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10 tech troubleshooting tips to fix your gadgets

A hand putting a clockwork gear in place.
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Ultimately, how you solve a problem depends on what that problem is. At the same time, many of the most common technological problems have simple and easy solutions. Here are 1

0 common troubleshooting tricks you should know.

Turn it off and on again

It might be a meme right now, but “turning it off and on” is the solution to many of life’s technical problems. Since many problems are caused by software, shutting down your computer, smartphone or other gadgets will solve the problem and then restart by “starting over”.

Many processes occur simultaneously in operating systems. When one or more of these processes encounters a problem, it can cause a chain reaction and cause the device to not work as expected. Sometimes you can identify and restart the specific process causing the problem, but often it’s just easier to reboot the device and wipe the slate.

Restarting is also a good test to see if your problem is software or hardware related. If your computer is slow to respond and takes a while to complete a task, restarting should fix the problem – if it’s a software glitch. If the problem persists even after rebooting, consider that the hardware (such as a faulty RAM stick or hard drive) is to blame.

If the device is unresponsive on most devices, you can force the shutdown by pressing and holding the power button long enough. On an iPhone, you want to hold down the power button and volume up or down at the same time. For devices that never actually turn off, such as smart speakers and modern smart TVs, unplug the power cord and wait about 30 seconds to a few minutes before turning them back on.

RELATED: Why does restarting a computer solve so many problems?

Check for the latest software updates

A persistent problem isn’t always due to hardware failure. Sometimes faulty software can cause a problem that keeps showing up until patched. You can often solve these problems by checking for updates.

It’s generally a good idea to update your gadgets as soon as a software update becomes available (except for major operating system upgrades that can cause more problems than they fix). Typically, smaller incremental updates should be applied as soon as possible.

This includes accessories that may not have a direct connection to the wider Internet. Xbox Series X | S and PlayStation 5 controllers, for example, can both be updated over the air, but must also be connected to your primary console for this to happen.

Many issues are identified by other users in forum posts or on social media before being patched. It is often a good idea to search the Internet for the problem you are experiencing to find out how common the problem is and whether a solution is already available or in progress.

Reset to factory settings

Most everything, including smartphones and tablets, can be reset to factory settings these days. Any smart device that’s giving you trouble can benefit from a reset. That includes network equipment such as routers (often through a small pin-sized hole), modern smart TVs, wearables such as smartwatches and fitness trackers, and game consoles.

Keep in mind that if you go this route, you will likely lose any user data or preferences you have saved. In the case of a smartphone, this could be your entire photo library. Other devices will require you to reenter your Wi-Fi information so that they can reconnect to the Internet.

Bluetooth problems? Pair it again

Bluetooth can be flaky at times with some devices forgetting that they are paired and in a state of limbo trying to forget about it. This problem is incredibly common and the solution is quite simple – pair it again.

You must “forget” the connection of the main device you are connecting to (such as a smartphone, computer, or console). Then slide the device you are trying to connect to into pairing mode and pair it again. If you don’t remember how to reactivate pairing mode, search the web for answers.

Some devices will forget settings when you do this. For example, Apple’s wireless AirPods will forget which functions you’ve assigned to each ear (by tapping on them), so be sure to check out any additional settings after you pair again.

Give safe mode a try

Safe Mode is a method of booting your Windows PC, Mac or Android smartphone with the bare minimum of software required for the operating system to work. Many drivers, kernel extensions, and startup programs that may cause problems are ignored in the boot order. This allows you to make changes to your device in a stable environment.

In the case of macOS, entering Safe Mode will also check your system for integrity and fix any issues it encounters along the way. Sometimes this is enough to make certain problems disappear altogether, but more often it gives you the opportunity to make changes that may help you fix the problem yourself.

Learn how to repair your Windows PC with Safe Mode and which key combination will start your Mac in Safe Mode.

Connections and cable problems? Swap or replace

A kitten is gnawing on a pile of threads.
Oleksandr Lytvynenko / Shutterstock.com

Cables are still a point of failure in many situations. The most obvious example is USB cables used to charge your smartphone. Charging cables get so much use and are constantly being pulled and bent, so it’s no wonder they fail so often. Replacing a cable can solve your problem or help you diagnose it further.

