App of the Week: TextSoap 8

Hands on: TextSoap 8 cleans up your text for online and publishers

 

By William Gallagher of AppleInsider

TextSoap 8 is supremely handy, easy to start. and hard to master —but so very powerful for writers of all ability levels.

From 1998 to around 2004, every website editor at BBC Worldwide in the UK had an extra button in their copy of Microsoft Word. When you clicked it, Word would ready your text to go into websites without any of the usual problems of the time. Smart quotes, the 66 and 99 marks, used to break the sites, for instance, so they were changed to plain ones. The BBC system had problems with dashes and certain types of parentheses too, plus a constant difficulty with the British pound symbol.

This Word button handled four or five such common issues but it was the quote marks it was known for. So much so that since it was changing smart quotes into dumb ones, it could’ve been called the Dumber. Instead, since “thick” is British slang for stupid, it was called Thickify. It made smart things more thick.

I know all this because I wrote Thickify. It was the single most successful piece of work I ever did at the BBC and hardly anyone who used it had any idea that it was mine or that it was a Word macro. They believed that it was part of Microsoft Word and when they’d upgrade that word processor, they would actually shout at IT people for apparently removing their big button.

A dozen BBC websites used it. Probably twenty editors, news editors or assistant editors used it. So did most of the writers on each of these sites. To this day I am proud of that work —and yet I see it was total rubbish compared to TextSoap 8.4.7.

TextSoap is the same idea and it does the same things. However, where my Thickify for BBC fixed four or five problems, TextSoap 8 does more than a hundred.

Paste some text into this Mac app and it will remove extra spaces, it will take out extra returns, it can remove every tab and so on. If you paste in the HTML source code from a web page, it will extract all the actual text from it.

Better and better

You don’t have to paste text into the app, though. Instead, you can call up TextSoap’s features from within practically any Mac app. Just select some text then click on the app’s name in the menu bar. Choose the little-used Services item from the menu that drops down and then TextSoap does its work.

In the background, it’s taking that selected text and putting it into its own app before cleaning it up and pasting it back.

 

It puts that text into its Clipboard Workspace but it’s also possible to open or create documents in TextSoap. It’s oddly resistant to closing them again, though.

We’d run it from the Services menu a few times and would sometimes find that it had opened new documents for each occasion. So we’d close them but the next time we’d run TextSoap, it would occasionally reopen a dozen. It’s probably something to do with macOS’s way of making apps reopen the last documents you were working on, but still we had positively chosen to close them.

 

When we’d run it from within another app like Pages or Word or Ulysses, though, we wouldn’t notice the documents at all because we stay in that app as it works.

Still, there’s a reason that macOS Services menu is so little used. You forget that it’s there and also to choose it you have to take your hands off the keyboard and use the mouse or trackpad. Since we’re doing this to speed up preparing text that we’ve typed, it would be great if you could just use a keyboard shortcut —and you can.

At the foot of the Services menu there is Services Preferences option. Choose that and you’re taken to the right section of System Preferences. It’s the Keyboard pane and Shortcuts/Services will already be highlighted.

If you’ve not been in this before or haven’t looked at Services on the Mac, your head will jerk back at the sheer number of options. Every app you’ve ever installed can provide a Service and so many do that your list is going to be long.

 

However, scroll on down and you will reach one called Clean with TextSoap 8. It will also say “none” next to it. Click on that to record a new keystroke that will open the Service for you.

After that, using TextSoap is a matter of selecting some text, pressing that button and taking your hands off the keyboard while it works. Depending on how much text you’ve selected, you may have to wait a while but it’s going to be enough time to flex your fingers, not enough time to get a coffee.

Takes all sorts

Perhaps it’s just because we are more habitually used to clicking on menubar items, we use Services only when we remember. The rest of the time, we click on TextSoap’s menubar app.

This does also have the advantage that where Services shows you only one or two TextSoap cleaners, the menubar app lists about 20 by default. So we can go directly to Straighten Quotes if we know that’s all we want.

There is more, though

If this all you use TextSoap for then you’re in good company: this is chiefly how we’ve used it for years.

However, it is preposterously more powerful and has practically a ludicrous number of options that we’ve explored from time to time.

They’re all to do with creating what TextSoap calls your own cleaners. The built-in option that straightens or thickifies smart quotes is a cleaner. The one that removes double spaces after a sentence is another.

While most of the time you’ll use one called Scrub which is actually a collection of many routines, each time you run TextSoap you are choosing a cleaner to work on your selected text.

