What do you use your phone for?
September 28, 2013 5:23 PM   Subscribe

I wish for my smartphone to have more utility. What do you use yours for?

For instance, I'm now tethered to my phone's internet connection, use it as an MP3 player in my car, get directions, track the weather, and keep up with my appointments.

I'm looking more for tools rather than games, but if you play a really cool game I'll consider it. Android preferred, but iPhone ideas are fine too.

(it's been a year since the last similar post I could find on the subject, so I hope this post will be legit)
posted by Evilspork to Computers & Internet (45 answers total) 132 users marked this as a favorite
I finally have something in my pocket to write down books I want to read so I know what to get when I'm at the bookstore/library. (Also groceries, things at Home Depot, etc.) I also have the Sleep Cycle app, which is a lovely and useful alarm clock.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:25 PM on September 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Chess.com - it's nice to be able to make a move or two while riding the train or sitting in the can.

Units converter - eg ml to floz

Making short notes.

As restless mentions a sleep/snoring app is amusing.

Db meter, that's always kind of interesting
posted by colin_l at 5:32 PM on September 28, 2013

My most-used apps on my Android phone are:
Evernote; reading books (I use several reader apps); spirit-level (aka Bubble); budget (YNAB); OBDII (aka Torque) for diagnosing car problems; alarms (Gentle Alarm is wonderful for waking up to); KeePass password manager (used via Dropbox so all my machines have the same up-to-date password lists); Torch (a flashlight app); RealCalc (calculator)
posted by anadem at 5:38 PM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

having a camera in my pocket at all times is useful. When traveling, I'll use it to take a picture of a parking area notation, or take a picture of the rental car i'm picking up so i can recognize it. i just took a picture of the logo of a farm i wanted to look into getting a farm share with, because writing it down or typing it on my phone were both slower than just taking a picture. taking a picture of something i want to buy another one of, to make sure they match. taking pictures of tags in furniture stores when i want to note which couches i liked so i can compare them later.

besides that, i use it to make notes, track my to-do list (and I can email things to either app), assorted online things like email and web and twitter, but also including depositing checks because my bank has an app that lets me upload check images directly to them.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:51 PM on September 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Alarm clock, checkbook register, GPS, camera, calculator, dictionary, flashlight, grocery list, calendar, and notepad are the main things I use mine for. Oh also Shazam to tell me who the heck did that song that I've been hearing all my life but never bothered to find out who it was before. Oh and timewasting Internet surfing obv.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:04 PM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh and the Overdrive app, I borrow audiobooks that I listen to every day on my commute.

Honestly, smartphones do all the same things this year that they did last year so I'm not sure how helpful these answers are going to be.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:07 PM on September 28, 2013

I put mine in my pocket so that it can track how fast I'm walking and where I'm going. I can share my walk with people via MapMyWalk and they can actually watch me walk (creepy for some, cool for others). Similarly Find My Friends (for iphone, maybe there is an android version?) allows me to know when friends, who have specifically opted in, are nearby. I take photos of my parking spaces, use it to figure out which way I need to turn out of the subway when getting above ground, add reminders to tell it to tell me later that I need to remember to do a thing (usually things that involve the phone so like "remind me at 8 pm to order pizza" or whatever). I have bird calls/images on it so that I can identify birds and I have a skygazer application so I can identify stars and constellations. AroundMe and Library Anywhere help me locate bookstores and libraries and coffee. I use the Yelp app to find the nearest diner that's open near me when I travel.
posted by jessamyn at 6:11 PM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I use the "voice memo" feature (came with my iPhone) to record short sound files that I find interesting. When we were on holidays this past summer, for example, I recorded ambient sounds like
  • ravens calling to each other in the forest
  • a waterfall
  • waves on the beach
  • the chatter of the crowd on the ferry
I've also used it to record family members saying things and joking around. I play them back to myself when I need a little cheering up or when I want to reminisce about my trip. It's fun. The next time I'm on a trip (e.g. in France for example) I plan to record clips like "2 pm in the Louvre" or "noise in a Paris Metro station." Maybe this is weird but I really enjoy it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:30 PM on September 28, 2013 [31 favorites]

