How to: use the extra features packed into Apple’s tiny AirPods

Yes, AirPods are clearly for playing music but you can rapidly choose where that audio comes from —and just what happens when you tap on the AirPods. AppleInsider details all the options.

 

By William Gallagher of Appleinsider

You can be listening to music moments after you first put AirPods into your ear and we may never get used to how great that is. However, just because they are designed so that you can pop them in and go, it doesn’t mean this is all they can do.

AirPods don’t have screens and they don’t have tangible buttons. But, the AirPods themselves and the charging case are replete with functions. You can edit touch controls so that a tap on your right AirPod plays the next track while a tap on the left one calls up Siri.

To help you keep your iPhone in your pocket, Siri can whisper the name of your caller into your AirPods as your phone rings. You can so easily switch to listening to your phone or your iPad.

And you can only slightly-less-easily switch to listening to your Mac, your Apple TV and even your Apple Watch.

No screens

There may not be a screen on these tiny AirPods but if you open their case while you’re next to your iPhone, the phone will display information.

Just opening the AirPod case tells the iPhone to pay attention and shows battery information. You get the current charge of the case and an average of that for the two AirPods. Put one AirPod in your ear and now you get the individual battery charge for each one.

It’s worth checking this instead of relying on that average, too, because very often the two AirPods will have different levels of charge. Even though you always charge them in the case together, one may be significantly lower than the other.

That’s because one of them may have been acting as a microphone when you’ve received phone calls.

 

You get this information when the AirPods have been paired to your iPhone. If they haven’t been yet, find the small white button at the back of the AirPod case and hold it in.

After a few seconds, this makes the AirPods and their case discoverable over Bluetooth and your phone can find them.

Even when you’ve got them paired, though, that’s not the same thing as having them connected. To quickly connect your AirPods, swipe to bring up Control Center, then tap on the small symbol at top right of the Music section.

This is the quickest way to connect and start playing music to your paired AirPods but there is a slightly longer way around too.

With one exception to do with phone calls, you control all of your AirPods via the Bluetooth preferences in your iPhone’s Settings. Go to Settings, Bluetooth and look for your AirPods in the list of paired devices.

Next to its name there will be a Connected or a Not Connected label. It’s a toggle: tap on Not Connected and it will connect or vice versa.

There is also an Information button to the right. Tap on that and if your AirPods aren’t connected, all you see is an option to Forget this Device.

If they are connected, though, that’s when you get direct access to most of the AirPods’ best features.

Ears and throat

From here you can do the big moves like disconnecting the AirPods or, again, Forget This Device. You can also change the name of your AirPods. By default they’re called your ones, as in “William’s AirPods” or “Rachel’s AirPods”.

If William or Rachel are ever mad enough to give up their precious AirPods and they really, really like you, then you can change the name here.

Toward the foot of the settings page there is an option to have Automatic Ear Detection on. It’s the default but if it’s ever not on, switch it on. This is how the AirPods are allowed to do something with the information that you’ve just picked them up and popped them into your ear.

Similarly, it’s how they are allowed to respond when you take the AirPods out. And it rarely gets better than when you take out one AirPod and the music pauses long enough for you to hear them say “Oh, I didn’t realise you had headphones on”. That never gets old.

 

There’s also a Microphone option which lets you specify which of your two AirPods acts as a microphone when you’re on a phone call or recording audio.

The default is to have the AirPods themselves decide, to switch automatically to whichever one seems best. The only criteria we can think of is that if, say, the Right AirPod’s battery is low, they could switch to using the Left.

Except the reason that one AirPod’s battery will be lower than the other is that it’s been used as the microphone. So how the AirPods pick which goes first is a mystery.

It’s also hard to think of many situations where it would bother you which was the microphone. The earpiece, yes: if you happen to have poorer hearing in one ear than the other then you would of course choose the other one —except this isn’t about hearing, it’s about speaking.

So just leave this set to the default of Automatically Switch AirPods and move on to your ears.

