Updated: Aug 26
Every month I write an article for the local Mayfield and Five Ashes Newsletter but due to word constraints I often need to go in to more detail. So I will be posting extended articles on the website for anyone interested. This is the first one below:
So, where to begin? Firstly, a thank you to Barbara for her wonderful introduction article last issue. And Secondly a warm welcome to all of you, to my new column / blog / thing (if you’re not sure what a blog is yet don’t worry - that’s what I’m here for).
Anyway (and there really is no way around this) every month we are going to be talking about Tech. A subject that I realise can cause feelings of bafflement, fear, frustration and boredom - often all at once - in many of us. Whereas for others we could not now conceive of a world where we don’t have an internet connected device within easy reach to check our Emails, WhatsApp our friends, Zoom our colleagues or see videos of cats playing the piano on Youtube (That last one might just be me!).
Talking of devices, this seems as good a place to start as any for this month. You are not going to get far without one. And this, in itself, can be a confusing area.
15 years ago when we were talking about getting “online” we were really only talking about using a computer and even then it could be bewildering. Do I get an Apple Mac or a Windows PC? Do I get a laptop or desktop? How much RAM should I have (what the hell is RAM anyway and why is it so important?) These questions are still relevant today but we also live in an age now where the (smart)phone in your pocket is more powerful than that computer of 15 years ago. Where we have iPads and android tablets. Where our TV’s can stream the latest blockbuster and Netflix show to us. Where the fridge can text you to say the milks gone off and could you get some more please (I am not making this up).
Hopefully you are all still with me. At the end of the day your choice of device will come down to what you want or need to use it for and what your budget is. Often a tricky balancing act - which is why Kent & Sussex IT Services offer a sourcing and recommendation service for anyone interested.
In the blog version of this article (available at my website at the address below) I will go into more detail on the main types of devices you can use to get online and some of the pro’s and cons of each. I realise that this may be a challenge if you don’t already have a device in the first place (and an internet connection) so I can provide a printed copy on request - please get in touch. Talking of which I am yet to decide next months topic and it would be good to hear your suggestions. Given recent world events it might be good to prioritise some areas over others.
Before laptops came along all home computers were Desktops. So named because they live on / under your desk. There are a few different form factors but the main ones are the Tower unit, the all in one and the mini PC.
The traditional tower unit is a rather chunky box that needs a separate monitor, speakers, mouse and keyboard to be plugged in to be able to use it. You might also need to plug in cables for a printer, network connections, web camera etc. If your set up is anything like mine then the resulting spaghetti junction of cables can be a bit overwhelming (best policy is to hide the cables as best you can round the back of the desk and forget they are even there). However what tower PC’s lack in elegance they make up for in power and value for money. Tower units come in all sorts of specs and price ranges but you will typically get a much more powerful Tower PC for the same money you might spend on a laptop or All in One PC. As such Tower PC’s are the first choice for enthusiasts who need to do serious work (or play the latest games) - with the right configuration. But they are also a good choice for people on a budget who want a reasonably speedy machine.
All in One Machines are PC’s where everything is built in to the screen (typically including the speakers, webcam and built in Wi-Fi) and as such take up a lot less space and generally look a bit more chic. It takes a bit more engineering from the manufacturers to achieve this and overheating becomes a concern with all the parts jammed into a smaller space. Typically, this means that all in ones use less powerful processors and cost more than Tower units but are more than adequate for most day to day tasks like web surfing, office work and email.
Mini PC’s are basically shrunken down computers that use the sorts of processors found in all in ones but still need a separate monitor etc. They can be very small though and can easily fit on your desk or be hidden away.
Laptops are great for portability and working on the go. Like an all in one, everything is built in to the one (smaller) unit - including the keyboard and a trackpad for moving the mouse pointer. They have a battery too so don’t need to be tethered to the mains socket (until they need charging). They are generally less powerful than equivalently priced desktop machines but the top end laptops and gaming laptops can still be very powerful. Prices can range from £300 - £3000 depending on the components and materials used.