It’s just that you can make your own. You have to open the main app, you can’t do this from the menubar version. Choose File, New, Custom Cleaner.

This gets you an editor window that’s divided into three key areas. Down the left there is a list of actions or existing cleaners that you can use. Each one comes with a detailed explanation of what it does and the only reason you’ll take a long time to get through this is that there are so many.

Then the greater part of the editor window has two sections arranged horizontally. At the top there is a Properties window and then underneath is an Actions one.

Or that’s the theory. We spent a frustratingly long time trying to understand how this section worked because we didn’t have that Actions part. It turned out that this was because we also didn’t have the very latest version of the software: while TextSoap has had this particular feature for some years, it somehow wasn’t displaying in our copy. Not until we updated.

When we did, this suddenly because much more familiar territory. If you’ve ever used Workflow, Automator or Keyboard Maestro then you’ll recognize the idea. You have a pot of actions to choose from and you drag in the ones you want into the order you want them to work.

Then you can edit them to make an action be more specific.

For instance, we created a cleaner called The Ize Have It where words written with the British English ending -ise were changed to the US English -ize.

We dragged in a Find and Replace action, then entered a pair of words like “equalise” and “equalize” and from now on this cleaner will make that swap. It was a bit tedious because we had to do a different Find and Replace for each pair of words. It would be better if you could load in a spreadsheet of them.

Still, no matter how many pairs of words we add, we’re adding them to one cleaner. Which means, every time we want to check and fix this problem, we run that and it’s done.

Worth the effort

TextSoap is worth putting some effort in to create your own cleaners because the time you spend now is saved later. You do it once and this tool is available forever.

It could be friendlier but really for the giant majority of times we use it, TextSoap is quite clear. We’d just like it to have some up to date documentation for those times we want to go further.

TextSoap 8.4.7 costs $65 direct from the developer. It’s also available as part of the Setapp subscription service.

There is a trial version available from the developer’s site which also points out that TextSoap has been around for 20 years. I could’ve just told the BBC to buy TextSoap version 1.0.

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How to: Force Your iPhone to Switch Cell Towers for a Stronger Signal

 

 

By Matt Milano of Gadget Hacks

Having a dropped call can be incredibly frustrating, especially when you look down and see that your iPhone has full reception. While there’s any number of issues that can cause this, one common and often overlooked issue is your iPhone failing to switch cell towers as appropriately needed.

When you’re not switched to the appropriate tower, it means there’s a problem with the communication between your smartphone and cellular network. Either your iPhone tries to hold its connection to a cell tower that’s well outside the optimal range or the new cell tower is already overloaded with other connected devices.

How Cell Phones Switch Towers

Cell phones work with networks to determine the best tower to connect to based on range, signal strength, and the frequency being used. When a phone is connected to a cellular network, it continually checks the signal strength of nearby towers and communicates that information to the network. In theory, when a phone’s connection to a cell tower drops below signal strength of a nearby one, the network should switch the phone to the new tower.

Practically, however, this doesn’t always occur as smoothly as it should and common fixes, such as cycling Airplane Mode, don’t always work. While using the “Reset Network Settings” option will always work, it’s a drastic step that will also erase any saved Wi-Fi login credentials. Fortunately, there’s another simple way to force your iPhone to switch towers.

Install OpenSignal

OpenSignal is a network performance monitoring app that not only tells you the speed of your connection but also shows you what tower you’re currently connected to. You can search for “OpenSignal” in the iOS App Store directly or use the link below to jump right to it. Install just like any other app.

• App Store Link: OpenSignal – Speed Test & Maps (free)

 

Configure & Check Your Current Tower

Once you have OpenSignal installed and open, you’ll need to give it access to your location in the notification prompt. OpenSignal uses your position to show you nearby cell towers.

The app will also ask if you want to contribute signal data. OpenSignal uses this information to rate the carriers and provide customers with input on what carriers offer the best coverage in any given region; This is entirely voluntary, but if you do opt in, any information collected will be strictly anonymous.

 

 

After that, you’ll see a screen with an arrow pointing to the tower your iPhone is currently connected to. You can also tap the arrow to pull up a map displaying all the nearby towers operated by your carrier. You’ll want to recheck this after forcing a switch to confirm it was successful.

 

 

Force Your iPhone to Switch to a Better Tower

To manually force your iPhone to switch cell towers, open the Settings app, then tap “Cellular.” Next, select “Cellular Data Options,” then tap “Enable LTE.”

