Tag Archives: smartphones

How To Get the Most from Your Smartphone Battery

By Tracey Dowdy

Poor battery life is one of the most common complaints of cell phone users. Personally, I feel myself breaking into a cold sweat when I see that battery indicator creeping below 20%. Doesn’t matter if I’m in a crowd surrounded by friends with phones or stranded on a deserted island about to be attacked by a panther…wait, do desert islands even have panthers? Anyway, low battery power makes me nervous.

Good news – it’s an easy problem to solve.

First, the science-y part that will make you feel you’re the smartest: Our cell phones, tablets and laptops use lightweight lithium ion batteries, a feature which is especially important in portable tech. They’re an improvement over past cell/laptop batteries because they hold a charge longer, have no “memory effect” – which means they don’t have to completely discharge – and can be charged roughly 500-1000 times depending on use and the level of care you take with your device.

Secondly, you can extend the life of your battery both short and long term by following these tips:

Don’t let your device overheat. Lithium ion batteries generate heat while they charge and allowing the device to sit in a hot environment – on your deck chair at the pool, in your non-air conditioned car – will impact the life of your battery. Not only will frequent over-heating cause the device to lose its charge more quickly, it will shorten the overall life of the battery resulting in the need to replace it sooner rather than later.
Bottom line: Avoid extreme temperatures – hot or cold – for maximum battery life.

Official chargers are best. Sure you can get a phone charger at the dollar store but do you really want to roll the dice on a $2 charger for your $300 phone? Manufacturers optimize the charger to specific batteries and using the wrong charger can cause damage. Off-brand chargers are generally poorly made and don’t push the necessary power to the battery, which also means it’ll take longer to charge.
Bottom line: Official chargers (from the phone manufacturers) are best; off-brand chargers from manufacturers like Belkin are generally okay; but third party (e.g. dollar store) chargers are not worth it.

Partial vs. full discharge. I always thought it was best to let the battery fully discharge before recharging. That may have worked in theory but in reality it’s rarely convenient. Turns out partial charge cycles are better for your phone than full discharge. Try to keep the 40/80 rule in mind – recharge at 40% and stop charging at 80%. Of course if you’re going to be away from your charger for a long period of time, let it charge to 100%.
Bottom line: Over-charging stresses the battery and stress isn’t any better for battery life than it is for your life.

Keep your software up to date. Smartphone updates include fixes to improve software and hardware performance. While there’s a limit to what impact updates can make on existing hardware, it can make the most of what you have.
Bottom line: Battery life is one of the most common complaints about mobile tech, so developers are constantly working on ways to improve performance.

Disable functions you don’t need. One of the biggest battery zappers is your phone’s GPS. If Location Services is enabled, your phone is constantly searching for cell phone towers and Wi-Fi hotspots. The more it searches, the faster the battery life is consumed. Also, disable Wi-Fi scanning, another battery hog. You’ll have to log in manually, but the pay-off is longer battery life.
Bottom line: If you don’t need it, turn it off.

Adjust Brightness. This one is pretty simple: the brighter the screen the faster the battery drain.
Bottom line: Set Brightness to Auto.

Set your Sleep Timer. Not as in when you go to sleep, but when your phone goes to sleep. Set your phone to go into sleep mode after a minute of inactivity for maximum battery life.
Bottom line: If your screen is active when you aren’t, you’re wasting your battery.

There are many other ways to preserve battery life that are specific to your OS. Take a few minutes to review manufacturer guidelines and change the necessary settings. When it comes to extending battery life, every little bit counts.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do a little research on defending ones’ self against desert island panthers. Happy charging!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How To Lock Down Your Smartphone

By Tracey Dowdy

Stories about kids who’ve racked up charges on their parents credit card via in-app purchases aren’t new. Earlier this year, author Ayelet Waldman went on a Twitter rant when her son spent $120 on Kim  Kardashian, Hollywood in just two days. That seems like a bargain compared to the Belgian kid who charged $46,000 – yes, I meant to type three zeroes – to grandpa’s card playing Game of War: Fire Age.

