13 Tips to Supercharge Your 'Dumb' Phone

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Retrieve Sports Scores on Demand

Major League Baseball scores on demand
The Yankees are taking on the Red Sox, it's the bottom of the ninth, the game is tied...and you're stuck in a meeting. What's a baseball fan to do? The MLB has you covered with the free MLBGO (65246) SMS service. Just text "YANKEES" (or the name of any other team) to 65246, and you'll get an on-demand scoring update. Before you can use the MLBGO service, you'll need to set it up on the MLB.com Website.

MLBGO is free to use on demand, but you can sign up for automated team alerts for $4 per team.

You can get sports scores, news, Craigslist postings, and more by using another SMS service called 4INFO. Just send a text to 44636 with keywords like "news headlines," "white house," or "china" to keep up with the latest news in a bite-size format. You can also have text alerts sent to your phone for each category for free.

Get Directions Without GPS

Google text directions
Your phone may not have a GPS navigation app, but that doesn't mean you have to go without driving directions. Text GOOGLE (466453) your starting address, followed by "to" and then your destination address. Google will send you the directions. To make it even easier, you can get directions by zip code.

For example, say you live on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and you want directions to New Haven, Connecticut. Text "10025 to 06501" to Google, and it will transmit the directions directly to your phone. Keep in mind that Google will send your directions in several batches, since SMS messages can have only about 150 characters (the directions for my example took about six messages).

Send a Text to a Landline

SMS to a landline
Ever needed to send a text to a friend or relative who refuses to get even a basic cell phone? You’re not alone. Most carriers (including Alltel, Sprint, and Verizon) offer a text-to-landline service that will convert your text message into a computerized voice recording and deliver it to almost any landline in the United States.

To use this trick, first enter the 10-digit landline phone number into the ‘To’ field of your phone’s SMS interface. Then enter your text message as you normally would, and send. The message will go to your friend’s landline through a computerized transcription service that can even leave the message on voicemail if your friend doesn’t pick up.

This service works with phones from most major U.S. wireless carriers except AT&T. Be sure to check with your wireless carrier about fees for text-to-landline, too: Sprint offers this service for free, but Verizon charges 25 cents for each successful text-to-landline delivery.

Perform Other Landline Tricks

Phone star codes
You may have heard that pressing *69 when you've missed a call will tell you who the last caller was. Did you know that about 50 more "star codes" exist? How many your carrier offers varies, however; Verizon, for instance, offers only 12.

Here are a few.

  • Dialing *67 blocks your landline number from being displayed through Caller ID
  • Dialing *60 lets you block unwanted callers from calling you again (not all providers offer this service)
  • Dialing *66 (*69 on AT&T) if you get a busy signal will set up automatic callback--that is, when the other party is off the line, your phone will ring and your call will be put through

Some of these codes differ depending on your provider, and charges for many of the services apply.

Tweak Your Basic Phone via the Web

Basic-phone tweaks
Looking to stop annoying text-message spam? Want to know how to send text messages for free from your wireless phone number? Wireless carriers each offer a Web page for accessing and managing your cell phone account.

At the My Verizon Homepage, for example, you can use the privacy controls to block up to 15 phone numbers from calling or texting you. Most carriers also allow you to keep tabs on usage and to send advanced multimedia messages embedded with animation or sound via SMS.

Sprint users can access parental controls to restrict calls to numbers entered in the phone book (you can block incoming text messages this way, as well).

These tasks may be available through your handset, but I'll take being able to navigate my account via a browser on a 20-inch LCD monitor versus struggling with a 2-inch phone screen any day. Check with your carrier to see what Web-based features it offers.

Maintain Your Blogging Habit

Blogger on a phone
Want to keep your blog readers updated while you're on the go? Google's free blog-hosting service, Blogger, lets you send updates via SMS by texting to BLOGGR (256447). If your phone has MMS capabilities, you can also post photographs. The one drawback is that using this service sets up a separate Blogger Mobile blog, and you will have to sign in later through your computer to associate your new mobile blog with one of your established Blogger blogs. After that, any mobile posts you make will show up on the blog you specify. Blogger Mobile is free, but your carrier's messaging rates apply.

If you use the blogging service Tumblr, you can call a toll-free number and post an audio update to your blog. Before you can send audio posts, you have to sign up online by clicking Goodies from your Tumblr dashboard and then scrolling down to Call In Audio. After you're signed up, just call 866/584-6757 and start audio blogging.

Enjoy Blogs on the Go via Google Reader

Google Reader
If you want to stay current with your blog reading while traveling, point your browser to google.com/reader/m. There you'll get a simplified version of Google's Web-based RSS feed catcher, Google Reader, that almost any mobile browser can handle.

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