It's Thanksgiving morning, and I have the day off, but my body's internal clock wouldn't let me sleep in, nor would my animals, whose bellies are quite used to their normal early morning feeding time. So, as I was lying in bed, thinking about today and reflecting on all of the things that I'm thankful for, I decided to pop online and write this quick blog post.
First and foremost, I'm thankful for TechRepublic and the IT community that calls this web site their home away from home. Secondly, I'm the editor of TechRepublic's Smartphones blog, and I use my smartphone a LOT. I would like to say it's because I take my job very seriously, but it goes beyond that. I've been out to eat with a group of friends and colleagues and noticed that everyone was on their smartphone, so I know it's not just me. In fact, TechRepublic's sister site, SmartPlanet, recently highlighted a survey about the growing smartphone addiction in the United States (and I'm sure that other countries are quite attached to their devices as well).
So, without further adieu, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd like to list 10 things about my smartphone that I'm pretty darn thankful for. I have a Droid Razr Maxx HD that runs Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean), but many things on my list are fairly common features that are available on most smartphones, regardless of the OS platform or manufacturer.
- Clock: Over the years, my smartphone has increasingly become the primary way I know what time it is. I'll pick it up, click the power button to wake it from sleep mode, check the time, and then set it back down. There are even numerous clock widgets that you choose from to make the time more prominent on your home screen display. I used to wear a watch, but not so much anymore.
- Alarm: Just like my watch from days of old, I used to own an actual alarm clock that plugged into the wall and took up space on my bedside table. My smartphone has taken over that duty as well, and I think it does it much better. Not only is my smartphone alarm feature easier to program, and I can select several different alarms to go off throughout the day (either one-time alarms or ones that repeat daily, weekly, or certain days throughout the week), but I can also select from a variety of different tones (less jarring tones than a traditional alarm clock) to wake up to.
- Speaker and Mute: I used to wear a Bluetooth ear piece to talk while driving or whenever my hands were too busy to hold my smartphone to my ear. However, I've recently been taking advantage of the speaker instead of siphoning the sound through just one ear. I know that's not ideal for every situation, but I mostly telecommute, and my animals aren't disturbed when grandma calls and broadcasts her new favorite recipe. There are also times during phone calls when Mute comes in handy. In fact, I mute approximately 90% of my conference calls – only becoming audible when questions are directed at me or I have something to add to a conversation. I have a teenager in the house that may or may not be a game rager. If he was, believe me, no one would want to hear that (not even grandma).
- Font size: A couple years ago, small text started to get a little fuzzy. Almost everyone over 40 will be able to relate – and everyone younger will get there eventually! One of the best customizations I made to my smartphone was increasing the font size so that I can actually read things without glasses. I went to Settings | Display | Font size, and then selected Huge. I'm definitely thankful for huge font.
- Voice texting: I'm a big texter. For me, sending text messages are sometimes easier and more convenient than making a phone call. However, there are times when texting isn't possible or safe – like when your hands are busy preparing dinner or you're driving home from work – but you still need to get a message out about items that are needed from the grocery store. The voice text feature doesn't always understand my words correctly, but I continue to use it in a pinch. It's functional, plus there's potential entertainment value of the auto-correct feature.
- Google Now: I admit that I have Siri-envy, but Google Now has been satiating my need to get information quickly, without having to type. When I click the Google Now microphone and ask, "Where is the closest Starbucks?" it responds with a female voice that says, "Here is a listing of Starbucks within 20 miles." The information it provides includes address, phone number, web site, reviews, and directions how to get there (with the help of Google Maps). If you're in an unfamiliar part of town, or another city altogether, information like this is golden.
- Calendar: I use my smartphone calendar for planning just about everything. I've synced it to my work calendar, email calendars, U.S. holiday calendar, and even my Facebook account (events and friends' birthdays). I look at my smartphone calendar every single day, and it lets me know important information, like what work tasks I need to complete. Whenever I'm scheduling an appointment, I'm thankful that I no longer have to say, "Let me check my calendar and get back with you," because my calendar is always on me and up-to-date with all of my information.
- Contacts: I know this seems like a simple thing, but having quick access to information about the people I know is pretty cool. It used to be that you had to get everyone's information and then enter all of the individual pieces – name, home phone, cell phone, work phone, address – into your contact list. Now, with the help of Facebook syncing, all of that information automagically appears. I may not have kept in very good touch with some of my high school friends, but there sure are a variety of ways that I can reach them now!
- Camera: Smartphone camera capability has increased over the years, and this feature alone is how a lot of people base their new smartphone purchase. My smartphone takes really good photos, and I use it more than I ever used a regular camera, because my smartphone is with me wherever I go. However, I don't just take selfies or cute photos of my animals. I also take pictures of receipts, error messages on my computer screen, and other things that I want to remember but don't want to spend the time writing it down or have to hold onto a piece of paper.
- Apps: There are numerous apps on my smartphone, and many of them are addictive. Some are functional and some just provide countless hours of entertainment. Currently, I'm most thankful for the following apps: Facebook, Google Maps, Grocery IQ, Local Places, and Bitstrips (which is connected to my Facebook account).
What other smartphone features – ones that you possibly take for granted – are you thankful for? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.