Can’t figure out how to use your new tech toy? You’re not alone.
You may have unwrapped a new smartphone, tablet, television or smart speaker with glee this holiday season, but it might not be working quite right out of the box, or perhaps you just need a little help in mastering it.
“It can be overwhelming when facing a gadget with a lot of features, settings, buttons, ports, cables and other things you might not have worked with before,” acknowledges Derek Meister from Geek Squad, a subsidiary of Best Buy. “Of course, most people, regardless of age, are capable of learning to use gadgets over time.”
“Repetition is key,” confirms Carley Knobloch, a technology and lifestyle expert. “The best way to learn something is by repetition, and if you’re only using a gadget every now and then, you’re likely to forget what you need to know in between uses.”
You’ve got options, of course. But how you go about getting technical help could vary greatly — based on what the issue is, how tech-savvy you are, and what you can afford — and so here’s a look at a few options for when (not if) you need some support.
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Tech-savvy relative, friend
Have anyone in the family born in the 21st century? Perhaps they can help. Invite over that digitally native grandchild, niece or nephew, and walk through the issue with them. Nothing beats in-person help, but ask them to also explain what they’re doing and not just fix the problem — in case it happens again — and take some notes, too.
If it’s computer help you need and no one is able to come over, allow a tech-savvy relative or friend to log into your PC remotely to help you out. Free software — like Splashtop Personal, GoToMyPC and LogMeIn — eliminates a potentially frustrating exchange over the phone (“I said RIGHT mouse click on the icon!”). By letting someone access the computer you’re in front of, you can watch your cursor magically move around your screen while your expert walks you through the process on your phone.
Web search, video tutorials
Want to try to fix the issue yourself? Go to your favorite search engine and type in the problem. Be as specific as you can. For example, rather than Googling “no sound on laptop,” type in a detailed query like “no sound on HP Pavilion laptop” to get step-by-step instructions (with this example, you may need to reinstall or update the audio driver).
If you’re a visual learner, consider YouTube, suggests Glen Sutton, a senior vice president for the Americas at Ingram Micro Commerce & Lifecycle Services, the world’s largest distributor of tech products. “YouTube is a great resource to figure out almost any tech gadget, and it can simplify lengthy instructional manuals that often come with new products,” Sutton adds. Simply type in some keywords in the YouTube search window to watch someone explain how to fix something before you attempt it. It might be an easier and quicker solution than reading an article or manual about the same topic.
Knobloch agrees: “YouTube could be a great learning tool indeed, as you can follow along and hit ‘pause’ when you need to. Be patient with the process and take on a little bit at a time.”
Call or message tech support
If you’re paying for a service — like online connectivity from an internet service provider (ISP) or television content from your TV provider — that company is obligated to help you. In fact, part of your monthly fee goes toward the tech support department, so this should be something you leverage before paying for outside help.
If it’s a product, be sure to register your gear with the company you bought it from. Even if the warranty period has expired, many companies may still try to help you over the phone.
Also, try going to the company’s website and look for a “Live Chat” tab. This will open a text-based chat window that lets you correspond with an expert. It may be a computer-controlled “chatbot” at first, but a human will kick in eventually.
When friends and family aren’t available, and searching Google or YouTube falls short, and you're confused by what manufacturer support told you, experts can help.
“You’ll want to confirm they’re qualified professionals who clearly know the technology you’re looking to support, and can explain things to you in an easy-to-understand way,” says Meister. “Be sure you’re clear on availability and cost before you commit.”
For example, Total Tech Support, powered by Geek Squad, offers unlimited support by phone, online and in store for one annual fee. And Geek Squad in-home services to help with everything from computers to TVs and appliances are provided at a significantly reduced rate.
Another in-home tech support service, HelloTech, offers assistance on everything from smartphone setup to Wi-Fi issues to configuring smart home gadgets. On the HelloTech.com site, click or tap on a specific issue, and then schedule a visit from a vetted and trained technician. A quote is given ahead of time, which is based on the job, not billed by the hour. The company also offers 24/7 online tech support.
Books and courses
If you want to master your new gadget, you might consider a book, such as in the For Dummies series, that can walk you through the product’s features with step-by-step instructions, and all in plain English, including beginner, intermediate and advanced functions. (Full disclosure: Yours truly has written two of these books.)
AARP offers in-person and online classes on using smartphones, tablets and other tech gadgets. And if you’re really devoted to upping your tech game, you can take a community college course (or online classes) about a particular topic, like mastering Windows 10 or Microsoft Office.