How to FBI-proof your encrypted iPhone backups

If you’re an iPhone user who is steadfast about retaining your privacy, you’re probably not very happy about the recent news that Apple is retaining the ability to decrypt most of what’s in an iCloud backup at the request of government entities, such as the FBI.

In that case, you may want to pay attention to the adage that sometimes the best ways are the old ways. While it’s more convenient to use iCloud to back up your phone, you can back up your iPhone to your Mac or Windows computer and retain full control of your data backups.

If you’ve always backed up via iCloud, or if you haven’t done a local backup in a while, you might be able to use a refresher course. Here’s how you do it.

  • Connect your phone to your computer using its charging cable
  • Fire up iTunes if you’re using Windows or a Mac with a macOS 10.14 or earlier; use Finder on a Mac with macOS 10.15 Catalina

If you’re using Finder, open a Finder window (by either clicking on the Finder icon in your dock or selecting “File” > “New Finder Window” in the top Finder menu bar), and look for your iPhone in the left-hand menu under “Locations.”

Using Finder to change your backup from iCloud to local.

Using Finder to change your backup from iCloud to local.

  • In iTunes, you should see a small iPhone icon in the upper left corner; select that. (If you don’t see it, you may need to authorize your system. Go to the top iTunes menu and select “Account” > “Authorizations” > “Authorize This Computer…” and follow the instructions.)

Look for the phone icon in iTunes.

Look for the phone icon in iTunes.

  • After that, the process for either iTunes or Finder is much the same, although the look of the pages and the language will be slightly different. Look for the category labeled “Backups.” Select “This computer” (in iTunes) or “Back up all of the data on your iPhone to your Mac” (in Finder).
  • You’re going to want to encrypt your backup for increased security. Check “Encrypt iPhone backup” (in iTunes) or “Encrypt local back” (in Finder) and enter a password. Don’t lose that password; otherwise, you’re going to lose access to your data.
  • Once you set the encryption, it’s probable that the backup will start automatically. Otherwise, click on “Back Up Now.”

Using iTunes to change your backup from iCloud to this computer.

Using iTunes to change your backup from iCloud to this computer.

If you need to restore your backup, just go to the same page and click on “Restore Backup…”

Note that you can either manually back up your iPhone, or you can also have it automatically back up each time you connect it to your computer. Look for “Options” just below the “Backups” section, and select “Automatically sync when this iPhone is connected.”

Once you’ve set up your backup to your computer, you probably want to delete any backups you’ve made to iCloud.

To do this on your Mac:

  • Click on the Apple icon in the top corner of your system
  • Select “System Preferences” > “iCloud”
  • Select the “Manage” button in the lower-right corner of the window

  • Select a backup to delete, and select “Delete.” You’ll be asked to select “Delete” again; this will both delete all your backups from iCloud and turn off any further backups.

To do this on your iPhone:

  • Go to “Settings” and tap your name
  • Select “iCloud” > “Manage Storage” > “Backups”
  • Tap on a backup and then on “Delete Backup”
  • Tap on “Turn Off & Delete”

One more thing: dealing with iMessage without saving your data to iCloud can get a bit complicated, partly because iMessage uses end-to-end encryption (which means that it needs a key at either end) and partly because iMessage can also use Messages for iCloud, the feature that allows for syncing iMessage between multiple Mac or iOS devices with the same account. We consulted with Apple, and this is basically how it works:

  • If you have iCloud Backup turned on, then your backup includes a copy of the key that protects your messages. This is the most convenient setup. But in this article, we’re assuming that you want to turn iCloud Backup off.
  • If you have iCloud Backup turned off but Messages for iCloud turned on (which you can do on your iPhone by going to Settings, tapping on your name, and selecting “iCloud” > “iMessage”), your messages will be shared among all your devices, but your encryption key will remain local to those devices. According to Apple, that encryption key will not be saved to the company’s servers.
  • If you have both iCloud Backup and Messages for iCloud turned off, then your only backup options will be local.

Update January 24th, 2020, 10:37AM ET: This article has been updated to clarify how to open a Finder window.

