For those lucky enough to unwrap some hot tech toys this Christmas, here is a roundup of what you need to know to get your new gadgets to work, and to make sure they're properly protected.
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Voice assistantsOne of the hottest gifts this year was voice assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.
To get started using these devices, you will need to download the accompanying app to set these devices up and connect them to your Wi-Fi. If you want to tie in any smart home devices like Wi-Fi-connected thermostats, speaker systems, lighting or even vacuum cleaners, you will also need to link your accounts for those devices and enable “skills” to control them with the voice assistant.
While not difficult, it does take some time. I linked five different accounts or devices and it took me approximately two hours. Also, if you have kids in the house I strongly recommend putting a passcode on the "Buy by Voice" feature so your kids don’t purchase a fidget spinner on your Amazon or Google shopping account without your knowledge (I wouldn’t be speaking from experience, my darling son would never do something like that!). Speaking of 9-year-old boys, be prepared for the endless game of “Alexa, tell me a joke.”
DronesI recommend flying your new drone indoors until you get used to the controls. Choose a room without expensive lamps or precious photographs, and put your family pet in another room, away from the drone. Keep in mind too that drones have much shorter return windows than other products, so if you don’t like or want the drone, take it back as soon as possible. Do not take your first flight outdoors on a windy day ... says she who lost two drones in two weeks.
Virtual reality devicesKids and virtual reality are an untested combination. Many manufacturers, including Sony, say children under age 12 should not use virtual reality products. Some researchers say more information is needed on the effect of virtual reality on growing brains. Until it’s clear the effect this technology has, I would recommend to proceed with moderation.
Router systemsIf you have extra cash this Christmas and want to do something for your tech-loving household that will have a positive effect all year long, invest in a new mesh network router system. These are routers that have a central access point next to your cable or DSL modem, but then connect with satellite access points to blanket your whole home. They aren’t cheap, but having dead spots in your home stinks. The Eero is the most popular of the mesh networks available now.
What to know about insuranceYou can opt for insurance, which is sold by carriers, Apple or a third-party company like Squaretrade. Replacing an iPhone can cost more than $1,000, so if it's for a teenager, I'd recommend getting the insurance. For an adult with no big risk factors (no outdoor job, history of dropping phones in toilets, or propensity to leave phones in taxi cabs), I'd probably skip the added expense.
How to trade in your old stuffWith millions of new smartphones expected to ship out this holiday season, there are bound to be lots of older phones going into a cabinet or drawer.
Those gadgets can be a source of easy money though. I recommend using a service like Gazelle or NextWorth, which will pay for your shipping and give you cash for that old laptop, phone or iPod. Act soon, because the value of that gear will only diminish the longer you wait.
Register gift cardsAn estimated $27.5 billion in gift cards are expected to be exchanged this holiday season, which can present itself as a prime opportunity for scammers.
It’s a bit complicated, but gift card fraud happens when a card is activated for a gift, and scammers manage to then drain all the money off of it.
The best way to fight this fraud is to use the gift card right away or at the very least go to the online retailer where the card can be redeemed and register it. While this doesn’t work for every store, it is a good option for popular places like iTunes or the Google Play store, who put a credit in your account.