Two smartphone settings you won't regret changing

Most people, when they get a new phone, make very few changes to it beyond setting up favorite apps and logging into Wi-Fi networks. And for the most part, that’s okay because smartphones are set up to run smart out of the box. For instance, they’re already preprogrammed to automatically switch to available Wi-Fi networks to keep you from burning up your phone plan’s data allowance. Also, the newest models can automatically reduce power consumption at bedtime or any time they “sense” you’re not using them.

But there are two settings not typically on by default that you may appreciate. The first could improve the clarity of your phone conversations, and the second automatically sends photos and videos to the cloud service, often for free, to simplify sharing or to ensure they’ll be safe in case your new device is broken, lost, or stolen.

HD voice

One of the more promising developments for improving voice quality is High-Definition (HD) Voice, which transmits calls over wider frequency ranges at a higher number of audio samples carried per second. Also known as or VoLTE (Voice over LTE), or Advanced Calling (Verizon), it’s a technology offered by the major carriers and some of the smaller providers that piggyback on their networks.  

Deployment is still in its early stages, but many new smartphones already support it. For instance, all Sprint Spark phones are HD Voice ready, as are select Android phones from Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, along with the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. On iPhones, you can turn on HD Voice by selecting Voice & Data in the Enable LTE sub menu of Cellular settings. On Androids, it’s a little more varied. For instance, on Verizon the HD Voice switch, called Advanced Calling, is next to a green square with the letters “HD” in it. But before you get excited about HD Voice, you should know that its benefits extend only between compatible phones within a carrier's networks. So, for example, Sprint customers won't be able to have HD Voice-quality conversations with their Verizon friends.

Learn how to save money on your phone plan and get the best cell phone plan for your family. And find out why small carriers outrank the big ones.

Don’t fret if the phone you’re holding doesn’t have an HD Voice option. Some older Samsung and LG Android phones have other tweakable voice-quality settings, such as Noise Reduction or Personal Call settings, in the main Settings menu. On late-model Samsung Galaxy phones, for example, these menu items are called Noise Reduction and Personal Call settings. On LG phones, there's a Personalize Call Settings tab.

Back up your phone’s camera

Smartphones give you lots of convenient—and free--ways to back up photos. But they can’t help you unless they’re turned on. Here’s how:

For iPhones. These offer two pre-installed photo or video backup options: My Photo Stream and iCloud Backup, both of which are part of the iCloud constellation of services. My Photo Stream, a free service designed for sharing photos with other Apple device owners, stores up to 1,000 photos (not videos). But after 30 days, Apple deletes them. iCloud Backup has no expiration date and also automatically backs up your videos. The first 5 gigabytes are free, but you can buy more for an annual fee: 15GB for $20; 25GB for $40; and 50GB for $100.

For iPhones, Android, or Windows phones. For Android phones (and iPhones if you download the Google+ app, or Windows phones if you get the Google Station app), Google Drive gives you 15GB of free storage for photos and videos (full-size photos can be no larger than 100MB and videos no longer than 15 minutes or saved at a resolution higher than 1080p). Upping storage to 100GB will cost you $2 a month, and data hogs can up storage to a terabyte for $10 a month. On Android phones, you'll find the Auto Backup option in Google+ settings, after tapping the Google icon under Accounts in the phone's Settings menu. On iPhones and Windows phones, you can access settings after launching the Google+ app.

Microsoft OneDrive (formerly Sky Drive) provides 7GB of free storage for photos, videos, and more. Upping storage to 50GB costs $50 a year. But each file can't be larger than 2GB. Pre-installed on Windows phones, the app is a free download from Google Play on Android phones or the App Store on iPhones. On Androids and iPhones, you may have to fiddle with additional phone settings to make the backups automatic.

—Mike Gikas

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