You will be disappointed, but not surprised, to know that this blog has only 13 loyal readers, down from the 54 who used to read in the past. It makes a lot of sense because there is not one who can, in their right mind, waste their time reading badly written pointless text. For what it’s worth, I appreciate the loyalty of all the 13 readers of this blog. Hence, I would like to give all 13 of you a Christmas gift.
No, do not get excited yet. It’s not the conventional Christmas gift. It’s the kind of gift that is a useful as this blog.
I believe most of you, if not all, loyal readers of this blog, use smartphones. At least that is what the statistics of the blog indicate. My observation, which I cannot cite because it is not scientific, is that most smartphones are under-utilised by their owners despite some owners spending over R10,000 on them. My gift to you is a few things you can do with your phone.
In January 2014, I blogged about what I suggested should be among the 2014 resolutions of the readers. Some of those recommendations included smartphone applications Dropbox, Airdroid, Ladytimer and others. My early Christmas gift is a few smartphone apps that I recommend for the readers of this blog. You can pick any that you think will be useful for you or none if they are all useless.
Before I get to the list of gifts, it is worth noting that I have previously written about mobile phone privacy in relationships. The reason for pointing this out will be apparent as the list of gifts goes on.
My list of gifts will mostly benefit Android phone users (android phones include Samsung, HTC, Sony and other but exclude iPhone, Nokia and Blackberry). I will try to include equivalent applications for the other phones where possible.
These gifts appear in no particular order.
AppLock is an app that does what its name says. It locks apps. Ordinarily, you would have a screen lock on the phone that you unlock with a lock code, pattern or fingerprint. Once unlocked, you can access any part of your phone. What AppLock is to enable you to provide a second layer of security on your phone. For example, you lock access to your photo gallery using AppLock. So when a friend wants to make a phone call with your phone, you can freely unlock the screen for them and let them use the call function of the phone. If they try to go to the gallery after call, it would require a lock code or pattern, which you can make different from the screen lock. You can lock important areas to protect third parties such as WhatsApp, photo gallery, sms, Facebook and so on.You are probably thinking that is disproportionate security which is not worth it and may end up inconveniencing you with so many codes to unlock. You could not be more wrong. I have the AppLock deactivated on my phone most of the time. It takes one click to activate it before I hand the phone to anyone. It also takes one click plus unlock code to deactivate it once a friend returns your phone. The other beauty of it is that you can have time activated lock. For example, to protect third parties who chat with me if I fall asleep on a couch at a friends place, AppLock activates automatically at 21:00. If I deactivate it because I am still awake, there is another auto activation at 22:00 and every hour after that until 02:00. You can also set a location based activation, where AppLock activates automatically when you get home or when you get to work.If you use an Android phone you can download AppLock for free by following this link or search the Play Store for it. I do not know the iPhone equivalent.
Sometime you would like to know where your loved ones are and that they are safe without having to call them and check. Life360 makes this extremely easy. No, you cannot do it without their knowledge. They have to install Life360 too. Once you both have it installed in your respective phones, you can then go to the app at anytime to see the exact location of the other without the other one having to do anything on their phone nor get a notification about it. They can also see your location anytime (unless you switch off location on your settings).In addition to having to go to Life360 on the phone each time, you can set Life360 to send you a notification each time a person gets to a specific location. For example, my phone notifies me every time Mthokozisi, a close friend, gets home. The reason I track that he gets home is because he has been in two car accidents in the past 3 years, in both his cars were written off. So I have Life360 as an early warning system if he does not get home until the morning. I also track the location of siblings and cousins, when they do not have it switched off.Good luck convincing your loved ones to install the app so you can track each other.Life360 can be downloaded for free on an Android phone by following this link. iPhone users can download Life360 using this link.
