TIME Gadgets

4 Cheaper Alternatives to the Apple Watch

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Apple

Just after midnight on Friday, April 10, Apple officially started taking pre-orders for the Apple Watch (to be released April 24). The device has garnered a lot of interest from shoppers and the media alike. But let’s be honest – the new Apple Watch isn’t for everyone. You need an Apple iPhone to use it, so Android smartphone owners are out of luck. The device is brand new and hasn’t been battle tested. And with a price range that starts at $349 and runs all the way up to $17,000, it’s certainly not a bargain, either.

Good news, however: There are plenty of worthy Android and iPhone-compatible smart watches that don’t share these very specific Apple Watch weaknesses. To prove the point, we’ve compiled this list of great Apple Watch alternatives below that are definitely worth a look.

Pebble Time Steel

If you haven’t taken a look at the Pebble smart watch since its black-and-white e-paper formative days, you owe the company a second look. It’s latest watch, the Pebble Time Steel, has an upgraded 1.25” color e-paper display, a 3D accelerometer, compass and a mic for voice commands. The Steel connects to your iOS or Android smartphone via Bluetooth to control music and receive emails, messages and texts. Plenty of third-party apps are available for the watch, as well (RunKeeper, Weather Channel). The best feature of the Pebble Time Steel may be its battery life, however – it can go a full 10 days without a full charge.

The main downside to the Pebble Time Steel is that it’s running neither an Apple-based nor an Android-based operating system. That’s not a huge problem – there are plenty of solid third-party apps available for the Steel, from RunKeeper, Misfit, The Weather Channel and more big names. But it simply won’t have the same kind of intense third-party support that giants like Apple and Google can command.

The Pebble Time Steel is coming this July with a price of $299 in brushed stainless, matte black and gold finishes.


Samsung Gear Fit

At first glance, you might not immediately recognize the Samsung Gear Fit as a fully featured smart watch – its long, 1.84” AMOLED digital screen looks like it belongs on an activity monitor. But really, that’s what the waterproof Gear Fit is – it’s an activity monitor for fitness fanatics that doubles as a smart watch. It features an accelerometer, gyroscope and heart rate sensor to accurately track all your exercise. But it also has the smart watch features most buyers are looking for, like receiving emails and SMS messages, displaying call notifications and more. And it does it all at a killer price point.

The lightweight Samsung Gear Fit works with most Samsung Galaxy branded Android smartphones and tablets. You can find the Gear Fit at Amazon.com for just $133.37.

LG G Watch R

Looking for a smart watch with a more classic analog watch look? Check out the LG G Watch R. Like the Apple Watch, the water-resistant G Watch R tracks calories burned, sleep quality and other important health and fitness metrics. It runs Android Wear wearable operating system, so it runs a multitude of apps, including Google Maps, Edmondo Running and Facebook Messenger.

The sporty LG G Watch R is compatible with the Android phones running Android 4.3 and higher. It is available on Amazon.com for $299.


Moto 360

The Motorola Moto 360 is a beautiful smart watch that pairs with Android 4.3 smartphones and higher. It features a scratch-resistant, 1.5” circular touch screen, plenty of fitness tracking functions and face customization options, 512MB of RAM and the Android Wear wearable operating system. It can receive call alerts, text messages, social media updates, GPS directions and more. You can even send short messages via voice command.

The Moto 360 charges at night, though be forewarned – its battery life is less than stellar, especially if you use it often. Many owners complain that their Moto 360 dies before the end of the day (10 to 12 hours). Still, if you can handle this notable shortcoming, you can get this great smartwatch for just $179.00 on Amazon.

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME apps

21 Best Apps for Business Travelers

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Equipping you for flight check-ins to electronic signatures to ATM search

The days of paperless travel are upon us, with digital boarding passes, e-confirmations and online travel booking on the upswing. Business travelers need little more than a smartphone or tablet to manage anything from signing contracts to logging expenses and work hours.

These apps do it all, from checking you in to your flight, getting a legally binding John Hancock on those forms, and finding the nearest Wi-Fi, ATM and food stops.

Breeze through travel

Organize your bookings

One of the original must-have travel apps, super-itinerary-maker TripIt pulls together confirmations for hotels, flights and other bookings, combing your email for anything resembling a reservation or sending confirmation emails to your personal email address so that reference numbers are close at hand wen you need to check in. The paid Pro version offers real-time alerts for flight changes, help finding alternative flights and a fare-tracking service that lets you know when you may be eligible for fare refunds.

Price: Free on iTunes and Google Play; $0.99 for the premium version (no ads) on iTunes and Google Play; $4.09 per month subscription for Pro (premium features)

Board by smartphone

PassBook, a surprisingly underused built-in feature of iPhones running iOS 6 and up, automatically saves boarding passes and hotel confirmations from apps including United Airlines, British Airways, Starbucks, Hotels.com and Starwood Hotels. Hit “Find apps for Passbook” to load the ones you use; after that, any bookings you make will automatically land here, to be easily retrieved and scanned for check-in or boarding.

The Android equivalent is PassWallet. Samsung users can download Samsung Wallet from Google Play or the Samsung App Store.

Breeze through the airport Along with showing you the latest status on your flight and gate number, GateGuru displays info about the airport you’re in, giving you the low-down on where to eat, drink and score free Wi-Fi. The Travel Stats tab shows how many miles you’ve flown, which airports you’ve visited and how you rank compared to other GateGuru users. Indispensable for frequent travelers to make the most of a layover.

Price: Free at GateGuru

Get more work accomplished

Scan with your smartphone

Instead of painstakingly angling your phone’s camera just so, load up Scannable and point it in the general direction of the document to be scanned. It uses contrast levels to figure out what you want scanned, then automatically scans the image, straightening and whitening for a professional-looking document. Multiple pages can be scanned one by one and collated into a single PDF, then sent via email or saved to your Evernote account.

Price: Free at Evernote

If you’re a OneDrive user, Microsoft Office Lens lets you scan business cards, contracts, photos, diagrams and other workday minutiae to be deposited into your OneDrive account for later organizing. Choose from one of three image types (photo, document or whiteboard), point your phone at the item to be scanned, hit the shutter and save the scan. Unfortunately, you can’t yet scan multi-page documents, but the app is a handy way to save hard-copy information to your cloud storage.

Price: Free at OneNote

Digitally sign documents

Not all digital signatures are created equal. Though you may have used an image of your scanned signature to “sign” some documents, most legal experts don’t recommend this less-than-legally-binding method for important documents. For high-level contracts requiring a digital signature, use an app like CudaSign, which allows you to trace your signature with a finger using legally recognized eSign technology. Upload documents from email attachments, Dropbox or the camera roll, and add fields for customers to input extra info. CudaSign is encrypted with bank-level security and works with forms from Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Office 365 and more.

Price: $1 per user per month or free trial at CudaSign

Another app for legally binding, secure e-signatures, HelloSign offers the added benefit of integration with Google Apps; documents sent via Gmail for signing have an additional “Sign” icon for one-click access. Documents can also be pulled from Dropbox, Box, Evernote and OneDrive and edited with your company’s logo. Like Cudasign, HelloSign is encrypted with bank-level security.

Price: Free for three signatures a month or from $13/month at HelloSign

Edit and collaborate

If you’re a Google Drive user, you know that Google Docs is an indispensable way to create and edit documents on the go. You can access any file in your Drive and make changes that can be picked up across all your devices. Like the desktop version of Google Drive, you can invite people to work on the same document, with or without an Internet connection.

Price: Free at Google

Make notes and oversee projects

For individual users, Evernote is a brilliant free digital notebook for memos, research and thoughts plus ways to categorize it all. From a business slant, features include the ability to share notebooks with multiple collaborators and oversee a workspace consisting of dozens of notebooks and collaborators.

Price: Free for individuals or $8 per user per month for business users at Evernote

Create graphic reports

If you’re working on a report or presentation, the beautifully minimal Pages is the go-to for iPad. The app supports multi-touch gestures to zoom and move around the page, with 60 templates for text, images and graphs and support for Microsoft Word. There’s a tracking option to record changes with comments and highlight features when working on a collaborative document. If your colleagues use iDevices, you can AirDrop them the document; otherwise, send a link, which always links to the most recent version.

Price: $11.99 at iTunes

Locate conveniences on the go

Find the ultimate meal

If you have a food craving, FoodSpotting will fulfill it. Instead of finding food by restaurant, search by dish. Want dim sum in Hong Kong or fish and chips in London? This app will point you in the direction of the restaurants that serve the best versions, as decided by reviews from other diners.

Price: Free at FoodSpotting

Get your bearings

Need an ATM, a parking garage, a gas station? AroundMe finds the nearest services based on your GPS location, giving you map directions, contact details, website details and Foursquare tips.

Price: Free at AroundMe

Translate the local lingo

Word Lens, which was recently purchased by Google, scans foreign text and translates it into your home language. At the moment, the app supports English, German, Spanish, French, Russian, Italian and Portuguese. Download the app for free with an English/Spanish conversion; for a limited time, the other language packs are free to download too.

Price: Free at Quest Visual

Navigate a new city

Figuring out the bus system in a new city is right up there with navigating a maze blindfolded. HopStop is particularly useful when you arrive in one of the 68 major metropolises it supports, offering bus, subway and walking routes for getting from here to there, along with schedules and transit maps. Cities supported cover North America, Europe and Australia.