In recent years, especially with laptops running Microsoft Windows, there has been a bit of a blurring of the lines between the laptop and the tablet (more on tablets in a minute). Some laptops feature a touchscreen which can either be folded over or detached from the keyboard to become like a tablet. These types of laptop are referred to as 2 in 1 laptops.
Mac or Windows
So far we have discussed the different physical appearance of all the computer types (the hardware). But software is equally as important and the main software on any computer is the one that runs the whole show – the operating system. There are a few of these but the two main ones are Microsoft Windows and Apple’s MacOS. MacOS as the name suggests will only run on Apple computers. Apple have their own model in each of the categories discussed so far. The Mac Pro is their tower unit (but aimed at professionals and very expensive). The iMac (an all in one desktop). The Mac Mini (you guessed it a Mini PC) And on the laptops side, the Macbook of which there are three variants (the basic Macbook, the Macbook Pro and the Macbook Air)
By contrast Microsoft Windows isn’t limited to just one manufacturer and runs on desktops and laptops built by a very large range of companies you have probably heard of like Dell, HP and Lenovo. As Windows needs to be able to run on a greater range of hardware it’s often a lot more open and flexible in what you can do with it than a Mac but therefore there is more potential for things to go wrong.
Traditionally Windows has been the operating system of choice for people who need to get office work done or play the latest games. Whereas Macs were aimed at designers and creative workers. These days there are plenty of great programs for creatives on PC’s and lots of office type software for Macs so the lines are blurred.
What might really make you choose one over the other these days is the ecosystem and services on offer. For instance, if you have an iPhone and / or and iPad already you might want to consider a Mac as many of the features are available across all devices (things like Facetime, iMessages etc. which I will go in to more detail at a later date no doubt)
Smart phones have probably become the main way that people access the internet over the last few years. If you have one its hard to imagine life without it. Phones that could access a basic form of the internet have been around for quite some time now but it wasn’t until Apple released the iPhone and other manufacturers adopted Google’s Android mobile operating system that the idea of the smartphone was properly born. Suddenly the App store meant that developers could make their own programs and games specifically for phones (and we were no longer limited to playing snake on our Nokia’s). These days many people use their phones not just for calls and text messages. You can video call, instant group message (using something like Whatsapp), listen to your music or podcasts, shop, order takeaway ……… If I carry on in this manor this section will be very long so I will stop (except to mention that your phone is probably now your main camera and can be used as a Sat Nav or to track your fitness regimes).
Steve jobs unveiled the very first iPad 10 years ago and everyone kind of went… huh? Isn’t it just a big iPhone? Although that sentiment was probably true at the time iPads and tablets have become much more like laptops over the years (to the extent that the latest iPads can now be used with a mouse and keyboard as well as a touch screen).
As with smartphones the two big systems in use are Apple (iPad OS) and Android and they behave broadly speaking the way that they do on phones. The main benefit of tablets being a larger screen size. This proves great from consuming media on. They are great for watching Netflix or iPlayer on, Reading a book, newspaper or magazine and the extra screen makes games better too.
Tablets are less great for working on although it is possible. You can do a spreadsheet or word document on them but its not as easy as a laptop or desktop. One area where they can excel though is for creative work, especially in the iPad Pro range of tablets using the Apple Pencil accessory or with Samsungs more premium tablets which come with a stylus.
Other smart stuff
You may have heard of something called Alexa in the last few years. This is an Amazon technology which can be built in to many previously “dumb” electrical equipment. The most famous example of this being Amazon’s Echo smart speakers. Alexa (and equivelants like Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri) operate on voice recognition and connect to the internet and other devices to provide the smarts. These services are known as digital assistants and you can use them in an ever increasing number of ways as they link in with the ever increasing range of other smart devices and services. So I can ask my assistant to set an alarm to wake me up in the morning, get it to turn on the lights and open the curtains, ask what’s in my Calendar today, Play the radio, turn up the heating, see who is at the door etc. etc. (Oh and as I mentioned earlier tell me whats in the fridge). You may have heard the expression “the internet of things” creeping in to conversations recently and not really had a clue what people were talking about. Well its this sort of thing (see above).