Came in to say what rmd1023 said -- since I started thinking of the camera as a visual-note-taking app, I have come to rely on it to a ridiculous extent. I'll take a picture of the store from my parking space just so I can hold that up and triangulate my way back.
posted by Etrigan at 6:45 PM on September 28, 2013

I use my android phone for things mentioned above, and for:
  • calorie counting (My Fitness Pal)
  • podcast listening (Beyond Pod)
  • audiobooks (Audible)
  • reading books (various apps)
  • keeping track of my period and related symptoms (Period Calendar / Tracker)
  • depositing checks and sending money to/receiving money from my boyfriend via our bank's app
  • rolling dice (I have an app called Dice which lets you do them in any combo: like 4d6, 2d20, 1d8)
  • knowing which subway car to get on (Exit Strategy NYC)
  • ordering takeout (GrubHub and Seamless)
  • video calls with my 1.5 year old nephew (Google Hangouts)
  • timing pomodoros (Pomodroido)
  • generating white noise (Relax and Sleep)

posted by ocherdraco at 6:50 PM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I use it as a remote control for itunes (the iphone remote app is free. I got an android one for a couple of dollars). When I used xmbc as a media player, I used to use the web interface on my phone to change music.

I use the camera to copy whatever whiteboard scribblings have occurred in work meetings.
posted by pompomtom at 6:52 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

fbreader and mobilism
posted by ennui.bz at 6:52 PM on September 28, 2013

Period tracker, mood tracker, weather, maps, public transport, calorie counting. Notes -
constantly for books to read, movies to watch, songs to acquire, groceries, goals, to do lists, passwords. Certainly I take photos - comparison shopping, or just remembering what an item is, and where it is, in case I do decide to buy it. I take photos of moles, bruises, sores on my body, so I can see if they change, cartoons I do for friends, even a quick shot of my proper artwork, random fabrics & patterns and posters for later inspiration.
posted by b33j at 6:56 PM on September 28, 2013

I have a basic calculator app on my home screen. It's been great to have on hand many a time.
posted by michellenoel at 7:59 PM on September 28, 2013

I used a barcode scanner at the mechanic to bring him down on a part price. He wanted to charge me $30 for a $12 belt! I scanned the barcode from the cardboard belt sleeve and showed him that I could get the exact same belt 30 yards down the road for less than half as much. He wouldn't match prices (and probably jacked up labor) but he came down quite a bit on that part.

I use the camera to take notes a lot.

Ingress has gotten me out of the house way more than I ever have been before, and it has shown me one metric fuckton of public art in my city. It's a game, and it's really creepy GPS tracking software, but still—me, standing under the shining sun, looking at art. (I have 10 invites.)
posted by carsonb at 8:00 PM on September 28, 2013

I use mine most for flashcards. Mine are French vocabulary, but if there's anything you're trying to learn, it's fabulous. (And I love that they are something I spend time on when I'm bored somewhere too.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:11 PM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I use Duolingo to learn Spanish- they have a web version but the app is so much better for casually using it throughout the day.
posted by MadamM at 8:26 PM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I use a metronome app, because it's simpler than using the one that's built in to my digital piano.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:35 PM on September 28, 2013

Geocaching. We have the geocaching box in the minivan, which has little trinkets in it, so the kids and I are always ready to go if we're at a new park and they need something to get them started.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:36 PM on September 28, 2013

Someone recently told me that I use my phone for ALL THE THINGS more than anyone else they know. Here's what I use it for. (Many of these usages use Tasker and/or NFC tags).

Talking alarm clock: It reads me the weather forecast when it goes off in the morning. And then it plays annoying music at top volume until I touch it to an NFC tag in the bathroom.

Running apps: I use Runkeeper to tell me every 500m my average speed and time, and Zombies Run to inspire me to run faster and further (Grr argh!)

Other workout apps: I use Fitocracy for all other workouts, and it syncs to Runkeeper. I have an NFC tag hidden at my gym that when I swipe it increments a log in a text file on my phone that keeps track of how many times I have been to the gym this year, and displays on the screen my average cost for each visit (annual membership divided by number of visits).

