Whether you upgrade only when necessary or you camp out overnight for the newest releases, smartphones are now common enough that you might have an old one collecting dust in a drawer.
But what should you do with old cell phones?
Can they be of use?
You bet they can!
Get ready to blow off the dust and look at your older phone in a whole new light.
In this article you'll learn how, with the right app or a little know-how, your old phone can still be put to good use.
1. Create a Voice-Over-IP Phone for Cheap Calls or Video Conferencing
Just because your phone is no longer active through your service provider doesn’t mean you cannot receive or place calls.
Adding a VOIP app, such as Skype, to your phone will let you make and receive calls at affordable prices.
If you are an Office 365 subscriber, this is a great way to burn through those free minutes you get every month.
Just install the app, assign a number to your account and use it as you would any other phone.
For added flexibility, connect your number with Google Voice to forward calls to your active mobile when you’re out of Wi-Fi coverage.
If your phone includes a camera, you can add a cheap tripod mount to your setup to create a respectable video conferencing setup for letting the kids talk to grandma or even collaborating on projects from anywhere you have wireless access.
2. Create a Smartphone-Powered Baby Monitor with Free Apps
Voice chat applications are a popular way for gamers to communicate, talk trash and strategize while playing games.
Turns out, the same servers and software they use are great for keeping an ear out on the kids or baby while you get work done, clean around the house or are otherwise unable to be nearby.
One such option is TeamSpeak. While you will need to take a little time to set up the app, it’s compatible with Windows, OSX, Linux, iOS and Android to provide a consistent experience for every platform. Simply head on over to the download page, install the server on your computer and the client on your phones.
After installing the server on your computer, launch the app on the phone and point it to your computer’s IP address--there’s even a handy server finder to make connecting simple.
Any time that your phone’s microphone picks up a noise, the audio will playback through your computer.
If you need extra mobility, install the client on your active phone. As long as you’re on the same Wi-Fi network, you have ears everywhere!
3. Turn Your Old Phone into a Home Automation Console
You don’t have to be a millionaire to automate your home.
A variety of major brands have jumped on the automation bandwagon to create items you can control using your smartphone or even send commands over social media.
From brewing a pot of coffee with WeMo or keeping your house comfortable with NEST to setting up the ultimate mood lighting systems with Philips Hue lighting, you can live like the Jetsons using your old smartphone to keep everything all in sync.
If you’re using an Android device, Tasker adds even more possibilities that trigger based on a variety of situations. Android Authority offers a full guide on mastering Tasker to help get you started.
Unfortunately, if you’re using an iOS device, there are few options available without jailbreaking your phone or tablet.
4. Pocket-sized Media Centers
Another great use for your old phones is as a media center.
You can use an MHL adapter to play back movies on your living room television or use your old phone as a second display for watching things on the go or when you want to view something that wouldn’t be safe for younger eyes.
KODI is a leading option on both Android and iOS. Not only can it play files stored on your phone, but with its add-ons you can stream content from many popular websites and streaming services all in one convenient interface.
Best of all, the app runs well on older hardware.
The one caveat being that if you’re planning to use an Apple device, you must jailbreak first to use the app as you won’t find it in the official App Store.
5. Controlling Your Home Theater System
If you’d prefer to keep your viewing on the big screens in your home, your old smartphone can still help.
Many streaming boxes, including the ChromeCast, FireTV and Roku, all have remote control apps for browsing content in a much nicer format than the stock remotes offer.
You’ll also find that loading up the app for popular streaming services, such as Hulu, Youtube, Netflix or Vudu, offers additional control options specific to the service to further integrate your controls.
6. Control Your PC from Anywhere You Have Wi-Fi
Whether you’re looking to surf the web from your couch, control your media player or even access files while away from home, your old smartphone is here to help.
If you’re looking to control your computer, Unified Remote is the Swiss Army Knife of remote control apps.
The app works on Windows, OSX and Linux. It’ll even control your Raspberry Pi. Phone support is great with all major phone OSes, including Windows.
