Smartphones

5 innovative uses for your smartphone's camera

People take selfies during sunset on the rocks of Arpoador beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil July 4, 2016.

People take selfies during sunset on the rocks of Arpoador beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil July 4, 2016.  (REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski)

There are so many great uses for your smartphone’s camera other than taking selfies and family photos. Before you unplug any cables in and around your television, for example, snap a few pictures of all the audio and video gear’s connections. And the next time you rent a car, take a photo of it that includes the license plate.

Your phone’s camera can be an indispensible tool. Here are five ways to start using it to improve your digital life.

1. Scan documents

Your smartphone's camera makes a great portable document scanner. You can use it to scan contracts, documents, receipts, business cards or anything on paper that you want to make digital. Then, you can share your scans via email or text, or export them as PDF and JPG files.

Evernote Scannable for the iPhone and iPad automatically rotates, crops, and adjusts images so your scans are easy to read. If you use an Android device, the Google Drive app has a built-in scanning feature.

2. Look up UPC barcodes

The next time you’re shopping and wondering if you are getting a good deal, pull out your smartphone. Forget about doing a Google search. Instead, use your smartphone’s camera and take a picture of the product’s UPC code.

UPC code scanner apps provide a myriad of data right at your fingertips. Aside from product details, they cull online and brick and mortar store prices and then present the findings in a digestible format. On one screen, you will know who truly has the best price.

Quick Scan for iOS and ShopSavvy Barcode & QR Scanner for Android seem to offer the widest range of available products and stores.

Tip in a tip: If you have the Amazon app on your phone or tablet, use it to scan a product’s barcode to be taken directly to the product’s page on Amazon.

3. Translate languages

International travelers will love this amazing use of a smartphone’s camera. Ever try to read a foreign menu, visitor’s plaque, or sign—but you didn’t have a clue what it said? Say adiós, arrivederci, ciao, au revoir, or good-bye to those days in these and 24 more languages.

Just aim your smartphone’s camera at the text and the Google Translate app will magically transform that foreign language into the language of your choice. Watching the words change in real time feels like science fiction.

Google Translate currently supports 29 camera translation languages. It also offers instant speech translation for 32 languages by using voice recognition. Google Translate is available for both iOS and Android.

4. Star gazing

How many times have you looked up at the night sky and wondered if that bright light was a planet or a star? SkyView for iOS or Android is right up your alley.

Using augmented reality, this app uses your smartphone’s camera to spot celestial objects. Simply point your camera skyward and SkyView will guide you through constellations, galaxies, stars and even man-made satellites and their locations. It will also track the location of the sun and the moon at any chosen date, past or future.

5. Finding restaurants

Did you know that the Yelp app has an augmented reality feature called Monocle?

By using your smartphone's camera and compass, Yelp's Monocle feature overlays markers and tiles of restaurants and bars around your immediate area. You use your camera to scan around to locate establishments relative to your orientation. It also gives you the usual Yelp reviews and details.

This is handy if you are walking around, looking for a place to eat. Just fire up Yelp's Monocle, search for restaurants and bars, and let it guide your way.

Bonus: Security camera

You can use your smartphone’s camera as a mini surveillance system. Maybe you want to watch a specific drawer, medicine cabinet, jewelry box, your cubicle at work, the door to your room if you have roommates, or what's happening in your hotel room while you're out.

Specialty apps use your phone's camera to sense motion, and then alert you via email or text. Apple users will want to download the Manything app. Android users can grab the Salient Eye app.

Copyright 2016, WestStar Multimedia Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Kim Komando hosts America’s largest weekend radio talk show as she takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle. Visit Komando.com for free podcasts, videos, product reviews, shows, tips and advice.