Once upon a time, phones made phone calls...that was it. Today’s phone is the centre of your personal universe: It’s your communication centre, email and Internet gateway, information storehouse, social networking platform, even your identity. Simple practices and tips, and some software, can help you make the most of this super gadget in your pocket.
1. Smartphone hygiene
Today’s smartphones pack the power and capacity of personal computers. And some of their foibles too. If you overload them, they slow down. Don’t assume that lots of memory means you can store thousands of messages. When you cross a thousand messages in your SMS inbox, most phones begin to slow down. If you want to save your messages, look for an option to copy them from phone to memory card, or back them up to your PC through the phone’s PC software (such as the Nokia PC Suite). The simple act of cleaning up SMS messages from all folders can make your phone brisk and snappy. Also keep the phone’s firmware up to date—check for the latest firmware online.
2. Squeezing the juice
It may be your lifeline, but your smartphone’s dead without its battery. Smartphones guzzle power, especially when email, GPS (global positioning system), maps, etc., are running. Know the feeling when you’re on the last charge bar, and nowhere near a charger? Keep a charged (and genuine) spare battery in your car, or in your bag, when you travel—it makes a huge difference. Use every trick in the book to extend battery life. During normal use, keep Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned off. Disable screensavers. Reduce the time the backlight stays on after the last key press (you can change that setting). Lower the screen brightness to what you can live with. And when you’re down to your last battery-charge bars, turn off email and all other data apps.
Illustration: Raajan / Mint
3. Your data store
Your phone makes a great storehouse for all your stuff, including your files. Here’s a mix of what I keep on it: presentations that I need to use sometimes, passport photos of the family (I can just hand over the microSD card to a photo shop for photos in a hurry), my music files, lots of other photos. If you run out of space, well, a few hundred rupees gets you a 2 GB microSD card (or you can go up to 4 or even 16 GB, depending on your phone): It’s the quickest, cheapest upgrade possible. And it helps to keep a small USB cable handy, to transfer the data. Bluetooth may also work, but not as well.
4. The backup
Know that your phone will get lost—and plan for it. Keep a backup of your phone on your PC, and update it quarterly (the PC software that came with your phone will let you do it). Open an account (free) at Zyb.com and set up your phone: You can then back up on the go, wirelessly. Avoid storing obvious phone-book entries such as “HDFC ATM PIN” (imagine losing your whole handbag, complete with ATM card and phone). Instead, use a secure wallet application. Oh, and note your phone’s IMEI (international mobile equipment identity) handset code, by typing *#06# on the home screen.
5. Conference calls
If you don’t have the conference feature on, ask your operator. It’s free: You just pay for actual calls. On my Airtel mobile, I can do a five-way conference (I also have the Team Suite software on my Nokia to speed up call set-up). But here’s another trick. If I have a conference phone (such as a Polycom) handy, but haven’t arranged a call in advance, I start, say, a three-way conference call on my mobile, and then I dial in from the Polycom into my mobile, and add it to the conference. I now have a regular, instant three-way conference with a proper, loud conference phone (it helps to mute the mobile phone, to kill feedback squeals).
6. Photo finish
Most phone-clicked photos are terrible, even those multi-megapixel models, but there are things you can do to ensure good photos. Take them in maximum light, preferably daylight; make sure the lens area is clean; and hold the phone steady and gently squeeze the button, to avoid shaken or stirred images. The phone camera can be handy in many situations. My favourite is to take a quick snap of the bay number in a huge underground parking at a mall, so I can find it again. Or snaps of price tags, for comparison shopping; of checked-in baggage, in case it gets lost; and of whiteboards after a meeting, to keep the notes handy...
7. Pocket diary
Your phone is the most logical place to store your calendar: appointments, to-do list, memos. If you already use a scheduler such as Outlook, you can set up your phone software to sync with Outlook (look up your Nokia Suite, BlackBerry desktop software, etc.). If you use Google Calendar, Google Sync will let you sync it to your phone (M.google.com/sync). Other diaries, such as Thunderbird or Sunbird, are supported through third-party tools such as the free MyPhoneExplorer.
