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10 Things You Didn’t Know You Can Do with Your Smartphone

by Elizabeth Harper on September 08, 2016

There’s no denying it, from the moment we get up to the moment we go to bed, we’re all glued to our smartphones. A new work email. A new Facebook notification. The weather app tells us a storm is on the way. There’s always another reason to pick up our phones because they do so much.

You probably know the basics your smartphone can handle, but there are still some things your smartphone can do that might surprise you. Amaze and delight your friends — and yourself — when you handle these tasks with your trusty smartphone.

Diagnose a leaky window

FLIR ONE Thermal Imaging Camera

Whether you’re dealing with harsh winters in the Northeast or blazing summers in the South, poorly sealed windows and doors mean your home is never just the right temperature. Finding leaky windows doesn’t just make a home more comfortable; it saves money on electric bills.

Turn your phone into a thermal imaging camera with the Flir One add-on. This rectangular camera, weighing in at 2.8 ounces and measuring 2.8” x 1” x 0.7”, plugs in to your phone’s charging port. It adds a little bulk to your phone, but not much, and it’s easy plug in when you need it. You may need to remove your phone from its case to use it.

Flir One works for both iPhone (any phone with a Lightning connector) and Android (any phone with a micro-USB connector) devices. Point your phone at an area, and watch it translate thermal energy into color images. Use it to scan the whole house to see where it’s hot when it should be cool or cool where it should be hot. Flir One can even tell you where pipes need better insulation or help locate overloaded circuits.

Price: $222 for iPhone and Android from Amazon

Measure your heart health

AliveCor Kardia

While fitness gadgets like Fitbit Charge and Apple Watch can give you data about your pulse, you won’t get much detail. Don’t take a trip to the doctor to get a detailed look at your heart health — there’s a smartphone app (and device) for that.

AliveCor’s Kardia mobile heart monitor is smaller than a credit card and takes just 30 seconds to capture your EKG and tell you if your heart rhythm is normal. Press your fingers to the touchpads, and the Kardia app (for iPhone and Android devices) will give you a snapshot of your current heart activity. The app also takes voice memos for symptom tracking and securely shares health data with your doctor. It can be a good way to keep a close eye on your heart health if you are concerned about heart health.

Kardia works with many iPhone and Android smartphones. Purchase a case or attachment plate ($10 to $15) to attach Kardia to the back of your smartphone to make scanning easy.

Price: $88 from Amazon

Prevent drunk driving

BACtrack Vio Breathalyzer

Imagine you’re at a house party with a few close friends. You’ve all shared a glass or two of wine, and you feel like you’re probably OK to drive — but it would be far more responsible to know for sure.

That’s where the Bluetooth BACtrack Vio Smartphone Breathalyzer comes in. The compact keychain device measures the alcohol present on your breath in just five seconds, then wirelessly sends your BAC reading to your iOS or Android smartphone. The included app predicts how long it will take for your levels to return to 0 percent. It can even call an Uber for you!

BACtrack is developing a wearable called the BACtrack Skyn that monitors and tracks transdermal alcohol content so you don’t need to blow into a breathalyzer. It syncs to your phone via Bluetooth and keeps logs of your blood alcohol level. There’s no date yet when it will be available, but you can sign up to be notified when it’s available for preorder.

Price: $49.99 from BACtrack and $39.19 from Amazon

See everything up close

Ravensburger Science X Smartscope Science Kit

Your smartphone camera is already perfect for selfies and family snapshots. With some slight tweaks, you can turn it into a microscope to give yourself an all-new point of view. Satisfy your scientific curiosity (a microscopic examination of things from around the house makes a fun science project with the kids) or enjoy the aesthetics of greatly magnified photos.

Turn your phone into a powerful microscope with magnification levels up to 375x with this $10 DIY smartphone-to-digital-microscope project at Instructables. This home science project provides you with magnification that can show details as small as the nucleus in a plant cell. The project does require some DIY know-how, and the resulting microscope stand isn’t exactly portable. When you’re finished, you’ll have to bring the science to the microscope rather than the other way around.

