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Here's Why You Should Change These 20 iPhone Settings Right Now

Make your iPhone work better for you.

An iPhone 13 Pro Max on a table next to a latte
Adjusting a few simple settings can make a big difference on your iPhone.
Patrick Holland/CNET

There are many things to customize on your iPhone, including your home screen, widgets and notification center... but that's just the start. Adding a brand new wallpaper to your lock screen is cool, but making your iPhone work better for you is cooler, and you can do by tinkering with your settings.

Your iPhone has hundreds of settings to configure, which probably sounds overwhelming. You can do everything from organize your alerts to fine-tune how much data you're using on a 5G connection, and if you don't know where to start, we've got you covered.

We'll take a look at 20 settings deep within iOS 15, so you can make your iPhone better for you.

And if you want to take a sneak peek into the future, you need to check out what Apple has planned for iOS 16 in the fall, including all the new major features that will be available on iOS 16 and which devices will be compatible with iOS 16. You can also get your hands on a beta version of iOS 16 right now.

A phone showing a notification bar at the top of the screen, propped up on a table in front of various toys

This incoming call alert isn't ideal for everyone. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET
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1. Bring back full-screen incoming call alerts

Prior to Apple's iOS 14 update, the incoming call screen would take over your entire display when your iPhone was unlocked and being used. It was disruptive, sure, but it also got the job done.

Starting with iOS 14, however, Apple changed the incoming call prompt to look more like a typical alert. That is, now it's a small notification that shows up near the top of the screen when you're using your phone. On more than one occasion I've nearly missed a call because I dismissed the alert as yet another annoying notification that didn't immediately need my attention.

To get the more attention-grabbing full-screen alerts back, go to Settings > Phone > Incoming Calls and tap Full Screen.

2. Change Siri's voice

Siri gained two new voices when iOS 14.5 debuted last year. And Siri no longer defaults to a female's voice. Instead, when you set up a new device you'll be asked which Siri voice you want to use. Once you make your selection, Apple will change Siri's voice across all of the devices linked to your Apple ID. It's pretty slick. 

You can check out the voice options by going to Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Voice. To learn more, check out our complete guide to changing Siri's sound.

Apple is also added a gender-neutral Siri voice option for English speakers in iOS 15.4

An iPhone held in a hand

5G is nice, if you have access to it, but it can also be a battery hog. 

Patrick Holland/CNET

3. Turn off 5G coverage you don't want or have

Apple touts a Smart Data feature that's specific to its 5G phones (the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lines) that will automatically switch between 4G LTE and 5G networks -- without you having to know or do a thing -- based on how you're using your device. The automatic switch is part of an effort to improve battery life. However, you may find that your iPhone's battery drains faster than it did before. If you don't want to sacrifice battery life for faster 5G speeds, shut it down. You can always turn 5G back on when you want it, or when service in your area improves.

To turn off 5G on your iPhone 12 or iPhone 13, forcing it to always use 4G LTE even if you have 5G coverage, open the Settings app, then go to Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Voice & Data and tap LTE.

Alternatively, if you want your iPhone to exclusively use a 5G connection when available, you can select 5G On.

Read more: AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Comparing Apple's Latest Earbuds

4. Fine-tune how much data is used on a 5G connection

If you're happy with your 5G performance, here's a network-related setting you should check out. Go to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Data Mode where you'll find three different options: Allow more data on 5G, Standard and Low Data Mode.

Even though there are brief descriptions below the three different settings, they don't paint a complete picture for the first option. According to an Apple support document, allowing more data on 5G will give you high-quality video and FaceTime calls, and it also means that your phone can download software updates and stream high-definition Apple TV and Apple Music content and it allows third-party developers to also improve their respective apps.

The default setting on this page will depend on your carrier and your data plan, so it's a good idea to check your iPhone and make sure it's set to your preference.

Apple Watch Series 7 with a geometric face

You can unlock your iPhone with your Apple Watch if Face ID isn't working.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

5. Unlock your phone while wearing a face mask

One of the frustrating aspects of wearing a face covering in public while using an iPhone that has Apple's Face ID tech built in has been the inability to unlock the phone. Because half of your face is covered, Face ID just doesn't work. And while entering your passcode to unlock your phone works, it's not as convenient. 

You now have the option to turn on a face unlock feature that makes it easy to unlock your iPhone when your face is covered with iOS 15.4. Before the update, you could only unlock your iPhone if you owned an Apple Watch

To unlock your iPhone with your Apple Watch, open the Settings app on your iPhone and then open the Face ID & Passcode option. Scroll down until you find the Unlock with Apple Watch section (you must be connected to an Apple Watch for the setting to appear), where you can turn on the feature for any watches linked to your iPhone. 

If you have an iPhone 12 or iPhone 13 that runs iOS 15.4 or later, you can unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask and without an Apple Watch, too. Go to the Settings app and open Face ID & Passcode. From there, you can toggle Face ID With a Mask and choose the Face ID With a Mask option. It's pretty awesome. 

