Whether you just bought a smartphone or have swiped and tapped on one for years, chances are you’re not using the device to its fullest.
Just as people once thought that we use only 10 percent of our brain — not true, but you get the idea — you probably barely scratch the surface of what your iPhone or Android device is capable of. That’s not surprising, perhaps, considering many hundreds of features are built into today’s smartphones, with new ones added during each software update.
Have an iPhone? Try these nifty features
Can’t find your iPhone in the dark? Say, “Hey, Siri, turn on flashlight.” If Siri doesn’t reply to “Hey, Siri,” perhaps your iPhone is set to work only by pressing a button to summon your personal assistant. Change it to hands-free by going to Settings | Siri & Search | Listen for “Hey Siri.” Enable the tab so it is green.
Create custom vibrations. How great would it be to know who’s calling just by the way the iPhone is buzzing in your pocket? Here’s how.
In the Contacts app, select a person and tap Edit. Select Ringtone and you’ll see a Vibration option. Press that, and you’ll see many options, including a Create New Vibration tool to customize your own buzz.
This way, you can have a different ring and vibration for your spouse, kids or friends and know who’s calling without needing to glance at your phone. You also can create custom ringtones for different people as well as have the iPhone’s light flash a unique pattern to know who’s calling.
Turn e-books into audiobooks. The iPhone has several Accessibility options. One feature called Speak Screen can read aloud any text on the screen at your command.
While designed primarily for the vision impaired, anyone can take advantage of this feature if they want to turn an e-book into an audiobook. To activate it, go to Settings | Accessibility | Spoken Content. Now enable Speak Screen by toggling the button to green.
Then, 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, including gender, language, speaking speed and more.
Fix Siri’s pronunciation. Apple’s voice-controlled personal assistant may be great at giving you information such as directions, sports scores and weather, but sometimes Siri just doesn’t say things right. This is especially true for some names and places, perhaps with origins in other languages, that may be difficult for Siri to pronounce.
If Siri says something wrong, like pronouncing your friend Sara’s name as “Sarr-ah” instead of “Sare-ah,” just say, “That’s not how you pronounce [Sara],” and then say the mispronounced word.
Shake to delete typing. When typing words in any application such as Mail, Messages or Notes, or when using editing tools including Cut, Copy or Paste, you can shake the iPhone to undo your typing. Shake again to redo.
Some find this much faster than pressing and holding the back/delete button. And yes, a confirmation message will pop up to double-check you meant to do this. Tap to confirm or cancel.
If this shake feature accidentally happens more than you like, deactivate it in Settings. Select Accessibility | Touch | Shake to Undo, and then tap the green tab to turn off.
Use the hidden trackpad. Say you’re composing a message, email or note, and you need 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.
Now keep your finger on the screen and drag the cursor to reach the part of text that you want to tweak. Or to highlight text, just press a little harder while continuing to slide your finger. Then let go for the keyboard to return.
Androids’ cool tricks
Remember, several companies make Android smartphones. So you might find a few small differences among Google Pixel, Microsoft Surface Duo, Motorola, Nokia, OnePlus, Samsung Galaxy, TCL and so on.
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?
As long as you’re an Android user, you can perform these dual tasks on the same device. To get going, swipe up from the bottom or 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 simultaneously.
Access your phone on your PC. Speaking of multitasking, did you know Windows 10 and Windows 11 users can link their Android phone to their computer? Once you do it, 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 the word “phone” in the search bar at the bottom of your computer screen and you’ll see Link your phone. Click this and follow the prompts.
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.
Later, if you have trouble locating your vehicle, launch Google Maps, tap the search bar and then Parking location. Now tap Directions.
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Use the one-handed mode. The bigger phones get, 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. Now your keyboard will be smaller and nudged to one side. To move it between left- and right-handed mode, the arrow (>) icon beside the keyboard lets you reposition it. The icon with four little arrows restores 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. But you can download and use it for free.
Spice up your widgets. While Apple didn’t introduce widgets until 2020, for years Android users have enjoyed adding and customizing widgets to 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.
Tap and hold any empty space on your phone’s home screen, then tap Widgets. Now scroll through your apps until you find one for which you’d like to add a widget.
Finally, select and hold the widget you want, then drag it to the desired spot on your home screen and let go. If you can edit the widget, you’ll see a little pencil icon that lets you customize its appearance or features.
Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies.