Today’s smartphones are packed with more features than ever such as front- and rear-facing cameras, heart rate monitors, fingerprint screen lock, and access to apps store.
For some users, there’s a strong learning curve that accompanies the highly sophisticated smartphones of today. Although, most devices are user-friendly enough to warrant ample praise for usability.
Even if you’re a tech guy, you probably don’t know every tip and hack in the book to get the most from your device. We’ve compiled this comprehensive guide to most useful smartphone tricks to solve common problems. There’s plenty of tips to help you use your device in new ways. This comprehensive list will change your relationship with your smartphone.
For tips on a specific topic, click a link below to jump to a specific section:
- Tips to save your smartphone’s battery and data usage
- Smartphone hacks to make your life easier.
- Smartphone camera tips and tricks.
- Smartphone tips for travelers.
- Smartphone tricks just for fun.
Tips for conserving your smartphone’s battery and data usage
1. Disable background data for your non-essential apps.
Many apps run in the background, even when you’re not using them. This makes sense for things like email and social media, where you might want to know the minute you get a new message or comment, but do you really need your games, notes, and music players gobbling up battery resources 24/7?
With iOS, you can turn off background data on an app-by-app basis. Go to Settings—>General—>Background App Refresh, and select apps to turn off.
With Android, you can “restrict background data” for each app. Go to Settings—>Data usage. Tap on your app of choice, then scroll to the bottom to restrict background data on cellular networks. (Note that this setting can also save you from accidentally going over your data plan threshold.)
2. Disable app notifications that you don’t really need.
Bugged by annoying app notifications that just keep coming? If you don’t know already, these app notifications also drain your phone’s battery. If you want to turn them off, and you are on Jelly Bean 4.1 and above, here’s how. On any of your unwanted notifications in your notification bar, long press on the notification for a message box to appear. Tap on App Info > Untick Show Notifications > OK.
3. Disable cellular data usage for specific apps and features to conserve battery power.
Turn off cellular data usage for certain apps and features that you won’t be needing to save battery. Go to the Cellular or Data Usage tab under your phone’s Settings, and toggle off cellular data for specific apps that use a lot of your data. You can always #latergram your photos when you have more battery.
4. Premium versions of your favorite apps can save both data usage and battery power.
Yes, we like free apps. Like most free things in life, they always come with a price. Castro recommends paying for the premium version of apps that won’t show you ads. He says free apps constantly use your data to deliver you different commercials! Besides saving your data consumption that way, Castro says it can also save some battery power on your device.
5. Don’t use your smartphone while charging it.
Ever wondered why phone manufacturers make such short charging cables? Do they want to save money? No, the answer is — They don’t want you to use the phone while charging. Yes, they discourage the idea of simultaneously charging and using it, as it reduces battery life to a large extent. Most phones run on Li-ion batteries and these batteries have a limited charge cycle after which they need to be replaced.
6. Extend your battery with low power mode.
Your battery is at a low percentage, and you’re not near a charger. Don’t panic just yet. If your phone is running on iOS9, go to Settings > Battery > Low Power Mode. (Siri can do this for you too.) By going into Low Power Mode, non-essential tasks are disabled, giving you up to FOUR more hours of battery life.
7. Disable notifications and turn the fetch function off.
Every time your phone buzzes with a notification of a new Snapchat, tweet or Instagram like, it loses a little bit of power. Keep the notification alerts to a minimum to maximize that battery life.
We know you don’t want to miss an e-mail. But the fetch function—which is always looking for new mail and pings you with inbox updates—is a major battery drainer. Turn the function off on the weekends (at least) to extend the power while you’re out and about.
8. Put the weather forecast on your lock screen.
Put the weather on your lock screen! There are many apps to choose from, but here are two free ones I recommend for iPhone and Android.
For iPhone: Weather Lock Screen (Free, iOS), For Android: Beautiful Widgets (Free, Android).
