TIME Computers

Need a Cheap Chromebook? Here’s How to Pick One

Let's make sense of all these sub-$300, browser-based laptops.

If you’re shopping for a cheap laptop, there’s a good chance you’ve crossed paths with a few Chromebooks.

Instead of running Windows, these lightweight, inexpensive notebooks are based entirely on Google’s Chrome web browser. So while you can’t install traditional programs such as Office and Photoshop, you can use web-based substitutes like the free Office Online and Pixlr. In exchange, you’ll get a computer that boots up quickly, is safe from viruses, doesn’t have any obnoxious bloatware and is optimized for browsing the web.

Although inexpensive Chromebooks have been around for a couple years, we’ve seen a lot more of them lately, and from a wider range of vendors. With so much competition among these sub-$300 laptops, here’s some help picking the best one for your needs.

The Cheapest Chromebook: Acer C720 (2 GB RAM)

Acer

This Acer Chromebook originally had a sticker price of $199, but for some reason the price has recently gone up at most stores. Fortunately you can still snag one at Best Buy for $179, which is the cheapest price I’ve seen for any Chromebook.

Compared to other low-cost Chromebooks, the Acer C720 is a bit heavier, and its fan will produce some noise as you work. Its build quality is also on the chintzy side, and the 2 GB of RAM isn’t great for keeping lots of browser tabs open at once. Still, for basic browsing, it gets the job done at a (currently) unbeatable price.

The Prettiest Chromebook: HP Chromebook 11

HP

I called this one a “vanity laptop” when I reviewed it last fall. It has, by far, the most gorgeous display you’ll find on any Chromebook. We’re talking MacBook quality in terms of viewing angles and contrast, while most other Chromebooks wash out when you tilt them just slightly away from you. The keyboard is also solid, the speakers are loud and you’ve got to love the blue accents on the shiny white chassis.

But the HP Chromebook falters on performance, as it can lag when switching between heavy web pages, and it only gets around five hours on a charge. (You can top it up with a MicroUSB cable, which is kind of neat.) If you can deal with those shortcomings and prefer something thin, light and easy to look at, this is your Chromebook. Best Buy has it for $229.

The Best All-Around Chromebooks: Asus C200 and C300

Asus

Asus’ C200 ($229 at Walmart) and C300 ($229 at Amazon) are part of a new wave of Chromebooks hitting the market this summer, with a fanless design made possible by Intel’s latest Bay Trail processors. That means they won’t make any noise as you use them, and they’re both quite light, at 2.5 pounds for the 11-inch C200 and 3.1 pounds for the 13-inch C300. Best of all, both laptops get about 10 hours of battery life on a charge.

As a trade-off, these laptops can’t quite keep up with the processor in the cheaper Acer Chromebook, but it’s probably not something you’d notice in most cases. Asus’ two Chromebooks are solid all-around performers, and your best options if you’re willing to pay more than bottom dollar.

The Sub-$300 Workhorse: Acer C720 (4 GB RAM)

This Chromebook used to be a solid choice at $250, but now I can’t find it anywhere at that price. Still, even at $271 from Newegg, it’s the cheapest Chromebook available with 4 GB of RAM. You’ll want the extra memory if you’re planning to juggle dozens of browser tabs at once. It seems that Acer has discontinued this laptop in favor of a Core i3 model that’s probably overkill for most users, so get it while you can.

Whatever you decide, don’t fret over it too much. I’ve used a lot of Chromebooks over the past few years, and they all offer the same basic benefits in terms of speedy startup times, security and ease of use. As long as you’re not expecting a full-blown operating system like Windows or Mac OSX, chances are you’ll be satisfied with your choice.

These prices and configurations are good as of August 18, 2014.

TIME Ask TIME Tech

13 Streaming Music Services Compared by Price, Quality, Catalog Size and More

Beats Music, Google Play, iTunes, Pandora, Rdio, Spotify and others: See which one's best for you.

Forget for a moment how profitable streaming music services are (not terribly), or how much they’re paying in royalties to rights holders (or in particular, how much is ultimately trickling down to the artists). Those things couldn’t be more important when you get down to it, but they’re also intangible figures we’re left to speculate about, since full disclosure of a revenue network as complex and legally tortuous as the music industry’s is inconceivable.

