Colfax Public Library: is it a cellular telephone or a computer?

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  Quick. What is your smartphone?

Is it a cellular telephone that does a bunch of other things?

Or is it a computer that happens to make phone calls?

The correct answer, says Randy Simpson of 24-7 Telcom out of Menomonie, is that it is a computer that happens to make telephone calls.

Simpson presented a class on smartphone software applications, commonly known as “apps,” at the Colfax Public Library January 19.

Many cell phone apps are free while others can cost anywhere from 99 cents to $10 — although some cell phone apps can be quite expensive at $50 or more, Simpson said. 

And some of the free apps, such as games that youngsters enjoy playing, turn out not to be so free, he noted.

One 24-7 Telcom customer was perplexed when he saw his credit card bill.

The person’s son had been playing a free game on the smartphone. But while the game was free, whenever the youngster would end up “stuck” in the game, he would go out on the Internet to get “clues” to help him advance, and each clue cost 99 cents and was charged to the customer’s credit card, Simpson explained.

A hundred clues at 99 cents each can really add up, he said.

Gift cards

One excellent way to limit the amount of money that can be spent on phone apps is to use a gift card or or a credit card that can be purchased at Wal-Mart, Dollar General or many other stores to make cell phone app purchases, Simpson said.

If you put $25 or $50 on the gift card or credit card and use only that card for the app purchases, when the money is gone, it’s gone, he said.

“That way, your regular credit card is not on your cell phone, and you cannot overcharge yourself,” Simpson said.

If you are wondering how to tell if a cell phone app is free, go into your “app store” on your smartphone and look for apps. Free applications will have a button with the word “install” but those that have a fee attached to them will have a button with the cost, such as $2.99, he explained.

Simpson cautioned “buyer beware” with any of the phone apps.

For example, a free app called “Paper by Fifty Three” was rated as the best app of 2012. Paper by Fifty Three is a drawing app, but in the end, it is not as “free” as it would appear.

The application is free, but if you want more colors than are provided with the app, you have to buy more “pens,” and if you want different background “paper” on which to draw on your phone, you have to buy different backgrounds, Simpson said.


If at any time you end up somewhere on your phone that you do not want to be or do not know how you got there, go to the “home” button at the bottom of your smartphone, and it will take you back to the main screen, Simpson said.

Also, do not worry that you are going to “break” your smartphone. The phones are set up so that anything essential with the operating system cannot be deleted, and anything else you can accidentally delete can always be loaded back onto your smartphone, he said.

Smartphone users also should not have to worry about losing pictures they have taken with their phones, Simpson said.

When pictures are taken with the phone, the smartphone should automatically sync to “the cloud” and save the pictures, he said.

“Cloud storage” refers to data stored on remote servers that are accessed from the Internet. Cloud storage service providers operate and manage the cloud storage. 

One woman attending the class said she has problems with accidentally calling people again after she has called them once. 

The phenomenon is known as “pocket dialing.”

To avoid accidentally calling people again, Simpson recommended hitting the home button on the bottom of the phone after every phone call. The phone will go back to main screen, and you will not accidentally dial a phone number that way, he said.


As many of us are aware, youngsters are extremely proficient with using technology.

For anyone with children or grandchildren who might ask the kids to help them with their smartphones, there’s a right way and a wrong way to ask, Simpson said.

Do not simply let your children or grandchildren set something up on your smartphone or “fix” something for you, he said.

Instead, “tell the kids or grandkids to sit on their hands when they’re helping you so you learn how to do it,” he said.

Asking youngsters to explain what you need to do accomplishes several goals: It teaches them patience in trying to help someone; it teaches them how to explain how to do something; and it engages them in conversation, Simpson said.

Those who were attending the class at the Colfax Public Library really seemed to like the idea of asking their children or grandchildren to show them and teach them rather than the kids going ahead and making the changes themselves.

Every now and again, your smartphone is going to want to do an “update,” Simpson noted.

“Get the updates,” he said.

The evolution of technology from the flip phones that were common ten years ago to the smartphones that are available today is the product of millions of users with millions of problems, Simpson said.

The updates that are available for smartphones are correcting problems that people have been having with their phones and will make the usability of the phone that much better, he said.

Popular apps

One popular app for music is iHeart Radio.

With iHeart, a user can set up a radio channel based on the kinds of music he or she wants to hear, Simpson said.

“Roy Orbison?” asked a gentleman in the class.

“Yes. Roy Orbison or any other musician you enjoy,” Simpson said.

Local television stations WEAU and WQOW have apps for news and weather, and social media apps include Pinterest and Facebook.

Travel apps include YELP, FourSquare and Alarm Clock Free.

Events and entertainment apps include TicketMaster, StubHub and AXS Tickets.

You can also use your smartphone or iPad or tablet computer to read books, Simpson noted.

OverDrive is the Wisconsin Public Library e-reader app. You can download books to read or audio books that you can listen to on your smartphone, he said.

Amazon Kindle available online through the bookseller Amazon is Amazon’s e-reader app.

As for shopping, there is an app called Out of Milk for Android phones and AnyList for Apple iPhones.

Shopping apps are handy because you can put your shopping list on your phone and do not have to carry a piece of paper. The shopping lists can then be easily updated. 

Video chatting apps include Skype and Facetime (Apple iPhone only).

Game apps include Candy Crush, Angry Birds, 4 pics 1 word and Free Flow.

A smartphone is so much more than a phone, and Simpson encouraged those attending the class to experiment and explore to find out what they can do.