If the problem doesn’t go away with a new cable, there may be a problem with the device it is connected to (such as the wall outlet or USB port on the computer), or the port on the device itself may be defective. This can help diagnose and ultimately fix the problem.

But charging cables are just the tip of the iceberg. Network problems can be caused by faulty network cables especially if they are constantly connected and disconnected. HDMI cables can fail without warning, and many of them are unsuitable for their purpose in the first place.

On a side note, if you to be when replacing an HDMI cable, don’t fall for so-called “premium” cables that cost an arm and a leg.

Software problem? Try to install the app again

If your problem is software related and you have already tried a reboot to no avail, it may be a good idea to reinstall the affected software. If it is a mobile or desktop application, this is a fairly straightforward process.

Check out our guides on how to remove apps from Windows 10 and completely remove software from your Mac. We have also covered how to delete an app from an iPhone or iPad and also delete apps from an Android device.

Do note that you will need an original installation media to reinstall the app. This could be a lengthy software download or even a DVD (if you’re still installing software that way). If the problem is not too serious, you may want to wait until you no longer rely on the affected app (after your workday, for example) to take it out of service.

Gadget Won’t Turn On? Charge it for a while

Icon for iPhone not charging

Some devices are stored and remain for months, maybe even years. Too often when you pick up an old device it’s as dead as a thorn nail. Even if you plug in a charging cable, nothing seems to happen.

When batteries are completely empty, they often need to be recharged slowly to avoid damaging the cells. Basically, you need to leave a “dead” device plugged into the power supply for a while before giving it up completely. How long this takes depends on the device, but usually a few hours is enough.

If possible, always test your cable and charger first to avoid a problem.

Wet gadget? Hold the rice

As it turns out, rice doesn’t really help dry out your gadgets. Rice often causes more problems by getting into small cracks, such as charging ports or behind buttons and keys. Instead, save the rice for your next curry meal.

If your device gets wet, turn it off first and remove the battery if possible. This reduces the risk of a short circuit, which can cause irreparable damage to components. Now that that’s out of the way, you’ll want to turn your attention to moving the water to prevent corrosion from happening completely.

IFixit DIYers recommend using isopropyl alcohol and a toothbrush.

If you can’t open your device (or if you don’t want to), it’s best to make sure it’s turned off and remove any removable batteries, then wait. Corrosion can still occur, but the chances of a short circuit are smaller and you don’t have a charging port full of basmati.

Make sure to wait long enough for the device to dry – as a rule of thumb, it should take 48 hours – before trying to turn it on again.

Note: Many smartphones now come with spill, rain and shallow pit protection, so this is much less of an issue than it used to be. Make sure you know what your device can withstand so that you can respond appropriately.

Buttons are stuck or not registering? clean it up

This is a tip aimed primarily at gamers, but so is anyone who has spilled a sticky drink on a gadget in the past. There are all kinds of tricks for cleaning sticky controller buttons, most of which involve using isopropyl alcohol.

If you have a sticky button on a controller or keyboard, you can probably clean it yourself. Check out iFixit for guides on how to access your specific hardware, then grab your isopropyl alcohol and cotton buds and get to work.

Add isopropyl alcohol to a cotton swab for cleaning
Tim Brookes

If you’re not fond of opening your device, applying isopropyl alcohol (90% or higher) and pressing the button repeatedly will often get things going again. Thin plastic (such as a split straw) can be used to allow the alcohol to enter the mechanism. Always do this with the device switched off, preferably with the batteries removed.

If you’re not very lucky the first time, repeat the process until you do. It’s not as effective as opening the gadget and cleaning it properly, but it can still work. Isopropyl alcohol should evaporate completely without leaving any residue. Just buy the highest percentage you can find for the best results.

RELATED: How to safely clean your annoying game controllers

The vast majority of gadget problems have simple solutions. Figuring out why Windows crashes or why your laptop is overheating is a learning process, so don’t be put off if you don’t find the solution right away.

Do you have any other top tips that you regularly use to diagnose technical issues? Drop them in the comments below.

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