Convergence in electronics has escalated to new heights in recent years because of the smartphone. Dedicated devices will always have something to offer, but squeezing every last bit of functionality out of an item that you already own can be a great way to save money. Plus, a smartphone and the accompanying data plan aren't exactly cheap, so users might as well save in other areas if they can.
While we're aware that smartphones can do double duty as a camera, portable gaming system, and MP3 player, their potential actually runs much deeper than that. With the right apps or accessories, your phone can accomplish a variety of nifty tasks you might not be aware of. Here are 10 unexpected smartphone features to start, but we're sure there are more. After reading over our list, make sure to let us know in the comments how you use your phone in an unexpected way.
Save space and money scanning documents by using your smartphone instead of using a flatbed scanner. The CamScanner app (for Android and iOS) allows you to use your smartphone camera to scan documents, invoices, receipts, or whatever else you want to digitize. The built-in tools enable you to crop the dead space and enhance the quality, and you can save and share the results as a JPEG or PDF. The basic app is free with some limitations. Heavy users and small businesses can spend $50 per year to unlock premium features.
Potential Savings: $80+
You could pay hundreds of dollars for a light meter, or you could use the free Pocket Light Meter app on your iPhone. For slightly better results you could snag the Luxi accessory for $30. The Luxi attaches to the front-facing camera and works in conjunction with the app to determine optimal exposure settings. And while it requires some calibration for the best results, and it is slower than a dedicated light meter, it's a much more affordable option for folks who simply want to fine-tune their photography.
Potential Savings: $100+
Gaming Guide and Additional Monitor
If you don't have the space or budget for an extra computer monitor for gaming, then you probably know the pain of having to constantly ALT+TAB to look up online game guides or watch walkthrough videos. But consider this: With just a phone stand — like the Breffo Spiderpodium iPhone Stand ($19.06 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $1) — with it sitting flat next to your keyboard, your smartphone can double as a second screen. With your phone by your side, you can easily browse video walkthroughs and free online cheat sheets, which beat the pants off expensive paper guidebooks.
Potential Savings: $10+
Why buy a pedometer or sign up with a personal trainer when you can get all the motivation and statistical feedback you need to get in shape from your smartphone? Popular free apps like RunKeeper employ your smartphone's GPS and other sensors to track your activity, provide valuable feedback, and even help to coach you. Set your goals and measure your progress with ease; all it costs is effort.
Potential Savings: $15+
Smartphones are packed with sensors and gyroscopes that determine which way the phone is oriented so as to display the screen in either portrait or landscape. These sensors can also be employed for other jobs, such as determining a level surface. There are loads of free apps for iPhone, Android, and Windows that allow almost any smartphone to double up as a spirit level. You can also find apps that will let your smartphone act as an accurate tape measure.
Potential Savings: $10+
If you're sailing, windsurfing, or wakeboarding, then you're likely interested in the nuances of the wind, but you don't need to spend money on a standalone device. You can either access the current surf conditions via the web, get an app that pulls in the latest data from weather stations, or simply opt for an anemometer app that uses your smartphone's microphone to estimate wind speed.
Potential Savings: $30+
Universal Remote Control
Thanks to an abundance of remote control apps, many smartphones have the ability to control the TV, cable, satellite, and DVR. Some apps even let you remote control your games console, stereo, or computer. What's more, the latest Android smartphones, like the Samsung Galaxy S4, have remote control apps and IR blasters built-in.
Potential Savings: $20+
Even professional musicians use tuning apps to get their instruments pitch perfect. There are a bounty of free options out there that will do a decent job, or you can drop a few bucks and get a feature-packed app like Cleartune ($3.99 for iOS and Android). Either way you'll be saving some money and you won't have an extra device to carry.
Potential Savings: $10+
There are plenty of apps to help lull your baby to sleep or that transform your smartphone into a baby monitor. Having to leave your phone in the baby's room is an obvious drawback, but an old smartphone can easily be repurposed as a baby monitor; there are apps that will alert you to your baby's sounds and even let you remotely view your baby in its crib. Alternatively, you could buy a camera accessory that picks up motion and sends a feed to your smartphone.
Potential Savings: $50+
The vast majority of smartphones now have a flashlight app that comes standard in the OS. Apple added this functionality to iOS 7, and you can access it easily by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to reveal the Control Center and tapping the flashlight icon at the bottom left. There are also plenty of free flashlight apps available if your smartphone doesn't have one. The majority of these apps use the camera flash, the screen, or a combination of the two to illuminate the area.
Potential Savings: $5+
There are a number of other unexpected uses for your smartphone: from blood pressure monitor accessories, to gaming dice apps, and beyond. We want to know what interesting ways you use your smartphone. Tell us in the comments below.
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