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Chromebooks 101: How to take screenshots on your Chromebook

Screenshots can be useful for a variety of reasons. For example, you can send copies of error messages to support services, show a friend what your game screen looks like, or save a tweet that you suspect is going to be deleted in a few minutes. Today’s laptops all include ways to take screenshots, and that includes Chromebooks.

Chromebooks can be a little confusing for someone coming from another platform, especially because their keyboards are somewhat different than those of Macs or Windows PCs. Some keys present on other laptops are missing, while new ones have been added. However, once you know the basic key combinations for taking screenshots, you’ll be good to go.

  • To take a screenshot of the entire screen, use the Ctrl + Show windows key combination. The Show windows key, which looks like a rectangle with two lines on the right side, is on the top row of the keyboard (it’s the equivalent of the F5 key on a PC keyboard).

Chromebook showing “show windows” key

  • To take a screenshot of a portion of the screen, press the Shift + Ctrl + Show windows keys. You’ll see a crosshair icon; click and drag it until the part of the screen you want to copy is highlighted, and then let go.

After you’ve taken the screenshot, you might see a copy of the screenshot in a pop-out window (depending on which version of Chrome OS you’re using). It will give you the option of copying the screenshot to your clipboard or annotating the image.

Any screenshot you take will end up in the Downloads folder. To find the folder:

  • Select the Launcher at the left corner of your display.
  • Look for the icon named “Files” under the search field. If you don’t see it, select the up arrow and look for the “Files” app there.

  • That icon will bring up your file manager. Look for your Downloads folder under the “My Files” category on the left. Your screenshots will be there.

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Google 101: how to add more calendars to your Google Calendar app

One of the great advantages of using Google Calendar is that you see many different calendars on the same interface, and you can choose which one you want to see at any time.

For example, your Google Calendar can include a personal calendar, a work calendar, the calendars of family members, calendars that show local or international holidays, and one that adds the schedule of your favorite sports team. You view as many calendars at once as you like, or turn them off temporarily if your calendar is too crowded, or if you need to concentrate on a particular schedule.

If you’re new to Google Calendar, this is a quick guide to adding and using multiple calendars. Be aware that most of the tweaks listed here are only available via the web interface; any that you can do via the mobile app will be noted.

Choose which calendars to show

When you first sign on to Google Calendar, you are already supplied with several calendars, which you can see on the left side of the page, sorted into two categories. Under “My calendars,” you’ll find your personal calendar, one called “Birthdays” that pulls events from the people listed in your Google Contacts, Reminders, and Tasks. Under “Other calendars,” you’ll start with a holiday calendar for your country.

Note that each calendar is assigned a color (shown by the checkbox on the left of each calendar’s label). If you hover the cursor over the label, you’ll see a menu icon (three dots) on the right; click it, and you can change the color for that calendar.

Don’t want to see the entries for any specific calendar? Just uncheck the box, and check it to see it again. You can see as many or as few calendars at a time as you want.

On the mobile app, you can access your various calendars by tapping on the three parallel line menu bar in the upper-left corner. The pull-out menu will first show your presentation choices (day, week, month, etc.), and then it will show the calendars with colored checkboxes; uncheck any you don’t want to see.

If you want to change the color of a checkbox on your mobile device, it’s a little more complicated.

  • Tap on the menu bar in the upper-left corner
  • Scroll down to “Settings” (it’s got a gear icon)
  • Tap on the calendar you want to change
  • You’ll see the color that you’re currently using. Tap on that.
  • Select your new color from the pop-up list

Creating a new calendar

Let’s say you’re trying to save money by not eating out, and you’ve decided one way to do that is to plan your meals for the week. You can create a separate calendar called “Meals” where you specify what you’ve planned for dinner each day.

Here’s how to create a new calendar:

  • Next to “Other calendars” on the left, select the plus sign

  • Click on “Create new calendar”

  • Type in the name of your new calendar and add a description (if you want to). Make sure the time zone is correct.

  • Click on “Create calendar”

Your new calendar will now be active, and you’ll find it in the “My calendars” category. If you want to change the assigned color, hover your cursor over the calendar name, click on the three-dot Options menu, and choose a color.