 

The setting will likely be set to “Voice & Data.” Cycle it to “Off,” wait 30 seconds, and then cycle it back to the previous setting, either “Voice & Data” or “Data Only.” Once your iPhone’s LTE antenna reconnects, it will search out the antenna with the strongest signal and connect to it, likely a different one that you were initially having issues with.

Verify the Tower Change with OpenSignal

Reopen OpenSignal to see if your iPhone is connected to a different tower. If the force switch was successful, the arrow on the main screen should be pointing to a different tower.

 

If it appears you’re still connected to the same one, it likely means there isn’t a better tower nearby. Other towers may be farther away, have a weaker signal, might not be using compatible frequencies, or may already be overloaded.

Either way, you’ll have another method to deal with pesky cell connection issues without taking any drastic measures.

Do you have any hacks for improving Call Signal on your phone? Tell us about it in the comments below!

App of the Week: VSCO

Here’s the app you need to make your iPhone photos good enough for Tim Cook to share!

By Martha Tesema of Mashable

It’s World Photography Day, which means Tim Cook is celebrating in a very Tim Cook way: sharing #ShotOniPhone snapshots.

On Sunday, the Apple CEO tweeted the breathtaking work of John Bozinov — a photographer who focuses on wildlife and portraits. Bozinov is a master of iPhone photography, and the images that Cook shared are breathtaking examples of his work capturing life in Antarctica.

But it’s kind of hard to believe they were actually shot on an iPhone, especially when you compare them to the smartphone pics we normally see on our timelines.

At first glance, it’s easy to assume Bozinov attached a newfangled lens (perhaps from the masters of iPhone accessories, Moment), but as he told Mashable in 2016, there are no extra gadgets involved when he takes pictures. It’s just good, old-fashioned editing with an app that has revolutionized iPhone photography: VSCO.

 

The app has been quietly improving your Instagram feeds for years, with easy-to-use tools that adjust everything from color saturation to exposure. For those less formally trained in photography (no shame!), VSCO also offers a bevy of presets that do the job for you.

VSCO, which stands for Visual Supply Company, was founded by Greg Lutze and Joel Flory in 2011. Since its inception, it’s grown into a community hub offering grants along with editing tools and presets. The app also doubles as a platform on which to share your work (every user has “journals” they can post images to).

Seven years later, the app’s impact is obvious. The internet is saturated with how-to-guides on creating the perfect image and maximizing the tools on the app.
That said… VSCO can’t fix what’s already broken. If you’re looking to be Cook’s next featured tweet on #WorldPhotographyDay, here are some things you can do to make your iPhone photos sing before opening up any app.

1. Focus on lighting

“A lot of my work is outside, and the iPhone works really well with that, because there’s lot of light around,” Bozinov said in his 2016 interview with Mashable. That abundance of lighting is what makes his photos stand out compared to the pics on your personal camera roll.

 

Keep an eye out on how much light there is next time you whip out your phone. The more light, the clearer the image – and the easier it will be to make the technical adjustments that you need to transform your iPhone pics into masterpieces that you’ve always wanted.

 

 

2. Don’t forget to maintain stability

“Whether I’m shooting in portrait or landscape mode, I like to hold the iPhone with my left hand and release the shutter with my right thumb. I recently learned that the camera shutter isn’t released until you take your thumb off the shutter button on the touch screen,” photographer Cotton Coulson told National Geographic.
Since that’s the case, making sure you have as steady of a hand as possible when capturing a shot is key. You have to be a human tripod.

 

 

 

3. It’s ultimately all about composition

Composition is essentially just how you arrange the photo, so next time you’re walking down the street, pay attention to the colors, shadows, colors, and scenes — and frame it up in a way that looks interesting!

 

 

 

 

What’s your favorite photo editing app for your phone? Tell us in the comments below!!

How to: Use AirPlay

Minimum Requirements and Basic Information

 

by Sam Costello of Lifewire

For many years, the music, videos, and photos stored in our iTunes libraries and on our computers were stuck on those devices (barring complex file-sharing arrangements). For Apple products, that has all changed with the advent of AirPlay (formerly known as AirTunes).

AirPlay lets you stream all kinds of content from your computer or iOS device to other computers, speakers, and TVs.

It’s a pretty neat, and powerful technology that’s only going to get more useful as more products support it.