Price: Free at HopStop

Hail a cab

Sometimes cabs are the only alternative—and that’s when Uber, now active in 66 countries, comes into its own. In cities where public transport may not be all that, an Uber ride usually arrives in good time. Thanks to the cash-free payment system, you won’t even need any local currency.

Price: Free at Uber

Stay organized

Make your data go further

The Facebook-owned Onavo Extend can save you money on data bills by compressing the sites and emails you access. Adjust the image quality you want to view (a lower image quality saves you more data), and view reports on how much data you’ve saved. Yes, information about your data use does get shared with Facebook, but its uses are strictly practical—for example, telling who is using what mobile services and how to optimize data such as ads for viewing on mobile devices.

Price: Free at Onavo

Score free Wi-Fi

When you’re outside the United States, you probably don’t want to use your data plan at all. WiFi Finder scans for nearby Wi-Fi hotspots using your phone’s GPS, so you don’t need be online to find Wi-Fi. Its database covers 144 countries with over 145,000 logged hotspots in the iOS app and 550,000 in the Android version and the ability to filter results by what type of facility the hotspot is located in—say, a restaurant, hotel or coffee shop—and whether it’s free or paid.

Price: Free on iTunes and Google Play

Convert between currencies

If you’re country-hopping, you’ll need a handy guide for converting shekels, rupees or euros back to the greenback. XE Currency is a no-nonsense way to sort it out, with a table for adding currencies you want to convert to your home currency. You can also add a currency widget to your iOS notification center or Android home screen with live-updating rates.

Price: Free at XE

Record travel expenses

Even if you’re not a convert to IFTTT, the app that links your various web accounts to automate actions, Do Button is unbeatable for saving your business trip expenses. Download the Do Button app, load the recipe for “Save receipts to Dropbox,” and fire it up to snap pictures of your receipts, which get saved to a specific Dropbox folder. Send the link to Accounts to recoup your costs.

Price: Free at IFTTT

Track work versus play

Most of us mix business with pleasure, and that’s just fine. But if you’re getting paid by time spent on work, it’s worth downloading Hours to note how much time you’re spending per project (or networking cocktail event). Set timers by activity or project, including leisure time, and then tap a particular task each time you switch. Reports on the time spent on each project can be exported and shared via email.

Price: Free for iOS at Hours Time Tracking

Android users can go for aTimeLogger, which has a less modern interface than Hours but similar features. The app offers tons of preset categories such as internet, transport and entertainment. Simply tap to start timing. Reports can be generated for date ranges to view the proportions of time spent on different activities.

Price: Free at aTimeLogger

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Web

These Are the Best Flight Search Tools

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Try searching on different days of the week

Online flight search services are big business, as more of us turn to computers and smartphones for travel planning. Last year, 40 percent of Americans booked flights, hotels, cruises and other holidays on their phones and tablets, a statistic based on 300 million bookings worth $150 billion, while the Economist reckons that online bookings account for 43% of total travel sales.

The options are growing. Google recently overhauled its flight aggregator service, Google Flights, with the addition of money-saving features posing serious competition to established heavyweights such as Kayak and Skyscanner. Then there are newer, design-led services like Momondo or Hipmunk, which offer filters by price as well as convenience.

Are you really getting the best deals?

We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to services that search other services for the best deals — but despite the thousands of results these services manage to turn up, you may not necessarily be getting the cheapest deal or even the fare advertised.

Buyer beware: Most fares found by these flight search engines don’t include the baggage fees charged by some low-cost airlines as well as United and Delta. In some cases, they don’t include fuel taxes and other surcharges.

Nor does every airline shows up in these metasearches, says Matt van der Rohe, an online travel expert with travel concierge service Flightfox. For example, Southwest Airlines does not put its fares on metasearch sites, and UK-based budget airline Ryanair saves its cheapest fares for its own site.

We picked six of the top-rated flight aggregator services and compared prices for 10 flights over a week in June, from domestic flights including New York to Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas and Austin, and international flights from New York to Toronto, Sydney, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Hong Kong.

Which flight search service is best for you?

Kayak

Available for iOS, Android, Windows and Kindle devices.

The granddaddy of flight aggregator search sites, Kayak, was recently redesigned to streamline its search interface. Kayak now offers tons of ways to filter your search, including an intuitive slider system for adjusting approximate takeoff times and options to show or hide redeye flights, view flights with Wi-Fi only and see “hacker fares,” where different legs of a journey are purchased separately. Also handy is the ability to adjust the maximum layover you’re willing to bear.

A new price trend graph offers advice on whether flight prices are likely to go up or down, giving you as much peace of mind as one might be able to expect, while the fee calculator can add credit card and check-in luggage fees to the posted fares. If you search for flight and hotel packages, Kayak can also tell you how much you’ll save by booking the two together over booking them separately.

Bottom line: Kayak almost always found cheaper fares than any the flight services in this list (or at least within a few dollars of the cheapest). On the NYC-Cancun flight, it scored the cheapest flight by far at $398 (compared to $466 and up on other sites), thanks to being the only site that accessed fares from Aeromexico. Its fee calculator for credit card and luggage fees also means you’re most likely to click through to a posted fare.

Skyscanner

Available for Android, iOS, Windows, Kindle and, BlackBerry devices.

Skyscanner is the other search giant offers similar results to Kayak in an equally straightforward interface. It provides a couple of easy tools for filtering out particular features like takeoff times and number of stops. Clicking on a particular flight shows exactly how long the layover is. However, there is little additional information given about flights; for example, there’s no obvious indicator for overly long flights (as most of the other services in this list offer), nor does Skyscanner show in-flight amenities like Wi-Fi.

Bottom line: Skyscanner tended to turn up domestic fares that were roughly the same as Kayak’s, give or take $5 to $10, for flights that cost $300 to $500. It matched the other services for rates to Paris and Sydney but missed finding the cheapest flights to Hong Kong and Rio (despite finding the same airlines).

SeatGuru

Available for Android and iOS devices.

SeatGuru is an airplane seat plan and flight search site, owned by TripAdvisor, offers many intuitive filters for your travel hunt in a simple, quick-to-use interface. Results are displayed in a clean, comprehensive style that allows you to sort based on price and direct flights, filter to “avoid early flights” and weed out pre-8 a.m. departures, and apply a “best value” selector calculated by flight time, cost and number of stops.

Each result displays various flight amenities, such as Wi-Fi, the option to purchase additional legroom and whether the seat pitch is average or good. SeatGuru uses the Expedia database for hotel packages, so you’ll see the odd, ad-like hotel suggestion pop up in the middle of your search results to show you how much you’d save by booking a stay along with your flight.

Bottom line: SeatGuru came up with comparable fares for international routes. For domestic flights, it sometimes turned up the cheapest fares found by the other services (give or take $5), but it was sometimes (Cancun, Austin) pricier by about 10 percent. Its filters for search results make choosing a flight easier than those on Kayak and Skyscanner.

Hipmunk

Available for Android and iOS devices.

The home page of Hipmunk consists of a search box asking where you want to go and when. The real design beauty of Hipmunk is its “agony” rating of the ensuing results. Whereas older sites such as Kayak and Skyscanner leave analyzing its thousands of results to you, the hunter, Hipmunk orders flights by how long they take. Layovers usually push up the agony factor. You can also order flights by price and takeoff or landing times.

When booking flights, the outgoing and return legs are chosen separately, making it much easier to pick the times you want, rather than plowing through the endless list of flight combinations employed by many other sites. Any extra cost incurred by particular flight times is displayed next to the flight, so you can easily scroll to the choices that don’t cost extra.

Bottom line: Hipmunk tended to find the cheapest international fares (that is, as cheap or cheaper than the other services in this list) and around the same prices on domestic fares.

Momondo

Available for Android, iOS and BlackBerry devices.

Momondo is a flight, hotel and car rental booking site that has a brilliantly fast search with intuitive controls. Flights can be ordered by price, speed or “best,” based on an algorithm computing flight duration and cost. There are extra checkboxes for filtering by airline, departure or arrival times and, uniquely, by frequent flier alliances, which is handy if you’re savvy about air miles. Two bar graphs show the rise and fall in price of both outgoing and return flights.

If you can’t quite decide where to go on your next vacation, hit the Trip Finder to find destinations based on what you want to do (city break, shopping, the beach), when you want to do it, a rough area to head for and, most usefully, the budget you have available.

Bottom line: Momondo has excellent coverage of online travel services and airlines and, in our test, it turned up the cheapest flights (either the same cost as the cheapest, or about 2 percent to 4 percent cheaper on both domestic and international). Choosing flights is made easy by a clever set of filters for airlines, flight times and convenience, while the bar graph fare calendar helps flexible travelers pick the cheapest dates.

Google Flights

With the world’s most-used search engine backing it, you’d expect Google Flights to clock a blistering search time, and it does. The interface is reassuringly clean, minimal and Google-y, returning results in about a second — much faster than every other service. At the top of each results list is a tip suggesting how you can fly for less; for example, we could have saved $25 on our $425 New York-LA flight by shifting the week-long trip forward by a day. This change is bookable by simply clicking on the tip. Otherwise, found flights are filtered with “best” flights first, based on flight times and flight duration balanced against cost; it doesn’t always choose the direct or cheapest routes.

