“Life hacks” are addictive. Maybe you fixed a running toilet with a paperclip. Or you turned a ruddy old door into a makeshift coffee table. You looked at your invention with pride, because you foraged in the garage and jury-rigged something together that worked.
There are many “tech hacks” that offer simple solutions to everyday digital setbacks. Here’s a list of some of my favorite tech hacks. Most are easy and immediate, but there’s one to embrace your inner MacGyver that should take you a few hours.
Be sure to watch the video demonstrations too. You won’t miss a step that way.
1. Amplify your phone’s speakers
Smartphone speakers aren’t very powerful, which is why most people connect the phone to ear buds or Bluetooth stereo gear to really enjoy their music and podcasts. (If you have Apple Airpods, click here for clever ways not to lose them.)
But if you’re in a pinch for sound, place your phone into a dry cup or bowl. Aim the speakers downward, and you’ll be astonished by how much louder your audio will sound. The hack only takes a second to set up. Just remember to use clean cups!
Want to hear how much better it sounds? Click here to see my video demonstration.
2. Create DIY speakers from household items
Wasn’t that fun? Let’s take it to the next level: You can make your own speakers. All you need is an empty cylinder, such as the cardboard tube you find in the wrapping paper roll, a Pringle’s sleeve or a two-liter soda bottle.
Cut out a hole or add a notch that fits your smartphone’s body. Make sure you’re affixing the phone so that the speakers are facing into the tube. The sound will resonate inside the vacuum, and the increased volume and higher quality will surprise you. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can use pretty much any building material, including PVC pipe.
Remember, each material and shape will affect sound in different ways. Click here for a slideshow showing what these ersatz speakers look like.
3. Turn your old tablet into a digital picture frame
Most tablets get updated every year or two, so once you’ve purchased your most recent one, what do you do with the old device?
You can turn some tablets into a digital picture frame, which you can easily place on any dresser or hearth. Show off your vacations and family photographs, and switch the scenery whenever you like.
Simply load up a site like Photosnack. It pulls photos from your online accounts like Facebook and Flickr and automatically assembles a slideshow for you to enjoy.
You can also use the photos already stored on your tablet and create an ongoing slideshow. Not sure how to do that? There are numerous dedicated slideshow apps that make it easy.
Want even more uses for an old tablet? Click here for nine additional hacks for you to try.
4. Boost your Wi-Fi signal
Would you believe you can use an old CD and a coat hanger to improve the Wi-Fi signal in your house? Sounds crazy, right?
This trick is a little more sophisticated than dumping a phone in a bowl, but if you’re patient, you can pull it off. You’ll also need a plastic CD case, a glue gun, a pair of wire strippers, and a coaxial cable.
In short: You have to fashion an antenna out of the clothes hanger, which will look like an angular figure eight. Glue the CD to the plastic container it came in. Then stick the antenna onto one end of the coaxial cable and string the cable through the middle of the CD’s case.
The final product should look like a miniature satellite dish. Click here for a full video tutorial about how to boost your Wi-Fi with household objects.
5. Test your remote control’s batteries
Normally, when you want to check the batteries on your remote control, you have to remove them. Maybe you have a tester, or maybe you just want to stick your double-As in another device.
If you have an iPhone, you can skip that step altogether. Just switch on your camera and aim the remote at the lens. Looking at the iPhone screen, you should see the tiny light that brightens when you press a button.
A camera phone can register that light better than the naked eye, so if your remote has any energy left, your controller should emit a dim light. If you don’t see any light at all, that means your batteries are officially kaput.
6. Use Alexa to find your lost phone
You’ve looked everywhere: the kitchen, the den, the car and even underneath the couch. But you can’t find your phone anywhere. There’s no one around, so you can’t ask someone to call you and wait for a ring tone.
Luckily, you can turn to your Amazon Echo and simply say, “Alexa, trigger find my phone.” Echo will then call your phone, and you can follow the ringtone or vibration to its location.
That’s not the only trick up Alexa’s sleeve. Click here for six more unique abilities of this virtual assistant.
Curious what other tricks I have up my sleeve? Be sure to listen or download my podcasts, or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.