I confess to being one of those “never reads the manual" people, mainly because of impatience. This is true for nearly everything from Ikea furniture to the mystical script in the instructions for my robot vacuum cleaner. For folks like me, the arrival of touch-screen smartphones was a dream because they’re meant to be incredibly easy to use. I can pick one up and understand it instantly.
But that does mean I’ve not explored every trick in my phone’s repertoire. For help with that, I turn to a few of the many apps that reveal those tips. These apps are also handy if you’re looking at a brand-new device in bewilderment.
Among the best iPhone “tips" apps I’ve found is “Tips for iPhone — Tricks & Secrets" (currently free on iTunes). This has been freshly updated for iOS 6 and has hoards of handy hints and tricks.
The real joy of this app is its heavy reliance on graphics. In the center of the screen is a photo or a graphic demonstrating a gesture, all of which are clear and simple. Beneath this is a bright red banner bearing a title that’s akin to a newspaper headline for the tip in question. A tap or drag on this banner brings up a short text summary of the tip itself.
If you’re simply curious to learn, then you can just swipe through each tip on a whim and pull up details on the ones that intrigue you (the banner headline “The Bluetooth Fairy" always catches my eye, for example).
This app can also take you directly to a tip to help you understand an iPhone feature or perhaps solve a problem. The easiest way to find a specific hint is to use the app’s built-in search powers.
You can also try looking under the Categories tab. This lists tips under headings like “Email," “Photos, Music and Video" and so on, and under the “Troubleshooting" section you’ll find useful data like how to keep the phone up to date.
The app also has user comments, and you can share interesting tips with friends via email or Twitter. Tips for iPhone is intuitive and helpful, plus it’s a great way to while away a few spare minutes.
If your mind is more organized, you may prefer the free app “Guide for iOS 6 — Tips & Tricks." This app has similar content but has a listlike format. One of these lists is for iOS 5 tips, useful if you haven’t upgraded. There’s a section for Time Saver hints (like searching the Web for a phrase via the iPhone’s spotlight search bar) and one for Keyboard Tricks, and it’ll also help you solve problems. The app keeps 50 more “professional" secrets for an upgrade costing you $1.
While this app is definitely useful and easy to operate, occasionally some of the tips it suggests may feel a little obvious.
When it comes to Android phones, there is a problem with hints and tips apps because of the diverse versions of the Android operating system used on a vast array of smartphones. Manufacturers also tweak some Android editions, which complicates matters.
One useful Android hints app is “Droid Secret Tips" (free with ads, or $2 for an ad-free “pro" version). This one is worth a mention because it contains tips for most versions of Android, and its maker promises that advice for Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and tablet-centric tips are on the way.
The app categorizes useful information by level of user experience. But the app delivers its information as text-only and is not browsable by category. This means it’s probably more useful for consulting on a casual basis rather than when you need specific advice.
“Android Secrets Lite" is another free helper app that’s relatively up-to-date, and it contains information about devices like the Samsung Galaxy S3. It has a comprehensive list of tips, and where it gives you advice it does so clearly — for example, listing actions in order and guiding you through menu options. There are images to help with some of the tricks. To get to its “advanced" section, where it guides you through complex tasks like formatting an SD card, you have to pay for the full app, but it’s under a dollar.
If you pay attention to their advice, you may find you learn something. I definitely did!