smartphone sos

If, in the rare instance you are in an emergency and cannot easily call for help, your smartphone has a way to help. I wish I knew about this feature earlier, not necessarily for myself, but for my parents and folks like them who have health issues and hardly know how to use a smartphone. I am unsure if my mom would remember how to use this feature appropriately, but it is worth teaching her, even if I have to teach her every month because people forget what we do not use.

Samsung introduced a proprietary, emergency messaging feature with their Galaxy S6 in April, 2015. Apple followed suit with a similar feature with the release of iOS 10.2 in December, 2016. Android devices not from Samsung can still get a similar feature via third-party apps. The general feature will either send an SMS to or call a designated contact. The implementation varies, but I hope more people understand this feature and how to use it appropriately.

On Samsung phones since the Galaxy S6, rapidly pressing the lock button three times sends an SMS to up to four designated contacts. The SMS includes a URL for a map with the GPS location. The phone also generates an alert notification acknowledgment. If I could find it, I would include a link to Samsung Support on how to use this feature, but my searching produced only a page from their New Zealand region. The best their online chat support could give me was a link to a phone’s PDF user manual. I am surprised this Samsung feature is not more prominent, but I genuinely appreciate it.

On iPhones, there are two ways to trigger the alert; please see the Apple Support page on Emergency SOS for the details. Triggering the alert will bring up the Emergency SOS screen where you can then initiate a call to your nation’s emergency services (eg, 911 in USA). I assume iPhones are coded for every nation where sold, but I wonder what happens if traveling to another country. Contacts can be designated to whom the iPhone will, after the emergency call, automatically send an SMS with GPS location. Since the first action is calling emergency services, I cannot test it.

As for other Android phones, there are many third-party apps filling the emergency and safety category. I went through the Google Play Store and tried as many as I could, looking specifically for apps which respond to pressing the lock button multiple times. Three apps, ordered by descending popularity, met this minimum requirement: Chilla 1.45, Call For Help 3.2, SOSme 1.3. These apps will send an SMS to your designated contact.

Each app offers some unique features. Pointing out their differences will hopefully help you decide which is better. Chilla’s optional feature is scream detection — a loud sound lasting over two seconds — meaning that it is constantly listening for loud sounds. Chilla can also send brief audio clips via email or even call the designated contact. Call For Help’s interface is the most polished looking of the three. Call For Help uses GPS location to configure on-screen buttons to call your country’s emergency services (would be interested to know if it works outside the USA). Call For Help has a few more features when upgrading to its subscription service, otherwise you must tap through an ad. SOSme seems to do one thing, but it does that one thing very well. SOSme can optionally send the emergency message via email.

Overall, I really like Samsung’s built-in approach of sending an SMS with GPS location to a designated contact. Therefore, I looked for apps to best replicate that feature. Chilla, when sending its SMS, sent a blank location on repeated tests, which does not serve my purpose. In its Google Play Store Reviews, at least two people wrote that it sent the wrong location, so it may be getting a location but unreliably. For all of Call For Help’s visual polish, it lacks one key item – alert acknowledgment or confirmation. I repeatedly tried triggering the alert with lock button presses, then finally thought to check the target phone. The SMS messages all went through, but the sender has no way of knowing. This might be useful as a totally discrete way of sending alerts, but in an emergency, I would rather know it is working. Finally, SOSme just works; nothing fancy, even austere, but it works and the sender will know it. For the other two apps, I gave improvement suggestions, so maybe a future version will incorporate them, and I might evaluate them again.