Music and readers: I have Google Play so that I can listen to all my music on my phone whether or not it is locally stored there. I have an NFC tag attached to my stereo that when I plug the phone into the line in and put it on the tag it opens my music and starts playing my most recent play list. I have Aldiko reader for bedtime reading and pdfs for work, and FBreader for text to speech books which I listen to when I run out of real audio books. I also have the Librivox player for out of copyright audio books.

Productivity: I use Pomodroido, which can be integrated with both Tasker and Beeminder, for tracking purposes. Pomodroido is a timer and log for the Pomodoro working method. I use Beeminder to force me to keep on track with all my goals, by requiring me to pay up a small amount of real money if I ever go off track. As much as possible, I automate these goals so I can't cheat. (Pomodroido, Runkeeper, Tasker are all useful for this). I also use Trelloid as my to do list, and Google Keep for location-based reminders, but I'm not totally happy with these, and am currently "rolling my own".

Random musings: Just about any time I wonder about anything nowadays, I press the microphone button on Google Now and ask it. Everyone is always amazed at how well this works, especially when it speaks the answer back to me.

Other: I have a gratitude journal and a headache log stored on my phone. I use Google Maps, downloadable guidebooks, and Translate a lot when travelling. I use Tripit to keep track of upcoming trips. (I travel a lot). I use "Relax and Sleep" to choose relaxing ambient sounds to drown out background noise at bedtime if there's stuff going on around me (or on a plane/bus/train). I have widgets that display my calendar, a news feed and the weather at all times on my home screen. I have Clueful to keep an eye on privacy violations by naughty apps, and Onavo Count to keep an eye on data usage. I have rooted the phone and have Manage Permissions installed so I can stop naughty apps from doing naughty things if I don't want to uninstall them completely. I have dropbox installed so I can access all my work stuff, and Quickoffice so I can work on it. I use Screebl to keep my screen on when I am using the phone and switch it off when I am not. I have Skype installed so I don't have to make actual phone calls via my carrier if I am running out of credit or travelling.

I have a bunch of games too, but you say you aren't so interested in that.

My phone is a Nexus 4, and if the screen were any smaller, I probably wouldn't be able to use it for so many things, so YMMV.
posted by lollusc at 9:41 PM on September 28, 2013 [28 favorites]

Oh and some other Tasker stuff that I've set to happen automagically:

- If I am running (i.e. not connected to my home network, and I have Runkeeper and Zombies open, my phone automatically declines all calls, and sends an auto SMS to any caller to say I am unavailable but will call them back.

- When I get an SMS, Tasker switches on "Continuous Listening" mode (Autovoice) for 10 seconds, and if I say the command "speak" within that window, it reads the SMS aloud. Useful when driving, or if your phone is buried deep in your bag and you can't be bothered finding it.

- When I leave work between 4 and 7pm, my phone sends an auto SMS to my husband to say I'm on my way home.

- At night and whenever my calendar shows a meeting, all notifications are silenced. But this is overridden by phone calls and SMSes from my husband or mother.

- Everyone who rings regularly has their own ringtones and notification alert sounds so I always know who it is.

- When I get home my lockscreen is automatically disabled and when I leave the house, it is re-enabled. When I am connected to my home WIFI with a strong signal, Skype is enabled.

- When the headset is plugged in, a menu of my audio apps pops up.

- When it is plugged in to charge, the screen time-out is disabled, and the volume is turned right up (unless it's nighttime).
posted by lollusc at 9:48 PM on September 28, 2013 [29 favorites]

