Ask LH: What Can I Do With An Old Smartphone?

Ask LH: What Can I Do With An Old Smartphone?

Dear Lifehacker, I just got a new smartphone and don’t need my old one. It isn’t worth much money, so I’d like to put it to good use. I’m just not sure what I can do with it. Got any ideas? Sincerely, Smartphone Surplussed

Photo by MarkMirror (Shutterstock).

Dear SS,

There are tons of great things you can do with your extra smartphone, but before we get into them all, you should start by considering it as a backup device. Your current phone may be lost or stolen. You might accidentally drop it in a river the way I did a few weeks ago. It might break on its own and need repair. Whatever the case, you’ll have a backup if you keep your old phone around. That doesn’t mean you can’t start repurposing it for other uses in the meantime, but you might not want to take some of the more extreme suggestions we’ve got for you.

Make Your Smartphone A Media Remote Control


Many smartphones can be set up as remotes that are capable of telling your computer (or another device) to start playing music or video. This is great because you or a guest can just pick up the smartphone, choose some music and start listening. It’s especially nice at a party. Some downloadable apps can even control your television and other home theatre gear if your smartphone can send an infrared (IR) signal. This will essentially provide you with a universal remote for your gear without the need to pay the expensive cost normally associate with a good one. For a bunch of remote options, check out our remote app picks for iPhone and Android.

Use Your Smartphone As A Dedicated Device For A Specific Location


Chances are your smartphone can play music, so why not load it up with as much as you can fit and stick it in the car (or anywhere else)? This way you’ll have plenty of music ready to go whenever you want it. This is especially useful when your car can interact with your phone directly and can access its library via USB. You’ll then be able to just plug it in, leave it somewhere, and have constant access to your music.

If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, load up your smartphone with recipes and food-related apps and leave it in the kitchen. This will give you quick access to relevant information, let you look up other information online while you’re in the kitchen, and you don’t have to worry about the smartphone getting too dirty because it’s not your primary device.

You could also just make it an alarm clock that stays in the bedroom. Using your actual smartphone as an alarm clock can be problematic because it’s always receiving data, lighting up, and at least making vibrations. A dedicated device won’t have these problems because you can just silence everything but the alarm and turn off all other notifications. Then you can use it look at email, RSS feeds and other information you like to check after you get up in the morning.

These are just a few examples, but if you have another dedicated location where the device would be useful there’s no reason you shouldn’t use it there instead.

Turn Your Smartphone Into A Portable Gaming Device


Smartphone gaming has become incredibly popular over the past few years with some of the most addictive games showing up on mobile platforms. Not only can you load up your device with these games, you can even turn it into a retro game arcade if you want to play the great games of the past as well. This can be a lot of fun, especially if you have an Android phone with a keyboard as it will make the controls a lot easier. Alternatively, there are controller add-ons you can buy like the iControlPad for an even better experience. If you’re not much of a mobile gamer yourself, this option can be really great if you have kids and need to keep them occupied for a little while.

Use Your Smartphone As A Home VOIP Or Video Phone


Just because you no longer have phone service doesn’t mean you can’t use Skype or another Voice Over IP (VOIP) service to receive calls when you have Wi-Fi access. Just purchase service through Skype and get a number where people can call you. Now you suddenly have a home phone on the cheap. If your old smartphone has a camera as well, you can use it for video conferencing. This can be really nice because it doesn’t tether you to a specific space like a computer and can move around as needed.

Install A New ROM (Or Even A New Operating System)


If your old smartphone is an Android and you never experimented with flashing ROMs onto it, maybe it’s time you did. We can help you pick a good one, and once you install it you’ll find you have a lot more functionality. It’s a good way to boost the device’s capabilities or just use it to test a ROM before you commit to it on your primary device.

iPhone users don’t have the same options as there aren’t really any custom ROMs, but it is possible to install Android on iPhone. Alternatively, if you’d prefer something a little simpler, you can always just jailbreak to expand your iPhone’s functionality. If you’re worried about doing this on your primary device, that’s exactly where an old iPhone can come to the rescue.

Those are just a few fun ideas to help keep your old smartphone a little more useful. We hope it enjoys a long life with whatever new purpose you give it.

Cheers Lifehacker

Got any other great uses for an old smartphone? Share ’em in the comments!

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  • I use my old iPhone 3G as a MTB navigation system/ route and exercise mapper. (on the cheapest month to month plan I could find). There are plenty of handle bar mounts on ebay and it doesn’t really matter if it gets a bit knocked around a bit – it’s lasted over 3 years so I reckon it’ll last until I retire my iP4. So when I’m out bush, I have in one handy device:
    -emergency phone
    -music player
    -navigation stystem
    -and if it shits itself, a skipping stone.

  • I bought a $79 Android phone just to have one to play with that wasn’t my actual “can’t do without it” phone!

    It’s sometimes a wireless security camera (using IP Webcam) or motion-sensing camera (Camera Trigger), sometimes it’s a tracking device (MyTracks) when we’re kayaking (I’d rather risk losing this one than my Galaxy Nexus!), once it was a replacement speedo (there’s an app that’ll show the speed in mirror image, so it reflects onto the windscreen as a HUD), and it’s shown me the view from J.Edgar (our vacuuming robot) as it bumps around the kitchen.

    Plus it’s been a spare phone while waiting for the GalNex to arrive when the NexOne died.

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