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Originally published December 21, 2012 at 5:04 PM | Page modified December 21, 2012 at 5:04 PM

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Smart holiday travel tips for smartphones

Just in time for some of us to have a week or two off or travel to an opposite end of the country, whether south, east, or Florida, some advice that should ease your way into the new year.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Practical Mac

Just in time for some of us to have a week or two off or travel to an opposite end of the country, whether south, east, or Florida, I have a bit of advice that should ease your way into the new year.

Find My iThing: It is so very easy to put down a mobile device in an airport or highway restaurant and, while managing kids, dogs, parents and bags, walk away from it. It’s also easy for that device to walk away in someone else’s hands when you have a moment of inattention.

Thus, it’s a good time of year to point out the many tools at your disposal to aid with “theft recovery.”

Apple includes Find My Mac for users of Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) and 10.8 (Mountain Lion). It’s enabled via the iCloud system preference pane, and requires that Wi-Fi be turned on.

Find My iPhone/iPod touch/iPad has been built into iOS for several versions. Tap the Settings app, slide down and tap iCloud, and then make sure Find My iWhatever is set to On.

You can track a device whenever the finding service is on via from any browser or using the Find My iPhone app (for all iOS devices and Macs, despite its name) for iOS. Apple made revisions not long ago that let you pop a message up, and on an iPhone include a callback number. You can also remotely erase devices, including Macs.

I also use GadgetTrak on my iPhone and iPad, which works in the background until activated, and then reports on the current position. It can take pictures of a thief if you make a one-time in-app upgrade.

On the Mac, I rely on Undercover from Orbicule, which has clever ways after you report a Mac missing to send the computer’s location along with pictures from the built-in camera, keystrokes typed and screenshots.

Of course, a stolen or lost device has to be on a network (cellular or Wi-Fi) in order to be found. A good Samaritan might connect it (or not disable it) purposely for that reason; and criminals surprisingly often forget to disable connectivity.

Personal Hotspot: Since the iPhone 3GS, you’ve been able to use your mobile phone as a modem that connects computers and other gear to a cellular broadband network, but only with the right service plan.

The 3GS was limited to USB and Bluetooth, while the iPhone 4 and later can turn themselves into a Wi-Fi router as well.

This service used to be available only for an extra fee (which also came with an additional bandwidth allotment) no matter the carrier, but AT&T and Verizon have removed the fee for those who opt for shared-service plans.

The shared plans feature a fixed rate per month for each smartphone, tablet and laptop modem signed up, and a flat rate as well for a shared pool of data, which can be as little as 1 GB. Extra gigabytes are $15.

Tethering can be used on any device in the plan that supports it, which includes several iPad models, too. My wife and I opted for a 4 GB plan after a couple months of monitoring usage. We’re still paying less than with our old plan, as we’re no longer incurring messaging or data overages, which add up.

I also found in trips over the past year with the old plan that I was regularly turning on the Personal Hotspot feature for part of a month because of a lack of reliable Wi-Fi. While these charges were pro rated, it was fussy to turn on the service for a few days at a time, sometimes requiring a call to customer service.

Now that I have the shared plan, I tether all the time. I’ve used it in airports, hotels, relatives’ houses, and on the train between Seattle and Portland. Amtrak has Wi-Fi on board, but it’s often unreliable or overtaxed, and my phone makes a more reliable connection.

iOS 6.0.2: Apple released a maintenance update for its iOS operating system a few days ago, and its terse notes suggested it would fix some Wi-Fi problems. Instead, it’s a battery-draining demon for many users.

In my case, shared by many others I’ve polled, the update triggers some system activity that can burn through stored energy in a matter of hours.

Perhaps related to this are three unexpected crashes of the phone since installing the update. Colleagues and friends have confirmed the same strange behavior.

If you’re about to hit the road, I’d recommend not installing 6.0.2 before you go. It’s available only for certain iOS devices, in any case.

Unless there’s a significant security concern, which there isn’t for this update, holding off until you get an all-clear signal from those of us who go ahead and suffer the pain is always a good idea. I’m hoping for a quick release of 6.0.3.

Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications.

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