For Christmas, my brother-in-law got me a phone sanitizer that looks like a flower vase.
If I drop my phone into the $80 Oblio wireless charger/sanitizer, I get a germ-free phone after 20 minutes. Or so the company claims. But the directions asked me to flip my phone to clean the other side when the 20 minutes were up. When I flipped it, the purple ultraviolet light, the one that cleans, did not come on. Tech support was no help. They asked me to send a video of the problem. That's when I discovered that the UV light doesn't come on at all now, even at the start.
A good alternative is the $80 PhoneSoap sanitizing box. It sanitizes both sides of a phone at once -- no flipping necessary -- and it charges your phone. The same company sells a product called HomeSoap for $200. It handles tablets and small household items. The company says it uses a clinical laboratory to prove its products remove 99.9% of bacteria. I have a PhoneSoap box myself.
VERIFY AMAZON REVIEWS
You'd think you could trust the average Amazon review. Not so.
Recently an Ars Technica reviewer bought a $24 drone after seeing thousands of positive reviews. It broke after an hour. He discovered that the bulk of the reviews weren't about the drone. They were about honey! Amazon had been tricked into including five-star honey ratings in a drone score. That made the drone look like a big success.
It's better to look at the most recent reviews. In the case of the $24 drone, some of the recent reviewers reported that their drones had broken after the first hour or two. On a competing drone product page, thousands of vodka, bracelet and Christmas card reviews were inserted to boost the score. A reviewer from Buzzfeed.com reported a similar experience.
When Amazon became aware of the bogus rating, the 6,000 comments about the $24 drone dwindled to 50.
GOODBYE FREE INK
HP killed its Free Ink for Life plan. The people who had signed up for it were miffed. But HP's latest deal sounds pretty good too.
HP charges 99 cents to ship you enough ink to print 15 pages a month. If you want 50 pages, it's $3 a month. It goes up from there. More than 8 million subscribers worldwide have signed up. Search on "HP instant ink printers" to find compatible printers, such as the OfficeJet Pro or Envy Photo.
If you don't already have an HP printer, however, I recommend a Canon ink jet or Okidata laser printer. My Canon has been trouble-free since I bought it. Okidata has rich color, is cheaper in the long run and has great tech support, unlike HP's in my experience. When my HP ink jet printer was experiencing a minor software problem, their tech guy couldn't handle it. He suggested I buy a new printer. The Okidata tech team, by contrast, has fixed all my printer problems for free for the past 20 years. I've never had to tell them I'm a reviewer.
A reader writes: "I'd like to know if there's a way to send a fax from my desktop computer." Yes, but she'd have to connect to the Internet with a dial-up modem or use an app.
That reminds me: When the first version of Windows came out many years ago, I asked a salesman what it was good for. "Faxing," he said.
Nowadays it's easier to fax from the web. Go to faxzero.com, type in the sender's and receiver's information. Then click to attach the documents you want to fax. Who faxes these days? The hospital lab where my sister works, for one.
RECOVER DELETED TEXTS
A friend told me she accidentally erased an important text message on her iPhone. How could she get it back?
With iPhones, if you have automatic backup turned on, you can retrieve messages from your iCloud account. Here's how: Go to Settings, tap your name, check to see that your iCloud account has some backups, and reset the phone. This erases everything, which is scary. But restoring the backup allows you to get your lost texts and everything else. There are detailed instructions at BusinessInsider.com. Or do a Google search on "How to Recover Deleted Text Messages on an iPhone." For Android phones, try SMS Backup & Restore, a free app from the Google Play app store. Or use a service like Google One.
APP FOR SPEECH PROBLEMS
Look to Speak is a new, free app from Google that lets you use your eyes to choose a phrase to be spoken aloud. It's designed for those with speech and motor impairments.
Before you start the app, prop up your phone so it's just below eye level. On the screen, you'll see a list of words. Some are listed under the word "left," others under "right." Choose from either list and keep glancing left or right as the list narrows itself down to the word or phrase you want, such as "Thank you." When you're down to one, it's spoken aloud. You can edit the list of words and phrases if your favorites aren't there.
When I tried it, it worked pretty well, though it takes practice. The inventor says it's useful in situations where other accessibility devices may not be usable, such as in transit, in the shower, outdoors or in an emergency.
Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at email@example.com.