Five fun smartphone tips

Tip #1: See what you’re ordering. You’re at a restaurant and looking over the menu. But you don’t know the difference between a turkey bolognese and a turkey piccata. What to do? Fire up your iPhone, Android, or other smartphone and go to and do a search for turkey bolognese. In just a few seconds, you’ll see what to expect:

Turkey Bolognese images

Ah, turkey-based sauce over spaghetti or pasta. Why couldn’t they just say that? 🙂

Tip #2. Comparison shop. A few days ago I was in a college bookstore that wanted to charge $178.60 for a copy of Mathematical Physics, by Eugene Butkov. $178.60? For a used, paperback book? Grrr. I took a picture of the UPC code and/or ISBN number:

UPC code

You can search for an ISBN or UPC code (e.g. [9780201007275] ) on Google or other search engines and usually find out a product pretty quickly. I found a copy for $115.34 at Amazon, plus eBay had a hardcover copy with a current bid of $23.20. For a college student, $60 to $150 is a lot of savings.

Tip #3. Make a note to remember later. You’re at IKEA or Petco or someplace where you need to remember a part number or the aisle/bin to pick up some IKEA furniture. Do you need to write the info down with a pen and paper? No! Just whip out your phone and take a picture of the label or part number:

Cat toy

In this case, my cat Ozzie loves the “long boa” cat toy, but two different Petco stores were both sold out. Taking a picture let me order the exact right product from Petco later online.

Tip #4. Archive a brainstorming meeting. If you end up brainstorming on a white board, it’s nice if someone is taking notes. But just to be safe, you can snap pictures of the whiteboard before you leave the room:

White board notes

Now you can refer back to the notes you made.

Tip #5. Keep a food diary. Some blogs have a direct “email-to-post” address that you can add as a contact in your phone. When you eat interesting food, take a picture of it and email it to that address:

Food diary or blog

Sometimes it’s fun to remember the more memorable meals you’ve eaten.

Are there smartphone tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment..

60 Responses to Five fun smartphone tips (Leave a comment)

  1. Because it’s turkey bolognese?

  2. Matt
    Excellent bunch of tips. I think a couple of these are upcoming apps on Android.
    Might make it even easier 🙂

  3. I don’t own a cell phone, much less a smartphone, but your post is mighty convincing of its usefulness. Can you guess what I’ll be asking Santa for this Christmas? 😉

  4. I’m just interested by the altogether excessive quantities of pepper provided…

  5. Twitpic

  6. Those are some good tips. Unfortunately, I don’t have a plan to really browse the Internet on my phone, but I do make use of pictures to check items later.

    The Iphone really makes surfing the web easier, and more ergonomic than having to punch stuff out on your keypad. However, I wonder about doing it regularly everyday. I have heard from several users that the sensitivity of the touchscreen degrades over time.

  7. Every time I notice I ate something interesting, it’s already gone.

  8. Looks like spaghetti to me.

  9. Pat Phelan, I think the UPC/ISBN snapshot -> product lookup and comparison shop will be a popular Android app.

    I think it would also be neat to take 3-4 pictures of a whiteboard and have an Android app that stitched them together into one seamless picture. For a whiteboard at least, that should be pretty doable.

    Now if I could get an app where I could read an entry on the menu and it would show me a picture, that would be fun:

    Me: “Um, the menu says ‘John Dory cooked on the bone.’ Is that a person?”
    Computer: “No, that’s a type of fish. It might look like this.”
    Me: “Oh, okay. Thanks, computer! Now show me what a beef bavette and an apple tarte tatin look like..”

  10. Are there smartphone tips you’d like to share?

    Yes, leave it at home, you are not as important as you think 🙂

  11. This one is an iPhone tip (which does not support copy/paste and contact forwarding)…

    If someone asks you to forward them a contact’s phone number/information, just take a screen shot of the contact’s info and mail it to the person! No need to remember it and type it out….

  12. Hey Matt. Thanks for the good tips. You can also use EverNote or MS OneNote to organize all of these pics either online or on your desktop (or on your phone). In the case of the notes on the dry erase board or the price tags, these programs use OCR to make those photos searchable by word as well.

  13. My best friend and I pulled off a combination of 2-3 when he went shopping for a new mattress/boxspring combo last year. While he tested the beds out, I photographed the price (as you did) but also the bed itself…with him laying on it making a face indicating how happy he was (or wasn’t) with the bed. If the salesperson got pissed off at what we were donig, and some did, I secretly took his/her picture as well so that way we’d know not to deal with the jerk or even the store later on.

