Tech

SALTZMAN: Tech freebies – audiobooks, TV streaming, video surveillance

With the rising costs of living putting a strain on many families – including (still) high interest rates affecting your credit card and mortgage payments, and food inflation climbing in May for the first time in nearly a year – Canadians are understandably looking for ways to save.

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The good news is you can get a handful of things for free you might otherwise pay for.

Granted, there may be a few limitations, such as sitting through a few ads during a streaming movie or borrowing (rather than owning) ebooks, but you might be surprised how tech can help you keep more money in your pocket.

You probably know music streaming services offer a free (ad-supported) tier and there are free games to download to your digital devices, but the following are a half-dozen suggestions you might not be aware of.

WHERE CAN I GET AUDIOBOOKS FOR FREE?

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So long as you have a library card, you can borrow ebooks and audiobooks for free – even today’s bestsellers – through the Libby app.

The free app connects book lovers with content in more than 22,000 public libraries and thousands of colleges, universities, corporate libraries and learning centres.

Like your library, you can enjoy the book you’re reading until the “due date,” but now you don’t need to drive the books back to the library or face a late fee.

You can install Libby on multiple devices, and all your loans, notes, bookmarks and reading progress are synchronized across your devices.

Enjoy free audio from the Golden Age of radio with relic Radio.
Enjoy free audio from the Golden Age of radio with relic Radio. Photo by Screenshot

FREE WAY TO TURN EBOOKS INTO AUDIOBOOKS

Here’s a little-known trick for iPhone or iPad owners: turn your ebooks into free audiobooks.

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This is doable using a built-in accessibility tool called Speak Screen that will read aloud any text on the screen. Now you can listen while in the car, while closing your eyes on an airplane, or when walking down the street.

To activate it (only required once), go to Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content > Speak Screen. Then, in any app you have open, such as an ebook reading app, swipe down with two fingers from the very top of the screen for the content to be read to you.

It also works with emails, messages, web articles, recipes, and notes. You can tweak the voice, including gender and language, speaking speed, and more.

Android has something similar but it’s not quite as good. Go to Settings > Accessibility > TalkBack.

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Speaking of audio, take advantage of tens of thousands of free radio plays – “theatre of the mind” shows popularized in the ’40s through ’60s – at websites like Archive.org or by subscribing to various podcasts, such as Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society, Relic Radio, and Radio Retropolis.

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Tubi is an ad-supported entertainment streamer that offers thousands of TV show episodes and movies for free.
Tubi is an ad-supported entertainment streamer that offers thousands of TV show episodes and movies for free. Photo by Screenshot

FREE TV? THESE APPS DELIVER (WITH COMMERCIALS)

Often referred to as AVOD services (ad-supported video on demand) or sometimes FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV), these networks provide free videos to watch on a Smart TV, smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

Some of the more popular options include Tubi (my favourite), Roku Channel, Pluto TV, and of course, YouTube – each of them offering thousands of TV show episodes and movies for free. Some have live programming, but most are on-demand.

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The catch? You need to sit through some commercials at the start and during the programming. But at least, they’re much shorter than regular TV commercials.

And hey, free is free.

WHAT APP OFFERS A FREE PHONE NUMBER?

A secondary phone number on your smartphone is super handy, for a variety of reasons, such as not wanting to give out your real number if you’re, say, posting items to a classifieds site or meeting someone for the first time via a dating app (in case they turn out to be a stalker).

Instead, apps like TextNow (from Kitchener-Waterloo) give you a free 10-digit North American number, based on the city you type in (such as Toronto or Los Angeles), and now you can give that number out to those who want to reach you. It also works on tablets, laptops, and desktops.

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Like your main number, you can change the ringtone, access voicemail, engage in a three-way call, and more. It also works for text messages, too. All for free.

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One small caveat: if you use your device outside of where you have free Wi-Fi (like at home), it relies on cellular connectivity, which may incur data charges with your mobile phone provider.

Installing an app such as AlfredCamera on your device allows you to set up an older, unused device as a free wireless surveillance camera.
Installing an app such as AlfredCamera on your device allows you to set up an older, unused device as a free wireless surveillance camera. Photo by Supplied

SURVEILLANCE CAMERA WITHOUT SUBSCRIPTION

Given how often we update our devices, you might have a spare iPhone, iPad or Android somewhere at home. If so, you can turn it into a free wireless surveillance camera, to turn it into a baby monitor on date night, a “nanny” cam (with consent), or a way to keep an eye on your pets while at work.

It’s all handled through apps like AlfredCamera or Presence.

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After you install (and sign into) the same app on your existing phone or tablet, and your aging one, simply place the old device somewhere in your home, ensure it’s plugged in, and point the device’s camera somewhere.

Now, wherever life takes you, open the same app on your existing phone or tablet to see what’s happening in real-time at home. Or set up sound and/or motion alerts.

COMPATIBLE OFFLINE PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS

Finally, while there are some free productivity programs, most require an internet connection to use.

Instead, Apache’s OpenOffice is a downloadable, offline suite of productivity tools for word processing, creating spreadsheets and presentations, and more. OpenOffice is available in multiple languages and runs on many operating systems, and you can install it on as many computers as you like.

The software suite supports a wide range of file types created by other programs (including Microsoft Office’s .doc, .xls and .ppt).

On a related note, there are many free photo-editing tools, but Gimp might be the most robust, thanks to its powerful editing features, digital retouching, multiple file support, and customizable interface options.

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