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7 things you didn't realize your phone can do

Your phone is capable of a lot more than you use it for every day. Some of its best features might not be obvious, so we've rounded them up for you.
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Editor
Person surprised looking at phone against an orange background
Image: Getty Images/Westend61

The capabilities of smartphones are seemingly endless -- and yet peoples' use of their devices often remains limited to areas they already know about. A smartphone can do so much more than just surf the web, make video calls, play music, stream video, and send texts.

Also: The best phones right now

One big problem is that there are now so many features packed into a smartphone that finding them, remembering them, and using them is a genuine challenge. Some of those hidden smartphone features can help improve your productivity and make everyday tasks easier. If there's something you need to get done, there's a pretty good chance your smartphone can help you do it.

To bring your smartphone use to the next level, we've rounded up some smartphone features that you might not know about, but which are sure to make everyday tasks easier. 

1. Scan documents 

If you have ever had to sign a physical document and then submit it digitally afterwards, you know how much of a hassle it can be to print out, scan, and then email the document. The good news is that you no longer have to turn to your clunky scanner. With both iPhones and Android devices, you can use the smartphone to scan a document and export it. 

Also: How to scan and fax from your iPhone

On iPhones, all you have to do is open your Notes app, click the camera icon, and then hit the "scan documents" button, and you're set. On an Android device, the process is even more seamless. All you have to do is open your camera app, hover it over the document, and tap "scan document" for Pixel phones, or the yellow "T" icon for Samsung devices.

2. Start your car 

Before you get your hopes up, your ability to use your phone as a key or car-starter will depend entirely on the model, make, and year of your car. 

Thankfully, a lot of cars have this type of functionality. Two reasons why you might want to take advantage of this feature include the ability to remotely start your car from the comfort of your own home or setting the car temperature just the way you like it before you get in.

Also: The best car gadgets

If you're interested in this feature, look up your car on the web and see if there's an app that can help. For example, Ford has an app called FordPass, which allows Ford car owners to unlock and lock cars, remotely start the car, and even schedule remote starts from the app. Android devices have a feature called digital key on select smartphones, which works in tandem with your car manufacturer's app or the manufacturer's email to make your phone a digital key.

3. Help you change channels 

There are few things more frustrating than getting ready to watch a show, sitting on the couch, settling down with your blanket and snacks, and then realizing you can't find the remote. Once this realization hits, you have to dig to find the remote, only to find out that the batteries are flat. To spare you this trouble, many TVs are capable of syncing to your smartphone to turn your device into a remote. 

If you have an iPhone, you can use it to control compatible TVs including Roku or Fire TVs, or an Apple TV 4K. It's as easy as being logged on to the same network as the TV, going to the screen-share option, and then hitting the remote icon. If you want to use your iPhone as a remote control, we have a handy how-to.

Android smartphones have the same capability with Android TVs. All you have to do is open the Google TV app, tap the remote icon on the bottom right, and then scan devices and choose your device to complete pairing, according to Android. In addition, Android has TV remote apps for Roku and Fire TVs, and even third-party remote apps for Apple TV.

4. Measure stuff

Don't have a tape measure? No problem. You can take measurements of anything you need to on your phone using your smartphone's camera and AR technology. All you have to do is drop a point at the beginning of the object you're measuring and pin another point at the end to get the exact measurement.

Also: 8 cool ways to use LiDAR on your iPhone and iPad

iPhones come with the Apple Measure app preloaded, but if you're an Android user, don't fret. You can simply use Measure Up, Google's tool that lets you do what the Apple Measure app does, but on your phone's browser instead of via an app. 

5. Take photos for you

Have you ever wanted to take a picture, but had no one to take it for you? The scenery is beautiful and your outfit is perfect, but you can't spot anyone around -- so your photo opportunity is ruined. Sure there is your phone's timer, but that can be near useless because you have to set everything up for just one photo to be taken. Thankfully, Lens Buddy is an app made to solve that problem. 

Also: Shaky photos? You're holding your phone wrong. Try this

With Lens Buddy, you can fully customize the timer, including the speed and intervals of the pictures, so you can get the perfect shot. Instead of having to set up a ten second timer for your phone only to snap one photo, you can set a timer that takes many photos over a customized interval (ex: every three seconds) for as long as you'd like. With Lens Buddy, you have a lot of options to pick from from one session instead of just one. The app is only available on iOS. However, there are camera-timer alternatives in the Google Play Store, such as Selfer, which does the same thing.

6. Monitor your heart rate 

Despite the plethora of smartwatches and fitness trackers on the market, it is possible to monitor your heart rate with just your smartphone. Heart-rate monitoring apps use your back camera and flash to determine how much blood is pumping through your skin, and get your heart rate through a practice called photoplethysmography. To get your results within seconds, all you have to do is place your finger over the camera and flash. 

Also: The best fitness rings

These mobile heart-rate monitoring apps do not come with your phone as standard, but can be downloaded in your smartphone's app store. To figure out which one to download, I recommend going to the app store and downloading a free app with the most positive reviews. There are many perks to regularly tracking your heart rate, including being more in-tune with you body. I personally used one of these apps to monitor my irregular heart rate and, ultimately, got my heart condition diagnosed.

7. Hold your medical insurance card 

If you own a smartphone, you are likely familiar with the concept of a digital wallet. With a digital wallet, you can add cards, boarding passes, tickets, and more to your smartphone for easy access when paying or entering certain events. 

Also: How to add your driver's license to Apple Wallet

But did you know that you can also add your health insurance card? I love this feature because my pesky health insurance card always gets stuck to other cards in my wallet just when you need it. 

Also: How to add your transit card to Apple Wallet

For your convenience, many insurance providers, including Cigna and Aetna, allow for mobile access to your insurance card. All you have to do is download the app for your insurance provider and sign in. There, both iPhone and Android users will find your mobile health insurance card, which you can then present at any healthcare provider. If you are an iPhone user, you get the added perk of adding it to your Apple Wallet. 

Bonus feature

Just as a reminder for those of you who might have forgotten: as well as working as a compass, flashlight, TV remote, and thousands of other functions that you can download as apps, your smartphone can also... make calls. Yes, really!

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