KEEPING up with the latest technology is an expensive hobby.
There’s a reason they call it the “bleeding edge” and it involves your bank balance.
There are many ways to improve, upgrade, and update your current devices, however, to make them faster, better and closer to the latest releases.
Below are 11 ways to get better gadgets without actually reaching for your wallet.
Get a faster camera
Updating smartphones with fresh software has become second nature.
Fewer people take advantage of software updates for their cameras, however, which can do everything from fixing faults to boosting autofocus speed.
Most digital camera makers issue the software updates on their websites, and you can check your camera’s current software version in its settings menu.
The update process varies from camera to camera, but users should only update a camera with a fully charged battery to avoid mid-installation crashes.
Update your phone early
If you’re super keen to upgrade your phone’s features, there are ways to access new operating systems before everyone else gets them.
If you’re using a Google Android phone, you’ll need to become a developer to access previews of its latest operating system, Android M, and that will cost money. You can sign up for $25 but, be warned, it is a highly technical process.
Apple, however, has made testing new versions of its iOS software free this year.
Users can sign up to test iOS 9 online, and must then visit the website on the device they wish to upgrade to download the new software directly.
Apple’s new operating system includes a News app, enhanced Notes, Maps with public transport guidance, and Split View layouts, though it is a test version and may be buggy.
Get Microsoft Office for free
If you’re a student or a teacher, you may be able to use Microsoft Office free of charge.
The company has extended its Office 365 offering to Australian students and faculty members, and those interested can sign up online.
The free service delivers online access to Word, Excel and PowerPoint as well as one terabyte of cloud storage, though access to offline versions of the software will cost $3.70 a month for students and $6.70 a month for teachers.
Fix your fingerprint scanner
Fingerprint sensors make it easy to securely lock and unlock a phone.
Sadly, when they get it wrong, they do just the opposite.
One way to upgrade this experience is to register your favourite fingerprint twice on the phone.
The Apple iPhone 6, for example, will let you register five fingers with Touch ID.
If you register your right index finger on the device twice, the phone has more information about your fingerprint that it can use to recognise you.
Similarly, the redesigned Samsung Galaxy S6 fingerprint sensor will let you register four fingerprints, and can be used in the same way.
Upgrade your computer’s operating system
There was a time when operating systems came in boxes and you’d have to pay several hundred dollars to get one. You might even have to queue to buy it.
Apple slowly changed that, releasing operating systems more and more cheaply until it launched OS X Mavericks as a free upgrade in 2013.
Microsoft followed this year, with Windows 10 costing a big round figure (zero) for Windows 7 and 8 users, despite numerous upgrades and new features.
To update your Mac, open the Mac App Store on your computer and search for “Yosemite”.
To update your PC, select the Windows icon in the bottom right corner of your Taskbar and follow the prompts to reserve a copy of the software.
Extend your web browser
If you spend your work day seated at a computer, there’s a good chance to stare at a web browser for hours.
There are easy ways to upgrade it, installing programs called extensions to make it more useful.
If you use Google’s Chrome browser, for example, you could add a shortcut to save articles to Pocket for offline reading or share the article on social media with AddThis. Companies including eBay and Amazon also deliver extensions that will let you search their inventory or add items to your wish list. A full list can be viewed here.
Get rid of double-ups
Your current smartphone is probably not your first smartphone.
There is a chance you have duplicate contacts or images in that phone, taking up space and causing confusion.
Some free apps will hunt those down and eliminate the extra information.
Watch a different clock
One of the best things about smartwatches is you don’t need to change them to change their watch face.
The Apple Watch won’t let you download different watch faces yet, but more options are coming in the second generation of its software this spring.
Samsung’s top-of-the-line Gear S smartwatch has many different faces you can download from its Gear App Store, including the Infinity Watch Curlball that resembles a fruity watch and Pip-Boy Watch for Fallout fans.
There are also a lot of smartwatch faces available to customise Google Android Wear smartwatches, and they can be viewed in the Store for Android Wear app.
Automate your phone’s tasks
Smartphones can be trained to do your bidding with the help of automation apps.
Say you want to post your Instagram photos to Twitter, and you want them to show up as photos rather than web addresses, you can program one of these apps to perform the task automatically.
The best known automation app is called IFTTT that stands for If This Then That. You can use this app to create rules that your phone follows automatically.
It could, for example, send a message to your partner when you arrive at the grocery store, or ask it to dim your internet-connected light bulbs at a certain time of the day.
Alternative automated apps include Atooma and Workflow (though it costs $6.49).
Get to favourite phone apps fast
You can update your smartphone’s user interface without a new contract or merely changing its wallpaper.
Launchers, available from Apple and Google app stores, are programs that provide a quick way to start apps.
If you have an Apple iPhone, for example, you could download and install this app from Cromulent Labs to add app shortcuts to your notification menu.
Google Android users have a host of launchers from which to choose, including Smart Launcher 3 that adds a circle of your six most used apps to a phone’s lock screen.
Get the message out quickly
Autocorrect can be a cruel mistress, and a poorly laid out keyboard can make her tougher to handle. Mercifully, smartphone keyboards can be easily swapped.
After downloading and installing a keyboard app, Apple iPhone users can swap their stock keyboard for the new one by tapping the world icon in the bottom left corner and selecting the new model.
Google Android keyboard apps typically guide users through settings, though they can be found in Settings, Language and Input, Default Keyboard.
Top suggestions for fresh keyboards include Google Keyboard, Swype, and SwiftKey Keyboard + Emoji.