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3 unexpected tricks for your smartphone

Your phone has a hidden treasure trove of talents you might not be aware of. Unlock more of your favorite gadget’s potential with these three tricks that will help you get a better look at small print, digitize your old photos, and stay in the know when you get new notifications.

1) Use your smartphone as a magnifying glass

Not everyone has 20/20 vision. And even if you do, sometimes the small print is just too small to read. It’s a good thing you have your smartphone handy. You can use it like a digital magnifying glass to make small fonts readable or to get a better look at a menu or other documents even if the lighting is bad.

For iOS devices, open up your settings and go to “General” and then “Accessibility.” Click the “Magnifier” setting listed under “Vision,” then turn on the toggle switch for the magnifier. You can now quickly trigger this feature by pointing the camera at what you want to read and triple-clicking the home button. When the magnifier is open, you can adjust the magnification, turn on the flash to see better, or change the brightness or colors.

For Android phones, one option is to go to your settings and choose “Accessibility.” Turn on “magnification gestures.” A triple-tap on the screen will enlarge anything on the screen, whether it’s an app or your camera view. For a more full-featured experience with easier control over using your phone’s flash for lighting, check out an app like Magnifying Glass Flashlight.

Tip within a tip: Want to learn how to use your smartphone to measure your heart rate? Check out this article with five more surprising things your smartphone can do.

2) Scan your old photos and negatives

Pretty much everybody has a box, usually tucked away in the closet, full of old family photos and negatives left over from the days when film still ruled and digital cameras didn’t exist. Those memories don’t have to be banished to that box forever. Rediscover your history and bring them out into the light of day with a photo-scanning app.

Google’s app is called, appropriately enough, PhotoScan. This app uses its built-in brains to crop, rotate, enhance and remove the glare from photos. It particularly makes sense for people who would like to archive their photography collection using Google Photos. Just keep in mind that the quality of your scans can still vary with the lighting and with the capabilities of your device’s camera. You can download PhotoScan for both iOS and Android (Apple, free | Android, free).

The Helmut Film Scanner app for Android phones specializes in handling your film negatives. It requires a little more work on your part since you will need to evenly illuminate the negatives from behind before capturing them. If you have access to a light box, this is easy, but you can also try sticking them up to a well-lit window or setting the negatives on a laptop or tablet screen set to show a blank white display. Once you have a method worked out, you can digitize those negatives and let the app turn them into normal photos.

3) Get an LED flash alert for notifications

It can be easy to miss the brief smartphone audio alerts that tell us when we have a new message, email or other notification, especially if you’re one of those people who tends to turn off your ringer and then forget to turn it back on. You can harness your phone’s LED flash as a way to get a visual signal for incoming notifications.

For iPhones, you can turn this feature on by going to settings, clicking on “General,” and choosing “Accessibility.” Look for the “Hearing” settings and turn on “LED Flash for Alerts.” Some Samsung Android phones have a similar option in settings, but most Android users will need to download an app to enable flash alerts. There are quite a few apps in the Play Store that offer this functionality. Flash Alerts 2 is one simple option that handles text and incoming-call LED alerts.

Just keep in mind that LED flash alerts can be very bright, so it’s not the sort of thing you’ll want to have going off while in a dark movie theater. Be sure to keep your phone tucked away where it won’t bother anyone during the film.

Tip within a tip: Smartphones aren't the only gadgets where simple tricks come in handy. Click here so you won't miss Kim's USA Today column where she shares five digital tricks for everyday situations.

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