How to make your phone listen to common sounds like doorbells and alarms

Like many people, I’ve spent most of the past two years working from home due to the pandemic. I also like working with earphones or headphones so I can listen to music, which is usually great.

At least, it’s great until I get the package (something that’s more likely to happen to me than others because companies send me products to test on a regular basis). If I’m listening to music while I’m working, it’s very easy for me to miss the doorbell, and if my partner isn’t around to grab the door if I miss, that could be a problem. So, I went looking to see if there was a way I could listen to the technology for the door instead, and to my surprise, both iOS and Android have built-in systems that can do this (and a lot, Many more).

So, below you’ll find steps on how to “ear” your phone to listen for doorbells, smoke alarms, appliances, and more. Of course, whether you’re using the iOS or Android versions of this, it’s worth noting that these tools aren’t perfect, so be prepared for false alarms. However, at the time I was experimenting with these things, it seemed to work just fine.

iOS – Voice Recognition

iPhone users here, in my opinion, have luck with the superior voice recognition system. There aren’t many differences between the two systems, but I like the way it works on iOS a little better. Plus, it’s easier to navigate on iOS, and you can teach your iPhone to recognize custom sounds.

To get started, open Settings > Accessibility > Voice Recognition > tap the toggle to turn it on. Then, you can click on “Sounds” to customize the sounds your iPhone will listen to. Options include alarms (such as fire or smoke alarms), animals, various household items such as appliances (such as microwaves), car horns, breaking glass, running water, and more. You can even set your iPhone to listen for babies crying (helpful if you’re a parent like me), coughing, or screaming.

You can click on each option to enable it and select which alert tone it uses (by default, they all use a triple tone).

To add custom options, tap “Custom Alarm” or “Custom Device or Doorbell” and then follow the onscreen steps to teach the sound to your iPhone.

Once you have set the sounds the way you want, you can close the Settings app and continue using your iPhone as usual. Your iPhone will notify you when it detects one of the sounds you chose.

Android – notification sounds

To get started, you’ll need to open Settings > Accessibility > Notifications sounds (note that the location may change depending on your phone manufacturer, and you may need to install the app from the Play Store).

You will be greeted with a screen that shows a large “Open Sound Notifications” button, and below is an option to add a shortcut to “Voice Alerts”. The shortcuts can either be an on-screen accessibility option, or you can hold down the volume keys to turn it on.

Tapping on Open Sound Notifications takes you to another screen that displays your history, which can be useful for reviewing the sounds your phone has heard. But, we will come back to this – next, click on the gear icon in the upper right corner. This takes you to the sound notification settings menu – tap the toggle highlighted at the top to turn on sound notifications (when you do that, you should see the green microphone indicator appear on the screen to show that the microphone is active for sound notifications).

To customize what sound notifications will listen to, tap on the highlighted bubble “Audio notifications are active”. You should see a list of sounds divided into “Emergency”, “Priority” and “Device and Other”. Each section includes different sounds that you can turn on and off, such as smoke and fire alarms, baby sounds, appliances ringing, landline phones ringing, and most importantly, doorbells.

Once you have played all the sounds you want your Android phone to listen to, go back to the Settings page. There are a few things to check before you’re done – for example, toggle “Show icon in apps list”, which is useful if you plan to use sound notifications a lot. You can also tap Notification Preferences to customize what happens when the phone hears a specific sound — for example, whether you receive notifications on a connected watch, or whether the camera’s LED flash turns on to give you a visual notification.

With everything customized the way you want, you can return to the audio notifications screen, which now appears saying “Live View” with a scrolling timeline that determines when the phone hears certain sounds. You can now start using your phone as usual, and it will notify you when it detects any of the selected sounds.

It’s worth noting that the audio notifications always add a notification to the notification drawer that says it’s on (I set mine to silent so a thumbnail appears below my other notifications). You can use this notification to pause listening when you don’t need it anymore.