iPhone Traveler pt. 7: iPhone as clock, camera and navigator

The iPhone makes for a useful and reliable alarm clock, camera and navigation device. And you thought it was just for Twitter! Today I’ll describe apps and accessories to make your iPhone the ultimate travel alarm clock, point-and-shoot camera and in-car navigator. Unless you just enjoy folding those huge maps. Then you’re on your own.

iPhone As Alarm Clock

Your iPhone lets you create multiple repeating alarms, smart alarms that are aware of the day and more. Plus, your iPhone notices when you change time zones and adjusts itself accordingly. It’s super handy. Let’s get started.

Automatic Time Zone Detection

Before we create an alarm, let’s enable automatic time zone detection. Once turned on, your iPhone will “notice” where it is and adjust its clock accordingly. That way, you don’t have to do it manually (though, if you want to, that’s an option, too). Follow these steps:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap General, then Date and Time.
  3. Move the Set Automatically slider to the On position.

That’s it. Now your iPhone will adjust for time zone changes on its own.

Create An Alarm

It’s easy to create a reliable alarm with your iPhone, and even apply some customization. You’ll notice that, even if your iPhone is in silent mode with the mute switch in the quiet position, the alarm will still sound. To create an alarm, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Clock app.
  2. Tap Alarms
  3. Tap the “+” in the upper right-hand corner.
  4. The Add Alarm screen appears with several options. Select the repeat options that you want and he sound you’d like to wake you. Use to slider to turn the snooze option on or off (the iPhone’s snooze duration is nine minutes) and finally add a custom label to your alarm. Custom labels make them easy to identify, like “work,” “the lake house” or “afternoon nap.”
  5. Tap Save and you’re done.

You can make as many alarms as you like and turn them on or off with the slider.

Alarm Clock Apps

There are several alarm clock apps available in the App Store, many of which do far more than Apple’s built-in Clocks app. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Alarm Clock Pro ($0.99)

This great app by iHandy, Inc. makes a great night stand replacement and is my favorite. It lets you create and name repeating and non-repeating alarms as Clocks does, and adds so much more. It will display the weather for your current location and even give a five-day forecast. It features a full-screen “LCD” display with seven color options. There’s support for both a 12-hour and 24-hour clock, and the display shows the day of the week.

Two very clever features include a gesture-based dimmer. Slide your finger up or down on the screen to make the display brighter or dimmer. You can also pick the phone up and shake it to enable a flashlight mode. Shake it again to return to the clock display.

Nightstand Central ($1.99)

Here’s another wonderfully useful nightstand replacement app. Nightstand Central offers many of the features that make Alarm Clock Pro great, like customizable alarms, snooze and iPod music as an alarm sound. It differs in key ways, too. First of all, it’s beautiful. If the LCD look isn’t your thing, consider Nighstand Central. The default display is beautiful and you can even use your own photos. When not acting as a clock, Nightstand Central becomes a digital photo frame and weather station. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Hardware: The Glif
Cost: $30
Compatibility: iPhone 4, 4S and 5

Those apps (and many others) are great but less than useful if your iPhone’s display is pointed towards the ceiling. Use a stand to keep it facing you. As usual, there are many to choose from but my favorite is the Glif by Studio Neat. This simple stand will hold your iPhone 4, 4S or 5 in either landscape or portrait orientation. Slide up and down to adjust the viewing angle. It’s small, sturdy and lightweight.

That’s great, but what earned the Glif a spot in my travel bag is its multitasking capabilities. It’s a great stand but it’s also a tripod mount. Use it to capture low-light photos, time-delayed shots or hands-free video. And of course, it props up your night stand app at the perfect angle. It’s a handy little chunk of rubber for sure.

iPhone As Camera

The iPhone is a capable point-and-shoot camera and video camera. The iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 shoot 8 MP still photos and video at 1080p, while the iPhone 4 has a 5 MP camera and shoots video at 720p. All three models feature an LED flash, autofocus and tap-to-focus. It probably won’t replace the high-end DSLR in your bag, but I bet it could give your inexpensive point-and-shoot a run for its money. Especially the 4S and the 5.

While the iPhone is a good camera, a few accessories can make it even better. Here are some of my favorites.

The Glif
Cost: $30
Compatibility: iPhone 4, 4S and 5

I mentioned the Glif earlier, and here it is again. It’s a small iPhone stand that also mounts on a standard tripod. It will hold the iPhone in either landscape or portrait orientation. It’s inexpensive and very handy.

GripTight GorillaPod Stand
Cost: $29.95
Compatibility: All models

This articulated mini tripod is extremely versatile. Instead of a tripod mount, it features a little clip that’s designed to hold the iPhone. The legs can be bent into almost any shape and hold it firmly. Use it to get dramatic angles or even attach to something else. I often use the Gorilla Mobile when placing FaceTime video calls for hands-free chatting.

iPhone Rangefinder
Cost: $55 for just the case, $95 for case and magnetic lens
Compatibility: iPhone 4, 4S

This clever accessory combines a case, a rangefinder and swappable lenses all in one. It fits onto your iPhone 4, 4S or 5 like a typical case. However, the forward-facing side resembles a camera. There’s a top-mounted shutter button that actually works, just like you’d find on a real camera, and it accommodates magnetic cell lenses. These add-ons fit over the iPhone’s camera and let you play with effects like fisheye and wide angle.

Owle Video rig
Cost: $169 for iPhone 4, 4S; $130 for iPhone 5

The Owle Video Rig is one of my favorite iPhone accessories. More than a case, this precision-carved chunk of aluminum can accommodate the iPhone 4, 4S and iPhone 5. It’s got two handles, four tripod mount points and even a forward-facing, external mic. The weight really helps you record smooth video. I’ve spend some time using one and like it a lot.

iPhone As Navigation Assistant

Your iPhone is more than capable of offering turn-by-turn driving directions, thanks to the App Store and the iPhone’s built-in GPS receiver. Its small speaker is plenty loud enough to be heard in a car, as long as music isn’t blaring, but listening is only half the benefit of a GPS app. Watch the map by mounting the iPhone in your car with a hardware mount. There are several models to choose from, including those that stick to the windshield, mount on the dashboard or rest in a cup holder. Here’s a look at three models I really like.

Many companies make hardware to mount your iPhone in your car, like Belkin, Griffin, Arkon and more. My favorites come from a company called RAM Mounts. They’re sturdy and well-built. Many RAM mounts feature a modular design. That means you can mix and match the part that holds your iPhone (holder) with the part that attaches to your car (base), for a fit and arrangement that works best for you.

RAM also builds holders that will accommodate an iPhone with or without a case or skin. That way, you needn’t take your iPhone out of its case each time you want to secure it in the car. That’s especially useful if the case in question is also a battery pack, meant to keep that power-hungry GPS app running.

RAM Universal X-Grip™ Cell Phone Holder with 1″ Ball
Cost: About $23
Compatibility: iPhone 3G, 3GS 4, 4S, 5

This holder’s unique four-prong design holds your iPhone very securely without getting in the way. It’s compatible with a huge number of iPhone models plus all models of the iPod touch, with our without a sleeve. Just a great all-round car mount for the iPhone and iPod touch.

RAM-A-CAN II™ Universal Cup Holder Mount with Universal X-Grip™ Cell Phone Holder
Cost: $37
Compatibility: iPhone 4, 4S

This little device rests in your car’s cup holder and an articulated arm allows you to position the iPhone just so. Great if you don’t want something up on the dashboard.