9. Get around storage issues on your Android smartphone with Gmote.
One of the major reasons why people usually buy smartphones is so that they are able to play their favorite music and videos. However, this usually comes with some limitations, mainly with regard to storage space. For many people, most of their music and video files are usually stored in their PCs, while just a selected number of files are stored in their smartphones. This thus means that they cannot access their music files, and they have to keep deleting some of the files in order to make room for new files. This is a great inconvenience for smartphone users; the good news is that someone saw this and decided to come up with a simple hack that enables one to stream their music from their PC to their smartphones by using Wi-Fi. There is an Android app called app called Gmote that makes accessing this future a breeze.
10. Capture something important or entertaining.
Your friend just made a hilarious typo in a text message and you want to share it with your other friends. Capture it as an image with a screenshot.
On an iPhone, press and hold the Home button along with the Sleep/Wake button. You should hear a shutter click. The screenshot will appear in your Camera Roll or Saved Photos section.
On Androids, hold the Power and Volume Down buttons at the same time. The image is saved to the “Captured Images” folder in your Gallery app. That only works in Android 4.0 and higher, though. For Android 3.0, 2.3 or earlier, use an app like AirDroid.
Once you have the image, share it to your favorite social media site or through email.
11. You aren’t stuck with the keyboard that comes with your smartphone.
What’s the best Android keyboard? Simple: the one that works for you. You don’t have to put up with your device’s keyboard. There’re loads of keyboard options, from the manufacturer’s version that Samsung or HTC bundle in, through to the stock Android keyboard, or third-party keyboards like SwiftKey or Skype.
First up, turn off the vibration feedback on keypress. You’ll find this in settings > language & input (or language & keyboard) where all the keyboard settings lie. Sometimes the vibrations get backed up and once your fingers start flying, they can’t always keep up, which is annoying. The buzzing of the vibration may also be really annoying to those around you. Some vibrations get hidden in the sound and notification setting. Again, less is more, as they say.
Although some of the manufacturer keyboards are pretty good, the stock Android keyboard (available on Google Play) is also good, but we’re fans of the advanced features of SwiftKey, which is well worth a try too, because of the strength of its predictive suggestions. It’s also free.
12. Open links in a new browser window on an Android device.
The standard Android browser offers tabbed browsing, it just doesn’t do a very good job of advertising it. Long-pressing a URL lets you open web links in a new tab – you then switch tabs by pressing Menu and selecting the Windows option. Not that user-friendly a system, but it works. Just remember that quitting to the desktop may automatically close everything in the middle of a tab-heavy session.
13. Use the “remind me later” feature to skip calls on your iPhone, without forgetting about them.
Alternatively, you can get iOS to remind you to call back later. As with the auto-replies, the way you do this depends on your version of iOS: in iOS 9 you tap the Remind Me button above the slide, but in earlier versions, you swiped upwards and selected Remind Me Later.
You can choose to be reminded in an hour, ‘When I Leave’ or (where applicable) ‘When I Get Home’. Make sure your address details are up to date in Contacts, so your iPhone knows where home is. The timings will be based on your GPS movements.
14. Backup your data to avoid losing photos, videos, and other important information.
A friend of mine recently took her phone back to the store for a replacement battery and the technician ended up deleting all her photos and contacts through an inadvertent factory re-set. Make sure you use one of the many cloud services (Verizon customers can use Verizon Cloud) to sync and store all your important photos, media, contacts, and even text messages.
15. Download memory management software.
Users can download and install memory management software for free or a very low cost to use on their smartphones. These programs restore memory lost by defragmenting the hard drive or performing a recovery to find the lost information. Defragmentation also helps the Android run faster and this can even be done while using the phone. Once the software is installed, users can click on the app at any time to run the program and free up some memory. These software apps also provide other features for users to help them stay on top of their memory usage.
16. Use the DiskUsage app to identify major data hogs.
Like most Android users, you may run into slight space issues when it comes to available internal storage for apps. The daunting task you face, then, is to go through each of your apps and locate the major megabyte offenders. One way to tackle this is an app called DiskUsage. DiskUsage scans the location and displays a visual representation of your disk usage.
