What to do With Old Smartphones?
As the human imagination is almost limitless, we’ve dared to find the most helpful uses of an old smartphone and after a usual trip on the scouting boulevard, we’ve got some quite interesting solutions. It seems that apart from the usual actions which someone can perform with a warn-out device, like throwing it in a trash can or leaving it for the dust, there’s plenty to do with a phone that’s replaced so many during the years.
As you are about to see, even the most oldest smartphone can take the role of a more common device and replace additional gears such as a GPS, a camera or even a jukebox. And with a bit of tweaking, their limits can be pushed beyond boundaries. Most ideas were gathered from the web and inspired by imagination-filled users, which simply cannot live with the idea of throwing a good gadget away or, destroying it. Good deeds can also be done, such as donating the gear or selling it, but if all that’s shown fails, why not get some fun out of it?
Image credit: Rob Smith
Smartphones get old, ideas do not
Phones that once broke the ice as being innovating and incorporated several day-to-day features should never be thrown away. Although most gadgets that fit into this category are three, even four years old, and have endured enough pain, it doesn’t mean they cannot be used anymore, in their current condition. Before abandoning a phone because its battery is too worn out, the display is broken or just by purely fearing that not a single chip can be fully erased and private data may leak, consider the fact that some uses don’t even rely on many of these things.
A battery can be fixed or replaced in exchange of a very small sum, while there are other methods of wiping the device clean besides the fashioned bring-to-factory-state tap. Also, most parts of a smartphone are fairly cheap, besides the display of course, and can be repaired either manually (purchasing the parts online and then following guides on the web to replace them) or, at an authorized service. It usually pays the trouble to do some research before making the decision to abandon your phone. Once the terminal is fixed, here’s what you can do with it:
Use the phone as a mini monitor
As you probably know, the display is the most valuable part of a smartphone. It’s so expensive that when it stops functioning, most people really take in consideration throwing the phone away. Perhaps one of the most intelligent ideas would be to use the aged cellphone as a mini-display for the desktop. And as you’ve hinted, there’s an app or two which can accomplish that:
- VNC – using this remote access software for desktop and mobile platforms alike, the user can establish a connection between Android and iOS devices and a VNC-enabled computer. The app’s main use is to actually control the desktop from a mobile terminal, so if you start a separate session the smartphone itself can be set to monitor certain tasks on the PC. A good example would be to check emails, tweets, system sensors and other mini-tasks on the smaller display. More information here.
- AirDisplay – this app gets done most of the things established by VNC, but without the configuration mess and with extensive support for platforms. It works with any switch between a Mac OS X, Windows, Android and iOS platform. It’s easy to use and the connection is set wirelessly. More details here.
Make a server out of it
Although this may not be an option for the most of us, transforming a casual smartphone into a small-sized server can be done without much fuss. Online reports claim that an old Nokia N900 can be occasionally used as a small BitTorrent-server or for SSH. Of course, the usage will depend solely on the hardware within the device but as a precaution, we strongly recommend to maintain it light.
- Android: – there’s an application within Google Play which transforms any Android device into a pretty steady server for DNS, SMTP, SMS, POP3, FTP, HTTPS(S) and other protocols. Users report the package to offer pretty impressive performances and also, an overall power consumption.
- iOS – when taking a look on iTunes, Apple has a SuperShare application which allows the iOS device to share photos, videos and all sorts of files by turning it into a server. The device can be accessed wirelessly using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and without authentication whatsoever.
- Linux – I don’t know of a phone that has Linux by default (yes, I know Android is actually based on UNIX) but Debian Linux in parallel with LinuxInstaller will allow a casual Google’s brewed OS running phone any kind of app, whatsoever.
You can also turn the phone into a PirateBox, which is a self-contained mobile communication and file sharing device that permits sharing of files free between any connected device. The transfer between clients is secure and encrypted, and allows a household system to have a mini server which handles file exchanges.
Handy security systems
Security systems don’t have to be complicated, nor expensive. Considering the many features integrated into an old smartphone, you can use the device or even a wide collection of them to compel such a system. Here are our options:
- Video Intercom: by placing one device outside your door, and another in the house, you can set up a touch-based video intercom system using video-calls. This scenario will make use of the front facing camera on both devices and a valid data plan. The biggest advantage is that whenever someone is at the door, you may set the call directly onto your day-to-day device and check the person, without having to walk all the way as usually. Moreover, if you choose to opt for the regular setup, both devices can be planted into the walls.
