17 Tips to unretire your old smartphone

Stack-of-old-Apple-iPhonesAs you talk, email or text with your smartphone, ask yourself a quick question: Whatever happened to your old handheld?

If you’re like most people, not much. According to a national Google Consumer Survey, more than half of U.S. consumers have old phones gathering dust somewhere. But what do you do with your personal mobile device when it’s past its usefulness? Actually, there are quite a few options. Here are some ways you can give a second life to your once-invaluable smartphone:

Create a Tool for the Eyes

One obvious benefit of an old smartphone is its video capabilities, which ironically are one of the first reasons people change phones. But there are situations when an old handheld is as good, if not better, than its next-generation descendant. Try keeping your old smartphone in play as one of these items:

1. Low-cost (or no-cost) webcam. Nearly all laptops now come with a webcam. That webcam may not, however, be as good as the one on your old smartphone. Instead of spending money on external upgrade, make your Bluetooth-enabled phone into the new laptop camera using an application such as IP Webcam.

2. Baby monitor/security device. The webcam function also makes the phone usable as a simple (and inexpensive) way to watch your child. Mount it to the wall over the crib or elsewhere in the house, and you’ll be able to see and hear whatever your little one is up to.

3. Digital photo frame. If you like to display your family in a digital photo or cycle through a series of pictures, you don’t have to buy a standalone, digitally connected frame. Just use your smartphone. Install one of dozens of apps available from Apple’s App Store or the Google Play store, connect it to a docking device, and you’re ready to go.

4. Portable text storage device. Which is easier to have in the kitchen–a stack of recipes in books and binder paper-filled folders, or a hand-sized item that can store all of them for quick reference? You can also download manuals to items such as a television, printer, stove, refrigerator, washer, dryer, DVR and more. Combined with a PDF reader, you can have them easily available for reference when needed.

Make It an Eardrum Pleaser

Your old iPhone or Android smartphone might not be the first thing you hold up to your ear anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still hear something worthwhile out of it. Especially if you:

5. Still use it as a portable music player. Whether it’s in the kitchen while you’re making a meal, having a party, or in the mood for some custom tunes while driving, everyone wants to listen to music. Your old smartphone probably already served as a music player for you in the past, and there’s no reason to stop now. You’ll also save battery drain on your current, everyday phone.

6. Use it as an alarm clock. All smartphones and nearly all cell phones circa 2009 or later have an alarm feature as part of the phone’s clock function. If you want it to double as a bedroom clock, use a docking unit (similar to the one for the digital photo frame) to stand it upright. You can also add expanded alarm features, such as a snooze button or different alarm tones for multiple people, with apps from Apple’s App Store or the Google Play store.

Use It as a Recreational or Educational Tool

You (and others) can save time and learn a few things through your old smartphone. Consider these options before you drop the handheld into a recycling bin:

7. Turn it into a remote control. An old smartphone can function as a handy remote control for your media center or computer, using one of many free applications available at the App Store and Google Play. The phone doesn’t need replacement batteries, it’s powerful enough to control any number of devices, and everyone already knows how their handheld works.

8. Create a portable game console. People are more likely to play games on their smartphones than on gaming consoles according to an Information Solutions Group study. Why? Because they always have their phones with them. But you can’t make (or easily answer) calls while game playing. Keep the old smartphone for games and you can have the best of both worlds. You also won’t have to buy new versions of favorite (and sometimes, no longer widely available) games on your new phone. And, it will free up space on the new smartphone for more-current media, and prevent battery drain.

9. Give it to a child to use. There are many education applications, and younger 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. At least, not yet.

Continue to use it as a Phone (Sort of)

Okay, it’s not your No. 1 option anymore. But that old workhorse handheld could still function as an actual phone in certain cases, such as these:

10. As an “expendable” phone. If you’re into rough activities — rock climbing, skydiving, skiing, mountain biking, long-distance running — why let your new smartphone take the beating? Save your old phone for activities that might be too perilous for your “good” smartphone. Or, at least keep the old unit as an emergency backup, in case you do lose or break your showcase piece.

11. During emergencies. 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. Also, a deactivated phone can’t transmit its location to an operator, so try to be aware of your surroundings. An old smartphone is also considered a vital part of an in-home disaster survival kit, although its use will be limited by however much battery life you have. After all, you might not have access to power during (and after) the emergency.

12. Get “Wi-Fied.” Just because you are no longer paying a carrier for your old phone does not mean you cannot use it to make calls. If the phone has Wi-Fi capability, you can bypass the carrier and use a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service such as Skype. Also, the phone, combined with a tool such as Skype, can be used as a video chat terminal.

Give It a Higher Purpose

Your old mobile device might have a life that goes beyond you. Other people can make good use of an outdated phone. (Remember to wipe the phone’s memory with a factory reset, and remove any SD or SIM cards you may have installed before giving it away.) Here are some ways to get it to another user’s hands:

13. Donate it. Many nonprofit groups gladly accept old cellular and smartphones. Stores such as Goodwill use them as training tools for budding smartphone repair technicians. Companies like BYO Wireless repurpose them as low-cost, prepaid phones for the elderly, while Cell Phones for Soldiers provides free talk time to troops stationed overseas. And public shelters, such as those for victims of domestic violence, offer them as emergency contact devices. (The donation is tax deductible, but remember that the amount is based on the phone’s actual market value.) Need to know where to go? Try the American Cell Phone Drive site for a list of local organizations that need handhelds.

14. Pass it along to family or a friend. You may not need your old smartphone anymore, but a friend or relative might be able to use it. That iPhone 4 could be a perfectly fine first phone for a child during a vacation to a theme park. Or, a mid-2000s era flip phone might be just low-tech enough for your technophobic grandparent to handle. Remember that the lucky recipient (or you) may need to take on a new one- or two-year commitment with a wireless carrier. Certain carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon, let you transfer your existing contract — phone and all — to a third party. And there’s also the Wi-Fi access option, as long as the device has that capability.

15. Return it to your wireless carrier. Apple, Verizon, AT&T and other smartphone carriers feature various reuse and recycling programs in which the carrier will pay you for your old smartphone. Apple, for example, briefly offered up to $250 in gift cards for a “gently used” iPhone 5. Remember, however, that the longer you wait, the less your old phone is going to be worth. Of course, they may also take it off your hands if you buy a new smartphone from them.

16. Sell it. Your old smartphone can still be worth cold cash. Sites such as eBay, Amazon and Craigslist are great places to find a willing buyer, and probably the best way to get the most money for your old device. (Remember to adhere to all the cautionary measures about doing business over these sites.) Newer devices bring the highest prices, but don’t forget about the value of accessories such as cases, headsets, and chargers. There are also private businesses that will buy any working phone for a few dollars.

17. Recycle it. To keep old phones from simply being thrown in the trash (and causing an environmental hazard), there are numerous public locales that accept the devices for recycling. These include office supply stores, electronics stores, “big box” markets, public libraries, college bookstores and some supermarkets. Just drop the phone in the properly labeled bin and you’re done with it.

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