I use mine for something that is alien to my kids; I call people.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:06 PM on September 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sometimes if I can't read something that's super tiny, I take a photo of it and them zoom in. Works like a charm every time.
posted by Dansaman at 10:11 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I cannot fathom living without my phone; the actually calling features are actually the least used. Having a camera always on hand is so handy. I'd be lost without the calendar app beeping in my pocket telling me where I need to be next. I have a crappy sense of direction, so Google Maps is a must. For fitness tracking I use the Fitbit app, MyFitnessPal and Runkeeper together. PayByPhone to pay for most metered parking is awesome. For music, I don't even use mp3s any more -- I use Rdio to stream everything I need, and Instacast for podcasts. I use the Plex app (with server at home) to view my video media anywhere, and stream it to other's AirPlay enabled devices. I take quick notes with Evernote and write longer things in Elements. I do my banking in my bank's app. Having an app to scan documents (via the camera) has come in handy more than once. In a pinch I can connect to my (and my workplace's) servers using an app called Prompt. Home automation (lights) is taken care of with the Wemo app (and accessories). When playing card games with family, I use an app to keep score. I also do the vast majority of my casual random web browsing on my phone, and of course Facetime, email and texting. And lastly (but not least, I'm sure I'm forgetting things), my phone is also my go to gaming device while my XBOX and DS gather dust for the most part.
posted by cgg at 10:26 PM on September 28, 2013

I use it as an MP3 player at home - I have a 3.5mm to RCA cable that's plugged into my amp, so I listen to music on it getting ready in the morning, unplug, get in car, continue listening.
I also use MyTracks for hiking, & then upload the details to Google Docs.
Also, Evernote, Skype & Netflix (not to watch stuff - to listen to comedy performances).
posted by forallmankind at 10:35 PM on September 28, 2013

Everyone plays that game where you say "that sounds like a good band name" when someone says something silly. When I got an iPhone in 2008, I realized I could keep track.

Therefore, I now have a list of several hundred band names (from Truffle Mash to The Edge Nodes to Smoghorn) on my person at all times. That is what I do with my smartphone.
posted by bicyclefish at 11:32 PM on September 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm nearsighted and buy my glasses at a local optometrist. When trying on new frames (i.e., without any prescription lenses in them), I take a picture with my iPhone, then put on my former pair of glasses to see how I look.
posted by invisible ink at 11:59 PM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I use the Mr. Number app to screen my calls. It picks up and hangs up on some people I never want to talk to ever again, sends unrecognized calls straight to voice mail, and lets the people I actually want to talk to ring through.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:00 AM on September 29, 2013

* podcasts
* offline maps when I travel abroad
* audio tours when I travel
* packing lists
* Google authenticator for any site I can
* location based reminders through Siri
* assorted lists of things to read, watch, etc
* Rdio
* expense tracking
* gas mileage tracking
* Skype/FaceTime
posted by backwards guitar at 4:40 AM on September 29, 2013

Shazam for finding out the name and artist of the difficult to find song playing on the local college radio stations.

Shredder for chess.


Answering this question.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:48 AM on September 29, 2013

I recently switched to Chrome on my laptop (which is both my work and home computer). I love how it integrates with my Android.

A couple favorites:

* Syncing bookmarks across my phone and computer.
* Chrome's "Send to phone" extension -- if I'm reading something when I leave work and want to continue reading it on the bus trip home, Chrome loads that page up on my phone.
* Google Keep: I have a Keep widget on one of my home screens. While at work, I keep a running list of to-dos or things I need at the grocery store. They are then right on my home screen when I need them.
* If I search Google maps on my laptop, that address (and directions to it) automagically show up on one of my home screens via Google Now cards.
* And, paying bills. I pay most of my bills (e.g., PG&E, AT&T) through the services' apps. Really simple. I also schedule doctor's appointments and renew prescriptions with the Kaiser app.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:17 AM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think these have been mentioned..

--Universal remote is cool: I use it mostly for 2nd monitor's tv but it also doubles as spare keyboard & mousepad (but does much much more).
--I now have tivizen power plug (~$90) that creates its own wifi network & I can watch live tv on either my Nexus4 or Nexus7 via tivizen apps (works for ipad etc too)
--I use the torch app often! (holo bulb)
--The N7 is my recipe storer & mostly lives in kitchen

ps. Thanks for this : have picked up a couple of handy ideas.
posted by peacay at 9:51 AM on September 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

The thing I do most is use the IMDB app (Internet Movie Database) so I can look up the answers to questions about who was in that movie I saw last week, or where have I seen this actor before.
posted by CathyG at 11:44 AM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the games tip, I generally like NimbleBit's free games (Tiny Tower, Pocket Frogs, Pocket Trains are the ones I've played and liked) for something that is a) genuinely free b) tolerably fun and c) set up so that if I have a minute or two to kill I always have something I can do. They're not, like, actual play-for-an-hour games, but I keep a couple going so I have something to click on and look busy when I have some useless downtime.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:07 PM on September 29, 2013

Steamy Window and Xylophone apps for entertaining my wee nephew when he wants to jab at my expensive bit of glass.