Don’t need that calendar anymore? You have a number of options:

  • If you just want to temporarily not see it on the calendar, uncheck its box
  • If you want to remove it from your list, use the Options menu to select “Hide from list.” (If you want it back again, click on the gear icon in the upper-right corner, select “Settings,” and scroll down until you see “Settings for my calendars” on the left. Any calendars that you’ve hidden will have a symbol with a crossed-out eye next to it. Just click on the eye to unhide the calendar.)

  • If you want to completely delete it, go to the Settings page and find “Settings for my calendars.” Click on the name of the calendar, select “Remove calendar,” and then look in the center of the page for “Delete.”

Adding additional Google calendars

You can also add calendars from other sources using your browser. (You can’t do it on a mobile app.) You can add other people’s Google Calendars (assuming they give you permission), add other calendars available via Google, and add calendars using the iCal format.

First, let’s say you want to add a friend’s Google Calendar.

  • Select the plus sign next to “Other calendars” and choose “Subscribe to calendar”
  • Where it says “Add calendar,” type in your friend’s Gmail address
  • It’s likely that you’ll get a pop-up message that you don’t have access to that calendar. In that case, use the form to request access from your friend.

  • Your friend will get a request email with a link, which will allow you to either just see the events, make changes to them, or actually manage them. When they approve the share, you will get an email telling you that you now have access to t

How to responsibly get rid of the stuff you’ve decluttered

So you’ve chosen to keep everything that sparks joy, and now you have all those bags of tech, clothing, books, and other stuff that you need to get rid of. Where do you go from here?

First, keep in mind that just dumping it isn’t an option. Reusing and recycling old and unneeded stuff has become an important aspect of the push to preserve the world’s environment — to the point that junk food manufacturers are testing reusable packaging. Many states and urban areas are mandating the recycling of tech, metals, paper goods, or other substances, but even if you live in an area where the law doesn’t require it, you probably don’t want to add more to the world’s trash.

The problem is finding how and where you can get rid of your stuff with the greatest advantage to you and the least amount of damage to the environment. Fortunately, there is a number of online services that can help you figure out how to responsibly get rid of things — and possibly make some money in the process.

Here are some sites to check out, depending on what you want to dispose of and how you want to do it.


old phone

Planning to buy a new phone or laptop? Before you make the purchase, check out any manufacturer trade-in deals that are available for your Macs, Pixels, and other devices.

If you don’t like the offer from the vendor, you can sell your tech. There are online vendors that will take your used device off your hands and give you something for it. Decluttr, for example, will give you a tentative quote on your phone or tech (it also takes CDs, DVDs, games, books, and Lego). You can also sell through a service like Swappa, which charges the buyer, not the seller, a fee (but the seller does have to pay PayPal’s transaction fee). Amazon also has a trade-in program, although payment will come in the form of a gift card.

You can also give it to charity. There are several programs that give computers to people or organizations that need them. For example, Computers with Causes passes tech on to a variety of organizations; World Computer Exchange sends refurbished desktop and laptop computers to schools, libraries, community centers, and universities in developing countries; and Globetops lets you choose who will get your refurbished laptop using online descriptions (or you can just donate your tech and let Globetops decide). As with any charitable institution, it’s a good idea to check them out before giving (there are several charity info sites online).

If you’ve got tech that is so old that nobody wants it, then it’s time to dispose of it — in an environmentally conscious way, of course. In fact, if you just throw away your computer or TV set, you may be breaking the law, depending on where you live. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, “25 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation establishing a statewide electronic waste, or e-waste, recycling program.” (Want to know what happens to your recycled trash? Check out this article about New York City’s e-waste. Or you can find out about the dark side of e-waste recycling.)

If you live in an urban area, chances are, there’s some kind of recycling program available (or even mandatory). In many cases, stores that sell electronics will also offer recycling; all you have to do is bring your stuff to the store. Or you can try Earth911 to find the nearest recycling center.