Flights can be booked as separate legs with different companies. You can save your itinerary for price alerts on Google Now or share it via email with your travel buddies.

Bottom line: Google Flights scored the same fares for most domestic flights and the longest flight (NY-Sydney), but it turned up pricier flights for Paris, Rio and Hong Kong.

When travel agents come in

For straightforward flights — fly there, come back — most of us can quite easily get the best deals simply by hitting up one flight aggregator site or, in many cases, an airline that flies where we want to go.

But when it comes complex routes like a transcontinental trip in January from New York to Sydney with stops in Singapore and Bangkok, you’re unlikely to get the best price (or airline selection) by simply punching in a multi-city trip and booking it all through an aggregator site. For example, the low-cost airline Scoot that flies direct from Sydney to Singapore didn’t turn up as an option on this route (despite being listed on at least some of the other search engines).

This type of itinerary is where new-gen travel services such as Flightfox make their coin. Unlike traditional travel agents, Flightfox does not take a commission on flight sales. Instead, the company charges customers a flat fee for a human agent to hunt down the best fare for a given itinerary and then send the customer the link to book themselves.

Van der Rohe says he mostly uses the same sites as we might, as well as a few accounts that send extra information about fare availabilities. “What we have is a knowledge of routes, fare rules and loopholes that can lower the cost of itineraries beyond what you might see at first in flight search engines,” he says. (He won’t divulge what these loopholes are, exactly.) He did, however, share a few tips for searching with flight aggregator apps at home.

“There’s a lot to be said for brute force,” he says. Search as many flight combinations, airlines and routes as you can think of across many different sites.

If a flight aggregator site isn’t giving you the price you want, look up an airport’s Wikipedia page and see which airlines fly to it. Then search for fares on these airlines’ pages.

Comb forums such as FlyerTalk and MilePoint, which are bases for travelers to share flights and routes and deals.

Try searching on different days of the week. “Every day and every flight there are certain seats and certain fares, which change all the time,” van der Rohe says. (In the two days since the flights for this article was researched, some fares have dropped.)

If you’re very eager (or a travel manager),subscribe to Expert Flyer, a site aimed at frequent flyers that sends alerts when a particular seat on a flight becomes available. “Sometimes seats right next to each other are different fares,” says van der Rohe.

As for when to book to score those cheapest fares, Kayak research based on a year’s worth of search data found optimal days to leave and return and an optimal window during which to make your booking. For example, you’re likely to find the best airfares to Europe from the United States and Canada by departing on a Wednesday and returning on a Tuesday and booking six months in advance. In contrast, an Asia trip is best booked five weeks in advance, departing and returning on Wednesdays.

At the end of the day, finding the cheapest airfare is best accomplished by grunt work interspersed with anxiety over whether flights are going to get any cheaper. That’s why van der Rohe advises customers that if they see a price they’re happy with, they may as well just book it.

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME How-To

9 Tips for Faster Wi-Fi Streaming

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Start by restarting the router

The cable plan you signed up for promised up to 300Mbps of blistering Internet speed, but reality has proven to be somewhat different. You’re barely topping 25Mbps, Netflix doesn’t work upstairs and by 7 p.m., no one seems to be able to stream anything at all.

It’s quite possible to boost your Wi-Fi speed yourself, although the solution could be as simple as moving your router or as persnickety as switching Wi-Fi frequencies.

“The distance between the router and connecting devices, as well as the number of walls and floors in between, make a big difference,” says Spencer Behroozi, vice president of product management at modem manufacturer Actiontec. While a Wi-Fi signal can travel hundreds of feet in an unobstructed space, walls and floors can cut that distance by half or more.

Your connection speed can also be influenced by your router—how old it is, how good its processor and antenna are, how good it is at picking up wireless signals and how many devices are using it.

In some cases, your connection speed may even come down to your service provider’s preference for certain kinds of traffic. Behroozi says service providers prioritize voice traffic first, then their own video services. For example, Comcast and AT&T prioritize the streaming of their video-on-demand services over Netflix; in fact, Comcast is under fire from its customers for blocking HBO Go streaming on the PS4 console, something it has put down to “business decisions.”

What actions can you take to increase your Wi-Fi performance and get your streaming speed back up to par?

1. Restart the router

The Old Faithful of personal technology issues is often your best bet. According to Behroozi, the IP connection between your device and the router or between the router and Internet can get hung up. “A restart of the router reboots all its systems, including the network processor and wireless radios,” he says.

If your router has a reset button, hold it down for a few seconds. If not, restart it by removing the cable from the power socket, waiting half a minute and then plugging it in again.

2. Move the router

“Most good routers have antennas that try to provide a symmetrical ‘donut‘ of Wi-Fi coverage, so when possible, place the router in an open space centrally located in your house, equidistant from its farthest locations,” Behroozi says.

The materials surrounding the router matter as well. Metal interferes with Wi-Fi signals, while wood does not. According to HowToGeek , positioning the router’s antenna vertically rather than horizontally also increases signal strength.

3. Check to see if other family members are streaming or torrenting

Intensive activities like streaming HD video or filesharing can take its toll on Internet speed. “Routers can support hundreds of devices connecting, but it’s more about what each device is doing online,” Behroozi says. “For example, if someone is using BitTorrent or if everyone is watching Netflix at the same time, this can cause an overall lag in speed.”

Distance from the router is important as well. If four people are streaming video but they’re all close to the router, you may not experience any slowdowns, Behroozi says. So if everyone simply must watch Netflix or play Halo separately and simultaneously, try to move the devices closer to the router with as little wall or floor obstructing the path as possible.

4. Check if your ISP is having a hard time keeping up

One bottleneck is how good the service from your service provider is. “A lot of ISPs oversubscribe, so you can feel the lag in the afternoon when everyone gets home,” Behroozi says.

Test your connection by running a speed test from a site such as SpeedTest.net at different times during the day. “You don’t want it fluctuate too much over the course of a day. The speed should always be at least 80 to 90 percent of what your service provider promises,” Behroozi says. If that’s the case but you’re still not satisfied …

5. Run a ping test

While a speed test gauges the speed possible based on available bandwidth from the service provider, a ping test gauges latency, which is the delay in communication between your computer and a particular website on the Internet. It can tell you how good the quality of your Internet connection is.

Head to PingTest.net, where you’ll receive a ping figure measured in milliseconds. In general, lower numbers are better, but the site also gives you a grade from A to F to show how suitable your connection is for streaming and online gaming.

6. Check to see if you’re on an overcrowded channel

Slow Wi-Fi speeds may be the result of interference from your neighbors’ Wi-Fi networks as all the devices compete to use the same channel.

All routers support the 2.4Ghz frequency, which distributes traffic among a handful of channels. Dual-band routers also support the newer 5GHz frequency, which contains even more channels. That frequency tends to be less congested and therefore usually allows faster connections.

You may be able to increase your speed by switching to a less busy channel, not matter which frequency you’re on. Download a wireless channel analyzer app such as Wifi Analyzer for Android (no equivalent for non-jailbroken iPhones) or a desktop program such as NirSoft’s Wi-FiInfoView for Windows. Macs have the tool built in; hit Option and tap the wireless icon in your top toolbar, then click Open Network Diagnostics.These programs show each channel on each Wi-Fi frequency and which ones nearby networks are using.

7. Switch to a different channel

If you discover you’re on an especially crowded channel, you can manually change it. Type your router’s IP address into your web browser. (The IP address is usually on the back of the router, or you can google your router’s model.) You’ll be prompted to enter your username and password, after which you can click through to Wi-Fi settings and select the channel recommended by your Wi-Fi analyzer program.

8. Check for interference from a nearby cordless device

Baby monitors, older cordless phones, microwave ovens and wireless speakers are just some of the common household gadgets that also use the 2.4Ghz frequency. These can interfere with the wireless signal from your router.

Deal with the conflict by moving the router away from these devices and ensuring that no devices that could potentially interfere lie in a straight line between your router and the gadget you’re trying to get online with.

9. Get a wireless signal extender

“When you start looking at homes larger than 3,000 square feet, getting good Wi-Fi signal from one corner to another can be a challenge,” Behroozi says. Multistory houses pose an obstacle as well, if the router isn’t plugged into the broadband line somewhere in the middle.

In these cases, you could benefit from using a wireless extender. A signal extender plugs into any mains socket to rebroadcast and boost your Wi-Fi signal to those hard-to-reach places.

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Smartphones

How You Can Block Calls and Texts on Your Smartphone

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Applicable for Androids and iPhones

No one enjoys cell phone spam, especially aggressive telemarketing calls and texts while you’re on the go. Though you can list your cell phone number on the Do Not Call Registry, that doesn’t stop telemarketing text messages or even all phone calls in our experience.

If you’re tired of these nuisances, you have options. You can use the following apps and features built into your phone to help cut down on spam.

For Android smartphones

If your phone is updated to Android 4.4 KitKat or later (check Settings > About Phone to check which Android version your device is running) there are some built-in features that identify incoming calls. Caller ID by Google will match incoming calls with Google Places listing and display that name on the call screen for you. Unfortunately, this is highly dependent on the company being listed in Google’s business directory.

If you’re getting nuisance calls from the same number, you can block it from the call log. Select the number you want to block and when you see the details for the caller, hit the menu button. There you’ll find the option to “Add to reject list.” You can manage your call reject list, including adding contacts or numbers, under settings >> call >> call reject >> auto reject list.