So let’s talk about what we do know, in the wake of curation-angled streamer Pandora hiking its rates by a buck a month, and revisit how the top music services currently available in the U.S. stack up from a subscription pricing and features standpoint.

The chart below summarizes what I believe most are looking for when weighing options: catalog size, maximum streaming quality (note that in most — if not all — cases, the streaming quality will be lower if your connection is slow or fickle), platforms supported and pricing.

I’ve done my best to provide the most up-to-date info, but bear in mind that streaming services are moving — and in some cases murky — targets: not all services update information like catalog size routinely, and where you’re talking about millions of songs and ongoing catalog negotiations, it probably changes frequently. I’ve also tried to list all of the most notable platforms, mobile or otherwise, but a few of these services support a smattering of others (Sonos, Roku, etc.) that I’ve left out for brevity’s sake.

Catalog Quality Platforms Price
Beats Music 20m 320 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows $10/mo.
Google Play 20m 320 Kbps Android, iOS, Web Free or $10/mo. extras
Grooveshark Unknown Unknown Android, Web Free w/ads, $6/mo., $9/mo. mobile
iHeartRadio 15m Unknown Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox Free
iTunes Radio 26m 256 Kbps Apple TV, iOS, OS X, Windows Free w/ads or $25/yr
Last.fm Variable 128 Kbps Android, iOS, Linux, OS X, Windows, Sonos, Web Free or $3/mo. extras
Sony Music 25m 320 Kbps Android, iOS, PlayStation, Web, TVs $5/mo. or $10/mo. mobile
Pandora 1m 192 Kbps Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Roku, Sonos, Web, Xbox Free w/ads or $5/mo.
Rhapsody 32m 192 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox $10/mo.
Rdio 20m 192 Kbps Android, BlackBerry, iOS, OS X, Web, Windows $5/mo., $10/mo. mobile, $18/mo. family
Slacker 13m 128 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox Free w/ads, $4/mo., $10/mo. extras
Spotify 20m 320 Kbps Android, BlackBerry, iOS, OS X, Windows $10/mo.
Xbox Music 30m 192 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox $10/mo., $60/yr for Xbox Live to listen on Xbox

Beats Music

Created by musician/producer Dr. Dre and Interscope/Geffen/A&M chair Jimmy Iovine to replace MOG, Beats Music (reviewed by my colleague Harry McCracken here) has been described as a hybrid of Spotify and Pandora: a sort of middle ground, on-demand music service that marries the former’s expansive catalog and direct control of it, to the latter’s “What do I listen to next?” taste curation — though in Beats’ case, it emphasizes listening lists cultivated by human tastemakers over rote computer algorithms. Streaming quality is strong, at up to 320 Kbps.

Monthly cost: $10 individual, $15 family (up to five members on up to 10 devices, exclusive to AT&T Mobility).

Google Play Music

I had mixed feelings about Google Play Music when it launched last May with fewer perks than a service like Spotify. But if you prefer Google’s online app-related modus operandi, Google Play Music lets you upload up to 20,000 songs of your choosing (accessible across all devices), or for $10 a month, access its catalog of 20 million songs, listen to them offline and create playlists as well as themed radio stations with unlimited skips.

Monthly cost: Free, $10 individual for extra features.

Grooveshark

Launched in 2006, Grooveshark is arguably the black sheep of the bunch if you factor turbulent relations with publishers into the equation: the company, which offers a vast catalog of music through a web interface and Android devices, has been embroiled in legal battles for alleged copyright violations for years (for which Apple eventually kicked it off the App Store, thus it’s not an iOS contender). But on the features front, it’s an interesting amalgam of elements, allowing you to upload your own MP3s, see what friends have been listening to (or subscribe to their playlists) or fiddle with recommendation algorithms derived from users’ ratings of songs.

Monthly cost: Free with ads, $6 individual, $10 individual to access mobile app.

iHeartRadio

iHeartRadio is the only completely free service in the mix, with ad-free streaming of some 15 million songs supporting multiple platforms. The kicker, of course, is that it works like an actual radio station, meaning you can nudge it in a musical direction, but you’ll have to listen to its picks.