The risk of unintended credit card charges is just one of the reasons to limit access to your phone. As tech savvy as kids are, it’s easy for them to accidentally – or on purpose – access areas of your phone or the Internet you may not want. Just as we put parental controls on our computers, there are simple ways to manage access to your smartphone.

Here’s a step by step guide to locking down your smartphone to protect both you and your child.

Apple iOS

With iOS you have two options: Guided Access or Restrictions.

  • Guided Access is best if you just need to lock the device short term, e.g. you’re waiting to be seated at a restaurant and only want the child to access a single app. To set Guided Access: Navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access. From here you can enable Guided Access and set your password. To activate, go to the app you want to lock the phone to, press the Home button three times and the Guided Access screen will appear. To exit, press the Home button again three times and put in the password and the phone is no longer limited to the single app.
  • Restrictions limits accessibility device-wide. Because it’s password protected, you have control over app installation – disable completely or set age appropriate content levels – disable in-app purchases and limit access to certain websites. To set Restrictions: navigate to Settings> General > Restrictions. From here you’ll create a PIN that will be used anytime you want to change your current restrictions. Simply scroll through your list of apps and customize the content, apps, and accessibility level appropriate to your family.


Google has introduced something called “Screen Pinning” with its most recent update, which allows you to lock your phone to a single app. To enable pinning: Navigate to Settings > Security > Screen pinning > On. Once enabled it’s easy to pin your screen anytime. Note you can only pin the last app you accessed so launch the app and follow these steps:

  • Tap on the Overview button (square button at the bottom of your screen)
  • Drag the title bar for the app you’ve selected to the middle of your screen
  • Tap the blue pin button at the bottom of the screen
  • Confirm you want to pin the app – you have the option to make this step password protected
  • Tap Start

To exit Screen Pinning: Touch and hold the back and overview buttons at the same time. After a few seconds the screen will revert back to the Overview screen.

Windows Phone

Windows offers a “Kids Corner” feature that allows you to create an environment customized to your specifications. It’s available from the Home screen or you can go to Settings > Kid’s Corner and switch to “On”. Once Kids Corner is active, you can pin it to the Start screen and start customizing each of the four sections: Games, Music, Videos and Apps.

To add features, choose a category like Games. Simply go to the games installed on the phone and check the box of each one you want to include. Tap “Done” when the list is complete. Windows allows you to further customize the app by adding a photo or background colors and you can rename the app to personalize it for your child. Note the Start and Home buttons are disabled in Kids Corner. To exit, just tap the power button and unlock the phone.

Whether you’re letting a friend check their email or your nephew play “Angry Birds” while you wait for a table at a restaurant, being able to restrict access to your smartphone is a great idea and something you should really take advantage of.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Beware of Those Holiday Tech ‘Bargains’

By Robyn Wright

With the Holiday season fast approaching, we are going to be seeing a lot of deals on tech devices, including smartphones, tablets, computers, and accessories. While we all want to get a good deal and find a bargain at this time of year, you do need to be mindful of why an item might be offered at a reduced cost and if it really represents a bargain.

Value should always be more important than price. If you pay a low price but something breaks or does not work, then it was a waste of your money. Here are some things to watch out for and consider when looking for tech bargains:

Old models

Most of the time there is nothing wrong with prior models of popular tech devices, but if you are hoping for the latest and greatest, you want to make sure that is exactly what you are getting. Before shopping for a specific item, check for the latest model so you can be sure you are getting what you want. If you don’t mind an older model, you can usually find some good deals. For instance, a Samsung Galaxy S4 is still a great phone and a little less expensive than the newer Galaxy S5 version.

Tech Specs

This is the hardest thing for most people. Specifications on tech products are usually presented in terms and numbers that the average person is just not that familiar with. You also do not necessarily need the fastest processor or the highest screen pixel count – some people’s needs are not as great as others. Take a look at the tech specs on the manufacturers’ websites and get an idea of what to expect from the newer models.