    Of course, it all went for naught because the next week, Sleep Country Canada announced its annual mix and match sale and he went there and bought one…but the tip could be good for something else.

  14. Hi Matt. Been using the camera on my phone for ages like that. Whenever I’m in a book shop and see a book I want to read, I take a photo of the cover and then log on to my public library’s website (sometimes on the phone and sometimes at home) and make a free reservation. They let me know when the book is available and I get to read it for free. (Have groaning bookshelves in the house with no more space – very much a case of “one in – one out”.

    I alos photograph business cards and let the inbuilt character recognition do its stuff and store the info in contacts. At next synchro – alll the contact details are where I need them to be.

  15. Here is a smart tip!

    Searching for Bacon Polenta on brings very interesting images 🙂

  16. A few other fun tips how to use your smartphone:
    a) Make telephone calls. That’s right, no more searching for public phones and their gross smell! Just pull out your smartphone and phone away!
    b) Send text messages. Some smartphones have the ability to let you input text and send it to other people. It’s fun to write people I know, just like our forefathers must have done with that paper-pen-thingy.
    c) Try REALLY hard and imagine cell phones didn’t have crappy cameras built in until smartphones came around. Then make up a list of things to do with a crappy cell phone camera, like, for example, take pictures of things to memorize, in a pet store or in an Ikea, or something. Then wait for someone to invent blogs, so I can blog it.

  17. tip#1: On the Google-Images I see some red thingy with some pasta thingy. Maybe it would be better to simply ask a waiter. It’s more “interactive” and he can understand and answer your questions.

  18. I have done all these things, although unaware that OCR was avail on smart phones. I have not figured out how to use half the features of my not-so smart phone. Looking for a starbucks the other day I tried GPS directory – after several menus it asked what location I wanted to search near – isn’t that obvious? The location that I was at?! Isn’t that what gps does? Frustrated I tried a google search and it found some that were close – but the first couple of web sites were not too mobile browser friendly. So I asked a live person for the nearest and she was not from the area – my smart phone cost me 10 extra minutes – I gave up and went to the stbx on the other side of town near home.

    Can’t wait for them to get smarter – now I have to get smarter too and look if OCR is on my WM6 title – that would be nice!

    BTW – amazon has somekind of webcam barcode thing for taking inventory of your book collection with webcam pics of barcodes – hard to find on there site – but it is there somewhere – API would be nice.

  19. once i was in orlando disney land, i use my phone to take a picture of where i park my car.

  20. I cannot believe for one minute that someone doesn’t know what a bolognese is! Mind you I also found it surprising that you didn’t know what Diwali was until later life,

    Do you a’merkins live with your heads under rocks 🙂

  21. I never knew the use of ISBN or UPC code with Google. This functionality has make a regular visitor to a smart shopper.

  22. @Dave (original): I bow down before you. I am in the presence of true greatness. (I wish I’d said that!)

  23. Now do the image search with safe search off (as mine was by default). A much better way of passing your time whilst waiting for food.

    A couple of those shots reminded me of a burger.

  24. Best use I’ve found for a cameraphone is taking snaps of timetables, route maps etc when running for trains. If you’ve got a decent camera/zoom feature it’s good for later reference, and quicker than looking it up on the net.

    (plus GPRS reception can be pretty shoddy on a train)

  25. Matt, if you’re ever in Belgium and sampling the huge variety of local brews you can always use your phone to snap the beers you drank the night before so that when you wake up the next morning wondering what you had last night you can replicate that hangover by going out again mixing the Leffe Blonde with the Grimbergen and the Chimay Gold you captured on your phone.

    Cheers 😀

  26. @Lever

    you can also have an application that uses the g meter to work out when you have fallen over for over doing the beer.

    Actually that might make a us full app for a senior if it senses a sudden change that is similar to a fall it could beep and if the owner doesn’t respond within a set time limit it could make a 911 call or call their children.

  27. Hello Matt!
    I’m from Italy and i really know what a Bolognese is… It’s a sauce from BOLOGNA (that’s the cause of the name) and it doesn’t come from Turkey!
    Look at this

  28. lol I remember the days when people would just ask the “waiter” (now known as server) the difference between bolognese and picatta. Eventually people will be texting their order to their server, I guess. :p

  29. That’s a sandwich and coffee from Urth Cafe in LA, right?

  30. When I am at the airport I take a picture of the sign for the section that my car is parked in so when I come back a week later I can find it.

