There’s a lot of anxiety and other mental health concerns around at the moment related to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and so anything that can help us is welcome.
Steady is an Android app that I’ve started using on my smartphone. I recently came across this recommended app in a magazine and expected to have to pay for it, but it appears to be free with no adverts.
Breathing exercises are a really helpful way of relieving anxiety and stress, and this app helps you tackle your anxiety. It also provides daily reminders and encouragement for hitting monthly goals and the like.
Update: I’ve discovered there’s also a free app (Insomnia) to help you sleep, this can be accessed via the above app.
When I first got my Chromebook I downloaded loads of apps, but I’ve deleted many of them because you can do most things you want in the Google Chrome browser.
Amazon Prime Video and Netflix: Although you can watch movies and TV series in the browser, there are some apps that work better as apps and these are two that I do use. Other content providers are available.
Chrome Canvas: This is an excellent, and possibly little-known, drawing app that comes with the Chrome OS. Yes, you can use it in a browser on any operating system, but there are advantages of using the app on a Chromebook, not least the fact that the app defaults to full screen.
JotterPad: This is a wonderful distraction-free notepad app that I use on my smartphone and tablet as well as on my Chromebook. It’s free, but does have in-app purchases. Two of these are one-off payments to unlock extra features, but if you want to connect to a cloud services there’s a monthly payment. I’ve paid for the two one-off benefits, but haven’t bothered with the cloud integration as you can easily share the notes manually with other apps and services. There are many adjustments you via settings, so an altogether essential app for me.
Nimbus Screenshot & Screen Video Recorder: This is a Chrome browser extension rather than an app, but I include it here because it’s useful on whichever device you use this browser. It does what it says on the tin with many different options.
Photoshop Express & Snapseed: Everyone knows about Photoshop, and so their app for Android devices is pretty much a must-have. Snapseed is not so well-known, but it’s a neat little photo editing app to have in your Android tool box. Take your pick, or install both.
VLC: This media player is simply essential on any device, make sure you have the app on your Chromebook.
ZArchiver: If you work with ZIP files this is an essential app.
Note: I hope this selection of Chromebook apps is useful to you, and remember the apps can be used on any Android device.
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If you’re having to self-isolate or work from home (or simply not going out so much) in the current coronavirus pandemic you might be considering some new computer equipment. A Chromebook is an excellent choice, but you might have some reservations or even believe some of the myths.
For a start, Chromebooks are not just a browser with a keyboard. There’s so many apps (probably the same ones you use on our smartphone) that you can install to do all the things you do on a laptop. You can easily stream music and watch movies, even in full HD if you go for that option. Editing photos is a breeze.
You might think that Chromebooks are cheap and not worth buying. Not true. Yes, you get what you pay for, but there are some excellent budget models as well as very high-end ones.
Finally, you might think switching to a Chromebook is complicated. Sorry to disappoint you again, if you can use a laptop and a mobile you can use a Chromebook. You can also access your work on all three and synchronise etc.
Oh, and I didn’t mention that they’re stylish, light, have an incredibly fast start-up time, and a battery charge lasts forever! See also here.
I wrote about Windows Defender in 2017, suggesting that you didn’t need to pay for anti-virus software because the one bundled with Windows 10 does a good job and integrates perfectly with the OS. Since then Windows Defender has been improved* and does a really good job of keeping you safe online; so there’s really no need look for an alternative, and especially no need to pay good money for protection.
I know many of you remain unconvinced about free anti-virus software, and so even this post won’t convince you. But for the rest of you, please trust me when I tell you that free software really does do the business!
However, you might say that you really don’t trust Microsoft (despite the fact that you trust them with Windows 10 on your computer in the first place), in that case here’s a great free alternative.
I haven’t used Avira, but I have it on good authority that it’s the best free alternative to Windows Defender. It blocks all kinds of threats (including spyware, adware and the like), offers real-time protection and updates, and can repair infected files. It doesn’t hog system resources (unlike some paid-for products) and is speedy and efficient. There are even free add-ons that can boost your protection.
So my advice, for what it’s worth, is to stick with the free Windows Defender that comes bundled with Windows 10, and certainly don’t pay good money for what can actually be inferior. But if you must have something else, you can’t go far wrong with Avira!
