells such opportunity for bargain hunters, but despite efforts to change it to Big Friday in the 1960s, the name has stuck. And Black Friday is undoubtedly the biggest shopping day of the year in the US.sale

Now, mainly thanks to Amazon and other online retailers, Black Friday is big in the UK too and there are some amazing deals to be had, many in the world of electricals.

Cyber MondayCyber Monday began as an online version of Black Friday, but as Black Friday is online too, the whole weekend has become a bargain bonanza.

This year, UK analysts are expecting sales on Black Friday to be the highest ever, with Visa predicting an increase in spending of 22% on last year, as customers are expected to spend £6,000 per second on their cards tomorrow.

CartoonMany offers have started online already (Amazon), others begin at 00.01am tomorrow (Apple) and many stores will open early in the morning (John Lewis, PC World, Asda all open at 8am), while others are opening at midnight tonight (Game, Argos).

It’s also worth noting that the biggest retailers will ship internationally, so with the weak dollar and deeper discounts in the US, you may find the best deals are on American sites.

So set your alarm, dust off your credit card and bag some bargains. Beware of getting carried away – there are still 4 weeks to go!Trolleys

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The perfect night in

With the winter nights at their longest, it’s the perfect time of year to stay in and watch a movie. These days all you need to watch the latest releases is a broadband connection and a tiny set-top box.

Apple TVIf you have an Apple iPad or iPhone, then the obvious choice is the Apple TV. This little black box costs £99 and connects to the Internet by wi-fi. Movies from Apple are a little bit pricey, but there is a good selection and you only pay for what you watch. There are also other TV services such as Netflix available on a subscription basis.

Roku screenIf you’re not an Apple person, then a better option might be Roku. These set-top boxes start at £50 and, in addition to Netflix and BBC iPlayer, offer Sky Movies for £9 a month with the Sky Sports channels on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Both Apple and Roku also let you play your own music, photos and home movies on your TV from your phone or tablet. However, if that sounds like a feature you’ll never use, then the best deal of all is Sky’s own Now TV box. This is actually last year’s Roku box with a few features stripped out. Unlike its rivals it’s not full HD, but it only costs £10, so you could have an Apple TV and a Now TV for the ultimate Now TVchoice of movies.

All of these options only stream content from the Internet. If you want to record your own programmes then you’ll need a bigger, more expensive set-top box such as YouView, which also gives you access to BT Sport.

Happy viewing!

Tops Tips 6 – Apple’s control centre

So which of you iPad and iPhone owners are using their Control Centre?

We thought so.

So, with a bit of downtime coming up later this month, we thought it would be useful to give you some top tips on how to use it.

The Control Centre is one of iOS7’s best features. It’s like the right click of your computer mouse: one swipe (even from a locked screen) and you are presented with a menu of everything you need most often.

Whatever screen you are in, you get to it the same way: just place your finger at the bottom middle of the screen – directly above the home button if your device is upright – and swipe upwards to reveal a screen that looks like this:photo-5

The Control Centre saves searching through endless menus to find what you need – here are a few of our favourite functions:

Airplane mode – turns off access to the outside world – including wi-fi and Bluetooth. Top tip: if your network is struggling, you can reset it by tapping the airplane mode to off and then on again.

Wi-fi – useful for saving battery life if you’re not in a wi-fi zone.

Bluetooth – connect to your car stereo or Bluetooth speakers. Switch off to save battery life.

Music controls – so you can pause, skip or simply see which track is playing without going to your music app.

iPhone control centre2AirPlay – the AirPlay icon appears when you have access to another AirPlay device – like an Apple TV or an AirPlay accessible speaker – switch it on and you can stream music or send photos or movies to your TV or speakers.

Timer – set it for anything up to 24 hours – use it to remind you to baste the turkey.

Camera – the one we use most often, this opens the camera straight away, so you can grab that action shot before it’s too late.

There are other functions you can access from the Control Centre which you may find useful – why not test the Do Not Disturb switch after your Christmas lunch?

 

Happy New Mac

or should that be PC on earth?

mac vs pcWith the festive season upon us, the question we are being asked is, should we buy an Apple Mac or a PC.

Ask this question of a computer person and you’re likely to get a black and white answer: it’s all a bit tribal. Mac fans will quote “once you’ve gone Mac, you’ll never go back”. PC and Windows fans see Mac as being a bit limited and a triumph of style over substance.

Of course the real answer is that both have their merits and your choice depends on what you need the computer for and how much you can afford.

ipad and iphoneIf you’re new to computers, and you want something simple to set up and use, a Mac is ideal, especially if you’ve already got iPhones or iPads in your house. It’s easy to learn the systems and Apple send out regular updates to keep your computer current. And everything will play nicely together.

Similarly, if you need to sort out a mass of photos, movies and music, a Mac comes with pre-installed, lifestyle-focused software made by Apple (iLife), and it all works perfectly, straight out of the box.

On the other hand, most of us grew up using a PC and if that’s what you’re used to, there are lots of great options, at a wide range of prices. If all you want is something to browse the Internet and send a few emails, you can pick up a PC for around £250. However, you’ll need to add extra for some bundled software (like Microsoft Office at around £70) and anti-virus software is recommended too – and that’s where it can start to get a bit Vaiocomplicated.

If you quite like the complication and you prefer to have the freedom to choose your own software then you’re a PC person.