Monthly cost: Free

iTunes Radio

Apple’s approach to streaming music is an extension of its iTunes application, thus restricting it to Apple products or iTunes-supported platforms. You gain access to Apple’s impressive catalog of some 26 million tracks, but like Pandora and iHeartRadio, you’re restricted to giving the service directions by selecting an artist, song or genre, then listening as it queues a medley of related tunes, with a limit of six skips per hour (per station).

Monthly cost: Free with ads, free (no ads) with $25/year iTunes Match subscription.

Last.fm

One of the oldest members in this list, Last.fm is a free (no ads) music recommendation tool that keeps track of everything you’ve listened to — a feature endearingly known as “scrobbling,” though Last.fm’s contemporary rivals now offer the same essential functionality — to devise music recommendations. The service has a unique Wiki-like angle, in that users can collaborate to provide annotative material for tracks.

Monthly cost: Free, $3 for extra features.

Music Unlimited

Sony’s streaming music service, Music Unlimited — formerly known as Qriocity — leverages the company’s massive music catalog across its array of Sony-branded devices (TVs, phones, games consoles, etc.) with high-quality playback on par with Spotify, Beats Music and Google Play.

Monthly cost: $5 individual, $10 individual to access mobile apps.

Pandora

The catalyst for this piece was Pandora announcing a fee hike for ad-free music by $1 a month, effective this May (according to Reuters, it’s to cover escalating licensing costs). The only trouble with an automated music streamer like Pandora — another of this list’s oldest members — is the size of its comparably diminutive music catalog: just a million songs. The service’s curation process masks this somewhat, but even at the free-with-ads end of the pool, the service is starting to look awfully threadbare, massive listener base or no.

Monthly cost: Free with ads, $5 individual.

Rdio

Arguably one of Spotify’s chief rivals in terms of dynamism and value, Rdio offers moderate-quality streaming of a Spotify-sized music catalog with offline playback support, robust social networking features and one of the friendliest interfaces of the bunch.

Monthly cost: $5 individual, $10 individual to access mobile apps, $18 family.

Rhapsody

Spotify’s other major rival, Rhapsody, offers a sprawling subscription as well as MP3 download service that’s grown from 16 million songs just a few years ago to 32 million today (thanks in large part to the service’s acquisition of Napster in 2011). Part of Rhapsody’s appeal is its breadth: I’ve listed the primary platforms in my chart above, but according to the company, the service is available on “more than 70 consumer electronics devices.”

Monthly cost: $10 individual.

Slacker Radio

Before Beats Music, Slacker Radio was doing “expert”-created music stations (by professional DJs, says Slacker), and that’s still one of its selling points, offered in either free-with-ads or pay-to-zap-ads tiers. It’s another of the automatic curation streamers, meaning you’re left to the whims of its algorithms (based on your selections), though there’s a premium service option that gives you ready access to select songs on demand.

Monthly cost: Free with ads, $4 individual, $10 individual for extras (including on-demand streaming).

Spotify

Probably the best known streamer of the bunch for its meteoric rise in recent years, Spotify offers high fidelity streaming and a robust 20-million song catalog across a range of platforms with conventional social networking options, all for a flat take-it-or-leave-it $10 a month. The trouble with Spotify these days is that its desktop interface could do with a radical overhaul, and it’s arguably flushing revenue down the drain by ignoring the demographic clamoring for a family subscription option.

Monthly cost: $10 individual.

Xbox Music

Fire up Xbox Music and you’ll almost be seduced by its elegant promise: 30 million on-demand songs (the largest catalog going), a visually pleasing interface, a “smart DJ” radio feature, a cloud-match service for your local tunes and solid multi-platform support. But then the kickers kick in, chief among them the fact that Xbox Music is an embedded subscription: you’ll need an Xbox Pass ($10 a month) subscription for unlimited streaming, plus a $60-per-year Xbox Live subscription if you want to listen on your Xbox.

Monthly cost: $10 individual, plus $60 a year for Xbox Live for Xbox subscribers.

TIME How-To

Quick Tech Trick: Type Less with Text Shortcuts for Your Phone

There's no reason to type out commonly-used phrases over and over again.