Off Brands

I am not saying all off brands are bad, but unfortunately many of them are. You may find a tablet for $50 that says you can do everything you want on it, but chances are you will be disappointed when you actually start using it. Before purchasing an unfamiliar brand do some research to see what people are saying about the product in their online reviews.


Always be sure to check the length of the manufacturer’s warranty. Unfortunately with tech devices, it is usually fairly short. Extended warranties are offered at many places and should be considered but be sure to read the terms – don’t expect the cashier to know them.


This is another optional purchase for things like smartphones and tablets. While they can be beneficial, especially if the owner is a little clumsy, you definitely need to understand the terms. Some insurance plans have a large deductible or a restriction on the number of claims. Be sure to know what types of accidents or losses are covered by the insurance.


Your budget will determine the quality you can afford but don’t be so concerned with budget that you end up with a lesser quality item than you can actually afford. This also applies to small accessories like cords, plugs, and chargers. I see a lot of these at dollar stores but the quality is poor and many of them end up being recalled.

Why Grandma Needs a Smartphone

By Tracey Dowdy:

According to recent research from Pew, a whopping 77 percent of seniors have a mobile phone but only 18 percent of those devices are smartphones. Older generations have traditionally been slower to embrace new technology, whether it’s color TV or microwaves, so it’s no surprise they’ve been content with the most basic phones available.

Back in April of 2012, Pew reported that 59 percent of seniors (65 and older) went online on a regular basis and it’s safe to assume that number has only increased since then. Seniors are becoming more comfortable with technology and the transition from desktop to laptop to mobile device has become less intimidating. Clearly the time has come to connect grandma with a smartphone. Here are some reasons why:

Staying connected

Grandma will love her smartphone for the same reason you love your smartphone: keeping up with friends and family. Seniors often have limited mobility, so getting together in person can be more of an issue than it would be for younger family and friends. On the other hand, some seniors lead a more active lifestyle than past generations, so the ability to connect on-the-go is more important than ever. Think how much grandma will love being able to show that video of her granddaughter’s ballet recital to all her friends at brunch.

Managing health concerns

There are more apps to help keep track of blood pressure, insulin levels and dosage schedules than I could begin to list, as well as pedometers to keep track of all those steps taken while walking the mall. Perhaps no demographic could benefit more from these smartphone apps than seniors. Being able to monitor one’s health and then provide all that information to doctors or caregivers increases the quality of patient care and allows for greater independence. Plus, the lifesaving aspects and the peace of mind they can bring are invaluable.

Enjoying music and entertainment

How much do you love the music on your phone? So how much would grandma love playlists of Sinatra, the Carpenters or Prince? Seriously, grandma’s music taste is as varied as yours and she’ll love having it all right there in the palm of her hand. Plus, think of all the free games – and really, who doesn’t love free – that are available. Soduku, Solitaire, Candy Crush…the options are almost endless. Then there are video apps like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, or just the simple fun of cruising through Facebook albums.

Budgeting and Shopping

Like us, many seniors live on a budget, so apps that can help with planning and paying bills, keeping track of sales, or finding the best price on gas are important. There are apps to create a shopping list that can easily be shared with caregivers and apps to track spending while you shop, making life for those trying to stick to that budget much less stressful.

Choosing a smartphone

Smartphone prices vary significantly but choosing a smartphone doesn’t mean breaking the bank. Choose a device with the options that grandma wants and then choose a plan. Mobile carriers offer more flexibility than ever, so users have more options to customize a plan to best suit their needs. Adding grandma to a family plan that allows for shared talk, text or data can result in even greater savings.

And just like plans aren’t one-size-fits-all, phones aren’t limited to a single style or presentation. Displays can be customized to increase font size, notifications changed to visual display or vibration instead of audio, and for those with limited motor skills that may find typing or using a touch screen challenging, there are apps like Voice Search (Android) or Siri for iPhones.

