Master your smartphone with these tips and secrets

Shortcuts, tricks and hidden features that will optimize the productivity of your mobile device

Siri opens the camera app via voice command on an iPhone.
Siri opens the camera app via voice command on an iPhone.Cavan Images (Getty Images/Cavan Images RF)

Sometimes, it is easy to forget that the phone that we carry around is, first and foremost, a sophisticated computer that is capable of doing a lot for us with little effort. Nonetheless, the different platforms keep taking strides, adding new features and learning from user behavior. How familiar are you with all the tricks and secrets of your device? Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most interesting ones, both for iPhone and for Android.

Android

You don’t have to unlock the phone to take a photo

Did you know that you can take a picture without unlocking your phone first? In the vast majority of Android phones, a double press of the power button will activate the camera, even if the device is off (if this feature is not activated, you can do it in the system settings).

Receive urgent notifications even if you are wearing headphones

“It is one of the features that I use the most,” explains Christian Collado, coordinator of the Andro4All blog. It basically consists of being able to hear important sounds, even with your headphones on; imagine that you have a baby around, or you are perhaps expecting a package. Maybe you just want to be aware of what goes on around you. It uses the microphone on your phone (or your smartwatch, if you are wearing one) to pick up and identify common sounds such as the doorbell, a smoke detector or the cry of a baby. To activate it, you must go to the Accessibility settings and enable the option called Sound Notifications.

Unlock the phone automatically when you arrive home

Your smartphone has a feature called Smart Lock, which deactivates the screen lock in certain locations or when connected to certain devices (the car, for example). To activate it, just go to Settings/Security/Advanced/Smart Lock; its location may vary, depending on the manufacturer. You can also find it by using the Settings search bar. Once there, select trusted devices or locations where you want the device to remain unblocked.

See all the notifications from the last day

Managing notifications can be a real nightmare, and the (wise) trend is to turn off the unnecessary ones, or at least discard them after reading. But what if you want to recover one of these deleted notifications? Since version 11, Android offers a useful function: Notification History, where the notifications from the last day are kept. To access it, go to Settings and type “notification history” in the search bar; then select the one you want to see.

iPhone

Tap twice on the back and you’ll get a selfie

Not many iPhone owners know it, but they have an extra “button” on their device – albeit an invisible one. We are referring to the back of the phone which, thanks to the Accessibility feature, can be configured at the user’s will. “When I tap twice, the flashlight turns on,” explains Pedro Aznar, founder of the Applesfera blog. “With three taps, the camera is activated.” Everyone can set it as they like by going to Settings/Accessibility/Touch/Touch Back, and choosing the function that suits them best.

“Hey Siri, take a picture (or turn on the flashlight)”

Apple’s virtual assistant is equally loved and hated, due to its uneven performance, but it can actually be quite helpful; for example, you can use your voice to ask it to take a photo (the only limitation is that Siri only opens the camera application, but does not activate the shutter). Similarly, if you are in the dark, you can just say “Hey, Siri, turn on the flashlight.” The assistant is capable of performing many more basic functions.

Shake to undo… almost everything

Another feature that might not be widely known among iPhone owners is “undo” (just like Control + Z), which is activated by shaking the device. You can undo almost any action with a flick of the wrist: a text, a recently deleted email... if you made a mistake, you can always try this solution. This gesture had an almost anecdotal origin: Scott Forstall, who used to be one of the key figures in iOS, asked his team to come up with a way to add the “undo” feature to the iPhone, and one of his engineers jokingly suggested shaking it. Forstall liked the idea, and the feature is now a standard part of the device.

Typing? Try sliding or dictating

The experts agree. Pressing the keys of virtual keyboards on mobile phones is not the fastest way to write. The iPhone keyboard supports swipe typing: you slide your finger from character to character until the system offers the desired word. When you see the suggestion at the top, just lift your finger. This way is faster than the traditional one – but it is not the only alternative: iOS has greatly improved its dictation capabilities in its latest version, making very few mistakes. You can access it by pressing the microphone at the bottom of the keyboard.

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