Also, using the camera to see into the near-infrared and check if that remote control is out of battery.

Oh, and VLC Remote is handy on occasion, controlling the sound/video on the computer.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:55 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recently got a $20 bluetooth adapter that plugs into a home stereo system. It's a lot more convenient for playing music than using a physical cable across the room, or dealing with the limited music playback options on your DVD/Bluray player.

There are also speakers (portable and full-size) out there with built-in bluetooth.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:50 PM on September 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

i like AirDroid for moving stuff from computer to phone and back...its an app and a website...launch the app and scan the QR code from the website (on computer) and the webpage becomes a 'desktop' that is yr phone (it connects via wifi) ...quite handy

do you have a significant other? because, um...you've heard of 'sexting' right? there's someone I know who is totally absolutely not me who um...says that's a lot of fun O.o

if you're musical or artistic at all there's a ton of different apps for both...I like plasma sound (a very customizable theremin) for jamming along with my music and for drawing (i have a pressure-sensitive galaxy note 2, but you can get good results with any capacitive stylus) my favorites are Sketchbook mobile, Infinite Painter, and Clover Paint...there's free versions of all 3 to try out, but the paid versions have a lot more options (usually better/more customizeable brushes, larger file sizes, more layers, etc)
posted by sexyrobot at 2:56 PM on September 29, 2013

I use GasBuddy to help me figure out which nearby gas station has the cheapest gas.
posted by Scientist at 3:57 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, Invisible Ink just reminded me: it totally blew my mind recently when I realised carrying my phone around means I always have a mirror to check my hair or makeup or whatever. Just turn on the front-facing camera!
posted by lollusc at 6:22 PM on September 29, 2013

I just used mine as a level in a tight space.
posted by jasondigitized at 9:01 PM on September 30, 2013

Sound recording. The "voice recorder" app included with some Android devices is horrible. TapeMachine allows levels to be adjusted, mics selected, formats chosen, and some basic editing to be done.

Google's got their own music ID widget now (SoundSearch).

Wifi Analyzer to help setup my home network.

Feedly, BeyondPod, and Pocket for new/podcasts/bookmarks.

I once snapped a photo of my where I parked my rental car in an unfamiliar city I was walking around and used the geotag information (Gallery->photo->SeeOnMap) to navigate back to it :)
posted by unmake at 5:05 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Track It! for logging my seizure-frequency, Duolingo/Memrise/NowYoureFluent for studying languages, ThoughtDiaryPro for its awesome CBT charting abilities (I use it ultra-rarely but find it to be excellent), and FertilityFriend for charting baby-making stuff.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:50 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Roku app that makes my phone a backup Roku remote control, plus allows use of the iPhone keyboard.

Password generation/storage app

Facebook terminal. For some users, being limited to a few core functions on the phone version is much easier than navigating through the full experience.

Noise generator to amuse babies & confuse cats

Pink Noise generator to mask coworkers.

Food reference apps to tell how healthy ( Fooducate ) groceries are, and how long they stay fresh ( StillTasty, and others ).
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:47 AM on October 3, 2013

Where's my droid - so my wife can text a word to my phone to activate its gps and receive a google maps link to my location and info on whether i'm stationary or moving position. I commute through woods in the winter. Good to know I can be found if something were to go wrong. She can also estimate what time I'll be back.
posted by guy72277 at 6:30 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lifehacker just had some suggestions - download a 1st Aid app. Red Cross has a free one. I also got a pet 1st Aid app. Also, photocopy your credit cards, driver's lic, passport, and important docs, store a copy on your phone.
posted by theora55 at 10:01 AM on October 10, 2013

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