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From Health and Security to Travel, These 50 Smartphone Features Can Make Your Life Easier

Androids, iPhones race to be first with the latest innovations

spinner image a smart phone surrounded by likes smiley faces and chat bubbles

Among all the hours you spend on your smartphone every day, precious few involve making or receiving calls.

Instead, what makes a smartphone smart is all the other tasks it’s capable of: helping keep you or loved ones safe in an emergency, providing directions even when you’re offline or reminding you where you parked your car. More than 6 of every 7 adults 50 and older own some type of smartphone, according to an AARP Research report released this year.

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Such a tiny device, about as big as your hand, can handle a lot more than you know. The following 50 smartphone features aim to make you more productive, bolster your health, jog your memory and help you have more fun. Some can even help you make better phone calls.

Though many of the entries below apply to both iPhones and Android devices, not all do. What’s more, some work only on specific phone models or the latest mobile operating systems, iOS 17 for iPhones or Android 14. But if past is prologue, today’s exclusive feature may show up next year on its competitor.


1. Clone a voice

If someone close to you has a devastating illness that puts the ability to speak at risk, the Personal Voice feature added to iPhones with iOS 17 lets people bank their voices by reading aloud 150 randomized phrases, a process that takes about 15 minutes. It works in tandem with another iOS 17 feature called Live Speech.

2. Transcribe sounds

People who are hard of hearing may not realize that appliances are beeping, doorbells are ringing and someone is talking from another room. The Live Transcribe feature baked into Google Pixels and other select Android devices — also available as a free app from the Google Play Store — can label such sounds around the house so the person is aware. When the feature is enabled, you can type responses to transcriptions you see on screen, get alerts when your name is spoken and search within transcriptions.

The iPhone’s similar feature, still in beta testing, is called Live Captions and can be enabled under Accessibility Settings

3. Use a keyboard with one hand

Some people prefer “typing” with just a thumb, especially because phones with larger displays are the norm. Choose the One-Handed Keyboard option on iPhones and certain Android devices.

On Androids, search for One-handed mode in Settings ⚙️ and choose either right- or left-handed mode. One method on iPhones is to press and hold the Globe icon 🌐 at the left below the keyboard and choose a layout where the keyboard is to the left or right.


spinner image a woman watches television while using a smartphone as a remote
If you use your smartphone as the TV remote control, maybe you won’t lose it in the couch cushions.

4. Cast your small screen

Having a mobile screen with you to watch movies, TV shows or videos when you’re on the go is great. The experience still doesn’t come close to reveling in great content on the large-screen TV in your living room, which you can do by sending the signal from your phone wirelessly, called casting.

On iPhones, a typical method is to use the AirPlay feature to send the movie or show to an Apple TV box connected to the TV. On Androids, you might choose Google Chromecast, among other options.

5. Control your TV

If you often misplace your TV’s remote control but always have an iPhone nearby, you can use it to control a smart television or accessory, including Amazon Fire TV, Apple’s own Apple TV 4K or Roku. This remote-control option is accessible in Control Center.

Android devices vary, but you can always download a compatible TV remote control app in Google Play. 

6. Get news briefs

News happens round the clock, and news junkies want to be informed. You can get alerts and headlines on your phone and dig deeper to learn more. Androids and iPhones have no shortage of free news apps.

The Apple News app is preinstalled on iPhones though you will have to subscribe to read stories from certain newspapers and magazines. Google News is on Androids and available in the Apple App Store for iPhones.

7. Identify a song

How often have you heard a song in a bar or restaurant but don’t know the artist or tune? The Shazam app, built into every iPhone running iOS 14.2 or higher and available for Androids on Google Play, can tell you, at least most of the time.

Or you can ask Google Assistant, built into Androids and available for iPhones, and even hum a few bars.

8. Launch picture-in-picture

If you’re watching a movie, YouTube or other video content on your phone but want to skim information elsewhere, picture-in-picture tools on iPhone and Android let you shrink the video into a small window that you can glance at while looking in another place.

On iPhones, enable the feature automatically in Settings | General | Picture in Picture | Start PIP Automatically. On a Google Pixel, tap Settings | Apps | Special app access | Picture-in-picture and choose the apps to allow the feature.