+ READ ARTICLE

Here are the steps for iPhone:

1. Go to Settings > General > Keyboard

2. Under Shortcuts, choose Add New Shortcut…

3. Type the full phrase in the phrase box (“On my way!”) and the shortcut in the Shortcut box (“omw”)

4. The next time you want to type “On my way!” simply type “omw” and hit the space bar

Here are the steps for the stock version of Android:

1. Go to Settings > Language & Input > Personal dictionary

2. Hit the plus symbol to add a new term

3. Type the full phrase in the first box (“On my way!”) and the shortcut in the Shortcut box (“omw”)

4. The next time you want to type “On my way!” simply type “omw” and choose “On my way!” from the selection menu above the keyboard

Your version of Android may differ, but it’s generally somewhere in the Keyboard and/or Language & Input section of the settings menu.

More Quick Tech Tricks:

TIME Social Networking

Facebook’s WhatsApp Acquisition Explained

Also: How you, too, can make a $19 billion smartphone app. Also: Not really.

Now that Facebook is planning to acquire WhatsApp for $19 billion, perhaps your head is swimming with questions. Among them: How can I also make billions of dollars by selling my mobile app to Facebook? As someone who writes about technology for a living and who’s definitely not a billionaire, I can’t answer that for you. But I can help with some other things you might want to know:

What is WhatsApp?

It’s a messaging app you can use in place of your wireless carrier’s regular texting service. You enter your phone number and WhatsApp looks through your contact list for other people who are using the app. Then you can message those users all you want without limits or overage charges. The app is available on many platforms and is free to download and has no ads, but it costs $1 per year after the first year.

How popular is it?

Right now, WhatsApp has more than 450 million active users — meaning they use the service at least once a month — compared to 1.23 billion for Facebook. Those users send 500 million pictures back and forth per day, about 150 million more than Facebook.

How much money is $19 billion in the startup world, exactly?

A lot. My colleague Harry McCracken put together a chart of big startup acquisitions, and WhatsApp is the biggest. Most deals don’t come anywhere close. Bigger companies tend to change hands for a lot more money, however. For instance, Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion.

Is Facebook going to kill WhatsApp and/or ruin it with advertisements?

That’s not the plan. Facebook says WhatsApp will act like an independent company and stay in its own Mountain View, Calif. headquarters. The product will stay ad-free, and the two companies will focus on growth for the next few years. Then, they’ll figure out how to make money in some way that doesn’t involve shoveling ads into the app. (Harvesting all that sweet, sweet user data for targeted ads on Facebook or Instagram would be the safe bet, but more on that shortly.)

Is WhatsApp going to change at all, then?

WhatApp says nothing will change. Perhaps the $1 per year charge will go away at some point, given that Facebook says it’s not a big priority to expand subscriptions.

One potential downside: WhatsApp may become less inclined to work with companies that compete with Facebook, or vice versa. See, for reference, Instagram killing Twitter integration in 2012, several months after Twitter cut off its contact lists for Instagram users. We can only speculate that Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram — or Twitter’s previous failed acquisition — had something to do with the bad blood.

So why is Facebook spending so much money for WhatsApp?

This is the fun part, because every tech pundit thinks they’ve figured out the “real” reason for the acquisition, when in reality everyone’s just making educated guesses.

If there is a “real” answer, it’s probably a combination of several theories, some of which are related. Here’s a sampling:

  • Facebook wants the photos. See the above statistics about how more people share photos on WhatsApp than on Facebook. It’s too big of an activity for Facebook not to own, says Sarah Lacy at PandoDaily.
  • Facebook is becoming a social media conglomerate. Kara Swisher at Re/Code paints Facebook as a Disney-like media giant. It may not be able to own every popular service, but it can become the dominant player with different tools like Instagram and WhatsApp in its arsenal. Each one does things that the other property can’t.
  • Facebook lives in fear of being disrupted in mobile. At this point, Facebook is pretty safe from becoming the next MySpace or Friendster, but it can’t risk losing peoples’ attention at the hands of newer, cooler apps, BuzzFeed’s John Herrman argues.
  • Facebook needs to expand its Europe and emerging markets presence. As TechCrunch’s Josh Constine notes, WhatsApp is huge in developing countries. Facebook could also use WhatsApp to help bring more people online through subsidized Internet, which Facebook already offers in some countries. The acquisition is a shortcut to owning those growing markets.
  • Facebook must buy its way into “ephemeral” and/or “dark social” communications. Just think about all the stuff you talk about, the photos you send and the links you share when you’re communicating privately — if not through WhatsApp then through something else like e-mail — instead of broadcasting to your Timeline. All that data is invisible to Facebook, unless you use Facebook Messenger. (And if Messenger was hugely popular, Facebook wouldn’t need WhatsApp.) WhatsApp can provide troves of data about the things we’re really interested in, which can then be used for targeted advertising on other Facebook properties. Alexis Madrigal’s 2012 post on Dark Social helps put this idea in context.

