Business Columns & Blogs

Power your phone by hand or by sun

Q: As recent storms and power outages have shown, we are now deeply reliant on cellphones for communication, especially since many people have gotten rid of their landlines. If there’s no electricity, what options do you have for charging a phone battery?

A: Backup batteries only last for so long, but hand-cranked chargers and miniature solar panels are two options for restoring a little power to your mobile phone. Adding an alternative charging device to your household emergency kit (along with the flashlights and candles) is one way to stay in contact with others, but keep in mind that for large-scale outages, network cellular service and Wi-Fi routers will most likely be down as well.

Several companies make hand-cranked chargers, including Etón and K-TOR. Prices start at about $17 for a simple crank and go up from there.

To use one, connect the phone to the device with its USB charging cable and then turn the crank continuously until you see the phone’s battery level move up a notch or two. Depending on the devices involved, this can take several minutes of cranking, but you should be able to get enough power to make an emergency call — which can be helpful if, say, your house is having power problems of its own and you need to call an electrician.

If hand-cranking does not appeal to you, Etón also offers solar-powered solutions and K-TOR has a pedal-powered charger for about $200.

Portable solar-powered chargers can supply energy to devices in emergency and nonemergency situations (like camping) without physical effort. Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews products, tested 70 solar battery chargers and found the $51 Anker PowerPort Solar Lite to be the best model for juicing up mobile devices.

Smartphone cases with built-in solar chargers are another option, even for everyday use. SnowLizard makes cases for current iPhone models and the Portable Solar Shop site sells cases for several Android phones.

How to get Cortana’s undivided attention

Q: How do I make the Cortana software on my Windows 10 PC ignore everybody else in the house and respond only to my voice?

A: For Microsoft’s Cortana virtual assistant to obey only one voice, the software has to get to know that voice. So you need to do a few training exercises so the program recognizes you and doesn’t respond to other voices.

To start training, open the Cortana settings; in the new Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, open the Settings app from the gear-shaped icon on the Start menu. In the Settings area, select Cortana.

Next, in the Cortana settings box, click Talk to Cortana on the left side of the box. In the “Hey Cortana” area, make sure the “Let Cortana respond to ‘Hey Cortana’” setting is turned on and then click the “Learn how I say ‘Hey Cortana’” link.

This opens the Cortana panel, where you will be asked to repeat six phrases displayed on the screen. Click the Start button in the Cortana window and follow along as the software guides you through the voice training. (Some users have reported buggy and nonresponsive behavior when trying to use Cortana’s voice-learning feature, but Microsoft’s online support forums have troubleshooting suggestions.)

Once you complete the required phrases, return to the main Settings app and go back to the Cortana area. Now that the software has had a full introduction to your voice, click the button next to “Try to respond to only me.”