You have probably watched one of the videos that have recently surfaced on the internet showing road accidents. I think the first such video to be widely circulated in South Africa was of a truck accident at an intersection in Pinetown in Durban a while back. Since then many other have surfaced on the internet.Those videos are taken using a Dashboard camera or Dashcam. It is a popular product in some countries, particularly Russia. I am not aware of regulations for it in South Africa, particularly is as far as privacy is concerned, as they may clearly invade other people’s privacy by recording them without their consent. However, some logistics companies and even private individuals buy the camera and use it to protect themselves against insurance claims and to have video evidence in case of an accident to see who may have been at fault. A cursory browse reveals that a Dashboard camera could cost about R2000 or more.That is where the CamOnRoad comes in. CamOnRoad is a smartphone that does exactly the same thing that the Dashcam does. Except it is free and you use your phone. All you will need is the smartphone car mount or phone holder. I bought one that attach to the windscreen for about R300. Sometime, when I drive, I place my phone on it, plug in the car charger, open ComOnRoad app and start recording.You may think recording hours of driving will use up the space on your phone. Not to worry. I have allocated CamOnRoad 2GB out of the 32GB of my phone memory card. CamOnRoad records in this 2GB. If it gets full, it deletes older videos to record new ones. You are unlikely to have any use of older videos if no significant incident was recorded. However, if like me, you just like keeping useless records, you can set CamOnRoad to upload the videos to the cloud, be it Dropbox or Google Drive (data charges apply for uploading). Once uploaded they are deleted on the phone to free up space for more recording.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that night time recording is not as bad as I had imagined it would be particularly because I use a relatively cheap phone, the Samsung S4 Mini. When driving in well lit conditions with street lights, your car lights and lights of other cars aid the visibility of the video. I have not tried in roads with no street light. I imagine it will not be as good but maybe sufficient to capture evidence of who may have been at fault in the unlikely event on an accident.
CamOnRoad also has navigation features for directions to a place, shows the distance to next filling station and alerts you to fixed speed cameras on the road plus alerts you if you drive over the speed limit of the zone you are driving on.
Other than for insurance purposes, I think it is a good idea to have it given the crime that happens at intersections such as smash and grabs. If more people recorded, it would be like having a network of CCTV cameras everywhere that could aid the police in their work. Obviously that comes with the unanswered question about the privacy of others as the video records everything that happens in front of the lens of the camera.
Sometimes you may want a little bit of privacy on your chats. For example, you can chat to a friend about a sensitive personal or family matter but that friend might have a partner who has no respect for your privacy and believes that he/she can go through their partner’s phone anytime. In this way, your privacy is compromised.Wiper solves this problem. It is a chatting app almost similar to WhatsApp, except if you wipe the chats on your phone they also get wiped out on the other persons phone. And no, they cannot take a screenshot of the conversation if they are on Android. If they are using an iPhone, they may be able to take a screenshot, but if they do, the app notifies you that a screenshot of the conversation has been taken. At least you then learn not to trust that person.I rarely use the app due to the inconvenience of having too many chat apps. But I have friends who use it, so I chat to them in it. Good luck in convincing others to install the app so you can chat to them in it.If you use Android, you can download Wiper free by following this link. iPhone users can download Wiper by following this link.
- Total Recall
No, not the movie. Total Recall is an app for recording phone calls. It records both incoming and outgoing calls. There are other apps that try to do the same but tend to have difficulty recording the side of the person you talk to. They only record your voice using your microphone. So to record both your side and the other person’s side you have to put the phone on loud speaker. Total Recall solves this problem by recording directly both your side and the side of the incoming voice without relying on your microphone.Like CamOnRoad, you will not run out of space if your link Total Recall to the cloud, Dropbox or Google Drive or another cloud service (data charges apply for uploading). You can set it to upload recorded call to the cloud and delete them on the phone automatically to free space for recording future calls. If, unlike me, you do not want to record all calls, then you have an option to choose at the end of each call whether to save or delete the recording of the call you just finished. In that way you will not have to record calls of telemarketer selling you insurance or cellphone contracts you do not want.I do not know yet what is the good reason for recording calls but I just like it. So I record all calls and keep them in the cloud. Total Recall has a pleasant filling system that has calls organised into folders named with the name of the contact you spoke to. Inside the folder the name of the file starts with out_ or in_ depending on whether it was an outgoing or incoming call, plus the date, time and the number of the person are all the file name. So you can easily find calls by a specific person. If the number is not saved, it labels the folder Unknown but the file name would have the number of the person except if the number was withheld then the file name would be labelled unknown as well.Total Recall uses various file formats. I adjusted it to save in mp3 because it saves space but still at a good quality. You can also adjust when the recording starts, mine starts within 3 seconds into the call.