Oh, and Facebook’s official line is that it acquired WhatsApp to “make the world more open and connected,” which is probably as true as it is vague. Mark Zuckerberg always seems genuine in his world-changing ambitions, but there’s always the business side to keep in mind.

The overarching themes here are about attention and user data. WhatsApp has proven it can capture the former, and while Facebook says it has very little of the latter from WhatsApp, that can change, and messaging can become a rich data source for Facebook’s core advertising business. Perhaps that sounds scary, but it’s not much different from how Gmail works now.

How will we know when this starts happening? Just wait for the inevitable revision of privacy policies allowing WhatsApp and Facebook to freely share their data with one another.

TIME Smartphones

Which Wireless Plan Is Cheapest?

It's 2014 and wireless carriers are changing all their plans. This used to be a lot simpler.

Smartphone wireless plans didn’t used to be so complicated. You handed over about $200 for the phone, tried to get by with the minimum amount of voice, text and data — most carriers charged about $70 per month — and paid a little extra if you needed more.

Now, carriers want you to figure out exactly how much data you’ll use, down to the gigabyte. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile would also like you to stop paying up-front for a subsidized phone and instead pay the full price in monthly installments. In exchange, they’ll give you cheaper service, and may even let you upgrade to a new phone more often. But the discount you actually get depends on which carrier you’re on, how much data you’re using and how many people are on your family plan.

And just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the carriers change their pricing structures again. That’s what happened this week when Verizon announced its “More Everything” plans, and last week when AT& T introduced its Mobile Share Value plans. The goal of both plans is to make early upgrades less of a ripoff than before.

So here’s what we’re going to do: Below are two charts comparing the prices of the four major carriers as they exist in February 2014 March 2014 April 2014. First we’ll compare their standard plans, and then we’ll compare the early upgrade plans, in which you trade up to a new phone every year. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume everyone’s getting a $200 phone, like a 16 GB iPhone 5s. Finally, we’ll calculate the long-term costs in a few different scenarios.

Best of luck to you in figuring it out. The carriers certainly don’t make it easy.

Verizon vs. AT&T vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile

Here’s the breakdown by carrier without any early upgrade privileges. The first section shows monthly service pricing for a single phone with unlimited talk and text, with additional charges listed below. In all cases, we’ll assume everyone’s getting a 16 GB iPhone 5s or a comparably-priced phone once every two years:

Verizon AT&T Sprint T-Mobile
< 500 MB $55 (250 MB) $60 (300 MB) - -
500 MB $70 - - $40
1 GB $80 $65 $70 $50
2 GB $90 $80 - -
3 GB $100 - - $60
4 GB $110 $110 - -
5 GB - - - $70
6 GB $120 $120 - -
8 GB $130 $130 - -
10 GB $140 $140 - -
> 10 GB $10 per 2 GB Varies - -
Unlimited - - $80 $80
Upfront Phone Cost $200 $200 $200 $0
Monthly Phone Cost $0 $0 $0 $27 for 24 months
Second Line $40 $40 $60 to $70 $30 to $50
Third Line $40 $40 $50 to $60 $10 to $30
More Lines $40 $40 $40 to $50 $10 t0 $30
Mobile Hotspot? Included Included $10 (1 GB) Included

.

A few observations based on the chart above:

  • An individual, moderate data user would pay the least through T-Mobile. at $2,088 over two years, but Sprint’s unlimited plan isn’t much more expensive at $2,120 over two years.
  • If you’re an individual who burns through enough bandwidth to justify unlimited data and needs mobile hotspot, Sprint’s price jumps to $2,360. T-Mobile’s 5 GB plan is a little cheaper at $2,328 over two years, but unlimited data is much more expensive, at $2,568.
  • Individuals who can get by with just a little data will spend the least through Verizon ($1,520 over two years on a 250 MB plan) and AT&T ($1,640 on a 300 MB plan).
  • T-Mobile doesn’t do shared data for families. Additional lines start with 500 MB, and increase in $10 increments for 2.5 GB and unlimited data. A family of four, each with 2.5 GB of data, would pay $5,952 over two years — much less than any other carrier.

