10 cool things to do with an Android camera

Note: You’ll need a smartphone running Android 2.1 (Eclair) or higher. Some apps also require extra features like a front-facing camera.

1. Search for anything anywhere

As much as you might hate Google for its neverending bid for world domination you’ve got to hand it to the search giant – it really knows how to come up with the goods. For example take its latest application Google Goggles. Designed for Android 2.1 and newer it’s basically a barcode or QR code reader if it were made by the Incredible Hulk.

Instead of relying on scanning bits of information on the side of a packet specifically created to be recognised by the app Google Goggles can be used to scan absolutely anything – and the beauty of it is that there’s not a code in sight. Simply point it at what you want and it will pull information relevant to it straight to your phone. If it’s a famous landmark like Sydney’s Opera House it’ll beam you a complete history of the building. It works for artwork drinks logos and much more.

Google Goggles scans objects and provides information about them.

2. Play augmented reality games

Augmented reality in phones has been around for a while and tools like AR translation apps are great but nobody ever seems to show you how to use the technology for fun. That shouldn’t stop you using your phone’s ability to play augmented reality games though no matter where you are.

There are plenty of them about like SpecTrek – the game where you search for virtual ghosts using a map and then shoot them down when you find them. Or there’s Zombies Run! where you have to get from A to B on a map avoiding those pesky flesh-eaters en route.

A word of warning: be very careful about running around and shooting at things in a city filled with real people as you might get some funny looks especially if you’re old enough to know better.

Augmented reality games like SpecTrek are a fun way to get some exercise.

3. Catch criminals

Perish the thought of ever losing your phone or having it stolen but it could very easily happen to you one day. Gotya is an app that takes advantage of your Android handset’s camera to catch a light-fingered fiend in the act by snapping a photo of them when they try to bypass your phone’s security login screen. It then not only emails the picture to you instantly but also tells you the thief’s location so you can tip off the police to their whereabouts.

Obviously the only way this idea would ever actually work would be if your phone comes with a front-facing camera there’s mobile internet access available and you actually remembered to turn on 3G in the first place. Otherwise it’s absolutely foolproof.

Gotya is designed to catch phone thieves who try to access your device. The app uses a phone’s camera to capture a picture of the criminal.

4. Look to the stars

While few of us can ever boast to be blessed with the same sort of abilities as Brian Cox or Sir Patrick Moore we can still revel in all that the stars have to offer from the comfort of our own homes (or gardens anyway) thanks to apps like Star Chart and Google SkyMap.

Using AR they allow you to point your phone skywards at night and get a fascinating overview of all those little lights. SkyMap gives you the names of stars and tells you where to point your phone to see certain planets. You’ll feel like a Greek god in no time.

SkyMap helps you identify celestial bodies at night.

5. Turn your phone into a webcam

Your smartphone’s camera doubles as a handy video camera – most newer phones can even record in high definition – which you can use to shoot videos on the move. But that wouldn’t be very revolutionary would it?

If you want to make more of your mobile hardware why not stream your videos live to the world (or even just a couple of close friends) using Bambuser instead? Provided you have a decent internet connection where you are – and no we didn’t believe those promotional snowboarding videos either – you can broadcast videos as you record them which would be great for parties or any kind of activity/event where someone couldn’t be there. You can even geotag your live stream and then share it with your entire social network so that everyone knows exactly where you are!

Your smartphone’s camera can stream video live to social networks enabling friends and family to see what you’re up to.

6. Save photo notes

Probably one of the most underrated features of a phone is the ability to take notes at random whenever something happens to pop into your head. You can go one step further than basic note taking and start using the power of your camera plus the Evernote app to take picture notes too. The real beauty of this is that anything you snap which contains text will be recognised by Evernote allowing you to categorise the picture and search the text later so it effectively writes notes for you. It’s great if you want to digitise your shop receipts or scan a great article in a magazine for later.

Evernote helps you jot down thoughts and ideas so you can access them at a later date.

7. Get notifications via camera flash

The main use for your phone camera’s flash is taking pictures in low light naturally but some people also use it as a torch to find their way at night. It can even be used as an extension of the ringer and vibrate function when you receive calls by installing the FlashBlink app so if all else fails and you can’t hear your phone you’ll certainly be able to see the flashing light emitting from it. The app isn’t available off the shelf so don’t go rooting around Google Play because you won’t find it. Instead find out how to use it in the How To section below.

8. Translate text

Once again Google Goggles comes to the rescue. Out of all the picture-to-text translator apps out there it’s hands-down the best of them. Just hover your phone’s camera over an image of some text snap a photo and Google Goggles will automatically recognise if the text is in a foreign language and attempt to analyse and translate the image for you. Imagine being in a restaurant in Paris and you want to avoid eating frogs’ legs – this could be very useful.

9. Find hidden stuff around you

Thanks to augmented reality technology you can discover a world of pretty interesting things right outside your front door using apps like Junaio and Layar. What they basically do is reveal things on your phone that you wouldn’t be able to see using your eyes like events that are going on or where to find discounts nearby. It will even point you in the direction of essential information like the nearest ATM or train station.

10. Scan documents

Another great feature available is the ability to convert documents into printable PDFs simply by using an app like Handy Scanner which snaps a photograph and then magically turns it into a PDF. You then have the option of emailing the PDF or putting it in a Dropbox folder. Alternatively Google Drive does much the same thing but instead of creating a PDF out of printed text it will convert it to a Google Docs file. See below for a guide on how to use Handy Scanner.

If you want to save a printed document scan it with your phone.

How to do mobile scanning

Copy printed documents to PDF.

Step 1: Snap a doc

Download Handy Scanner Free PDF Creator from Google Play open it and tap the camera icon in the upper menu. Aim your camera at a document and then tap the shutter button to capture the photo. Tap the ‘Done’ button once you’ve finished. Handy Scanner will then show you a preview of the image you’ve snapped.

Step 2: Adjust the image

An outline of the words it has recognised will be shown. If you want to change the outline you can drag the corners of the box and move it around for a more accurate position. Tap the right arrow button once you’re satisfied. On the next screen you can change the orientation of the image by tapping on the left or right circles.

Step 3: Save & then share

Alternatively you can adjust the image using the magic button in the centre of the lower menu bar. If you’re planning to print the image select ‘Print-ready’. Tap the right arrow and give the document a name. The new scan will then be saved. To share it tap the ‘Share’ button in the right of the upper menu and select whether to ‘Dropbox it’ ‘Bluetooth it’ or send it to ‘Cloud Print’ for printing.


How to use camera flashes to notify you of calls.

Step 1: Get the software

To download Flash Blink 2.1 go here and click on ‘Flash Blink v3.2’ next to ‘Download link’. Install the app from MediaFire and copy the .APK file to your SD card – just put it loose in the root directory.

Step 2: Install the file manager

Before you can do anything with the .APK file you’ll need to install ASTRO File Manager which you can find on Google Play. Download and install this first. Once you’ve done so open ASTRO browse to the .APK file once more tap it and then select ‘Open file manager’. Click ‘Install’ and then just wait for the process to finish.

Step 3: Try it out

Now that it’s installed you can simply open the Flash Blink app like any other in your list of apps. To get it to work simply turn on the torch and tap the check box next to where it says Enable Flash Blink Notification – you can choose it to flash when you receive a call a SMS or both and you can even choose how fast the light flashes.