Smartphones are the must-have tech gadget in 2023. More than 85% of us have one. We use it for several hours a day for just about everything, from texting, talking, and taking photos or videos, to shopping, working, using social media, and much more.
Still, are we getting the most out of our magical little gadgets that do it all? Probably not.
Gadget creators add new useful cheats all the time. For example, did you know that many smartphones now come with a built-in white noise machine? I didn’t, until I found the hidden feature in my accessibility settings a few days ago.
Take a look at that bit of ingenuity, plus a handful of other fun and useful tips to help you save time, money, and sanity.
Keep voicemails forever:How to save those important voice messages on your smartphone
How do I activate automatic translation on my phone?
On an iPhone:
As long as you’re using the latest operating system with your iPhone, both the camera and photos apps have a live text feature that can work wonders in a myriad of scenarios.
Live Text recognizes the text and information within the image and lets you do all sorts of things like select text to copy, share, search, or translate. You can even use quick actions to perform tasks like making a phone call or converting currencies.
Here’s a great example I came across recently when I was at a restaurant and the menu was in another language.
Point your camera at the menu, tap the little page icon, then tap and hold the selected text.
Use the little yellow grip dots to select specific text and then tap “Translate”.
If you want to translate text on a photo or video in your Photos app, open that image or pause a video that contains text:
Tap the little page icon again, and then tap and hold the selected text.
Apple says you may need to tap Continue, then choose a language to translate, or tap Change Language.
If you’re having trouble doing any of the above moves, make sure Live Text is turned on in all supported languages. (There are 34 languages supported at the time of writing this.)
Go to Settings General, Language and region.
Turn on Live Text (green is on).
On an Android device:
The process is similar on most Android phones via google lens. Both newer Android phone models I tested this with: a Google Pixel 6 Y Samsung Galaxy Z Flip – Come with it already installed. Since many phones running on the Android operating system are slightly different, you may need to download the free Google Lens app from the Play store.
Take a photo or choose a photo from your photo library, tap the Lens icon and choose “translate”.
How can I use my phone to identify a plant?
Use your camera or photos to identify plants, landmarks, wine, and more.
Just last year, I paid a pretty penny to identify plants in my own backyard with a special app. Now, my phone does it for free.
For iPhones, this feature is called visual search. For Android, you can still use Google Lens.
On an iPhone:
Go to the Camera app, take the photo, and then look for the little “i” icon at the bottom, in the middle of a circle. As long as it has two small stars in the upper left corner, you’re in luck. Visual search information is available for that photo.
You can also go back through your photos app and find this in a previous photo. You are good to go as long as the little “i” icon with the two stars is there.
Swipe up on the photo or tap on that icon to see more of what the AI ”sees” in the photo.
Tap Search in the middle of the screen or tap that little “pin” icon to see what Siri can find out about it.
It usually takes you to a Wikipedia page and shows other similar photos.
On most Androids:
I usually use Google Lens for this too. bixby vision it’s easy for Samsung devices too, and it’s all very similar to how it works for iPhones.
Open the Google Lens Camera app, tap the shutter button and it will search automatically.
If you’re looking at a photo or video you’ve already taken, tap that photo and tap the little eye icon for Bixby Vision.
What is ambient sound on my phone?
Sure, you can spend $100 or more on a specific white noise device to drown out sirens, horns, loud gum chewers, or peacocks (seriously, have you heard them squeal?). Or you can use what is already loaded on your phone.
On an iPhone:
Apple calls this feature “Background Sounds”
Go to Settings > Accessibility > Audio/Visual > Background sounds.
Turn on background sounds to help you sleep, focus, or cover up noisy breathing in the cubicle next to yours.
You can choose from a variety of sounds: rain, stream, ocean, balanced noise, bright noise, and dark noise. You can also adjust the volume.
It automatically turns off when you lock your screen and/or you can set your screen to lock after a certain amount of inactivity.
On an Android:
Playing white noise on an Android device also takes just a few seconds.
The easiest way is through Google assistant.
Say “Hey Google, play ambient noise.”
This also works with Alexa, Siri, and many other smart speaker assistants.
Magically remove backgrounds from images.
This was one of my favorite updates when Apple first released iOS 16 last fall.
of Apple cutting tool magically isolate subjects and remove backgrounds from images. Until that update, you had to use a separate app like it can go Prayed picsart to isolate a subject in a photo (I use it a lot with my dog)!
On an iPhone:
Open a photo in the Photos app or in apps like Messages, Quick Look, or Safari.
Touch and hold the subject of the photo. A bright white outline should appear.
Release to reveal options like Copy and Share in the Photos app or Copy subject in Safari.
Once you copy the subject of a photo, you can share it through apps like Messages, Mail, or use AirDrop.
You can also copy and paste it into other apps like Notes.
On an Android:
You will need to download an app to do this on an Android device. I normally use photo roomwhich is free from Google Play Store.
Open the PhotoRoom app and tap on the quick tutorial.
On the Create tab, tap Start from photo.
Select your photo.
Once you choose a photo, the app works automatically.
You can make more adjustments, choose a background color and press the share button to save to the gallery.
Use the Amazon lens as a shopping trick
Here’s one I found when I was furniture shopping last year. I discovered my dream bookshelf for my living room, but it was way over my budget.
I don’t remember who told me about this or when, but I remembered the trick to take a screenshot of the article, open the Amazon app on my smartphone, then use the little camera icon in the search bar, it’s called a lens from Amazon, to find a lot. less expensive lookalikes. Bingo: I found a similar bookcase for a fraction of the price.
Since then, I’ve used it for clothing, lamps, dressers, and a ton of other great stuff.
Here’s how to do it on any smartphone:
Screenshot of the item. Open your Amazon shopping app.
Tap the little photo icon in the search bar and tap the yellow Upload a photo bar.
The app shows you all the item shopping links as your screenshot.
You can also upload a photo of just about anything, like a lamp you saw at your friend’s house or a screenshot from a TV show.
You can also use Google Lens to do this on all devices:
right-click on any image in your web browser and tap on Google Lens.
You’ll then see a shopping tab, which shows similar items you find on the internet, not just on Amazon.
This is especially great for when you really love something, like a specific item of clothing or a pair of shoes, but it’s out of stock where you normally shop.
What are some tips and tricks you’ve discovered on your devices? Share in the comments section here or on our social networks.
Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer technology columnist. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly. Points of view and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.