Many default settings buried deep in our technology cause us to share redundant amounts of data with technology companies. In my last column, I covered how to turn them off.
But not all default settings do sneaky things with our information. There are also some that need to be enabled or disabled to make our devices more enjoyable to use.
Newer iPhones, for example, come with a fantastic camera that can shoot ultra-clear videos in ultra-high ‘4K’ resolution – but most people probably don’t use their cameras to their full potential because by default the phone is set to shoot videos at lower resolution.
Televisions are another example. Many modern TVs come with an effect known as motion smoothing included to make videos look like they’re playing at a higher frame rate, which should make fast-moving scenes look more detailed. But in many applications, especially when watching movies, it creates a soap opera effect that many find fake. This is the TV setting that many tech-savvy people turn off immediately.
Our consumer electronics are among our most expensive household purchases, so it’s worth taking a look and changing the default settings to get maximum benefits. Here’s what I and other tech writers are always changing to make our phones, computers, and TVs work better.
Apple iPhones include various settings that are off by default and must be enabled to make the device more comfortable to use and take better photos.
Unlock iPhone while wearing a mask. Although mask mandates have been lifted in many places, many people still wear them to feel safe, especially indoors. One of the biggest gripes with using the iPhone was entering a passcode instead of using Face ID when wearing a mask. The latest versions of Apple’s iOS now allow iPhone users to unlock the device without removing their mask. Go to Settings → Face ID & passcode → Face ID with mask and turn on this setting (green).
Shoot 4K video. To make an iPhone camera shoot video at the highest resolution, go to Settings → Camera → Video recording and select 4K option. (I prefer “4K at 30 fps” because it works well when uploading videos to social media apps and Internet sites like YouTube.) The downside is that 4K recordings will clog up more of the phone’s digital storage. But if you paid for this fancy camera, why not use it?
Activate the camera grid. In digital photography, photographers use various composition techniques to make photos more aesthetically pleasing. The iPhone camera has a grid display setting to help you compose photos. Go to Settings → Camera → Grid and enable this setting.
Android phones also include controls that need to be enabled or modified to make the screen look better and the phone easier to use.
Change the display color profile. Many Android phones come with large, bright screens, but their colors can look oversaturated or too blue. Ryne Hager, an editor at tech blog Android Police, said he usually turned off the default color profile when setting up a new Android phone. Instructions vary from phone to phone. For Samsung phones go to Settings → Display → Screen mode → Naturally. For Pixel phones, go to Settings → Display → Colors → Natural.
Change shortcuts. On Android phones, you can customize the quick settings menu for shortcuts to features you use frequently. Swipe down from the top of the smartphone screen and swipe down again. If you tap the icon that looks like a pencil, you can choose to add tiles that let you, for example, enable a hotspot to share the phone’s cellular connection with a computer.
Activate the camera grid. Like the iPhone, some Android phones can also display a grid to make photo composition easier. On Pixel phones, open the camera app, swipe down from the top of the screen, tap the gear icon, then go to Grid type → 3×3.
On Macs, where Apple users typically do work, it’s helpful to adjust settings to eliminate distractions and make tasks faster. This includes turning off some features that were turned on by default and turning on some hidden features.
Enable a shortcut to show the desktop. Collapsing and moving around windows just to find a file on the desktop can be annoying. The first thing I do with every Mac is activate a shortcut that immediately hides all windows to reveal the desktop. Go to System Preferences → Mission Control → Show Desktop and select a keyboard key to trigger the shortcut. (I use the fn key on my MacBook keyboard.)
Turn off notifications for distracting apps like Messages. In an age of endless video calls, you definitely don’t want text messages bombarding your screen and making noises when you’re on a date. Just turn off these notifications permanently. Go to System Preferences → Notifications & Focus → Notifications → Enable Notifications and toggle the setting to off (grey). In this menu, turn off notifications for all other noisy applications.
Add the Bluetooth icon to the menu bar. Most of us use Bluetooth accessories like wireless headphones and mice, so to make it easier to connect and disconnect these devices on your Mac, it helps to quickly access the Bluetooth menu. Go to System Preferences → Bluetooth → Show Bluetooth in Menu Bar and check the box. This will display the Bluetooth icon at the top right of the screen, where you can quickly connect and disconnect headphones and other wireless accessories.
Like Macs, Windows computers by default bombard us with a lot of notifications, but most frustrating are the many beeps that go off when something goes wrong. Kimber Streams, a Wirecutter editor who tests laptops, rules out all of these troubles.
Turn off notifications. Go to Settings → System → Notifications. Uncheck all the boxes and turn off all the switches to disable all notifications.
Turn off system sounds. Go to Settings → System → Sound → More sound settings → Sounds → Sound scheme: No soundsand then hit Apply.
Virtually every TV comes with default settings that are far from ideal for displaying the best picture.
With any TV, it’s worth adjusting the colors, brightness and contrast to suit your space. There is no one-size-fits-all set of steps because the best settings will differ for every TV and living room. But there are helpful TV calibration tools to make this easy, including my favorite tool, Disney’s World of Wonder, a Blu-ray disc with how-to videos for adjusting your TV’s settings.
The most important step on any TV, however, is to turn off the hideous motion smoothing effect. The steps vary from TV to TV, so search the web to disable it for your model. On my LG TV I went to All Settings → Pictures → Picture Mode Settings → Picture Options → TruMotion → Off