9. Listen to podcasts

Free podcasts on almost any topic are all the rage. Apple puts a Podcast app on all iPhones. If a podcast app isn’t already on your Android, free options from Google and others can be found in Google Play.

10. Send music to external speakers

Wireless earbuds and headphones are the only way to listen to music or other audio on most newer smartphones, at least without an adapter that would let you connect corded headphones. Apple removed its headphone jacks in 2016 and never looked back, allowing wireless Bluetooth technology to take up the slack.

To connect your earbuds, headphones or speakers with your Android or iPhone, look for the Bluetooth option inside Settings ⚙️, which on some handsets may be listed under Connected Devices. After selecting Bluetooth, pair your phone with the appropriate wireless accessories. 


spinner image a man in a yellow t-shirt adjusts his headphones while holding a smartphone
iPhones can tell whether you’re at risk of falling by assessing your gait when you wear the phone in a front pocket or near your waist.

11. Assess risk of falls

iPhones can evaluate your danger of falling. When you walk around with the device, custom algorithms can check your balance, coordination, stability, walking speed and overall risk of taking a spill, which are reported in the Health app when you set up the feature. Your Walking Steadiness is rated as OK, Low or Very Low. Apple also shares exercises that may help someone with stability problems.

For reliable measurements, you must have your iPhone in a front pocket or holster near your waist.

12. Log your state of mind

In the Mental Wellbeing section of the Health app on iPhones, you can note your emotions and moods to identify patterns over time that may contribute to understanding how you’re feeling.

13. Store health records

Chasing down myriad health records might give you an ulcer, especially if you see multiple specialists and frequently have lab work done. The Health app on iPhones is a convenient repository for your medical paperwork, kept safe through an encrypted connection to your physician. You can also list your medications.

Android users can turn to third-party alternatives such as CommonHealth, available as a free download in Google Play.  

14. Track a woman’s cycle

Some women like to keep tabs on their menstrual cycles, which can become more irregular as they approach menopause. iPhone users can track this information in the Health app. Apple says the data is encrypted and stays on the phone. Tap the Browse tab, then Cycle Tracking.

For Android users, numerous period and ovulation trackers are available in Google Play.

15. Wind down for bed

Experts often say the best feature on your phone is something that will dissuade you from using the device so much, notably at bedtime. You can arrange to remove or curb distracting apps and notifications at night or any other time.

On Androids, start in Settings ⚙️ under Digital Wellbeing & parental controls. On iPhones, head to Settings | Focus | Sleep

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Phone calls

spinner image a woman holds a cup of coffee in one hand while she looks at a call on her phone as it screens for spam
Phone manufacturers are increasingly trying to spot spam phone calls before you answer them.

16. Clarify your voice

Improve a cellular or FaceTime call on an iPhone when the person you’re speaking with is having trouble hearing you. Turn on the Voice Isolation feature, which prioritizes the sound of your voice and blocks other noise. While on the call, swipe down to summon Control Center, tap Mic Mode | Voice Isolation.

Google offers a similar Clear Calling feature on Pixel 7 and later models. In Settings ⚙️, tap Sound & vibration | Clear Calling | Use Clear Calling.

17. Screen phone calls

Google Pixel owners can send unwanted callers to Google Assistant. When a call comes in from a suspected scammer or someone not in your contact list, you have the option to tap a Screen Call button. The digital assistant will answer on your behalf and ask the purpose of the call. This often will ward off robocalls.

18. See a transcript of an incoming call

On an old-fashioned landline connected to an answering machine, you can hear an incoming caller before deciding whether to answer. Not so on cellphones. On iPhones, iOS 17’s Live Voicemail lets you view a real-time transcript of a call to help you determine whether to pick up. 

19. Silence unwanted callers

Not every unknown caller is a spammer. But if you don’t want to pick up a call from an unfamiliar number, you can visit Settings ⚙️ on an iPhone to send those callers directly to voicemail.