For earlier versions of Android, your options vary somewhat by manufacturer. When you get a spam call, open the call log and press and hold the number you want to block. While you’re holding, a menu will pop up letting you add that number to your contacts or block it. Samsung calls it “add to reject list,” HTC calls it “block contact”—you get the idea. On LG models, you can go into system >> call >> call reject >> and then use the + to add numbers from your recent calls.

If you have Android 4.2.2 you can also opt to send all calls from a specific contact directly to voicemail. Once you get a call, make a contact out of that incoming number. Then view that contact (the People widget) and tap on the menu to see the option “All calls to voicemail.”

If your version of Android doesn’t have what you need, check out one of these apps that specialize in dealing with annoying calls in different ways.

Best for blocking spam: Mr. Number

Mr. Number lets you block calls and texts from specific numbers or specific area codes, and it can automatically block private or unknown numbers. It also lets users report spam, so when you get a call from an unknown number, you can see what others have reported about it.

When a blocked number tries to call, your phone may ring once, though usually not at all, and then the call is either disconnected or sent to voicemail, based on how you want the call handled.

Price: Free at Google Play (reverse lookups for a fee)

Best for Identifying Calls: Truecaller

While Mr. Number focuses on blocking calls and texts, Truecaller focuses on identifying who’s trying to get in touch.

Truecaller provides caller ID information and reverse lookup data for incoming calls and texts — and all this info means that Truecaller knows who spammers are and lets you block them before they start bothering you.

The app makers maintain a database of spam callers and telemarketers and will automatically flag incoming calls as such. This database comes from both white and yellow pages services as well as crowdsourced from the Truecaller community. And, it’s proven effective in screening out the One Ring Phone Scam calls.

Truecaller will ask to add your list of contacts to its database, but this is purely optional. You will have to verify your number with Truecaller before being able to use the service.

Price: Free at Google Play

For iPhones

iOS 8 has built-in options for blocking numbers.

Go to the Contacts app and tap on the contact you want to block or find the number on the Recent Calls tab (clock icon) on your Phone app and tap the circled “i” icon to the right of the number. Both these methods will take you to the contact page for that caller. Scroll to the bottom and click on the Block This Caller.

But what about identifying incoming calls or texts as spam?

For that you can rely on Truecaller listed above in the Android section. It also has an iPhone version that will identify incoming calls against their extensive list of telemarketers and spammers.

Price: Free on iTunes

Other blocking options

If you don’t find any built-in features or apps to your liking, your carrier might offer blocking options (although they could come at a cost).

  • AT&T users should look for Smart Limits, a parental control feature that lets you block calls and texts for $4.99 per month.
  • Sprint users can set up call blocking from My Sprint.
  • Verizon users can block five numbers for free or pay $4.99 a month for more blocking options.
  • T-Mobile offers the fewest features here, though you can block all text messages or contact support about potentially blocking specific numbers.

Finally, try filtering by using a Google Voice number as your primary means of contact. Google Voice offers great spam filtering options with a database of known spam numbers, and it can automatically block potential spam. You can port an existing number to Google Voice for a $20 fee to enjoy first-class call filtering options no matter what kind of phone you’re using. This method works for both iPhones and Android smartphones.

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Smartphones

These Are the 15 Most Useful iPhone and Android Voice Commands

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You can get the answer to virtually any question

I’ll be honest: Even though I’m supposed to be a technology expert, I’ve long resisted using Siri and my smartphone’s voice commands. For the longest time, voice recognition on phones just wasn’t that good. All the errors were frustrating and often seemed to eat up more time than just typing in commands and opening up apps manually.

These days, though, I’ve found myself using Siri more often. Speech recognition has gotten a lot better, and Siri has gotten a lot smarter and more powerful. You can do virtually anything via your phone’s voice commands, from posting to Twitter to finding the best pizza pie to figuring out just how deep 20,000 leagues really is.

Not sure how to get the most out of your phone just by speaking to it? No worries – those of us here at Techlicious have put together this guide of the 15 most useful phone voice commands for iOS and Android. Take a look and give some of these a try – I really can’t rave enough about how useful and easy these commands are.

How Voice Commands Work

In general, Apple iPhone owners will want to issue voice commands through Siri (hold the home button); Google Android users should use Google Now (via the Google app) and tap the microphone icon. You can place a Google app widget on your home screen or, if your Android phone has a home key button, download the Home2 Shortcut app (free on Google Play) and configure your home button to launch Google Now with a double tap (Samsung owners may have to go to S Voice > Menu > Settings, and uncheck the second option to launch with the Home button.). iPhone owners can also download and use Google Now via the Google app for voice commands too, but Siri is more convenient.

Most commands can be issued in plain English, as if you were asking your friend to do something for you. Want to make a phone call? Then access Siri or Google Now and tell your phone you want to make a phone call. If your phone needs more information, it’ll ask for it.

Make a call

Okay, so we’ve already covered the basics – to make a hands free call, tell your phone you want to make a call. You can tell your phone to call a specific contact (“call Dr. Leo Spaceman,” “call mom”) or dial a specific number (“call 800-555-1234”). If you have multiple numbers for a contact in your phone, you can specify which you’d like to call: “call mom mobile” or “call mom home.” Easy!

Sending a text via voice command on iOS

Send a text

If you tell your phone to text a contact, it will follow up step-by-step by asking who and what you’d like to text. Or, you can just get it all out at once by saying, “text Dan, Did the contractor arrive yet?” Don’t worry if you flub a word or two – you’ll be able to correct your message if you mess something up (or if your phone mishears). You can add punctuation to your text by dictating it – just say “comma,” “period,” “exclamation mark” and the like when you want one entered into your message.

Send an email

Sending an email is simple, too – just tell your phone you’d like to send an email. It will follow up by prompting you for the recipient, subject and body in a step-by-step manner. Or, to save some time, give all the information to your phone at once: “email Anne, subject: Meeting, message: Can we reschedule our meeting for 3PM?” Note that for this to work smoothly, you’ll need to save people’s email addresses in your phone’s contacts.

Set a timer/alarm

Once you learn to set timers on your phone, you’ll never burn the roast again. Just tell your phone to “set a timer for 20 minutes,” and the countdown will start immediately. Or, you can request to set an alarm for a specific time in the next 24 hours instead – say “set alarm for 1PM.” If you’d like to set an alert further in the future than that, you’ll need to set it up as a reminder instead.

Google Now reminder

Set a reminder based on place or time

Want your phone to remind you to call your mother when you get home from work? You can tell your phone to “add reminder to call mom when I get home” and it’ll add the item to your list. The reminder will trigger for any address you have set up in your address book, including your home address. You can also add a specific date and time to the reminder – “add reminder to buy milk tomorrow at 5PM.”

Schedule a calendar entry

You can add an event to your calendar simply by giving your phone information about it. Say, “schedule meeting with Anne for 3PM” or “add trip to Canada to calendar for June 18 at 8AM” and your phone will know what to do. If you don’t provide enough information, as always, your phone will prompt you for more.

Launch an app

Don’t know where you misplaced your favorite app, or simply want to launch Google Maps without searching for it? Just tell your phone to “launch [app name here],” and your phone will quickly obey.

Siri Voice Activated sports score (NJ Devils)

Get sports scores and stats

Are you out and about, missing the game? Just ask your phone how it’s going – for example, “what’s the New Jersey Devils’ score” – and it’ll tell you the results of the current or most recent game. (Good news! They won 3 to 1 on Saturday!) You can also ask for statistics like “what’s the New Jersey Devils’ record?” or “how many passing yards did Tom Brady have last season?”

Play music

To play a song that you’ve downloaded to your phone, just ask your device to play it, e.g., “play Edge of Seventeen.” You can also request your phone play a specific artist, album or playlist by name.

ID a song that’s playing

Have you ever wanted to know the name of a great new song playing over the radio or the speakers at the gym? Simply ask your phone “What’s this song?” and point the receiver end toward the source. If the song is loud and clear enough for your phone to hear, it’ll be able to identify its name, artist and more.

Get movie show times

You can ask your phone, “what movies are playing near me tomorrow at 2PM?” to get a list of films, parental guidance ratings, reviews and times that meet your query at nearby theaters. You can also search for specific movies, specific actors or simply for “best rated movies playing near me.”

Post to social media

If you’ve chosen to integrate your phone with your Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus accounts, it’s an absolute breeze to post to social media via voice commands. Just tell your phone to “post to Facebook” and then the message you’d like to share as a status update. You can even ask your phone to tell you what’s trending on Twitter.

Voice activated weather forecast on iOS

Check the weather conditions anywhere

If you request the weather forecast, your phone will tell you current and future conditions based on your current GPS location. Or, you can ask how the weather is in Las Vegas, Paris, or Istanbul. And if you’re as worried about the next cold snap and snowfall as those of us in the Northeast are, you can ask your phone “Is snow in the forecast for this week?” or “Is it windy right now?”

Search the web

Sure, you already know to get all your technology news and reviews here on Techlicious. But if you need to access content elsewhere on the web, just ask Siri or Google to perform a web search for you. “Search the web for delicious candy,” Siri! Hurry! I’m hungry.

Get the answer to virtually any question

Who’s the governor of Utah? How tall is the Statue of Liberty? How many inches are in 20 centimeters? Your phone can answer all these fact-based queries and more – all you need to do is ask your question in plain English. If your phone can’t determine the exact answer, it will search the web for you to help find an answer. You can even ask, “What does the Fox say?” This is a really powerful feature, so give it a try!