6. Put the address bar in Safari back on top

Apple moved the address bar in Safari to the bottom of the screen by default in iOS 15. This should theoretically feel more natural since it's closer to the keyboard and where you typically place your thumbs. But it can be off-putting since many people are used to seeing the URL bar near the top of the screen, as is the case on laptops. 

You can change this by opening Settings, tapping Safari and choosing the Single Tab option under the Tabs subheading. 

7. Organize alerts with Notification Summary

Apple wants to help you manage your notifications in iOS 15, starting with the Notification Summary feature. Rather than letting notifications pile up on your home screen, you can schedule alerts that aren't urgent to arrive in a bundle at a specific time of day. Important notifications like calls, direct messages and other time-sensitive alerts (like the status of your Uber or Lyft ride for example) will still appear immediately.

To try this out, open Settings, press Notifications and tap Scheduled Summary

Allow Access When Locked settings with most of them enabled

You can decide which features you want to access when your phone is locked. 

Screenshot by Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

8. Add features that can be used when your iPhone is locked

There are times when you might need to have certain information handy even when your phone is locked. That's why Apple allows you to enable some features without having to unlock your device, such as the notification center, Control Center, the ability to reply to messages and the Wallet app.

Customize the features you'd like to access on the lock screen by launching the Settings menu, tap Face ID & Passcode and enter your passcode when prompted. Scroll down until you see the Allow Access When Locked section, and toggle the sliders based on your preferences. 

Chrome settings screen with the default browser set to Safari

You no longer have to use Safari or Mail as default apps. 

Screenshot by Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

9. Make your favorite email app or web browser the default

It was a long time coming, but 2020's iOS 14 update finally brought the ability to choose your own default apps -- at least for email and web browsing. That means that if you change these defaults, then when you tap a link or an email send button your iPhone will automatically launch the web browser or email provider of your choosing rather than Safari or Mail. 

To get started, open the Settings menu and select the app you'd like to set as a default (such as Google Chrome or Outlook). You should then see a button that says Default Mail App or Default Browser App. Tap that option and select the app of your choosing instead of Safari or Mail. 

Read moreIf You Care About Your Privacy, You Need to Change These Browser Settings

10. Get full notifications on your lock screen

The first time you experience Apple's Face ID tech, you'll notice that you can't see the content of new alerts and notifications on the lock screen. For example, instead of seeing who sent you a text message and what it says, you'll only see a generic Messages alert.

By default, all iPhones with Apple's Face ID tech will hide the content of an alert until you pick up your phone and unlock it by looking at it. It's a privacy feature that I rather enjoy, but I also get how it can be annoying (and have heard a few complaints from readers and family members alike).

You can change how notifications appear on your lock screen by going to Settings > Notifications > Show Previews and selecting Always. Conversely, you can select Never if you want to keep the content of your notifications always hidden on the lock screen.

iPhone 12 settings with arrows pointing to what to select to get HDR video

HDR video looks great, but it doesn't work everywhere yet.

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

11. Turn off (or on) HDR video for sharing videos

Phones in the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lineups can record HDR, or high dynamic range, video with Dolby Vision. That means your videos will be brighter with more accurate colors and improved contrast. Sounds awesome, right? It is. But there's a problem -- not every app or service will work with HDR video. 

Developers will need to update their apps in order to accept HDR video, but even then, the person viewing the video will need a capable device to see the HDR difference. For Apple devices, that includes the iPhone 8 or newer, the 2020 iPad Air, the second-generation iPad Pro and some Macs

So, what can you do? Well, you have a few options: 

  • You can turn off HDR video by going to Settings > Camera > Record video and turning the switch next to HDR Video to the Off position. Going forward, all videos will be captured in standard dynamic range, and you shouldn't have any issues sharing or editing it.
  • Leave HDR Video turned on, but when you want to share the video with, say, Facebook, use the Photos app instead of going into the Facebook app and uploading it there. When you use the Photos app, your iPhone will automatically convert the video to SDR and upload it. When you send the video to another iPhone user, Apple will detect if their iPhone, iPad or Mac is compatible with HDR Dolby Vision. If it's not, Apple will convert the video automatically.
  • If you leave HDR Video on and need to edit your video, you can use Apple's iMovie app or the Photos app that's built into your iPhone. You can even use iMovie to export the video as SDR if needed. 
An iPhone with widgets held up against a cityscape

Customize your home screen on iOS 14 and the iPhone 12. 

Patrick Holland/CNET

12. Get rid of clutter on your home screen

Since the release of iOS 14 in 2020, iPhone users have had more options and control over what their home screen looks like than ever before. The App Library, for example, acts as an app drawer, allowing you to remove apps from your home screen without deleting them. Heck, you can even fully customize your phone's look with different app icons and widgets -- it's very Android-like, and there's nothing wrong with that.

If you like the minimal look, then you'll want to make sure that newly installed apps aren't automatically placed on your home screen every time you download an app. Or, on the flip side, if you don't want new apps to go directly to the App Library where you're sure to forget about their existence after a day or two, go to Settings > Home Screen and select either Add to Home Screen or App Library Only.

