The Computer Guy - Handy Smartphone Tricks

Smartphones and tablets are astonishing technological triumphs.  The number and variety of feats that these magic bits of glass can perform is simply astounding, and seemingly without limit. 

The computing power in smartphones and tablets, combined with built-in sensors or add-on gizmos, make it possible to do thousands of things with phones that even the inventors never imagined. Ranging from mundane to exotic, here are just a few. (More at a later date.)

These tricks are all available as apps for both Android and Apple IOS phones and tablets. Search your app store for your phone, and look for apps with 4 or 5 star reviews. 

Emergency Flashlight
Smartphones typically have two built-in light sources: the camera flash, and the screen itself. Both of these can be used by apps for other purposes, and there are hundreds of apps – both Apple IOS, and Android – that will turn your phone into an emergency flashlight. Some phones even come with a flashlight app preloaded.

Using your phone as a flashlight will use up your phone’s battery pretty quickly, so you don’t to depend on this for everyday use; but your smartphone can’t be beat as an always handy flashlight.

Heart Rate Monitor
No extra gizmos or bracelets needed – your smartphone can measure, and record, your pulse just by using the built-in flash and camera.  

When you run a heart monitor app, it will instruct you to place the tip of your finger so that it is covering the flash and the camera lens. The app (of your choice, and again, there are many) will check your pulse for a few seconds and then report your heart rate to you.  It works, and in my experience, it’s pretty accurate. Search for “heart rate monitor” in the app store.

Emergency Dice
OK; “emergency” may be too strong, but here’s a trick that can fill in for the dice that always go missing from the board games that come out for family gatherings.

Again, many apps are available for this. You might find an app for a particular game, but there are tons of general “dice” apps that let you chose the number of dice, and even the number of sides for games with exotic dice geometries.

Once setup, you just tap the screen to “roll” the dice. Search the app store for “dice.”

Emergency Radio
A few smartphones have FM radios built in and can receive broadcast radio, but ALL smartphones can receive streaming radio broadcasts. Many broadcast radio stations, including Pawling Public Radio, also have their signal sent out over the internet in what are called “streams.”  

Apps for both IOS and Android will allow you to listen to these internet streams. Most apps have a search function that will allow you to search for streaming stations near you – very handy for “just in case” situations. Search for “streaming radio.”

Car Health (Check Engine) Monitor
If your “check engine” light comes on – or if your car sputters once in a while, but the check-engine light doesn’t stay lit long enough to get to the shop to have it checked, then this can be very handy. It requires an additional piece of equipment, called a “wireless ODB adapter” that you can purchase online or in some auto supply stores. Prices range from under $10 and up – and the ones for under $10 do work for most situations.

There aren’t as many apps for this as for flashlights and dice, but there are many. Prices range from free (or donations) and go up to hundreds of dollars for pro-level apps.

I use an app called “Torque” that is free/ad-supported and a Bluetooth OBD adapter that was around $12. Torque is able to read all of the codes that are used by the computers in my car, and it also lets me create custom screens with dials and gauges for just about any function in the car, including a large, easy to read speedometer that uses the phone’s built-in GPS to figure the speed.

There are many other car-monitoring ODB apps, including some that are specific to car makes and models.  Search for “ODB” or “ODBII” (ODB-2) to find one that suits your needs.

There are many, many, more handy tricks for smartphones. I’ll make a new list soon, but if you know of – or want to know about – an app for a particular purpose, give me a call and let me know about it.

Hoping, as always, that this is all quite clear and useful; nevertheless if I can fill in some details or help with anything on your computers, please don’t hesitate to call: Mike Pepper ~ Computer Guy. 845-855-5824