Many default settings hidden deep in our technology cause us to share unnecessary amounts of data with technology companies. In my last column I discussed how to disable it.
But not all default settings do sneaky things with our information. There are also some that need to be activated or deactivated to make our devices more pleasant to use.
Newer iPhones, for example, come with a nice camera that can record extremely clear videos in an ultra-high “4K” resolution — but most people probably don’t use their camera to its full potential because the phone is set by default to record videos at a lower resolution.
TVs are another example. Many modern televisions have an effect called motion smoothing turned on to make videos look like they’re playing at a higher frame rate, making fast-motion scenes look more detailed. But in many applications, especially when watching movies, it creates a soap opera effect that many feel looks fake. It’s the setting on a TV that many technically inclined people immediately turn off.
Our consumer electronics are among our most expensive household purchases, so it’s worth going through and changing the default settings to get the most out of them. Here’s what I and other tech writers are always changing to make our phones, computers, and televisions work better.
Apple’s iPhones include several settings that are disabled by default and must be enabled to make the device easier to use and take better photos.
Unlock an 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 barriers to using an iPhone was having to enter a passcode instead of using facial recognition when wearing a mask. Recent 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 a mask and enable this setting (green).
Record 4K video. To get an iPhone camera to record video in the highest resolution, go to Settings → Camera → Record Video and choose a 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 recording will clog up more of the phone’s digital storage. But if you paid for that nice camera, why not use it?
Activate the camera grid. In digital photography, photographers use different composition techniques to make photos more aesthetically pleasing. The iPhone camera has a setting to display a grid to help compose shots. Go to Settings → Camera → Grid and enable this setting.
Android phones also contain controls that need to be activated or adjusted to make the screen look better and make the phone easier to use.
Change the color profile of the display. Many Android phones have large, bright screens, but their colors can look oversaturated or too blue. Ryne Hager, an editor at the Android Police tech blog, said he usually turned off the default color profile when he installed a new Android phone. The instructions differ from phone to phone. For Samsung phones, go to Settings → Display → Screen Mode → naturally. For Pixel phones, go to Settings → Display → Colors → Natural.
Customize the shortcuts. On Android phones, you can customize the Quick Settings menu for shortcuts to features you use often. 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 allow you, for example, to activate hotspotting to share the phone’s cellular connection with a computer.
Activate the camera grid. As with iPhones, some Android phones can also display a grid to make taking photos easier. On Pixel phones, open the camera app, swipe down from the top of the screen, tap the gear icon, and go to Grid type → 3×3.
On Macs, where Apple users usually do their jobs, it’s helpful to adjust settings to eliminate distractions and speed up tasks. This means that some features that were enabled by default will be disabled and some hidden features will be enabled.
Activate a shortcut to display the desktop. Shrinking and moving windows just to find a file on the desktop can be tedious. The first thing I do with a Mac is activate a shortcut that immediately hides all windows from showing the desktop. Go to 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 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 during a meeting. Just turn those notifications off permanently. Go to System Preferences → Notifications & Focus → Messages → Allow Notifications and turn the setting off (gray). In this menu, turn off notifications for other noisy apps.
Add the Bluetooth icon to the menu bar. Most of us use Bluetooth accessories like wireless earphones and mice, so to make connecting and disconnecting these devices on a Mac easier, it helps to have quick access to the Bluetooth menu. Go to System Preferences → Bluetooth → Show Bluetooth in Menu Bar and check the box. This will bring up the Bluetooth icon in the top right corner of the screen, where you can quickly connect and disconnect earbuds and other wireless accessories.
Like Macs, Windows computers blow us up with lots of notifications by default, but the most frustrating are the many beeps and bloops that go off when something goes wrong. Kimber Streams, a Wirecutter editor who tests laptops, rules out all these annoyances.
Turn off notifications. Go to Settings → System → Notifications. Uncheck all checkboxes and uncheck all switches to disable all notifications.
Turn off system sounds. Go to Settings → System → Sound → More Sound Settings → Sounds → Sound Scheme: No Soundsand then press Apply.
Virtually every TV comes with default settings that are far from ideal for displaying the best picture.
With every TV, it pays to adjust colors, brightness and contrast to your room. There is no universal step-by-step plan because the best settings are different for every TV and living room. But there are handy TV calibration tools to make this easy, including my favorite tool, Disney’s World of Wonder, a Blu-ray Disc with how-to videos on how to adjust your TV settings.
By far the most important step on any TV, however, is to turn off the hideous motion-soothing effect. The steps vary by TV, so search the web to disable this for your model. On my LG TV I went to All Settings → Images → Image Mode Settings → Image Options → TruMotion → Off.