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TIME Gadgets

How to Get Bluetooth to Actually Work

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What to do when you just can't get your tech to connect

Back in the mid-90s when Bluetooth launched, few us would have considered someday using our portable phones to play music through a miniature speaker on the other side of a room. Nowadays, laptops, smartphones and tablets use this wireless technology to connect to a vast range of devices — from speakers, keyboards and headsets to in-car entertainment systems, smart-home devices and personal fitness gadgets.

Or at least they’re meant to connect. The last time I tried to pair my iPhone 5S to a Beacon portable speaker, my phone simply did not “discover” the speaker. On the other hand, a friend’s Samsung Galaxy S4 instantly paired, pushing out sweet, sweet music in short order.

While the most recent updates to Bluetooth technology have added better pairing, increased range and lowest-ever power usage, you may still encounter the odd obstacle when getting set up.

Troubleshoot your Bluetooth connection with these tips and let us know how they work for you in the comments.

Make sure you’re in pairing mode

Many simpler devices such as headsets or portable speakers have one button for multiple functions. For example, my portable speaker has one button that you short-press to turn on it on or off, and long-press to activate its Bluetooth discovery mode.

Make sure you’ve correctly put your device in its pairing mode by reading its manual, suggests Mark Powell, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), which oversees the development of the Bluetooth standard.

Charge up both the devices you’re trying to pair

“Some devices have smart power management that may turn off Bluetooth if the battery level is too low,” Powell says. If your phone isn’t pairing with that Bluetooth light bulb, make sure it’s got enough juice.

Power down likely interferers

Say that faithful Bluetooth speaker usually connects to your partner’s smartphone instead of yours. If you’re having trouble pairing your phone with the speaker, it could be because the speaker is trying to activate its usual connection. “Some older devices are very simple. They just try to connect with the last thing they paired with,” Powell says. If a Bluetooth device was previously paired with something else, turn off that other gadget.

Restart the connection

The old standby for problematic Macs and PCs works with reluctant Bluetooth connections, too. Sometimes the quickest solution is simply to turn Bluetooth off for both devices, then turn it on again for the devices to re-discover each other.

Place the devices right next to each other

“Pairing works best when the devices are next to each other,” Powell says. Once you’ve got the connection, Bluetooth is robust enough to transmit between devices that may be more than 30 feet apart, but the initial pairing can sometimes use a nudge.

Get away from the Wi-Fi router

Another potential obstacle to successful pairing is interference from devices that use the same spectrum, such as your Wi-Fi router. “Wi-Fi has been designed to cope with this, but it might not be a good idea to have your devices directly on top of the router,” Powell says.

And move away from a USB 3.0 port

“Interference from USB 3.0 is also possible,” Powell says. Newer laptops, for example, often have the higher-speed USB 3.0 port, so if the connection isn’t happening, try pairing your Bluetooth gadgets away from the computer.

Download a driver

In the computer world, a driver is a piece of software that lets two pieces of hardware communicate. If your PC or Mac refuses to pair with your new wireless keyboard (or other device), you may be missing the necessary driver. Head to the manufacturer’s website and find its Support section. There’s usually an area called “Downloads” or “Drivers” that should list the latest software updates, including drivers. Alternately, do a Google search for “driver” after your device’s model name.

Use the latest version of Bluetooth

Wireless speakers and headphones that support the latest Bluetooth 4.1 standard, which launched last December, are better at pairing, Powell says. Many currently available devices support Bluetooth 3.0, which launched in 2010, and you can still buy speakers that use 2007’s Bluetooth 2.1 standard. Though Bluetooth’s backward compatibility means that these devices should still be able to connect to smartphones, for example, newer versions of Bluetooth have steadily increased abilities such as longer-range connections and quicker pairing.

If you’re in the market for a new Bluetooth gadget, look for a sticker that says it supports Bluetooth 4.0 or newer. And if you can wait a bit, Bluetooth 4.2 was announced this December, so devices that support the update – with features including more secure connections and better pairing — should be available soon.

If pairing a fitness gadget, check that your phone is Bluetooth Smart Ready

In general, Bluetooth is backwards compatible: Bluetooth devices supporting the just-announced Bluetooth 4.2 standard should still be able to pair with devices using, say, the ancient Bluetooth 2.1, launched back in 2007.

The exceptions are gadgets that use a low-energy version called Bluetooth Smart, which works on a different protocol than older, or “Classic” Bluetooth devices. Bluetooth Smart devices are not backward compatible and won’t recognize (or pair with) older devices that support Classic Bluetooth. (For example, an old Sony Ericsson phone sporting Bluetooth 3.0 won’t be able to connect to a Bluetooth Smart device.)

However, if a device supports Bluetooth 4.0, it can potentially recognize both Bluetooth Smart and Classic. If it does, it’s officially labelled Bluetooth Smart Ready.

Gadgets that commonly use Bluetooth Smart include personal health gadgets such as fitness bands or heart-rate monitors. These gadgets will only pair with a smartphone or tablet that also uses Bluetooth Smart – or are Bluetooth Smart Ready.

iPhones running iOS 7 and newer should be Bluetooth Smart Ready as should Android phones running 4.3 or newer, Windows Phone 8.1 devices, and all BlackBerry 10 devices. Ensure your phone is running the latest version of its operating system – but if your device isn’t new enough to run relatively current software, you may not be able to pair it with that fitness band.

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME computer

How to Clean Out and Organize Your Computer

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Follow these tips for a lean, mean processing machine

If you haven’t been organizing and discarding files as you go, it’s likely your hard drive is stuffed with downloads, unwanted photos, file copies and other digital dust bunnies. This can reveal itself in slower performance, that unsettling humming noise, and the Mac’s dreaded spinning wheel or Windows’ inverting hourglass.

You may even have, like me, taken advantage of the Mac’s awesome Migration Assistant to shift all your documents, files and settings from one Mac to another — only you now have duplicate Downloads and Documents folders in different destinations, causing bafflement every time a file is saved.

Deep cleaning your computer of unwanted files and streamlining your folder system can not only free up storage space, but improve your computer’s performance. From decluttering tips to apps that do your organizing for you, here’s how to spruce up your computer and make sure it stays that way.

1. Cleaning

Find duplicate files

You’d be surprised how much storage is used up by duplicate files, whether they’re files you saved twice to different locations or multiple downloads of the same file. If you buy music on iTunes, you may have a few gigabytes of duplicate songs from, say, buying a greatest-hits album that contains tracks you already own.

The easiest way to find those superfluous files is to download a third-party app that will scan your folders for duplicate content, then let you review the dupes to decide if the extras should be deleted.

Mac: Head to the App Store on your computer and search for “duplicate cleaner.” We like Duplicate Detective ($2.99), a simple app with a straightforward interface for hunting down duplicates. Duplicate Cleaner For iPhoto (free for a limited time) is an easy to use app for zapping double images, even if they’ve been edited.

If you fancy doing it manually, you can also click All My Files, order the files by sealecting Name from the drop down sorting icon, then scan for files that have the same name. However, this method is less effective if you’ve saved the same file under different names.

Windows: There are quite a few good options for free duplicate zappers for Windows, so we’ll skate over the manual method, and recommend Duplicate Cleaner (free) and DupeGuru (free), which comes in three versions: regular, a Music edition and a Pictures edition that can find duplicate songs and images even if the files are coded differently. For example, if you have the same music track at different bitrates, or if a picture has been resized or slightly edited, DupeGuru will flag it and let you decide which to keep.

Clear your system’s cache

The processes your computer runs through when you use files or programs creates tons of tiny, temporary files that help it retrieve the information you’re need faster. Clearing your computer of all these can often help speed up its performance.

Mac: Start with Disk Utility (Applications > Utilities), and hit First Aid > Repair to scan and patch up your hard drive. Next, search for “Mac cleaner” apps on the App Store, such as Dr. Cleaner, to clear your computer’s cache of temporary files from browsers and other programs. Dr. Cleaner found 12.89GB out of my meager 140GB storage that could be reclaimed, with 12.82GB coming from application-cached files. This app also gives you to option to clear your Downloads folder, but unless you have a clever structure in place to automatically save important downloads (see the final section for relevant tips), don’t check that box just yet.

Windows: For Windows 8, head to the Control Panel and find Disk Clean-up. If you’re on older versions of Windows, find it in System Tools. You can then start cleanup for temporary and system files that are no longer needed.

Clear the downloads folder of unnecessary files

The Downloads folder can be expunged of detritus such as PDFs of old plane tickets, GIFs and humorous cat pics from emails, torrent links to files you now have, .dmg (Mac) or .exe (Windows) installers of apps you now have, and so on.

Mac and Windows: Open the Downloads folder, and view its contents by file type, then go through each category and drag the unneeded files to the Trash (Mac) or Recycle Bin (Windows).

Leave the documents, photos, music and videos for now. They can be dealt with when you’re ready to start sorting the files you want to keep (see the next section).

Delete applications

Mac: You can delete unused programs by dragging them from the Applications folder into the Trash. This deletes most files associated with the app, such as data generated, but not preference files and support files. Preference files contain info about your settings in the app and are usually only a few kilobytes, while application support files can range from kilobytes to gigabytes when it comes to large media apps such as DVD Studio Pro or GarageBand.