Verizon Edge, AT&T Next, Sprint Framily and T-Mobile Jump Compared

Early upgrade plans are trickier, because they all work a little differently. With AT&T and Verizon, you pay off the full price of the phone in monthly installments, which is a lot more expensive in the long run than getting a $200 subsidized phone. But in exchange, they give you a discount on service, and you can trade up to a new phone once per year at no extra charge. With T-Mobile, you’re already paying monthly installments and getting cheaper service, but for $10 extra per month you can trade up to a new phone twice per year. You also get insurance for lost, damaged or stolen phones.

Sprint’s “Framily” plans are even wackier. The base price is $55 per line with 1 GB of data. For each additional member who joins, everyone on the plan pays $5 less, down to a minimum of $25 per month per line. So for example, a “Framily” of three with 1 GB of data each would each pay $45 per line. The silly name comes from the fact that you can have friends or family on the same plan, with the option to pay separate bills. But Sprint’s plan also has one big catch: You can only upgrade every year if you have an unlimited data plan. Otherwise, you can only upgrade every two years.

Perhaps we should let the chart speak for itself. This time we’ll assume you’re getting a new 16 GB iPhone or comparably-priced phone once per year:

Verizon Edge AT&T Next Sprint Framily T-Mobile Jump
< 500 MB $45 (250 MB) $45 (300 MB) - -
500 MB $60 - - $50
1 GB $70 $50 $55 (no early upgrade) $60
2 GB $80 $65 - -
3 GB $90 - $65 (no early upgrade) $70
4 GB $100 $95 - -
5 GB - - - $80
6 GB $110 $105 - -
8 GB $120 $115 - -
10 GB $115 $115 - -
> 10 GB $10 per 2 GB Varies - -
Unlimited - - $75 $90
Upfront Phone Cost $0 $0 $0 $0
Monthly Phone Cost $27 for 24 months $32.50 for 20 months $27 for 24 months $27 for 24 months
More Lines $30 for plans under 10 GB
$15 for 10 GB or more
$25 for plans under 10 GB
$15 for 10 GB or more
Subtract $5 from all lines for each extra line (down to $25) $40 – $60 second line, $20 – $40 additional lines
Mobile Hotspot? Included Included $10 (1 GB) Included

.

More observations:

  • A family of four using 10 GB per month on Verizon would pay exactly the same amount as a family with 12 GB on T-Mobile, at $6,912 over two years, but the data would be apportioned differently. The Verizon family would pool its data together and could upgrade once per year at no extra charge, while the T-Mobile family would get 3 GB per person, and could upgrade once every six months. (AT&T is only a little more expensive, at $6,960 every two years.)
  • If you have four lines on AT&T Next or Verizon Edge, you might as well get a 10 GB plan. It’s cheaper than the 4 GB plans on either carrier, because the line access fee is much less on 10 GB or higher plans.
  • Verizon Edge isn’t a great deal if you don’t use much data or don’t have other people on your plan. But it can be cheaper in the long run if you do.
  • AT&T’s new 2 GB pricing puts an individual plan at $2,320 over two years. T-Mobile’s costs plan, which offers 3 GB of shared data, is still a little bit cheaper at $2,328.
  • Want more evidence that wireless carriers keep their pricing in sync? AT&T and Verizon both charge $250 per month for 10 smartphones and a 10 GB shared data plan. That’s exactly how much Sprint charges for 10 “Framily” lines with 1 GB each. (If you can keep your mega-family to 30 GB or less, AT&T and Verizon are the way to go. Otherwise, put everyone on an unlimited Sprint Framily plan.)

Of course, pricing isn’t everything when picking a wireless carrier. The quality of service in your area and the availability of phones that you want can be just as important. But if you’re looking to make a switch and don’t know where to start, hopefully we’ve helped you do the math.

