Your new smartphone can do a lot more than make calls, browse the web or pick up email.
It can also help you save money when shopping for new products, provide free video calling to friends and family around the world or serve as a replacement for other digital devices.
That's right, while a smartphone might cost a hundred or two with a 2-year data plan, that pocket-sized companion could mean less strain on your wallet in other areas.
The following are five such ways your smartphone can help save you money while performing day-to-day tasks.
Sure, your smartphone can be used to call people — it is a phone after all — but if you use an application ("app") like Skype (for iPhone, Android or Windows Phone) or FaceTime (for iPhone) you not only can make calls anywhere in the world for free, but you have the added benefit of video, too. As long as you're in a Wi-Fi network (or via cellular connectivity) you can call other Skype or FaceTime users -- on a smartphone, tablet or computer -- and talk as long as you like.
With Skype, you can also swap files and text with the person you're chatting with. Another iPhone app called Fring lets up to four people video chat at the same time. If you consider all the money you could be spending on long distance calling, free apps like Skype, FaceTime and Fring make sense and saves cents.
Barcode scanning apps
Speaking of apps, there are more than a dozen that can tell you if what you're about to buy is a good deal or not — and these apps work with multiple platforms, such as iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. For example, with Red Laser, SnapTell or ShopSavvy, use your smartphone's camera to take pictures of product barcodes and within a second or two you'll see which retailer has the best price online or at retail around you (via the smartphone's GPS technology). If you scan a barcode on a $20 DVD, you might see it's $13 down the street at another store -- and you'll also get turn-by-turn directions there, if you like. Or you'll see that same movie as low as $11 on the Internet, with links to buy it on the spot.
It's a digital Swiss Army Knife
The third way a smartphone can save you money is because it replaces so many other portable digital devices you might buy otherwise. This includes a camera, camcorder, radio, MP3 player, gaming system, landline phone, pedometer and GPS navigation unit, to name a few. Granted, in some cases a smartphone doesn't perform a task as well as a standalone device, but if it's good enough for you — and you have the phone with you everywhere you go — it makes up for the slight difference in quality. In some cases you'll have more options when using your smartphone, such as emailing a photo you snapped right away or calling a restaurant you found via GPS. Many people are even using a smartphone more than their personal computer for some tasks, such as reading email and surfing the web, as it's convenient to do it on a device you have with you at all times.
Imagine one day you're walking down the street and you feel your smartphone vibrate while it's in your pocket or purse. You pull it out, glance at the screen and see there's a special on sweaters at Old Navy across the street. Apps like Push A Deal and Deals.by are just two examples of free shopping apps that push hot deals to you based on your geographical location. You can select the kinds of deals you're interested in — such as fitness apparel, restaurants or consumer electronics -- and you'll be notified about sales, coupons and giveaways at retailers you happen to be near. These apps use the smartphone's GPS chip to establish your exact location — and of course it works in different cities, states and countries such as Canada.
It's also a middleman
Your smartphone isn't just a device to use on its own — it can communicate with your computer, television, car and home. This can all save you time, money and aggravation, as you can access what you need wherever life takes you. For example, if you need an important file on your computer at home, you can log in with one of the many "remote access" apps on your smartphone and grab it as if you were in front of your PC (personally, I like Splashtop). Forgot to set your digital video recorder (DVR)? Open up an app to set your favorite show while in line at the bank. Many cars now have apps that let you unlock doors remotely or to see your gas level and tire pressure, and other info. Depending on your home alarm system you can enable or disable alarms through your smartphone and perhaps tap into your surveillance cameras to see what's going on at home -- from a distance.