- Nanny Cam: Although this requires a bit of hacking, any old smartphone with a decent Wi-Fi antenna can be tweaked into transmitting the information captured over the air. From there, you can use this set-up us a children surveillance system and avoid the costs of a rather expansive nanny-cam. If you want to skip the hacking, there’s a Nanny Cam app that can provide a limited experience for Android.
- Surveillance system: a full surveillance setup can be obtained from a fleet of smart cellphones, even if they are aged. All you need is a handy app to transform the phone into an IP camera, such as IP Webcam, and a bit of configuration. At the end of the installation process, each and every phone placed within the premises will advertise information on a distant server which can be accessed using a plain link, openable with a browser. If you want to add extra functionality, such as motion detection, alarms and recording, this can be done with a Zoneminder.
Turning the smartphone into a standard juke-box may be easier than you thought. All you have to do is to attach a pair of speakers and connect them through the standard 3.5mm jack. If the phone does not possess such a port, adapters can be found with ease. Just think about it. You have a phone with a large memory, maybe even expandable through an SD card, which can be used as audio home-system. Files can be easily attached by connecting the phone to the computer, and you will even brag with a touch interface that can be browsed easily. Pair that with a nice theme and a big imagination, and you’ve got yourself a bargain.
Gear up the car
Why not threat your car with something and use the smartphone with these ideas:
- Audio system: Purchase a clearance dock and turn the phone into a mobile music system, in a similar way like we’ve discussed above. For those with imagination and a bit more funds, the smartphone can also be connected to the car’s own speaker system with wires for a quality experience, or wirelessly using an FM modulator (which is cheap as well).
- GPS: Why spend hundreds of dollars on a faulty GPS system that charges for money on software updates and occupies extra space in the car? The best option is to use the old device as a GPS navigator and to spare the extra expense for the internet data, make it run solely on offline maps. This can be easily done on Android, iOS and Nokia devices as well. Map updates are only required once at every few months and then you can unplug the device and update it manually, using the PC.
- Location logger: Want to know where your car is at every step? Place the phone in a hidden compartment and advertise its location so if somehow you cannot find the vehicle, or it’s stolen, it’s easy to be tracked.
- CarCam: Assuming that you own a fleet of devices, you can use the smartphones as parking-helpers by attaching one at the lower-end and lower-front of the car; longer vehicles surely need them. Also, you can set up one of them to act as a true CarCam, capturing any interesting events while you are driving. A compelling guide on how to do that can be found here.
Why don’t you treat yourself with a shiny PC remote, ideal when watching a movie from the bed or any other related scenario. Using applications like Unified Remote for Android, you will turn be able to control the mouse, keyboard and even a couple of programs from afar. The connection is based on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and does not require tweaking. If you want more control, TeamViewer can help for mobiles, not just for desktops.
Sell it, Donate it, or have some fun
You may be surprised, but even a 3-4-5 year old smartphone still has a considerable value. Although it’s a few generations old, the fact alone that the device can be sold without a contract makes it attractive. If it’s in a good shape and still functions properly, you can get a shiny sum on eBay. For example, an iPhone 2G sells for around $80 on eBay, and on places like Craigslist. If money is not what you seek, redemption can be somewhat gained by donating the handset to others who truly need it:
- Elders: older people really need a phone from which to call emergency numbers in case of something, so a smartphone will be truly a blessing. They even accept pioneering phones. Here’s one foundation. Donors can even think about visually impaired people, which can use such a phone to read books or mail. The device only needs a couple of applications and a pre-set connection, and everything will go smooth.
- Developers: devs need a wide range of devices to test applications and make sure that their projects work perfectly, on any environment. A few good places would be Replicant, SHR, Debian.
Perhaps the most fun that you can get out of an old smartphone is to break it numerous ways. One option can be the mobile throwing contest, where many people gather annually to compete in several categories. The contest is held in Finland and besides having fun as its main goal, it’s dead serious and recycles all devices at the end.