Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.
When you’ve got a new smartphone, what do you do with your old mobile phones? You could exchange it or sell it to get a few bucks. But you might be getting the bad end of that deal. Repurposing your phone is a much better idea.
Think about it. That old phone, whether it’s an archaic Nokia or a recent Android or iPhone, has some sophisticated circuitry inside. As we move into a world of smart homes and connected devices, your phone’s technology is more useful than ever before.
So while it might be technically obsolete as a phone, it can still serve several other uses – any of which are better than contributing to the mountains of e-waste building up in the world. You just need to get creative. Here are a few ideas to start you off.
Any Phone: Get Over Your Tech Fears
Some of the DIY fixes and other tricks you read online seem amazing. For example, you can actually replace a damaged screen yourself. But it can be intimidating to do it. What if you can’t do it? What if you make things worse?
An old phone is the perfect way to get over those fears. There’s nothing to lose now, and everything to gain. Practice anything you want on an old phone. You can start with something small like jailbreaking an old iPhone, or installing a custom ROM on Android. If you’re comfortable with those, try something challenging like disassembling and reassembling a phone.
There are things about your smartphone that you know are possible, but you’ve never explored. This is the time to explore them.
Dumb Phone: Turn It Into a Smartwatch
Do you have an old Nokia or some such candybar device with a number pad? Get ready for the geekiest DIY project of your life. The web’s beloved DIY enthusiast, Tinkernut, has a guide to turn that phone into a modern smartwatch!
It’s a difficult one, so we wouldn’t suggest this for newbies in the DIY world. You’ll be taking apart your old phone and using some of its circuitry. You’ll also need an Arduino board to hack everything together. The recommended version is the Arduino Pro Mini, which costs about $10. The total cost of the parts, apart from the old phone, is less than $50. Not bad for a new smartwatch, which you can proudly show off and say you made yourself.
The question isn’t, “Do you need a smartwatch or not?”. The question is, “Do you have it in you to make a smartwatch?”.
Android/iOS: Secure, Completely Untraceable “Ghost Phone”
Right now, a hacker can easily trace back all the data from your phone to you. If you have an extra smartphone, you can turn it into a “ghost phone” with Lifehacker’s guide. It’s completely untraceable.
A ghost phone is important in today’s world. It’ll keep your identity secure on online dating sites, or if you’re selling something on Craigslist. And who knows, you might want to leak confidential information like Snowden.
It’s actually pretty simple to set up.
- Install one of the apps to get a temporary burner phone number. The recommended options are Hushed or Burner.
- Add a secure VPN (virtual private network) service that encrypts all data going out of your phone. CyberGhost and Hideman both do this.
- Create a new Google or Apple account from this phone. Don’t sign in with your existing account on the app stores. Similarly, create new accounts for any app you want to use.
- Don’t buy any app or service. Online transactions leave a money trail.
This is a handy gadget to have with you. Any time you want to take a data-sensitive online action, it’ll keep you more secure than your everyday phone.
Any Broken Phone: Recycle It Into a Wallet or Piggy Bank
Most of these tricks are useful if you have a functional old phone. But what if it’s a busted old clamshell phone or a broken iPhone? Roll up your sleeves and turn it into the coolest wallet around.
Depending on what phone you have, you can now get creative with how you want to use it as a wallet. Instructables has a couple of inspirational guides for this. Someone turned a broken iPod Touch into a wallet, while an old shell phone makes a good modern piggy bank for kids.
Any Phone: Turn It Into a Security Cam Network
Instead of spending good money to buy a bunch of security cameras, why not just use old smartphones? They work brilliantly, and it’s easy too.
There are two ways you can go about this. First, you use apps on popular mobile platforms, if your old phones are smartphones. Second, you set things up manually so that the operating system doesn’t matter.
For an Android-only setup, nothing is as easy as Perch. Download the app, place your phone where you want it, and you can watch all the action on another phone or computer.
For Windows Phone, Gotya seems to be the preferred option for many users.
In case you’re looking to reuse non-smart phones with Wi-Fi, then you’ll need to set it up manually. As long as it connects to your home Wi-Fi, we have the complete guide to set up old phones as a home security network.
Android/iOS: Make a Universal Remote Control
This is one of the most popular ways to reuse an old smartphone. Whether it’s running Android or iOS, you’ll be able to control almost anything in your smart home.
What you need to check is if your Android phone has an infrared (IR) blaster. This will let it connect to TVs, air conditioners, and other devices that normally use a remote control. The iPhone does not have an IR blaster.
If the phone doesn’t have an IR blaster, well, you’ll need to get IR connectivity somehow. You can either add an IR blaster to the phone with a third-party accessory. These usually cost about $40-60. You could even DIY it for cheap. Or you can buy the Logitech Harmony Hub for around $100. The Harmony Hub acts as an IR “base” for all your devices, and then connects to your phone over Wi-Fi. If you have the cash, the Harmony Hub is the easiest option.
Android/iPhone: Dedicated Portable Gaming Device
Hopefully, your old phone is an Android with an expandable memory card slot, or with plenty of internal memory. If so, turn that into a portable gaming device for your kids (or yourself).
In fact, add a gamepad. Buy a Moga controller, which starts at $30, and load up your phone with some addictive games. Apart from Moga, we’ve covered some of the best controllers for Android and everything you need to know about gamepads for iPhones.
This is perhaps the simplest way to repurpose an old smartphone, and your kids will love you for it. Given the amazing games released on Android and iOS these days, it’s also a cheaper option than buying a PlayStation Portable or Nintedo DS. And just in case you feel like going retro with emulators, touchscreens are terrible and gamepads are awesome.
Android/iOS/Windows Phone: Put It Permanently In Your Car
It is ridiculous how many people overlook the simplest use for an old smartphone. Grab a car phone holder, a double-port car charger, and fix your phone in place permanently.
No, you don’t need to be wasting your everyday phone’s battery or data on GPS and turn-by-turn directions. That’s what the car phone is for.
No, you don’t need to spend a ridiculous amount of money for an awesome car stereo with Bluetooth and internet radio. Just buy one of the best Bluetooth speakers, and play music from your car phone. Heck, you can actually go old-school and load it up with offline music; a luxury you can’t afford on your regular phone with its limited storage.
Just do this and see how much better your driving experience is.
How Have You Repurposed an Old Phone?
These are just some of the many things you can do with an old phone instead of throwing it out. It’s only limited by your imagination. We’re sure some of you have come up with even cooler applications for unused handsets. Tell us how you repurposed them in the comments.
Recycling an old phone is just the first step toward a more eco-friendly lifestyle. You can go much further with the help of these climate change tools.
Originally written by Saikat Basu, published May 4th 2012.