On an iPhone with 3D Touch, you can use a third-party app to play longer-duration "Live" photos on your lock screen.

Patrick Holland/CNET

13. Customize your home screen with fancy wallpaper

Another home screen tweak you should make involves your wallpaper or background. Apple has added some new wallpapers of its own, with a pretty cool twist. 

Open the Settings app on your iPhone and select Wallpaper from the list. Make sure the switch labeled "Dark Appearance Dims Wallpaper," which you'll see below the two thumbnail previews of your wallpaper, is turned on. Now, tap Choose a new wallpaper and select either Stills or Live. See the circle near the bottom of each wallpaper? It's half black, half white. 

That circle means that the wallpaper has a light and dark mode version and will change automatically based on the system status of your phone. 

You can also set live wallpapers as your background if you're not sold on dark and light mode.

Dark Mode on an iPhone 11

Dark Mode on the iPhone sure looks good. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

14. Turn on dark mode to save your battery

Speaking of dark mode, if you don't want to have to repeatedly adjust your screen's brightness, you can use your phone's dedicated dark mode. Dark mode converts all of the white backgrounds in apps to, more often than not, a black background. In turn, your phone is able to save battery power thanks to the darker colors. 

Turn it on by going to Settings > Display & Brightness and selecting the Dark option at the top of the screen. 

Apple's apps will automatically switch to a dark color scheme and most third-party apps have also adopted the feature

iPhone showing iOS 13 privacy settings

Apple has put all of its privacy controls in one place. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

15. Manage your notifications with Focus Mode

We get a lot of notifications every day, but not all of them are relevant all the time. With iOS 15, Apple introduced a feature to address this called Focus Mode. Think of it as a sort of custom Do Not Disturb, but tailored to specific circumstances. 

This allows notifications from important people and apps to come through so that you don't miss anything, while blocking out less relevant alerts. You can set up different types of Focus modes for specific circumstances. Apple currently offers options for Do Not Disturb, personal, sleep, work, driving, fitness, gaming, mindfulness and reading, but you can also create your own custom mode. You can schedule Focus modes so that they turn on automatically when needed, and display a status in apps so that others know when you have notifications silenced. 

To get started, open the Settings menu, tap Focus and choose one of the available options to set up your notification preferences. Tap the plus (+) symbol in the top right corner to add a new Focus. 

16. Control the size of screen text

With a couple of taps on your iPhone's screen, you can adjust the font size to make it easier to read. Open Settings and go to Display & Brightness > Text Size where you can use the slider until you're happy with the font size. 

For a little added oomph, you can turn on Bold Text (it's just below the Text Size button). 

A woman in sunglasses smiling at an iPhone

Face ID doesn't always get it right. 

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

17. Add an alternate appearance to Face ID

Apple's facial recognition feature, Face ID, constantly learns and relearns different aspects of your face with each scan. If you're struggling to get Face ID to consistently recognize you, try the Alternate Appearance option. 

Go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode > enter your PIN > Set Up An Alternate Appearance and go through the process of enrolling your face again. 

Accessibility settings with arrows showing where to enable Auto Brightness

Keep your screen dim to save battery life. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

18. Disable auto brightness for longer battery charge

Your iPhone's screen brightness level can have a big impact on battery life. By default, iOS will automatically adjust the display's brightness based on how much light the ambient sensor detects. But if you want to take complete control, you can disable auto-brightness, meaning the brightness level will stay where you set it until you adjust it again. 

Open Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size and at the bottom of the page, you'll find a switch to turn off Auto-Brightness

Now, whenever you want to adjust your screen, you can do so by opening Control Center with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen on a device with a home button, or a swipe down from the top-right corner on newer iPhones. 

19. Triage your privacy settings

The first time you set up a phone and all of your apps, you're bombarded with prompts asking for permissions to access personal information ranging from tracking your location to your Apple Health information or your camera roll. It's far too easy to get in the habit of approving everything just so you can use the app, but take a few minutes and go through your privacy settings and tailor what each app can and can't see. We walk you through the process in two quick steps

Control Center has a lot of potential, you just have to customize it. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

20. Put apps a tap or swipe away with Control Center

Control Center is a convenient spot to quickly change songs, turn on airplane mode, connect to Wi-Fi or start a timer, but there's so much more to it than that. You can quickly turn your flashlight on, check on a timer or start recording your screen with a quick swipe and tap. 

Customize which apps and features are available in Control Center by opening Settings > Control Center. Remove an option with a tap on the red minus button or add an option by selecting the green addition button. Drag features up or down using the three-line icon on the right side of the screen. 

Personally, I like having quick access to the Wallet app and toggles for low-power mode and dark mode. 

As a reminder, if you have an iPhone with a home button, like the 2020 iPhone SE, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to open Control Center. If you have an iPhone with Face ID, like an iPhone X ($265 at Amazon), XS or 13, you'll need to swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen where the battery icon is. 

For more, here's how to set up your new iPhone and how to transfer your data from your old iPhone. Plus, this iOS 15 trick gives you more iCloud storage for free.