A camera phone is more than just a camera and a phone, much more than the sum of its parts. Camera phones are the “Swiss Army Knife” of gadgets, performing the role of other tools — if you know how to use them.
Here are ten useful tools you can find inside your camera phone right now:
1. Handheld Scanner
Remember those old spy movies, where the secret agents captured documents with a tiny secret mini-camera? Now we all have one. Believe it or not, photographing documents works.
I don’t recommend stealing information, but for random paper information, notes — even white-board information, you can snap a picture to capture the data.
2. Screen-Capture Utility
The same trick for capturing paper documents works surprisingly well with a computer screen. The “normal” way to capture a screen — pressing the PrntScrn key, the pasting into e-mail, Word or other applications (pressing Alt+PrntScrn captures only the selected window) — sometimes that doesn’t work. Some Web sites and some video formats don’t let you capture. In those cases, take a picture of the monitor! The resulting image won’t be perfect, but it will be a lot better than nothing.
3. Photographic Memory
Business travel involves remembering small details, just to get yourself there and back. The more you travel, the more these details blur together.
After checking into your hotel, and dropping off your bags in the room, you decide to go grab dinner. You come back to the hotel, and make it up to your floor — what was the room number 1021 or 1012? The next morning, you go downstairs to drive to your meeting — which of the 50 rental cars in the lot is yours? You arrive at your home airport after a weeklong trip — where in the five-story lot did you park?
Your camera phone can instantly record, then quickly recall, these and other minor but easy-to-forget details of business travel.
Whenever I travel, I always snap a picture of my hotel room number, rental car (with license plate) and airport parking garage location sign. If I forget, I can just call it up on my phone.
4. Contact Database Enhancer
Most camera phones let you add photos to each contact entry, which pop up on the screen when the person calls, or when you call them. Many also add the picture to Microsoft Outlook or other desktop contact applications when you synchronize the phone.
Snap a picture of important people you meet, and add that photo to your contacts. People don’t mind, and it really helps you later connect faces to names.
5. Automatic Personal “City Guide” Creator
For years, I’ve kept personal “City Guides” of my favorite restaurants, hotels, stores and other attractions in the “Notes” application of my phone. I used to either type in the information with my phone, or grab a paper business card, then key in the information later. Now, I just take a picture of the outside of the building, then drop that photo in a folder labeled “Chicago” or “New York” — or wherever the city is. Later, when I want to grab a bite to eat, or recommend some place to a friend, I just open the appropriate folder on my phone, and cycle through the pictures.
6. String Around Your Finger
Sometimes you see something that jogs your memory. For example, you see a flower stand, which reminds you – “Oh, No!! My anniversary is next week!!” Rather than forgetting again, just take a picture of the flower stand, and e-mail it to yourself as a reminder.
7. Driving Directions Maker
Some buildings are hard to find, even with good directions. Use your camera phone to make and send easy directions. Send a photo of the outside of the building. You can also give hints for directions enhanced by photos, such as “turn left at this gas station” or “when you see this fork in the road, keep to the right.”
8. Personal Security Device
Door-to-door con artists are more common than you think. Chances are, you’ve been scammed yourself. The next time someone comes to your home or office to raise money or for some other potentially illicit purpose, ask if you can take their picture. Legit people won’t mind, and criminals will leave immediately.
Women confronted by creepy stalker types on public transportation have successfully warded off unwanted attention by snapping camera phone pictures of their harassers.
Aggressive panhandlers, crooked sales-people, suspicious strangers in your office — it never hurts to take a picture and e-mail it to yourself (in case they steal your phone). It gives you the upper hand, can deter crime, and provides evidence if a crime does occur.
9. Liability Reducer
Camera phones can help you prove your innocence. If you get into a car accident, photograph everything (the cars, the victims, etc.) in case anyone decides to get creative with the facts later on.
If you check into a hotel room, and something is conspicuously damaged or missing, take a picture immediately, then send it to your Gmail or other online e-mail account. The time and date will be captured, which might protect you from being charged for the damage by the hotel.
10. Morale Booster
All managers are challenged by the need to keep staff morale high. A camera phone can help. When a sales person delivers a great pitch to a client, stand at the back of the room and snap a picture of them in action. Later, e-mail it to the staff with praise for the speaker. The photo will magnify the praise.
If something unusual happens at the office, take a picture and e-mail it immediately to employees who are away on business, home sick or on vacation. It helps feel more connected to the team, and reminds them that they’re important to you.
In addition to writing for Datamation, where this column first appeared, Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected] or his blog: http://therawfeed.com.