6 surprising things you can do with your smartphone

With more than 2 million apps in Apple’s App Store and 2.2 million in Google Play, there are tons of things you can do with your smartphone beyond making calls and texting. Here are six innovative apps that make your smartphone do things you never imagined.

1. Measure your heart rate

Instant Heart Rate uses your phone’s camera and flash to check your pulse. When you place your index finger on the camera, the app detects color changes and measures your heart rate.

It also collects data from each reading to help you monitor your heart rate over time. Plus, you can add tags and notes such as “Just woke up,” “Before bed,” “Exercising” and “Resting" to make your tracking more effective.

You don’t have to be a fitness enthusiast to benefit from this app. It’s also helpful if you have a medical condition like cardiovascular disease or diabetes and need to monitor your heart rate closely. When I tested the app, it was within a beat or two of manually measuring my heart rate.

A free basic version is available for both Apple and Android users. There is also a Pro version (Apple, $2.99 / Android, $1.99) that’s ad-free and offers unlimited data tracking. Click here to learn more about Instant Heart Rate, and get download instructions.

2. Hunt for treasure

If you own an iPhone, download a free app called Metal Detector and you can search for metal. The app taps into your phone’s built-in magnetometer, which helps your phone detect the X,Y,Z axes for things, like a compass.

Metal Detector picks up any metal that is magnetic. Point your phone’s camera, turn up the dial to increase the intensity and you’ll be surprised by the things it finds.

A similar app, also called Metal Detector, is available for Android devices. The apps share the same name, but they were created by different developers and operate differently. Click here to learn more about Metal Detector.

3. Control your vehicle from anywhere

Wouldn’t it be great if you could warm up or cool down your car before you even reach the parking lot? Viper SmartStart turns your phone into a remote control for your vehicle.

With the full system, you can start your car, unlock your doors, open your trunk, find where you parked, and even activate the security system. Premium versions include features such as text alerts for speeding and when your battery is low.

The Apple and Android apps are free to download and test, but you’ll need extra hardware and a monthly service plan to make the system work.

There are four service plan options, ranging from $70 to $240 per year, depending on their features. You will also need a module installed in your car, which costs around $300, plus installation. Click here for a price comparison of Viper SmartStart’s plans and features.

4. Measure height and distance

Using your phone's camera and fancy math, EasyMeasure estimates the distance or height of an object.

Before you play around with this app, an initial calibration is required. For better results, you'll need to set the lens' height off the ground. According to the app’s tutorial, the lens' height is 4 inches below your real height, if you’re holding the phone at eye-level.

To use the app, stand up, hold your phone at eye level and aim the little arrow at the base of the object you want to measure. Using the camera’s angle and your position, the app estimates the object’s distance.

EasyMeasure is available for both Apple and Android users as a free download. There is also an option to upgrade to a premium version (Apple $2.99 / Android, $.99) that is ad-free. Click here to see more of EasyMeasure's features.

5. Level objects

Here's a "handy" use for your smartphone: Turn it into a level! iHandy Level, a free download for both iOS and Android, uses your smartphone’s accelerometer to help you level objects. The app even mimics a real bubble level with a wooden overlay.

It works with all your phone’s orientations, so it’s quite versatile. Use it in portrait or landscape mode — or lay your phone on its back and go hands-free.

iHandy Level can help you hang picture frames, TV mounts, light fixtures and just about anything you want to straighten out.

Other features include a digital readout of the current angle and a Hold button that locks the level in place. Click here to watch a video of this app in action.

6. See in the dark

Wish you had thermal vision? All you need is a camera attachment. Seek Thermal, a high-resolution thermal camera, attaches to your smartphone through the lightning port on an iPhone or the micro USB port on an Android. There are two models:

The Compact model costs around $250 and includes a 206 x 156 thermal sensor. It’s waterproof and can detect temperatures between -40 and 626 degrees Fahrenheit at up to 1,000 feet.

The Compact XR model, which costs $300, gives you a larger field of view and a range of up to 1,800 feet. You'll find these products on Seek Thermal's website and on Amazon.

Seek Thermal cameras also have an app that displays the detected heat signatures on your smartphone. Use the equipment to scout and track wildlife, detect air leaks, monitor your home, find loose electrical wires, etc. Click here to see images of the heat maps the Seek Thermal Camera produces.

Bonus Tip:

Speaking of smartphone tricks, did you know you can use your phone to check the batteries on your remote control? You'll never wonder again if the batteries are dead. Click here for the steps on my website.

Copyright 2016, WestStar Multimedia Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Kim Komando hosts the nation’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.