Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Magic Jack and Smart TV

                As promised, here are a couple of product reviews for things I have purchased and recommend. Please be assured that I do not get any payment, special treatment, or items in exchange for these reviews.
Magic Jack

                I don’t have a cell phone, and like Jeff Yaeger, author of several cheapskate books, I don’t plan to get one. Not only do I not see a benefit to having a cell phone, I see several ways in which a cell phone would quickly become a hassle, starting with the cost and continuing through being expected to be available to take calls at the caller’s convenience. I don’t feel obligated to provide 24/7 access. I have an answering machine. Leave a message. And how many people have been in a theater when a phone has gone off? I missed some key dialog in a play once because someone thought her incoming calls took precedence over everything. Full disclosure here: Dan has a smartphone, and one in the house is one more than we need.
                Well, now that I’ve got that out of my system, here’s what I do for a phone.
                When I first heard about Magic Jack I thought the name sounded awfully, well, hokey. But then a friend got it and swore by it, so I decided to give it a try.
                At the time, I had AT&T’s DSL Internet service and a landline. The best I can say for DSL is it was better than AOL’s dial-up service. Dealing with AT&T was usually a hassle, and this time was no different. No sooner did I have Magic Jack hooked up and my number ported than AT&T shut down both my landline and the DSL, so I had neither Internet nor phone service for several days. I won’t say it was retaliation, but… . Fortunately, I was able to use the library computer. Finally, AT&T sent someone to my house to get me back online. After that, though, AT&T could never get my bill right. I would spend at least an hour a month arguing with various AT&T customer service reps who would only tell me their first names and where they were located. Kansas City was one of the first markets where Google offered fiber Internet connections. They offered a “free” 5 Mbps Internet for the installation fee of $300 plus tax. I took that option (which is no longer offered), and have been thankful every day for Google Fiber.  
Anyway, with DSL I had to hook the Magic Jack up to the computer and then to the phone system. If the DSL glitched or the power went out, I would have to reboot the Magic Jack. I had that setup several years. When Google Fiber came in, I was able to run Magic Jack through the router. That works great. The best part is the price. The current price is about $60 for the device and a year of service. After that it’s $35 per year, although there are probably multi-year discounts. I think I paid about $100 for five years. You can port your number (for a fee), and you can sign up with 911. Magic Jack is a good replacement for a landline. One thing to be aware of is if your power goes out, so does your Magic Jack, but Magic Jack has voicemail, so, even when your power is out (or you’re on another line), callers can leave you a message. Magic Jack has caller ID (mine usually shows just the number calling).
I’ve used Magic Jack several years, and for the price, I’m thrilled with it.

Smart TV’s

I think I’ve established I’m not an early adopter. I’ve not had cable since about 1990. Until late 2015 I had a 20” CRT TV that at least was digital. (I bought it used.) I used “rabbit ear” antennas to get local channels and relied on the library for DVDs. Then I began hearing about “Smart” TVs. I did some research and bought a Samsung Smart TV at last year’s after-Christmas sales. I paid $280. I’ve seen the same TV for $250 this year.
To be able to use a Smart TV for streaming, you’ll need wifi. If you have an Internet connection, odds are you have wifi. You may need to contact your Internet provider for help getting the codes to access your wifi. My TV basically set itself up. (Gee! It IS smart). Once the TV is set up, you have a whole new world of TV viewing available. There’s lots that’s free—YouTube, for example. You’ll just want to go through the channels and the apps and see what’s available. If you don’t see what you want, you can do a search to see if it’s buried in one of the available offerings. I had a major disappointment with the Samsung. Even though Acorn TV was supposed to be available on the Samsung platform, it wasn’t. Initially I hooked up a “microprocessor” computer to the TV and pulled in Acorn that way. Dan had a Roku (more on that later) that we hooked up, and now I can get Acorn with no problems.
So, you’re probably asking what is Acorn and why is the cheap guy willing to pay for it? Over the years I noticed that a lot of DVDs I’d picked up at the library were distributed by Acorn. They say they offer “the best of British TV,” but in reality they offer programming from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries as well as the United Kingdom. Acorn is $4.95 per month or $50 per year. I allow myself 60-90 minutes of TV a day (in addition to the news—and certainly no daytime network TV; that stuff will rot your brain). Even with my limited viewing time, I think Acorn is a bargain—for me.
Dan subscribes to Netflix, which costs from $8 to $12 per month. Between the two of us we spend less than $20 per month for more TV than we can use.  Some of Acorn’s offerings are duplicated on Netflix, and Netflix has an amazing variety—including all of series such as “Murder She Wrote,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Keeping Up Appearances” (if you’re in a mood to overdose on Hyacinth), tons of movies old and new and much more. I guess for most people, Netflix would be the better deal, but I really like Acorn’s offerings. Both Acorn and Netflix allow more than one TV to have the service, so, if you’re a parent and your kids are away at school, they may be able to use your subscription.
One funny thing about Acorn. They keep sending me emails advertising sales on their DVDs. I don’t quite understand that. To me one of the advantages of subscribing to streaming services is not having to own DVDs. But perhaps not everyone feels that way.
I’m sold on Smart TV, but if I had my purchase to do over, I’d go for a regular TV and add Roku, which can make almost any TV “smart.” I like the Roku interface better than Samsung’s, and there’s so much I can do on Roku. Let’s say I want to watch part of the PBS NewsHour, but not all of it. (I especially like the Shields and Brooks segment on Fridays). I can wait until Saturday and just watch that on the PBS app on Roku. Same if I go out to dinner and miss the NBC Nightly News. I know you folks who have cable have DVRs and can watch at your leisure, but you’re paying more than $20 a month.
One thing to be aware of: we get our local stations with antennas. When it’s really rainy or windy our reception is not as good as it could be. Some people have roof antennas (everything old is new again) and say they work great, but we haven’t tried that yet.
For someone who can (just barely) remember when my folks got their first TV—in the days of programming only being available from NBC and CBS (and much of that an overnight test pattern), I’m simply amazed at how far TV has come. And who knows what’s coming next?

What’s coming next on this blog is a look at salaried employment as the new plantation.

©2016 Larry Roth

No comments:

Post a Comment