Many default settings buried deep in our technology cause us to share superfluous amounts of data with technology companies. In my last column, I went over how to turn them off.
But not all default settings do sneaky things with our data. There are also some that need to be turned on or off to make our devices more enjoyable to use.
Newer iPhones, for example, come with a fancy camera that can record extremely clear video in ultra-high “4K” resolution, but most people are probably not using their cameras to their full potential because, by default, the phone is set to record videos. at a lower resolution.
Televisions are another example. Many modern TVs come with an effect known as motion smoothing turned on to make videos look like they’re playing at a higher frame rate, which is supposed to make fast-moving scenes look more detailed. But in many applications, especially when you’re watching movies, it creates a soap opera effect that seems fake to many. It’s the setting on a TV that many tech-inclined people immediately turn off.
Our consumer electronics are among our most expensive household purchases, so it pays to read carefully and change the default settings to reap maximum benefits. This is what I and other tech writers are always changing to make our phones, computers, and TVs work better.
Apple iPhones include several settings that are off by default and should be turned on to make the device more comfortable to use and to take better photos.
Unlock an iPhone while wearing a skin. Although mask mandates have been lifted in many places, many people still wear them to feel safe, especially indoors. One of the biggest hurdles to using an iPhone was having to enter a passcode, rather than using a face ID, when wearing a mask. Recent versions of Apple’s iOS now allow iPhone users to unlock the device without removing the skin. To go Settings → Face ID and password → Face ID with mask and activate this setting (green).
Record videos in 4K. To make an iPhone camera record videos in its highest resolution, go to Settings → Camera → Record video and choose a 4K option. (I prefer “4K 30fps” because it works well when uploading videos to social media apps and internet sites like YouTube.) The downside is that 4K recordings will clutter up more of the phone’s digital storage. But if you paid for that 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 setting to display a grid to help compose shots. To go Settings → Camera → Grid and activate this setting.
Android phones also come with controls that need to be turned on or changed to make the screen look better and the phone easier to use.
Change the color profile of the screen. Many Android phones come with large, bright screens, but their colors can look oversaturated or too blue. Ryne Hager, editor of the Android Police tech blog, said he typically changed the default color profile every time he set up a new Android phone. The instructions vary from phone to phone. For Samsung phones, go to Settings → Display → Screen mode → Natural. For Pixel phones, go to Settings → Display → Colors → Natural.
Modify shortcuts. On Android phones, you can customize the “quick settings” menu to get shortcuts to the features you use frequently. Swipe down from the top of the smartphone screen and swipe down again. By tapping the icon that looks like a pencil, you can choose to add tiles that let you, for example, turn on hotspot to share your phone’s cellular connection with a computer.
Activate the camera grid. Like iPhones, some Android phones can also display a grid to make it easier to compose photos. 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 Mac, where Apple users tend to work, it’s helpful to adjust settings to eliminate distractions and make tasks faster. That involves turning off some features that were on by default and turning on some hidden features.
Activate a shortcut to show the desktop. Shrinking and moving windows just to find a file on the desktop can be tedious. The first thing I do with any Mac is activate a shortcut that immediately hides all windows to show the desktop. To go System Preferences → Mission Control → Show Desktop and choose a keyboard key to activate the shortcut. (I use the fn key on my MacBook keyboard.)
Turn off notifications from distracting apps like Messages. In an age of endless video calls, you definitely don’t want text messages bombarding your screen and making sounds when you’re in a meeting. Just turn off those notifications permanently. To go System Preferences → Notifications & Focus → Messages → Allow Notifications and change the setting to off (grey). In this menu, turn off notifications from any other noisy apps.
Add the Bluetooth icon to the menu bar. Most of us use Bluetooth accessories like wireless headsets and mice, so to make it easier to connect and disconnect these devices on a Mac, it’s helpful to have quick access to the Bluetooth menu. To go System Preferences → Bluetooth → Show Bluetooth in menu bar and check the box. This will bring up the Bluetooth icon at the top right of the screen, where you can quickly connect and disconnect headphones and other wireless accessories.
Just like Macs, Windows computers, by default, send us a lot of notifications, but what’s most frustrating is the many beeps and beeps that go off when something goes wrong. Kimber Streams, a Wirecutter editor who tests laptops, shuts down all these annoyances.
Disable notifications. To go Settings → System → Notifications. Uncheck all the boxes and turn off all the switches to disable all notifications.
Turn off system sounds. To go Settings → System → Sound → More sound settings → Sounds → Sound scheme: No soundsand then press Apply.
Virtually all televisions come 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 universal set of steps because the best setting will differ for every TV and living room. But there are helpful TV calibration tools out there to make this simple, including my favorite tool, Disney’s World of Wonder, a Blu-ray Disc with instructional videos on how to adjust your TV’s settings.
However, the most important step on any TV is to disable the horrible motion smoothing effect. The steps vary between TVs, so do a web search to disable it for your model. On my LG TV, I went to All settings → Imaging → Picture mode settings → Picture options → TruMotion → Off.