You don’t have to wait for that day to come, though. If you want to start using AirPlay today, read on for tips on how to use it with many existing devices and apps.

AirPlay Requirements

You’ll need compatible devices in order to use AirPlay.

  • A Mac or PC
  • An iOS device running iOS 4.2 or later
  • iTunes 10.2 or later (some earlier versions support AirTunes or more limited AirPlay implementations)
  • Any iPad model
  • iPhone 3GS or higher
  • 3rd generation iPod touch or newer
  • Any Apple TV model
  • AirPort Express
  • Compatible third-party apps
  • Compatible third-party hardware like speakers or stereo receivers

Remote App
If you have an iOS device, you’ll probably want to download Apple’s free Remote app from the App Store. Remote allows you to use your iOS device as a remote (are you surprised?) to control your computer’s iTunes library and what devices it streams content to, which saves running back and forth to your computer each time you want to change something. Pretty handy!
Basic AirPlay Use

When you have a version of iTunes that supports AirPlay and at least one other compatible device, you’ll see the AirPlay icon, a rectangle with a triangle pushing into it from the bottom.

Depending on what version of iTunes you have, the AirPlay icon will appear in different locations. In iTunes 11+, the AirPlay icon is in the top left, next to the play/forward/backward buttons. In iTunes 10+, you’ll find it in the bottom right-hand corner of the iTunes window.

This allows you to select a device to stream audio or video to via AirPlay. While earlier versions of AirTunes required you to set iTunes to seek out these devices, that’s no longer necessary – iTunes now automatically detects them.

As long as your computer and the device you want to connect to are on the same Wi-Fi network, you’ll see the names you’ve given the devices in the menu that appears when you click the AirPlay icon.

Use this menu to select the AirPlay device you want the music or video to play through (you can select more than one device at the same time), and then begin playing music or video and you’ll hear it playing through the device you selected.
See how to enable AirPlay for iPhone for a walkthrough.

AirPlay With AirPort Express

One of the easiest ways to take advantage of AirPlay is with the AirPort Express. This is around $100 USD and plugs directly into a wall socket.

AirPort Express connects to your Wi-Fi or Ethernet network and lets you connect speakers, stereos, and printers to it. With it serving as the AirPlay receiver, you can then stream content to any device attached to it.

Simply set up the AirPort Express and then choose it from the AirPlay menu in iTunes to stream content to it.

Supported Content

The AirPort Express supports streaming audio only, no video or photos. It also allows wireless printer sharing, so your printer no longer needs a cable attached to your computer to work.

Requirements

  • iTunes 10.2 or later
  • At least one AirPort Express running firmware 7.4.2 or newer (you can use multiple AirPort Expresses in the house)
  • Speakers (or printer) to plug into the AirPort Express

AirPlay and Apple TV

Another simple way to use AirPlay in the home is via the Apple TV, the tiny set-top box that connects your HDTV to your iTunes library and the iTunes Store.

The Apple TV and AirPlay is a powerful combination indeed: it supports music, video, photos, and content streamed from apps.

This means that with the tap of a button, you can take the video you’re watching on your iPad and send it to your HDTV via the Apple TV.

If you’re sending content from your computer to the Apple TV, use the method already described. If you’re using an app that displays the AirPlay icon (most common in web browsers and audio and video apps), use the AirPlay icon to select the Apple TV as the device to stream that content to.

Tip: If the Apple TV doesn’t show up in the AirPlay menu, make sure AirPlay is enabled on it by going to the Apple TV’s Settings menu and then enabling it from the AirPlay menu.

Supported Content

  • Audio streamed from iTunes or iOS devices
  • Video streamed from iTunes or iOS devices
  • Video from iOS apps (e.g. YouTube app or video embedded in web pages)
  • Photos from computers or iOS devices
  • Mirroring a device’s screen on the TV

Requirements

  • Apple TV: 2nd generation Apple TV and newer for video and photos, or 1st generation Apple TV for audio only
  • iTunes 10.2 or higher
  • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
  • An HDTV

AirPlay and Apps

A growing number of iOS apps support AirPlay, too. While the apps that supported AirPlay were initially limited to those built by Apple and included in iOS, since iOS 4.3, third-party apps have been able to take advantage of AirPlay.

Just look for the AirPlay icon in the app. Support is most often found in audio or video apps, but it may also be found on videos embedded in web pages.

Tap the AirPlay icon to select the destination you want to stream content to from your iOS device.

