8. Kitchen timer
Both: Open the Clock app. Tap Timer. Also in the app (may vary on Android phones): Set an alarm, run a stopwatch or check the time in cities around the globe.
Both: Hoopla and Libby are popular free apps that allow you to borrow e-books with your library card. You also can download free books from Project Gutenberg that you can read with a Kindle or other e-reader app.
10. Magnifying glass
iPhone: Open the Magnifier app — it’s automatically loaded on phones with up-to-date operating software. If you don't see it on one of your home screens, go to your App Library at the end of your set of home screens and look in the Utilities folder. You can zoom in on small type and adjust the brightness and contrast to make it more legible. Swipe up to find other controls.
Android: Open the Camera app. Use your fingers to “unpinch” — move your fingers apart rather than closer together — to magnify fine print.
11. Metal detector
Both: You're unlikely to uncover a buried treasure. But you can visit the App Store or Google Play store to fetch any number of metal detector apps, some that play sounds or vibrate when your phone approaches needles, pins or other metal objects you may have inadvertently dropped, including precious rings or earrings. The apps leverage the magnetometer built into most modern smartphones. While many are free, they also typically have ads. In our tests, quality and usability were mixed.
iPhone: The pedometer built into your iPhone’s Health app automatically counts the steps you take while your phone is in your pocket, in your hand or strapped to your arm. To check how far you’ve gone, click on the Health app, click the Summary tab and scroll down to Steps. Keep your phone with you when you walk.
Android: If your phone has the Google Fit app, open it and tap Home | Steps and then Day, Week or Month to check out your steps data. On Samsung phones, you can track your steps through the Samsung Health app.
13. QR code reader
iPhone: QR codes are plastered practically everywhere these days: on ads, tickets, websites and more. Open the Camera app and choose the rear-facing camera. Make sure the QR code appears in the viewfinder. If the code is recognized, you’ll see a notification. Tap the notification to open the link associated with the code. If you're not having any luck, visit Camera Settings and make sure the Scan QR Codes setting has been enabled.
Android: Open the Camera app and point it at the QR code. Tap on the notification that appears if the code if recognized, which will typically take you to a webpage. No luck? On a Pixel phone, make sure the Google Lens suggestions setting has been flipped on inside the Camera setting. On a Samsung Galaxy, the setting appears as Scan QR codes.
Both: You can download free apps that stream on-the-air stations from around the world or special online-only stations. The list of free radio apps is long and includes Audacy, iHeartRadio, Pandora and TuneIn. You also can listen to podcasts.
15. Tape measure
iPhone: Open the augmented-reality-driven tape measure app. Tap the Measure icon at the bottom of the screen. Point your phone camera at the object you want to measure, lining up a circled dot on your screen with the starting point. Tap the + (plus) button. Move your phone to the end of the measurement and tap + again. The app also includes a level function.
Android: Several third-party apps are available. Samsung’s Quick Measure app, preloaded on some smartphones, works similarly to iPhone’s app.
16. Video camera
iPhone: Open the Camera app. Swipe in either direction so the Video option appears in yellow above the red Record button. Tap the red button to start and stop. You can also shoot in slow motion by swiping so that Slo-Mo is selected.
Android: On a Samsung Galaxy, swipe so Video is above the white and red Record button. Tap the red button to start and stop. Tap More for additional shooting modes, which may include slow motion, super slow motion and pro video options that allow you to adjust the camera's exposure settings.
17. Voice recorder
iPhone: Open the Voice Memos app. Tap the red Record button to start and stop. On a specific recording, tap the icon with three horizontal lines for options that include changing the playback speed or skipping pauses.
Android: Free voice recording apps are available in the Google Play Store. Hitting the red Record button on the Google Recorder app built into Google’s Pixel phones automatically generates a searchable transcript.
18. Weather forecaster
Both: Launch the Apple Weather app on an iPhone or fetch any of the fine third-party choices on iOS and Android whether you're concerned about a big chill, searing heatwave or whether to carry an umbrella. Some will tell you what to expect hour by hour.
19. Your wallet
iPhone: The Apple Wallet app allows you to use Apple Pay or any of your credit or debit cards in digital form. You can add boarding passes, movie tickets, rewards cards and, in select states, digital driver's licenses to the mix. To start, enter one or more of your payment cards. In a store, hold the phone near the payment terminal and either double tap the side button on an iPhone with Face ID to authenticate with facial recognition, or on a model without Face ID, lightly press the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the Home button. You will see a circled check mark and the word Done when the transaction is complete.
Android: If your phone doesn't have Google Pay, download the app from the Google Play store. You can add boarding passes, coupons and payment cards. At retail, unlock the phone with your face, fingerprint, passcode or other methods depending on the model. Next, place your phone near the terminal until you see Done and a check mark on the screen.
This story, originally published December 1, 2021, has been updated to include new smartphone features.