More than half of US mobile phone owners now have a smartphone. According to a comScore report from March of this year that’s 106 million people, a figure that’s steadily rising. Many of those people own more than one smartphone and, thanks to upgrades and highly subsidized upfront costs for contracts, many of us change our smartphones every couple of years. The result is a growing, forgotten, neglected pile of once-were awesome cutting edge devices, now consigned to a bleak and dusty existence at the back of a drawer or cupboard.
Humans are fantastically good at adapting. In many ways that’s the secret of our success as a species, but it extends to getting used to anything, no matter how initially impressive, within a short time period. Devices that seemed impossibly wonderful when we first brought them home soon become a list of frustrating flaws. The profits of the technology industry absolutely depend upon it. Obsolescence is vital.
So what do we do with all these old devices? The truth is that e-waste is becoming a big, expensive problem. We could be getting more out of those old smartphones. Let’s take a look at some ideas.
Wipe your smartphone before you get rid of it
Before we delve into the possibilities remember that your smartphone knows a lot about you. Do you want those contacts, messages, photos, and videos falling into the wrong hands? If you’re planning on passing your smartphone along — whether you’re selling it, recycling it, or handing it down — make sure you wipe your data. Back it up and then wipe it clean so it cannot be restored. Search for a guide to wipe your specific smartphone and follow it.
This is the most obvious option and if you decide that you really don’t need it for anything else then don’t delay. The older your phone gets, the less money you’ll receive when you sell it. You can always check out eBay and see what kind of prices your model is fetching. Compare with an online service like Gazelle where you’ll get free shipping and a choice of payment options and decide which makes more sense. You won’t get much either way unless your phone is relatively new.
Hand it down
Fed up with your Luddite parents not being reachable when they’re out of the house? Want to make sure your kids can phone in an emergency? Embarrassed by your partner’s ugly old feature phone? Gifting your smartphone to someone is a popular option. They get a new phone, you get a warm fuzzy feeling — it’s a win-win situation. You can get tailored contracts for kids or even the elderly so you can safeguard against them running up scary bills and you can lock down functionality they don’t need.
Keep it as a backup
Chuck it in your glove box or bag and keep it for emergencies. If your shiny new smartphone gets lost, stolen or broken then you’ll have a handy backup to keep you connected. Just make sure you keep the charger in a safe place.
Make it a dedicated MP3 player/gaming device/e-reader
Smartphones can do a bunch of things. Naturally your new smartphone will probably do all those things better but you can use your old one in situations where you might prefer not to risk your new device. You could always make your old smartphone into a dedicated device for listening to music when you jog. Let your kids use it as a handheld gaming device. Use it as a fancy alarm clock for the bedroom. Use it as an e-reader recipe book for the kitchen. It could even become a handy multi-purpose remote control.
You could also employ it as a fixed GPS device for the car or take it out and about as a pocket wireless router. How about loading it with cartoons and giving it to the kids for car journeys or keeping them amused when you’re queuing at the doctors? With a pair of kid’s headphones it could serve as their personal portable TV.
With the right apps the list of possibilities goes on and on.
Use it as a Wi-Fi phone
Sounds crazy, I know, but if it’s charged up you’ll always be able to make emergency calls on it even without a carrier plan. As long as you remember to keep it charged, it might just save your life.
You could also use it as your house phone. You could use Wi-Fi and a VoIP service like Skype or get a Google Voice number and have it ring both your new smartphone and your old one. No need for a traditional landline and an old house phone anymore.
Use it as a storage device
Most smartphones have a USB mass storage device option. It could be handy for transferring files between your home computer and your work machine or taking movies with you to a friend’s house. Use Bluetooth and you can transfer wirelessly. An old smartphone has obvious advantages over a portable hard drive, in that you can review the files on the phone’s screen.
Use it as a camera
Whether you want to strap it to your skateboard for action shots or fix it up above your monitor as a webcam you may as well take advantage of the functionality. Even old smartphones tend to have a decent camera and video recording capabilities.
You could even employ it as part of a security system. There are apps out there that will let you securely view the camera stream online no matter where you are. Now you can check that the dog is okay, spy on your nanny, or find out where those disappearing biscuits have been going.
How about employing it as a high-tech baby monitor? You could connect with it using Wi-Fi and watch or talk to your child through your new smartphone.
Whatever you do don’t just throw your old smartphone away. Most wireless carriers have takeback schemes and manufacturers will also take old smartphones off your hands. Sometimes they’ll refurbish them for good causes. They will, at the very least, ensure that they are safely disposed of. Check your carrier or manufacturer for details. You should be able to find an address to send your old smartphone and accessories that came with it. Just make sure that you remember to wipe it first.
Check out the AT&T Trade-In Program where you can get money off a new device for trading in your old one. You could also look into HopeLine, a Verizon Wireless service that provides support for domestic violence victims and survivors. You’ll also find that manufacturers like Samsung provide drop off points for old smartphones that ensure your device doesn’t end up in a landfill or exported to a developing country.
Don’t forget about it
You may have fallen out of love with your old smartphone but don’t forget about all the wondrous things it can do. Remember there was a time when you thought it was awesome. Don’t let it rot in a drawer somewhere, forgotten and unloved, have a heart and put it to good use.