31 ways to optimize your smartphone

Be ready for anything life throws your way.

Studies show that we’re spending half our waking hours with our smartphones, and it’s clear that the devices have changed how we interact with our world. So why not optimize your device to get yourself a easier, more productive, more relaxing life? Below, tricks that’ll keep your phone primed for any situation.

iPhone X

A new smartphone model—from Google, Apple, or another manufacturer—catches your eye, and all of a sudden, your old device won’t cut it. But don’t leap into an upgrade without taking precautions. After all, you store a lot of important information on your smartphone, and you don’t want to lose any of it during the excitement of a switch. Luckily, upgrading from one phone to another is a lot easier than it used to be, because we now store most of our digital possessions in the cloud. Plus, you can find some key apps to help you switch from one device to another. What you need to know. >>

smart phone

If you’re getting rid of your old laptop, smartphone, tablet or other gadget, you need to protect your private data before parting with your unwanted hardware. Are all your photos stored somewhere safe? Are you sure your laptop’s new owner can’t get at your banking spreadsheets? Disposing of old hardware can be a privacy minefield, but staying safe isn’t difficult if you know what you’re doing. What you need to do. >>

Apple Pay

Many smartphone apps will ask you to pay a monthly or a yearly subscription, and automatically deduct this payment from your financial account of choice. From video-streaming services like Netflix to weather-monitoring apps such as Dark Sky, this model lets you buy into a program without worrying about making manual payments. The problem is that, as these apps add up, it’s easy to lose track of how much cash you’re shelling out each month. Add in all those free trials you signed up for and then forgot to cancel before the first billing date, and you can end up spending way more than you intended. Although the task of sorting through all your subscriptions may seem daunting, you can run an app audit in only a few minutes. The simplest ways to check. >>

Cut down on your screen time.

If you find yourself checking Instagram during a meal out with friends, playing Candy Crush as you walk down the street, or scrolling through your Facebook feed in bed until you look up and realize it’s 2 a.m., you may have an unhealthy relationship with your smartphone. Tips, this way. >>

Phone apps

Your smartphone wouldn’t be all that useful without all the apps you’ve downloaded. Even when you’re not actively poking around within a program, it can run in the background—updating your location, checking your email, or playing music—to make life more convenient. But to do so, it needs permission from your phone. Periodic permissions checks protect you against potentially unscrupulous app developers and give you more control over your privacy. As an added bonus, if fewer apps are working away in the background, your phone can save on battery life. How to get check. >>

A person holding a smartphone in their hands.

Having a smartphone is a real catch-22. And the more apps you download, the more notifications you receive, until the flurry of incoming alerts makes it difficult to pick out the updates you actually care about—or to concentrate on anything outside your phone. To balance staying in touch with staying sane, you need to control the number of notifications you see. How it’s done. >>

The Todoist app on an iPhone.

With the frenetic pace of modern life, we’ve got more to remember than ever. Help is at hand in the form of (what else) your smartphone. As well as a digital camera, music player, and all-round communications device, your phone can also act as a combination of secretary and to-do list when it comes to reminding you about what you need to get done. And your options are much more sophisticated than that notebook or pile of Post-it notes that they will replace. How to outsource your memory. >>

iPhone battery settings

To own a smartphone is to know the frustration of having its battery die right when you need it most—whether you’re approaching your next high score or need to call someone to let you into the building. While modern-day displays and phone tech put a lot of strain on the battery pack inside your handset, you can follow these steps to eke out as much life as possible.

quick charge

On hectic days, charging time is minimal. If you’re running from meeting to meeting, for example, you may only have five minutes to plug in your phone. To get the most battery power stored up in the shortest possible time, start here. >>

Phone problems

No one likes a faulty smartphone. Unfortunately, bugs, crashes, and other issues are inevitable, especially as your phone gets older. On the bright side, many of the most common issues have relatively simple fixes you can perform yourself. Here’s how to fix some of the most common phone problems you’ll encounter. Read on. >>

iPhone lock screen

The lock screen on iOS and Android blocks access to all of your personal information, but it can still reveal more than you might think. That’s because Google and Apple have tweaked the lock screen to allow easy access to some of your phone’s main features, including Siri and the camera app. What you need to know. >>

An iOS alert on an iPhone screen that says the storage is full and there is no more room on the phone.

