8 new uses for your old smartphone

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The excitement of getting a new phone is often tempered by nagging regret. A lot of times, it’s not like there was anything really wrong with the old phone (unless there was — a bulging battery or a shattered screen is always a bad look). If it was a breakup, the conversation with an old phone would start, “You’re terrific. It’s not you. It’s me. I just wanted a newer model.”

Ashamed of yourself? Don’t be. There’s no need to stick the old phone into a drawer or use it as a doorstop or furniture shim. There are lots of ways you can put your older phone to work. After all, most older smartphones still have plenty of horsepower. Think of yours as a connected device that just doesn’t happen to have a SIM card anymore. Here are some suggestions for what to do with that extra, older phone.

(All of this presumes that you’re not recycling or reselling your older Android or iOS device — two excellent options you should consider.)

Keep a spare phone

I’m a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy, especially when it comes to gear I rely on, like my phone. I always have a spare phone in my travel pack (assuming things ease up someday and I can ever go on the road again). Nothing can hamper a trip like a broken, lost, or stolen smartphone. If your main ride goes astray when you’re away from home, picking up a SIM card from a vending machine or tobacconist and popping it into a spare can be a literal lifesaver — and is a whole lot cheaper, faster, and less complicated than buying a new phone in a strange city or country.

An extra remote

I was late to discover that smartphones make dandy remote controls for TVs or streaming devices. Apple TV has a great remote control app for iOS, and the Google Home app will control Chromecast devices on iOS and Android. Roku’s app for Android and iOS replicates its iconic remote. Other remote control apps include Amazon Fire TV apps for Android and iOS, and TiVo apps for Android and iOS as well.

In one way, the phone apps are better than the real thing: they have keypads, making it much faster to enter titles than scrolling around the on-screen keyboards of the devices themselves.

Game platform

You can use your old phone as a gaming device. Gamers are inventive; there are lots of gadgets, like the Moga Mobile Gaming Clip For Xbox Wireless Controllers, that let you clamp your phone to Xbox or Playstation controllers to drive gameplay. If you’ve got Switch envy, the Razer Kishi gives iPhone and Android owners something to hang onto. But do be warned: compatibility is not universal across platforms or with all games, and some controllers make more sense with some types of games. A puzzle player will have different needs than someone who loves first-person shooters. Consider how and what you play before you buy the game.

There are apps that allow you to use your older phone as a webcam.

Set up a webcam

We’ve run a couple of articles about this (see below), and you should check them out. Webcams are really useful for both security and for Zoom meetings, but they are very much in demand and can still be hard to find these days. If Amazon is demanding you wait three weeks for an expensive webcam, try using an older phone instead.

Old-school media device

Once upon a time, before the iPhone, you had to carry two devices: a cellphone and a separate music player, which may or may not have been an iPod. (Ed note: Tell us another story about the Olden Times, Dad.) Your old phone can still work as a standalone media storage device, either to back up your library or for actual use. Because (if it is still in operating condition) the Wi-Fi still works, you can even use your older phone as a streaming platform — assuming your account is licensed for multiple devices. This could also be a perfect solution for amusing a small child on the go.

Their first phone

Speaking of small children, your old phone makes a great starter device (yes, we’ve really gotten to that point). You can put approved games and apps on the phone, activate parental controls, and you’re all set. If the device gets broken or lost, there may be tears from the kid, but from you? Not so much.

Donate it to charity

There are organizations out there that take old working phones, refurbish them, and put them to good use. A couple of places to check out are Cell Phones for Soldiers, which provides free communications for soldiers and their families, and Medic Mobile, which recycles old phones to fund new phones for health workers in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. There are others as well — but before you donate to any organization you don’t know, always check them out with Charity Navigator or GuideStar.

Take it apart

There is, for some, an elemental joy in taking things apart and seeing what makes them tick. Your old phone was part of your life for years; aren’t you curious to see what’s inside? Sites like iFixit have detailed teardown instructions. Successful reassembly is the advanced course. With patience, luck, and skill — and maybe a couple of unusual tools you can find online — you might even be able to reassemble it with only a few extra parts left over.

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