Left ear, right ear

AirPods respond to your putting them in your ears and taking them out again. They also respond to your finger quickly tapping on them twice. Since you have two AirPods, you can tap on either —and you can choose what happens when you do.

It’s not the greatest selection of options. It would be fun to see what an AirPod equivalent of BetterTouchTool or Keyboard Maestro could do, but for now you get five options per ear.

Three are to do with music. You can set that a double tap means to Play or Pause the music, that it means to skip to the next track or that it means repeat the previous one.

There’s also a Siri option. Select this and whenever you double tap on an AirPod, it will pause whatever you’re listening to and wait for you to ask Siri to do something.

The fifth option is just Off. That may be the dullest menu item Apple’s ever done.

Not all

All of these settings are done in the Bluetooth section of your iPhone’s settings. However, there is one more option you can set for your AirPods which needs you to go somewhere else.

Go to Settings, Phone. The first option under the Calls section is Announce Calls and normally it’s set to Never.

Tap on that line, though, and you can change it to have Siri announce your phone calls in three different circumstances. One is always, absolutely every time your phone rings. The others are to do with when you’re wearing AirPods —or any headphones —or you’re driving with CarPlay.

Whenever it’s set to announce your calls, that’s exactly what it does. You hear the ringing start and then Siri says the name of the caller if they’re in your Contacts.

It’s a bit quiet, to be fair. Or our ring tone is a little loud. We’re not sure which.

However, what it means is that you can leave your phone in your pocket and not even have to peek to see who’s calling. You do have to take it out if you want to answer but then you can pop it right back in your bag while you take the call on your AirPods.

Apple Watch

Of course, if you’re fully Apple-compliant then as well as AirPods you’ve got your Apple Watch. Then a turn of your wrist will show you who’s phoning and that probably means the audio announcement isn’t very useful.

When you tap on the Watch to accept the call, though, you can take it on the Watch or you can use your AirPods. If they’re connected to the Watch.

Whatever Apple Watch you have, there is music on it if you’ve also got an Apple Music subscription. You can leave your phone at home and tell the Watch to play music direct to your AirPods.

Back to the Mac

One oddity is that it’s still hardest to link AirPods to your Mac. It’s not as if it’s actually difficult: you click on the Bluetooth icon in your menubar then select the AirPods and choose Connect.

Only, it doesn’t always work. Why this should be the case with AirPods and not other Bluetooth devices is unfathomable but it regularly takes two or three attempted connections before we can be listening to our Mac over our AirPods.

Plus when you’re used to how quickly you can go between iPhone and iPad, it’s oddly slow going to the Mac. There is a workaround, though: a $2.99 menubar app called ToothFairy sorts it out. With a click on the menubar icon or the press of a keystroke, ToothFairy connects your AirPods to the Mac immediately.

Completing the picture

When you start listing all these Apple devices out, you do wonder how you ended up paying one firm all this money. However, if you also have an Apple TV then AirPods are now able to connect to them much more easily.

Originally, you had to go through the Apple TV’s Bluetooth settings. You’d go to that, then press-and-hold the button on the AirPod case until they were discoverable. Then the AirPods would appear on the Apple TV’s list of devices and you could choose to pair them.

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, not when it’s identical to the way you pair to a new iPhone, but it always seemed to take us a few goes to get it working right.

Whereas now, you can simply press and hold the Play/Pause button on your Apple TV Siri remote. That opens up a list of all audio devices attached or reachable on your Apple TV. When you flip open the case of your AirPods, they appear on the screen and you just select them.

When you’re at that screen, you can also press and hold on the selected audio device which will then change to a volume control. Considering that just using the remote control’s volume up and down buttons will do the same thing, it’s not the most use.

Perhaps none of these AirPod options on their own is going to shake the world but it is astonishing how much flexibility and functionality these things have.

And that’s even before next year’s rumored updates.

What’s your favorite feature of the AirPods? Tell us about it in the comments below!!