Once you’ve demonstrated the value of that smartphone, don’t leave grandma in the wind. Take the time to download the apps she’ll need and enjoy, customize the settings to suit her best, and go over the basics like placing calls, accessing her contacts, or how to use the camera. It’s second nature to you, and, with a little bit of help, it will soon be second nature for her too!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

6 Tips for Better Group Photos

By Robyn Wright

The Holiday season is fast approaching and group photos are always a must. But think about how many group photos you have taken that are actually flattering – probably not that many. However, there are a few basics things we can do to get better group photos, even if we are only using a smartphone. Here are six tips to improve those group shots.

1. Focus On Faces
Too often we try to get everyone’s entire body into group shots but in doing so we lose the detail of their faces. Get closer to your group and just worry about including faces rather than full bodies.

2. Take Multiple Shots
There are several apps and programs available that let you merge the best parts from multiple photos into one. It is inevitable when you take group shots that someone will be blinking or frowning resulting in an unflattering look. If you take several shots of your group, you will have the ability to get the best of everyone in the final edited photo. Many smartphone cameras now offer “burst mode,” which automatically takes multiple photos to help you capture the best shot.

3. Elevate Yourself
Try to find a way to get up higher to take the group shot. Look for a mound, steps, or sturdy furniture to stand on. This gives you a different perspective on the group. Plus shots from above are generally more flattering.

4. Action Shots
Go ahead and take the standard picture of everyone looking ahead and smiling but then mix things up a bit. I personally like to have everyone make silly faces for at least one photo. Think about action shots as well, like jumping up in the air.

5. Natural Light Is Best
Outdoor settings generally offer the best lighting. Just make sure you are not in bright sunlight, which can make people squint or cause harsh shadows. If you are inside, try finding a spot next to large windows to let in natural light.

6. Better Backgrounds
While the people are the most important part of a group photo, backgrounds can be important too. If we don’t think about the background, we can end up with a cluttered and distracting setting. Look for simpler backgrounds, like blank walls and other plain backdrops.

Robyn Wright is a social media specialist and blogs on her own blog, RobynsOnlineWorld.com, as well as several other sites. Robyn has a love for family, technology, food and lots of apps!

Play a Game and Improve Your Brain!

By Robyn Wright

Games can entertain us but there are also lots of ways that games can actually help improve our brain function. Now granted, if you just play games all day and do nothing else, that’s not going to help, but taking some time to play a game can give your brain a boost through cognitive training. Here are some good examples:

Fit Brains

Fit Brains combines brain games with tracking tools to help users, of all ages, maximize and round-out brain skills in a fun way. Their games have a broad collection of personalization tools to adjust your training based on your skill level.

Cost: free and paid memberships
Compatibility: iOS, Android, Web

Mind Games

Mind Games works by exercising multiple types of cognitive skills. Your scores are tracked and you can compare your progress with their large scoring database.

Cost: free
Compatibility: iOS, Android, Windows

Brain Train Challenge

Brain Train Challenge provides a fast paced challenge within 24 mini games. The games include words, numbers, memory, logic, observation and spatial awareness.

Cost: free
Compatibility: Windows


Luminosity is one of the most popular brain training services online. They have over 60 million registered users worldwide. Lumosity’s games are designed to challenge core cognitive abilities. Premium members also have access to performance reports.

Cost: free and paid memberships
Compatibility: iOS, Android, Web

While the above are specific “brain training” games, playing other traditional game apps can help improve your brain as well. Look for puzzles, logic, word, memory, and the like. Playing a variety of these different types of games that make you think in different ways works to keep your brain sharp and flexible.

What are your favorite brain games?

Robyn Wright is a social media specialist and blogs on her own blog, RobynsOnlineWorld.com, as well as several other sites. Robyn has a love for family, technology, food and lots of apps!

New Smartphones: What To Expect This Fall

After a quiet spring and summer, the smartphone market burst into life this week with Samsung’s unveiling of two new handsets, plus a virtual reality headset called Gear VR. This was quickly followed by Microsoft’s announcement that it is releasing three new Lumia phones, including the Lumia 730 – dubbed the “selfie phone” – which is expected to feature a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. All this activity precedes next week’s highly-anticipated Apple event, at which the Cupertino, CA behemoth is expected to showcase the iPhone 6.

