Can it unlock a car, win a bet or cut short a date? Here's the inside line.
My 13-year-old daughter ran into the dining room in an excited state. "Watch what my cell phone can do."
She dashed to the entertainment center and held the phone up to one of the speakers. The radio was set to the local pop station and the song was Jordin Sparks' "No Air."
"Now look!" she said, showing me her phone's screen.
And there were the words: "Jordin Sparks (featuring Chris Brown), 'No Air.'"
"Pretty cool, isn't it?" she said, clearly pleased with herself.
"That's impossible," I said. "Try this."
I put on a CD of songs I'm using in my French studies as she dialed 1-866-411-7664. In a minute, her phone spelled out "Alain Souchon, 'Les Regrets.'"
That prompted me to make a phone call.
"The technology used by 411-SONG is licensed from a British company called Shazam," said Sina Khanifar, a wireless expert.
"The song recognition works by recognizing a 'musical fingerprint' from the music being sent, and matching it to a database of more than 2.5 million songs," Khanifar said. "The service uses patented technology from Shazam that can recognize songs even when cell phone audio quality is very low."
Once the song is matched, your cell-phone service provider -- which renames the service to suit its brand -- will also tell you how to obtain related content, such as ring tones and wallpaper.
Of course all this costs money. Identifying a song ranges from 99 cents to $1.99 on most services; a monthly all-you-can-ID subscription is $3.99 via your service provider.
But you probably didn't even know your phone could recognize songs, did you?
There are other things your cell phone can do that you probably didn't know it could. And there are also things you might have heard can be done but really can't. Let's separate truth from rumor:
In case of emergency
Rumor: If you call 112 from anywhere, you are connected to an emergency operator who will respond to your call. This will work even if your key guard is on.
Truth: Um, first, the keyguard wouldn't open on our LG enV when we pushed 112. When we manually took off the key guard, all we got was a "call cannot be completed as dialed" message. Best hope 911 is available.
Pardon this interruption
Rumor: Your cell phone can cut short a meeting or a date or other unpleasant activity.
Truth: When you register with www.popularitydialer.com, you can program it to call your cell phone at a specific time. Your phone rings, you answer it, and then you go through a prerecorded, entirely fake conversation with prompts on the other end. You get five calls for free.
Unlocking your car
Rumor: If you lock your keys in your car, call someone who has the spare key fob with the remote lock-unlock button. Have them press the unlock button while you hold your phone up to the car, and the doors will open.
Truth: Boy, wouldn't this be great if it worked? Sadly, it did not, several times on our Suburban and Prius. Luckily, we were just testing it and not actually stranded somewhere.
Need a reminder?
Rumor: You can send reminders to yourself to take your medicine. Or buy bread. Or anything.
Truth: Jott.com is a dictation and transcription service that lets you call in messages to yourself; after you've dictated a 30-second message, it turns it into an e-mail or text message to your chosen end destination. So when you dictate "Pick up the kids from preschool" into your phone while you're driving, it winds up as an e-mail on your office computer. The service is currently free.
Low on batteries
Rumor: Your battery is low, and you are nowhere near a recharging power cord. Just dial *3370#, and your battery will, somehow, get half of its juice back.
Truth: The online posters of this rumor never say what you hit after the code: Send? OK? Pwr End? We tried them all with a somewhat low battery, and nothing happened. Oh, wait, a second number to try is *4720#. Guess what? More of the same. What does work, sometimes, is to turn off your phone for a few minutes and turn it back on. You often get just enough power to call to say you're going to be late.
Hit by lightning
Rumor: If you are hit by lightning while carrying your cell phone, injuries will be more severe.
Truth: Examinations of folks hit by lightning who were carrying a cell phone or other electronic device -- iPods, too -- showed more severe burns than usual. There even have been trace burns that follow the trail of the wires to the earbuds.
Updating your blog
Rumor: You can update your blog from your cell phone.
Truth: Yes, once you set up an account at www.blogger.com, you can post updates and photos via your cell phone by sending missives to goblogger.com. From there, you get additional routing directions. You can also create a new blog via cell as well. The service is free.
Want to bet?
Rumor: You can settle a wager or dispute with your cell phone.
Truth: All you have to do to get the answer to anything, at any time, from any place, is to register with www.mosio.com. Members of the Mosio "Qniverse" (question universe) are standing by to look up your answer. You can ask about locations, recommendations, trivia and more. Pretty cool, and it's free.