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How to: Force Your iPhone to Switch Cell Towers for a Stronger Signal

 

 

By Matt Milano of Gadget Hacks

Having a dropped call can be incredibly frustrating, especially when you look down and see that your iPhone has full reception. While there’s any number of issues that can cause this, one common and often overlooked issue is your iPhone failing to switch cell towers as appropriately needed.

When you’re not switched to the appropriate tower, it means there’s a problem with the communication between your smartphone and cellular network. Either your iPhone tries to hold its connection to a cell tower that’s well outside the optimal range or the new cell tower is already overloaded with other connected devices.

How Cell Phones Switch Towers

Cell phones work with networks to determine the best tower to connect to based on range, signal strength, and the frequency being used. When a phone is connected to a cellular network, it continually checks the signal strength of nearby towers and communicates that information to the network. In theory, when a phone’s connection to a cell tower drops below signal strength of a nearby one, the network should switch the phone to the new tower.

Practically, however, this doesn’t always occur as smoothly as it should and common fixes, such as cycling Airplane Mode, don’t always work. While using the “Reset Network Settings” option will always work, it’s a drastic step that will also erase any saved Wi-Fi login credentials. Fortunately, there’s another simple way to force your iPhone to switch towers.

Install OpenSignal

OpenSignal is a network performance monitoring app that not only tells you the speed of your connection but also shows you what tower you’re currently connected to. You can search for “OpenSignal” in the iOS App Store directly or use the link below to jump right to it. Install just like any other app.

• App Store Link: OpenSignal – Speed Test & Maps (free)

 

Configure & Check Your Current Tower

Once you have OpenSignal installed and open, you’ll need to give it access to your location in the notification prompt. OpenSignal uses your position to show you nearby cell towers.

The app will also ask if you want to contribute signal data. OpenSignal uses this information to rate the carriers and provide customers with input on what carriers offer the best coverage in any given region; This is entirely voluntary, but if you do opt in, any information collected will be strictly anonymous.

 

 

After that, you’ll see a screen with an arrow pointing to the tower your iPhone is currently connected to. You can also tap the arrow to pull up a map displaying all the nearby towers operated by your carrier. You’ll want to recheck this after forcing a switch to confirm it was successful.

 

 

Force Your iPhone to Switch to a Better Tower

To manually force your iPhone to switch cell towers, open the Settings app, then tap “Cellular.” Next, select “Cellular Data Options,” then tap “Enable LTE.”

 

The setting will likely be set to “Voice & Data.” Cycle it to “Off,” wait 30 seconds, and then cycle it back to the previous setting, either “Voice & Data” or “Data Only.” Once your iPhone’s LTE antenna reconnects, it will search out the antenna with the strongest signal and connect to it, likely a different one that you were initially having issues with.

Verify the Tower Change with OpenSignal

Reopen OpenSignal to see if your iPhone is connected to a different tower. If the force switch was successful, the arrow on the main screen should be pointing to a different tower.

 

If it appears you’re still connected to the same one, it likely means there isn’t a better tower nearby. Other towers may be farther away, have a weaker signal, might not be using compatible frequencies, or may already be overloaded.

Either way, you’ll have another method to deal with pesky cell connection issues without taking any drastic measures.

Do you have any hacks for improving Call Signal on your phone? Tell us about it in the comments below!

How to: Use AirPlay

Minimum Requirements and Basic Information

 

by Sam Costello of Lifewire

For many years, the music, videos, and photos stored in our iTunes libraries and on our computers were stuck on those devices (barring complex file-sharing arrangements). For Apple products, that has all changed with the advent of AirPlay (formerly known as AirTunes).

AirPlay lets you stream all kinds of content from your computer or iOS device to other computers, speakers, and TVs.

It’s a pretty neat, and powerful technology that’s only going to get more useful as more products support it.

You don’t have to wait for that day to come, though. If you want to start using AirPlay today, read on for tips on how to use it with many existing devices and apps.

AirPlay Requirements

You’ll need compatible devices in order to use AirPlay.

