How’s this for irony: you reach for your phone to capture fun summer moments outside, but you can’t see the screen clearly enough to take the photo.
Or you get an important email from the boss while walking the dog, but you’re squinting horribly just to make out the words.
Worse, your phone overheats while at the beach, so you can’t use it at all until it cools down.
Bottom line: Smartphones and tablets don’t generally work well in bright environments. But there are a couple of things you can do to make them easier to use while outdoors on a hot, sunny day.
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The brighter you can make your screen, the better you’ll be able to see it in sunlight.
Both iOS and Android have a “quick settings” feature to enable it – by swiping up from the bottom on iPhone or swiping down from the top on Android – and you can then slide the brightness bar all the way to the right.
Note: the brighter your backlight, the worse it is on the battery and the more it could cause eye strain, so don’t keep this on all the time. Those who wear polarized sunglasses may have added disadvantage, so play with brightness settings that work best for you.
Alternatively, you can enable “auto brightness” on your device, so that it recognizes the amount of light around you and automatically adjusts the screen brightness accordingly.
Anti-glare covers, screens
Some smartphone users – especially among those who work in the field – like to use an anti-glare cover. Around $10 or so, these small covers physically shield the phone’s screen from sunlight.
Just like when you buy a smartphone case, you’ll likely need to buy one that fits your exact model, though some are adjustable to fit models anywhere from 4.5 to 5.2 inches. Most fold down flat for easy storage, while others are meant to suction to a windshield.
These might be tougher to find at retail, but the products are available online at Amazon and marketplaces like eBay.
Also, while you’re likely aware of screen protectors meant to reduce the odds of a scratch or crack, some products claim to reduce sunlight glare, too. Starting at about $5 for older models and $10 for newer ones, these “matte” screen protectors stick on top of your existing screen, so you’ll need to buy one that fits your exact phone.
Play with ‘Accessibility’ settings
When in direct sunlight, some phone users find it easier to read text – such as emails, text messages, or ebooks — when it’s white words on a black screen. It’s worth a shot, if you haven’t tried it. Enter your phone’s Accessibility settings to reverse the text color. It might be a tab you can touch called White on Black On/Off.
There are other Accessibility settings you may want to experiment with, such as Color Tint and other visual tweaks, along with the option to have text read to you if you’re having trouble reading it in the sun.
And don’t forget: you can dictate messages using your voice – utilizing personal assistants like Siri or Google Assistant – if you’re having trouble seeing the phone’s keyboard. Just be sure to double-check what’s transcribed on the screen before you hit “Send.” (Funny story: I once had a cold and said hi to my friend Mitch in a text message, but the words “Hi Bitch” was typed out and sent. Sigh.)
Better screens for outside
A few factors contribute to how easy a screen is to read outside, including the type of screen it is (IPS, AMOLED, and so on), and how bright the backlight is (the larger the number of “nits,” the brighter it gets).
That said, you’re not likely to buy a smartphone that’s better to look at outside, but some are better than others. Newer and premium devices typically have higher-quality screens and with higher brightness.
And then there are phones designed to work in harsher environments. These “ruggedized” phones – such as the CAT S60, Sonim XP7, and Kyocera DuraForce — are waterproof and drop/shock-proof, and some advertise its anti-glare screens can also be used with gloves for those who work in the field.
Outside of phones, electronic book readers with “e-ink” screens are far better to read outside than backlit tablets. The new Kobo Aura H20 ($179) is also waterproof, as the name suggests.
Get out of the sun
From the “duh” department, sit in a shaded area if you want to see your phone’s screen clearly.
If there’s an important email you must read and respond to, sit under a tree or lean against a building and under an awning, until you’re done.
On a related note, if you’re looking at photos or videos you took on your smartphone, never delete unwanted ones from the phone when you’re out. Why? Wait until you see the shot bigger on a computer monitor as it may be better than you think. Plus, deleting media from your phone eats away at the battery. Since you likely have lots of room on your phone, just do it later from home or the hotel room.
Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. E-mail him firstname.lastname@example.org.