Disposing of batteries safely can be a pain. Call2Recycle can help you find out where to drop off that bag of batteries you’ve been accumulating. If there aren’t any facilities within reach of your home or office, BigGreenBox will dispose of it for you — but not for free. The company will send a box that will hold up to 43 pounds of batteries and will dispose of them safely for $63 (which includes shipping and handling).

Finally, if you’re still holding on to your parents’ old BlackBerry PDA or Commodore 64, you may want to see if you can donate it to a museum. There aren’t as many tech museums that accept contributions as there used to be, but if you’ve got something old and / or unusual, it’s worth a shot for the tax breaks. The MIT Museum has a form you can fill out. The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, has put its donations program on hold through January 2020, but you can check back with it after that.


Xiaomi Mi 5 camera sample images - clothing

You can divide clothing sites into three categories: ones that handle the latest stylish and expensive clothing and jewelry, ones that handle major middle-level brands, and dealers in traditional discount leftovers.

At the high end are consignment companies that act as go-betweens for those that want to sell designer clothing, jewelry, and other valuable objects, and those that want to buy them. Most of these, such as TheRealReal, Rebag, and Vestiaire Collective, authenticate all of the products that are sold through them and will only take recent fashions, so they are not where you go to get rid of that jacket that’s been hanging in your closet for 10 years. However, if you’re the kind of shopper who buys the latest styles every season, these may be where you want to sell and buy.

A side note: if you have business clothing that you no longer wear, there are a number of organizations that accept office wear in good condition for people who are job hunting. Most of these are locally based; for example, in the NYC area, there is Bottomless Closet for women and Career Gear for men. The best way to find an organization in your area is to try charity guides such as Charity Navigator or GuideStar.

For less upscale clothing, sites like Tradesy handle both upscale and mid-price clothing, shoes, and jewelry. Tradesy offers a straightforward commission, although it will check if there is any question about the authenticity of the label. You can also try sites like ThredUp, which handles thousands of major brands; if it accepts your clothing, you can choose from getting paid after the sale or getting a lower price on an immediate payment. (If the clothing isn’t accepted, it will be recycled.)

If you want to get rid of your older clothing, you may find it a bit harder than it used to be. Many charities that used to accept worn or outmoded clothing have become more picky, partly because the business of reselling old clothes overseas is waning. In addition, savvy consumers are becoming wary of the omnipresent drop-in clothing bins since many actually belong to for-profit companies.

If you can’t make it to your local Goodwill store, one place to try is Vietnam Veterans of America. Its website will let you schedule a pickup (assuming it services your area). GiveBackBox encourages you to use the box your new clothes were shipped in to send your old stuff (it asks that you send five or more items) to a charity; the site provides a pre-paid shipping label. And the aforementioned ThredUp will send you a bag for all of your unsellable clothing. In return, it’ll give $5 to a charity of your choice and you get a tax credit.


Photo by Andrew Liptak / The Verge

Books made of paper rather than pixels are still around, and if the piles are getting too high for your home, then you probably want to get rid of at least some of them.

One solution is to sell your books through a site such as Amazon, although that can get complicated. As an individual (as opposed to a business), you have to set up a seller’s account and pay Amazon 99 cents per book. And your chances of actually selling may be slim to none; there are a lot of professional booksellers who use Amazon to get rid of extra inventory, so they will sell their books for the 99 cents plus the shipping fee, making it difficult for individuals to compete.

You can also try popular resellers such as Powell’s or AbeBooks. You give them the ISBN and the condition of the book(s), and they will give you a quote. Then, you mail the books to them and reap your reward.

If you’ve got textbooks you don’t need anymore — and we all know how expensive those can get — you can try AbeBooks or Bookbyte. (Chegg, which used to buy books, now only accepts them as donations.) BookScouter will show you the prices offered by a variety of booksellers, along with user ratings, and you can choose which one to sell to.

If you just want to get rid of your books and aren’t worried about getting paid, there are sites like Better World Books, a for-profit company with drop-off boxes around the country, that uses a percentage of its earnings to promote literacy. There are also specialized organizations online that help you send books to people who need them, such as Books for Soldiers.

