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Smartphones & gadgets

10 steps to take with your smartphone now that we’re starting to leave home

After weeks of mandatory lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, several states are slowly starting to ease restrictions. That means your routine is about to look a lot more like it used to.

You may even be heading back to the office. We’re willing to bet it’ll look different. Tap or click for four ways offices will change post-pandemic.

Before you start venturing out more often, take a few minutes to get your smartphone ready. If you optimized your phone to work best while stuck indoors, it’s time to undo some of those changes.

Here are 10 steps you must take before picking up where you left off.

1. Remove the apps you no longer need

With school winding down and stores open again, you won’t have to play the role of teacher and entertainer much longer. The apps you downloaded to keep the kids (or yourself) busy are just taking up space, so you should delete them.

If you change your mind, you can simply open up the iOS App Store or Google Play and download them again. If you didn’t delete your associated app account, your old data will still be there, too. You don’t always want that, though; tap or click here to find out why uninstalling alone isn’t enough.

How to delete an app on iOS:

  1. Touch and hold the app.
  2. Tap Delete App, and confirm to remove it.

On iOS, enable this setting to automatically remove apps you haven’t used in a while:

  1. Open the Settings app and tap General.
  2. Tap on iPhone Storage.
  3. Find the Offload Unused Apps section and tap on Enable.
  4. If you can’t find it here, there’s an Offload Unused Apps toggle under Settings > iTunes & App Store.

How to delete an app on Android

  1. Open the Google Play Store app.
  2. Tap Menu, followed by My apps & games.
  3. Tap on the app or game.
  4. Tap Uninstall. 

2. Reduce your cellular data use

You probably spend most of your time connected to Wi-Fi at home. Now that you’ll be out-and-about, you don’t want to accidentally hit your data cap. Major wireless providers have suspended data caps for now, but this is still handy to keep your usage in line. It won’t last forever, after all.

Activate Low Data Mode in iOS

Low data mode stops background syncing and app refreshes. You won’t notice much of a difference while you’re using your phone, but it will reduce your overall data footprint. To enable Low Data Mode:

  1. Open Settings, then Cellular, followed by Cellular Data Options.
  2. Turn on Low Data Mode.

Activate Data Saver Mode in Android

Data Saver Mode limits your Android device to fetching background app data only when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. This can greatly reduce your monthly data usage. To enable Data Saver Mode:

  1. Open your phone’s Settings app.
  2. Tap Network & internet, followed by Data Saver.
  3. Turn Data Saver on or off.
    • In your status bar, when Data Saver is on, you’ll see the Data Saver icon, which looks like a broken circle.
    • You’ll also see a notification at the top of your phone’s Settings app.

3. Change the way your phone charges

When your charger is nearby, it doesn’t matter if your battery life and energy settings are optimized. But when you’re on the go, you’ll want your phone to charge quickly and last as long as possible.

Adjusting these settings will optimize the way your phone interacts with your battery and help when you’re caught in a jam without a charger. You’ll notice your device lasts longer, especially at lower percentages.

To optimize the way your battery charges on iOS

  1. Open Settings, then Battery and Battery Health, followed by Optimized Battery Charging.
  2. Choose the Battery option, followed by Battery Health.
  3. Turn on Optimized Battery Charging.

Battery optimization is on by default on most Androids. Here’s how to check for Android 8.0 and higher:

  1. Go to Settings > Apps.
  2. Tap the three-dot Menu icon, then tap Special access.
  3. Tap Optimize battery usage.
  4. Tap the Dropdown menu (a small triangle) then tap All.

4. Optimize your Do Not Disturb settings

If everyone is going back out again, prepare yourself for a barrage of texts and calls. If that doesn’t sound fun after weeks of solitude, you can always activate “Do Not Disturb” and set exceptions for people who really need to reach you.

On iOS

First, set up a group:

  1. Sign in to on your computer and open the Contacts app.
  2. Tap the + button in the sidebar, then choose New Group.
  3. Type a name for the group and hit enter.
  4. To add contacts, click All Contacts.
  5. Drag one or more contacts from the All Contacts group to a group you’ve created.

Next, you’ll set up that group, or your contacts marked as Favorites, to ignore Do Not Disturb.

  1. Open Settings, followed by Do Not Disturb.
  2. Turn on Do Not Disturb.
  3. Tap Allow Calls From and choose from Everyone, No One, Favorites or a group.
  4. Turn on Repeated Calls to allow repeated calls from the same number to come through for emergencies.

On Android

For Android, you’ll also start by setting up a group.

  1. Open Contacts, followed by Menu, then Create Label.
  2. Type the Label name for your group and tap OK.
  3. Tap the Add Person icon on the upper-right corner of the screen.
  4. Select a contact you want to add to the group.
  5. Repeat for any other contacts you want to add to this group.

Next, select contacts or groups to ignore Do Not Disturb.

For individual contacts

  1. Open the Contacts. Select for the person you want to set an exception for.
  2. Tap Edit in the upper right corner.
  3. Tap Ringtone.
  4. Toggle Emergency Bypass to on. You can also let texts from an individual bypass Do Not Disturb.
  5. Go to the Contact card and tap Edit, followed by Text Tone.
  6. Toggle Emergency Bypass to on.

For groups

  1. Open the Control Center by swiping down from the top of the screen.
  2. Tap and hold Do Not Disturb, which will open the Do Not Disturb settings menu. 
  3. Tap Allow exceptions.
  4. Specify the groups you want to ignore Do Not Disturb.