For a smartphone microscope as straightforward as you can get, try the Ravensburger Science X Smartscope Science Kit. The Smartscope's are nowhere near as powerful as the DIY project above, but there is enough power for kids to have fun looking a household objects up close. Use the built-in camera app to take photos and video or simply view things up close.

Price: $39 on Amazon

Measure your muscles

Skulpt Scanner

As any health expert will tell you, your bathroom scale isn’t the best way to measure your progress at the gym. Muscle weighs more than fat, so gaining the occasional pound or two can be a very good thing.

The Skulpt Scanner helps you get a better handle on your fitness by tracking body fat percentage and muscle fiber size, not weight. It uses small electrodes to measure individual muscle groups and areas, and it relays the information to your phone to give you an overall picture of where you’re making progress and where you’re not.

The device even comes with an app (for iPhone and Android devices) that recommends exercises best for your body’s unique composition plus advice from trainers and nutritionists on how to take your workout to the next level.

Price: $99 from Skulpt

Figure out why your check engine light is on

Automatic Pro

It doesn’t matter how old or new your car is — you’re going to run into car trouble eventually. And when that mysterious Check Engine light on your dashboard comes on, you want to know what’s up without having to take it to a mechanic.

Automatic Pro plugs into your car’s ODB-II port (usually located under the steering wheel) to turn your car into a connected car that talks to your smartphone. It works with most cars manufactured after 1996 and either an iPhone (iOS 9 or higher) or an Android smartphone (Android 5.0 or higher).

Automatic communicates via 3G (connectivity is free for five years with purchase). When it’s not diagnosing mechanical issues, it can update you with status reports and let you know where your car is in the parking lot, even when you’re out of Bluetooth range. If Automatic detects your car has been in an accident, the company will contact you and call emergency services if necessary. The app connects to a wide range of other apps to handle things like tracking work-related driving expenses and turning the A/C on at the house when you’re nearly home.

Price: $129.95 from Automatic and Amazon

Remind you to drink enough water

Hidrate Spark 2.0

Most of us know we’re supposed to drink plenty of water, but how often do we spend our days drinking coffee and soda instead? Many apps and fitness trackers can help you track how much water you’re drinking, but they rely on making you enter how much water you’ve had.

The Hidrate Spark is different. It’s a smart water bottle that tracks exactly how much you’ve had to drink today. Pair it with an app for iPhone and Android devices to give you an in-depth look at your water drinking habits. Met your drinking goal for the day? The bottle lights up to let you know!

Price: $54.95 from Hidrate Spark

Do some math (without a calculator)


Sure, your phone already has a calculator built in, but it requires that you type out the equations. That’s fine if you’re figuring out a tip or doing other simple calculations, but what about when you need to key in an algebra problem? Or what if you’re struggling to understand an equation on your homework that makes no sense to you at all?

Photomath lets you take a picture of any math problem and get an immediate answer. It walks you through the steps to get to that answer, as well, making it a good learning tool. Photomath supports arithmetics, integers, fractions, decimal numbers, roots, algebraic expressions, linear equations and inequalities, quadratic equations and inequalities, absolute equations and inequalities, systems of equations, logarithms, trigonometry, exponential and logarithmic functions, derivatives and integrals.

Price: Free for iPhone and Android

Improve your basketball skills

Wilson X

Want to take your basketball game to the next level? You could clear out the spare bedroom and drop some serious cash on a live-in basketball coach. Or you could save the six-figure expense and get a similar coaching experience from a smart basketball like the Wilson X.

The Wilson X basketball looks like an ordinary basketball, but it’s a lot smarter. This regulation-size ball connects with your iPhone or Android smartphone to monitor your performance and run you through games and training exercises. It’s a basketball coach packed into a smartphone app. Connect the ball to your smartphone by tossing the ball into the air — then you’re ready to play, no matter where you are.

