12 Surprising Things Your Android Phone Can Do
Did you know your Android phone can double as a security cam, read USB drives and even run a Web server. These neat tricks are bound to surprise.
When Benjamin Franklin wrote that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” he was clearly referring to smartphone operating systems. While Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone prevent developers and users from having too much access to core functions in the name of security, Android gives you the freedom to perform just about any task you can imagine.
Most Android aficionados already know that you can “root” (AKA
gain administrative access to) your device, change the look and feel of
your phone with a custom launcher and sideload apps from anywhere you
want. However, even if you’re an early adopter, you might not know about
these 12 surprising things your Android phone can do.
Run a Web Server
Android is a form of Linux, so it should be no surprise that any modern Android device can run a full-fledged Web server complete with a mySQL database, PHP support and FTP for file transfers. You can even make the server available on the Internet and use it with a domain of your choice.
Developers can use an Android Web server to test out their code and then show it to clients or stakeholders in the office. Users who want to run a small blog or share files with co-workers via FTP can have a server sitting in their living rooms or even in their pockets. If you use a $45 Android Mini PC like the MK808B instead of a phone, you can run a server the size of a flash drive that gets all of its power over USB.
Program an Android App on Android
If you want to write an iPhone app, you’ll be doing all your coding on a Mac. If you want to code for Windows Phone or BlackBerry, you’ll be writing those applications on your desktopor laptop also. However, with Android, you can actually write, compile and test an app directly on your device.
Granted, most programmers will want to do their work
on a PC, but if you want to tap out some code on the phone itself, a
free app called AIDE provides a complete end-to-end solution. You can
Allow Remote Access from Your PC
Want to see and access the content and apps on your phone from your PC? With a remote access app installed, you can control your phone from a Web browser on your desktop. You can also use such as remote desktop apps such as 2X or Splashtop 2 Remote Desktop to control your PC from your phone.
Serve As a Pedometer
Earlier this year, I was impressed when I saw that Samsung’s Galaxy S4 came with an app that measures how many steps you’ve walked each day. However, there’s no special hardwareinside the GS4 and, as it turns out, you can use any Android phone as a pedometer.
Pedometer apps such as Accupedo use your phone’s accelerometer to determine when you’ve taken a step and then store that data, along with information you’ve entered about your weight and height, to determine how many calories you’ve burned.
Act As a Security Camera
You’re finally eligible for a phone upgrade, but now that you’ve gotten that shiny new quad-core super phone, what do you do with your 2011-era handset? You could leave it in a drawer gathering dust, pass it off to your mom or sell it. But if that device runs Android, you could also turn it into a security camera you can use to monitor the nanny or keep an eye on the cats while you’re away from home. You can access the feed over the Internet, right from your new phone.
Connect to a USB Flash Drive
Every Android phone has a microUSB port that you can use for charging or copying files to and from your PC. However, most users don’t know that, using a simple USB OTG (“on the go”) adapter cable, a free app and root-level access to the operating system, you can attach can transfer files directly from a USB flash drive or hard drive. You can even attach an SD Card reader and use that to grab photos from your camera and automatically upload them to the cloud. No PC required.
Use a Mouse and Keyboard
With a $3 USB OTG cable, your phone can not only interface with storage ports, but also interface with an external mouse and keyboard. On its own, your phone emits enough powerto connect a typical wired or wireless 2.4-GHz mouse. However, if you want to connect a keyboard as well, you’ll need to route your connection through a powered USB hub.
Undervolt to Extend Your Battery Life
While some Android phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S4, allow you to swap batteries and even purchase high-capacity replacements, many leading handsets, including HTC’s and Google’s flagship devices, have sealed backs. Fortunately, if you have rooted your phone, you may be able to adjust its CPU frequency and voltage, a process known as undervolting. When we undervolted an HTC One and Nexus 4, we got 72 and 105 additional minutes of endurance respectively.
Turn into a Wireless Mouse or Touchpad
Whether you’re making a presentation on your PC or sitting on the couch watching it play a video on a huge external monitor, you’re going to need some kind of wireless keyboard or mouse to control it. You could spend some money for a wireless pointing device like the Genius Ring Presenter, but why not use your Android phone? With RemoteMouse, you can use your phone as a wireless keyboard and mouse for your computer. Touchpad apps such as Advanced Touchpad also support pinch-to-zoom.