  31. re: Saving money on books… Sounds like you got a pretty good deal on that book, at least if you got the ebay copy.

    I like the free service Book’s Price for some of my searching. You can go to their site and search based on book title, author, or ISBN… but you can also go directly to a book based on it’s ISBN…

    Check out the current deals on that book:

    For text books, you can also check out; for other books you can check out or and get your book pretty much free.

    Take care,

  32. Chis, I grew up in Eastern Kentucky. There’s all kinds of things I don’t know. 🙂 Did you know what a “beef bavette” was though?

    Andrew Warner, correct–very impressive call! 🙂

  33. Great post! I’ve always felt that mobile devices will change the way we interact with the world. We’re now seeing a world of information that is available no matter where we are located. This should be a wake up call to brick and mortar stores to be aware of the mobile shopper that is more informed than ever. I’m sure there are used car salesmen losing sleep over the iPhone and Android phones.

  34. #Lever

    I take pictures of Beer Pump clips of beer I have drunk and upload directly from the pub to flickr using my n95 (using the free wifi in the pub)

    sorry I will get my coat

  35. @Matt,

    I posted about your tips at my Android blog including 5 of my own such as GPS replacement, translation service, and MAKING PHONE CALLS 🙂

    It was great meeting you at SMX Advanced up in Seattle earlier this Summer.

    ,Michael Martin

  36. I seem to recall some company uses bar code scanners to read the books ISBN in used bookstores and then does an Amazon data grab to find the cheapest price. If the copy they have is less than the cheapest one on Amazon, they buy and resell for a profit. Neat business use for an ISBN scanner in a phone.

  37. Matt – lol not a clue, but I now know a bavette of beef tartare look v good 🙂

  38. Isn’t enough for tip 1&4just the old pen and paper?
    for 3 just go home and check it out?
    for 1 just ask the waitress?
    do we really need 5?

    sometimes i think that technology is making things just more complicated…

  39. excellent tips matt


  40. Hi Matt

    I really liked the second tip. Taking picture of the upc or etc code and then searching it on Google. Sounds like a very good idea to see if we can get a better deal on the internet.

    This technique will work for so many thing [other than books].

    Thanks for this tip Matt, I never thought about this technique before.


  41. Awesome tips Matt – I can’t believe I’ve never thought of the food lookup. It makes perfect sense, and would be so easy to do. I know I’ve found myself in situations where I had absolutely no clue what I was getting ready to order…

    On the other hand, I like the sense of surprise, but I’ve been stung before (with a dish full of stuff that I wouldn’t even feed a hungry wolf).

    Thanks again!

  42. I am sure that there are other women who do this – – I take pictures when I’m trying on clothing in a dressing room and either MMS a pic to my girlfriends for their opinion or review the photos later if I am undecided as to whether or not I should make a purchase! I also use Google Maps & the GPS – – it’s amazinggggg.

    And I make a kick arss bolognese!!

  43. Pictures of food? Surely the ONLY test is in the tasting?

    Last time I bought food based on a picture, was the last time.

  44. I don’t know. it’s a cool idea to take photos but my camera sucks for taking photos. It’s all blurry and stuff. It’s also heavier and bigger than a pad of paper and pen. I guess if you have a phone with a camera then ya that works, but I can’t afford the cost each month for the phone bill.

  45. Relating to the photographing of things in day to day life, I partake in this a lot. I run on online marketing/motorsport project and take pictures of part numbers, problems, vehicle registrations as well as getting the camera/phone into places in engines and car bodies that my head won’t fit, or an endo-scope just isn’t good enough for.

    Sending a customer picture(s) of a problem is also much more informative, than simply stating that a part is broken as they rarely know what you are talking to. They can normally see and authorise the corrective work instantly.

    I also have found it useful when getting model numbers off equipment to then competitively price it at a later date.

    I don’t blog the pictures, but archive them in context on the computer for next time I need something similar. I don’t remember the numbers or the solutions, but I remember the problem and the approximate time that these things arose and am able to simply and quickly find the solution to them by looking in my photo archive.

    I have been doing this for about 2 years now here in the UK and have possibly the most diverse collection of photographs from my work in the online marketing field and motorsport preparation sector. Technology impacts every business, and having mms>mms/blog/email/gmail and from there I can send it to whereever I need it to be… I am loving the versatility that smart phones bring to my working life. I just wish things at home could be the same… photography of the fruit (beer) and veg (crisps) that I want never actually gets it delivered when I send it to the Supermarket over the road. 😉


  46. @Dave (original): I bow down before you. I am in the presence of true greatness. (I wish I’d said that!)