17. On an iPhone, you can take photos using the headphone cord.
You can take a picture using the headphone cord. Ever want to get a bit farther away from the camera when taking a self-portrait? Everyone should know that you can snap a picture with your iPhone by pressing the Volume Up button, but few people realize this works with the volume buttons built into the headphones, too.
18. Use the volume button to snap pictures.
Taking selfies is serious business. But it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. It’s surprising how many people don’t realize that you can just hit either volume button (on most phone models—both iOS and Android) to snap a picture. You don’t have to hit the virtual button that’s on your screen. This works on both the front- and back-facing cameras, but it’s particularly handy when shooting a selfie. If you didn’t know this before, you will never go back to shooting by tapping the screen. We were able to confirm this feature on various iPhones and several Android models.
19. Make better use of your smartphone’s camera – it’s not just for selfies.
It seems so simple, but getting more mileage out of your phone’s camera can truly make your life easier. Snap a picture of your fridge/pantry before you head to the grocery store so that you know exactly what to buy. Suffer from parked-car memory failure? Take a picture of the closest intersection to your car’s location. Use your smartphone camera to store highly useful information like your prescriptions (photos of your medicine bottles), your frequent flier number (photo of your frequent flier card), or your hotel’s address (photo/screen-grab of your travel itinerary) in case you lose service.
20. Use an app (and your device’s camera) to make all your documents digital.
Thanks to the increasing quality of smartphone cameras, you no longer need a scanner to get all of your paper files up into the cloud. Evernote, Google Drive, and CamScanner are three of several apps that can do the job.
21. Edit and retouch your best photos.
Be selective! Try to choose only the best pictures and then edit those.
There are many apps that will help you to do this, and while we can’t understate their help in creating beautiful images, but don’t try too hard. You should remember that sometimes a picture can be better off without any filters.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is no ‘magic’ application. Sometimes a picture can not be saved and instead of ‘torturing’ it, you’d be better off taking another photo. Try to use fewer filters and more individual adjustments that you can apply — each of your photographs is different, so take an individual approach to edit them.
22. You’re not limited to the camera app that comes with your smartphone.
The camera app that comes with your phone is perfectly adequate (if somewhat minimalist) most of the time. But what if you want to capture the light trails of cars driving past a nighttime holiday display? Or maybe you want to use your phone’s digital zoom while shooting a video of kids unwrapping presents? If so, it’s time to check out one of the many camera apps in your phone’s app store. On the iPhone, I highly recommend Top Camera, which does all the above and more. If you’re looking for other camera-enhancing apps, we have several great suggestions for iPhones and Android phones.
23. Use grid lines to line up your shots.
One of the easiest and best ways to improve the photos you take on your mobile device is by turning on gridlines so you can properly set up your shot. It superimposes a series of lines on the screen of your smartphone’s camera app that is based on the “rule of thirds” — one of the most well-known principles of photographic composition.
The rule of thirds says to break an image down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so you have nine parts in total. The theory is that if you place points of interest in these intersections or along the lines, your photo will be more balanced and will enable your viewer to interact with the image more naturally.
24. Don’t use the digital zoom on your smartphone.
On most DSLR and even some point and shoot cameras, you are able to zoom in on your subject by using what they call an optical zoom. This is where the optics, or the actual lens of the camera, move to get a closer view of your subject. Due to the fact that most cell phone cameras have to be crammed into tight spaces to make them fit, they generally don’t have the necessary optics needed to zoom in and out.
Manufacturers have compensated for this by equipping most camera phones with a digital zoom. The main difference is that a digital zoom is done with software and not hardware. Basically, the camera takes the image you want to zoom in on and spreads it out over more pixels on your screen. This creates a subpar and often times blurry photo.
Instead of using the digital zoom, try to get closer to your subject. If that is not possible for whatever reason, do your zooming after you take the picture by cropping out the unnecessary parts of the image. This will yield a sharper image while still keeping the focus on your subject.