Display a Start button and Taskbar
Microsoft may have ditched the Start menu and buried the desktop in Windows 8, but those UI elements are alive and well in Android if you want them. There are several apps that allow you to put the Start button and taskbar at the bottom of your screen, but our favorite is “Taskbar - Windows 8 Style,” which actually provides a very Windows 7-like experience, complete with a real Start menu and buttons for each open task. A tiny translucent icon sits in the corner of your screen allowing you to hide/unhide the bar as necessary.
Listen to Live AM Radio
Your smartphone probably costs around $600 retail (without subsidy), but when you want to listen to a live event, tune in to a talk show or get the latest traffic update, sometimes a $10 AM radio seems better. Fortunately, if you install a free app called TuneIn, you can get a live stream of almost any AM or FM station in the United States. The $4.99 pro version of the app even lets you record radio broadcasts.
Install Desktop Linux
An Android phone has enough performance and flexibility to run a server, so why not turn it into a Linux workstation? Using an app such as Complete Linux Installer, you can run a desktop operating system like Ubuntu or Debian right on your phone. Connect your phone to a keyboard, mouse and external display, and you’ll be multitasking with power while using those operating systems’ windowed interfaces and productivity-centric apps such as GIMP and OpenOffice.
simple tips that can make your new Android phone better
Find a keyboard that works the way you do. I actually like the stock Google keyboard that comes with Android, but everyone is different. Luckily, Android lets you install and use the keyboard — or keyboards, for that matter — you prefer. A quick search in the Google Play store will get you started but most people can’t go wrong with SwiftKey.
This app uses smart word prediction combined with a way to intelligently learn your personal typing styles by analyzing messages from Facebook, Twitter (twtr), Gmail and more. Even if you don’t use that function, this is still one of the best third-party keyboards on the market. By the way: The stock Google Keyboard also supports swyping, or sliding your fingers from key to key, so don’t overlook that feature.Turbo-charge your camera. There’s nothing wrong with the camera apps that Google and its hardware partners provide. If you want to take your mobile photography to another level though, the free VSCO Cam app is a must-have. The software includes 10 presets for image manipulation while others are available for purchase. You might not need to spend a dime though: The basic imaging tools are top-notch and can vastly improve photos which can be shared directly to various social networking sites. Another tip: Find a place to store those photos in the cloud. Dropbox and Google+, to name a few, offer automatic photo backup services.
Unleash a watch-dog on your mobile data. A number of apps are available to make sure you don’t go over your monthly mobile broadband limit, but don’t overlook the one that’s built right into Android. Hop into your phone’s Settings and look for the Data Usage app.Here you can set a warning for a certain amount of mobile broadband use in your billing cycle, such as 1.5 GB if you have a 2 GB plan, for example. My phone, a Moto X, doesn’t let me set a warning but it does have the rest of the Data Usage functionality, showing me how much data each application uses. If your Android doesn’t have this function, consider the free Onavo Count app. And if you want to squeeze more bits from your data plan, the Onavo Extend companion app could help: It compresses data so you can get surf online more by using less data.
Turn your phone into a personal assistant. Built in to the latest version of Android is something called Google Now. To take advantage of it, you have to allow Google to access your personal information, such as your email, calendar and location. If you’re using an Android phone, chances are you’re already doing that already, so why not get something in return?
Google Now is like Siri on steroids: You can do voice queries with it, but it can also proactively ping you with useful information. Traffic building up on the way to your next appointment? Google Now will automatically tell you to leave earlier. Got a package on the way? Google Now will track it for you. The full list of features and functions is right here but unless you opt in, you’re missing out. Just swipe up from the Home button on your Android phone to see Google Now for an explanation of the service and a check box that say’s, “OK, I’m in!”Remove the clutter from websites for a distraction-free browsing experience. I recently found a way to replicate this feature found on Apple’s(aapl) iPhones: In iOS it’s called Reader and with a tiny bit of effort you can have the same functionality on your Android phone. Just follow these five steps and instead of reading busy web pages filled with ads and other distractions, you’ll see just the pure content in the Chrome browser for Android. Here’s a before and after example: