If you’re anything like me, chances are high you’ve got an Android tablet gathering dust in a drawer somewhere, unused and unloved. You might have received one as a Christmas or birthday present one year, and just not have found a compelling use for it. It might have served you faithfully for years, but has been rendered slow and unwieldy under the weight of multiple software updates.
It’s not the end of the road for your tablet. Sure, you could sell it, and make a fraction of the original purchase price. You could throw it in the trash, which will contribute to the ever-increasing amount of hazardous electronic waste. Alternatively, you can put your Android tablet to use in a DIY project. Here’s four ideas to get you started.
As an Arduino Shield
Whenever someone tells me that they’ve started to learn Arduino, I give them one piece of advice – “Be prepared to spend a lot of money”. While the Arduino microcontrollers themselves aren’t terribly expensive (especially if you’re buying a cheap Chinese clone, or building your own), the “shields” which connect to them are.
So, what are Arduino shields? Essentially, they extend the functionality of the Arduino board by adding sensors, radios, and connectivity options. So, if you want to connect your Arduino to the Internet, you can buy a WiFi or an Ethernet shield. If you want to allow it to sense motion and movement, you can add an accelerometer shield. You get the idea.
Shields can cost anything from $10, up to even $50. If you have to use a lot of them, the costs rapidly add up.
But here’s the interesting thing: All the sensors that you’d purchase individually can be found on even the cheapest Android device. Take the Amazon Kindle Fire 7, for example, which is the quintessential budget tablet. It has two cameras, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, Wi-Fi, a speaker, and a microphone. There are comparable Chinese-made tablets running stock-Android on Amazon for even less.
If only you could use these components with an Arduino.
Well, you can. The 1Sheeld is the invention of Integreight. It consists of two parts. The first is a physical Arduino shield – the last one you’ll ever need – which connects to an Android device over a Bluetooth LE connection. The second is an app which runs on the Android device. This allows the user to write Arduino programs which use the sensors on the Android tablet, as well as any internet capabilities of the device.
The 1Sheeld supports devices running Android 2.3 and above, so odds are good that any tablet or phone bought in the past six years will work with it.
As a Digital Picture Frame
I’ve never really understood the appeal of digital picture frames. For me, they’ve been the ultimate white elephant tech product, in the same vein as hoverboards, HD-DVD players, and selfie sticks. Indeed, these power-hungry gadgets do a worse job than the analog pictures they’re supposed to replace, as they often ship with screens that are low resolution and looks washed out.
Then again, perhaps I’m wrong, as literally millions of digital picture frames have been sold. Perhaps I’m missing the thing that gives them their appeal. Either way, if you’ve got an old tablet, you don’t need to go out and buy one. Just plug it into the mains, group the photos into a slideshow using the Slideshow Maker app, and you’re away.
But wait, I hear you interject. Digital picture frames come with a built-in stand, but most Android tablets don’t.
Well, that’s true. Of course, you can purchase a tablet stand from Amazon quite cheaply, but there’s a better way. Just download a tablet stand design from Thingiverse, and head to your local makerspace, where you’ll be able to print it using a 3D Printer.
Thingiverse is essentially the iTunes of 3D printer designs. When it comes to tablet stands, they have a smorgasbord of device-specific designs. They also have a number which are device agnostic, and will work with anything. Plus, since they’re open source, you’ll be able to modify them as required.
As a Security Camera
Over the past six years, phone cameras have gotten better and better, to the point where people are taking near-studio-quality snaps with an iPhone. But that’s not to say that the phone and tablet cameras of recent history are bad, per se. They were – and perhaps still are – good enough for taking selfies and shooting snaps of your dinner.
They’re also ideally suited to be used as a security camera. Think about it – tablets and smartphones have the ability to constantly stream video to the cloud. Even the oldest ones have sharper cameras than those which ship with commercial CCTV products.
Software shouldn’t be a problem. In addition to streaming services like Google Plus, YouNow, Twitch, and more, there are also products that are designed to turn old Android devices into surveillance cameras. Christian Cawley reviewed Android surveillance apps last year, and there was one decisive winner – Salient Eye.
But how would you go about securing your tablet in the best possible way? Well, if you’re using your front-facing camera, you might be tempted to attach a magnet to a blob of sugru, and use that to fasten it into place.
Alternatively, you can modify one of the many webcam stands available on Thingiverse to fit the dimensions of your tablet. One of the most promising designs I’ve seen is the “ZYYX Webcam Holder“.
As A Smart Home Dashboard
In 2014, French technology giant Archos dipped a toe into the field of smart home technology. It launched a starter package which included two cameras, two weather tags, and an Android tablet to control them all. While the promise was interesting and it represented good value for users, it failed to catch on, simply because the execution was so bad. The Android tablet was clunky and underpowered. But where Archos failed, you can succeed. Using your own Android tablet, you can create your own dedicated smart home hub.
There are some compelling third-party web platforms that allow you to control your smart home devices. SmartTiles.click is a platform for controlling Samsung’s SmartThings devices. Alternatively, if you know how to code, you can build your own using Dashing.io.
While the Archos tablet came with a built-in stand, you can create your own stand using the aforementioned 3D printer designs on Thingiverse. Alternatively, you could Sugru some magnets to its back, and attach it to your refrigerator.
Have you found any interesting uses for an old Android tablet? Tell me about it in the comments below!