Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Don't Trash Your Old Smartphone - 13 Reuse Ideas

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 4, 2012

Every time you upgrade your old smartphone it can become a new smartphone for someone else, or you can find some dedicated uses for it around the home. Here are a few ideas from Intel:

- Child's toy

There are many educational smartphone apps. Kids can take advantage of these apps, as well as games and the internal camera, and you won't have to buy them a new phone. You can also stock it full of Disney songs and keep your youngster humming for weeks.


- Portable music player

Whether the scene is the kitchen at cooking time or during a house party, everyone wants to listen to music around the house, and your old smartphone could work perfectly. You can load it up with music tracks just as you did when it was your primary phone and plug it into any speaker system with an auxiliary jack.

The battery will last for hours, even after years of use. You can also stream music through free services such as Pandora and Last.FM.

The old phone can also make for a handy MP3 player in your car, especially if you have a Bluetooth-capable stereo system.

- Webcam

Almost all laptops come with a webcam now. That webcam may not, however, be as good as the one on your old smartphone. Instead of spending up to $100 on an external upgrade, make your Bluetooth-enabled phone a laptop camera by adding an app that's compatible with Skype, YouTube, Yahoo Messenger or applications that use a webcam.

Note that some apps only work the camera, however, not the microphone.

- Vocal assistant

Don't forget the dictation/voice recorder function available on most smartphones (if it's not a native app on your phone you can download a voice assistant app). This function is far faster than typing out a note.

- Remote control

An old smartphone can function as a handy remote control for your media center or computer, using one of many free apps available from Apple's App Store or Google Play. The phone doesn't need replacement batteries; it's powerful enough to control any number of devices and many companies have made hardware accessories that allow a smartphone to serve as a universal remote.

- Portable game console

Adults are more likely to play games on their smartphones than on their Sony Playstation, or Nintendo portable consoles. Why? Because they always have their phones with them.

That said, using a phone as a game console is problematic if you need the phone for making calls. Keep the old smartphone for games and you can have the best of both worlds. You also won't need to buy new versions of favorite games on your new phone and it will free up space on the new smartphone.

- Secondary storage solution

Data storage is always a tricky thing. Flash drives are often too small for larger files and are too easy to lose, while full hard drives are too big to lug around everywhere. With a simple hardware addition, you can turn your old smartphone into a personal hard drive, while still retaining all of its normal functions.

USB plug-ins allow you to connect your smartphone to your computer and upload data for storage, back up folders and files and synchronize them every time you connect the phone. [Apple devices don't support USB Flash drives.]

- Expendable phone

If you're into rugged activities -- rock climbing, skydiving, skiing, mountain biking, an African safari -- why have your new smartphone take the beating? Save your old phone for activities that might be too perilous for your new smartphone.

Besides, there's a strong chance that in these less-than-gentle locales, you'll be using the phone as a phone, and not as a do-everything device. In any event, it doesn't hurt to keep the old phone as an emergency backup in case you do lose or break your showcase piece.

- Emergency phone

The FCC requires that a deactivated smartphone (or any cell phone) should still be capable of making 911 calls. Consider keeping your old phone in your glove compartment or office desk for use in case of emergency.

Make sure to have some kind of power supply available, whether it's an AC adapter, a car charger or an external backup battery. Note that a deactivated phone can't transmit its location to an operator, so try not to get lost in a snowstorm.

- Custom e-Reader

Why spend money on a dedicated electronic reading device such as the Amazon Kindle when your smartphone offers the same basic functionality? All you need is an e-Reader app available from Amazon.com for Android, BlackBerry and iOS.

The smartphone's screen may be small, but it's also backlit, which is a nice perk when you are trying to read in bed.

- Wi-Fi Calling

Just because you are no longer paying a carrier for service on your old phone doesn't mean you can't use it to make phone calls. If the phone has Wi-Fi capabilities, you can bypass the carrier and use a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service such as Fring, Skype or Truphone.

- Resell

Apple, Verizon, AT&T and other smartphone carriers offer various reuse and recycling programs in which the carrier will pay you for your old smartphone. Resale vendors can also be found on eBay. Remember, however, that the longer you wait the less your old phone is going to be worth. You'll also want to make sure that the phone is stripped of any personal data before it leaves your hands.

- Pass it along

You may not need your old smartphone anymore, but a friend or relative might be able to use it. Some carriers also let you transfer your existing contract -- phone and all -- to a third party.


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