Today’s phones are smarter than you probably know. Here are some of the surprising things they can do to keep you safe and healthy, and make life easier. In most cases, there's no need to download an extra app—and when we do recommend an app it's one made by Apple or Google.

There's just one wrinkle for Android users: Instructions and capabilities vary from brand to brand and model to model. But our instructions should work for most recent smartphones.

Health and Safety

Count Your Steps
Looking for a way to log your morning runs or Sunday strolls? Your phone can do that. According to our testers, the step-counting features on Apple and Samsung phones perform as well as those on fitness trackers.
• On an iPhone: Launch the built-in Health app and select Health Data > Activity.
• On an Android phone: The latest Samsung phones include the Samsung Health app, which, when activated, will automatically track your steps. For most other Android phones, you’ll have to download the free Google Fit app.

Let People Know You’re Driving
Distracted driving is an ongoing safety threat. Today’s phones can detect when you’re at the wheel and automatically respond to incoming text messages with a note explaining that you’re on the road and will be in touch later.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > Do Not Disturb > Do not disturb while driving > Activate.
• On an Android phone: Go to Settings > Sound > Do Not Disturb > Turn on automatically > Add rule > Driving. If that doesn’t work, download Google’s free Android Auto app.

More on Smartphones

Send Out an SOS With One Hand
The latest iPhones can be set to automatically call emergency services if you hold down the Side button and one of the Volume buttons. Once the call ends, the iPhone will text your chosen emergency contacts and share your location. Samsung phones have a similar feature—they won’t call the authorities on their own, but when you press the power button three times, your phone will send an SOS message to emergency contacts you have specified.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > Emergency SOS.
• On a Samsung Phone: Go to Settings > Advanced features > Send SOS messages.

Give Hearing Aids a Boost
With Apple’s new Live Listen feature, you can turn your iPhone into a microphone that links to a number of compatible hearing aids.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > MFi Hearing Devices and select your hearing aid model.
• On an Android phone: Google is working with manufacturer GN Hearing to provide similar support in future versions of Android.

Fight Eye Fatigue (and Maybe Insomnia)
Reading text on a bright white screen can tire your eyes and keep you—and your spouse—awake. Studies show that the blue tones in the light trigger the nervous system to be more wakeful. But many phones let you reduce the blue light and cut the glare by casting the screen in an amber glow. In some cases, you can even schedule a stretch of time for the feature to automatically activate.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift.
• On an Android phone: Go to Settings > Display > Night Light.

Privacy And Peace Of Mind

Lock Down and Erase a Lost or Stolen Phone
If your phone goes missing, you can secure the data on it with a passcode and post a request for help on the screen to assist in the rescue effort. You can also erase the device remotely to further safeguard your personal data. Fire up your computer, visit the following web pages, and follow the directions.
• On an iPhone: Go to icloud.com/find.
• On an Android phone: Go to android.com/find.

Keep Tabs on a Child or an Elderly Parent
If you have a 10-year-old who walks to school or a parent with Alzheimer’s disease, you can use the location-tracking technology embedded in their smartphone to monitor their travels.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > [Your Name] > Set Up Family Sharing > Get Started and follow the instructions for Location Sharing. This will allow you to create an account for the child and invite other family members to share their location data.
• On an Android phone: Download and open the free Google Family Link app and follow the instructions for setup.

Make Tasks Easier

Find Frequently Used Utilities Fast
Stop wasting time searching for handy controls and features. Today’s phones have shortcuts for quick access to the flashlight, calculator, music controls, “Do Not Disturb” mode, and other common applications.
• On an iPhone: Swipe up from the bottom of the phone’s home screen or down from the top right corner to reveal the Control Center.
• On an Android phone: Swipe down from the top with two fingers to summon Quick Settings.

Have Your Phone Read to You
Many phones can read the content on your screen out loud, whether that’s a text message, email, or newspaper article.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech > Speak Screen. (Once enabled, you can click open any article, then drag two fingers down from the top of the screen to get the reading started. You can also control the speed of the reading voice.)
• On an Android phone: Go to Settings > Accessibility > Select to Speak. (A small icon of a person appears on the screen; tap it and the phone begins reading.)

Create and Send a Screen Shot
Want to share a photo, recipe, or other item you find online? Take a snapshot of the screen and send it to your friends.
• On an iPhone: Depending on the model, you either press, hold, and release the Side and Home buttons or the Side and Volume-Up buttons. Then tap on the image to edit or share it.
• On an Android phone: Press and hold the Power and Volume-Down buttons at the same time. Tap on the image to edit or share it.

