a mom’s guide to smartphones

Smartphones are everywhere, and as the functionality advances, so must user knowledge. Many people don’t consider themselves tech savvy, but still want to be able to use their phone daily. When I started in the cellular industry almost twelve years ago as a customer service representative, we had just received the first camera phone. Now, twelve years later, phones can do anything a computer can do, and sometimes more! However, it’s not always easy to adapt to new technology as it emerges.

In the last twelve years, I have been asked thousands of questions and have seen almost everything you can imagine go wrong with a phone. I’ve compiled some basic helpful tips in hopes of acquainting you with your phone and saving you from those pesky trips to your local cellular dealer or calls into customer service.

Smartphone Basics

For this section, we are operating under the assumption that you are either a current or future android or Iphone user.

What are the differences between operating systems?

In layman’s terms, comparing an iPhone to an Android is like comparing a Mac to a PC; they both do the same basic things (i.e. sync email, download apps, take pictures, internet browsing) but they do them in completely different ways. Android users are going to find that they have a multitude of different phones to pick from when choosing their new phones. Manufactures include Samsung (the most prominent), Motorola, LG, Pantech, Sony, and HTC. Each phone runs on the Google platform, using Google as its backup server, requiring a Gmail email account, and using Google play to access apps. It is also an open platform; this means that the user has much more flexibility with the customization of the phone. You have the ability easily to download and use ringtones; you can also download free music and have access to more free apps. However, the open platform gives any developer the means to put an app into the play store for you to download. Just like on your Microsoft computer, these apps can sometimes carry “viruses” that can be harmful to your device. And that virus protector that you’ve downloaded is redundant to the phone’s functioning and many times also cause issues.

Apple is very proprietary with their equipment. There are generally only a few phones to pick from when upgrading and they are usually more expensive. Iphones are much more intuitive and user friendly because they have less “stuff” going on them. On an android, the cellular carrier, Google, and the phone manufacturer all have things that they put on the phone (otherwise known as bloatware) that take up the internal memory. Apple just puts Apple stuff on theirs. The design of the Iphone makes it much more intuitive and much more user friendly. They also test every app that they release into the app store; therefore there is no risk of downloading anything malicious onto your phone. But, because of this, you have less access to free apps. You want a ringtone? You have to buy one or get one through itunes. The same is true for music.

Tips and Tricks

1. Smartphones are just like computers, the more you have on them, the slower they run. Clear non-essential information (i.e. text messages, browsing windows, pictures) periodically.

2. To help with speed, make sure to close out open apps. Most newer androids will have a virtual key that looks like double rectangles. Tap the key, and all of your open apps will come up. There should be an option to close all. If you don’t have the rectangles, try pressing and holding on your home key. Otherwise, perform step 3.
If you are an Apple user, double tap on your home key (that round key on the bottom of the phone) and swipe all the windows up to close them out. When you are done closing them, hit the home key once more to go back to your main screen.
3. Smartphones freeze just like computers do, but there is no control-alt-delete option. If your phone has a removable battery (Samsung in particular), take the back and the battery off of the back for a minute and then put back together and power up the phone. If your Android phone doesn’t have a removable battery, hold the power key and the volume down key until the screen goes dark and the welcome screen comes back up. If you carry and Apple device and it freezes, press and hold the power key and the home key at the same time until you see an Apple symbol come up. Even if your phone isn’t freezing, this is a good habit to develop as it refreshes your system.

4. If you learn only one thing from me, it is this – BACK UP YOUR INFORMATION!! If you have an Apple phone, you can use ICloud or ITunes. The benefit of ICloud is that once set to back up; it will back up select information when connected to wifi and plugged in to the charger. It is done automatically. ITunes requires a hard wire connection with your computer. Pull up ITunes and plug your phone into the USB on the computer. ITunes should walk you through how to do the backup.
Android devices tend to back up some information through Google. If your cellular provider has a cloud service available, use it. Otherwise, you can use apps like Dropbox to back up pictures and documents. You can also plug your Android device into a computer, and it will recognize like a flash drive. Open the files and copy them on to your computer to be written back on later.
Not only will this help you immensely in case your phone is ever lost or stolen, it will also make any phone upgrade you perform much quicker.

5. Know your passwords. If you have an android phone, know your Gmail password. Your Gmail helps to back up your information, and your cellular provider will have no access to that information. The same is true of your Apple password. If you use iCloud, it is the only way to get logged in. Also, if you are having issues with your email not coming through, the easiest fix is to remove the email and re-add it, so know your email passwords as well. If you are going to get a new phone, have this information available and current. If you want your sales representative to help you set that information up, it will take less time and energy to do so if you have your passwords.

6. Protect your phone. Think of your smartphone as an investment. The retail cost of a smartphone ranges anywhere from $300-$950. If the phone breaks prior to your upgrade, that retail cost is what you will pay for a new one. Buy a good quality case and leave it on your phone. And don’t assume that because you’re careful with your phone, nothing will happen to it. Unfortunately, none of us live in a vacuum. That is like saying you are not going to insure your vehicle because you are a good driver…..

7. If you ever have trouble with the phone, the software, an app, or email, you are not the first one to experience it. Google what’s going on with your phone and you will more than likely find an answer. Also, keep in mind that your carrier does not make the phone or develop the apps or software, so they may not be able to fix it, and may have to refer you back to the manufacturer of said item.

8. If you are an Iphone user, make sure that you don’t accidentally turn on Do Not Disturb. It is a feature that allows the user to disable phone calls and text message notifications from anyone who is not in their favorites. You will know that it is on if you see a crescent moon in your top bar near the battery indicator. If you see that crescent moon, slide your finger from the bottom up to pull up your shortcut panel. Find the circle that has the moon in it and tap it. That will disable Do Not Disturb. Also, if you are sharing an Apple id with someone else, go into your imessages under settings and verify that your phone is only sending and receiving from your phone number and not the email address or both phones will receive imessages. While you are in there, also toggle the switch that says “Send as sms” on. It will help you in the long run.


Favorite Apps
1. Instagram – Instagram is a photo editing and sharing site. It allows you to manipulate photos either from your camera roll or your camera. You can change the filters, blur things out, and share them with your followers. It’s a great way for us tired Moms to filter out the bags under our eyes and you also don’t have to sort through a news feed to look at photos.

2. Pinterest – Pinterest is the perfect app for crafty moms……or those moms that want to be crafty. It is a centralized database where people share ideas for anything you can think of (pins). You can search for something via category (hair, photography, holidays & events, art, etc.) or you can type in what you are specifically looking for. During the holidays, I searched for “Christmas cookies” and found dozens of links to recipes. Recently I searched for blonde hair with purple underneath and found several photos to take to my hair dresser. I pinned shaving cream Easter eggs….and then made the ugliest Easter eggs I’ve ever seen. They aren’t always winners.

3. Mint – Mint is a financial organization app that is great for us forgetful Moms. It links your banking and credit card accounts into one easy to access format. It gives you a total of available funds, and then breaks down each account balance. It also sends you reminders as to when bills are due and lets you know when any unusual activity takes place.

4. Netflix – Access your Netflix account on your phone. I log on during lunch and catch up on whatever marathon I’m currently in the middle of. Right now, it is Melrose Place.

5. Angry Birds/Temple Run – Good apps to keep on your phone in case you ever need to entertain your child somewhere.

6. Timehop – Timehop is an app that you can connect to your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that accesses those accounts from previous years. Every day, it will link to whatever was posted on your social media that same date for the last 6 years. I always love the random pictures of my kids from 5 years ago that I forgot that I had taken.

7. My Fitness Pal/Fitbit/MapMyWalk – Good fitness apps that work as pedometers and some even let you keep track of your caloric intake.

8. AppsGoneFree – This is a good resource for discovering apps that might interest you that you had no idea existed. Every day, it will feature several different apps from different genres that are normally apps you have to pay for. During the span of time they are featured, they are actually free.
9. Cozi – Cozi is a calendar app that allows you to sync several calendars into one place with the email addressed associated with each calendar. It color codes each account so you can tell where each appointment is coming from as well as who it is for. The app can also be shared across several devices so that you and your spouse and children can see where everyone else is at. The Google calendar does the same thing.

There are tens of thousands of applications available for download, so these suggestions are just a drop in the bucket for what you can do on your phone. In the comments below, suggest some of your favorite applications. If you have any other questions, shoot them my way too!

Happy Smartphoning!

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One Response to a mom’s guide to smartphones

  1. Kim March 17, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

    Great post! I love the tips – I definitely need to be more diligent about backing up my stuff.

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