Do you ever wish that you could do more with your electronic gadgets? Most people are familiar with only a few of the hundreds of tricks that can make their tech life easier on such devices as smartphones, cameras, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. Here are some of the most useful tricks that you may not know about…
These techniques work for Android, Apple iOS and Windows Phone.
• Type e-mails and texts more efficiently. Whenever you end a sentence, tap the Space key twice. This adds a period…adds a space between sentences…and capitalizes the next word you type without your having to manually hit the Shift key.
• Bypass long voice mail instructions. When you want to leave a message for someone, most major wireless providers force you to listen to a list of keypad instructions. It can take as long as 15 seconds before you get to the beep and can start talking. Carriers don’t promote the fact that there’s a shortcut key that takes you directly to the beep. For Verizon, press *…for Sprint, press 1…for AT&T and T-Mobile, press #. To use these shortcuts, you need to know the carrier used by the person you are calling, so ask your friends and family members. Helpful: Be sure to provide a shortcut tip in your own voice mail recording (for example, “Press star to hear the beep and leave your message”).
• Get free directory assistance. If you dial 411 on your cell phone, your carrier will charge you a fee, typically $2. Better: Dial 800-FREE-411 (373-3411). You’ll have to listen to a few short ads, but you will get listings with no charge. Alternative: Search online. Savings: $104 a year if you use directory assistance once a week.
• Access detailed maps without a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. Before you leave for a trip, get a comprehensive and easy-to-use map app such as Google Maps or Here. Find maps of the areas you will need, and download them to your phone for later use. That way you won’t have to rely on Wi-Fi or a cellular connection on your trip. The app will allow you to access the map whenever you want and zoom in and out.
• Borrow a charger from lost and found. If you’re in a coffee shop or staying at a hotel and your phone or laptop is running out of power…and you forgot to bring your recharging cord…ask a manager to look in the lost and found for a cord that fits your device. Lost chargers are so common that these businesses often have several dozen of them that customers have left behind. Helpful: Improve the chances of recovering your own charger by wrapping a piece of tape around the cord and writing your name, phone number and e-mail address on it.
• Use your phone as a hearing aid in a pinch. If you wear a hearing aid and it quits on you, your phone can help if it has voice-recognition software such as Siri (iPhone), Google Now (Android), Cortana or Speech (Windows Phone).
What to do: Open one of the above apps on your smartphone, click on the voice-recognition icon and ask the person who is trying to talk to you to speak into the phone so that you can read what he/she is saying. It’s not an ideal solution—for instance, no punctuation appears unless the person actually says words like “period.” But you’ll get the gist of what’s being said.
• Navigate without using your mouse. Every time you lift your hands off the keyboard while typing, you lose concentration and efficiency. There are ways to avoid this. Examples: Pop-up boxes or forms on sites may require you to click “Yes” or “No” to questions such as, “Do you want to leave this page?” Instead of using the mouse, press the Enter key for “Yes” or the Escape key for “No.” You also can use the arrow keys to scroll or the Tab key to go to the next box on a web form. If you want to switch from one browser tab to the next, hit Control and Tab. To go to the previous tab, hold down Control and Shift, then hit Tab.
• Get a disposable e-mail address to verify your identity. Accessing information on a website often requires that you provide an e-mail address and then activate your account by receiving an e-mail and clicking on the link in the e-mail so that the website can verify that it’s you. Unfortunately, you might find that your e-mail box is inundated with spam if the website sells your address to online advertisers. You could set up an alternate e-mail account at Gmail or Yahoo, but that’s time-consuming, especially if you plan to use it just once.
Better: Go to 10MinuteMail.com. The site instantly generates a disposable e-mail for you that expires in five minutes, enough time to verify who you are to the website you want to access.
• Fill out Internet forms with ease. When you purchase an item or a membership online, you’re often required to input or select information in a series of tiny boxes that can be tricky and annoying to navigate. Shortcuts: You might know that you can move quickly from one field of an order form to the next by pressing the Tab key. But to move back to a previous field, hold down the Shift key and then press the Tab key. And when you select your state from a drop-down box, just type the first letter of your state in the box and it will appear automatically. If you get the wrong state that starts with that letter, tap that letter again until you get the right one. Example: Hit “C” three times for “Connecticut.”
• Shorten and simplify a long web address. Some web addresses can run half a dozen lines or more. That’s inconvenient if you want to put them on an ad or a poster or if someone has to type them out from a printed page. Use the free URL-shortening site Bitly.com. Copy and paste the long URL into a box at the top of the Bitly website. It automatically generates a short web address that looks something like this—bit.ly/1CzHkGP. The compact URL automatically forwards anyone using it to the longer address.
• Enlarge the type on any web browser. On Windows computers, press the Control key and the Plus or Minus keys (for bigger or smaller fonts). On Apple computers, use the Command key and Plus or Minus.
• Send very big files by e-mail. Most e-mail systems don’t accept file attachments bigger than about 10 megabytes (MB). That can make it impossible to send a video or a large, graphics-rich work file.
What to do: Go to SendBigFiles.com. Enter your e-mail address and the recipient’s e-mail address, and upload the file. The recipient will get an e-mail with a link to download the file. You can send up to 50 MB without signing up for anything. Or you can become a free member and send files of up to 250 MB twice a month.
• Turn a lamp into a tripod. Photos taken indoors in low light often turn out blurry. That’s because even with a camera that compensates for shaking, the camera shutter has to stay open longer. Even a slight hand movement can affect the picture.
What to do: Turn a table lamp into a steady tripod. Unscrew the finial at the top of the harp that supports the lamp shade. Many digital cameras have a threaded opening at the bottom that will screw into standard lamp hardware.