smartphoneIn today's digital age, we're all used to carrying around one device that has multiple functions and features. Smartphones, with their host of built-in features and available apps, offer you the ability to do pretty much anything you can dream up. In fact, it's probably easier to list what a mobile phone can't do than what it can! But that wouldn't make for as interesting or educational reading, so here are some of my favorite surprising uses for your smartphone:
1. PC/Mac Webcam You can use your phone in conjunction with messaging applications (Skype, Google+, Yahoo, Windows Live Messenger, AIM, etc.) and Wi-Fi for video chatting. Applications to download: Mobiola WebCamera by Shape (free) is available for the iPad and iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile or Symbian smartphones.
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2. Scanner Whether you want to scan a receipt for tax purposes, a business card for work, a barcode for a price check, or a check to be deposited, there are a host of scanning apps that will let you get rid of your bulky faxing/scanning combo from the late '90s. It's best to figure out what you'll be scanning and then and download a function-specific app. If you don't want to download an app, you can snap a photo and store it on your phone or computer to use later (for example, take a snapshot of a recipe card). Applications to download: TurboScan ($1.99) lets you scan and send multi-page documents and WorldCard Mobile or CardScan (both $6.99) let you scan and sync business cards
3. Replacement for Your Wallet While some women like carrying around a fashionable purse, I prefer leaving my apartment with as little as possible. There are applications for storing credit card information (Visa, AmEx, and Mastercard have their own apps) and banking information (Bank of America, Capital One, PNC and others have their own apps). And if you have discount or membership cards, there are apps for storing their information as well. Applications to download: PayPal Mobile (free) lets you send money on the go from your iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Symbian phones. CardStar (free) lets you keep all of your frequent shopper cards in one place if you're an Android, Windows, Blackberry or iPhone user.
4. Mobile Hotspot Some phones allow you to create a Wi-Fi network that multiple devices - usually up to5 or 7 - can use at once. This allows your phone to get your iPad or laptop on to Wi-Fi, without a router or another peripheral device. Of course, there is an upcharge, usually around $20 to $30 extra a month. If you're a frequent traveler, you may think it worth it since you usually have to pay extra fees for Internet coverage on each of your devices anyway. Application to download: This one doesn't require an app - it's a feature that's included with on phones and requires an extra charge.
5. Identify Things I admit one of my greatest limitations is not being able to accurately identify objects. For instance, I'll recognize an individual and not remember her name, or see a picture of a famous landmark and not be to recall what it is. Google Goggles is becoming my new secret weapon -snap a photo of something and Google uses the image to perform a search. While it won't ID a passerby on the street, it's great for identifying products, famous landmarks, storefronts, artwork, and popular images online, like celebrities. The algorithm behind the recognition technology is improving, so hopefully soon I'll be able to snap a photo of a woman on the street wearing shoes I'm coveting and find out who makes them! Application to download: Google Goggles, only for Android phones (free)
Related: Cell Phone Care & Maintenance Tips
6. Live TV Many of the local service providers (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) and telephone providers (Sprint) offer applications for streaming live content to a smartphone. And there are specific apps for particular programs - like MLB sports. But if you just want to be able to watch live TV on the go and are unaffiliated - you can download an app like netTV or TVUPlayer. While the image and audio quality isn't the best, it beats missing a critical moment in sports or breaking news. Applications to download: netTV (free for lite version) offers a suite of programs from around the world.
These are just a few of the surprising applications of smartphones. Other things I like to use my smartphone for that you might not have thought of include: checking in for flights (no more printing out tickets at home or waiting annoying lines!), setting your DVR remotely (if you're local provider allows it), and ordering food on my way home so dinner's waiting for me (Seamless has been a lifesaver for me!). For some of the more advanced functions of a smartphone, you may have to purchase add-ons. That's what all of the following functions have in common!
7. Universal Remote Control With all the electronic devices in our homes today, keeping track of each one is a big task, and keeping track of all the remotes to control them, an even bigger one. Universal remotes are a solution that's been around for some time. Now you can add a simple infrared device to your iPod Touch or iPhone, download a corresponding app, and turn your iPhone screen into a Universal. Universal remote dongles are generally in the neighborhood of $70 and can be a cost- effective alternative to other universals on the market. Applications to download: POWER A Universal Remote (free) is a tried and true one that comes in the form of a thin case that you can leave on your iPhone at all times. It's easy to set up as most apps are preloaded and the buttons are intuitively organized.
8. Car Remote After purchasing hardware from Viper, download the free app and remotely start your car with your iPhone. The hardware is compatible with most vehicles, and lets you lock and unlock the doors, start the engine, open the trunk, and set off a panic alarm from your phone (as long as you have a data connection). Application to download: Viper SmartStart (free) is the app correlated with the Viper SmartStart GPS device ($400).
9. Accept Credit Card Purchases If you've just started a business, purchasing a credit card machine can be a hassle and pricey. Applications like Square let you accept credit card payments on your phone. A small dongle that attaches to your phone accepts credit card swipes. Application to download: Square (free) is for iOS or Android devices, and as a bonus its receipts are geotagged (marked with the location a swipe's taken place) and emailed to you!
10. Advanced Camera While the camera on your phone suffices for everyday pictures, you can get SLR- quality photo with the purchase of an add-on. Some companies offer adapters that let you use your camera lenses on the iPhone, while others offer their own lenses. Application to download: none needed. Photojojo offers an adapter for your Canon or Nikon lenses ($249) or different lenses to add on to your camera (starting at $20).
11. Heart Rate Monitor Using your iPhone camera monitor, you can count your beats per minute (BPM). While we haven't vetted the accuracy of these monitoring tools, most of the apps claim to operate by using the intense light of the phone camera to detect the capillaries' movements and calculate your heartbeat - so it doesn't require any additional monitors to purchase. Application to download: Instant Heart Rate by Azumio ($.99) determines your heartbeat, tracks your progress, and allows you to share via social networks.
12. Take Measurements Using some basic geometry, the iPhone can take measurements for you so you don't have to whip out a tape measure. It's particularly useful when measurements are out of your reach (like figuring out how high the ceiling is) or when you're out and about and don't have a measuring tool handy. While none of the applications are as accurate as using handheld measuring tools, your phone is a quick and easy way to make approximations. Application to download: Pont and Measure ($1.99)
What unusual but helpful functions do you use your smartphone for? Let me know in the comments!
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