Set phone reminders for anything

Outsource your memory.

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.

On Android

If you’ve got a stock Android phone, you’ll have either the Google Now app or the newer Google Assistant baked into it. If not, you can download Google Now for free (though this isn’t the case yet for Google Assistant). Both programs handle reminders in more or less the same way.

Tap inside the Google search box and type “set a reminder,” or say “OK Google” out loud and speak your request. Google spots that you want to set up a reminder and asks if you’d like to add a time or a place to the note. If you choose a time, you get a reminder at that time, or you can associate the reminder with morning, afternoon, evening, or the whole day. And Google adds another nifty feature that paper can’t match: If you choose a place, you can get a reminder the next time your phone detects you’re at that location. For example, you can tell your phone to remind you about your grocery list next time you step into your local store. Reminders can also repeat on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis.

Rather than creating a reminder and then adding the details, you can bake specifics into your original command. For example, try saying, “Remind me to wash the car tomorrow at 2 PM.”

Google Now
Google can remind you to do anything, at any time, at any location. David Nield/Popular Science

If you choose neither a time nor a place for your reminder, the note will sit in your list of reminders until you remove it. To see your current list, head into the Google app, tap the menu button to the top left, then choose Reminders. You can also add reminders manually from here, or delete ones that are no longer needed.

In addition to Google Now and Google Assistant, Android gives you another alternative in the form of the Google Keep app (which is also available on iOS). Open the app menu, tap Reminders, then create a new note with a reminder attached. Again, you can tag a time or a place to your reminder, and set up a repeating event. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t yet worked out how to sync reminders across its various apps, so these reminders will stay separate for now.

On iOS

The digital assistants on Android and iOS share a similar process for setting up reminders. On an iPhone or iPad, press and hold the Home button to launch Siri, then say, “Set a reminder.” Siri will ask you what you want to be reminded about, and save the note.

If you just use the “set a reminder” command, you won’t be able to associate a time or a place with your reminder. However, you can add these details to your initial instructions should you need to. Say, “Remind me to wash the car tomorrow at 2 PM,” or “Remind me to buy flowers when I get home,” and Siri will understand what you mean. In each case, you will get the chance to review the reminder—and to delete it if Siri misunderstood what you want.

Siri works with the iOS Reminders app. David Nield/Popular Science

Siri sets up these reminders by tapping into iOS’s native Reminders app. So if you don’t want to use your voice to set the reminders, simply open up the app and type out your wishes. Tap the plus button (top right) to create a new reminder. As expected, you can assign reminders to a time or place, but you can also give them a priority level, which makes it easier for you to sort through your to-do list. You can also set reminders to repeat daily, weekly, monthly, or annually.

Whereas Google keeps its apps separate, Apple pipes everything through the Reminders app on iOS, which can also be synced across iCloud and macOS. It’s a slightly cleaner solution, but the two operating systems produce extremely similar end results: reminders about just about anything, with time or location tags where relevant, and the option to have those reminders repeat regularly.

Third-party apps

Don’t like the built-in options that come with Android and iOS? You’ve got a plethora of third-party reminder apps to pick from. While we can’t cover all of them here, we will highlight some of the best ones we’ve found. Feel free to do your own investigating as well.

First up is Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant, available for Android and iOS. Cortana works a lot like Google Now or Siri, plus it comes built into Windows 10, which might be one reason you prefer it. You can use your voice or text input to tell Cortana to set a reminder, and then fill out more information: Again, you can add a time and place, and even a photo. Like the other programs, Cortana lets you include these details in the original reminder request.

The polished Todoist app, for Android and iOS, has been around for years. You can customize your reminders in just about any way you can imagine, with timings, priorities, locations, labels, notifications, and more. One of to Todoist’s best features is its clean and uncluttered interface, which lets you stay on top of multiple tasks at once. Plus, it works on nearly every device out there.

Remember The Milk is another much-loved reminder app for Android and iOS. It’s not quite as comprehensive as Todoist, but it has a decent list of features such as time and location tagging, labels, and a choice of how you want to receive your reminders (over text, email, mobile alert, or even Twitter). It also integrates neatly with several other popular services, including Evernote and Google Drive.

David Nield

David Nieldis a tech journalist from the UK who has been writing about gadgets and apps since way before the iPhone and Twitter were invented. When he's not busy doing that, he usually takes breaks from all things tech with long walks in the countryside.