The app offers pre-configured controls for more than 70 popular computer applications.
It’ll also simulate your mouse and keyboard, complete with macros and other advanced functions.
7. Create the Ultimate Kitchen / Garage / Poolside Companion
Even without an active service subscription, most smartphones still operate just fine over Wi-Fi.
This makes them great for using them in places you might be nervous about bringing your normal phone.
From pulling up recipes in the kitchen to viewing wiring diagrams in the garage, you can find apps to create an endless collection of apps and resources to help you out.
Best of all, if you get a little flour or grease on your phone, it’s not a big deal.
This is also great for taking your music places without worrying so much about the elements.
Load up the internal storage and toss it in your glove box or with your swim gear to have on-demand tunes without the worry.
8. Relive the Golden Age of Gaming on the Go
If you’d like to step back to a simpler time in gaming before polygon counts and video cutscenes ruled the land, your phone has more than enough power to play games spanning back decades.
Whether your definition of old school is the Colecovision and Atari 2600 or the Super Nintendo, you can find them all if you know where to look.
All you need is an emulator and some ROMs. While we won’t go into specifics here, you can find full instructions in this LifeHacker guide.
It’s as simple as installing app, choosing your game and teleporting back in time.
Just don’t forget to take snack breaks while enjoying the nostalgia.
9. Prep for the Zombie Apocalypse
Okay, so maybe it’s not quite that serious yet.
But an old phone is a great option for emergency kits, bug out bags or keeping tabs on the kids. Especially if you’re using a network that supports SIM cards.
Once you’ve set up your kit, there are endless possibilities for use.
- Toss it in the glove box of your teen’s new car for free and easy GPS tracking.
- Keep it in the trunk of your car in case of carjacking or unexpected events is a great way to add peace of mind while traveling in unfamiliar places. Picking up a soda can safe or book safe can decrease the chances of anyone noticing the phone as well.
- Stash it in a safe place for convenient communication in an emergency.
- Hide your phone on your property--such as a storage shed, in a planter or even under the patio, in the event that you cannot enter your home.
Swapping a pre-paid SIM card into your old phone will give maximum flexibility. Just keep in mind, active service on your back-up phone means it’s traceable. This isn’t a burner phone.
NOTE: Depending on your phone, you might need an adapter for your SIM card. If you’re comfortable with slicing and dicing your card, there are templates on the web for many common card sizes. Before getting started, be sure to check if your phone requires any special cuts. You can also buy adapters online. You might even find that your pre-paid provider of choice offers them for free when you activate your old device on their network.
You’ll also want to consider terms for reloading the minutes on the phone. Most prepaid carriers require you to load minutes on your phone at least once every 30 to 90 days to maintain service. Planning to stash your handset long-term? Many providers offer long-term cards that allow you to recharge less frequently for added savings.
Of course, the phone is only useful if it has power. Unlike your parents’ car phones, today’s thinner, lighter phones won’t really hurt zombies if you throw them. Your best bet is a solar charger or external battery pack. You can even combine the two for some serious outdoor adventures or extended emergency scenarios.
Just be sure to keep up the charge on the battery periodically when it’s not in use. Chances are good that your phone uses a lithium-ion cell. Like any battery, the charge will slowly deplete over time. Ideally, you should maintain a charge of approximately 40% on the cell and store it in a cool environment--which is probably a good idea for the phone as well. For more information, check out this guide from Battery University.
We’d love for this article to be as valueable as possible for those looking to upcycle and repurpose their old devices. To do that, we need your help.
Here’s what you can do to get involved:
1. Ask Questions and Share Your Experience. Drop us a line in the comments or on Twitter at @theinformr. We’d love to hear what creative ways have you found to breath new life into your aging or retired devices.
P.S. If you’re looking to make your current smartphone your old one, we’ve got reviews on the best phones complete with in-depth review summaries to save you time and help you find the perfect options for you.