Tech tips and advice during coronavirus lockdown: From Joe Wicks’ workouts and fitness apps to helping your relatives stay in touch

Tips and advice on how to speed up your internet, make video calls and much more

Tuesday, 31st March 2020, 8:17 pm

Updated Tuesday, 31st March 2020, 8:18 pm
Technological advice to keep you connected and helping others during lockdown (Photo: Getty)

As the UK adjusts to life under lockdown as the result of the coronavirus outbreak, we’re more reliant on technology than ever before to keep our lives running with a semblance of normality.

Read on for a series of tips on how to help others and keep in touch with friends and family.

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The best fitness apps and videos for home workouts (and runs)

As we all adjust to spending increasing amounts of time indoors, exercising is one of the best ways to raise your spirits and stave off cabin fever. If you’re new to regular exercise or more used to a gym environment adjusting to home workouts can be challenging, but incredibly worthwhile.

Joe Wicks is helping house-bound kids stay fit with his interactive PE lessons (Photo: YouTube)

Australian fitness queen Kayla Itsines’ Sweat app (£9.99 per month, but worth every penny) for iOS and Android phones coaches you through three specialised legs, arms and abs HIIT sessions each week, and also features health meal suggestions. Itsines recently rejigged the first two cycles of her programme to make it more home-friendly by using less gym equipment, and new joiners can trial the app for free for a month. The workouts increase in difficulty as your progress but deliver impressive results if you’re able to stick to the regime.

Kayla Itsines’ workouts are tough – but worth sticking to (Photo: Getty)

If you’re getting into running for the first time, Public Health England’s One You Couch to 5K is brilliant. The free app builds you up to running longer distances by telling you when to walk and run while you listen to your own music, gradually increasing the running sections until you’re capable of the whole 5K.

How to keep in touch with friends and family via video call

Video chats can be a great way to stay in contact with loved ones while staying indoors during the current virus outbreak.

The majority of modern tablets and smartphones have front-facing cameras, making it easy to call friends and family. If you’re calling from an Apple iPhone, select the name of who you’d like to chat to from the Phone app and press the Video icon. If you have a phone running Google’s Android system, open your Phone or Contacts app, find the name and press ‘Video call’.

FaceTiming on an iPad or iPhone is a simple method of video calling (Photo: Getty)

If you use the WhatsApp messaging app, open the conversation with your intended call recipient and press the video camera icon in the top right-hand corner.

If you own an Amazon Echo Show smart speaker, which has an inbuilt camera and screen, you can call contacts listed in the linked Alexa smartphone app by saying: “Alexa, call [name]”.

How to join online groups to help your neighbours

There are plenty of online resources to volunteer your help to vulnerable people during the outbreak.

The Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK network has more than 200 volunteer-led groups from Aberdeen and Bootle to Newton Abbot and Swansea. The groups are on hand to collect and drop off shopping and other items, including prescriptions, and taking dogs for a walk.

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Community support groups formed to support vulnerable neighbours amid outbreak

Nextdoor is an app for smartphones and tablets that allows residents to join groups in their local areas and is free to download on iOS for iPhones through the App Store and Android’s Google Play Store.

It recently added two new features, Help Map and Groups to support others. Help Map allows users to volunteer their services to nearby people based on their location, while Groups is a discussion forum for exchange information.

How to help vulnerable people without internet access

Bearing this in mind, it’s important to use online services when possible to contact councils or other bodies during the outbreak, leaving the phone lines free for vulnerable people.

Older people may be less likely to be aware of updates and advice, so checking in on family and neighbours and encouraging them to watch the daily government addresses and collecting their newspaper of choice can help.

Some AgeUK charity branches have set up helplines for older people self-isolating, including in Leicester and Rutland (0116 299 2239).

From Tuesday 24 March you can register as or on behalf of an extremely vulnerable person on the government’s website – gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable – allowing people to ask for help getting deliveries of essential supplies like food. It could be worth checking with vulnerable people without an internet connection if they’d like you to register them, just in case.

Where to find reliable information online about coronavirus

While the internet is a wonderful resource of information, it’s important to exercise a healthy scepticism when it comes to claims about the virus that don’t come from official sources.

Social media and messaging apps are currently full of declarations, often claiming to be from experts (or someone who knows one), on how to minimise the likelihood of contracting or even curing coronavirus.

The NHS website (nhs.uk) and the Government site (gov.uk/coronavirus) are the best direct sources of reliable information related to the outbreak and its spread. Google has a link to the government site at the bottom of its homepage, while Facebook has created a Covid-19 Information Centre, which collates information from recognised health organisations.

How to speed up your internet

Spending significantly more time indoors has meant the UK’s broadband connections have had to cope with significantly more traffic than usual as millions of people log on to work and entertain themselves in the evening.

