Here’s your guide to back-to-school tech

Here’s your guide to back-to-school tech

Start by backing up all your data. Smartphones make it easy with their built-in features that save apps, photos, and videos to the cloud. Make sure this service is switched on and run it right before wiping any files, so the backup is up to date.

IPhones are backed up to Apple iCloud, while Androids use Google Drive. But the free versions of these services have very limited storage capacity, so you may need to buy more. Apple charges $3 a month for 200 gigabytes of iCloud storage, while Google charges $2 per month for 100 gigabytes.

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Photos are the major memory hogs on most smartphones. But Amazon Prime subscribers can get free unlimited full-resolution backups of all smartphone photos. Just install the Amazon Photos app and you’re all set.

Be careful when deleting old photos from the phone, or they’ll disappear from the cloud as well. On Androids, use the Google Photos app to select the photos to delete. Then use the “Delete From Device” option so they’re removed only from the phone. It’s not so simple with Apple’s iCloud, though. Your best bet is to back up your photos on your home computer or a different cloud service like Amazon Photos.

For backing up other files on my PC, I’ve long relied on Carbonite, a cloud-based subscription service that backs up everything. A basic subscription costs $5.88 a month, or about $67 a year for unlimited storage. There are many similar products, though most set quotas on how many gigabytes you can back up. With Carbonite, I don’t have to think about it.

Still, I like to play it very safe, so along with Carbonite, I also pay $12 a month for Dropbox Plus. In exchange I get two terabytes of cloud storage, for everything from text documents to music downloads.

$12 a month for Dropbox Plus gets you two terabytes of cloud storage for everything from text documents to music downloads.
$12 a month for Dropbox Plus gets you two terabytes of cloud storage for everything from text documents to music downloads.Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Now it’s time to stock up with high-quality software for the school year. A smartphone camera is an excellent note-taking tool, especially with an app to convert photographed documents into digital text files. Instead of checking a book out of the library, it’s often easier to scan the pages and convert them to Adobe PDF files. There are many apps for this purpose, but I like Adobe Scan, available free for iPhones and Androids.

You can record classroom lectures on a smartphone, and even generate a reasonably accurate transcript with the right software. I’m a fan of Google Recorder, an app that transcribes human voices in real time. Unfortunately, it’s only available for Google’s own Pixel line of smartphones. There are other options, such as Otter.ai, a recording and transcription app for iOS and Android devices. But Otter and similar programs charge monthly subscription fees for transcriptions.

For a cheap alternative, there’s Microsoft Word, and its pretty-good voice transcriber. Use any recording app to capture a lecture, then upload the file to Word for a reasonably accurate readout.

This is one of many reasons you’ll want Office on your laptop, and you can probably get it for free. My kids’ public school provides the cloud-based version to all students. In addition, if the school assigns students an email address ending in .edu, Microsoft will provide a free subscription to Office 365, including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and other standard tools.

As for security, you’ve already got hundreds of passwords, and schools often require even more. So if you’re not already using a password manager program like 1Password or NordPass, now is a good time to start. This way, you only need to remember a single master password to log into all accounts. But write down that master password and hide it in a safe place, just in case.

My natural caution extends to antivirus protection. I pay about $70 a year to run Norton’s malware protection on my computers. These days both Apple and Microsoft have built-in antivirus software that’s probably good enough, but it’s your call.

Next, update your software — all of it. Install the latest patches for Windows and MacOS operating systems. But the same rule applies to all the other software on the machine. Bugs in popular programs are a favorite target for hackers.

It’s a pain if the computer has dozens of programs, but there’s software to help. My Norton malware package includes an automatic software updater. There’s also Patch My PC Home Updater, a free program that does the same for Windows machines; MacUpdater and CleanMyMac X are for keeping Mac apps up to date.


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeTechLab.

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