25. Consider a smartphone lens attachment.
Invest in a fun smartphone lens. If you’re missing some of the features of your multi-lens camera, check out the fun options for smartphone lens attachments. These attach magnetically and can be switched out quickly and easily. With options like a wide-angle macro lens, an ultra-magnifying telephoto lens and a polarizer lens for a ‘sunglasses on’ effect, the possibilities are endless.
26. Filters are your friend.
Don’t listen to haters that say how inauthentic and corny filters are. Sure, it’s a better idea to make your own tweaks in apps that allow for more subtle controls over color and tone. Take VSCO Cam or Afterlight for a spin. But if you don’t have time for all that jazz, cozy up to Instagram and be proud of a little filtering. There’s a reason they’re so popular.
27. Use a cloud service to share photos with friends and also as a back-up.
Share your pictures with family and friends! Apps like Dropbox and Google Drive can be used to send large amounts of photos, but also serve as a photo backup. If you have a Dropbox account, pictures can automatically be uploaded, saving you the worry of losing your priceless travel snapshots. Flickr, which also allows you to back-up and share photos via its app, now offers 1TB of storage for free.
28. 360-degree panoramas capture the full spectrum of beautiful scenery surrounding you.
Take 360-degree panoramic video with your iPhone 5, 4S, or 4 using Kogeto’s Dot snap-on accessory lens and Looker, a free companion app from the iTunes Store.
29. Download movies, music, and other media through Wi-Fi to watch in-flight.
Rather than streaming everything, you are better off saving some media (music, movies, video, etc.) directly to your device for your travels. You may not always have a data connection and, even if you do, streaming can eat into your data plan and cost you a lot of money. Even though your airline may have onboard Internet service, you can’t normally stream movies using their connection.
30. Charge your device using the USB port in the back of the television.
When you’re packing for a trip it’s easy to forget a few things, even if you’ve got a great, geeky travel checklist. If you forget your charger, the television in your hotel room can fill in as a substitute.
I often travel with a single charger and multiple devices to avoid packing too many things, but I’ve neglected to use the TV as a spare power source despite knowing this tip. While not every hotel television will have this option, it’s a good thing to remember in case you’re in a bind or would find it convenient to have that extra charger without packing it.
31. Take advantage of Google Translate and Google Maps (or Apple Maps).
I love Google Translate. I hope you’ve tried it. Not only can you type in a word or phrase and have it translated (to or from dozens of languages), but you can also speak into it, like some sort of Universal Translator, and it will then speak back in the other language. It’s not real time, but certainly close enough. You can even take a picture of a sign or menu, and it will pick out the text and translate it for you. This feature doesn’t work quite as well as the other methods, but it’s still cool.
You generally need a data connection for it to work, though you can download specific languages to your phone as well.
I’m sure you’ve all used Maps, but there’s a great feature you might not know about. If you don’t get a local SIM, but still want to access Maps while you walk around, you can save an area’s map to your phone while you’re on WiFi, so you have access to it while you’re out. I’m not an Apple guy, but I believe Apple maps have similar functionality.
32. If data usage is a major concern, use Wi-Fi exclusively while traveling.
Simply put your device in airplane mode and keep the Wi-Fi radio turned on. This means you won’t be charged anything if someone tries to call your phone or text message. Your carrier will think you’re the phone is turned off. You may even be able to access free Wi-Fi hotspots at your hotel, local cafes, or public parks.
Access to Wi-Fi allows you to check emails, upload pictures to social media sites, and surf the Web. You can even call folks at home using a voice over IP or video conference app, like Skype or FaceTime.
The biggest downside to this approach is, of course, Wi-Fi’s limited range. By going exclusively Wi-Fi calls, you’ll be limiting your Internet access to times when you are in a hotspot. What’s more, friends and family won’t be able to call or text message while you’re away.
33. Stay safer with security apps for travelers.
Connect with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler app to get travel alerts and warnings, U.S. embassy locations and more. The ! Emergency! app supplies emergency-services phone numbers for wherever you are, and will automatically dial them for you.
