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Little-Known Tips and Tricks to Use on Your Smartphone

Baked in to your iPhone or Android, these handy features can make your life easier

spinner image the apple iphone fifteen and the samsung galaxy twenty three
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo; Joan Cros/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Whether you bought yourself a shiny new smartphone or have swiped and tapped on the same one for years, chances are you’re not using the device to its full potential.

As with most technology, we barely scratch the surface of what our iPhone or Android devices are capable of.

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That’s not surprising, considering hundreds of features are built into today’s smartphones, with new ones added during each system update. So don’t ignore those update notifications. Take advantage of what the latest operating software has to offer.

7 nifty tricks for iPhone users

1. Find your iPhone in the dark. Say, “Hey, Siri, turn on flashlight.” If Siri doesn’t reply to your greeting, it may be because your iPhone is set to work only by pressing a button to summon the personal assistant. Change it to hands-free by going to Settings ⚙️ | Siri & Search | Listen for | “Hey Siri.” You’ll also want to enable the tabs below Listen for to green.

2. Create custom vibrations. How great would it be to know who’s calling just by the way the iPhone buzzes in your pocket? You can feel the difference between the rapid Alert sequence you’ve set up for your wife’s calls and the more calming Symphony vibration set up for your grandson’s.

spinner image screengrab of an iphones options for ringtone noises and haptics
iPhones have many options for vibrations, including the ability to create your own.

In your Phone 📞 | Contacts, select a person and tap Edit. Change from Ringtone Default and, depending on the version of your iPhone operating system, tap Vibration or Haptics. Haptics is the science of touch and motion. You’ll see many possibilities, including Create New Vibration to tap out your own buzz.

You also can create custom ringtones for different people by tapping Ringtone and choosing from dozens already on your phone or by going to the Tone Store to select a tune. Another option: Have the iPhone’s flashlight flicker when you get a call or other alert: Settings ⚙️ | Accessibility Audio & Visual | LED Flash for Alerts. Then tap the toggle switch until it’s green.

3. Turn e-books into audiobooks. The iPhone has several features designed for people with disabilities. One feature called Speak Screen can read aloud any text on the screen at your command.

While primarily for the vision impaired, anyone can take advantage of this feature to turn an e-book into an audiobook. Go to Settings ⚙️ | Accessibility | Spoken Content. Now enable Speak Screen by toggling the button to green.

spinner image screenshots of spoken content settings for iphone
The iPhone’s Speak Screen option was designed for the visually impaired, but anyone can take advantage of it.

In any app you have open, swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen — one on the left side, the other on the right side — to hear the contents of the screen read to you. You can tweak the voice for Siri, including gender, language and speaking speed under Settings ⚙️ | Siri & Search | Siri Voice.

Video: Change the Way Siri Pronounces Your Contacts' Names

4. Fix Siri’s pronunciation. Apple’s voice-controlled personal assistant may be great at giving directions, sports scores and weather, but sometimes Siri doesn’t correctly pronounce names and places, especially those with origins in other languages.

If Siri pronounces your friend Sara’s name as “Sarr-ah” instead of “Sair-ah,” just say, “That’s not how you pronounce [Sara],” and tell Siri what’s correct.

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Or if your friend is in your Contacts, go to Phone 📞 | Contacts | [person’s name] | EditAdd Field | Phonetic first name — or Phonetic middle name or Phonetic last name if the problem is there. Type in your best idea of how the name should sound, maybe SAIR-uh, test it and try again if you don’t like the result.

5. Shake to delete typing. When typing words in any application such as Mail, Messages or Notes or when editing content using Cut, Copy or Paste, you can shake the iPhone to undo your typing. Shake it again to restore.

Some find this much faster than pressing and holding the delete ⌫ button. A confirmation message will pop up to double-check if you meant to do this action. Tap to confirm or cancel.

If the shake feature tends to delete content accidentally, you can deactivate it in Settings ⚙️. Select Accessibility | Touch | Shake to Undo, and then tap the green tab to turn it to gray and off.

6. Use the hidden trackpad. If you’re composing a message, email or note and wish to change something you typed before sending or saving, press and hold the keyboard’s space bar and the cursor will automatically become a mouse-like trackpad.

Keep your finger on the screen and drag the cursor to the text you want to tweak, even in the middle of a word whose spelling you might want to change. Or to highlight text, press a little firmer while continuing to slide your finger. Then let go for the keyboard to return.

spinner image an iphone in a stand showing a large clock readout as the screen saver while charging in standby mode
StandBy Mode allows you to use your iPhone as a clock, calendar or photo gallery while it is charging on its side. Some models will go dark after a few moments until nudged.

