Is my Amazon Echo or Google Home always listening?
The Echo and Home are amazing personal assistants, but both devices constantly listen for wake words such as “Hey Alexa” or “OK Google.” Once you say a wake word, the device will record your question and upload it to the cloud. The tradeoff with sharing that data is that your assistant can better understand your needs and preferences.
Both companies claim that their devices do not record anything unless you say the wake word. You also can review or delete your recordings through the Alexa or Google Home apps. (Google users can also visit myactivity.google.com.) However, the device might accidentally hear the wake word. If you’re planning on having a highly personal conversation, I would recommend either muting the microphone or turning the device off.
Do I need to install antivirus software on my smartphone?
Not really. Apple has designed the iPhone so that malware can’t easily access the operating system or your data. As long as you install the latest patches and don’t try to jailbreak your phone, you should be well protected.
Android phones are at a slightly greater risk. The easiest way to infect an Android phone is through a fake app, so be careful what you download. It’s recommended that you don’t download brand-new apps, and look carefully at an app’s rating. If your phone does become infected, you can always reset it to factory settings.
Remember that the greater danger to your smartphone is having it stolen or broken, so make sure to back up your data.
My kids love Fortnite, but is the game appropriate?
Fortnite is now more popular than Minecraft, and that’s not surprising since the game involves a lot of building. However, it also involves players battling it out to see who is the last one standing. In my opinion, Fortnite is like virtual paintball. There’s no blood and gore, and if you beat an opponent he or she simply fades out. I’m OK with my 10-year-old playing in moderation.
There are a few problems with the game that parents should know. Some of the guns look and sound realistic, so I wouldn’t recommend Fortnite for very young players. The game is free, but in-game items and costumes can be expensive (the most popular costumes can cost as much as $20). Finally, the in-game chat isn’t well-moderated and can get salty. I would highly recommend switching off chat.
What new podcasts would you recommend?
I have two new podcasts that I love. The Dream shines a light on America’s obsession with get-rich-quick schemes. Multi-level marketing companies like Amway, Herbalife, and LimeLife promise financial security to millions of independent sales people. But hosts Jane Marie and Dann Gallucci share the heartbreaking stories of victims who lost everything.
I also love KUOW’s new podcast SoundQs. Host Deborah Wang shares fascinating tidbits about the Puget Sound community, from how the Seattle Dog got its cream cheese to what will happen to all the concrete and steel from the old Viaduct.
Do you have any tips for unplugging from screens?
What has worked great for my family is “no screen” Sunday afternoon. From about noon until dinner time, we play board games, get out in nature, or visit local museums. Wellness experts recommend that you turn devices off a half hour before bedtime. If you don’t need your phone for work, you should consider charging it in a separate room. Also, avoid jumping on Facebook and Twitter first thing in the morning. Instead, focus on you for those first few minutes of the day, whether that means meditating, going for a jog, or reading your favorite magazine.
What’s a good starter model if I want to get into drones?
The Tello by DJI and Ryze is an amazing drone for the price ($99). This drone is incredibly durable and easy to control, making it a great choice for younger users. Unlike other beginner drones, the Tello has an excellent camera and a decent battery that will keep it flying for 13 minutes at a time. It’s the perfect entry model that won’t cost you hundreds of dollars. store.dji.com
What tech trends are you most excited about for 2019?
Probably the biggest story this year will be a new generation of 5G smartphones. Virtual Reality (VR) will likely play a bigger role beyond gaming, with companies like NordicTrack launching their first VR exercise bikes. On the home entertainment front, stunning 8K TVs and possibly new gaming consoles are on their way. Check back as I cover all the coolest gadgets in future columns.