Smartphones are like college degrees. It’s great to have one and often even expected, but nobody is impressed unless you can actually do something cool with it. There’s nothing special about iPhones and Androids anymore; everyone has one. In 2012, a Pew study found that more than half of all cell phone users owned some kind of smartphone. Two years later that number is even higher.
The new toys you can buy to buddy up with your smartphone, now that’s cool. There’s technology out there for iOS and Android we couldn’t even imagine when the first iPhone launched in 2007. And these new gadgets aren’t just for show—some of them actually improve your everyday life.
Sorry, Android. We’re going to talk Apple for just a bit. Car systems are the best way to connect and use your smartphone on the road. Using just a Bluetooth connection, they can play your music, take your phone calls and even read your text messages without ever laying a thumb on your phone’s screen.
There’s just one issue—car systems have to accommodate every smartphone, which means there are glitches from time to time (and constant updates). Apple decided to cut out the middleman and made CarPlay, its own proprietary car system for iOS. The system looks like a small iPad mounted in the car’s center console and connects directly with iOS devices to utilize music, apps, navigation, calls and texts.
Unfortunately, for the time being CarPlay is only available in high-end cars like Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz. So if you’re planning to buy one, congratulations. Otherwise, you can pick up an aftermarket kit from companies like Pioneer.
Samsung Galaxy Gear
It might seem like overkill to wear a watch from Star Trek to pair with your phone, but Samsung has put some serious effort into making Android gear cool in ways that Apple is not.
Think of the smartwatch as a tiny table that connects to your phone. Like CarPlay, you can make calls, read texts, play music and, yes, even keep time. It pairs with any Android phone, but works even better with another Samsung device like the Galaxy Note 3. Best of all, the watch actually looks like a watch, which sets it apart from those hideous Google Glasses.
Nest (now owned by Google) makes two products—a thermostat and a smoke/carbon monoxide detector—and they both have some nifty tricks. What’s so exciting about household appliances? Well, unlike the Maytag your parents own, the Nest Thermostat learns your heating and cooling habits, and you can even set voice controls from your Android phone.
Is there smoke in your house when you’re not home? The Nest smoke detector can actually send a text message to your neighbors (assuming they’re also your friends, enemies might love to watch your house burn). These two seemingly simple smart devices can make small tasks turn into big wins.