34. Use services like Google Voice or Skype to save on charges for voice overages.
Finally, whether you’re using Wi-Fi or cellular data, consider using smartphone apps like Skype or Google Voice when you need to stay in touch with friends and family back home. Rather than paying high international calling and text rates, these apps let you talk and send texts for free or cheap to anybody around the world.
Using Google Voice lets you call phones and send texts in the US or Canada at no cost, and any number outside that for a small fee. Skype also has low per-minute rates for calls and texts, and both apps let you call other users of the service for free no matter where they are.
35. Use your smartphone to take photos during your trip.
The crucial thing to remember is to think of your camera when something exciting happens. If you are lucky enough and keep cool, then it’s done.
This is why the smartphone is such a useful thing. You don’t need to prepare, just grab it out of a pocket and SHOOT!
Use burst mode to capture the perfect moment in motion. To use burst, hold down the shutter button and it will capture 10 frames per second.
36. A portable battery or power pack can be a lifesaver.
If you know you won’t have a chance to recharge for long stretches (exploring the Great Wall of China, perhaps?), consider a portable battery or power pack. Test it out before you go.
37. Download an app or two that supports offline reading without burning through tons of data.
If you’re like most people, you hardly have time to read all the interesting articles you come across on a daily basis. Maybe you could get through some of them if you started reading during your commute. While doing nothing or reading novels can be very relaxing, it’s not always the best use of your time. Plenty of applications support offline reading and syncing between your desktop and your smartphone, it’s just a matter of finding what works best for you.
38. Use an app like TripIt to create, organize, and share your travel itinerary in one place.
Traveling as you know it has changed for good. Who wants to sift through emails to figure out what flight they’re on, the hotel they’re staying at, and where to get their rental car? This app organizes everything into one place so that you can easily access everything you need. It also allows you to share your itineraries with friends and family, alerts you when other flights that might serve you better come up, and my favorite: helps you snag the best seat on the plane!
39. Turn your smartphone into your personal memory assistant.
All smartphones have cameras, and with minimal work, that phone’s camera can become your photographic memory.
See something important that you want to remember? Snap a picture of it.
The trick comes in organizing all these pictures you’ve taken. That’s where Evernote (iOS, Android, WP, web) comes into play. Evernote is a cross-platform note service, meaning you can create and read your notes from any device or computer. The next time you see something you would like to remember, take a picture and upload it to Evernote with a few keywords in the note. When you need to remember it, a quick search in the app will show you the picture.
40. Clone yourself in a photo (without fancy editing tools like Photoshop).
How to do it: “Stand at one end of the frame and tell someone to click a panorama shot. When the photographer starts panning, run behind him and stand at the other end before the camera reaches there. The image will have multiple pictures of you. When to use: When there’s no one else in the background and you want a classic unforgettable picture.
41. Translate text on the fly quickly and easily with your smartphone’s camera.
In the past, you’d look at the foreign text and couldn’t read it. You’d have to ask for help, look up words in a book, or maybe even type it all into your smartphone for translation. Now you can just point your device’s camera at the text and see the translation happen before your eyes.
Word Lens (Android and iOS, $5) is a mind-blowing app that translates any text the camera sees. You have to pay a bit more than the average mobile app for the service, as each language costs an additional $5, but it’s pretty amazing if you’re roaming around a foreign country and can’t read a thing. Point it at any reasonably large text and that text will be automatically (and almost instantaneously) replaced on your screen.
42. Use your smartphone’s selfie-taking functionality as a mirror.
I realize that there are plenty of mirror apps, but the camera works just fine for me to do a quick make-up and teeth check. I use it to apply lipstick more than I should probably admit. But hey, it’s much more convenient than remembering to carry an actual mirror.
43. Check the temperature and humidity level.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is packed full of useful and not so useful features, but one that you might have missed is its temperature and humidity sensors.
