Smartphones are intelligent, but with the 14 tips and tricks in this story, they could approach genius territory. We’ll show you how to run seven separate devices from your iPhone, how to play Internet radio (mostly for free) on your BlackBerry, how to make free phone calls from an iPod Touch, and how to revive a dead cell phone battery (if it’s detachable) while you’re in winter weather.
For more, see the other stories in our “57 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know Your Tech Could Do!” package, including our full list of tips and tricks.
Control 7 Different Devices From an iPhone
Perhaps you didn’t know that your iPhone or iPod Touch can act as a Wi-Fi remote for many hardware devices. You simply connect the iPhone through Wi-Fi to the same local network, though in many cases you’ll also have to install a PC utility (provided by the app developer) that listens for instructions from your iPhone over the Wi-Fi network. Here are my favorite tools to control PCs and other devices.
DVR Remote (US$3) lets the iPhone drive a Series 3 TiVo, with access to all of the buttons and features of the innovative DVR. Best of all, you can tap text in with the regular iPhone keyboard instead of pecking at the on-screen alphabet with the arrow buttons.
i-Clickr PowerPoint Remote ($10) manages presentations, even showing your talking notes or upcoming slides on the iPhone. It’s a great counterpoint to the remote available for Apple’s Mac-only Keynote tool in iWork.
You can control many music devices, too. Sonos owners should get the free Sonos Controller for iPhone for slick remote functionality. Roku Soundbridge fans with should try the $3 RokuRemote. And if you have a Logitech Squeezebox device, try running it with the $10 iPeng.
Switching to PC controllers, Air Mouse Pro ($6) acts as a PC keyboard and mouse, so you can control a computer from across the room. Air Mouse Pro’s clean design and application-specific functions make it stand out among a crowd of App Store competitors.
The App Store also sells many VNC (virtual network computing) clients, which let your iPhone see the PC screen and control it. Look to those if you already have VNC server software running on your PC. Otherwise, I like the $30 LogMeIn Ignition for its easy setup and interface with LogMeIn remote-access software.
Use Your Smartphone to Sync Files Among Your PCs
You know that you can play music on your smartphone, or even on many generic handsets. But did you know that if a phone has a storage area for music, you can likely use that memory to stow PC files too? If your phone has a microSD slot—included on nearly all music-playing devices—and a mini-USB port, this trick should work.
First, install a flash-memory microSD card; the slot may be hidden behind the battery or in another hard-to-access place. Then connect the phone to a PC with a mini-USB cable. The phone might prompt you to enter the USB disk mode; approve that prompt, and the memory card will show up on the PC as a new drive. Some devices, such as RIM BlackBerry phones with built-in memory, will mount as two drives if such a card is installed; otherwise the device memory will mount as the only drive.
Just copy over your files to the new drive. Unplug the phone, and when you get to work or to another PC, repeat the connection process to move your files to the destination.
Play Internet Radio on a BlackBerry, 4 Different Ways
Apple iPhones don’t need to have all the fun. Your RIM BlackBerry can tune in to many sources of Internet radio, giving you the perfect background music—or talk programs—for a commute or some R&R at the airport. Just be sure you have an unlimited data plan before indulging in any of these four streamers.
XM Radio Mobile on BlackBerry: Take advantage of the mobile version of XM satellite radio on your BlackBerry. It serves up 18 music and 2 comedy channels, for which you’ll have to pay a monthly $8 subscription fee. Note that not all BlackBerry models are supported.
Pandora Radio: The free version of Pandora for BlackBerry gently introduces you to unfamiliar music with similarities to your favorite songs. You can rate favorites and skip disappointing picks to help the service fine-tune its recommendations. When you find an unknown band that becomes your new favorite, bookmark it in the service to return later.
FlyCast: The wide range of music genres and talk stations on the free FlyCast for BlackBerry echo what you’d get with a regular radio—if your radio could tune in to stations from around the world. Internet-streaming genres, such as ’80s and club hits, complete the vast selection.
Slacker Portable Radio App: A hybrid of streaming and caching, the free Slacker Portable Radio app can, in addition to streaming tunes, let you save gigabytes of music to a microSD card in your BlackBerry. Slacker allows you to store favorite stations on the card so that you still have music in areas where a network connection is limited or nonexistent, such as on airplanes or in tunnels. Enter a favorite musician or song, and the app will spin a personal station based on your preferences.
Make Free Phone Calls From an iPod Touch
You’re now able to make free phone calls via the Internet on Apple’s iPhone using the new Skype for the iPhone app. But if you own a second-generation iPod Touch, you can also make free calls, even though the Touch technically isn’t a phone.
Skype’s iPhone app will work with any second-gen Touch as long as you use headphones with a microphone built into the earphone cord. (Unfortunately, the original Touch has no audio-in capability.) On top of that, you’ll need just a Wi-Fi network. The app allows you to make free calls to other Skype users and paid calls to non-Skype users. I like Skype’s ubiquity and audio quality, but it has competitors; you might want to try Truphone instead. (For more on Truphone, see “Get Your Cell Phone Charges Under Control.”)
Induce a Cold, Dead Phone Battery to Send One Last Text
Since many ski and snowboard mountains are covered by mobile networks, your phone can be a handy communications tool on the slopes. I especially like sending text messages to coordinate plans with friends unobtrusively. But if you forget to charge your handset and it runs out of juice, you still might be able to revive it and send one last text.
Cold weather reduces a battery’s charge. If your phone shut itself off due to the cold, warm it up. Pop off the battery and put it next to any warm part of your skin (against your head, under your arm). Once the battery is warmer, try powering the phone back up; there’s a good chance it’ll have just enough juice for you to send a quick text.
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