8. The lost phone
India has a thriving industry in lost-and-found-by-someone or stolen mobiles. Of its 500 million phones, a tenth or more are “recirculated”. A stolen mobile can be traced through the handset (IMEI) number which is recorded with every call, even with a SIM card change. If the operators wanted to, they could cooperate the way they do for roaming and settlement and a stolen phone would be hotlisted and tracked. In reality, you’ll have a tough time getting even the cops to register a case, and then getting the operator to help you, unless your phone’s been used in a crime or terror incident. You also have options such as www.MicroLMTS.net , a tracking service for lost mobiles (you need to subscribe to it in advance, not after the phone’s lost) which can SMS you the new number in use and location, and even let you erase your data.
9. The SMS
Your phone number is your identity, and banks and other services recognize that. If you ensure that your mobile number is registered for those services—banks, airlines, DTH TV services such as Tata Sky—you will not only get alerts on transactions or a declining balance, but also be able to send balance or service requests, block a cheque, pay a toll tag, or even pay any other bill through a simple SMS. Some services, such as ICICI Bank, or payment systems (such as mChek.co for Airtel users), let you run an application from your phone, which is convenient and saves you the trouble of remembering SMS commands.
10. The applications
Make no mistake: Your smartphone is a powerful computer. And it can run software—thousands of programs, from office suites and useful business apps to maps and messengers. But don’t install just anything from anywhere. Use a trusted source, such as your phone vendor’s site (such as Nokia’s Ovi Store, the BlackBerry store, etc.), or Google (for the Google mobile apps), or download Cnet.com. On this page is a tiny sample of the spectrum of software you can get—free, or for a few dollars more.
Videophone by Asus
Asus is pitching its new videophone, the Asus Videophone Touch AiGuru SV1T ($255, or around Rs11,855), as a way to make free audio and video calls over Skype, no PC required. But there’s a problem: While a PC isn’t necessary, a broadband Internet connection and, preferably, a wireless network are. Setting up the Asus is simple—just plug in the phone and connect it to your wired or wireless network. It has a 7-inch touch screen with a resolution of 640x480 pixels. Its user interface is truly novice-friendly; adding contacts and making phone calls is done with an on-screen keyboard. ©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Camera by Casio
Casio’s Exilim G EX-G1 is a lean model that’s strong on tough features. The $300 EX-G1 is shock resistant (it can withstand drops of 7ft), waterproof to a depth of 10ft and dust-proof. The 12.1-megapixel EX-G1 has a stainless-steel frame and a fibreglass and polycarbonate body, yet weighs only 5.4 ounces and measures just 0.78-inches thick, making it the slimmest rugged camera on the market. And it’s sharp-looking too, with a chassis and finish that are vaguely retro-automotive, in your choice of red or black. It has a 2.5-inch LCD reinforced to withstand damage from water or when dropped. ©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Dual sim phones
Fly mobile has launched two dual-SIM touch screen phones in India: MC160 (Rs5,500) and E106 (Rs5,300). The phones allow you to have two GSM connections. The MC160, a tri-band bar phone, has a Yamaha chipset for high music quality, motion sensors, 3.2 megapixel camera, FM radio with FM recording capability, 4 hours of battery talk time and 200 hours standby, internal memory of 87 MB (expandable to 8 GB), Bluetooth, EDGE and GPRS. The E106 works with a 2.4-inch QVGA screen with 262K colours. It also has motion sensors, a 2 megapixel camera, expandable memory up to 4 GB and a phone-book capacity of a thousand numbers. Varuni Khosla
Wireless Optical Trackball Keyboard
For the first time, Amkette has launched a Wireless Optical Trackball Keyboard in India. With 2.4 GHz wireless technology for precise keyboard and trackball commands, the WF-301 (Rs2,995) works from a distance of up to 10m. The full-size unit is Windows 2000/ XP/ Vista/ 7 as well as MAC OS X and Linux compatible. A space-saving trackball allows easy 360-degree navigation for gamers. Ten Multimedia hotkeys are located conveniently at the top of the unit and pave the way for easy access to the Internet, Windows Media Player, etc. Staff Writer
Prasanto K. Roy is chief editor at CyberMedia.
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