The data from these are buried in the S Health app, under the heading ‘Comfort Level’. The idea is that the sensors are used to judge whether you’re comfortable in your current environment.
It’s an odd use for an unusual feature, but it can be interesting to see the temperature and humidity of your surroundings and whether you’re likely to be comfortable in them, particularly if you use it to judge a good time and location to start a workout.
44. Identify just about anything.
Forgot the name of that thingamajig? Put on your Google Goggles and let the world’s biggest search engine remember it for you.
Here’s how it works. Take a photo of the unknown object with the camera in your smartphone then upload it to the web via Google Goggles. The photo is then matched against the search engine’s database to make a quick ID. You don’t even have to type anything. It’s especially useful for translating a foreign text.
45. Use your smartphone camera’s ability to detect infrared light to determine if your remote control’s batteries are dead.
Our eyes can’t see it, but digital cameras surely can. A smartphone’s camera is indeed sensitive to IR radiation, and if you want to try it for yourself, just use a common IR remote control. The infrared beam emitted when a button is pressed will show as white or purple light in the viewfinder of your camera app. You can use this trick to check if a remote control’s batteries are dead when it stops working.
46. Use your smartphone as a universal remote control.
Spending huge sums of money on a universal remote control might not be a great idea, especially when you own a smartphone. There are plenty of applications available that can turn the smartphone into a universal remote. It involves buying a small, inexpensive accessory to pair with the app. Technically, most AV devices still use remote controls that work on infrared light. As smartphones don’t have IR emitters, one has to install an additional IR dongle. For instance, there is a special Tata Sky Mobile access app available for iOS and Android smartphones that turns the phone into a universal remote control for Tata Sky, DVD, TV, and amplifier. Re app, RedEye and Peel Universal Remote are some of the other remote options. Search for universal remote apps in iOS App Store and Google Play Store.
47. Monitor your state of mind with an Android app.
Dartmouth University researchers built an Android app that knows the smartphone owner’s state of mind. The app automatically measures sleep duration, stress level, eating habits and more—24/7 and without user interaction. Computational method and machine learning algorithms then assess that data and make higher-level inferences about sleep, sociability, activity, and other behaviors.
When 48 students carried phones with the app during a 10-week term, the data correlated with their mental health and academic performance. The app potentially could be used to provide real-time feedback on campus safety and stress levels, identify students at risk, and assess the quality of teaching. It could also be used to monitor mental health, trigger intervention, and improve productivity in the workplace as well.
48. Measure speed and distance to improve your golf or baseball skills.
If you want to measure the distance on a golf shot, measure the speed of your son’s baseball pitch and more, you can do that too. Smart Tool is a group of Android apps that can measure the distance between two objects, and they even have an app to measure the speed of moving objects. Smart Distance will measure the distance, then, once you know how far things are, the Speed Gun app will give you the speed of any moving object.
49. Use your smartphone and a selfie stick to peek around corners.
You never know what could be lurking around the corner. Smartphones could come in handy for checking those blind spots if you’re too afraid to stick your head around there. Just take your phone, place it on a selfie stick, use Facetime, and watch what your smartphone sees from a tablet or laptop. Voila! You can now get unique views, such as looking up in an attic to find trapped birds or other creatures which shouldn’t be there.
50. Create amazing time lapse videos without buying expensive, high-tech equipment.
Time-lapse videos are amazing. You can watch natural phenomena unfold that would take too long with the unaided eye.
Time-lapse pros use expensive, high-tech equipment to get their shots. If you want to try your hand at it, however, it only takes a few bucks.
Your smartphone can make time-lapse movies no problem. Just grab TimeLapse for iPhone or Lapse It for Android.
You can set how frequently the camera snaps a picture. Then the app will put the images together in a movie file. You just need to tap a button.
Well, you also need to figure out a good way to keep your phone pointed where you want. There are plenty of low-cost tripod hacks people have come up with online.
If you want a premade solution, you can grab a smartphone tripod. Look at the GripTight GorillaPod from Joby ($30) or the Sony SPA-MK11 ($30).