Supported Content

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Photos

Built-in iOS Apps That Support AirPlay

  • Music
  • iPod
  • Videos
  • Photos
  • YouTube
  • Safari

Requirements

  • AirPort Express, Apple TV, or compatible speakers
  • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
  • App that supports AirPlay
  • AirPlay With Speakers

AirPlay With Speakers

There are stereo receivers and speakers from third-party manufacturers that offer built-in AirPlay support.

Some come with compatibility built in and others require aftermarket upgrades. Either way, with these components, you won’t need an AirPort Express or Apple TV to send content to; you’ll be able to send it directly to your stereo from iTunes or compatible apps.

Like with the AirPort Express or Apple TV, set up your speakers (and consult the included manual for directions on using AirPlay) and then select them from the AirPlay menu in iTunes or your apps to stream audio to them.

Supported Content

  • Audio

Requirements

  • iTunes 10.2 or later
  • Compatible speakers
  • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
  • App that supports AirPlay


Do you have a favorite AirPlay Hack? Tell us about it in the comments below!

App of the Week: What’s the best calendar app for iPhone?

 

 

By Bradley Chambers of 9to5Mac

Calendar apps for iPhone are a tough thing to advise for because different people use them in different ways. Some people are busier than others (meeting wise), and others use their calendar as a to-do system (personally I question your sanity if you are this way). All of the primary calendar apps I tried are great but might not fit how you use a calendar app.

When using third-party iOS apps, it’s straightforward to try new ones because they request access to your calendar data using Apple’s APIs (so it works with Exchange, iCloud, Yahoo, AOL, and Outlook.com). This feature keeps you from having to set up different apps individually. I’ll explain what I like about each one, and which one I like best.

Apple’s Calendar App

There is a lot to like about Apple’s default calendar app for iPhone.

It shows the date icon on the home screen (something no other app can do without using a notification badge). When I’m using this app, I stay in the “List View” so I can scroll my upcoming events. I don’t have a lot of events on my calendar (I tried to avoid meetings like the plague). I do like to be able to get a quick glance at my week to know what I have coming up. It’s heavily integrated with the rest of Apple’s platform.

Apple’s app does a lot of things well. It integrates all of your calendars into a single app, provides timely travel time information (pulling the data from Apple Maps traffic data), and is easy to use. Where it could improve is in its “time to enter an appointment.” While it has added things like auto-complete, it really should add better natural language input for quick entry. For many apps now, that is a standard feature. If you are entering a lot of events on your iPhone, Apple’s calendar app will get tedious quickly.

Fantastical

When I asked people for their recommendations on Twitter of their favorite calendar apps, Fantastical was mentioned by many people. That is with good reason as well. It’s long been a gold standard for third-party calendar apps. It’s the pioneer of the natural language input for calendar apps (unless I am missing an app that did it so well first).

Fantastical has a lot of things going for it. It’s extremely fast to add new events using its natural language input (dinner with mom Saturday at 7:00 pm will add it). You can add in your iOS reminders, use Google Maps as your default map app (when you tap on an address), and it has a beautiful design. Fantastical also has an excellent Today widget for getting quick access to your calendar.

Fantastical for iPhone is $4.99 on the App Store which includes an Apple Watch version.

Week Calendar

If you have a hectic schedule, Week Calendar may be an app you’ll want to check out. It includes a number of different views (week, list, month, agenda, etc.). The week view is probably the most interesting one. You can see your entire view from a single screen. You can drag and drop events to new dates/times.

It lacks a natural language input, but it does have a Calendar Store. The store is an exciting add-on. You can add things like weather forecasts, famous birthdays, sports calendars, and more to your list. Adding these calendars requires a $2.99 per year in-app purchase (or $5.99 for three years).

From a customization standpoint, it’s probably got the most significant feature set. You can customize the icons it uses, the default new event layout, and the various colors.

If you have a lot of events on your calendar, I highly advise you checking out Week Calendar.

It’s $2.99 on the App Store.

Calendars 5

Calendars 5 is from the folks at Readdle. They are the developers of some of the best iOS and macOS apps (Documents, PDF Expert, Spark, etc.).

Calendars 5 reminds me a lot of Fantastical. They share a lot of similar features (natural language input, the ability to use Google Maps, and integration with Apple’s Reminders). It has a variety of views: List, Day, Week, and Month. Like I mentioned earlier, I probably prefer a list view, and Calendars 5 shows me the least amount of information compared to Apple’s app or Fantastical.

