Q. Is it safe to bank or visit other sensitive stuff on my phone when using public Wi-Fi?
A. I wouldn’t. Whether you use a smartphone, tablet or computer, public Wi-Fi isn’t safe. Hackers on the network can snoop on what you’re doing. I’d wait until you’re home for banking. If you absolutely have to bank on the go, switch over to cellular. Those signals are harder for hackers to intercept. If you’re worried about your data limit, you can compress data with an app like Onavo Extend. If your bank has a mobile app, it’s a good idea to use that instead of its mobile site. You could use text message banking if your bank supports it, too.
Q. My computer is really slow, and I think it’s broken. Should I replace it?
A. If it’s just slow performance, there’s a chance you can repair it. Most performance issues come from malfunctioning hardware, viruses or a bad program. These don’t have to cost a lot to fix. Start by trying free software like PC Decrapifier, CCleaner or an anti-virus program. These often can speed things up. If those don’t work, it might be a hardware problem. Compare the estimated cost to fix it with the price of a new system. If it’s more than 50 percent or your computer is older than four years, replace it.
Q. I’m tired of paying for text messages. Is there some way to text for free?
A. You bet, and it’s making carriers nervous. I’m talking about free texting apps that work over Wi-Fi and cellular. The right one for you depends on what service your friends and family use. For example, iMessage and Whatsapp only let you send messages to other users. If your friends and family use them, then you can use them and still chat with most of your friends. If not, go with TextFree or TextPlus. These give you a special number that can send texts to anyone. Just make sure your friends know that number is only for texting, otherwise you might get hit with fees if they try to call.
Q. I think my son might be addicted to Xbox Live. Is that possible? What can I do?
A. Technology addiction is a very real, very dangerous phenomenon that can happen to anyone. The reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program is a great place to start. It offers tests to help identify addiction and resources to help recover from it. It’s a great place for learning how you can best help a loved one recover from addiction, too. The key is to let your son know that you support him and you’re there for him. If you can set the example for what healthy tech use looks like, he’s more likely to overcome his addiction.
Q. My computer’s layout is really boring. What are some fun, easy ways to shake it up?
A. The easiest place to start is with new wallpaper. You can find thousands of places that offer wallpaper online, but make sure you stick with only official sites. Some scammers like to hide viruses in “wallpaper” files. Microsoft has themes you can download to change how Windows looks, too. These not only include wallpaper, but new menu colors, fonts, icons and more. You can change most of the settings manually in the Appearance and Personalization menu in your Control Panel.
Kim Komando hosts the nation’s largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to www.komando.com.