    Why? Are you the type of person who enjoys sounding like a complete idiot? There was nothing correct or even remotely intelligent in what Dave said.

    Work in an industry that requires some form of emergency/immediate contact and/or forward your home calls to your cell for a while and then you’ll see exactly why what Dave said is completely asinine (as are most things he says these days). Don’t encourage him…no good can come of it.

    Not only that, you’ll see the Matt’s tips have nothing whatsoever to do with talking to someone. He’s used the phone for entirely different reasons.

  47. I keep a few running lists in my Blackberry’s memopad. I have a list of movies to see (or rent, if you still go to a brick & mortar place. Hey, sometimes I crave the human interaction!). Likewise, I have a list of books I want to read, and I pull the list out when I’m at a bookstore, library, or shopping online. Another list is good wines I’ve tried. I’m not a very savvy wine connoisseur, but when I’m trying to pick something up at the store, I can go back to my “favorites” list. I keep these lists regularly. They don’t and these are lists that I’m never likely to remember unless I keep them in my phone.

    I don’t know what I did without camera phones. As a pedestrian, I’ve taken photos of commercial trucks who run through crosswalks and then called their “how am I driving” number.

    In addition to the practical uses, the possibilities for the absurd are endless. I have several mobile photo galleries of disgusting packaged snacks (one is a popular feature on my Facebook page). Every time I’m at a gas station and discover a new kind of pickled sausage, a new double-glazed honeybun, or a 3 foot rope made out of marshmallow, I have to snap a photo. It’s sort of like discovering a new species.

  48. First time visit and first time commenter…
    I was expecting a link for IPhone or the like. I’m just a mobile if necessary person. But I’ve seen the beauty of an IPhone of a colleague, and I think you’ve taken my interest a step further.
    I’m just beginning to to become a gadget man… I think I’ll need deeper pockets.


  49. Dave (original)

    LOL! Someone took their grumpy pills this morning. Grrr 🙂

    Trust me, MWA, IF you were as important as you try and make out (which you are not), you wouldn’t have the time to post such unimportant rubbish.

    Get a sense of humor before you turn into your idol, Billy Bullshit 🙂

  50. Too bad my Blackberry can’t pick up those pics. Can’t wait for the Blackberry Bold.

  51. Dave (original)

    No need, you can eat a “Blackberry” 🙂

  52. I tend to use mine for taking photos of places that I love – then I attach them to my map so I just touch the pic of a place I love and I get directions of how to get there!

  53. hey – all these are great. one more useful thing – showing people random insights into your life! sometimes pictures of the “little” things add up to more than the “big” ones! : )

  54. Dave (original)

    Ok, order has changed so this a duplicate.

    Why? Are you the type of person who enjoys sounding like a complete idiot? There was nothing correct or even remotely intelligent in what Dave said.

    LOL! Someone took their grumpy pills this morning. Grrr….

    From that post, the postion of “complete idiot” has been taken by yourself already.

    Trust me, MWA, IF you were as important as you try and make out (which you are not), you wouldn’t have the time to post such unimportant rubbish.

    Get a sense of humor before you turn into your idol, Billy Bullshit 🙂

  55. I take it you have an iPhone, Matt? You didn’t mention it.

  56. Great tips Matt! Love the food diary idea 🙂 Thanks.

  57. Matt, don’t you think that the North American Turkey (domesticated or wild) should never find it’s way into Italian dishes. It just think the whole assortment looks f creepy.

  58. Wish I had thought of the ISBN idea earlier. Up to now I’ve only used the camera function to take less than flattering pictures of people… … hmmm

  59. I love my blacberry for business but my wife loves her apple iphone and so do my kids. They play more with the apple iphone than they do with their leapster.

    I was wondering if we were the only family around like this but all the guys that I deal with on business seem to have the same situation of their wife getting the iphone and the men getting the blackberry for business! I would love to see the actual demographics on the blackberry versus the iphone.

  60. I don’t know if this is a ‘fun tip’ or not, but because most of the new Blackberry Phones have such high-resolution cameras on them now, there is an app where you can take a picture of someone’s business card – and then pull it into your contacts! I’ve seen someone else have it in action & it’s pretty sweet! I spend at least 20 minutes a day pulling business cards into my Outlook or Address Book on my BB, so this may not be a ‘fun tip’, but a very useful one for business users!