Gadget Guru: T3's emeritus professor of techy stuff answers your Bluetooth, lighting and humane rodent trapping queries

2017: Time for the Guru

Each month T3 Towers is literally inundated with tech-related questions from readers. Luckily T3's own technomancer of choice, the Gadget Guru, is in residence and more than happy to supply the answers you crave.

Guru, my phone is much too slow. Help!

You’d expect Guru’s position as a noted conspiracy perpetrator to place him firmly on board with the notion of planned obsolescence – the theory that devious engineers in device manufacturer labs squirrel bits of code into newer operating systems in order to cripple older devices and force a hardware upgrade. There’s probably a tiny shred of meat on that bone, but Guru is sure the practice is not as deliberate as it may seem.

Software progresses as hardware progresses, this is a fundamental fact. Users, though, want all the latest whizz-pop features without shelling out. Manufacturers acquiesce in order to deflect the cursing that comes from ‘dropping support’ of relatively young devices, and sluggishness ensues. “The LG G4 and V10 will receive Android Nougat after all,” crows a headline on Guru’s newsreader, almost as if the universe were suggesting that GaGu use facts to back up his belligerent ranting. Let’s see how that upgrade of two-year-old tech goes...

So really, it’s your fault for wanting nice things. Consider planned obsolescence away from the closed ecosystem of Apple phones, too. What’s the guarantee that a Samsung user is going to jump to another Samsung handset when there’s a world of alternative Android devices available? Purposefully giving users an unpleasant experience is bad business.

On to your precise problem. It’s definitely a software thing, probably caused by a newer version of your phone’s OS, so check your phone maker’s website and any associated forums to see if there’s a way you can downgrade. If not, you’ve likely bogged down the phone with apps and the like. Progress through these steps until you see results: delete some apps; back up your personal files and perform a reset of your system files; double-check that backup and do a full factory reset. Or just buy yourself a new phone – you know you want to.

Can I automate my lights?

Um, yes? Basic automation of lights is a thing, as Guru has been attempting to explain to the terrified members of his village council for some years. Motion sensors on outdoor security lights, clicky plug-in lamp timers so that GaGu Senior can pretend to watching burglars that he’s not on his seventh holiday this year, ambient light sensing that switches on outdoor lights at entirely the wrong time of day, that sort of thing. Getting hold of basic automated lighting is easy, and it’s rarely difficult to set up.

But the modern technologist prefers to do things in a slightly cooler way. Take, for instance, Guru’s moderately-creepy Philips Hue-infused hallways, which gently spin up a nice ambient light as you walk through them, as if a luminous spectre is following you to the loo. He merely installed a few Hue bulbs (a two-bulb starter set with the controller should set you back about £60), a couple of Hue Motion Sensors and did a bit of software fiddling with Philips’ excellent app.

Take things one step further, why don’t you: integrate a lighting system like Hue or Belkin’s WeMo with If This Then That and you can pull off stacks of state-based actions. Why not trigger your lights the instant your phone hits Wi-Fi range of your house, or switch them all off when you leave home? How about performing complex poltergeisty lamp flickers to spook house guests at the push of a button even if you’re hundreds of miles away? Heck, why not have a coloured bulb (the Hue Bloom mood light is around £50) change to a deep red when you have unread messages? Even if you don’t fancy getting special lights – Guru won’t tell the authorities if you’re clinging on to an ageing incandescent bulb – you can pull off the trick on any old lamp by employing a WeMo Switch  or similar.

How can I get better sound on my DSLR videos?

Different DSLRs offer different levels of connectivity, so Guru can’t guarantee this will work on every single body, but you should be able to connect an external microphone to replace the entirely cursory example that’s tucked in there by default. The best microphones are active and require power, although the likes of the Rode VideoMic Pro – a proper shotgun mic which sits in your flash shoe – include their own power source. On the other hand, the lower end VideoMic Go (around £69, and Guru recommends the hilariously-named £22 DeadCat Go wind shield to go with it) demands at least 2.5v from your camera’s audio port. This extra drain may cut your potential filming time significantly, so grab a couple more charged batteries. Don’t discount the concept of recording audio separately and dubbing it on later, either; a Zoom H1 field recorder and a reasonably-priced clip-on lavalier mic – the Fomito A-lav at around £30, perhaps – could be just the ticket.

Do you know any humane pest solutions?

Know this: GaGu is never humane. He is barely human, if you ask Mrs Guru. And there’s a big problem with the idea of humane pest control: basically, unless you’re willing to sit vigilantly, watching your sticky pads, waiting for a bite, there’s a good chance your methods will not be pleasant for your victim.

May Guru instead offer some deterrents? PestBye Advanced Whole House Mouse Repellant fires out 110dB ultrasonic sound waves to properly infuriate the little blighters, and should cover a four-bedroom abode. Plug one in outdoors, too, if you have the facilities. Alternatively, try essential oils like peppermint or, if you’re being troubled by spiders, lemon.

Can I get sat-nav directions on my bike?

It’s possible to hack out a solution using your phone – turn it up loud and stick it in your breast pocket, use some bone conduction headphones, strap it to your handlebars with a mounting kit like Tigra’s BikeConsole (around £48, depending on handset) – but that’s really not ideal. You could also send the relevant info to your smartwatch, if you don’t mind prioritising peering at miniscule text over navigating traffic at an intersection. 

Better, if you really need it, to invest in a device that’s designed for the purpose. Garmin’s waterproof Edge 820 is small, light at 68g, and combines navigation with all the cycling metrics you could ever need.

Help me stop procrastinating online!

Credit: Sam Taylor

Obviously Guru would love to come to yours with his too-small lycra shorts and instructor’s whistle to chivvy you on and get those tasks completed, but you’re going to need something other than your weak willpower and an inappropriately-dressed mentor to break that cycle of work and reward. GaGu’s top pick is Freedom, a habit-forming blocker of distracting websites that works across iOS, macOS and Windows. Set your work schedule, lock down your devices, and it’ll ensure you steer clear of Facebook searching for cat memes.

Lead image credit: Sam Taylor