Price: $199.99 from Wilson and Amazon

Catch fish


Normally, a family camping trip is reason to leave the smartphone behind so you can better enjoy the great outdoors. But let’s face it, this is 2016. Modern technology can make everything better — even your time away from it on the lake.

Check out the iBobber. This small, spherical device works as a fish-finding sonar in both salt and fresh water, helping you locate fish up to 135 feet under the surface. Attach it to a fishing line and cast it where you want to fish; it turns on automatically upon hitting the water.

This fish finder works with most newer iOS and Android devices; we recommend pairing it with a waterproof phone or tablet like the Samsung Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge. If you don’t have a waterproof phone, this fishing trip is the perfect time to invest in a waterproof case. You can get a waterproof pouch like the Moko Cellphone Drybag for as little as $5.99 on Amazon.

Price: $89.99 from Amazon

Updated on 9/8/2016 with new picks

[Image credits: Hidrate, Ravensburger, SmartMicroOptics, Hidrate, FLIR, BACtrack, Skulpt, Wilson,


Phone Accessories, Phones and Mobile, Mobile Apps, Tips & How-Tos

Discussion loading


From Gen Cherry-Sours on August 13, 2014 :: 2:42 pm

Lucky for me my husband worked as an auto part store so we have a computer for reading the check engine light and fixing the cars and clearing out the light but I love the idea of the app helping me save gas and signaling when there is a crash but my question is: can it get help if there is no cell service?  We frequently drive over a dangerous mountain to get to a metropolitan area and the road has a serious crash almost every day but there is no cell service for an hour drive. Also the fish finder and the heart monitor are right up my alley since I love to fish and I am an EMT, but again do they work with the phone without cell service? Thanks for the article. I love my Techlicious blogs!!



From Suzanne Kantra on August 13, 2014 :: 3:33 pm

Thanks! I’m so glad you found the information useful!

For the Automatic, you’d need a data connection for the app to call for help in case of emergency. I’d recommend investing in a SPOT Gen 3 Satellite Messenger for emergencies. It relies on satellites for transmissions rather than the cellular network.

For AliveCor Heart Monitor, you’ll be able to take readings and store the data locally on your phone.

For the Deeper fish finder, I’ve contacted the company to confirm which functions are available without a data connection.



From Suzanne Kantra on August 14, 2014 :: 3:23 pm

For the Deeper fish finder, the company says: “The application uses bluetooth connection to connect to the Deeper. So it requires no cellular connection or internet connection to send sonar data to the mobile app.

The free app features like online maps or weather forecast which are on the top part of the app requires internet.”

Hope this answers your question.



From Gen Cherry-Sours on August 13, 2014 :: 10:21 pm

Thanks sooo much for the reply!!! That is sooo awesome of you!! Thank you!!



From Dave Usthin on January 29, 2018 :: 9:58 pm

cool photos



From Mary Withrow on August 15, 2014 :: 1:55 am

This is more like what accessories you can buy for your phone, I feel like I just read a advertisement, lol.



From Josh Kirschner on August 15, 2014 :: 5:54 pm

Well, not everything in life is free!

We’re looking into a follow up article that is focused more on apps - some of those will likely be free.




From Amanda Davis on October 17, 2014 :: 5:04 am

And it’s not just an ad kind of article- it’s an EXPENSIVE series of ads. I’m sure a lot of people might find a lot of apps useful, but $249 useful? I don’t think so. Close to $80 for a check engine app when you can get a real OBD2 reader for under $50?
Not at all useful.



From Josh Kirschner on October 17, 2014 :: 9:27 am

These are products that we thought were pretty cool ways you could use your smartphone. We weren’t suggesting that everyone run out and buy them. However, some, like the Belkin OTA receiver (which is only $29.99) can actually save you significant amounts of money by making it easier to drop your cable subscription. Others, like the fish finder, is very practical if you love to fish.

