12 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do on YouTube

12 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do on YouTube
You can do more with YouTube than you might think. (Image: YouTube)

Most of us have been using YouTube for years, and so you probably don’t think much about all of its various settings. But the Google-owned video platform has added so many features and tools in recent years that you’re probably missing some of its most useful capabilities — both on the website and the apps.

From hidden gestures you might not have come across before, to ways that you can set some sensible limits on how much time you’re spending going down rabbit holes, these 12 handy tricks and tweaks will help you get more out of YouTube.

Check the Transcripts

An auto-generated transcript. (Screenshot: YouTube)An auto-generated transcript. (Screenshot: YouTube)

YouTube deploys some smart auto-captioning processing on most (but not all) of the videos that are uploaded, and you can find these on the web by clicking the three dots underneath a clip and then Open transcript. As far as we can tell, the transcribing is very accurate, and it comes with timestamps attached to make it easier to navigate.

There are a couple of reasons you might want to bring up a video transcription: You could, for example, use it to find a particular point in a video without having to scroll along the timeline. The transcript can also be helpful when you can’t listen to the audio of a clip, although it’s probably easier just to turn on the closed captions for a video instead.

Loop Videos

You can get videos to repeat indefinitely. (Screenshot: YouTube)You can get videos to repeat indefinitely. (Screenshot: YouTube)

You can put YouTube videos on a loop, but the feature isn’t all that easy to find. On the web, right click on the video itself to find the Loop option; on mobile, tap on a video clip on its individual listing page, then tap the three dots (top right) and Loop video. The loop option has also started showing up on the PS5 and Nvidia Shield YouTube apps as well.

Keep Watching Across Devices

Switch seamlessly from mobile to desktop. (Screenshot: YouTube)Switch seamlessly from mobile to desktop. (Screenshot: YouTube)

YouTube syncs your viewing across multiple devices as long as you’re signed in, but if you start watching something on Android or iOS and then switch over to the website, you should notice a small mini-player show up in the corner of the screen. This will show the video you were watching on your phone, so you can pick up where you left off.

Navigate With Gestures

You can scrub through videos with a tap. (Screenshot: YouTube)You can scrub through videos with a tap. (Screenshot: YouTube)

There are a couple of simple gestures that aren’t immediately obvious but which can really help you jump around YouTube videos on a smartphone or tablet. Tap with one finger and hold on the video as its playing, and you can then — with your finger still pressed down on the screen — swipe left or right over the clip to quickly scrub through the video’s timeline.

The second gesture needs two fingers: Tap two fingers on the left-hand side or the right-hand side of the video as it’s playing, and the clip will skip forwards or backwards 10 seconds. If there are chapters embedded into the video, then the same gesture will jump forwards or backwards through the chapters instead, making navigation a lot easier.

View Your Stats

You might be surprised at how much YouTube you watch. (Screenshot: YouTube)You might be surprised at how much YouTube you watch. (Screenshot: YouTube)

You might not have realised it, but YouTube knows how long you’re spending watching videos on your devices. From the Home tab inside the mobile app, tap your avatar (top right) then pick Time watched. There you’ll see how much time you’ve been spending watching YouTube over the last seven days, on any device

Limit Your Time on YouTube

YouTube can remind you when you've been watching for too long. (Screenshot: YouTube)YouTube can remind you when you’ve been watching for too long. (Screenshot: YouTube)

If you think you need to spend less time on YouTube, there are tools that will help. From the Home tab, tap your profile image in the top right corner, then choose Time watched and scroll down the page. You can have YouTube remind you to take a break every so often, send you a notification at a designated bedtime, and turn autoplay on or off.

See Stats for Nerds

There are more stats available, if you want them. (Screenshot: YouTube)There are more stats available, if you want them. (Screenshot: YouTube)

If you’re really into video encoding and streaming, then YouTube can give you much more technical information about clips when you’re watching them in the mobile apps. Tap your profile picture on the Home tab (top right), then choose Settings and General and turn on the Enable stats for nerds (Android) or Stats for nerds (iOS) toggle switch.

To see said stats for nerds, tap on a video, tap the three dots in the corner, and then choose Stats for nerds to bring up the overlay while the clip plays underneath. The information displayed on screen in real time includes the resolution of the clip, the audio and video codecs used, and the amount of bandwidth you’re using up by streaming it.

Go Incognito

YouTube's mobile apps have an incognito mode built in. (Screenshot: YouTube)YouTube’s mobile apps have an incognito mode built in. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Perhaps you want to let the kids watch some videos, or you need to research something that you don’t want to muddy up your recommendations — for these and other reasons, YouTube on mobile has an incognito mode that you can enable by tapping your profile picture (top right) on the main Home screen, and then choosing Turn on Incognito.

Incognito mode works exactly as you might expect. Your viewing history won’t be stored, and the videos you watch won’t interfere with your recommendations. Tap the incognito button (top right) to turn it off again. There’s no similar option on the web interface, but you can just use a browser window in incognito mode for the same job.

Find What’s New to You

YouTube has even more new content for you to see. (Screenshot: YouTube)YouTube has even more new content for you to see. (Screenshot: YouTube)

YouTube is always looking for ways to recommend yet more stuff for you to watch, and it recently added a ‘new to you’ selection. You can find it by scrolling through the little pill-shaped filter links at the top of the main home page on web and mobile. YouTube says these are “​​new creators and new videos” that aren’t the same as your recommendations.

Share a Specific Part of a Video

Send someone straight to a specific part of a clip. (Screenshot: YouTube)Send someone straight to a specific part of a clip. (Screenshot: YouTube)

There may be times when you don’t want to share a video in its entirety, but rather one specific segment of it. To do this, you need to add a timestamp to the end of the original URL: If you click Share under a video on the web interface, you’ll see a Start at box where you can enter the time you want to jump to whenever someone clicks on the link.

Download Videos

You can choose clip quality every time you download a video, if you need to. (Screenshot: YouTube)You can choose clip quality every time you download a video, if you need to. (Screenshot: YouTube)

There is a built-in tool for downloading videos from YouTube, but only if you’re a paid Premium member. The Download button appears underneath videos when you view them, and you can find the same option if you click or tap the three dots by a clip. From the main navigation bar, choose Downloads (web) or Library (mobile) to find your saved videos.

On the downloads page on mobile, you’ll see recommended downloads (videos that YouTube thinks you might want to save for offline viewing) by default. You can also set the default quality for downloaded videos via Backgrounds and downloads from the Settings page on mobile, and via Downloads from the Settings page on the web.

Show the Listening Controls

The simplified listening controls interface. (Screenshot: YouTube)The simplified listening controls interface. (Screenshot: YouTube)

One more feature for the YouTube Premium crowd: You can now bring up a dedicated listening controls panel while you’re watching videos on mobile, giving you easy access to buttons for pausing playback and skipping forward or back. To open the alternative interface, tap on a video, tap the three dots (top right), then choose Listening controls.