You can also go local. Libraries and used bookstores have traditionally been good ways for people to unload books they no longer want. Many libraries still take books that they can add to their collections, sell, or give away. However, it’s a good idea to go online and check with your library’s website to make sure they accept donations. (You can also go really old-fashioned and call them.) Used bookstores will usually accept books for either a small payment or for credit toward book purchases. The best way to find out if there are any in your area is to go to Google Maps and search “used bookstores.”

Finally, you can build your own library. The Little Free Library site provides all the information you need to start a tiny book-lending program right outside your house (or how to find the nearest one).

Everything else

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

When you want to sell your stuff, one of the first places people think of is eBay. And rightfully so: this is where a lot of buyers go when they’re looking for a deal. People who sell on eBay range from one-time-only folks to professional retailers. You get up to 50 free listings a month; after that, it’s 35 cents per listing. Once your item has been sold, eBay collects 10 percent of the final value, with several exceptions: 3.5 percent for guitars and basses; 2 percent for heavy equipment, and 12 percent for books, DVDs, and other music and movie media (except for records). If you’re selling athletic shoes that cost $100 or more, you’re in luck: there are no final value fees. Selling on eBay takes time, effort, and patience, but it may be worth it. The best way to start is to do a quick search and see the range of prices your object (or a similar object) is selling for.

If you’re not set on making money, but really want to clean out your basement, giving your things away might be the best way to go. Freecycle is a service that introduces local people who have stuff to other local people who want that stuff. Once you find your community Freecycle through the main site, you are instructed on how to advertise what you are giving away. Freecycle sends out your email to all of its subscribers and anyone who wants the object replies. Their email is pushed to your personal email, and after that, it’s up to you to contact the person and arrange for the giveaway. And you’ve made two people happy — you and the lucky recipient.

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How to switch languages using the Android Gboard keyboard

Learning a new language on an Android device? If the language uses a different alphabet or employs accents that your primary language does not, you may need to add a new software keyboard to your phone.

Luckily, Google’s standard Gboard keyboard includes a plethora of language-related keyboards; at last count, it offered over 500 languages over 40 different writing systems. If you’ve already installed Gboard in the US, you’re likely already set up with US English. But it’s not difficult to add one or more new keyboards and quickly switch from one language to another. Here’s how to install and use one or more of the many languages available.

First, you need to get to the “Languages” page. There are actually several ways to do that.

Two of those ways involve your Gboard keyboard. Go to an app that uses a keyboard (such as email or chat) and tap in an area where you can type. After that, you can:

  • Long press on the spacebar. This will bring up the “Change keyboard” pop-up menu; tap on “Language settings” to get to the correct page.

  • Or you can tap on the “Open features” symbol on the top left of the keyboard, and then tap on the three dots on the right. Select “Settings” > “Languages.”

You can also get to the page from your Android device’s main settings menu. From the settings:

  • Select “System”
  • Select “Languages & input” > “Virtual keyboard” > “Gboard” > “Languages”

Once you’ve reached the “Languages” page, you can add a new language:

  • Tap on “Add keyboard” at the bottom of the page
  • Scroll to the language that you want to add and tap it. (It’s a long list, so you might save some time by using the search icon on the top right of the screen.) If you’ve been using a language-learning or other language-related app recently, the one you want may already be on top under “Suggested languages.”
  • For each language, you’ll be able to choose from a list of several types of keyboards on top of the screen. (For example, you may be able to opt for a QWERTY or Dvorak keyboard.) The most likely suggestion will be first, but you can swipe across to see others that are available. On the same page, under “Language settings,” you may also be able to choose to be given word suggestions from more than one language while you type. (This depends on which language you’re adding.)
  • When you’re finished, tap the “Done” button. You’ll be brought back to the “Languages” page where you’ll see the new language listed. Tap the left arrow at the top left corner to leave the page.

You’ll now see the keyboard’s language named on the spacebar. (If you enabled multilingual typing, you’ll see abbreviations of both language names.) In addition, there will now be a globe icon to the left of the keyboard instead of the emoji icon. (The emoji icon can now be accessed via a long press on the comma key.) To change languages, tap on the globe; your keyboard will switch to the next in line. You can also long press on the spacebar and select the language you want from the pop-up menu.