Android phones vary. Inside the Phone app on a Pixel, tap the three vertical dots ⋮ at the upper right, then tap Settings | Caller ID & Spam.


spinner image a person uses their phone to take a picture of the coliseum in rome
A tour of Rome can become the foundation for a collection of photos that your smartphone will organize into memories.

20. Create photo memories

Relive precious memories through the photos stored on your device. On iPhone, the Photos app automatically creates curated collections aptly called Memories around a particular date, event, theme or trip somewhere, each with a musical soundtrack. Start by tapping the For You tab in the Photos app.

Google Photos also can organize select photos and videos automatically in a featured timeline of memories. On a Pixel, tap the Memories tab inside the Photos app. On a Samsung Galaxy, open the Gallery app and tap Stories.

21. Let friends see your photo collections

You can share designated pictures with your pals without having to print them, email them or post on social media. Apple lets you share photos and videos with up to five people by setting up an iCloud Shared Photo Library. You can even let friends collaborate on photos in this collection. Start in Settings ⚙️, tap Photos | Shared Library.

You can share a collection of pics in Google Photos too. Tap the Google Photos app, tap Photos, select the images to include and tap + Add To | Shared Album. You’ll get to name the album before choosing people you want to share it with.

22. Preserve photo settings

As a serious photographer, you might find it a hassle to reenter your preferred shooting modes every time you open iPhone’s Photos app. By visiting Settings | Camera | Preserve Settings, you can save the last setting you used — time-lapse, slo-mo, video, photo, portrait, pano — as well as aspect ratio, depth of field, exposure and filters.

23. Replace faces in photos

Face it, group photos are tough to capture perfectly. People blink or aren’t smiling. The artificial-intelligence-driven Best Take editing feature on Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro devices lets you swap out individual faces in Google Photos for a better one of that same person, culled from “similar shots.” Choose the photo you want to doctor and tap Edit | Tools | Best Take. Then you can pore through each individual mug to find that best take.

Families in the future may play a guessing game on whether a favorite photo was real or doctored.

24. Share photos and videos without the internet

If two people with iPhones are listed in each other’s contacts, they can bring their handsets close together to share files, photos and videos. To copy photos to a recipient’s phone, select them and tap Share on the sender’s phone. The photos land in the recipient’s Photos library.

25. Take a level photo

An otherwise perfectly good photo can be ruined when the picture is crooked. The Google Pixel is among the Android phones with a level built into its Camera app. As you orient the Pixel, you’ll see two unobtrusive lines, one yellow, one white. When the camera is straight, a single yellow line is formed.

With iOS 17, Apple added a similar level feature to iPhones. A broken white line appears in the viewfinder when you’re about to frame a reasonably straight photo. As you tilt the phone right or left, the line breaks up more. You’ll know the camera is properly oriented when the white line turns solid yellow.


spinner image a woman drinks coffee while checking her smartphone's energy usage
Your smartphone can be the controller for smart home devices such as your thermostat even if you’re not at home.

26. Manage your smart home

Connected thermostats, garage-door openers, security cameras and smart locks can all be controlled through your iPhone or Android device, which is supposed to be easier now that hundreds of companies are adhering to the Matter standard.

Apple’s Home smart home hub app is already installed on iPhones, and Samsung has SmartThings on its Galaxy handsets. For other Android phones, you may choose to fetch Google Home from Google Play.

27. Request a dark web report

The so-called dark web consists of difficult-to-reach websites that conventional search engines don’t index and require specialized browsers to patrol. As a result, the dark web can be a haven for cybercriminals looking to sell your personal data.

Google Pixels have Google One installed, and the app can be downloaded for other Android devices and iPhones. If you have a free Google One account, you can request a Dark Web report to have Google scan the dark web for breaches involving your email address. You’ll need a paid account for ongoing monitoring and to scan for issues involving your passwords, Social Security number and other sensitive data. Google will provide guidance for how to deal with issues that surface.

28. Share your location with family

On iPhones, you can reveal your location to family and receive notifications of their whereabouts through the Find My or Messages apps. In Settings ⚙️, tap Family Sharing, and scroll down to Location Sharing. Tap the switch next to each family member you want to share your location with.