  • A Mac or PC
  • An iOS device running iOS 4.2 or later
  • iTunes 10.2 or later (some earlier versions support AirTunes or more limited AirPlay implementations)
  • Any iPad model
  • iPhone 3GS or higher
  • 3rd generation iPod touch or newer
  • Any Apple TV model
  • AirPort Express
  • Compatible third-party apps
  • Compatible third-party hardware like speakers or stereo receivers

Remote App
If you have an iOS device, you’ll probably want to download Apple’s free Remote app from the App Store. Remote allows you to use your iOS device as a remote (are you surprised?) to control your computer’s iTunes library and what devices it streams content to, which saves running back and forth to your computer each time you want to change something. Pretty handy!
Basic AirPlay Use

When you have a version of iTunes that supports AirPlay and at least one other compatible device, you’ll see the AirPlay icon, a rectangle with a triangle pushing into it from the bottom.

Depending on what version of iTunes you have, the AirPlay icon will appear in different locations. In iTunes 11+, the AirPlay icon is in the top left, next to the play/forward/backward buttons. In iTunes 10+, you’ll find it in the bottom right-hand corner of the iTunes window.

This allows you to select a device to stream audio or video to via AirPlay. While earlier versions of AirTunes required you to set iTunes to seek out these devices, that’s no longer necessary – iTunes now automatically detects them.

As long as your computer and the device you want to connect to are on the same Wi-Fi network, you’ll see the names you’ve given the devices in the menu that appears when you click the AirPlay icon.

Use this menu to select the AirPlay device you want the music or video to play through (you can select more than one device at the same time), and then begin playing music or video and you’ll hear it playing through the device you selected.
See how to enable AirPlay for iPhone for a walkthrough.

AirPlay With AirPort Express

One of the easiest ways to take advantage of AirPlay is with the AirPort Express. This is around $100 USD and plugs directly into a wall socket.

AirPort Express connects to your Wi-Fi or Ethernet network and lets you connect speakers, stereos, and printers to it. With it serving as the AirPlay receiver, you can then stream content to any device attached to it.

Simply set up the AirPort Express and then choose it from the AirPlay menu in iTunes to stream content to it.

Supported Content

The AirPort Express supports streaming audio only, no video or photos. It also allows wireless printer sharing, so your printer no longer needs a cable attached to your computer to work.

Requirements

  • iTunes 10.2 or later
  • At least one AirPort Express running firmware 7.4.2 or newer (you can use multiple AirPort Expresses in the house)
  • Speakers (or printer) to plug into the AirPort Express

AirPlay and Apple TV

Another simple way to use AirPlay in the home is via the Apple TV, the tiny set-top box that connects your HDTV to your iTunes library and the iTunes Store.

The Apple TV and AirPlay is a powerful combination indeed: it supports music, video, photos, and content streamed from apps.

This means that with the tap of a button, you can take the video you’re watching on your iPad and send it to your HDTV via the Apple TV.

If you’re sending content from your computer to the Apple TV, use the method already described. If you’re using an app that displays the AirPlay icon (most common in web browsers and audio and video apps), use the AirPlay icon to select the Apple TV as the device to stream that content to.

Tip: If the Apple TV doesn’t show up in the AirPlay menu, make sure AirPlay is enabled on it by going to the Apple TV’s Settings menu and then enabling it from the AirPlay menu.

Supported Content

  • Audio streamed from iTunes or iOS devices
  • Video streamed from iTunes or iOS devices
  • Video from iOS apps (e.g. YouTube app or video embedded in web pages)
  • Photos from computers or iOS devices
  • Mirroring a device’s screen on the TV

Requirements

  • Apple TV: 2nd generation Apple TV and newer for video and photos, or 1st generation Apple TV for audio only
  • iTunes 10.2 or higher
  • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
  • An HDTV

AirPlay and Apps

A growing number of iOS apps support AirPlay, too. While the apps that supported AirPlay were initially limited to those built by Apple and included in iOS, since iOS 4.3, third-party apps have been able to take advantage of AirPlay.

Just look for the AirPlay icon in the app. Support is most often found in audio or video apps, but it may also be found on videos embedded in web pages.