Overall, it’s a great app. It’s easy to create events, has multiple viewing options, offers plenty of customization, and much more.

Calendars 5 is $6.99 on the App Store.

Google Calendar

You might be wondering why I am listing the Google Calendar app on an iPhone calendar app roundup. Well, it can show more than just your Google Calendar. It defaults to it, but you can quickly add any calendar that you’ve already added to your iPhone.

Google Calendars on the web has always been a first class service. The iPhone app is no different. It contains natural language input, deep integration with your Gmail/G-Suite account, and some exciting extra features (showing a haircut theme if your appointment is a haircut, etc.).

There’s nothing I dislike about the app, but something about the design doesn’t sit well with me. Functionally, it all works, but it just feels like the design doesn’t fit in with the iPhone.

Google Calendar can be download for free on The App Store

BusyCal

BusyCal is probably best known for its long standing macOS app. There is also a companion app for iPhone, though! It contains a similar view to other apps (list, month, week, and day). You can create events using natural language. You can also add tags to events (could be helpful with project management).

Out of all the apps I tried, it reminded me of Apple’s Calendar app the most. In fact, if it was called Calendars+, that would be an appropriate name. It includes a live ten-day weather view (helpful for planning outdoor events). Like some of the other apps, it can also integrate with Apple’s Reminders app so you can have both tasks and calendar in a single app.

BusyCal was also one of the few apps I found (outside of Apple’s) that contained travel time notifications.

BusyCal for iPhone can be bought on the App Store for $4.99.

Wrap Up

Overall, I am torn between two apps. I find a lot to like with Apple’s default calendar app, but Fantastical also fits my needs. If you like Apple’s app for specific features, then you can probably stick with it. If you want something a little bit more, check out Fantastical. If you are a heavy meeting person, Week Calendar is one I’d recommend. In reality, I didn’t try one that I couldn’t easily use day to day. We are extremely fortunate to have so many great options.

What’s your favorite Calendar App? Share it with use the comments below!

How to: use your smartphone without leaving a trace

Cover up your digital footprints.

 

By David Nield of Popular Science

Every time you grab your phone to participate in a group chat, watch a YouTube video, or search the internet, you leave a digital trail of activity. This footprint can compromise your privacy the next time a friend borrows your device. It also puts your personal information at risk should your phone fall into really unscrupulous hands.

In this guide, we’ll explain how you can prevent your device from logging and storing data where other people can easily stumble across it. We will focus on cleaning up your phone’s local storage, as opposed to limiting the information that apps send to the cloud.

Go incognito

The web browser on your phone, like the one on your computer, offers a data-limiting incognito or private mode. When you open a session in this mode, the app will forget the pages you visit and the keywords you search as soon as you close the window.

However, private browsing doesn’t make you invisible. For instance, if you log into Facebook’s web portal in incognito mode, the social network will record your activity. Your internet service provider (ISP), will also see your browsing, and it may log your online behavior as well.

To hide your browsing from your ISP, you’ll need to rely on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) (more on that in this roundup of security gadgets and apps). But if you simply aim to clean up the record left on your phone’s local storage, then this mode tidies up after itself very effectively.

The process for using this mode will depend on the browser app you prefer. For example, to launch incognito mode with Chrome, tap the Menu button (three dots) on the top right of the page and choose New incognito tab. If you forget to browse incognito, you can still clear your saved data. Just hit Menu > Settings > Privacy > Clear browsing data.

For iPhone users who rely on Safari, tap the Show pages icon (two squares) on the bottom right of the screen and choose Private. Now, when you tap the Plus button to open a new window, it will be an incognito one. To erase data collected outside of private mode, open the Settings app and select Safari > Clear History and Website Data.

Erase messages

Unless you use a chat app with self-destructing messages, it will keep records of your conversations. Of course, most people like to check back on their old communications, but you don’t need to preserve every moment of a years-long thread. You can delete these old conversations manually, or try a less time-consuming option: Automatically erase chat history after a set period of time has elapsed.

On iOS, open the Settings app, go to Messages > Keep Messages, and set messages to automatically disappear after 30 days. Within the app itself, you can manually erase conversations from the front screen: Swipe left on the thread and then tap the Delete button.

Unfortunately, not all chat apps offer this auto-expunge function. To leave no trace of conversations on your phone, you may have to turn to manual deletion. This may be time-consuming, but it isn’t difficult. For example, in Android’s default SMS app, Messages, you delete a conversation by long-pressing on it and then tapping the Trash icon on the top right of the screen.