To download Total Recall on Android free for six months follow this link. I do not know the iPhone equivalent.
- PVR Remote (South Africa)
As the name says, this app makes your phone a DStv remote. Although the name says PVR, you can use it with most DStv decoders, by switching off the PVR mode. It works on any decoder, try not to abuse it.I installed it so that I do not have to walk 1 metre to the other seat to get a remote. I just use my phone without moving from my spot.Android users can download the app for free using this link. I do not know the iPhone equivalent.
- Safety assistance (Samsung)
This is a phone setting rather than an app. It comes with the phone. I first saw it on my Samsung S4 Mini, but I have verified that it is available on Samsung S4, S5 and S6, although it works slightly differently on each model.As the name suggests, this is a safety assistance setting of the phone. If I press both the volume up and down buttons simultaneously on my S4 Mini, the phone; 1) records a short voice note, 2) takes two pictures, one with the front and one with the back camera, 3) collects the location data using GPS 4) It then sends all this information as MMS to three numbers I have set up as emergency contacts, 5) it repeats steps 1 to 4 every 10 minutes until I go to settings to stop it. It does all these things without switching on the screen or anything.It is not a perfect system because; the pictures might be unclear in the dark because it does not use the flash. It can also give your emergency contacts a false alert if the two volume buttons were pressed accidentally while the phone is in the pocket with other things or in a bag. The MMS service uses airtime, data or wifi. If you do not have airtime or internet, the messages will not be sent.However, in a real emergency, it is better than nothing because it sends your location and other data. At least one of your three emergency contacts, if not all, should be able to act to try and assist you with your emergency. You could be in a crime situation, accident or another emergency. If you have airtime and activate this feature by pressing the volume buttons, it may or may not help. Note that it is not a replacement for dialling 10111 or 112 to call an ambulance or police, but if you cannot make the call, it might help.
On Samsung S6, the feature, once setup, is activated by pressing the off/on button 3 times in quick succession (triple click). I forgot how it is activated on the S5 but it is there. You have to go to the phone settings and look for Safety assistance, setup the emergency contacts (three is the maximum), set the intervals of minutes it should repeat sending until you stop it.
I have had a friend use it once in a real situation and it worked well.
As I indicated this is a Samsung phone feature, not an app. Users of other models of Samsung may check if they have it and leave a comment here indicating the model and whether they found it. Other Android users can also check their phones for this and share whether they have a similar feature so that we spread the word.
It is extremely important to note that the app ecosystem is very competitive. If you find an app that looks like one of the apps that I mentioned but is not exactly the one, I am not responsible for what may happen on your phone. The apps I have listed here are the apps I have installed as used for a while, hence I can recommend them to friends and the loyal blog readers so they can stay safe in the coming festive season.
These are just recommendations and do not necessarily need to be followed. The reader will use their own discretion in deciding to install and use any of these apps. The good thing is that an app can be installed and try, if the user is not happy with it, then can uninstall it. If you know of, or have used any other, app that you found useful and might be handy to others, do share. Expensive smartphones need not be about taking photos and social networks only.
Unfortunately, for iPhone users, I do not know the equivalent apps of all the apps for iPhone. Also note while some of the apps are free on Android App Store, I do not know whether the same apps are free on Apple App Store as well. Sorry.