Some apps do one thing, and they do it well. Others have a host of clever, hidden uses that you might have never thought of on your own. Here are our favorite clever uses for popular apps.
10. Google Voice
Google Voice hasn’t gotten a ton of updates since it first came out, but if you know where to look, you can find a lot of clever uses for it besides forwarding calls and texting from your PC (admittedly both amazing features on their own). You could use its voicemail to turn it into your own personal notes dictation service. You could use it as a personal emergency contact number that forwards to multiple people at once. It’s also handy for getting a number in another area (I used it for the intercom in my apartment building, which required a local number that I didn’t have). Check out our helpful uses for Google Voice and our favorite Google Voice tricks for more ideas.
9. Text Expanders
If you aren’t familiar with text expansion, it’s amazing: with just a few keystrokes, you can type long strings of text in just seconds. It’s great for typing out addresses, bits of code, canned email responses, and more—but it can do a lot of other stuff, too. You can use it to navigate the folders on your computer, use them to type non-English characters, save yourself from awkward word choice mishaps, and even avoid spam on Twitter. Check out our list of the best clever uses for more, and if you haven’t gotten started with text expansion yet, check out our favorite text expansion apps for Windows and OS X.
Ah, Facebook—the web service we all love to hate. Contrary to popular belief, though, it isn’t just a horrible time suck—it actually has some worthwhile uses, too. For example, it’s video chat is pretty phenomenal, and it’s a great way to schedule a party, collect photos taken of you (something that was much more difficult before Facebook’s invention), and follow your favorite web sites (hint, hint). Seriously though, with the right attitude, it can be a worthwhile addition to your bookmarks bar—graph search alone has some pretty neat features.
If you’re still resisting Twitter because you don’t care what Miley Cyrus had for breakfast, fear not: it’s useful for more than being a 140 character fortune cookie machine. We’ve shared a ton of great uses before: it gives great timely search results, for news, makes an awesome customer service portal, and can even make your favorite apps work with your phone’s voice commands. It also proved to be quite helpful during Hurricane Sandy, when other services went down.
6. That Browser You Don’t Use
Just because you’re a Chrome user doesn’t mean Firefox doesn’t have the occasional use (or Opera, or whatever it is you don’t use). Opera, for example, makes a great secondary browser optimized just for slow connections (like when you’re tethering or on crappy public Wi-Fi). A secondary browser is also good for logging into multiple accounts on the same site, or any of those other things private browsing mode is good for. Heck, you could even use one for work and one for play, to ensure you aren’t distracted during work hours.
5. Google Maps
Chances are you use Google Maps quite a bit for driving directions and navigation, but if you drill down into some of its seemingly “gimmicky” features, you can find some cool stuff. Street view alone can do some really cool stuff: you can use it to scout neighborhoods when you’re house hunting, check for parking before you go to a new restaurant, and even reverse look up places you don’t have an address for. Google Maps is also great for remembering where you parked your car, seeing where all your friends live at once, and more. Check out our guide to setting up the ultimate personal Google Maps for even more.
4. AdBlock Plus
We all know AdBlock Plus can block ads—it’s right in the name, but it can do oh so much more. It can clean up Facebook’s messy interface, block YouTube comments and other junk, stop web sites from tracking you, and even protect you from malware. So even if you don’t block ads (and if you do, we highly recommend you whitelist your favorite sites!), an Adblock extension is pretty handy to have around.
Okay, Wi-Fi isn’t exactly an “app,” but we thought it belonged on this list because it’s so often misunderstood as “that thing that connects you to the internet.” But Wi-Fi is much more than that: it’s a tool that wirelessly connects you to other computers, opening you up to do just about anything you want. With Wi-Fi, you can turn your smartphone into a remote control, print documents when you’re away from your PC, stream movies to other devices in your home, share files, and a ton more. And if your Wi-Fi’s a little weak, consider giving it a boost before you try these tricks.
Gmail is already a pretty feature-filled app, so it seems overwhelming even when you’re just trying to make the most of your email. But Gmail also offers a lot of features that go beyond email, whether they were meant to or not. For example, you can use it to host files in the cloud when you have no other option (by attaching a file to an email draft), or use Gmail’s Recent Activity window to keep track of your home computer’s IP address. Check out our top 10 clever tricks built into Gmail for more ideas.
1. Dropbox, SkyDrive, and Other Cloud Storage Tools
Cloud storage might be the most boring sounding tool on this list, but it’s so open-ended that you can use it to do all sorts of awesome stuff. With a program like Dropbox or Google Drive installed you can monitor your computer from afar, start BitTorrent downloads remotely, host your own start page for your browser, and automate just about any other action. Check out our top 10 clever uses for Dropbox for more ideas (and remember, most should work with any cloud storage service).
Title photo remixed from Sergey Nivens (Shutterstock).