Tap the AirPlay icon to select the destination you want to stream content to from your iOS device.

Supported Content

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Photos

Built-in iOS Apps That Support AirPlay

  • Music
  • iPod
  • Videos
  • Photos
  • YouTube
  • Safari

Requirements

  • AirPort Express, Apple TV, or compatible speakers
  • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
  • App that supports AirPlay
  • AirPlay With Speakers

AirPlay With Speakers

There are stereo receivers and speakers from third-party manufacturers that offer built-in AirPlay support.

Some come with compatibility built in and others require aftermarket upgrades. Either way, with these components, you won’t need an AirPort Express or Apple TV to send content to; you’ll be able to send it directly to your stereo from iTunes or compatible apps.

Like with the AirPort Express or Apple TV, set up your speakers (and consult the included manual for directions on using AirPlay) and then select them from the AirPlay menu in iTunes or your apps to stream audio to them.

Supported Content

  • Audio

Requirements

  • iTunes 10.2 or later
  • Compatible speakers
  • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
  • App that supports AirPlay


Do you have a favorite AirPlay Hack? Tell us about it in the comments below!

How to: use your smartphone without leaving a trace

Cover up your digital footprints.

 

By David Nield of Popular Science

Every time you grab your phone to participate in a group chat, watch a YouTube video, or search the internet, you leave a digital trail of activity. This footprint can compromise your privacy the next time a friend borrows your device. It also puts your personal information at risk should your phone fall into really unscrupulous hands.

In this guide, we’ll explain how you can prevent your device from logging and storing data where other people can easily stumble across it. We will focus on cleaning up your phone’s local storage, as opposed to limiting the information that apps send to the cloud.

Go incognito

The web browser on your phone, like the one on your computer, offers a data-limiting incognito or private mode. When you open a session in this mode, the app will forget the pages you visit and the keywords you search as soon as you close the window.

However, private browsing doesn’t make you invisible. For instance, if you log into Facebook’s web portal in incognito mode, the social network will record your activity. Your internet service provider (ISP), will also see your browsing, and it may log your online behavior as well.

To hide your browsing from your ISP, you’ll need to rely on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) (more on that in this roundup of security gadgets and apps). But if you simply aim to clean up the record left on your phone’s local storage, then this mode tidies up after itself very effectively.

The process for using this mode will depend on the browser app you prefer. For example, to launch incognito mode with Chrome, tap the Menu button (three dots) on the top right of the page and choose New incognito tab. If you forget to browse incognito, you can still clear your saved data. Just hit Menu > Settings > Privacy > Clear browsing data.

For iPhone users who rely on Safari, tap the Show pages icon (two squares) on the bottom right of the screen and choose Private. Now, when you tap the Plus button to open a new window, it will be an incognito one. To erase data collected outside of private mode, open the Settings app and select Safari > Clear History and Website Data.

Erase messages

Unless you use a chat app with self-destructing messages, it will keep records of your conversations. Of course, most people like to check back on their old communications, but you don’t need to preserve every moment of a years-long thread. You can delete these old conversations manually, or try a less time-consuming option: Automatically erase chat history after a set period of time has elapsed.

On iOS, open the Settings app, go to Messages > Keep Messages, and set messages to automatically disappear after 30 days. Within the app itself, you can manually erase conversations from the front screen: Swipe left on the thread and then tap the Delete button.

Unfortunately, not all chat apps offer this auto-expunge function. To leave no trace of conversations on your phone, you may have to turn to manual deletion. This may be time-consuming, but it isn’t difficult. For example, in Android’s default SMS app, Messages, you delete a conversation by long-pressing on it and then tapping the Trash icon on the top right of the screen.

Some apps make it easier to purge your entire history all at once. In the case of WhatsApp, open the app and head to Settings > Chats > Chat history > Delete all chats. Then make a note to regularly check back and re-erase your latest messages.

Another solution is to only send the aforementioned self-destructing messages. Apps with this option include Telegram Messenger, Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat. For more information, check out our guide to self-destructing message apps.

