By Kim Komando
Whether you’re skiing or going to the beach, place your phone in a sandwich bag to prevent damage — and best of all, you can still use the touch screen. Need a fast charge? Put your phone in airplane mode to speed up the process by around 25 percent. And if you need to pump up the volume in a flash, set your phone inside a plastic, glass or paper cup, sans liquid of course.
Today’s gadgets, apps and sites are so powerful and do so many different things that most of us will use only a fraction of their built-in features. I put together some of the greatest tricks that you will use every day, or at least on occasion, to impress family and friends.
1. Take a picture with your voice
Smartphones and tablets are great for snapping candid pictures, but tapping the screen or pressing a hardware button can jiggle the gadget and ruin the shot.
Of course, you can avoid this by using your headphone control buttons to take a picture. It’s a definite, crowd-pleasing, “How’d you do that?” moment. Click here for detailed steps on how to do this slick trick and a few others.
But that’s old school now. How about telling your phone to take a picture? In Android, an app like Camera ZOOM FX ($3) has voice-activation. VoiceSnap for iOS ($1) does the same thing for iPhones and iPads. These are also great for taking group pictures from a distance.
There’s a lot more to taking a great picture than snapping the shutter. To increase your digital photo smarts, here are five secrets for Android and Apple to help you take professional-looking photos.
2. Clean up your Facebook News Feed
If you scroll through your Facebook News Feed, trying to get past the ads, game invites and political rants to find actual information about your friends, this tip is for you.
Click the downward triangle in the upper right corner of any Facebook post to see a number of options. You can choose to see less from that friend or unfollow him so you don’t see anything. If a friend is fond of posting stories, videos, and pictures from a specific app or site, you can usually just block that app or site.
For even more News Feed customization options, click the downward triangle in the upper right corner of your profile and select “News Feed Preferences.” Here you can see and choose what people, pages and groups you’re following and unfollowing.
Finally, add friends to your Close Friends list to see more from them, and add people to the Acquaintances list for less. To manage your friend lists, click the “Friends” heading in the left column next to your News Feed.
If the Facebook app is devouring your data, try turning off the auto-playing videos in your news feed. Click here for the steps to make this welcome change.
3. Really use Google
It’s safe to say that without Google Search, the Internet as we know it wouldn’t exist. But it’s more than just looking up websites.
What other ways can Google be useful, you might ask? Well, enter the package tracking number directly into the search box and Google will pull up quick links that let you track the status of your shipment. Travelers love this one: Type your airline name and flight number into Google and you’ll instantly see the flight’s arrival and departure status — and terminal and gate information, too. Need the weather? Type weather along with the city name or zip code.
If you’re watching your weight, type something like “calories carrots vs potatoes” in the Google search bar to get instant nutritional facts. Be sure to click the down arrow to see the details.
Google isn’t all about work. Click here to learn more about Google’s fun side, such as the little Easter eggs programmers slip into search.
4. Your favorite sites in one place
You probably visit a number of websites daily. You might pin a few and bookmark the rest, but that still means you have to look at individual sites and scan the page to see what’s new.
What if you could get every new post on your favorite sites to appear in one place? That’s what aggregators do. Don’t let the fancy name fool you; they’re simple to use and make life a lot easier.
Feedly (free) and Flipboard (free) are two popular options. Just add your favorite websites, organize them however you want, and whenever you open Feedly or Flipboard you’ll have plenty of new content to read. Love this one!
5. Remotely control a computer
This isn’t a trick you’ll use every day, but when you need it, you’ll want to have it. Say you’re helping a friend or family member with a computer issue over the phone, and you know you could fix the problem in 30 seconds if you were standing there. Unfortunately, trying to walk your friend or relative through the fix is going to take an hour.
Instead, log in and take control of his computer with a free remote access program like TeamViewer. It lets you see the other person’s screen and control his computer like you’re sitting in front of it.
I use programs like this all the time with my friends and relatives. In fact, when I’m setting up their computers, I usually install a remote access program so it’s ready to go when they need help down the line.
Have you ever considered adding a second screen to your computer? If you haven’t, then you probably will after you consider that a second monitor lets you move videos, music, email, chat and many other windows without interrupting what you’re doing on your main monitor.
Your tablet or smartphone can function as a second monitor to your PC.
First, pick up a stand for your tablet or phone. I sell my recommended model in my store. Then go ahead and download the app iDisplay, follow the setup instructions and you’ll have a more useful computer in no time. It’s one of these things that once you try, you get it.
On the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.