Tech Q&A: Data plans, dying computers, an app for buying wine and more

Tech Q&A: Data plans, dying computers, an app for buying wine and more

Avoid going over your data limit

Q. I love everything my Android phone can do, but I don’t like the surprise that I’m nearly out of data days before the end of the month. How can I tell how much data I’m using up before I suddenly have to go cold turkey on streaming movies?

A. Android ships with a built-in data usage notification system. Go to Settings>>Data Usage. You’ll see a graph that displays your data usage, along with a yellow bar and a red bar you can adjust. The yellow bar sets when your phone will warn you about your data usage. The red bar sets a cap on your data use to avoid overage fees. Adjust these to whatever works with your plan. That’s just one of 10 cool Android tips and tricks you’ll want to try out. One way to avoid going over your data fees is by using Wi-Fi whenever possible. I’ll talk more about that next.

How safe is public Wi-Fi?

Q. To save money on my cell plan, I went with a lower data amount and I’m using public Wi-Fi as much as possible. But now I’m worried; is it really safe to use these free connections?

A. Public Wi-Fi is convenient for saving your data plan, but I wouldn’t trust it with sensitive information. Hackers love to lurk on these networks and snoop on your Internet connection to snag your email, passwords and banking information. True, most sensitive sites are encrypted to prevent this, and you can add encryption of your own using a VPN app like Hotspot Shield VPN (Android, Apple; Free). But criminals can find ways around encryption using some devious methods. For finances, e-mail and social media, stick to your cellular connection. Switch to Wi-Fi for streaming music and movies, and other data-intensive tasks.

Signs of a dying computer

Q. My computer is nearly 3 years old and is starting to make some weird sounds. How can I tell if there’s some easy fix to stretch out its life or if it’s on its last legs? If I need a new one, I’d really rather wait for a new Windows 10 computer.

A. If it’s a loud fan sound, then it’s usually just a processor or system fan that needs replacing, which isn’t too bad. Clicking and grinding sounds, however, are often from a failing hard drive. You should back up your data right away (you should be making regular backups anyway), and replace it. There are plenty more signs of a dying computer aside from noises. Check them out and see if your computer is showing any of them. In general, a 3-year-old computer shouldn’t need total replacing. In fact, it’s probably running Windows 7, which means you can upgrade to Windows 10 for free starting July 29 and use it for several more years.

Troubleshoot a crashing computer

Q. Every morning, my computer starts up just fine, but soon slows to a crawl until I stop everything and restart. Any ideas how I can tell what’s bogging down my system?

A. It sounds like a program you’re running has a memory leak. In other words, it keeps using more and more RAM until your memory fills up and your computer can’t work anymore. You can find out using Windows’ Task Manager. Hit CTRL + SHIFT + ESC on your keyboard and then go to the Processes tab. Click where it says Memory to see what processes are using the most memory. As you use the computer, pay attention to what process keeps adding more and more memory even when you aren’t doing anything. That’s probably your culprit. You can update the program to see if that fixes it, or uninstall it and find an alternative program. Learn more about troubleshooting an unstable computer using Processes.

Don’t overpay for wine

Q. I’m so intimidated by the hundreds of labels and huge price range in the wine aisle. Is there an app for my smartphone that can help me make sense of all the choices and avoid costly mistakes?

A. Grab an app like Vivino Wine Scanner (Android, Apple; Free). It can recognize more than 3 million wines and give you ratings and a price comparison. Just take a picture of the wine bottle label. Vivino can also learn your tastes and offer recommendations for new wines you might like. Of course, before you spring for that $200 bottle, watch this video that shows you why you shouldn’t buy expensive wine.

Bonus: A better caller ID for smartphones

Q. My husband works in law enforcement, so calls from his office have no caller ID. Unfortunately, so do spam calls and telemarketers. Is there a way to identify a call with no caller ID?

A. You can download an app called Truecaller (Android, Apple, Windows Phone; Free). It has a database of 1.6 billion phone numbers and growing, so it can tell you who is on the other end of an unknown phone number. Even better, it can warn you about spam numbers before you pick up, so you don’t waste your time. You can also use it to search for a specific number to see whose owns it. Ever wondered what the first cellphone call was like? Watch the historic video on my site.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at

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