You pull out your phone to snap a spontaneous photo…and get an error message because you have no space for the image. Running out of room on your phone—with no memory left for photos, videos, or new apps—can feel like a disaster. Avoid this scenario by reading these tips. >>

Data limits.

Smartphones put a world of information, games, videos, and music at your fingertips. That is, until you run out of data. It only takes a few minutes of throttled, agonizingly slow speeds to realize how much you rely on that cellular connection—and how important it is to stay within your data allowance. The solution: Cut back on the amount of data your phone chews through. Adjusting your settings to reduce data usage will come in handy for those with limited data plans or travelers who plan to spend time out of network. We’ve collected some tips for staying on the right side of your data boundaries. What you need to know. >>

iOS apps

Settling for the default email, messaging, and browsing apps on your phone? It’s understandable. But if you haven’t at least tried some of the excellent alternatives out there, you’re missing out. Even if the default app works as well as the alternative version, you may not want to trust every bit of your personal information to just one tech behemoth—third-party apps let you distribute your data more evenly. Is the grass really greener on the other side of the…app fence? Only one way to find out. The best replacement apps for your phone.>>

Android smartphone.

Whether you’re on Android’s tam or iPhone’s, one thing is certain: Google’s phone software is more versatile and customizable than Apple’s offering. Dig into the settings and tweaks available for your Android phone and you’ll find a host of clever features and useful tools. We’ve collected 10 of them right here. >>


Both iPhones and Android devices have their pros and cons, but the general consensus is that iOS is a little easier to pick up and use, while Android offers more in the way of customization and configuration. Still, as simple as Apple’s operating system seems, you can find plenty of advanced features hidden below its polished surface. Here are 10 of them to uncover. >>


Without a battery, your expensive smartphone becomes a hunk of dead electronics. And these rechargeable powerhouses have a finite lifespan: Over time, they will start losing power faster and taking longer to charge. To extend the battery’s useful life for as long as possible, you need to take care of your device properly. That means adopting good charging habits and taking care with battery storage. What you need to know. >>

Apple Pay

Most of us leave the house carrying three essentials: keys, wallet, and smartphone. But over the past few years, more and more people are combining the latter two objects. Your smartphone can store your financial details and use them to make secure, instant payments in the store. It may feel vaguely futuristic, but you can check out with a wave of your mobile—as long as the place you’re shopping has the necessary hardware. If you’re new to the world of app-based payments, but want to upgrade from the old cash and cards approach, it’s easier than you might think to get set up. In fact, you have most of what you’ll need already installed on your phone. Here are your payment options. >>


When you’re traveling, you rely on your phone to navigate, translate, and stay in touch with friends. But on the road, you may face challenges like insecure or nonexistent Wi-Fi and a scarce charging spots. Before you head out the door, take a few steps to prepare your phone. These tips will make your indispensable travel companion even more resilient and useful. Read on. >>

Travel apps

When in a strange land, your phone’s your way to clarity and familiarity. As long as you’ve got the right apps installed, that is. You probably already use a few common apps for getting from A to B and researching the best local restaurants. We’ve picked out a few more that are particularly suited to traveling. Install them now—while you still have Wi-Fi. Get more out of your trip. >>

Road trip

Until self-driving cars take over, the road trip will remain one of the most popular vacations. It’s liberating, offers flexible options, and can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. However, to make sure you see everything you want to see—and avoid spending half your time in traffic—a good road trip will need meticulous planning. Here’s how your smartphone can help. >>


