6 frivolous smart phone features

Smart phones have lots of features that make our mobile lives easier. I love being able to jump directly from a locked screen to the camera or a text message, for instance, and who doesn’t want features that conserve battery life or block annoying calls?

But some bells and whistles, nifty as they may first appear, seem more like half-baked solutions to problems that don't exist. Others seem to have been created just to annoy you. Here are a few on my list:

Indestructible 'bloatware'

This is a big problem on Android smart phones, particularly those from the larger carriers. I don't begrudge a carrier's right to rake in a little dough by prominently preloading some of its own apps or those of its partners. But once your customers decide they're not interested, at least give them the option to delete the app from the phone. For example, I will NEVER use Verizon's VZ Navigator as long as the excellent and free version of Google Maps is available. So let me take it off my phone, please!

While you can’t completely delete these annoying preloads, you can make them disappear from your desktop and app drawer (if the version of the OS your phone runs allows you): Under Settings, select Apps and scroll down to the offending app. Select Disable and uncheck the "Show notifications" box.

Back-talking assistants

I appreciate the great strides in accuracy that phone-based search engines have made in recent years. And I like asking intelligent personal assistants such as iPhone's Siri and her Android counterparts to look things up, place calls, send messages, schedule appointments, and even make reservations—all in plain English. What I'm not keen on is having them talk back to me. It can be embarrassing in public, especially if your assistant surprises you with an inappropriate reply, such as a sexy retort when you ask for the current weather conditions in Chicago.

And there can be unexpected consequences to forgotten settings. Once, when I was in a meeting, my Android assistant began reading a personal text message from my wife while the phone was in my pocket. The hallmark of a smart assistant is knowing when to remain silent.

Untouchable touch screens

Phone makers keep coming up with new ways to interact with a phone's touch screen without actually touching it. Some hands-free features are great. On the Samsung Galaxy S4, for instance, Air View lets you peek inside, e-mails, calendar appointments, videos, and more just by hovering your finger above them. But in my many informal trials, other "touchless" controls were much less reliable than the touch-screen interaction they replace.

For example, the Smart Scroll on the Samsung Galaxy S4, which allows you to scroll up or down a page by tilting the phone in the appropriate direction, didn't work unless my hands were almost perfectly still and my eyeballs were perfectly aligned with the screen. I don't see how this is preferable to flicking your thumb on the screen.

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All-wet phone cameras

Sony encourages us to take its cool, water-resistant Xperia Z into the pool to shoot underwater videos. There’s no question a water-resistant phone has many advantages, including protection from accidental plunges not covered under warranty. But under water, the Z's camera is all wet. When the phone is submerged none of the camera controls work, so you can't stop or start video recording (you have to start it before you take the plunge). Also, forget about shooting a still picture. Dear phone makers: If you want your customers to play Jacques Cousteau with your smart phones, give them the controls to do it.

Insane insets

Found on late-model Samsung and LG phones, dual shot or dual recording mode lets you capture videos and still images simultaneously on the front and rear cameras, so you can appear as an inset within a video or still image. Maybe it's just me, but as my family's primary photographer, I've never felt compelled to glue my picture into the corner of any shot I've taken. Also, sometimes there are good reasons for being behind the camera.

Not-so-smart tags

Smart tags are programmable stickers or medallions that use NFC, or near-field communication, technology to transmit instructions to your phone with a quick tap. For example, you could affix one to your refrigerator and tap it with your smart phone every morning to launch your calendar and turn-on Wi-Fi. But today's smart phones are already savvy enough to deliver these and a host of other conveniences based on your location, time of day, calendar schedule, and even movement. Besides, do you really have room for another sticker on your refrigerator?

I could go on, but you've probably had enough of my curmudgeonly rant. We'd love to hear about phone features that you find useless or annoying. Share your thoughts with us on this Facebook post. Screen shots welcome.

—Mike Gikas

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