To delete these, head to Finder, click on Macintosh HD (or Home) > Library > Application Support, where the files will be listed by app. You may even find some old files from apps you’d thought you were totally rid of. Dump them in the trash by dragging and dropping. Be careful in here: only delete files from apps you know you deleted, otherwise you may end up deleting crucial files from, say, Microsoft, which makes the Silverlight video plugin you probably use regardless of whether you have any Microsoft programs. Alternately, try out AppZapper, which lets you delete five apps and all their associated files for free; after that it costs $12.95.

Windows: Windows PCs have a pretty spiffy uninstall feature that removes everything associated with an app, so on all versions of Windows, head to Control Panel > Programs and Features, select a program and select uninstall.

Although some programs may leave behind settings info in the registry, a database of configuration settings, the data is minimal and Microsoft recommends not modifying the registry unless you really know what you’re doing.

Defrag? Still?

In the long-ago times of early 2000s computing, most of us incorporated disk defragmentation into our cleaning rituals. Disk fragmentation occurs as a file system loses its ability to keep related data together, causing the hard drive to work harder to bring up data related to current tasks, thus slowing down performance.

In general, Mac computers don’t need to be defragged, especially newer Mac laptops that have solid state drives (SSD), use a different method of maintaining data. Windows 8 automatically runs a disk defrag (now called disk optimization) on a weekly schedule.

If you want to hasten a defrag (or optimization), Windows support has the lowdown for Windows 8 computers as well as PCs running Windows 7 or older.

Zap spyware and trackers

It’s possible that in the course of your internet browsing, you acquired some trackers, spyware or even minor viruses (unless, of course, you have been using up-to-date security software). Even so, malware is an ever-evolving beast, so it’s a good idea to run a scan of your system with an anti-malware program such as Avira Free (Mac/PC), which scans for viruses, trojans, trackers and other malware.

Finishing touches

Mac: In Finder, if your Favorites column contains links to unused folders, delete them by right-clicking and selecting “Remove from Sidebar.” And don’t be afraid to remove applications from your Dock unless you really need daily access to them. Just close the app first, then hold on its icon in the Dock, and drag it to the Trash.

Windows: Minimize the number of programs that get to be in the Start Screen (Windows 8) or Start Menu (Windows 7) by right-clicking the unwanted app, and selecting “Unpin from Start Menu.”

2. Sorting

Now that we’ve cleaned things up a bit, we can get down to gathering all files of a type.

Merge duplicate folders

If you have two folders with the same name and they should really be the same folder — say, two “Invoices” folders squirreled away in different parent folders (or in my case, two of every important folder) — you can manually merge them.

Mac and Windows: Choose which folder will be the one you use henceforth, then select all the files from the other folder and drag or Copy/Cut+Paste into the desired folder. If files have the same name – either because you saved twice to different locations, or simply because you accidentally named different things the same – select to “Keep Both” and sort out the naming later.

Find a home for photos

First, identify where all your pictures might be – for example, the Downloads folder if you often download from email or Facebook; folders for imports from phones and digital cameras; or a cloud storage service such as Google+ or iCloud where they may have auto-synced from your smartphone.

If you use an iPhone and a Mac, assuming you’re on iOS 7 or newer, your photos will be synced to Photo Stream and viewable on iPhoto on the Mac.

If you use an iPhone and a Windows PC, Apple’s My Photo Stream automatically downloads the most recent photos to your PC, viewable in C:\\Users\[user name]\Pictures\iCloud Photos\My Photo Stream. Make sure you have iCloud installed and that Photo Stream is turned on in Settings > iCloud > Photos.

If you use an Android phone, your photos may be auto-synced to your Google+ account (on the phone, open the Photos app > Settings > Auto-backup toggle), or you can import them via USB connection to a folder on your computer.

Mac and Windows: Next, create the master collection of photos. You may want to simply download all photos from, say, Photo Stream or Google+ to your computer, but with digital cameras allowing infinite shots of the same scenes, this can quickly fill up your hard drive.

Instead, consider purchasing an external hard drive specially for photos, then transferring photos from your phone and digital camera into the hard drive, followed by moving any other photos on hard drive folders into the external photos-only drive.

Alternately, a cloud storage service for your photos can be a handy means of ensuring a backup even if your devices are lost or damaged. Our list of the best photo-sharing (and storing) sites includes ThisLife, which pulls together pictures from your social media accounts, including Facebook and Instagram, and allows uploads from your hard drive too.

Move all your documents to the Documents folder

Sounds obvious, but I have docs floating on my Mac desktop, in my Users folder and in Downloads. Comb each folder for documents then move them to their rightful home via copy/cut and paste.

Move all songs to the Music folder and all video to the Movies/Videos folder

There are a finite number of file types you use on your computer, and both Macs and Windows PCs come with predefined folders for them: Documents, Movies (Videos in Windows), Music, Pictures. Sort each file type into its appropriate “master” folder, and further sort the files into sub-folders later.

Alternatively…

Sorting your files manually is simple, albeit potentially time-consuming, but if you feel like taking a crack at creating some software rules to automatically organize photos, music, documents and videos across all your folders – and keep them organized — check out the next section for Mac and Windows apps that do just that.

3. Getting Organized

Now that you’re free of all digital flotsam, the next step is to build a folder system that will allow you to save files where they should go and incorporate an intuitive naming system so that when you forget where you put things, it’s not so hard to find them again.

Make a nest

…of folders and sub-folders. Take Documents: within this master folder, create sub-folders for major categories. For example, Work and Personal, or more specific folders such as Invoices, House Budget, or Ideas. Browse your Documents folder to get an idea of the types of files you’ve built up, then create the folders-within-folders you need.

Make sure to download new files to the Downloads folder

Then implement a regular Downloads cleaning schedule where you manually sort files into Documents, Movies, Music, or Pictures. If you have a bit of time to invest in building simple software rules, you can also check out a couple of apps that automate the process.

Organize new files as they arrive

Mac: Hazel is an intuitive, easy to use app for monitoring and auto-sorting any folder on your Mac. Setting up rules is extremely simple in an interface with drop-down options for each aspect of a rule (see screenshot). For example, when setting up a rule for moving music files out of downloads, instead of needing to specify file extensions (of which there may be several), you can simply select “Image” as a file type. You specify which folders that your rules apply to at the start of setting up each rule and then Hazel works in the background, popping up notifications when it moves files. It’s $29, with a 14-day free trial and works on Mac OS X 10.7 or newer.

Windows: DropIt is a free, open-source app that allows you to set up rules for what to do with particular file types so that you can, for example, dictate that all .jpg files are to be moved to Pictures. To zing that rule to the Downloads folder, you can add a monitoring option so that DropIt scans Downloads for new files to apply the rule to. Other actions include copying, compressing, as well as extracting – handy to apply to downloaded .zip image or music packs that you want unzipped straight into the correct folder. Setting up a rule is a straightforward process: name the rule, select the file type, pick the action from a drop-down menu, then type in the destination folder the file should be sent to afterwards — for example: C:\Users\[Your Name]\Pictures.

A similar app with a more novice-friendly interface is File Juggler, which costs $25 and features a 30-day free trial.

Back up efficiently

Setting up a backup system is crucial. Better yet, it’s a system you’ve taken the time to automate so that in the event of a computer crash or data loss, your most valuable documents will still be safe. For example, a cloud storage service such as Google Drive or Dropbox is handy for automatically backing up smaller files.

When you sign up for a cloud storage service, it will create a folder on your computer that constantly syncs to the cloud so that anything in the folder is saved online as well as on your computer. You might want to save all insurance applications or a long-term project to the cloud-synced folder. Depending how much storage you have, you may want to save special photos. Amazon Prime subscribers, for example, get unlimited storage for full-resolution photos. Check out our feature on cloud storage services to see what works best for you.

If you’re backing up larger media files, such as songs or videos, you can purchase external hard drives with 1TB or more of storage (A terabyte is 1000GB, which can hold up to 250,000 photos or 1,000 HD movies). LaCie and Western Digital both offer 1TB Wi-Fi drives for $179.99, and non-Wi-Fi versions for $99.99 and $64.99, respectively.

Wi-Fi-connected models allow you to send and back up files from your smartphone as well. Some, like the Western Digital My Cloud external drive, offer 2TB to 6TB (starting at $149) of storage in a personal cloud, accessible from other connected devices and handy for creating two backups – one in the cloud, one on the drive itself.

The ultimate folder nest? Save long-term projects and other crucial files to a cloud-synced folder on your Wi-Fi hard drive for one-click multiple backups of your work that won’t crash even if your computer does.

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TIME Security

This Is the Best PC Security Software You Can Buy

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Bitdefender Bitdefender Total Security 2015

Bitdefender Total Security 2015 tops the list

Security software should ideally be easy to use and should detect and remove every piece of malware — all without slowing your computer down or sounding false alarms. It should also tackle all these tasks without disturbing you with constant update notifications.

The reality is that perfect antivirus software doesn’t exist yet. In fact, the recent cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment confirms that. The FBI said the attack “appears to have been conducted using techniques that went undetected by industry standard antivirus software,” according to USA Today.

But that doesn’t mean the industry stops trying to provide consumers with the best security solutions. After all, even antivirus software that may not protect you against every single threat out there is better than going completely unprotected altogether.