TIME Security & Privacy

6 Ways to Protect Yourself from Online Threats

To help better illustrate the importance of online safety and security, Microsoft recently released the results of its 2013 Microsoft Computer Safety Index study

To help better illustrate the importance of online safety and security, Microsoft recently released the results of its 2013 Microsoft Computer Safety Index study. The survey tracked safety behavior of nearly 10,500 people worldwide to get a handle on just how costly these digital threats can be, and to make recommendations on how to better protect against online danger.

The bottom line: An estimated $23 billion was lost last year to online risks such as phishing, ID theft, viruses, data leaks and more. The biggest cost – and arguably, the biggest threat – was damage to professional reputation to the tune of $4.5 billion yearly.

Don’t let the bad guys take their cut from your personal bank account. Here are 6 steps you can take to better protect yourself from danger.

1. Take Charge of Your Online Reputation

How, exactly, can damage to your online reputation be so costly? Ask Anthony Weiner, the former New York congressman whose bid for NYC mayor was sunk by compromising selfies he texted to women. In all seriousness, Microsoft survey data reveals that the median amount respondents paid out to repair their professional reputation was $2,600.

Naturally, the best way to protect your reputation is to watch what you say online and put your best foot forward. If you need a little bit of help, check out these tools for protecting your online reputation. You might also want to consider using a reputation-monitoring service like Persona.

2. Defend your Devices

Think about all the sensitive information stored on your mobile phone. Some people store private contacts. Others keep online banking data on our phones or use their phones as mobile wallets. A small percentage of Americans even have naked selfies saved.

But while there’s plenty to be stolen on our phones, Microsoft’s survey reveals that only 33% use a PIN to lock our mobile devices. Even fewer of us (21%) use mobile security apps. That suggests a lot of sensitive data is at risk should a snoop decide to play around with our phones.

Thankfully, protecting mobile devices is something that can be done quickly and at little-to-no cost. Read our need-to-know guide on mobile security for more on how to defend your smartphones and tablets. And if you’re worried someone may have installed spyware on your personal device, here are the warning signs and fixes you need to know about.

3. Create Strong Passwords

Virtually every account we create online asks us to create a unique password. Is it any wonder, then, that far too many of us use easily cracked passwords like our pet’s name or “1234”?

Don’t get hacked because you set a lazy password or PIN. Microsoft recommends you choose passwords that are “unique, long and strong.” It also recommends you keep your passwords to yourself, no matter how much it’s killing you to tell someone. You may also want to consider using a password manager like the iCloud Keychain built into iOS 7.

4. Use Social Networks More Safely

More than ever before, social media sites are encouraging us to share everything. That’s great for advertisers, but it can be downright dangerous for you and me. What happens if someone pulls information from Facebook to steal your identity? Or, worse yet, what if a stranger is watching your check-ins and tags to know where you physically are at all times?

Being safe on social media means being private on social media with personal details. Regularly review your Facebook privacy settings to make sure you’re not sharing anything you’d rather stay private, such as your phone number. You should also check these 5 Google privacy settings. Even if you don’t use the Google+ social network, it might still be leaking your private email address to the world.

5. Take Extra Steps to Keep Kids Safe

Sure, you may know the ins and outs of Internet safety like the back of your hand. But does your child? Play online with your kids. Have conversations with your kids about what they do online, and remind them not to share any personally identifiable information. Put blocks on sites you don’t want kids using.

Want even more protection? Make sure you embrace these 4 ways to keep kids safe online. You might also want to review our parents’ guide to social networking.

6. Protect Sensitive Personal Information

If you do any online banking, stock trading or make other sensitive online transactions, you should exercise extra care. Don’t access your accounts while on public Wi-Fi – such networks are notoriously hackable. Always access your accounts by typing the URL yourself, and never by following an email link. And when you do connect, make sure your transactions are encrypted (look for the “https”).

Now that you’ve had a refresher on the basics of what to protect, find out how well you’re keeping yourself and your family safe by calculating your Computer Safety Index score. And, check out our 6-item online safety checklist and review these 11 simple ways to protect your privacy. Let’s be careful out there!

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME How-To

30-Second Tech Trick: How to Mute Group Email Messages

Prevent annoying reply-alls from incessantly flooding your inbox with this quick trick.

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If you’re using Gmail and you’re tired of all the reply-alls coming in for a certain message, here’s what to do:

1. Select the message, and then click the More button in the upper right-hand corner, and then Mute.

2. Future replies will skip your inbox, though you won’t actually be removed from the message. To get the message back, look for it under All Mail or search for it using Gmail’s search tool.