* I think Windows Defender is called Windows Security now. That’s the label on the settings window and taskbar icon anyway. It was the anti-virus software recommended by WebUser magazine in 2019.
For a while now my Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 has been stuck in a reboot cycle, it restarts for no obvious reason, and is therefore totally useless. I was unable to perform a ‘soft’ factory reset because the tablet restarted before I could get to the appropriate menu item. It was possible to get to the ‘hard’ reset menu by pressing a combination of keys after the tablet had been switched off, but then the factory reset option always failed. I installed Samsung KIES synchronisation and update software on my PC, but again the tablet rebooted before I could connect the two devices. The last option was to reinstall the latest Android operating system from Samsung via Odin software (again on my PC). Sadly, this failed several times (see screenshot above) and so I’ll have to take the tablet to a local service centre in the hope that something can be done that won’t cost too much.
On the plus side though, I found out that PC World were doing a good deal on the Amazon Fire 7″ tablet: 16GB plus case plus 64GB microSD card all for £59.99 as a bundle. I’m enjoying using it, the quality isn’t as good as the Samsung (unsurprisingly), but it was a great deal. The only downsides are that they try to sell you lots of stuff (the tablet is basically a shop front) and the tablet won’t let you install Google apps via Play, but there are always workarounds for a geek!
Update: My local service centre unfortunately informed me it was beyond repair.
I have a policy of never paying for anti-virus software; but is this stance justified? Why pay for software when the free Microsoft Defender comes with Windows?
I agree with those who say Defender isn’t the best out there, but it has to be said that no anti-virus software is 100% reliable. Defender’s advantages are that it integrates perfectly with Windows 10, it’s free and it’s not system hogging. I also immunise my PC regularly with SpywareBlaster and scan regularly with Malwarebytes (the free versions of both).
This is how I live with Defender’s limitations. But the best anti-virus protection is the PC user; don’t go to dodgy[dot]com and always pay attention to potential threats. This is my joined up plan around Defender, one that has served me well for many years, and remember that most PCs get viruses (and the like) because of users’ ignorance or gullibility. So, as I often say, ‘Keep up and pay attention’ – security is your responsibility, you know it makes sense.
Update January 2020: Windows Defender has recently been beefed-up and was recommended by WebUser magazine in 2019. Often paid-for anti-virus software is bloated and slows down your system, Windows Defender (or Security I think it’s called now) integrates perfectly with Windows 10.
I’ve now had experience of upgrading three computers to Windows 10, so I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts as you may be undecided.
My first upgrade was on a Windows 7 work laptop which I upgraded before the [Get Windows 10] taskbar icon appeared. I started the process on the Microsoft website, and this went smoothly with no problems. My wife Naomi’s Windows 8.1 laptop had been having a few problems and eventually wouldn’t boot up, and so I did a factory reset followed by the Windows 10 upgrade (called a clean upgrade) which again went well.
Things started to go wrong when I was upgrading a work Windows 7 netbook. It was a simple job to backup the files on the netbook to a USB flash drive before doing a clean upgrade. So far so good, and Windows 7 successfully updated to Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1). The problem came when Windows Update froze during the upgrade to Windows 10, and the process wouldn’t complete. A little research (in the form of a Google search) showed this to be a common problem, and a simple manual fix from Microsoft sorted out the problem. On my third attempt, Windows 10 installed successfully.
A couple of things are worth mentioning. It’s a good idea to review the default settings in the final stages of the upgrade, and to switch on System Restore when it’s completed (it’s off by default). System Restore is necessary to return your computer to an earlier state after you’ve made changes and can sometimes be a life saver. Also, the option to return to your previous version of Windows remains in Settings for a while should you wish to go back.
Windows 10 retains the feel of Windows 7 and integrates the new features fairly seamlessly. The distinctive features of Windows 8 (generally not well-liked by users) are there, but in a restrained way, unless you choose to make them more prominent. In fact, it’s worth finding your way around Windows 10 and tweaking it to your personal taste.
Overall, I think Windows 10 is a big improvement on both Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, but this is possibly down to personal preference. If you’re upgrading from Windows 7 you’ll find 10 easy to use, and if you don’t like 8 you’ll love 10. However, the free upgrade period has now passed, and the latest version is the Anniversary Update (an improvement on the original release).