5. Reset permissions for your camera and microphone.

Many of the apps you used for working from home or entertainment activate your camera and microphone. Leaving these features enabled means any website or platform can access them too. It’s not wise to give carte blanche permissions to any website, so do this ASAP to avoid any issues down the road.

To reset camera or mic permissions on iOS:

  1. Open Settings, followed by Advanced.
  2. Scroll to find Content Settings in the Advanced menu and click on it.
  3. From there, click Microphone or Camera to adjust their permissions.

To reset camera or mic permissions on Android

  1. Open the Chrome app on your Android device.
  2. Visit a site that wants to use your microphone and camera.
  3. When prompted by a notification that says Allow or Block, choose Block.

6. Double-check “Find My Device” is on

When you lose something in your home, it’s not lost — just misplaced. If you lose something while you’re outside, there’s a chance you might not get it back, unless Find My Device is on.

This lets you track down your Android or iPhone when it’s out of sight, and you can even remotely wipe your phone if it somehow finds its way into the wrong hands.

Turn on Find My iPhone for iOS 10.3 or later:

  1. Check that you’re signed in to iCloud on your iPhone.
  2. Tap Settings.
  3. If you see Sign in to your [device], tap it and enter your Apple ID and password.

For earlier versions of iOS:

  1. Tap Settings, followed by iCloud.
  2. Enter your Apple ID and password.
  3. Tap Settings, then [your name], followed by iCloud. Select Find My [device].
  4. If Find My [device] is off, turn it on and tap Allow.

Turn on Find My Device for Android

  1. Open your device’s Settings app.
  2. Tap Security Find My Device.
  3. If you don’t see Security, tap Security & location or Google, followed by Security.
  4. Make sure Find My Device is turned on and toggle it on if it’s off.

7. Cancel those subscriptions you’re not using

All those streaming services, games and news subscriptions you signed up for are going to impact your wallet in a big way. With money as tight as it is, now is the time to whittle them down.

To cancel subscriptions on your iPhone:

  1. Open Settings and click on the menu with your name, followed by Subscriptions.
  2. Tap Cancel Subscription on the subscriptions you want to cancel, or Cancel Free Trial — which is located at the bottom of the screen.
  3. A pop-up menu will appear with information about the final subscription expiration. Tap Confirm to complete the cancellation. You may still have access to premium features until the official expiration date.

To cancel subscriptions on your Android device:

  1. Open the Google Play Store app.
  2. Tap Menu, followed by Subscriptions.
  3. Find the subscriptions you want to cancel and tap Cancel Subscription to close them. You may still have access to some premium features until the official expiration date.

8. Connect to the right networks each time

Your phone automatically joins Wi-Fi networks based on how secure they appear to be. If they’re all just as secure, your phone will join the strongest or closest network.

Instead, you can set your device to connect to preferred locations automatically and ask permission for unknown networks.

Have your iPhone ask permission before joining a new network

  1. Open Settings and tap Wi-Fi.
  2. Scroll down to Ask to Join Networks.
  3. Select Ask from the menu. Known networks will now be automatically joined and prioritized, and your phone will always ask your permission before joining any new or unknown networks.

On Android, you can adjust your phone to prioritize certain networks over others.

To change the order of your preferred Wi-Fi networks:

  1. Open Settings, followed by Network & internet. Then, choose Wi-Fi.
  2. Tap on the Overflow menu, followed by Advanced Wi-Fi.
  3. If this gives you a Wi-Fi Priority option, set your preferred Wi-Fi priority.
  4. If you don’t see the Wi-Fi Priority option, consider using a third-party Wi-Fi priority app. There are plenty available — just do your research first to make sure what you’re downloading is safe to use. Tap or click here to see the apps to watch out for on Google Play.

9. Silence your emails

Got an email chain with family or coworkers that never stops? End the nonstop alerts by muting certain email threads using your phone’s default mail apps.

To mute email threads on iPhone’s Mail app:

  1. Open the Mail app and find the thread that you want to mute. 
  2. Swipe the email to the left and hold until the Options menu appears. Use a light touch and don’t swipe all the way to the left of your screen. This will archive the email instead.
  3. Tap More, and choose Mute from the pop-up menu. 

To mute threads in Gmail on Android:

  1. Open the Gmail app on your Android.
  2. Press and hold the email thread you want to mute.
  3. Tap the three-dot button (…) on the upper right corner of your screen.
  4. Choose Mute to stop the emails from notifying you.

10. Make sure DND is on while driving

You’ve been attached to your phone during quarantine, and that’s a tough habit to break once you get in the car. Resist the temptation by activating Do Not Disturb while you drive.

Anyone who contacts you will get pre-written texts that tell them you’re driving. In addition, your phone’s screen will stay dark, and you will not be notified until you come to a stop.

To activate Do Not Disturb While Driving on iPhone:

  1. Open Settings, then Control Center. Tap Customize Controls.
  2. Tap the + next to Do Not Disturb While Driving.

On an iPhone X or later, you can also swipe down from the top right corner of the screen and tap the car icon. For iPhone 8 or earlier, swipe up from the bottom of your screen and tap the car icon.

To activate Do Not Disturb While Driving on Android:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Press Sound, followed by Do Not Disturb.
  3. Select the option to Turn on automatically.
  4. Tap Add rule, then choose Driving.

Even though businesses are opening up, that doesn’t mean the virus is gone. Stay safe out there, and keep practicing good hygiene along with digital safety. It’s one thing to lose your data or privacy, but your health is irreplaceable. Tap or click for Kim’s tips on entering and leaving your home safely to keep germs out.

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