3. There’s a similar feature for certain versions of Outlook — sometimes called Ignore — so check with your IT person (or search the web for it) to see if it’ll work.

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TIME How-To

5 Easy Ways to View Photos on Your TV

You probably already have everything you need.

Whether you’re sharing photos from a recent trip or traveling down memory lane, it’s hard to do your pictures justice on your smartphone or camera’s small screen. So why not take advantage of the big screen you already have—your TV?

It’s easy and you probably already have everything you need. Check out the following options to start viewing your pictures and videos on your TV.

1. Use your smart TV or streaming media player’s Internet apps.

If you have a smart TV with Internet apps, you can use a photo viewing app on your TV to access images you’ve stored on the web. Select the app center on your TV—i.e. Samsung Smart Hub, Vizio Internet Apps, Panasonic Viera Connect or LG Smart TV to name a few. Each manufacturer has a unique name for its service. Streaming media players, like Roku, also have apps that let you view photos stored on the web.

Once you’re in the app section, select a photo sharing service app, like Picasa or Flickr. After logging in, you can choose to view your photos—individually or in a slideshow—or photos that others are sharing across the web.

For videos, you can use YouTube. Don’t want strangers viewing your videos? You can always choose to make them private when you upload them.

2. Connect your smartphone via HDMI.

BlueRigger

If you purchased a high-end Android phone within the last two years, like the Samsung Galaxy S 4, HTC One Max or LG 2, your phone may have a micro HDMI out port. In that case, seeing your photos is a simple matter of connecting your phone to your TV with a micro-HDMI-to-HDMI cable. For a basic cable, we like the one from BlueRigger ($6.99 on Amazon). For phones that support MHL (a variation of HDMI that allows your phone to draw power and send video simultaneously), we like the one from Skiva ($7.99 on Amazon). Check with your phone manufacturer to see if your smartphone supports micro HDMI or HDMI MHL.

3. Connect your smartphone or tablet wirelessly.

If you purchased a TV or video game console (i.e. Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4) and a smartphone within the last few years, they most likely have a wireless technology called DLNA (you can check for your model on dlna.org).

If your smartphone and TV are made by the same manufacturer, there’s likely a setting called screen mirroring (or something similar) on both devices. This will enable you to see whatever is on your smartphone on your TV. If your devices are made by different manufacturers, you’ll need to enable DLNA (also sometimes called Wi-Fi Direct) on your TV and load a DLNA app on your smartphone. We like iMediaShare Personal (free for iOS and Android).

For those that have an Apple TV and iPhone or iPad, you can use the AirPlay feature to share your photos and pictures with your TV. Or, if you have a Roku box, Chromecast (YouTube videos only) or another streaming media player, you can load that player’s app on your smartphone or tablet for sharing.

4. Use your phone or camera’s memory card.

SanDisk

Pop the memory card out of your camera or smartphone and put it into the TV’s SD card reader. Most flat panel TVs have an SD card reader. If you’re not sure whether yours does, your owner’s manual will tell you. For phones, you’ll need a microSD-to-SD card adapter, like the one from SanDisk ($3.49 on Amazon). For most TVs, inserting an SD card will launch the photo viewer.

5. Use a USB cable or flash drive.

Take the USB cable that came with your camera and use it to connect the camera to your TV’s USB port. Again, most flat panel TVs made over the last few years have a USB port. If your photos and videos are stored on your computer, you can copy them onto a USB flash drive and then insert the drive into your TV’s USB port. On most TVs, inserting the USB cable or flash drive will automatically launch the TV’s photo viewing app. From there, you can choose to view photos, videos or a combination of both. Manually scroll through or set your photos to music for a slideshow.

As you can see, there’s no reason to make everyone crowd around a tiny display when it’s so easy to share pictures on your big-screen TV.

This article was written by Suzanne Kantra and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Ask TIME Tech

30-Second Tech Trick: How to Schedule Email to Be Sent Later with Gmail

Send messages in the future and temporarily clear out your inbox with the same Gmail extension.

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If you’re using Gmail, the Boomerang extension will not only allow you to schedule messages to be sent sometime in the future, but you can also use it to temporarily clear messages out of your inbox until you’re ready to deal with them.

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