7. Enable StandBy mode. Starting with the iOS 17 update, StandBy changes your lock screen — whenever your iPhone is lying on its side while charging — to show clocks, photo frames or widget info.

Turn your iPhone horizontally while it’s plugged in and charging. It will kick into StandBy mode. If not, make sure it’s enabled by going to Settings ⚙️ | StandBy. Once in StandBy mode, swipe left and right and up and down to see different content.

Be aware that only some of the more recent models, Pro and Pro Max iPhone 14 and newer, will keep the display on. Otherwise, you can activate it by touching the screen, nudging the table or using Siri.

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6 Android tips you might not know

Note that several companies make Android smartphones, unlike Apple iPhones. You might find differences among Google Pixel, Motorola, OnePlus, Samsung Galaxy, TCL and other models.

1. Enable flash notifications. Whether you’re hard of hearing or simply want to minimize loud noises emanating from your phone, Android users can enable flash notifications to alert you to important messages. The phone’s screen or built-in camera flash will blink to let you know of a call, text, app alert or other alert.

Go to Settings ⚙️ | Accessibility | perhaps Advanced Settings | Flash notification. If you don’t see it, search for “flash notification” on your phone. You’ll get two options: Camera flash notification and Screen flash notification. Toggle one or both to enable this handy feature.

spinner image screenshots of how to splitscreen in youtube
Android devices allow you to run two apps at one time.

2. Run two apps at once. Why not browse the web and check email at the same time? Or stream a cooking show while jotting down a shopping list?

If you’re an Android user, you can perform these dual tasks on the same device simultaneously. Swipe up from the bottom of your Android screen and you’ll see recently opened apps in a carousel.

Press and hold the small circle at the top of an app you want to open and select Open in split screen view. Now select another app near the bottom of your phone to access both at the same time.

If swiping up from the bottom of your Android phone doesn’t show you recently opened apps, tap the overlapping squares or three vertical lines ||| at the bottom to show thumbnails of recently opened apps.

Some Androids may give you what they call a pop-up view instead. You can have two pop-ups open and arrange the boxes to stack on top of one another when holding the phone vertically. Close the apps to end the pop-up mode.

3. Access your phone on your PC. Windows 10 and 11 users can link their Android — and iPhone — devices to their computer. This way you can make calls, send texts, access the phone’s photos from your PC and more.

It’s easiest to set it up on your PC. To link a phone, type phone in the search bar at the bottom of your computer screen and tap Phone Link. Follow the prompts for both Android and iPhone.

4. Find your parked vehicle. After you’ve parked at a busy shopping mall, you might find it difficult to remember where your vehicle is hours later. To mark your spot, open Google Maps once you’re in park and tap the blue dot that shows your location. Tap Save parking.

If you have trouble locating your vehicle later, launch Google Maps, tap the search bar | Parking location | Directions.

5. Use one-handed mode. The bigger smartphones become, the more difficult it may be to operate them with one hand. Google’s custom keyboard has a one-handed mode you can easily activate that lets you hold your Android phone and type with the same hand.

Press and hold the comma key and select the right-hand icon for one-handed mode. Your keyboard will appear smaller and off to one side. To reposition from left- to right-handed mode, use the arrow icon beside the keyboard. Tap the four little arrows to restore the keyboard to full size.

If this tip doesn’t work for you, you might not be using the official/default Google keyboard, also known as a Gboard. You can download it free from the Google Play store.

spinner image android screengrab showing widgets on the home screen
Android smartphones' widgets allow you to see the weather or other information from your favorite apps on your home screen.

6. Spice up your widgets. While Apple didn’t introduce widgets until 2020, for years Android users have enjoyed adding and customizing widgets on their home screens.

Widgets show you current information from your favorite apps at a glance, including the day’s headlines, weather, calendar events, a world clock, battery level, sports scores or stock quotes. Android has redesigned how widgets look and function.

To enable, tap and hold any empty space on your phone’s home screen and tap Widgets. Now scroll through your apps until you find one you’d like to designate with a widget.

Select and hold the widget you want, drag it to the desired spot on your home screen and let go. Customize its appearance or features with the pencil symbol.

This story, originally published May 19, 2022, was updated to reflect new instructions and additional smartphone features.

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