So what can we expect from these new devices and are they going to provide a much-needed jolt of energy to a U.S. smartphone market that is regarded by many as nearing saturation point? Here is a quick look at what we know and, in the case of the iPhone 6, what has been carefully leaked:

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

The more interesting of Samsung’s two new smartphones is probably the all-new Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, so named because of a curved screen that wraps around the right edge of the device. The curved edge allows for a different set of information displays, including access to your favorite apps, notifications and more.

The Note Edge comes with a phablet-sized 5.7-inch display, improved S Pen functionality, and a 3.7 megapixel front-facing camera. The Note Edge has a significantly improved charging time, going from zero to 50 percent in about 30 minutes, about 40 percent faster than other Samsung Galaxy phones. There is also an Ultra Power Saving mode if you are running low on juice.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which updates the hugely popular Galaxy Note 3, also features a 5.7-inch screen and includes all the camera upgrades, improved battery charging, and many of the other new features from the Galaxy Note Edge.

Improved multi-tasking is another feature of the new Samsung phones, with users being able to manage multiple applications on a single screen using simple swipe gestures.

No pricing or release dates have been given for the new Samsung phones, although they are expected to be available in the U.S. by the end of September.

Lumia 730

Microsoft’s long-awaited “selfie phone” features a wide-angle 5-megapixel  front-facing camera, coupled with a dedicated selfie app that launches the camera as soon as it detects any faces in its field of view. The app includes plenty of editing options, including filters, skin enhancements and even tools to slim your face (!) and blur out the background.

The 730 is clearly aimed at the younger, Instagram generation, and the color options in green, red, white and black further target that demographic. Unfortunately, the 730 is set to be released “globally,” which is a euphemism for “not yet available in the USA.”

iPhone 6

This year’s media frenzy over the release of a new iPhone seems a little subdued, with headlines focusing more on the possible breach of celebrity iCloud accounts that any potential hardware innovations.

Most news sources are suggesting that Apple will increase the screen size of the regular iPhone from 4 inches to 4.7 inches and also introduce a larger 5.5-inch model. These projected screen sizes do nothing to curb the impression that Apple is playing catch up to the large screen devices popularized by Samsung and others.

Super-slim bezels and curved screens have also made the rumor mill, as has a new “indestructible” sapphire glass finish, which might finally put an end to the epidemic of cracked iPhone screens. Most of the other changes are expected to come from the release of iOS 8, which will include additional camera enhancements and tighter integration with smart home and health and fitness devices.

Although no release date has been announced, new iPhones are usually available 10 days to two weeks after they are announced, which would put the iPhone 6 in-store around Friday, September 19.

How Tablets and Smartphones Can Benefit Toddlers

New research suggests that learning from screens can help young children

By Stacey Ross

New media technology is here to stay and has become part of the fabric of our everyday existence. But as with anything else shiny and new, we need to weigh the benefits with the risks, particularly when it comes to our little ones. Sure, let’s have them engage with tablets and smartphones, but when we are conscious of the extent and pace that we introduce gadgets into their worlds, we can encourage age-appropriate opportunities that involve the whole family.

It’s not news that the American Academy of Pediatrics warns us that screen time for children under the age of 2 is not advised. Research suggests that it delays language development and can disrupt sleep. Likewise, when used as a form of consistent and long-term babysitting, it also adversely impacts the cognitive and social skills that are essential to normal development.

Interactive games foster creativity

Good news, though: Researchers discovered that while excessive TV watching slightly increased a child’s risk for conduct problems, age-appropriate digital games did not! A 2013 study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood found that certain digital games seem to affect children differently than TV. Take a guess why!

Games that are interactive foster creativity and participation, while TV typically does not invite consistent interaction, nor customize feedback for each user. Studies show that the more parents speak to their kids and the more extensive their vocabulary, the better the kids perform intellectually and academically. Routinely engaging directly with our children is crucial for them to hit developmental milestones.