Record a How-To Video
If you have an iPhone, you can share any of these hidden tricks by creating a step-by-step video of what’s on your iPhone screen, along with your voice-over tutorial.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls > and tap the + next to Screen Recording. Then go to the Control Center and press the Record button.
• On an Android phone: You have to use a third-party app.

Make Text and Icons Easier to Read
With these simple ways to increase the size of fonts and icons, there’s no need to squint to read texts and emails on your phone.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Text Size. To increase the size of icons (and everything on the screen), go to Settings > Accessibility > Zoom.
• On an Android phone: Go to Settings > Display > Advanced > Font Size. To increase the size of everything on the screen, go to Settings > Display Size > then +.

Use Cool Tools

Find People and Places in Your Photo Collection Fast
Some of us have so many pictures on our phones (and in the cloud) that it can be daunting to find a favorite shot from a few years back. But every time you snap a photo, your phone records the time and place. And, if you’ve chosen to identify the people in your shots, you can use all that “metadata” to search for the image you want.
• On an iPhone or Android phone: Go to Photo > Search > enter a place name, date, or person’s name.

Magnify Small Type
Need a little help reading that tiny type on the prescription label? Your phone’s camera can serve as a magnifying glass.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Magnifier. (On older models, press the Home button three times to activate the feature inside the camera app. On new iPhones, use the Side button.)
• On an Android phone: Go to Settings > Accessibility > Magnification. (To activate, open the camera app and tap the screen three times.)

Create Custom Vibration Alerts
Lots of people choose custom ring tones to identify who’s calling, but iPhone owners can go one step further and create custom vibrations to pinpoint who’s texting.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Text Tone > Vibration > Create New Vibration. Now, hold your finger to start the phone vibrating and release it when you want a pause. Save and name the vibration. To assign it to a specific person, find them in your contact book and open their profile. Select Edit > Text Tone > Vibration.
• On an Android phone: You have to use a third-party app.

Shake to Undo a Typo
The iPhone’s Shake to Undo utility lets you erase a mistake you’ve typed in an email, note, or text message just by giving your phone a vigorous shake. If you erase something in error, give the phone another good shake to restore what you’ve deleted.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Shake to Undo.

Schedule Text Messages
How do you say good morning to an early bird? Good night to a night owl? With a well-timed text message, of course. Samsung phones let you compose and schedule one in advance. (iPhones don’t have a similar built-in function.)
• On an Android phone: Write your text message > Click the + button near the text field or the three dots in the top right corner of the screen to open the calendar > Select the date and time > Send.

Track Your Screen Time
Feel like you’re wasting too much time staring at your phone? Some models now have tools to help you monitor your digital distraction.
• On an iPhone: Go to Settings > Screen Time.
• On an Android phone: If you own a Pixel or OnePlus phone, you can download Google’s free Digital Wellbeing app. Those with other models can use the Google Family Link app to monitor their kid’s screen time.

Share Your Exact Location in a Text Message
Send a map of your location by text so that friends can easily find you in an unfamiliar place.
• On an iPhone: Open a text message, tap the circle icon at the top of the screen. Select Info > Send My Current Location.
• On an Android phone: Open Google Maps, press and hold your finger on your current location until a card listing the address pops up, then hit Share > Messages.

Control Your Cursor
If it’s hard to accurately move the tiny cursor on your phone with your chubby fingers, here’s a foolproof way to do it.
• On an iPhone: Press and hold any key on the keyboard. When the keyboard turns gray, it functions as a trackpad, letting you easily move the cursor within the text.
• On an Android phone: Press and hold the space bar and slide your finger left or right.

Turn Your Phone Into a Toolbox
You can now use an iPhone as a measuring tape and a carpenter’s level without downloading a third-party app.
• On an iPhone: Open the Measure app and tap Measure or Level at the bottom of the screen. When you point the camera at the object you wish to measure, it will appear on the screen behind a floating gold dot. Tap the + sign on the screen when the dot is at the starting point for the measurement and again after you’ve moved the dot to the end point. The Level function lets you straighten pictures using a digital interface on the phone.
• On an Android phone: These tools don’t come built-in, but you can download the Google Measure-Quick Everyday Measurements app.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the February 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.