We analyzed the best free and paid security software for Windows-based computers that closely matched the “ideal” solution, calculating test results from independent security experts, consumer sites, and technology specialists. Paid software had to not only meet top security ratings, but it had to cost less than $100 per year, be marketed for personal computers, and offer coverage for multiple PCs. And for freeware, we wanted something that had equally strong ratings, was easy to use, and offered a little something extra over the other freebies out there.

Here are our picks.

Best Paid Antivirus Product: Bitdefender Total Security 2015

Today, all of the best security suites offer strong protection against malware, trojans, and viruses while minimally slowing down your machine. They block or warn you about malicious websites and downloaded files, and safely quarantine items that can potentially wreak havoc on your PC. Many offer parental control features that track the activities of underage users and block unseemly URLs. And even consumers’ shopping habits aren’t ignored, as many top products store your login credentials and payment information so you can virtually shop ’til you drop without entering your credit card number umpteen times.

Overall, some paid products implement these features better than others, and in our findings, Bitdefender Total Security 2015 outperformed the rest. It offers some seriously strong security protection in an easy-to-use interface, all without slowing down your machine.

Testing

While independent anti-malware research lab AV-TEST hasn’t evaluated Bitdefender Total Security 2015, it has reviewed Bitdefender Internet Security 2015, which uses the same antivirus technology (minus some additional features, like anti-theft protection and online storage). In AV-TEST’s reviews, Bitdefender Internet Security 2015 obtained perfect marks for protection and performance, meaning it protected against malicious software 100% of the time and never slowed down the computer (on average, security software slowed things down by four seconds). And while Bitdefender never erroneously detected a website as suspicious, it did once falsely detect legitimate software as malware during system scans, placing it well below the industry average of nine false positives.

In PCMag’s tests, Bitdefender Total Security 2015 scored 4.5/5 in both antivirus protection and overall, earning it an “excellent” rating and an editor’s choice award. (For comparison, AVG Internet Security 2015 scored 3.5/5 and Norton 360 scored 4/5 in antivirus protection.)

When tested by AV-Comparatives, another independent testing group, Bitdefender again fared well. It was one of three paid consumer products — AVG Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security being the other two — that never wrongly blocked any programs. While Bitdefender ranks similarly with other top brands, it moves ahead of the pack because it costs less and subscriptions cover multiple PCs. (AVG Internet Security is $54.99 for just one PC, while Bitdefender Total Security and Internet Security are $89.95 and $79.95 for three PCs, respectively.)

Features

The web-based MyBitdefender Dashboard is the central control for all Bitdefender-registered devices, letting you scan and fix security issues remotely. You can even track your lost or stolen laptop, tablet or phone, locking or wiping missing devices using the Anti-Theft dashboard feature. Many competitors, like Avast, Kaspersky, and Panda offer anti-theft features, but they’re designed for recovering Android phones and tablets, not PCs. With Bitdefender, however, even your PC is recoverable.

There’s a weekly security report that provides a snapshot of the total number of issues fixed to date, while the updated security widget on your desktop tracks your security-related tasks in real time and sends notifications to your PC about the latest events reported by Bitdefender. And if you want to quickly scan a file or folder, you can simply drag-and-drop it into the widget. This quick option is great for when you don’t want to spend the time to open your security suite, search for the file, and scan it like with other programs.

Bitdefender’s handy Vulnerability Scanner takes the guesswork out of keeping up with the latest security patches or wondering if your password is weak. The feature regularly scans your computer for possible vulnerabilities, indicating the number of risks posed by outdated apps, weak passwords, or missing security patches. The report will also offer recommendations and solutions for each vulnerability.

While other products like McAfee Antivirus Plus also have a vulnerability scanners, it’s hard to find a program that scans the strength of your passwords like Bitdefender does. Generally, consumer security suites just offer password management tools that save your login information for various sites. For instance, Kaspersky’s free version of its Password Manager offering does store login credentials and can even generate stronger passwords, but it’s not designed to evaluate the passwords you already have. So if you want both a vulnerability scanner and a password evaluator, then Bitdefender is the way to go when it comes to preventing threats that could arise thanks to outdated software or poor passwords.

Threats that don’t originate from your PC are extinguished by Bitdefender as well. Viruses can covertly enter your PC via flash drives, for instance, but Bitdefender wards off such threats with its USB Immunizer, a feature that prevents auto-run malware from launching on your PC from a connected drive or memory card.

Additional features include a virtual file shredder that ensures no traces of your deleted files remain on your PC, a two-way firewall that protects you even over Wi-Fi networks, and file encryption to secure your confidential files in an encrypted vault. There’s also a top-rated anti-phishing feature that blocks malicious websites; PCMag ranked it highly because it outperformed Norton 360 (anti-phishing tools traditionally never come close to Norton’s accuracy, but Bitdefender scored five percentage points better than Norton, according to PCMag).

System speed

If you’re noticing your PC is acting sluggish, you can speed things up with Bitdefender’s OneClick Optimizer feature. OneClick will analyze your machine for disk, registry, and privacy issues, and then start the optimization process, which includes disk cleanup (removing Windows junk files, like Windows cache), registry cleanup (removing corrupt registry entries) and privacy cleanup (clearing your download history, temporary files, and more).

There’s also the new Startup Optimizer feature, which minimizes boot time by managing programs that launch at startup. Norton 360’s Startup Manager is similar, although Bitdefender’s version is better because it actively monitors how long it takes your device to start and how much time it takes each program to launch. To fully optimize your PC’s performance, you can enable the Bitdefender Profiles feature, which ensures that your PC performs its best based on a particular type of activity. You can choose — or let the software auto-detect — work, movie, and game modes, for instance, preventing popups or system updates from happening. While other security suites offer similar use-based optimization, it’s typically limited to gamer mode and often must be manually enabled.

Speaking of interruptions, some of the most common security product annoyances are the repetitive alerts. Bitdefender brought the Autopilot feature — which makes optimal security-related decisions without interrupting you — back from last year’s lineup and enhanced it for Total Security 2015. That means no more pop-ups and nothing to configure. If there’s a critical function disabled, such as the Bitdefender two-way firewall, Autopilot will fix it.

Online safety

For those who like to shop online, Bitdefender’s password-protected Wallet feature is a secure solution for storing your credit card details and important passwords, automatically filling in the pertinent fields as you browse and storing your credentials for new sites on the fly.

Bitdefender’s lineup also includes a fraud-warning feature that will alert you if Google and Bing search results or Facebook links are unsafe before you click on them, and will block access to infected links you accidentally click. AV-TEST found that sister product Bitdefender Internet Security 2015 — which uses the same technology — never wrongly detected a website as suspicious.

Parental controls

If you have little ones accessing the Internet, you can take advantage of the advanced parental controls settings that block inappropriate content, limit access based on hours you set, and even let you monitor their location, online activity, text messages, and calls when paired with the Parental Control app for Android. You can access your control settings online from your MyBitdefender account, which is a nice touch.

Similar to too-basic password management, other security systems can come saddled with flawed parental controls. For example, Trend Micro has a very basic parental control system that just that filters web content and offers time scheduling. To match the more advanced controls you get with Bitdefender, you’d have to install additional software. PCMag reports that once Trend Micro’s Online Guardian for Families is installed, it’s still riddled with flaws. For example, Online Guardian doesn’t run independent of web browsers, so if a child accesses the Internet via an off-brand browser, they’ll be able to view any web page they want, regardless of the limitations you set.

However, a real competitor to Bitdefender’s parental control features is AVG Family Safety, which is browser-independent. PCMag points out that AVG’s feature can even let older children with an approved password override site blocking so they can access sites that may be deemed inappropriate for their younger siblings. AVG Family Safety is actually a separate feature that costs an additional $49.99 per year for three computers, though. At that price, it’s more cost effective to opt for a full suite with robust parental control features, like Bitdefender.

Overall

Bitdefender Total Security 2015 is overflowing with features. It runs fast and light, and sports a straightforward interface that ties nicely into online controls accessed in the MyBitdefender hub. And most importantly, it’s a high-quality protection suite at a fraction of the cost of its competitors.

Bitdefender Total Security 2015 costs $89.95 for a one-year subscription that covers up to three Windows PCs (currently available on Amazon for $53.97). Bitdefender Total Security Multi-Device 2015 costs $99.95 for a one-year subscription that covers five devices, Mac and Android included.

The Best Free Option

We also went hunting for the best freeware out there. In reality, free security suites don’t exist, but free antivirus offerings are pretty common. You generally get bare-bones features, such as a system scanner, a scarce interface with little context (and riddled with popups asking you to upgrade to a paid version), and adequate to good antivirus protection.

For most consumers, though, adequate doesn’t cut it. So we searched for a product that was easy to use, earned superior security ratings in its class, and offered a bonus feature or two to put it over the top. In that search we narrowed it down to a product that was the pioneer in its industry: the first free cloud-based offering that not only sets the bar among freeware protection, but even outperforms a few paid providers.

Panda Free Antivirus (formerly Panda Cloud Antivirus) is as good as it gets for Windows freeware. It has a simple interface and is very effective at detecting malware, spyware, and viruses. As the first free cloud-based antivirus software on the market, it’s got a few nice tricks up its sleeve. You’ll need to install a small program that runs on your PC and connects to Panda’s cloud engine, but setup is a breeze and to make PC users comfortable, Panda mimics Windows 8’s tiled look once it’s running.