As Wi-Fi connections and microwaves operate on the same wave frequency, radiation from microwaves can leak and interfere with internet connections, preventing pages from loading properly.

Having problems with your Wi-Fi? Your microwave may be to blame (Photo: Getty)

Moving a home’s internet router away from devices including cordless phones, stereos, computer speakers, TVs, monitors and baby monitors can improve the strength and speed of a connection, alongside placing the router itself on a table or shelf rather than on the floor and avoiding using telephone extension leads.

Staggering the number of family members using the internet at once can also help to prevent Wi-Fi grinding to a halt, as the more devices using the connection, the lower the speed will be, Ofcom added.

How to adjust the quality of your Netflix, YouTube and iPlayer shows to reduce internet bandwidth

This essentially means you’ll be watching videos in standard (SD), rather than high definition (HD). The basic Netflix subscription (£5.99) is SD anyway, but the standard (£8.99pm) and premium (£11.99pm) packages are HD and Ultra HD respectively. I’ve asked Netflix if this means that people paying for the higher-quality packages will be switched to lower quality streams, but if you pay for a standard subscription, you probably won’t notice a significant drop in video quality.

YouTube and Netflix have agreed to lower the bitrate of their content (Photo: Shutterstock)

Depending on the quality of the video you’re watching on YouTube, selecting the Settings menu and opening Quality will allow you to select a lower resolution. If your video is already a lower resolution, you won’t have the option to change it under the Settings menu.When watching BBC iPlayer, you can set content to stream in SD by default by opening the Settings menu in the iPlayer app, selecting Video Quality and choosing Standard Definition.

How to support your local restaurants from a distance

Restaurants and cafes across the UK have closed their doors following government instructions to discourage people from congregating and increasing the spread of the coronavirus.

While some have closed their doors indefinitely, others are offering takeaway services. Many of them are available on Uber Eats, which has waived its normal delivery fees until 31 March, Deliveroo and Just Eat, which has reduced the amount of commission it takes by one-third and waiving sign-up fees for new restaurants until 19 April. All three operators are offering ‘contact-free’ delivery leaving the food on the customers’ doorsteps rather than handing them over.

Deliveroo drivers will leave delivered food at customers’ doors (Photo: Getty)

It’s also worth checking if your favourite restaurant has a gift card or voucher service through their website or social media channels, allowing you to support them from afar.

Another way to extend a helping hand is through purchasing cookbooks from the likes of Dishoom, Hawksmoor, Polpo and other famous eateries.

How to make shared playlists on Spotify

If you’re a Spotify user, making collaborative playlists is a fun way to create lists of tracks volunteered by your friends and family. The process is the same whether you’re a paid-up Spotify subscriber or using the free version supported by adverts.

Using a smartphone or tablet, open the Spotify app and select your Library. Tap on Playlists and either select the existing list of songs you’d like to make collaborative or start a new one by tapping Create Playlist at the top of the menu.

Spotify has millions of paying subscribers (Photo: Pixabay)

Once the playlist is ready to go, tap the three-dot icon (this is horizontal on iPhones and vertical on handsets running Google’s Android operating system) and select Make Collaborative. You can now share the playlist with others by tapping the three-dot icon again and scrolling down to Share, which presents you with the option to share a link via WhatsApp, text message, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or by simply copying the link to pop it into an email.

How to download WhatsApp if you’ve never used it before

WhatsApp is a messaging app used by millions of people across the world that can be used on smartphones, tablets and PCs.

It requires an internet connection to work and allows you to type messages, make voice and video calls and exchange pictures and videos within the single app.

If you’re looking to use WhatsApp for the first time on your smartphone, simply open the Apple App Store or Google Play Store app, type ‘WhatsApp’ into the search bar and tap ‘Get’ or ‘Install’.

Agree to the terms and conditions and agree to let WhatsApp access your contact list that’s stored on your phone.

Once the app has downloaded, it’ll ask you to input your phone number. It will then send you a text message containing a code, which you can enter into the app to verify your identity. You will now be able to send and receive messages from friends and family whenever you have a working connection.

How to join a Wi-Fi connection

If you’re an infrequent internet user, you may not have connected to Wi-Fi yourself in the past. If the connection itself is up and running in your home, joining with a new device is straightforward. Although the steps vary slightly depending on your device (be it smartphone, tablet, laptop, e-reader or something else), the basic principles remain the same.

Tap or click the wireless icon on your device, which looks a bit like a fan. Select the name of the network you’re looking to connect to – some devices will require you to select Connect, while others will just join automatically.

No need to resort to desperate measures (Photo: Pexels)

The vast majority of home networks require a password to connect, so enter it now. If it’s a new connection and you’re unsure, the password is probably printed on a sticker on the underside of your router. Be sure to change this to something unique to you when you get the chance through your Settings to ensure your connection is more secure. Voilà – you should now be connected.