Some apps make it easier to purge your entire history all at once. In the case of WhatsApp, open the app and head to Settings > Chats > Chat history > Delete all chats. Then make a note to regularly check back and re-erase your latest messages.

Another solution is to only send the aforementioned self-destructing messages. Apps with this option include Telegram Messenger, Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat. For more information, check out our guide to self-destructing message apps.

Limit app logging

Each of the apps on your phone will take a slightly different approach to logging your activities. Some of them let you avoid their gaze by using incognito mode, while others will stop tracking you if you ask.

For example, the Android version of YouTube (this is not yet available in the iOS version) just added an incognito mode, which doesn’t track the videos you watch. To activate this mode, open the app, tap your avatar on the top right of the screen, and pick Turn on Incognito.

On the other hand, Google Maps will track your location by default, which lets it accumulate a lot of data about your real-world movements. To stop it, head to the settings: Launch the app, tap the Menu button (three lines) on the top left of the screen, and hit Settings (on Android) or the cog icon (on iOS). Within the settings, select Personal content and turn off the location history feature.

There are millions of apps on the market, with no hard and fast rules about how to keep them from recording your behavior. But in general, a good first step is to check for the aforementioned settings—incognito mode and stopping tracking.

If you don’t find these options, you’ll have to clear your activity manually. This process will vary depending on your operating system.

In Android, open Settings > Apps & notifications, pick an app from the list, and hit Storage > Clear storage. This wipes all the data that the app has stored locally. Afterward, the app will behave as if you’ve installed it from scratch, so you’ll need to log in again, set up your preferences, and so on.

On iOS, you won’t find an identical option, but you can achieve the same effect by uninstalling and reinstalling an app. Open the Settings app, tap General > iPhone Storage, and select one of your apps. Then choose Delete App to wipe all of its data. Finally, re-install the program from the App Store.

It’s not very practical to do this for all of your apps every day. But you might choose to run a manual clean-up at set intervals (say once a month), before you go traveling, or whenever you want to make a fresh start.

Delete search history

Many mobile apps store data locally and in the cloud, so they can sync your information to other devices. That means, to clear search logs from your phone, you’ll have to wipe the records across multiple platforms.

For example, your Google account will store the history of searches you’ve run from your Android phone. To wipe these records, you actually have to access them from the web. Open your browser and head to your Google activity history page. Click the Menu button (three lines) on the top left, then Delete activity by. Set the time span and content type—to erase everything, those should be All time and Search, respectively—and click Delete. This will wipe your search history across all the Google-linked products you use, including Android and the Google search engine.

On iOS, you won’t find a comparable activity cleaner. However, you can prevent Spotlight from betraying your past searches by displaying them as suggestions. To turn off this feature, head to the Settings app, tap Siri & Search, and toggle off the Suggestions in Search switch. Now, when you lend your phone to your mother to look something up, she won’t see all your past search terms.

How do you cover your tracks on your smartphone? Share your workflow in the comments below!

Tips and Tricks: for Better Smartphone Photography

For many, phones have completely replaced dedicated digital cameras, but even pros reach for their iPhones or Samsung Galaxy phones to snap images from time to time. Here’s how to take better pics with your smartphone.

 

By Jim Fisher of PCMag.com

Your smartphone is always with you, a constant companion that can connect to the web to look up any tiny nugget of trivia, and generally keep you in constant contact with the outside world. It’s one of the key items you grab before leaving the house, and the last time you (probably) turned it off was at the movie theater.

This also makes your phone your take-everywhere, shoot-anything digital camera. Just a few short years ago, making images and video with smartphones was a compromise, with poorer image quality but a heck of a lot more convenience than a good point-and-shoot camera.

But times have changed and phone cameras have gotten better and better. The latest models offer superior imaging and video to budget point-and-shoot cameras, and offer nifty software tricks to blur backgrounds, just like an SLR and f/2 or f/1.4 lens.
Check out these tips to get the best images you can get from your phone. But remember, even with the latest tech, phones aren’t as versatile imaging tools as modern interchangeable lens cameras.

Start With a Good Camera Phone

Smartphone camera quality has enjoyed a big leap forward in quality over the past couple of years. If you’re using an older handset, chances are the camera isn’t up to snuff. If camera quality is a priority when shopping for a new one, make sure you peruse our list of the top camera phones we’ve tested. But remember that you really can’t go wrong with the latest Apple iPhone, Google Pixel, or Samsung Galaxy devices.