On Androids, you can share your location through Google Maps with someone in your Contacts. Tap your profile picture on the upper right, Location Sharing | Share Location, and tap the people you will let see your whereabouts. You can share your location for 1 hour or until you turn this off. 

29. Store passwords

Passwords can be tough to remember, so many people use the same or similar ones over and over, a security faux pas, experts say. Though third-party password managers can address this problem, you can also securely store passwords on your phone, safeguarded behind biometrics.

On iPhones, such saved passwords and passkeys are stored in Settings ⚙️ under Passwords. Android approaches vary. On a Samsung Galaxy phone, passwords may be securely stored under the Samsung Pass authentication platform.

30. Summon help in an emergency

No one knows when you’ll have to cope with a medical or other emergency. Having a smartphone in your pocket could save your life, even if you’re so incapacitated that you can’t speak or dial 911.

On iPhones, one way to summon help is to rapidly press the phone’s side button five times. Similarly, on Google Pixel, press the power button five times. On both phones, enable Emergency SOS in Settings ⚙️.

31. Tell loved ones you’ve arrived safely

When you head home late at night or go on a remote hike, the Safety Check feature on Google Pixels and the Check In feature on iPhones can alert designated contacts if you don’t make it to your destination in a timely matter. If you don’t check in, your contacts will be notified.

On Pixels, start by opening the Safety app and tap Safety Check. On iPhones, open the Messages app, choose the person you want notified, and tap the + sign at the bottom left of the screen. Tap MoreCheck In and choose a location and the estimated travel time whether you are driving, walking or using public transit. You’ll be prompted if running late. An Emergency SOS call will be made if you don’t respond.


spinner image a person holds a smartphone displaying a navigation app with an illustration showing a map
You can create reminders based on location in addition to time on both Androids and iPhones.

32. Change skin tone, gender of emoji

To change the skin color and gender of your emoji collection, you’ll need to tap more than 300 times on your keyboard, Google says. The updated Gboard keyboard on all Androids and available for iPhones lets you make changes to one emoji and apply those changes to all other compatible emoji with a single tap. 

33. Choose dark or light display

Do you prefer light or dark mode? Modern smartphones let you choose the background for all your apps, and yes, you can easily switch when your mood changes or your eyes feel strained.

34. Create AI-generated wallpaper

Whether on iPhone or Android, you’ve long been able to alter the cosmetics of your smartphone by changing its wallpaper. On Pixel 8 phones, and eventually other handsets that get Android 14, you can generate wallpaper using artificial intelligence.

The drill involves picking a preset theme — imaginary, mineral, painting, soft-focus, etc. — then choosing among keywords provided for that theme. Tap Create wallpaper to complete the process. Alternatively, tap Inspire me to have the phone generate a selection randomly.

35. Jot random thoughts

Sometimes all you want to do on a phone is write a few thoughts, perhaps scribble a picture that you’ll refer to later. The baked-in Notes app on iPhone is a great place to do that, and you can lock away notes that are best kept private. Apple is readying a Journal app for iPhone, meant to have you reflect on everyday moments and special events, the company says.

Android users can download Google’s Keep note-taking app from Google Play or rely on third-party apps. 

36. Print from your phone

Print documents, maps, photos, recipes — almost anything you might want paper copies of. With a compatible wireless printer and your phone on the same Wi-Fi network, printing from an iPhone or Android is relatively simple.

37. Put together a grocery list

Free grocery list apps are available for your phone, some tied to meal planning or other features. You also can ask Google Assistant on Android to create a list and add items to it.

On iPhones, when you create a shopping list in the Reminders app, items are automatically sorted into categories.

38. Record screen activity

Sometimes showing is better than telling. On iPhones, you can record screen activity to demonstrate how something is done. In Control Center, tap the button that has a solid white circle inside another circle. After a 3-2-1 countdown, the recording will commence.

On Androids, swipe down from the top of the screen and, depending on the device, tap Screen Record or Screen Recorder.

39. Set location reminders

To call attention to a crucial task when you arrive someplace, leave or even get in or out of your car, you can create location memos on iPhones in the Reminders app and on Androids by tapping Reminders inside the Google app. You can also ask Siri or Google Assistant to set reminders.