If you’re no longer using one of your languages, and you want to remove it from the list:

  • Long press the spacebar to get the “Change keyboard” menu.
  • Tap on “Language settings.”
  • Find the language you no longer need, and swipe to the left to remove it.

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How to enable picture-in-picture for YouTube on your Mac

If you like to work with a music video playing in the background or watch your favorite sports team while perusing social media, or maybe if you simply like doing two things at once, picture-in-picture (PiP) can be really useful. It lets you pin a small window showing a video within a larger window on your computer or TV screen.

The feature has worked automatically for certain video apps on iOS for some time now, but if you’re using a Mac and Apple’s Safari browser, you can easily set up PiP for a YouTube video on macOS as well. These tips are courtesy of a great tweet by Ricky Mondello.

PiP using your keyboard

  • Right click twice on the YouTube Video. The first click will get you a menu that lets you copy the URL of the video, embed the code, or do other YouTube-related tasks. The second click will get you a more traditional menu.

  • Click on “Enter Picture in Picture.” Your video will shrink down to a much smaller size.
  • Open a new tab on your browser (or several, if you want) and go to another site — or you can leave the browser entirely. The video will keep playing.

  • To control the video, hover your cursor over the video. You can pause and restart it, take it out of PiP mode, or close the window entirely.
  • To move the small video window around, you can press down with one finger on your touchpad and use the other finger to move the window around your screen. If you’re using a mouse, then use the Command key.

There are a couple of other ways you can start PiP.

  • While your video is playing, right click on the volume icon in the tab; the menu will include the “Enter Picture in Picture” command. (Note: You won’t see the volume icon if you pause the video.)
  • If you have a Touch Bar, use the PiP icon (it looks like a small filled-in rectangle over a larger clear rectangle).

That’s it! Enjoy your video.

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How to secure your Ring camera and account

If you’re the owner of a Ring smart home system, the recent security issues surrounding the Ring camera — including several families whose systems were hacked and a recent report from Motherboard demonstrating how easy it is to do — probably make you a bit nervous, rightfully so. The idea that the cameras that you installed in your home to increase security may actually give strangers access to you, your children, and your home is extremely unsettling.

It may be some comfort for current owners to know that it isn’t the hardware or the software itself that is being hacked. It’s you — or, in other words, the methods you use to password-protect and otherwise ensure that your account cannot be used by anyone other than yourself or your family.

Many of us have acquired rather lazy habits as far as app security is concerned. We use the same password for several accounts, settle for easily guessed passwords, or skip on using updated security methods such as two-factor authentication (2FA). But when you’re dealing with something as important as personal security, it’s wise to take no chances.

One of the first things to do is make sure you’re using a unique password for your Ring devices. It’s easy enough to find numerous instances where various services have been hacked and their lists of passwords taken. That’s why it’s not a good idea to use the same password for your smart home system as you are for, say, your music account. A handy tool to use — both to track all of your passwords and to generate complex new ones — is a password manager.

You also need to add two-factor authentication to your account. Ring offers its own 2FA method, which is suggested when you first install the app. If you skipped setting it up initially, you get another chance from within the app. Here’s how to set it up:

  • Open the Ring app
  • Click on the menu icon in the upper-left corner, and select “Settings”
  • You’ll be brought to the “Account Settings” page. In the section titled “Enhanced Security, tap on “Two-Factor Authentication.”
  • The next screen explains that now, whenever you submit your password, you’ll be texted a verification code. The phone number where codes will be sent is shown; you can change that if you need to.

Add 2FA to Ring

Add 2FA to Ring

Once you’ve enabled 2FA, it’s probably a good idea to change your password (even if you were using a unique one already), just in case your current password was picked up by someone. You’ll find the “Password” option on the same “Account Settings” page you were at before. Just tap on “Change,” and put in a new password — one that, hopefully, you’ve never used before.

And that’s it. For now, you’ve done what you can to secure your Ring account.

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Amazon’s holiday shipping deadlines are coming up fast

If you’ve been procrastinating on purchasing those holiday gifts, are still hoping to get your packages by December 24th, and are depending on Amazon for your online purchases, your deadline is coming up fast.

