By Bob Delaurentis
Tech Talk 

Music subscriptions vs. purchases; iPhone camera tricks

Bob's Tech Talk


November 1, 2023 | View PDF

Q. What is the best way to enjoy music on my smartphone or tablet?

A. Digitizing audio CDs and copying them to a smart phone is still supported on desktop computers, but as more people move to a smartphone-only lifestyle this may no longer be an option for you.

There are two major ways to get music on a smartphone: purchases and subscriptions. Of the two, subscriptions are the simplest to manage over time.

The leading services are Apple Music and Spotify, both of which are available on all the major platforms and both cost about $10 a month.

Subscribers have access to millions of songs along with other features such as radio stations, music recommendations, exclusive content, live lyrics and karaoke modes, just to name a few.

When it comes to choosing between the two, my advice is to try the free trials. See for yourself which one fits best into your life.

One caveat: Once you have used a service for a while, it becomes difficult to switch.

If you love music, a music service subscription will put the largest record collection in the world in your pocket.

Q. Apple Music and Spotify are not good options for me.

A. There are many different options, and they can be less expensive than a subscription if you maintain a modest music collection.

If you just want a few albums or a playlist of favorite music, the individual songs and albums can be purchased.

On Apple devices, use the iTunes Store app. The purchases will show up in the same app used by Apple Music.

For Android, you can purchase MP3 music directly from Amazon’s website. This requires an extra step of manually downloading the purchases and installing them on the Android device. On the plus side, the purchases can also be installed on Apple devices.

There are also a couple of other subscription services to consider. However, except for the catalog offered with Amazon Prime, the prices are similar to Apple Music and Spotify.

Amazon Music may work better for you, especially if you use Echo or Fire devices. They offer a “free” catalog bundled with Prime, as well as an unlimited plan. When Google Play Music shut down, their services were folded into YouTube Music, another premium-priced subscription service.

For some users, purchasing is a good alternative.

Amazon Prime Music catalog is a good deal if you already use Prime.

But most users will find the best value with either Apple Music or Spotify subscriptions, or purchasing their favorite songs.

Q. The iPhone camera is my all-time favorite camera. It takes excellent photos but I feel like I am missing out on some of its features. For example, what do the icons that appear on the image itself mean?

A. You are correct that your iPhone camera has many tricks up its sleeve besides making images.

Some of the info in the viewfinder is there to help compose the photo. For example, things like lens choice, a horizon indicator, and exposure adjustments.

But the composition controls barely scratch the surface.

If you point the camera at a barcode the phone understands, such as QR codes, a yellow button will appear. That button will open a website or an app.

Many restaurants use QR codes to display menus, and some codes can process payment for the check.

The iPhone camera also understands text. If a small square icon appears in the lower right corner of the image, the camera has detected text it can read. Tap the square icon, and the text is highlighted. If the text is not in the phone’s default language, it may offer to translate it with another button marked “Translate.”

I have seen text recognition and translation work on everything from giant traffic signs to the tiny text on a laundry label.

Keep a sharp eye out for other icons, like a paw print or a leaf. These indicate that the camera can label a plant species or a specific dog breed.

Some of these features appear in the viewfinder before the shutter is tapped. Existing photos have image recognizers as well.

In the Photos app, look for a small icon, a circle with a lowercase letter “i” and a small star. It will appear blue in the bottom menu if the recognizer identified something. For details see

Wander the Web

Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:

Discover New Fonts

A searchable directory containing tens of thousands of fonts, many of which are free.


A collection of webcams, each of which looks out a window somewhere in the world.

Holiday Stuffing

The original is still the best. The site opens on Dec. 1. or

Bob has been writing about technology for over three decades. He can be contacted at


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