40. Share contact information wirelessly

Exchanging business cards seems so last century. iPhones’ Name Drop feature lets people share a phone number or email by bringing their phones close together using AirDrop.

Google discontinued a similar feature called Android Beam. The closest Android feature for sharing data wirelessly is called Nearby Share, found under Connection preferences in Settings ⚙️.

41. Subscribe to calendars

You can subscribe to public calendars, perhaps ones that show the schedule of your favorite sports team or religious holidays. On iPhones, go to Settings | Calendar | Accounts | Add Account | Other. Then either tap Add CalDAV Account, which refers to an internet standard for calendar data, or Add Subscribed Calendar and enter the requested server or other information.

On Androids, you can add a calendar shared with you from a friend or colleague, but you’ll need a third-party app to add certain public calendars.

42. Take the temperature of objects

Google’s Pixel 8 Pro has a built-in thermometer that lets you measure the surface temperature of beverages, cookware or other objects. It hasn’t received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to assess the body temperature of a human. Open the Thermometer app, point the sensor on the back of the phone to within about 2 inches of the object in question, and choose Tap to measure.

43. Turn phone into smart display

You can get utility from your smartphone even when you’re not directly using it. With iOS 17, Apple launched an iPhone feature called StandBy that lets you glance at customized clock faces, pictures and other widgets when the phone is charging and oriented vertically, typically when attached to a stand.

Samsung Galaxy phones with “always-on” displays also can show widgets, but other Android devices may require a third-party app. On a Galaxy, start by visiting Settings | Always On Display. Then choose Landscape under Screen orientation.


spinner image a woman uses a smartphone to scan her password
Bus, subway and train stations are increasingly allowing you buy fares using your smartphone’s digital wallet.

44. Add a foreign language keyboard

If you’re multilingual, you may want to access a keyboard in another language from time to time. On iPhones, go to Settings | General | Keyboards | Add New Keyboard. Then tap the keyboard(s) you want to add. You can toggle any of the keyboards you selected by tapping the Globe icon 🌐 at left below the keyboard.

On Androids, make sure Google’s Gboard keyboard is installed and open an app such as Gmail that uses a keyboard. Tap the gear-shaped Settings icon ⚙️ in the row just above the keyboard, tap Languages | + Add Keyboard and choose from the list. Press and hold a Globe icon 🌐 embedded in the keyboard to switch.

45. Board a subway or bus

Dispense with a mass transit fare card in a growing number of locales by using your smartphone to board a commuter train or bus. Such virtual transit cards are stored on iPhones in the Wallet app and for Androids in Google Wallet or Samsung Wallet.

46. Discover your cardinal directions

If you’re headed north, south, east or west but haven’t a clue which way is which, pull out your iPhone and call up the built-in Compass. It reports your current location and your elevation, becoming a bonus altimeter.

For Androids, you’ll have to search Google Play for a free compass app.

47. Find your parked car

When every car looks alike, remembering where you parked isn’t easy. On Androids, you can ask Google Assistant to remember where you park and find your vehicle. Or on Google Maps, tap the blue dot indicating your current location, then tap the Save parking button.

On iPhones, you can ask Siri to remember where you parked. Or if you disconnect an iPhone that was using Bluetooth or Apple’s CarPlay when you exit the vehicle, a parked car marker will be dropped into Apple Maps automatically.

48. Follow maps offline

You never had to rely on an internet connection when using paper maps. And these days, you may not need cellular or Wi-Fi when looking at a map on your phone. You can download Apple Maps and Google Maps for select regions in advance of travel, keeping in mind that such downloaded maps will gobble up storage on your device.

49. Get walking or public transit directions

Driving directions from Apple Maps or Google Maps are probably part of your routine. But if you need to get someplace by bus, train or walking, these popular map apps already on your smartphone provide those directions, too.

50. Unlock and start your car

You can unlock your car door and even remotely start the engine with your Android device or iPhone, typically when you’re near the driver’s door handle. This feature works only with certain vehicles.

On iPhones, virtual car keys are stored in the Wallet app.  Androids stow them in Google Wallet or Samsung Wallet

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