Limit app logging

Each of the apps on your phone will take a slightly different approach to logging your activities. Some of them let you avoid their gaze by using incognito mode, while others will stop tracking you if you ask.

For example, the Android version of YouTube (this is not yet available in the iOS version) just added an incognito mode, which doesn’t track the videos you watch. To activate this mode, open the app, tap your avatar on the top right of the screen, and pick Turn on Incognito.

On the other hand, Google Maps will track your location by default, which lets it accumulate a lot of data about your real-world movements. To stop it, head to the settings: Launch the app, tap the Menu button (three lines) on the top left of the screen, and hit Settings (on Android) or the cog icon (on iOS). Within the settings, select Personal content and turn off the location history feature.

There are millions of apps on the market, with no hard and fast rules about how to keep them from recording your behavior. But in general, a good first step is to check for the aforementioned settings—incognito mode and stopping tracking.

If you don’t find these options, you’ll have to clear your activity manually. This process will vary depending on your operating system.

In Android, open Settings > Apps & notifications, pick an app from the list, and hit Storage > Clear storage. This wipes all the data that the app has stored locally. Afterward, the app will behave as if you’ve installed it from scratch, so you’ll need to log in again, set up your preferences, and so on.

On iOS, you won’t find an identical option, but you can achieve the same effect by uninstalling and reinstalling an app. Open the Settings app, tap General > iPhone Storage, and select one of your apps. Then choose Delete App to wipe all of its data. Finally, re-install the program from the App Store.

It’s not very practical to do this for all of your apps every day. But you might choose to run a manual clean-up at set intervals (say once a month), before you go traveling, or whenever you want to make a fresh start.

Delete search history

Many mobile apps store data locally and in the cloud, so they can sync your information to other devices. That means, to clear search logs from your phone, you’ll have to wipe the records across multiple platforms.

For example, your Google account will store the history of searches you’ve run from your Android phone. To wipe these records, you actually have to access them from the web. Open your browser and head to your Google activity history page. Click the Menu button (three lines) on the top left, then Delete activity by. Set the time span and content type—to erase everything, those should be All time and Search, respectively—and click Delete. This will wipe your search history across all the Google-linked products you use, including Android and the Google search engine.

On iOS, you won’t find a comparable activity cleaner. However, you can prevent Spotlight from betraying your past searches by displaying them as suggestions. To turn off this feature, head to the Settings app, tap Siri & Search, and toggle off the Suggestions in Search switch. Now, when you lend your phone to your mother to look something up, she won’t see all your past search terms.

How do you cover your tracks on your smartphone? Share your workflow in the comments below!

How to: choose an external hard drive

Buy the right external hard drive for you with these handy tips

 

By Jon Martindale

Backing up your most important files to cloud providers is great, but if your internet goes down it’s always good to have a backup close at hand too. That’s where external drives come in, and they even offer a great way to expand your storage for lower-end laptops and portable devices.

With so many drives out there though, how do you know which ones to buy? Should you buy a hard drive or an external SSD? Which version of USB do you need? Do connectors matter? What about encryption? We’ll answer all that and more in our guide on how to choose an external drive, to make sure you get the most for your money.

If you just want to skip to buying an external drive, here’s our list of the best ones available today.

STORAGE CAPACITY

Arguably the most important specification to consider when buying an external drive is storage space. It’s no good buying a high-speed device with encryption and remote access if it’s not big enough to actually store the information you need. That said, you also don’t want to pay through the nose for a drive you’ll never even come close to filling, so what size should you be aiming for? It depends what you want to do with it.

If you want a device that’s good for transferring documents, photos, or other media from one device to the other, or just want to expand the storage space of your low-end laptop or tablet, then you might be best off with a mid-range flash drive. While the largest of those can stretch up to 2TB of storage space, they get very expensive and are unnecessarily big for this sort of usage. Really you’re better off saving yourself a lot of money and buying something in the region of 64GB. Some of those can be had for less than $20 and you can get ones double the size for not much more.

