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Tech Q&A: Letting a phone read and write your email

Steve Alexander, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Science & Technology News

Q: I'm unable to use a computer but I have been using email via AOL's telephone service, called "AOL By Phone." The service reads my emails to me and it has recorded and sent my verbal replies. But AOL says it will discontinue the service. Is there a credible replacement technology?

-- Jaiananda Natha, Tucson, Ariz.

A: Apple and Google smartphones offer services similar to "AOL By Phone," which AOL is discontinuing in November (see tinyurl.com/c47f46a).

You can use the iPhone's Siri digital assistant (see tinyurl.com/ycjxbv24) to read your email aloud and to type your reply as you dictate it.

After you enable Siri in the iPhone's settings, press and hold the main button to start the app, then say, "Read my latest email." Siri will read it aloud and ask whether you want to reply. Say yes, and when Siri prompts you, dictate your reply. When Siri prompts you again, say "Send." Alternatively, you can say "Read all email," and interrupt Siri with another command, such as "Read the next email," by pressing the microphone icon.

Google offers a similar app, Google Assistant (see tinyurl.com/ycccaykc) that works with Google's Gmail. It can read your email aloud and send your dictated reply. It can also be told to read only your most recent emails, just the emails from a particular person or just the emails that arrived on a particular day.

Google Assistant is available for the iPhone and some smartphones using Google's Android operating system (including models from Samsung, Google, HTC and LG. See tinyurl.com/y9y8pkhv).

Q: In order to continue getting the latest Windows security updates, I want to install Microsoft's Service Pack 1 software on my two Windows 7 PCs. The 32-bit laptop installed the update easily, but the 64-bit desktop won't install it. The desktop can download the update, but the installation fails when it's about 10 percent complete. What can I do?

-- Bill Mahony, Plymouth, Minn.

A: First, be sure that you are installing the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (often referred to as SP1) on your 64-bit desktop PC. A 64-bit PC handles data storage somewhat differently than a 32-bit PC, so it's important to have the correct SP1 version.

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