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Bring out your dead: What to do with your old iPhone

Update: Added a section on how to use an old iPhone as a security camera or baby monitor, and revised copy throught to account for new devices.

Does the iPhone 7 make older iPhone models obsolete? Maybe, maybe not. The answer varies from person to person and what they expect (and need) from their smartphones. One thing is for sure, however: A ton of people who rushed out to buy the iPhone 7 have an older iPhone, such as an iPhone 5 or 6S, suddenly sitting idle.

But an old iPhone doesn’t have to be a techno-albatross hanging over your shoulders. There are plenty of great ways to put an older iPhone to use even if it’s not your carry-everywhere device anymore. And if you truly don’t need or want it around, there are solid options for putting it in good hands — or getting some cold hard cash for your device. Read on to find out more.

Keeping your old iPhone

For many people, keeping an old iPhone around makes plenty of sense. After all, every iPhone beginning with the iPhone 5 can run Apple’s latest iteration of iOS 10, so the devices aren’t exactly useless.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Use it as a backup phone

Keeping an old iPhone as a backup device can be helpful if you’re the sort of person who tends to leave their smartphone at work, in the car, or on that table next to the door where there’s no way you could possibly miss it on your way out in the morning. This option is particularly helpful for frequent travelers. Often, it makes sense to use an entirely different phone when you’re overseas to avoid ghastly roaming charges.

Once an iPhone is off contact, the most common approach is to unlock the device and purchase a new SIM card that works with another carrier. To unlock an iPhone, we suggest that you follow our guide on how to unlock any iPhone from your wireless carrier. Of course, you can also keep an iPhone on contract with shared voice and data plans with many carriers, and just keep using it as you always have.

Where can you take an unlocked iPhone?

Well, this depends on the iPhone model you have. You have to keep in mind that AT&T, T-Mobile, and most carriers around the world use the GSM standard. Verizon and Sprint are different because they use CDMA. If your iPhone is a GSM phone, this means it will not work on Verizon or Sprint. Many phones, such as the iPhone, have the capability to work with both standards.

Smartphones like the iPhone 7 have two different versions. If you bought your iPhone 7 from Verizon or Sprint, then your iPhone will also work with GSM carriers such as AT&T or T-Mobile. However, if you bought your iPhone 7 from AT&T and T-Mobile, then these phones are only GSM phones, so you can’t use them on Verizon or Sprint. We suggest you look into your particular model if you plan to take the older phone to another carrier.

Outside the United States, the process is similar, only more common. GSM networks are the standard, and most operators will be happy to sell folks a SIM card to use on their network. When you come back to the states, there’s no need to keep paying for service — just reactivate it when (and if) you return to that country.

Use it like an iPod touch

An iPhone without phone service is essentially a spiffy iPod touch — and plenty of people find an iPod touch is all the iOS experience they need. Your old iPhone can get good use as a standalone camera, and when you’re near Wi-Fi, you can publish images to your iCloud Camera Roll and have them automatically synced across all your iOS and MacOS devices. Need an alternative? Pop your aging device into a speaker dock — or an audio system with an iPod option — and turn it into a home stereo. With iTunes Sharing, you can stream your iTunes library wirelessly to your stereo. Similarly, services such as Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, and TunedIn will provide you with a steady supply of new music.

iOS Cameras
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Use it as a security camera or baby monitor

One of the most popular uses of an old iPhone is to keep it as a security camera or baby monitor. The reason why we talk about these together is that they both work the same way. Download the app to your old iPhone, pair the old iPhone with the new iPhone, and voila! You have a security camera. You can find many apps in the App Store by just searching for “baby monitor” or “security camera.” You can try an app like Presence if your looking for a security solution, or something like Cloud Baby Monitor, which is also compatible with the Apple Watch.

We suggest that you read through our guide on how to turn your old iPhone into a smart home gadget for a more in-depth look at different apps.

Getting rid of your old iPhone

Maybe you don’t want to keep an old phone around on principle — or maybe you truly have no use, space, or time for an older iOS device hanging around like stale leftovers. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to make an old iPhone go away.

Before considering any of them, however, you should wipe your iPhone. This removes all your apps from the device but also removes all your email, text messages, documents, photos, media library, and a host of other content. When you say goodbye to an iPhone, you don’t want to give your life away with it. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Back up your device to your computer using iTunes. That way, you can restore it later if things go awry.
  2. On your iOS device, go to Settings > General > Reset.
  3. Tap Erase All Content and Settings.

We recommend that before you discard, sell, or in any way pass on your iPhone to someone else, that you follow our comprehensive guide on how to factory reset an iPhone.

Pass it along

There are probably plenty of people in your life who could use an iPhone — or just an iPhone-turned-iPod touch. Many parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents will happily receive an old iPhone. In the case of seniors, it can be a particularly useful gift because even off-service iPhones can still dial 911. Folks who already have mobile phones may be able to transfer their service to the old iPhone, or they can set up new service with the iPhone.

If there’s no one in your life who can make good use of an old iPhone, odds are there’s someone nearby who can. Many local charities will be happy to accept your old iPhone (and other devices) for senior citizens, victims of domestic abuse, the homeless, and other disadvantaged people. Simply put, you could make a big difference in someone’s life. Similarly, plenty of nationwide charities will happily accept older iPhones as a donation. Cell Phones for Soldiers and Phones 4 Charity are two such examples.

Sell it

Your old iPhone is worth cash to many people. Craigslist and eBay are great places to find a willing buyer for your old iOS device. Of course, the aforementioned services also come with caveats: If you don’t already use them for other things, we can’t really recommend starting just to sell your old iPhone. That said, if you’re already experienced with eBay or used to doing local deals on Craigslist, they’re likely to net you the most money for your old device. Newer devices command the highest prices, but don’t disregard the value of cases, headsets, chargers, and other accessories.

We suggest that you read through our guide on how to sell your iPhone, if you’re looking to learn about all the possible ways to get the best value for your phone.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Trade it in

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of selling your phone, plenty of places will take your old iPhone as a trade-in. A great example is Amazon. The online retailer currently accepts old iPhones from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint as trade-ins, though payment is in the form of an Amazon gift card, which may or may not be what you want. Verizon Wireless also offers a trade-in program for any of your old iPhones, regardless of carrier. Plenty of other retailers, including Best Buy and Gamestop, offer iPhone trade-in programs, which are usually good for credit toward a new phone.

Even Apple is getting in on the trade-in action. The company has its own re-use and recycling program for almost everything it sells — including iPhones. Depending on your device’s age and condition, it may be recycled instead of reused, but Apple is offering competitive values for its old devices — albeit, in the form of an Apple gift card rather than cash. You’ll still do better on eBay or Craigslist, but, again, going with Apple is less of a hassle.

Recycle it

If your iPhone is so old it has little to no value — or so beat up it barely works or doesn’t work at all — recycling it may be your best option. Services such as Gazelle and Apple’s recycling program can handle that for you, but you can probably save the cost (and carbon footprint) of shipping your device off to be recycled by taking advantage of e-waste recycling in your area. Many cities and states offer free recycling programs, and most others have recycling services available for a small fee. It’s better, and more eco-friendly, than simply tossing your unwanted devices in the trash.

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Geoff Duncan
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Geoff Duncan writes, programs, edits, plays music, and delights in making software misbehave. He's probably the only member…
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