If you’re interested in storing a lot more or keeping files and folders on there long term, you’ll want something bigger. A 1TB drive should suit most needs for the foreseeable future, but if you envision storing hundreds of movies (maybe you ripped your DVD collection?), or just never want to run out of space, there are drives available today that offer multiple terabytes of space. The Seagate Backup Plus is available in sizes from 1TB all the way up to 5TB and even then it’s not much more than $100.

TRANSFER SPEED

Size isn’t everything, even when it comes to external drives. Transfer speed is incredibly important too, because if you transfer files back and forth to a huge drive on a regular basis, you don’t want to have to wait an age for them to complete.

There are two main factors that play a role in how fast your drive can operate at: The storage technology and the connector it uses. Although some drives are faster than others (and if you want bleeding edge speed, make sure to check reviews of your options) in general, solid state drives (SSD) can process data faster than hard drives(HDD). External SSDs tend to be more expensive than their HDD counterparts and often have less storage capacity. You don’t have to have one or the other, as there are larger SSDs out there, but you will have to pay a premium for it.

In terms of the connector used to hook up your external drive to your desktop, laptop, or mobile device, there are several common options to consider. Most drives today use a USB interface, but there are several generations that have some distinct differences — most notably with transfer speed. USB 2.0 is an old standard and should be avoided if you’re doing anything but making infrequent small file transfers. USB 3.0 offers a substantial increase in speed (up to 5Gbps), while USB 3.1 (sometimes called USB 3.1 Gen 2) is becoming more common and offers up to 10Gbps transfer speeds. Devices that support Thunderbolt 3 offer the fastest connection medium out there, capable of transferring media at up to 40Gbps.

Some older devices use alternative connectors like eSATA and Firewire, but due to their reduced relevance, they should be avoided.

PORTABILITY AND DURABILITY

 

If you want to only use your external drive for backups in your own home, you don’t need to consider portability and could even look to network attached storage solutions, for more permanent backup options. If you want to keep your drive with you when you’re out and about though, portability is of paramount importance. You want it to be light and small enough to fit in a bag or pocket so that it can be accessed quickly and easily without weighing you down all day. Ideally, you want one that doesn’t require an external power cable too.

Most external drives are far from weighty and some, like the Samsung T5, are tiny, offering huge digital storage capacity while being physically diminutive. In the inverse of storage space, SSDs tend to be a little smaller than their hard drive counterparts.

Another reason to consider an SSD over an HDD is durability. While modern-day external drives often come equipped with rugged casings to protect them against damage should they be banged or dropped, the two technologies have very different physical makeups. An SSD has no moving parts, making them more durable to drop damage than a traditional hard drive. While nobody plans to drop their external drive, if you think you might, SSDs offer a little more protection against such unfortunate events.

SECURITY

If the data you store on your external drive is sensitive in any way, encrypting the data is a good idea. There are many drives out there that are compatible with software encryption solutions and those are fine for most people, but for those who take their data security more seriously, you want to find a drive with hardware encryption. If you’re extremely security conscious, you could even opt for a physical security system like the pin-code input on the Apricorn Aegis Padlock drive.

Some drives will also come with strong casings to prevent physical tampering. While Kingston’s Ironkey flash drives don’t offer the same storage capacity as full-scale drives, they have a secondary security layer in that their drive PCBs are dipped in a resin that makes it hard for anyone to access the internal memory chips.

EXTRA FEATURES

There are a multitude of different external drives out there, and that means stiff competition. While all of the above features and specifications are worth considering before anything else, there are some other neat features you can look out for if you’re still unsure which drive to go for.

Some offer Wi-Fi connectivity for easy file access, and some offer better warranties than others, so if you are at all concerned about reliability, picking one with a long warranty is a good idea. You might also consider the cables that the drive ships with — if your laptop or phone has USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connections and your drive only comes with a USB-A cable, factor in buying another cable or an adaptor.

Do you have any best practices when shopping for a new external HD? Tell us in the comments below!

