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Basics: How to make the most of your smartphone

By Anika Hillery | 6:27 am 28/12/2012

You may have just bought your mobile phone to make voice calls, but if that’s all you ever do with it then you’re denying yourself a world of possibilities. Today’s smartphones have a rich set of capabilities that can make your work easier and your playtime more fun. Find out what else your mobile can do, and you’ll quickly find a whole host of tools that you soon won’t be able to live without.

Get to know your phone

The first and most important step in making the most of your mobile is getting to know its capabilities. Take the time to read the manual and play around with the phone. You won’t break anything by experimenting with the different installed applications on your mobile, and you may find useful tools that you never before thought of using.

Take better photos

Nearly every mobile phone has a built-in camera now, often accessible with a single press of the camera button. It won’t be as sophisticated as a dedicated camera, but you can still take good shots with it. Just follow some simple rules:

Make sure your subjects are well lit (especially if your phone doesn’t have a flash). Phones don’t have the light-gathering lenses of full-sized cameras, and while they might automatically extend the exposure time, you probably won’t have fine control.

Keep the phone still when taking the shot, especially in low-light situations (where the exposure time might be longer). Also be aware of shutter lag – a short delay between when you press the button and the shot is actually taken.

Use the maximum resolution possible on your phone. The camera settings will allow you to control the quality. Always use the highest resolution provided.

Get close to your subject and don’t use digital zoom. Phone cameras work best close up, and all digital zoom does is reduce the quality of the shot.

Keep the lens clean. A soft cloth will remove stains, smudges and fingerprints from the camera lens.

Experiment! Play around with the camera and the settings to find the one that works best for you

Good photo results can be achieved when you work within the limitations of a smartphone.

Texting and messaging

MMS. The MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) function allows you to attach an image, audio, video or even appointments and business contacts to a normal text message. On many phones this is dead easy: you just take a picture, select ‘Send as MMS’ from the menu, choose a contact and press Send.

Alternatively, you can attach an image, video or audio file to regular a text message, which turns it into an MMS. The process for doing this varies by phone model, but it’s usually built into the texting interface. As you compose your text message, you’ll be able to access a menu (by clicking on the Menu key) and choose to attach a file to the text.

Depending on your phone model, you may be able to attach a picture, audio file, video file, a location, a person’s contact details or a calendar appointment. If the receiver’s phone is capable, contacts and appointments may even go into their contact database and calendar automatically.

Texts are great ways to send quick and discrete messages without having to make a phone call. But you can do much more with them than send short messages.

 

Email. MMS attachments are limited to around 500 kilobytes, which prevents the sending of long videos and audio tracks. Being able to attach files and send messages of any length requires you set up email on your mobile. You’ll need a data plan to use email (much as with web browsing), but you can do everything with phone email that you can do on a PC.

You will have to set up the email client on the phone as you would one on a PC – and that means knowing your email provider’s server details and your email account’s username and password. Fortunately, there are mobile applications (see below) that can help you do that. For example, Google provides a Gmail application for mobiles that makes accessing your Gmail account from your mobile a breeze.

 

Playing media

Many current mobile phones – even cheaper models – support media playback. That is, you can play music and video on them much as you would an iPod.

You’ll probably need a memory card to do that – whatever type of memory card is appropriate for your particular model of phone (usually SD, miniSD or microSD). By connecting the phone to your computer via USB, or by plugging the memory card directly into a memory card reader on your PC (if you have one), you can copy MP3 tracks to your phone and listen while you travel.

 

Store your contacts

Your SIM card has built-in memory that can store the names and phone numbers of people you know. Many newer phones – 3G phones especially – have the ability to store much more than that. Explore the ‘Contacts’ application on your phone, and add in a few more details about the people you know: street addresses, email addresses, a photo and more. You may even be able to use SMS/MMS to send those contacts details to other people.

Browse the web

If you have a 3G or NextG phone, there’s a very good chance that it has a web browser built in. To use the web browsing function, you’ll need a phone plan with a data allowance – and if you have that, then you can access the web from wherever you have 3G coverage.

Just fire up your phone’s web browser from the applications menu. If you have a data account you should be able to browse the web just as you would on your computer. One thing you may find is that many sites will not appear to display well on your small mobile screen – but the good news is that a lot of sites now have ‘mobile’ versions specifically designed for mobile phones. Google, for example, should automatically detect if you’re using a mobile and direct you to its mobile phone search page. As another example, mobile.wikipedia.org shows a version of Wikipedia formatted for mobiles.

Extend battery life

If you find that your phone isn’t lasting long between charges, turn off Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS and other features in the phone’s settings menu. These drain battery life when active, and turning them off can extend your phone’s stamina considerably. Turning off vibration when you don’t need it (since it uses a lot of power), and the display backlight will also improve battery life.

Install new applications

A lot of phones now allow you to install new applications. These can be games, contact managers, programs to sync your data with your PC, productivity tools and much more. Some of the newer smartphones look and work very much like PCs in this respect, and checking out the manufacturer’s website will most likely reveal a range of things you can do on your phone that you never thought possible.

Note, however, that most applications are written with a specific phone operating system in mind, and will work only for phones that use that operating system. You can’t use an iPhone application on an Android phone, for example.

Apps are like mini computer programs, and enhance the functionality your smartphone.

The final word

We’ve really only scratched the surface of what your mobile phone can do here. With newer phones, the sky really is the limit when it comes to capabilities. The key to making the most of your phone is to not be afraid of it. Try things out, send a few MMSs, install a few new applications. You’ll likely find many ways you can use your mobile to make your life richer.

 

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