Even if you didn’t shamelessly hint to family and friends about a specific gadget gift you’d love to unwrap this holiday, chances are good you found something techy under the tree this year.
From tablets and e-readers to smartwatches and activity trackers to mobile phones and smart home gear, tech was one of the — if not the — hottest gifts of 2021. But what if you can’t figure out how to use your new toy? You’re not alone.
After all, it’s not like we grew up with these gizmos. So chances are good that you’ll have questions, or even challenges, as you familiarize yourself with these devices and what they can do.
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. With this in mind, here’s a look at a few options for getting help, even if it’s an evening, weekend or holiday. Some are free.
Look to the manufacturer for support
When you pay for a product or buy one as a gift, part of the cost goes toward customer service and technical support. So don’t be afraid to use it.
The same goes if you’re paying for a service, such as your internet provider, mobile phone carrier or cable TV company. They, too, are obligated to help you. Even if a warranty period has expired, I’ve found many companies will still try to assist.
To get help, go to the company’s website — apple.com and hp.com are two examples — and look for the tech support area, or do a web search for “[product name] tech support.” But make sure you're reaching the actual company, because scammers are everywhere.
To communicate with them, use the method you’re most comfortable with. Be prepared to wait for days if you choose email, and you may wait hours during high-volume times for your phone call to get to the top of a queue. But if you look for a Live Chat tab or something similar, it will open a text-based chat window so you can correspond with someone on the other end in real time. At first that might be a computer-controlled chatbot, but a human should come online at some point.
If you're having a problem with a product you just received, make sure you have a gift receipt, in case you need to return it to the store. Also be sure to register your device with the company if that’s an option.
Rely on friends and family
In every family or circle of friends, there's someone with serious tech smarts you can call in a pinch. As a professional tech reviewer, I'm that person for my friends and relatives.
If someone is willing to help you by phone, make sure you have your gear in front of you so you can follow along with the instructions. Better yet, also jot down the advice, in case the problem happens again.
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However, nothing beats in-person help, so perhaps you could tempt a tech-savvy relative or neighbor with a fresh batch of cookies or a bottle of holiday cheer — fair trade, if you will — and ask nicely for a visit. If they’re unable and you need computer help, the next best thing to being there is having a trusted friend or family member log into your laptop or desktop remotely to fix the problem for you. This will eliminate a potentially frustrating exchange over the phone: “Dad, Dad, Dad, I said to left-click on the file!”
By letting someone access your computer while it’s right in front of you, you’ll see what they’re doing to troubleshoot and fix the issue. You can watch your cursor magically move around the screen as your helper fixes the problem. Take notes so you can attempt to do it yourself should the problem arise again.
Your personal expert can choose from several remote desktop software solutions, including GoToMyPC, LogMeIn and my favorite, the free Splashtop Personal. Because you're ceding control of your computer, at least for a few minutes, be sure that you're consulting with someone you know and trust.
Go to YouTube
Want to try to fix the issue yourself? It could be something simple.
First, search for information about your glitch. Be as specific as you can on the exact model name of your device and the problem you’re facing. Chances are you’ll find someone with the same issue and potentially a clear solution, too.
For example, instead of writing “no sound on Samsung TV,” type in “no sound Samsung The Frame LS03A,” and you’ll get better results. Sometimes you’ll find a short answer in the search engine, but you can always click or tap on a website for a deeper dive into web pages such as a tech support forum.
If you’re a visual learner, go to YouTube and search for your problem by keywords to watch someone who successfully fixed their tech before you attempt to fix yours. This works well for me. Once I see it, I get it.
A free tech help hotline
According to Asurion, the company behind the uBreakiFix chain of repair stores across the country, more than 70 percent of people say they’ve spent time helping a family member assemble or troubleshoot their tech gifts.
You can get to the Asurion Tech Help Hotline by visiting the website or calling 855-355-TECH to ask about your problem, such as spotty Wi-Fi or a smart speaker that’s not “listening” to you properly.
Drop-off or in-home services
If you don’t have the time or patience for online or phone help, you can drop off your tech at an electronics store or service center for an expert to handle. The drawback: You won't have instant gratification, and you’ll have to pick up your device once it’s fixed. But it’s not a bad option for getting your tech serviced.
Depending on the task, such as recovering corrupted files off a hard drive or replacing a broken iPad screen, the service could be expensive. So always ask for a quote first and comparison-shop before committing to one place.
Some major retailers and local small businesses offer in-home help, too. But be sure to get quotes before anyone shows up on your doorstep, and read reviews from customers to see what they say about the service. If you have an Apple product, you can go to one of the more than 250 Apple Stores nationwide. Samsung has five Samsung Experience Stores to support its phones, tablets and watches and their accessories. (Microsoft closed its physical locations in mid-2020.)
Best Buy markets its Geek Squad support services, but the company declined to comment when AARP reached out for an interview. The nationwide electronics retailer offers a Total Tech Support subscription for $199 a year that gives you unlimited support for all your tech and appliances, no matter where you purchased them, according to its website.
Be aware: Purchasing an extended warranty or service contract on appliances or electronics — with the exception of a new car — isn't recommended, according to the nonprofit Consumer Reports. The median cost of either service is about the same as the median cost of a single repair.
Beware of scammers looking to defraud you by posing as a legitimate tech support service.
Never click on an email or pop-up window that claims to be from your internet service provider, a Windows tech support group or something of the sort. Fraudsters these days make the missives look authentic, as if they are from companies you know.
If you do click, a scammer may ask for your credit card, request that you type in personal information or ask to take control of your computer. You should be the one who initiates any contact. And contact only familiar brands on their actual websites — dell.com or fitbit.com, for example — or a third-party tech support brand you know and trust.
Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies and Siri for Dummies.