How to: make YouTube load up to 5x faster in Safari

 

By Killian Bell of CultofMac

Have you ever wondered why YouTube is so much slower than all the other websites you visit in Safari? Did you know that you could make it up to five times faster with very little effort?

YouTube’s new design doesn’t play nicely with browsers that aren’t Google Chrome, but with some simple tweaks, you can switch back to its previous design and enjoy much faster speedsHere’s how.

It’s not Safari’s fault that YouTube runs so poorly. In fact, the same problem affects Firefox and Microsoft Edge users, too. It’s all because of the way YouTube is designed.

Google builds its services to run better inside Chrome. Some have been blocked from running inside rival browsers at all. What makes YouTube slow is that it still relies on a deprecated shadow API that only Chrome still supports.

This makes YouTube five times slower in Safari, Firefox, and Edge, according to Chris Peterson, a program manager for Mozilla — but there is a way to change that.

Speed up YouTube in Safari

You could ask Google to upgrade to the Polymer 2.0 or even 3.0 APIs, which are supported by other browsers. This would help make YouTube pages load a lot faster. But that probably won’t work.

The easiest solution is to force YouTube to revert to an older design that doesn’t rely on the Polymer 1.0 API. You’ll lose its dark mode feature and a slightly more polished look, but the experience remains the same.

Here’s what you need to do if you use Safari:

1 Download the Tapermonkey script
2 Tell Safari that you “Trust” the script when it asks for your approval
3 Download this user script that forces YouTube to use classic mode

If you use Firefox on your Mac, Mozilla has done the hard work for you. Simply download this Firefox extension that automatically forces YouTube to load its older design.

Do you have any tricks for speeding up YouTube? Share them with us in the comments below!

How to: Free Up Space on Your Mac

Apple includes a few tools with macOS to help manage unnecessary files on your computer.

 

By J. D. Biersdorfer of the New York Times

For years, Mac computers did not come with utilities like Disk Cleanup and the newer Storage Sense found in Windows, but Apple added new tools in 2016 with the release of its macOS Sierra system. If your Mac is running at least that version of the system, go to the Apple Menu, select About This Mac and click the Storage tab.

On the Storage screen, you should see a graphic showing your drive’s available space. Click the Manage button on the right side of the box to get started. The resulting storage-management screen offers four ways to clear off old files: Store in iCloud, Optimize Storage, Empty Trash; Automatically and Reduce Clutter.

As one might expect, the Store in iCloud option punts documents, photos and Messages off your Mac’s drive and into your iCloud online storage locker. While this does free up room on the computer, you may have to buy more iCloud storage space from Apple if you fill up your five gigabytes that come free with an iCloud account.

Enabling the Optimize Storage feature dumps iTunes videos you have already watched, but you can download them again later. The setting also changes the Mail program’s behavior regarding file attachments to retrieve only recent files — or only those that came with messages you have opened.

The Empty Trash Automatically setting permanently deletes files that have been living in the Mac’s trash for longer than 30 days. (In macOS Sierra and later, the system also automatically dumps duplicate Safari downloads, cache files, logs and other unneeded files.)

Using the Reduce Clutter feature is another way to find big files hogging drive space and remove them. To see what the Mac considers “clutter,” click the Review Files button and go through the lists of files deemed large, old or unnecessary. Click the X next to each file to delete it.

If you are running a version of the operating system older than macOS Sierra, you can manually wade through your drive tossing old files or get a third-party cleaning app to sweep up for you. The Macworld site has a detailed list of cleaning tips that explains how to find and trash old Mail downloads, cache files and disk images.

If you’d rather have software do the job, a combination of MacPaw’s CleanMyMac 3 and Gemini 2 (for system cleaning and duplicate-file removal) is an option; free trials of the programs are available. Disk Cleanup Pro and Dr. Cleanerare among the free utilities in the Mac App Store, and others can be found online. As with all maintenance programs, however, read the reviews before you download and back up your Mac before using software intended to automatically delete files on your computer — just in case.

Do you have any tips for freeing up space on your Mac (or PC)? Share them in the comments below!!