Get more for your money without spending a nickel. From big-screen TVs to smartphones, just downloading a few updates and making a few tweaks can improve performance.
When you buy a new TV, choose a retailer that delivers and sets it up. The TV leaves the factory set to dazzle in the showroom, not necessarily to reproduce the most accurate picture. A good dealer knows the key settings for improving accuracy while satisfying your visual taste.
Most TVs incorporate over a score of settings that, when properly tweaked, provide a more realistic viewing experience. You can browse the internet to find online guides for these adjustments, but unless you understand what you’re doing, it’s best to leave it to a professional. Most local retailers charge little, if any, extra for simple settings when delivering the TV.
If left to your own devices, choose the “cinema” setting for greatest accuracy, although, to many people, this results in a less-vibrant picture. Bright, deeply saturated pictures ultimately wear out the eyes and are not what the content creators intended.
Most manufacturers also update the software and firmware that operate your TV, at least for the first year. If you leave it permanently connected to the internet to access the “smart TV” functions, most TVs update automatically.
The disadvantage of leaving your TV permanently connected to the internet, whether by wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi, is that it sends your viewing habits back to the manufacturer, which sells the data to an advertising broker.
Some companies even use the opportunity to insert their own advertising onto your TV in addition to advertising from the program provider.
If you don’t use the “smart” features, leave your TV disconnected and connect to the internet once a month. Go to the set-up menu, which, if not labeled, most likely is invoked by the little gear button on the remote control. Navigate to the “help” or configuration section and click on “update.” Some updates only alter the smart TV’s abilities but may significantly improve the performance of your TV.
Similarly, smartphones usually, but not always, self-update. Many Android phones require a nudge from you. Most manufacturers send out security updates (patches) anywhere from monthly to a few times a year. Often, they accompany these security patches with performance enhancements.
For example, my Google Pixel 6 came with half-baked software in October. In January, Google finally sent new code that dramatically improved the entire operation of the phone. Both Apple and Android also send operating-system updates once a year. Apple updates its phones’ operating systems for about five years, while Android phones, depending upon the manufacturer, get two or three years of updates. They may be automatic, or you may have to go into the system menu to download and install them.
Set your Android phone to automatically update all of your apps, or do it manually on a weekly basis. This provides added security as well as improvements from the app developers. You may discover problems booking your next flight if you fail to update the airline’s app.
When you’re home, use Wi-Fi to download updates, especially if you lack an unlimited data plan. Wi-Fi generally downloads the apps faster and without a hit to your data plan. When you’re not downloading or are away from home, turn off your phone’s Wi-Fi to improve battery life. If you’re not using Bluetooth for connectivity, turn it off as well. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth rely on separate radios within your phone that draw considerable power, even when not active.
Keeping Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and near-field communication off when not in use also increases security when away from home. Nefarious hackers can grab those signals to infiltrate your phone to steal personal information or implant malware, not to mention tracking you beyond the existing ability of your cellular provider.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.