It happens every Christmas. You get the shiny new gadget of your dreams — and now you have to set it up. Or worse, spend your holiday setting up everyone else's gadgets. According to a recent survey by device insurance provider Asurion, nearly a third of people don't use their tech gifts because they don't know how to, and some 70% of adults in America will spend time setting up or troubleshooting tech based gifts this holiday.
Bah humbug. Who has time for that? I open and set-up more than a thousand new gadgets a year. Here are some of my top insider tricks and tips to have you up and running faster than you can say, "more eggnog please!"
Get the hassle out of the way and get HelloTech to send a tech expert to come to your house. They'll set everything up for you and teach you how to use it. According to HelloTech's director of logistics, Jeremy Blake, the top requests this time of year are for setting up and mounting a new smart TV, installing smart home tech, and setting up Wi-Fi mesh routers. But, they're happy to help teach your mom how to use her new iPad or Kindle too. The company also offers subscription plans to get online, phone, or in-person on-demand help all year too.
No really, I mean this. Go on to your Nextdoor app (the social media for your neighborhood) and post that you're looking for help setting up your Nest thermostat. Or, can someone please help teach the grandparents how their Roku works? When I've done similar posts, I often say up front that I'm looking for a teen tech genius who can speak non-geek, and doesn't get frustrated easily. And I always get great help! This is a great go-to for cheap, fast, and really friendly tech help. You can also use Facebook Groups or parents networks for this, and many schools now even have programs pairing teens and seniors for tech support as well.
Just about every new gadget comes with a simple quick-start guide that's easy to follow. Most of the time, these guides tell you to plug in and charge your new gadget, then connect it to Wi-Fi, and link it to an existing email account. When you connect your email account, be sure to create a smart password and/or use a password manager. Overall, getting starting is now usually pretty simple stuff, and you just need to follow directions like you would a recipe for cooking.
I met a young man the other day who learned to drive a stick shift watching YouTube videos. That is to say — everything you need to know, you can pretty much learn on YouTube. Let's say you want to replace your wired doorbell with a smart one from Ring. YouTube has a fantastic video tutorial from the company that walks you right though it. Type what you're looking for in the search bar at the top of the page and see what pops up. Ask how to to setup your new Amazon Echo and you get more than a half million results. If so many options are overwhelming, look for the newest videos — posted in the last month or so if possible — and start with the company-made videos first. Once you start down that rabbit-hole of unboxing and setup videos, you can easily lose the rest of your day!
Before you undo your existing TV to set up a new one, or to add gaming devices or smart TV accessories, snap a quick pic of how all the wiring is set up. Use that label maker or even Post It notes or colored twist-ties to keep your wires straight. Take pictures of how the wiring is set up, in case you ever need to troubleshoot or move the device.
Try going to the company's website, scroll all the way to the bottom of the home page and look for "Help," "Support," or "Live Chat." The latter will open up a text-based chat window, so you can correspond with someone on the other end. It may be a computer-controlled "chatbot" at first, but often leads to the help you need.
When FAQ's, chatbots and email help doesn't work, download the free GetHumanapp (available for iOS and Android) or visit gethuman.com/phone-number. Type in the company you want to reach and it gives you the customer service number, and any other instructions you might need to talk to a real, live human being. I recently used this to reach Amazon about a package that was shown as delivered to a front door that was obviously not mine. They re-sent the package that day.
As someone who sets up hundreds, if not thousands of gadgets a year, my saving grace is often a large Ziploc bag, Sharpie and a label-maker. Something that has saved me a lot of hassle — open everything with a large Ziploc nearby. Label the charger, put all of the instructions, extra pieces, even the original boxes inside, and store it away. This helps if you need to read the manual, return it, or even resell it down the road.
Let me take a step back and talk about the age-old issue of wrap rage and the most frustrating of its' devices: Clamshell packaging. That's the hard plastic that companies love to torture us with by encasing a product between two sheets of PVC and soldered around the edges. Some 6,000 people a year go to the ER with wounds from trying to pry, slice, or stab open gifts entombed in stupid clamshell cases. The simple fix? A can opener. Just flip the package over, with the front facing down. Clamp your can opener right onto the rightmost edge of the package, and twist. So easy.
Think for a hot second about all of the personal information you store on your devices: Emails, family photos, business, property, health, and maybe even banking information. That means you'll want to protect your digital life with strong security settings from the get go.
Set up a PIN code, fingerprint, facial recognition, pattern, or password on your start screen. If you see a prompt for two-factor authentication, do that, too. Be sure to enable Find my iPhone or Lookout on Android devices.
For computers, be sure to set up your screen lock password. On Windows machines, find this option in Settings under Accounts and Sign-in. In macOS, open System Preferences and look under Security & Privacy. Once you've protected your computer from snooping strangers, add antivirus protection. On Windows, the built-in Windows Defender is enough for most people, but if you want extra peace of mind, install a third-party package like Bitdefender Internet Security ($49.99) or Norton Security ($39.99). For macOS, try AVG Antivirus (free), Bitdefender Antivirus ($49.99), or Sophos Home (free).
One last note: the FTC says tech support scams are running rampant right now. Be sure that wherever you're reaching out to for help, that it's legit by checking with the BBB, or staying with the company's own site. Don't click on attachments or links sent via text, email, or DM, and when in doubt, ask your tech savvy friend (or me) about it first.
Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor. E-mail her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJolly.