We're using our phones longer than ever before; hardware is at a point where even budget phones like the Pixel 4a can easily last three years or more. But when you do upgrade to a new device, what do you do with your old phone? Sure, you can always sell them and make some money, but there's also the option to repurpose your old gadgets and make them useful again. This is particularly useful for cheap Android phones that are running outdated versions of Android.
There are plenty of things you can do with old Android phones, and even though they may be outdated as phones, they still have powerful chipsets, decent cameras, and GPS connectivity that you can leverage to turn them into useful gadgets around the house. Here's just a few ways to get the most out of your old Android phone or tablet.
Use your old phone as a universal remote
One of the easiest things you can do with an old phone or tablet is to turn it into a universal remote. There are lots of apps on the Play Store that let you do this, but the one that I use is Unified Remote. The app allows you to turn your phone into a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth-controlled universal remote, and you can use it to control your computer. It works over Windows, Mac, and Linux, and has built-in controls for everything from streaming media to file manager, mirroring content, and so much more.
You can also use Unified Remote as a remote control when giving PowerPoint presentations, and it also doubles as an external keyboard for your computer. The app is particularly useful if you connect your computer to your TV to play games. The free version comes with a lot of features, but if you need even more controls there is a paid version as well.
If your old phone has an IR blaster, you can use an app like AnyMote and use your phone as a remote control for your TV and stereo. Xiaomi's Mi Remote is also a fantastic utility that has presets for most TVs, air conditioners, AV receivers, projectors and more.
Turn it into a security camera
One of the best use cases for an old phone is to turn it into a security camera. It's astonishingly easy to do, and there are apps like Alfred that make setting up and using your phone as a security camera incredibly straightforward.
The app has over 15 million users around the globe, and comes with easy-to-follow instructions. You'll need two phones to use the service: ideally, you'll set up your old phone as the security camera, and your current one to monitor the camera feed. You get to choose if you want to record using your old phone's front or rear cameras, enabling audio, motion detection, and you can even use the two phones as a walkie-talkie.
The Alfred interface is clean, and the free version gives you access to most features of the app, albeit with ads. There is also a premium tier that costs $5 a month or $30 a year that lets you record in high definition and saves footage on the cloud for up to 30 days. If you're just interested in trying the service, the free version is plenty useful. Here's how to turn your old phone into a security camera.
Relive the nostalgia by emulating old games
There are no shortage of emulators on the Play Store, and RetroArch in particular stands out for its versatility. RetroArch isn't an emulator, but a front-end that lets you run games from a variety of consoles and game engines.
If you need a traditional emulator, there's DraStic that lets you play Nintendo DS titles on your phone, My Boy! for Game Boy Advance, PPSSPP for PlayStation Portable games, Reicast for Dreamcast, and so much more.
The Emulation On Android sub-reddit has the definitive list of emulators available on Android, along with a useful list of controllers and general information. What you basically need to know is that even older phones from four to five years ago are several magnitudes of times more powerful than gaming consoles of old, so they shouldn't have any issues running classic games.
Turn it into an offline music player
You can also use an old phone as a dedicated music player. Phones these days don't have microSD slots of 3.5mm jacks, but that wasn't the case four or five years ago, when both of these features were standard on all phones. If you have a large collection of music stored offline, you can easily load it up on a microSD card and slot it into your phone.
HTC and LG phones in particular had great DACs built-in that made them ideal for wired music playback. So if you have wired audio gear and an old phone lying around, you can build yourself a pretty decent music player. Just be sure to factory reset and set up from scratch to prevent any background services from slowing down your phone. Also, if you're like me and have a lot of music stored offline, you can use an app like Poweramp or Neutron.
Use it as an alarm on the nightstand
This is a pretty obvious use case, but you can easily turn an old phone into a decent alarm clock and put it on your nightstand. There are loads of free alarm clock apps on Android, including Sleepzy, Alarmy, and AlarmMon just to name a few.
You can also find challenge-based alarms that require you to solve a puzzle or a math problem before you can hit the snooze button.
Set up a dedicated GPS unit or dashcam
This option doesn't make much sense right now considering everything that's going on around the world, but your old phone doubles up as a pretty great dashcam. All you have to do is install DailyRoads Voyager, configure the video settings, and be on your way.
You will need a car mount to secure your phone on the windshield, but other than that there isn't a whole lot required to get started with using your old phone as a dashcam.
Use it to control smart home tech
If you've invested in a lot of smart lighting or other IoT gear over the years, you can use your old phone or tablet as a dashboard. All major smart home vendors have their own Android apps that let you seamlessly control lights, smart plugs, thermostats, connected security cameras, and more.
You can also use your old phone as a portable Nest Hub, setting up Google Home on the device and using it to control all of your smart home gadgets. An old tablet works particularly well for this use case, and this is what I do with a Xiaomi Mi Pad 3 that was otherwise gathering dust.
Read comics or set up a photo frame on an old tablet
If you have an old tablet lying around, you can use it as a photo frame. It's incredibly easy to set it up: all you have to do is load Google Photos on it if it doesn't already have the service pre-installed, choose an album, and have a slideshow running.
An old tablet is also ideal for reading comics, and there are lots of great services for the same. I would suggest going with ComiXology; the service has a nice interface and it makes it easy to search for your favorite comics. ComiXology offers a 30-day trial to ComiXology Unlimited, its unlimited reading service that gives you access to tens of thousands of comics.
This is just the start
That's just a quick look at some of the things you can do in terms of reusing old phones. If you need further inspiration, the Android Afterlife sub-reddit is a great community that's full of ideas when it comes to reusing old phones.
At the end of the day, just because an old phone is no longer suitable as a daily driver doesn't mean it's useless. As I stated above, even phones launched four or five years ago are incredibly powerful, and it is easy to reuse them for other tasks around the house.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.