Cloud power

Most security programs use cloud-based technology one way or another to detect threats. Many connect to servers to update their software or to maintain a real-time database of active malware threats; Panda Free Antivirus is no different. It’s an entirely cloud-based program, so there’s no need to worry about installing updates or configuring your machine aside from the one-time installation of the connector software. And its offline cache of active malware signatures ensures you’re protected even when you’re not connected to the Internet.

In recent comparative tests by independent labs, Panda Free Antivirus led the pack in protection. It scored 100-percent protection rates in AV-TEST’s results. And in AV-Comparatives real-world testing, Panda scored highest among its freeware counterparts, even outperforming a few paid software programs, including AVG Internet Security, McAfee Internet Security, and Sophos Endpoint Security 10.3. And in PCMag’s tests, it scored a perfect 18 points in protection, performance, and usability along with Bitdefender and Kaspersky.

Panda Security’s latest creation, the XMT engine, is a type of smart engine that offers a higher level of efficiency and greater malware detection rates. Panda has made XMT available on all of its products, including Panda Free Antivirus, which promises to scan your computer 50 percent faster than its predecessor while minimally impacting system overhead. While the industry average for slowing down a machine was four seconds in AV-TEST’s findings, Panda only slowed things down by three seconds.

Other features

As an added bonus, Panda Free Antivirus packs a rescue-drive creator. If malware prevents you from booting up a particular machine, you can create a bootable USB rescue drive that scans and removes viruses from the infected machine. There’s also a USB Vaccine feature, which scans flash drives and can prevent infected ones from automatically running programs.

While the rescue drive feature and autoplay disabler are nice touches, you miss out on Panda Antivirus Pro’s features, including firewall protection and chat-based support. And if you want some mobile protection for your Android device, you’ll need Panda Mobile Security, which is $14.99 per year.

Panda may be free, but it isn’t perfect. In AV-Comparatives’ tests, it occasionally wrongly blocked safe Internet domains or downloaded files. The average score for wrongly blocked files was 18; Panda scored a dismal 46. But in AV-TEST’s results, it didn’t wrongly block websites, and it only blocked one legitimate software download. However, Panda was twice as likely to wrongly detect legitimate software as malware during system scans.

Overall

Better safe than sorry. If you can handle some false alarms, Panda Free Antivirus‘s impressive protection rate and real-time malware database places it ahead of its freeware competitors. And its bonus security features are practical additions you’ll be glad to add to your computer’s arsenal. It’s the go-to solution for free antivirus protection.

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Security

This Is the Best Mac Security Software You Can Buy

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Avast Avast Free Mac Security

Avast Free Mac Security 2015 is the go-to free software

Many Mac owners may be under the impression that their computers don’t need antivirus protection. They’re inherently safer, right? While there are fewer Trojan horses, viruses and worms designed to attack Macs than PCs, that doesn’t mean they’re immune to infection.

“Many threats, like phishing, don’t care whether you’re running Windows or a Mac,” says Christopher Budd, global threat communications manager for Trend Micro.

In fact, a serious threat to Macs was verified as recently as December 2014, according to the National Vulnerability Database. To combat this threat, Apple issued its first ever automatic security update for Mac computers in December. (Previously, Mac users would initiate the security updates themselves.) The bug, CVE-2014-9295, could enable hackers to gain remote control of machines through a vulnerability with the network time protocol, or NTP, which synchronizes a computer’s clock. It was serious enough that Apple didn’t want to wait for users to fix it themselves, according to Reuters.

With even one threat on the table, protection is needed. So we set out to find the best Mac antivirus software out there. We reviewed security lab results, interface accessibility data, and product feature ratings from independent experts and websites to recommend our favorites.

We placed an emphasis on performance and security over a trunk full of features. To find the best freeware, it had to meet top-notch security ratings while still offering a few perks. For paid software, we decided it had to not only achieve high security ratings, but it had to cost less than $100, offer a one-year subscription with multi-device protection, and be designed for home use.

With that, we narrowed it down to our two security software picks — one free, one paid — for 2015.

The best free Mac security software

Avast Free Mac Security 2015 is the go-to software for protecting your Mac without spending a penny. It’s a simple, on-demand scanning platform that can complete four different types of scans: Full System Scan, Removable Volumes Scan, Home Scan or Custom Scan. While the variety is useful for performing different system checks, it lacks the scheduled scans feature that many busy consumers want. Nonetheless, its simple-to-use interface, strong all-around coverage, and anti-spam features still pull it ahead of other free offerings.

While it’s not perfect at detecting all intrusions, independent security researcher AV-TEST reports that it gets the job done — after all, it’s free. In testing, it performed the highest among its freeware counterparts, detecting 97.4 percent of all on-demand threats (above the average of 80.8 percent). It even outperformed some paid competitors, including Kaspersky, which only detected threats 93.2 percent of the time. It also held its own with paid offerings when it came to minimizing system slowdown.

Once Avast detects something suspicious, it locks it away in a quarantined area called the Virus Chest, where you can choose to restore it if it’s a falsely-identified file, or delete it altogether. And like most of its competitors, Avast also detects Windows malware.

Generally, free security packages are pretty bare bones in their features. But Avast takes the freeware landscape to a new level by offering an anti-spam tool, which is uncommon among its freeware competitors. Similar to paid versions, Avast monitors incoming web data — through its Web Shield and Mail Shield features — like malicious links or attachments, and flags and isolates any threats it finds.

Additionally, in early 2015, Avast will include the industry’s first four-pronged home network security system. The system’s Home Network Security scan can identify misconfigured Wi-Fi networks, routers with weak passwords and compromised Internet connections. The SecureDNS feature encrypts the Internet traffic between Avast-protected devices and Avast’s DNS server to prevent users from being directed to malicious sites. A new Smart Scan feature will integrate all on-demand scans into one (antivirus, Home Network Security, junk-file cleaning, and software update scans) to meet your security needs.

Rounding out this four-component security system, Web Shield will get an upgrade to be able to scan securely-encrypted sites for malware and threats. Web Shield will accomplish this by detecting and decrypting TSL/SSL protected traffic in its web-content filtering component for any threats, Avast says.

The best paid Mac security software

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac offers greater security than its competitors at a comparable cost. It’s $59.95 for a one-year subscription, which covers up to three Macs.

Some Mac antivirus protection products tout just the “Internet security” feature and neglect the rest of a computer’s needs. Or for “total” protection, you’re limited to protection for just one device and it costs 50% more than standard protection. Bitdefender balances cost and protection in the same product, offering coverage against adware, polymorphic viruses, spyware, trojans, worms, and more.

Bitdefender has a simple interface that’s easy to understand. If your Mac’s safe, you’ll know it because a green checkmark in the status bar will tell you so. If a security issue is detected, the status bar turns yellow and offers tips on how to quickly fix the issue.

To scan your Mac for possible threats, you have four options: Scan Critical Locations, Full System Scan, Scan a Custom Location and Continuous Scan. Scanning critical locations checks for malware in your vulnerable hotspots, such as documents, downloads, attachments, and temporary files folders. The full scan checks for malware on the entire system, including connected mounts, like external drives. You can hide certain folders and drives from Bitdefender’s watchful eye by adding them the exclusions list, or choose to scan a specific location, such as a once-hidden external drive.

A downside is that you can’t schedule scans. Instead, Bitdefender includes Continuous Scan mode, which keeps the software running day and night in the background. On the plus side, you’ll always have the most up-to-date protection because it’ll automatically update its virus-tracking database in this mode. (If Continuous Scan mode is off, you can still update the by going to Actions > Update Virus Database.) And you may never even know it’s there: in the third-party lab tests, “Bitdefender hardly slows the system at all,” says AV-TEST.

If you share files with Windows users (or your own PC), you’re covered as well. The software detects Windows viruses on your Mac, and while these threats can’t affect your Mac, you can still pass them on to Windows computers on the same network if you’re not protected.

Bitdefender also automatically scans any files you download for security threats, alerting you when a problem is detected. You can track and adjust these alerts since they’re fully integrated into your Mac’s Notification Center (go to System Preferences > Notifications).

For security on the web, Bitdefender connects its free TrafficLight extension, which monitors your web traffic and blocks any malicious content. It also notifies you of worrisome websites in your search results (with a red dot), and detects and blocks suspicious links it finds on Facebook and Twitter. TrafficLight detects “trackers” as well; code snippets that track and analyze browsing behavior. All scans happen in the cloud, so the extension offers a strong layer of protection without slowing you down. TrafficLight is available for Firefox, Google Chrome and Safari.

While Bitfender excels at malware protection, it’s still lacking in a couple of areas. For example, families may prefer a security suite with parental controls added in. But OS X’s complementary parental controls system already lets you manage and monitor your child’s computer use, interactions and Internet activity (to access this feature, go to System Preferences > Parental Controls).

It’s also missing its own firewall protection, but again, your Mac already has its own firewall tools to stop malicious network traffic. Plus, in third-party lab tests, some of Bitdefender’s competitors that do offer firewall protection actually performed poorly at malware detection tests. (For example, Symantec only detected threats 54.7 percent of the time, compared to Bitdefender’s 100 percent, according to AV-TEST.) So we’ll take greater malware protection and speedy performance over additional bells and whistles any day.

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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