You get up in the morning, drink some coffee, and face your first challenge of the day: the daily run to the office. Whether you drive or take public transportation, you get to deal with all kinds of potential unpleasantness, from road work to overcrowded subway trains. That’s when you should turn to your phone. These six apps will help you get through your daily commute with your sanity intact—and you might even have fun along the way. Download our picks. >>


On a hot summer day, the ocean beckons. Just as you stretch out on the sand to soak up those sweet rays and scare up some vitamin D, your hand itches—you need to grab your smartphone. Maybe you want to snap a photo of the churning surf, or blast the latest pop hit, or video-chat with your unlucky friend who couldn’t make it to the shore this weekend. But the things that make a beach amazing—sun, sand, and ocean—can also wreak havoc on electronic devices. To keep your phone safer at the shore, take these precautions. Protect it from sun, sand, and seawater. >>

smartphone photos

By now we’re all familiar with the basics of smartphone photography: You pull out your phone and push a button. But if you really plan to preserve those memories for posterity, you’ll want your phone snaps to look their best. Up your phone photo game with these nine tips and tricks. Read on. >>


We all wield the miniature computers in our pockets to shoot endless photos, but what about video? While many of us do capture clips—spurred by improving camera quality, increased storage capacity, and the rise of “stories” formats on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram—the quality of these videos still tends to be low, with uneven lighting, variable audio, and a shaky frame. However, a few smart tricks and well-chosen accessories can make all the difference to your phone video. Whether you’re recording a few seconds of footage for your friends or putting together a professional reel to share more widely, our advice will have you shooting like a pro in no time. Release your inner Spielberg. >>

Train ride in Alaska by Stan Horaczek

National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson is responsible for some of the best photography advice ever given: “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” [Nature is full of interesting stuff](Nature is full of interesting stuff), and, thanks to smartphones, we’re almost never without a pretty-good-quality camera. But even the most-beautiful, surprising location won’t be very photogenic in the wrong circumstances. Here are seven tips to help you get the most out of your next nature photography adventure. >>

Photograph the night sky with your phone

You can’t stop gazing at the luminous full moon—you need to share this with Instagram. So you pull out your phone, aim at the heavens, and capture … a fuzzy white blob. The firmament is one of the hardest targets to snap on a phone. Why? A smartphone’s camera lens is wide, and it automatically sets the exposure to capture the dark sky instead of the bright objects in it. To up your phone game, try adding some additional technology. These tips will help you **photograph celestial bodies near and far. >> **


There are lots of ways to go job hunting, including a plethora of apps and services on the web designed to help discover the perfect way to make a living. Your smartphone can definitely help, too. This way for a selection of our favorite mobile apps and tips for landing the job of your dreams. >>

Location tracking on a phone on Google Maps.

Location-tracking apps can be useful, but you need to be careful about who has access. In addition to figuring out where to meet up, apps like these can let you track your kids without telling every stranger where they are. The ones we’ve collected are free to use, simple to set up, and can save you a long series of calls or texts when you need to know where someone is. Check them out. >>

smartphone privacy

Many people don’t realize that the software in their phones can track their every move. Whether you have an iOS or an Android device, Apple and Google can collect data about how you use it: the places you go, the apps you run, the search queries you type into the web browser, and so on. Although this sounds unnecessarily invasive, the companies use a lot of your data in helpful ways. So if your desire for privacy outweighs these benefits, you can decide how much you trust these companies with your data and how much information you’re prepared to share with them. Whatever you choose, it’s important to be aware of what you’re sharing, and how you can limit it if you want to. Protect you privacy. >>

iPhone SMS

While cloud-based services can back up our emails and social media posts when we lose an old phone or switch to a new one, our SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) histories tend to disappear. You’ve probably got some precious memories and a few important nuggets of information tied up in your text message conversations. Don’t let those texts get lost. These solutions not only preserve your text histories; they can also save any texts you send in the future. How to back up your SMS history. >>