Promise of interactive media

Heather Kirkorian, an academic at the University of Wisconsin, reports that while research indicates non-interactive video isn’t educationally valuable for kids under 3, that “some studies suggest that toddlers learn from screens when they are interactive,” and that toddlers “are more likely to demonstrate learning from video when interacting with a contingently responsive social partner on screen.”

Kirkorian discovered that children aged 2 to 3 were more likely to react to screens that prompted for interaction than screens that didn’t. She also found that interaction was key when dealing with word learning: “Kids who are interacting with the screen get better much faster, make fewer mistakes and learn faster,” adding, “but we’re not turning them into geniuses, just helping them get a little more information.”

Promote balance

The goal for parents is to promote balanced exposure. Our devices should not be replacing outdoor fun, painting and other social interactive activities, but can be used as supplements that add value and engaging stimulation.

Young ones thrive when they have parents monitor and stay involved with their kids’ activities. For example, when parents practice “co-viewing” TV shows or interactive games, they can help increase their children’s comprehension skills. Cognitive, social and language skills are crucial for the development of healthy children!

Stacey_Ross_50Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

7 Essential Smartphone Tips

Smartphones are becoming more complicated, and that’s not always a good thing. By some estimates, barely half of all smartphone owners have ever downloaded an app, and many smartphones end up being used as point-and-shoot cameras that can also make the occasional phone call.

But even if you are a relatively savvy smartphone owner, it’s not easy to keep up with all the features that are being added to the latest devices. And that’s a missed opportunity, because many of those features can have a major impact when it comes to productivity, personal security, and even the size of your monthly phone bill.

Here are 7 tips that can make a big difference in how you use your device:

Get to know your camera

The camera is everyone’s favorite smartphone feature but photos taken with a smartphone camera can still be disappointing. Smartphone cameras have numerous settings and editing features that can help you become a better photographer. Spend a few minutes getting to know them and they will pay instant dividends.

Extend your battery life

A short battery life is still the Achilles Heel of most smartphones. Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and other data-guzzling apps when you don’t them and find out what other battery-saving features are incorporated in your phone’s settings. Similarly, turn off data-guzzling apps – or even power-off the phone – when you are charging. You’ll find that you charging time is significantly reduced.

Manage your data

Get to know the data monitoring tools on your phone and use them to control your data costs. Android and Windows phones have built-in tools that will tell you which apps are using the most data, so you can turn them off or uninstall them when you are nearing your data limit.

Learn how to turn off mobile data completely – or switch to Airplane Mode – so you don’t incur unnecessary roaming charges when you travel overseas. It can also make sense to turn off mobile data at night or when you are out of range of your home network. Most phones will now prompt you to switch to a Wi-Fi network if one is available. Take advantage of all these data-saving options and those overage charges will be a thing of the past!

Take advantage of cloud storage

Most carriers now offer free cloud storage options for mobile users. Take advantage of these programs and make sure your contacts and other important data is backed-up at all times. Other cloud storage options (iCloud, Google Cloud, Dropbox, OneCloud) allow you to sync your data across various devices and platforms, so it’s always available whenever you need it. Again, take advantage of these options to ensure maximum security and productivity.

Use the wireless hotspot

Perhaps the most underutilized feature of your smartphone and tablet, the wireless hotspot is also the most useful, providing a high-speed Internet connection for multiple devices, including laptops, computers, and gaming consoles. That means no more searching for a Wi-Fi network or relying on expensive and unsecure hotel networks while you are traveling.

Organize your apps into folders

Finding the app you want usually means swiping through multiple home screens or searching through an ever-expanding app catalog. Instead, you can now organize your most commonly used apps in folders that reside right on the home screen. Both iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android devices allow you to do this, with some devices now coming with certain folders already set up (Verizon apps, Amazon apps, Tools, etc.).

Install a Find Your Phone app

With so much information, photos and other data stored on our phones, protecting against a lost device is now a top priority. The latest iPhone operating software (iOS7 and iOS8) have built-in Find My iPhone apps, while there are multiple find-your-phone apps available through the Google Play and Windows Phone stores. Make sure you understand how the find-your-phone apps work and you sync all the necessary data with your computer or laptop so you are ready in an emergency.