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10 creative ways to use an old smartphone


Your old iPhone sits, languishing in a drawer. An Android handset is stuffed between some books on a shelf. Perhaps an old Windows phone is propping a door open.

However, here are 10 creative ways to use an old smartphone (or even tablet):

A VR headset!

Thanks to the wonder of Google Cardboard and its various clones (its open source, yet competitors still made their own closed-source versions), you can turn a compatible phone into a budget – yet impressive – virtual reality headset.

It’s essentially a headset for a smartphone displaying stereoscopic images, and with compatibility with Windows phone devices and iPhones, as well as Android phones, your old smartphone can soon be giving you new-found enjoyment in a new virtual reality world.!

Your new media remote

Unless one has spent a lot of money on a new TV, set-top box or sound system, the quality of the remote controls is usually very poor. Whether you need a replacement remote for a home-built media centre (perhaps a Raspberry Pi running OpenElec or XBMC/Kodi or some other DIY build) or for a cheap TV, you should find that any IR-equipped smartphone is capable of being reconfigured as a media remote, following a quick trip to the appropriate app store.

Media remote apps are available for iPhone, Windows phone and Android, and might replace any number of remote controls in your household into one lightweight, touchscreen solution. Just remember to charge every couple of days!

You can, of course, also use your Android or iPhone as a Chromecast remote.

A compact media centre

Unbelievably, you could even reconfigure an old smartphone as a media centre, simply by installing the Kodi software. You are, however, typically limited to Android handsets for this creative new use for your old solution.

Thanks to USB OTG, you can connect external hard disk drives to your old Android device, and with the media centre up and running, you’ll be able to enjoy media across your home network, all served from your old Android smartphone.

Digital photo frame

As long as your old phone has its display intact, it will make a stunning and attractive digital photo frame. Various apps and tools are available to facilitate this; so as long as you can load photos onto your phone (perhaps directly, or by syncing with a cloud solution like Dropbox), then you should be able to configure the previously drawer-dwelling phone into a desktop or sideboard-sitting photo frame, cycling through favourite photos.

On Android, you can do this with the Instant Video Slideshowapp, while iOS users should try the aptly-named Digital Photo Frame .

Sound recorder

Smartphones come with microphones – it’s how you talk to the person on the other end of the line – so it makes sense to install a recording app and use the old phone as a recorder. This might be of the dictating machine variety, which could prove useful around the house if you’re making notes for school, work, or perhaps for a writing project.

Alternatively, you could use the sound recording feature of your old phone to record events, perhaps bootleg a concert (for personal, offline use, of course!). If you’re a podcaster, an old smartphone running Soundcloud can be used to record a show, and if you’re a musician you might even use the recording facility to put down a demo of a song.

Portable recording studio

Although not ideal for older phones and tablets, musicians can also benefit from the portability of older hardware without worrying about whether recording is going to drain the battery and make calls impossible.

Connecting a guitar to an iPad is pretty straightforward, and various portable music studio apps are available for Android and iOS. For instance, Garageband is available for iOS and if you prefer electronic music, the KORG Gadget app is worth a look.

Android users have fewer strong options (mainly due to latency issues), although Walk Band and the premium ($10.99) FL Studio Mobile, which can be used to import and export tracks from the desktop FL Studio, should be checked.

Music player

Staying with music, you can keep your old smartphone and use it as an MP3 player. Or you can do what I do, and use it as a music streaming device. Thanks to the TuneIn Radio app, I can listen to my favourite radio station around the house, utilising domestic Wi-Fi and a portable Bluetooth speaker.

Although essentially an extension of the media centre suggestion, this keeps the phone’s battery pretty busy, so make sure you recharge daily!

An even-more-mobile carputer!

Unbelievably, you could turn your old smartphone into a carputer.

In a world where automobiles are seen as the next new frontier in Operating System development, having a smartphone-based carputer that acts as an in-car entertainment system is a good option. While you may not be able to access data about your car’s performance (this stuff is usually hidden unless you use an  OBD-II cable or connector), bringing a phone into your car permanently; this can change the way you drive forever.

Just remember to keep both hands on the wheel and let your passenger or co-pilot choose the tunes…

Still camera

Probably the most creative thing that you do with your smartphone is to take photos – so why not keep doing that? Rather than relying on a device that might have a low battery, or have its charge severely reduced by the use of the onboard camera, why not rely on an old smartphone as your main camera for parties and nights out?

Using public Wi-Fi, you’ll be able to upload your pictures to the cloud and even share them on Facebook and tweak and share them on Instagram.

Your new camcorder

In a similar vein, your old smartphone may make for a superb handheld camcorder. Obviously, the better the quality of the camera software and hardware, the better the results. But if you’re rocking an old iPhone or high-end Windows Phone in your spare drawer, you could be looking at some superb results.

I use an old Windows phone, a Nokia Lumia 930, for filming hardware reviews (such as the Surface Pro 4), and this collection of movies recorded on Lumia phones  with the PureView software and Carl Zeiss lenses demonstrates just how good these devices are for camera work.

This also makes your old smartphone suitable for other compact camera-related projects, such as a security camera, a baby monitor, or even a dashboard cam.

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