If you want free apps, you should check out these articles on our favorites for Android: and iOS:



From Patrick Kennedy on December 04, 2014 :: 12:35 am

Hi there, can you please tell me if this device will work in Australia? I live in Western Australia.
Enjoy reading your articles…
Kind regards,



From Randy Rjd on December 13, 2014 :: 4:27 pm

yamaha is coming out with an app that will let you connect to it’s data logging system via your phone.  you will be able to view on a map your lap on the race track and make changes to it’s system via the phone.
really cool!



From Randy Rjd on December 13, 2014 :: 4:29 pm

allow me to clarify.  the 2015 yamaha yzf-R1M will do this.



From Beeker on February 12, 2015 :: 12:51 pm

In the article about the Automatic appears the phrase “... acceleration and breaking habits…”
Typo Alert! You may have meant “braking” as in “ceasing all forward motion”!



From Suzanne Kantra on February 12, 2015 :: 1:18 pm

Thanks for the heads up! I’ve fixed. I hate typos!



From g.t. honkenoffski on February 19, 2015 :: 1:34 pm

Is it me or does every one of these things require additional hardware? I gave in and got a smarty phone this year, and I have yet to see how it improves my life one teeny bit. I was hoping for some ideas here, but this article failed to deliver. I already bought the darned phone, now I have to throw even more money at it?? Thank god for straight talk, I can switch back to my old regular phone any time I want, and I think I will art the end of this billing cycle.



From Josh Kirschner on February 19, 2015 :: 2:25 pm

This article wasn’t written as “8 ways to convince you to buy a smartphone”. These are interesting products that caught our eye for their unusualness and general cool/fun factor.

Most of the value of a smartphone is in the basic apps that most people already know about, from Google Maps to web browsing to games. But if you’re looking for more ideas, you can check out one of these articles for just a small sample of the free (or inexpensive) apps out there:




From Smart Ass on June 27, 2015 :: 8:20 pm

It will be called “Peace and Quite”

Kids meals will start at $150.



From Dave on August 09, 2015 :: 8:27 am

And meals for loud cellphone users start at 300.00



From TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE SPECIALIZED on August 31, 2015 :: 4:15 am

Mobile cover is so much needed for protecting phones from the outer injuries, specially the smartphones. There are so many companies which make beautiful and attractive mobile covers for your beloved smartphones. This company is so much famous in Brazil for their excellent works on mobile cover.



From Tester on September 10, 2015 :: 4:56 am

When you put an ad on your website, the US regulations (and common sense) dictates you explicitly state that it was an ad.
Camouflaging an ad is not good and acceptable business strategy. Let’s not forget that the title is intentionally misleading.
8 Things You Didn’t Know You Can Do with Your Smartphone
Well, I cannot do any of these things with my smartphone, it was just a clickbait.
If you called it “8 cool gadgets for your smartphone”, the title would be acceptable. But this title has intentionally been engineered to work as a click bait for an ad.



From Paul Stevens on December 05, 2015 :: 11:44 am

One thing more I never knew about my smartphone is the fact, that I can turn it into a head up display. There are nowadays a navigation apps which has this feature built in. I downloaded this one ( ) and it works, but I am pretty sure there are many of others too



From Jim Butler on September 09, 2016 :: 1:04 pm

Check out “Deeper Smart Sonar”. which makes a smart phone display water depth when used in a boat



From Lorraine Brown on September 10, 2016 :: 12:12 am

Thank you for doing the research to find all the accessories I could peruse for my iphone.  I don’t know how I lived for so long without it.I think its FANTASTIC that you put links to the items so we could buy something if we wanted to.  How dull it would be if you only told us about them but didn’t tell us where to get them. I am 66 years old and am never more than a few inches away from my phone 24/7.Even my 88 year old mother says “ask your phone this or that for me”...We love it and we really like your newsletters!



From adam on January 30, 2018 :: 1:39 pm

wow it can really prevent you from drunk driving



From Colette Dean on November 17, 2019 :: 1:28 am

I find Myself enlightened and excited.  Fishing is one of my favorite things to do.  I am thrilled that I am going to spend more time catching rather than fishing.  I am sure all the guys will be envious of my extended knowledge and fishing skills.  For this alone, I Thank You.


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