According to Amazon, if you’re not a Prime member, you have until today, Thursday, December 19th, to take advantage of the vendor’s free holiday shipping offers and get those boxes under the tree by the 24th. Friday, December 20th is the last day that standard shipping will get it to you in time.

If you are a Prime member, you’ve got a little more leeway. Sunday, December 22nd is the last day for free two-day Prime delivery, while Monday the 23rd is the last day for free one-day delivery.

Of course, if you are looking for gifts for other winter holidays, you’ve got different timelines to deal with. For example, if you celebrate Hanukkah, you’re already late, since that holiday begins the evening of December 22nd. On the other hand, you do have eight days in which to make up for it. Kwanzaa starts on December 26th, giving you a couple of more shopping days, and it lasts for a week. And if you simply want to celebrate the Solstice? Sorry, that’s Saturday, the 21st, so unless you’re a Prime member, you’re going to have to brave the crowds at your local retailer.

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Geozilla gives you a way to track your kids or pets

If you need to keep track of somebody you love — kids, elderly parents, pets — you can usually do it via a smartphone. But if they don’t have one, you can do it with a device such as the Geozilla GPS tracker.

The Geozilla is a small black gadget with white trim that measures 1.8 x 1.6 x 0.7 inches and weighs about an ounce. Three small LED lights on the front indicate power and connection status; it’s charged via a Micro USB port on the side.

The diamond-patterned front has three well-disguised buttons, but weirdly, two of those buttons have no real use. If you press the left button, it sends a message that the left button has been pressed; the same goes for the right. The center button (which is marked “SOS”) can send an emergency text alert to a predetermined number. So, for example, your child can use it to send a quick text that they need help.


The tracker costs $49.99. To use it, you need to subscribe to a data plan for $4.99 per month, $49.99 annually, or $99.99 for a three-year subscription. With any of the plans, you get the first month free along with a 30-day money-back guarantee, giving you time to try it out. The device comes with a small soft case, which can be hooked onto a lanyard or a backpack, and a hard case that can be used for a pet or for any more possibly damaging circumstances.

The tracker works in concert with a free Geozilla app (iOS or Android), which started as an independent tracking tool. While it can still be used on its own, it now also works with the Geozilla tracker.

The Geozilla app uses Google Maps to show your location, that of the tracker, and of everyone else who is included in your “circle” of family or friends. The tracker will ping your phone for set intervals, ranging from every five minutes to every 30 minutes, letting you know its location. You can also set the app to alert you if the tracker leaves a specific area within a circle with a diameter measuring from 500 feet to three miles. So, for example, you can label separate areas for home, work, or school and have the tracker notify you when it leaves or enters those areas.

Setting up the tracker takes a little preparation. First, you need to create an account. During that process, you’ll be faced with a full-page ad urging you to purchase a premium subscription. In fact (and rather annoyingly), the app makes it difficult to figure out how to get past that page and set up a free account. You need to either close the premium offer via the arrow at the top left corner (for iOS), search for the text that says “Continue with limited version” (for Android), or if you don’t see either, hit your back button.

You then need to associate the app with the tracker using an ID number on the back of the device. Geozilla has a responsive support team, which is a good thing since I had a bit of trouble associating my tracker with the app. I had inadvertently registered with a typo in my email, and after that, it was impossible to re-register the device or reset it from my end. After several days of back-and-forth, the support tech gave the device a new ID, and that fixed the issue.

Geozilla screenshot - map

Geozilla screenshot - alert

You are also advised to have the tracker sit outside for about 15 minutes in order to make sure the GPS works properly.

Once all that was accomplished, I found that the Geozilla tracker worked pretty much as promised. I created a 500-foot area around both my home and my workplace, and the app notified me every time it was carried outside or back inside those areas. When I pressed the SOS button for a couple of seconds, the tracker beeped, a blue LED lit for a moment, and about 15 seconds later, I received an alert on my phone. You can also send an emergency alert directly through the app.