It would be easy to sit on the fence, but that doesn’t really help anyone. So we’d say that if you’re after a cheap option with the minimum amount of fuss, go for an entry-level PC. Or choose a powerful PC if you have high-end computing requirements, such as our Kodak photo scanner that only runs with Windows. For everything in between, we would recommend a Mac.

 

All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit

Half Man Half Biscuit are an obscure satirical rock band from the 1980s and my husband  wants their “Back in the D.H.S.S.” album for Christmas.

Half+Man+Half+Biscuit+-+Back+Again+In+The+D.H.S.S.+-+LP+RECORD-226238In the olden days, I’d have bought the CD so that he could unwrap something on Christmas Day (before copying it into iTunes and sticking it in a box in the attic).

The modern alternative then became a download straight from iTunes. If I chose this route, I could send my husband a romantic Christmas Day email from the iTunes store to tell him that “All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit” and 16 other Half Man Half Biscuit tracks were now in his iTunes library. He says iTunes downloads are too compressed, but I can’t hear the difference and at £7.99 it’s £2 cheaper than buying the CD.

That’s expensive beside this year’s option. Over the last year streaming services like Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 10.15.33Spotify have started to take over and they are free. A seismic shift is taking place: CD sales are in freefall and iTunes downloads are down for the first time this year. So whilst those of us over 35 (see last week’s blog) are just starting to get our heads around “owning” an intangible download from Apple, those born after 1978 have moved on.

spotify-logo-primary-vertical-light-background-rgbWith Spotify you don’t own the music, but you can listen to any of their 20 million songs whenever you want, so “ownership” becomes a less meaningful concept. If you pay £10 a month for Spotify’s Premium service, the quality is higher than iTunes and you can download tracks for when you’re offline.

We’ve got Spotify in the Fingertips office and the greatest benefit is not cost or convenience, but the way you listen to music. Suddenly you are free to explore, discover and rediscover without the emotional and financial commitment of buying. You can even just set Spotify to auto-pilot and let the “Radio” service select music based on a starter track that you choose.

Spotify Jake BuggToday we listened to Maria Callas (we tried to count how many Maria Callas albums Spotify have, but gave up at 250), Roxette (they’ve got a song called “Fingertips”!), the new Lissie album, Jake Bugg and, yes, Half Man Half Biscuit (they are truly awful). I’d never have bought any of those albums, so although there are lots of people in the music industry who don’t like what’s happened, I think – with the artists getting royalties for being on Spotify – that everyone’s a winner.

The best of both worlds is to combine a streaming service with your own music collection. This is exactly what Apple’s iTunes Radio service will do, if they ever decide to launch it in the UK. In the meantime I’ve taught my husband how to use our Spotify account and bought him a ticket for Half Man Half Biscuit at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I couldn’t bring myself to buy a Dukla Prague away kit – it’s yellow.

Don’t download that update yet – Top Tips 4

mavericksThe operating system (or OS) on your computer is the main programme that controls the way your computer works, looks and interacts with the world. So you’d think it makes sense to keep your OS right up to date. But that’s not always the case.

This week Apple launched a new OS called Mavericks. Like every Apple update, it is evolutionary and everything looks familiar – so it feels just like the old system and nobody gets stressed. Mavericks promises to make your computer more secure, easier to use, faster and more energy efficient. Best of all it’s free, so it’s a no-brainer to download and install it. It works with every Apple made after early 2009 and some older computers too.

Apple store queuesBut a word of advice – wait a while. Pretty much every piece of new technology is launched with bugs. These are uncovered by the early adopters (the people who queue outside Apple shops) and ironed out in the first few weeks. We loaded Mavericks yesterday (OK, sometimes we’re in that queue) and we’ve already had a few issues with a scanner and the music in the office. Nothing serious, but unless you need to discuss the new OS on day 2 in the playground, it’s worth waiting a month.

With Microsoft, it’s sometimes worth waiting much longer.

Windows 8.1Windows 8 launched a year ago and most people who moved to it (us included) wish they hadn’t. It’s a lemon. Many have reversed the move and gone back to Windows 7.

Windows 7 is still used by half the world’s computers (as opposed to the 8% that run on Windows 8) because it is more straightforward and reliable. If you’ve got Windows 7, cherish it. Say “Yes” to all the updates that will keep your computer safe and running smoothly, and wait to see what Microsoft launch next year.

Similarly, if you’re running an older Windows OS (Vista, XP or 2000) then don’t stress yourself or your computer with a change – wait until you buy your next computer.

If you’re stuck with Windows 8, then this month’s 8.1 update comes with a health warning. We ignored our own advice and tried to install it in week 1. The result is a dead laptop (properly dead; fully bereft of life; an ex-laptop). We’re working on a resurrection, but with no help from Microsoft, who have hung up on us twice. If you hold stock, sell.

www.atyourfingertips-uk.com | 020 8994 7773

Top Tips 3: how to give your iPad 125 times more memory

In last week’s Top Tips 2, we mentioned that we watch movies on our iPad from a separate hard drive and some of you have asked “How?”

Here’s how: It’s called a Kingston Mobilelite and it costs about £40. You load your films, music, photos, home movies and files onto a hard drive (or onto a USB stick or memory card).

MobileLite

You plug the hard drive into the MobileLite and it uses WiFi to talk with your tablet or phone. That’s it. The hard drive in the picture has a huge capacity (2TB) so it holds every photo, album, movie and file that we have. If Apple sold an iPad with that much memory, then – at their current rates for extra memory – it would cost £7,000.