Look for the Light

Smartphones have very bright lenses—the Samsung Galaxy S9 has one that opens up all the way to f/1.5. But sensors are much smaller than you find in a premium compact camera with a 1-inch sensor like the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II. That gives them a distinct disadvantage in image quality in dim lighting. To get the best shots, look for opportunities where your phone’s sensor can shine. If you’re indoors, try to set up your shot so there’s light falling on your subject—some window light will do more to improve your photos than a new phone or camera. It’s always a better option to find good light as opposed to using your phone’s underpowered LED flash.

Adjust Exposure

Smartphones are the modern point-and-shoot, but the apps that run their cameras typically offer some level of manual control. The most basic adjustment you can make is exposure—brightening or darkening a scene—and using it effectively can turn a bland image into a head-turner. Use it to brighten the shot of your fancy dinner to make it perfect for Instagram, or to darken shadows in a portrait for a more dramatic look.

The feature isn’t always labeled the same. On an iPhone you’ll want to drag the sun icon, to the right of the focus confirmation box, up to brighten an image or down to darken it. Android phones typically have the more traditional +/- icon for exposure adjustment.

Turn On Your Grid

Pro SLRs typically have framing grids in the viewfinder window to help you better square up shots and conform to compositional guidelines like the rule of thirds. (For more on composition and other photo basics, read our tips for basic photography, which apply as much to smartphones as they do to pro cameras.)

You can turn on the same thing in your phone’s camera app. Adding a grid line gives you help in keeping the horizon straight and is a big plus for portraits in front of famous landmarks. With the notable exceptions of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it’s generally a good idea to keep upright structures perfectly vertical in your photos.

Learn Your Camera’s Features

The imaging capabilities of modern smartphone cameras are staggering. We’ve seen advances in computational photography that allow you to blur the background of images, mimicking the look of a wide aperture lens and big image sensor, and some handsets can also capture insanely slow-motion video.

Your phone probably has a good burst mode too, and it’s never a bad idea to take a few images in a sequence to get the best one—just make sure not to post all of them. iPhone owners can check out Live Photos, which mix still images and video together.

Try an Add-On Lens

Your phone’s camera certainly has one lens, and some models offer dual rear cameras with the second lens capturing a tighter or wider angle of view than your phone’s main eye. A quality add-on lens will cost you—the bargain-basement ones we’ve reviewed have been universally terrible. Go with a trusted brand like Moment or Olloclip.

Picking the type of add-on lens is important too. I think a macro adds the most versatility to your phone’s camera, but you may prefer an ultra-wide, a fish-eye, or a telephoto conversion lens.

Focus Close

Even without a macro add-on, your phone can focus pretty close. Use it to your advantage. You can snap a shot of your fancy dinner and get close up, but keep the whole frame in focus. That’s something you can’t do with a big camera shooting at f/1.4 or f/2, and one of the areas where small image sensors have a practical advantage over larger ones.

Get a Gimbal

It’s not all about images. Entry-level compact cameras are stuck at 720p, but if you’ve got a recent smartphone you have a 4K-capable video camera in your pocket. Flagship models include optical image stabilization, but that can only go so far. If you want truly smooth, great-looking video, think about a powered gimbal to keep your phone steady. Our favorite is the DJI Osmo Mobile 2, a $130 device that steadies video, can track moving subjects, and also supports time-lapse and panoramic stitching.

Add a Microphone

When shooting video, good audio is more important than sharp footage. Your phone’s internal mic is meant for making phone calls—not recording high-quality audio. Headphone jacks may be disappearing from phones, but you can get a microphone that plugs directly into your USB or Lightning port, or one that works with your phone’s audio dongle. Just make sure to read some reviews to make sure the mic is compatible with your particular phone and its operating system.

Edit Your Shots

Your phone is a powerful handheld computer, just as capable of making basic image adjustments as a high-end laptop running Photoshop. You should download some image editing software—my favorite is VSCO, a free download for both Android and iOS—or use the basic image editing tools built into your operating system.

More advanced photographers can enable Raw capture, which will deliver much more leeway in editing. And if you have a dual-lens iPhone, you can add an app like Focos, which allows you to adjust the amount of and quality of background blur in your Portrait Mode shots.

What tips do you have for shooting quality pic on a smart phone? Tell us in the comments below!