There are a few other features that you can use the app for, depending on whether you are using the free version or the premium, which costs $79.99 annually or $49.99 quarterly. The premium version will allow you to retain three weeks of location history. (Google Maps retains several years of history.) You can also create to-do lists and generate weekly driving reports that will tell you if a driver is speeding or using their cellphone — something that may be useful for the parents of new drivers. Unfortunately, if you want to try out the premium version of the app, you only get a three-day trial until you’re charged for the service.

So how useful is this device? To be honest, there is little, if anything, that the Geozilla GPS tracker does that can’t be done already by a smartphone. If you want to track the movements of a friend or relation, Google Maps does it as well and keeps the data for longer (which may be an advantage or disadvantage, based on your point of view). If you want to send an emergency alert to friends or family, there are iPhone and Android apps that will provide that service as well.

However, there are some situations where the Geozilla could be very useful. If you want to track someone who may not be able or willing to use a smartphone — a young child, a pet, or a relative with Alzheimer’s — then a device like the Geozilla could work for you. It could also be useful to keep in a family car so you can always know where the vehicle is (and if it’s being driven properly). The device is lightweight, easy to carry, and lasts at least three to four days on a charge. And the presence of the emergency button makes it easier for someone to get help than having to fiddle with a phone while you’re in a possibly dangerous situation.

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How to use the iPhone’s Health app

Today’s political scene is chaotic, the generations are staring each other down, and the planet’s ecosystem is upending — but at least you can take care of yourself. Apple’s updated Health app, which appeared with iOS 13, allows you to monitor your health status, make important information available for caregivers in case of an accident or sudden illness, and track your fitness regimen.

When you first fire it up, you get a welcome screen that offers a brief rundown of the new features, which, according to Apple, includes a redesigned summary display, better presentation of your data, and menstrual cycle tracking. You’re then invited to input basic information — name, date of birth, gender, height, and weight — and then you’re brought to the main Summary screen, which gives you a rundown of your current statistics, depending on what you want to know.

The Summary screen may look simple, but there is a lot of health and exercise data you can view here.

On the bottom of the screen, tap on the “Browse” icon to see a variety of categories you can ask the app to track. For example, select “Heart,” and you can ask it to monitor your heart rate variability or oxygen saturation, among other things. Select “Activity,” and you can track cycling distance, exercise minutes, flights climbed, wheelchair distance, and many others.

Tap on a specific activity — say, cycling distance — and you’re brought to a detailed screen that shows your history with that activity (such as the distance you’ve cycled) and a list of helpful third-party apps that you can add. You can also place the activity in your front Summary screen by scrolling down to “Options” and tapping on the star next to “Add to Favorites.”

If you want to see all of the categories and all of the activities in one long list, there’s a way to do that as well. On the Summary page, next to the “Favorites” topic header, tap on the “Edit” link and then select the “All” tab. You’ll get a list of every activity there is, and you can then choose which ones you want to appear on the Summary page. (You won’t be able to see any of the data, though; for that, you still need to go to that “Browse” icon.)

Eventually, as you continue to use the app, you’ll see a “Highlights” category added to the Summary screen, which will show info from, according to Apple, “the apps and devices you use most.” You also may get notices at the top of the Summary screen — for example, if it detects unusual readings or a higher-than-usual volume level from your headphones.

Medical info

One of the first things you may want to do is set up medical info for first responders. When you first go into the Health app, you’ll see an invitation to set up your Medical ID. Tap on “Get Started” and enter any medical conditions, allergies, medications you take, and blood type; you can also add an emergency contact from your contact list. After that, when you (or someone else) tap on the Emergency link on your passcode screen, you will not only be able to make an emergency call, but you’ll also have access to medical info (by tapping a link in the lower-left corner) and emergency contact info.

Once you’ve started using the Health app, you can edit, add to, or just view your medical info by tapping on the Profile icon on the top right of the Summary screen. You can also set up a link to your medical records (if they are available from your provider) and tweak the privacy settings for any devices you may have connected to the Health app (such as an Apple Watch). You can also export all of your health data via .XML files.

Apple has created a good introductory video to some of the features of its new Health app. Take a few minutes to watch it, or just go into your Health app and set it up. It’s not difficult, and it’s definitely worth it.

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