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How to Make Your Smartphone Smarter

by on January 22, 2014
in Phones and Mobile, Mobile Apps, Android Apps, iPhone/iPad Apps, Windows Phone Apps, Tips & How-Tos :: 7 comments

Woman driving and using a smartphone - ShutterstockWhether it’s a text from a wrong number in the middle of the night or a call that comes in during a meeting, our indispensable smartphones have a way of intruding at exactly the wrong time. Wouldn’t it be great if your smartphone were smart enough to know what you were doing? With the right apps, it can feel as though it does. Here’s how to make your smartphone smarter.

Apps that let you sleep

When you want to get some shut-eye, the last thing you want is an unwanted call. Try an app that ensures you won't be disturbed during hours you set.

For Apple devices, there’s a Do Not Disturb feature built right into iOS 7. Simply schedule the hours you don’t want to be disturbed, and you won’t hear a peep (except your alarm; that will always sound). You can allow calls from specific people regardless of the hour and enable calls to ring through if there’s a second call from the same person within three minutes.

Android users can choose from a few options. Samsung devices come with a feature called Blocking Mode, accessed through the phone’s device settings. With Blocking Mode, you can schedule hours when you won’t accept calls or notifications and allow specific contacts to reach you any time. Motorola’s Assist app, which comes preloaded on the Moto X and Moto G, offers the same sleep scheduling features. For the same functionality on other Android devices, try the Agent app (free on Google Play).

Windows Phone users can install the Quiet Hours app (free on Windows Phone Store), which offers similar functionality. Plus, you can adjust your quiet hours based on days of the week — a huge bonus for anyone who enjoys sleeping in on the weekends.

Apps that keep your meetings free of interruptions

Want to ensure you're not interrupted during important meetings? Set your phone to automatically go into silent mode whenever you have a meeting scheduled — or if you only need quiet occasionally, use an app that lets you hit a silence button that times out after a predetermined time. Never again will you forget to turn your ringer back on. 

For iOS devices, I like the SilentAlarm app ($4.99 on iTunes). When you switch off the ringer, you can set the app to remind you after a predetermined amount of time that your ringer is off, instead of automatically coming out of silent mode. The app also reminds you when you leave a location where you usually mute your phone — think the gym, movie theater or church — or arrive somewhere that you want your ringer on, like work. If you're just looking for an app to silence your ringer while you're in meetings, try AutoSilent ($2.99 on iTunes). You can manually select which meetings to silence, or silence them all.

Silence Premium Do Not Disturb ($2.50 on Google Play) is the best stand-alone app for Android devices. It lets you silence your phone based on your calendar entries, selecting all or just those you select as busy. Set a mute timer if you find yourself in an impromptu meeting. And when you're in silent mode, you can have an auto-responder send text to select contacts to let callers know you're in a meeting.

For Windows Phone, there's no calendar-based meeting mode or silence timer app that I can recommend.

Apps that help you keep your eyes on the road

The easiest way to avoid distractions while driving is to block your calls and texts. If you don't want to turn your ringer off, you can load an app that will auto-respond to calls with a text message that says you're driving. Or if you really need to attend to incoming messages, you can get an app that will read them to you, so you don't have to take your eyes off the road.

Apple doesn't let developers design text auto-responders for its iTunes market. So your choices are to turn off the ringer and notifications with an app like SilentAlarm app ($4.99 on iTunes) or have your text messages read to you by Siri when you hear them come in. Just press and hold the home button to activate the microphone (you'll hear a beep), and say "read text message" to hear any new messages.

For Android devices, there are a couple of good app-only options. The most basic is VeloCT (free on Google Play), a text auto-responder that automatically turns on when your phone senses that you're driving. You get to set the speed at which the app kicks in. If you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, the Agent app (free on Google Play) gives you a few more choices. Calls and text messages get an automatic text response, but text messages are read to you as they come in. One drawback is that the Drive mode for Agent kicks in only when your phone is paired via Bluetooth with your car, although the developer promises a speed-based trigger is coming very soon.

Windows Phone 8 devices have a driving mode built in. Like Agent for Android, it requires you to connect your phone to your car or a Bluetooth headset to turn on automatically. From there, you can choose to ignore calls and/or texts and auto-send text replies.

 [woman driving using smartphone via Shutterstock]

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Discussion loading

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Try a different picture?

From Jeffrey Deutsch on January 22, 2014 :: 11:47 am

Hello,

I’m sure you don’t intend to endorse using a phone—let alone with one’s hand—whole driving. But that’s the message some people may get.

If you can change that picture above, you just might save a life/limb or two.

Thanks for the cool app recommendations!

Jeff Deutsch

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My intention was to show

From Suzanne Kantra on January 22, 2014 :: 11:54 am

My intention was to show a situation where a phone should not be used and an app would make a difference. Sorry that wasn’t clear!

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Intent ≠ Possible Message

From Jeffrey Deutsch on January 22, 2014 :: 12:06 pm

Yes, as I already said I understand you’re not intending to endorse hands-on (or any) phone use while driving.

Thing is, someone might interpret it that way. You might mean “To avoid this bad situation, use these apps.” But it could come off as “This is perfectly normal, but if you don’t want to do this because it’s inconvenient for you, use these apps.”

Jeff Deutsch

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Have Siri announce incoming callers

From Todd Bernhard on January 22, 2014 :: 12:22 pm

When I switched from my Nokia to the original iPhone, I was surprised Apple didn’t have Talking Caller ID. So I created an app for that! http://RingtoneDirector.com lets you create custom talking ringtones in dozens of text-to-speech voices that speak whatever you type!  There’s a free version, so give it a try!

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Thoughts on Skyvi or Siri alternatives for Android?

From Stef N E Lee on January 22, 2014 :: 12:34 pm

I downloaded Skyvi when I first got my Android because I heard it touted as “Siri for Android.” Not sure it lives up to that designation, but I was wondering what your thoughts are on using its Drive Mode for this purpose?

Also would love to see a future post on Siri alternatives for Android! (I love my Android device, the only thing missing is a voice-responsive app that will not only look up contacts/ information on the web, but will dictate it back to me)

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You mean Google Voice Commands?

From Josh Kirschner on January 22, 2014 :: 2:04 pm

As a longtime Android user, I always saw Siri as “Google Voice Commands for iPhone”, since Apple is actually the follower when it comes to voice actions. Google Voice Commands is built into Android and allows you to do everything from looking up contact info to setting appointments to searching the web to getting driving directions. You can ask it questions in standard English, e.g., “What will the weather be in New York tomorrow?” and get spoken responses.

Here’s a short list of what Google Voice Commnads can do: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/2842392?hl=en. But in addition to the list of Android commands, anything you can do through Google Search, you can pretty much do with Google Voice.

Our friend Jennifer Jolly did a fun take on Siri vs Google Voice Commands on USA today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/11/10/siri-android-voice-command-s-voice/3456041/

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intelligent app

From new phones coming out on January 24, 2014 :: 3:14 pm

before 2 year i know i product of 5 or 10 tiquets you put it in deferent place, so this ticket make you phones update to situation, for exp put ticket in you car so if you get in your car the phones update to driver mode, and other ticket in your home door so when you get in you home the phones being in normal mode, and other in your Hall Meeting to make your phones send i message to every one tray to call you ....

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