25 great uses for an old Android deviceon May 17, 2024 at 09:45 Computerworld

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Got extra smartphones sitting around your office? How about tablets? As we move multiple generations into mobile technology, more and more of us are building up collections of old, dated devices from both our work and our personal lives. And more often than not, those devices do little more than take up space and gather dust.

Here’s a little secret, though: Your abandoned Android gadgets are actually virtual gold mines. You just have to find the right way to tap into their potential and give them new life.

So grab the nearest DustBuster and get ready: Here are 25 ways to make your old phone or tablet useful again.

1. Use it as a wireless trackpad and controller for your computer

With the right software and a couple minutes of configuration, your old Android device can act as an on-demand controller for your Windows, Mac, or Linux computer.

An app called Unified Remote and a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection are all you need to make the magic happen. The free version of the app gives you basic mouse and keyboard control along with specialized remotes for media playback and power-related commands, while the full $5 version adds in program-specific remotes for presentation control along with other advanced features.

Unified Remote provides basic mouse and keyboard control along with a variety of specialized remotes.

JR Raphael / IDG

Grab whichever version you prefer and download the server-side software for your computer — then toss your old device into a desk drawer or computer bag and rest easy knowing it’ll be ready and waiting the next time you need to go wireless.

2. Turn it into a remote computer terminal

Want easy access to your home computer from the office — or vice-versa? Your old Android phone or tablet can be a splendid stationary screen for keeping a remote system at arm’s reach.

And it couldn’t be any easier to make that happen. All you need is Google’s free Chrome Remote Desktop program on both your computer and your old Android device, and your phone or tablet will effectively become a window to your desktop.

I’ve got a thorough guide to the Chrome Remote Desktop setup process, if you want step-by-step instructions — but the short version is that you’ll need to install the official Google Chrome Remote Desktop extension into Chrome on your computer, then open the Chrome Remote Desktop website and follow the prompts to set up remote access.

Snag the companion Remote Desktop Android app, get all signed in there, and that’s it: Your old Android device is now a full-fledged terminal and access point for any computer you want.

3. Make it a portable storage device

Cloud services may often be the simplest way to store and transport files nowadays, but there’s something to be said for good old-fashioned physical storage — both in terms of consistent availability regardless of connectivity and in terms of the added assurances having especially important files in your own pocket can provide.

While there’s certainly no shortage of high-quality portable thumb drives and external hard drives available, any old Android device is essentially the same thing — with the added advantage of also offering up an easy interface for interacting with anything on its local storage and optionally dropping such files into an email, a Slack chat, or any other cloud-connected spot should the need ever arise.

Just securely erase your Android device to give it a fresh start and free up as much space as possible, then plug it into your computer to transfer files from the computer to the phone or tablet.

You’ll have ample room for whatever you need to store, and you can easily carry it around or keep it somewhere safe — then connect it to another computer or rely on assorted Android business apps for managing the files, emailing them, sharing them in collaborative environments, or anything else that may come up.

4. Reposition it as an AI-powered chatbot interface

Generative AI systems are quickly becoming critical tools for company productivity, and an old Android device is the perfect vessel for creating a dedicated on-demand AI chatbot interaction station.

This one’s especially easy, too: Just install the ChatGPT Android app, the Gemini Android app, the Microsoft Copilot Android app, or any other AI tool you use — then keep it front and center on your old device’s home screen.

In the case of Gemini, you can also opt in to allowing Gemini to take over the role of your default system assistant and make it available via a Hey Google voice command.

And just like that, you’ve got a generative AI chatbot at your beck and call 24/7 without having to have it take over your current Android device and run down its battery.

5. Give yourself a separate work and personal phone

With more and more companies taking a bring-your-own-device approach for the workplace, the lines between our personal and professional lives are getting increasingly blurry.

And while Android does have some decent options for creating separate work and personal profiles — both natively, if your phone is part of an enterprise-managed arrangement, and with a little creative configuring in any other scenario — there’s an undeniable appeal in creating a formal barrier between your worlds and being able to leave your work completely behind when the opportunity arises.

So think about using your old Android device as a dedicated work or personal phone and setting it up explicitly for that purpose, then using your current Android phone exclusively for the other role. That’ll give you separate physical devices for your separate life roles — the kind of power most people only dream about seizing these days.

6. Use it as a universal smart remote

Even the junkiest old Android device has ample power to serve as a smart remote for your home or office. That can be a helpful way for you and anyone else around to control your various smart devices and multimedia components without needing any special access (or your own current personal phone in hand).

First, the easy part: Load up your old phone or tablet with all the relevant apps for your smart-device setup — things like Nest, Hue, and anything else appropriate for controlling your home or office tech.

Next, think about adding some tools that’ll let the device handle any audio and video systems in your area. There are a few ways you can make that work:

Pair the phone or tablet with one of Google’s ultra-affordable Chromecast with Google TV dongles. You can then keep the old Android device on your desk or coffee table and use it as a hub for wirelessly casting content — everything from Netflix and YouTube to TED Talks, CNBC, and Google Slides — to your TV.

Use your device as a dedicated remote for your home or office entertainment setup. If the device is running an Android version from 2012 or later, you can give yourself a ready-to-roll Google TV remote that’ll work with any compatible streaming products by installing and then signing into the official Google TV app. The Play Store also has a variety manufacturer-made apps for controlling specific components, including those by Comcast Xfinity, AT&T U-verse, and Roku.

Set up a full-fledged media server using Plex, then use your old device as a dedicated remote to stream your own local content to a TV. (The Plex media server software is free; a premium subscription with added features runs $5 per month, $40 per year, or $120 for a lifetime license.)

7. Let it power scientific research

Here’s something: Your clunky old Android device could actually help scientists search for extraterrestrial life, detect earthquakes, or improve cancer treatments.

It’s all part of a series of programs that use your device’s computing power to conduct scientific research. Some of the more worthwhile options:

Zooniverse connects your phone or tablet to a variety of research projects ranging from wild beluga whale identification to breast cancer tumor mapping.

DreamLab is a project helmed by Vodafone that aims to uncover insight into how cancer relates to a patient’s DNA profile. That, in turn, could allow for the development of more specific and effective cancer-fighting drugs. More recently, the app has also been focused on COVID-related research as well as climate change.

MyShake, from the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, uses your device’s sensors to detect and analyze earthquakes. If you live in an area where earthquakes occur, leaving your device plugged in and on a stable surface will provide the scientists with valuable real-time data about any seismic activity.

All of the apps work in essentially the same way: After downloading and installing (and sometimes going through a brief setup or sign-in procedure), you simply plug your device in and turn its screen off. As long as it remains connected to an active Wi-Fi network, researchers will be able to put its processing power to use.

Apps like Zooniverse, left, and DreamLab, right, can turn your old Android tablet or phone into a scientific research machine.

JR Raphael / IDG

8. Transform it into a free-standing security camera

Who needs a fancy-schmancy connected camera when you’ve got an old Android phone sitting around? With the aid of a third-party app, the camera on your dated device can let you keep an eye on your home, office, or top-secret crime lair from anywhere — and even perform advanced functions like video recording and motion detection.

Just download the free IP Webcam app or get the fully featured $5 pro version and follow its instructions. Within moments, you’ll be able to peek through your device’s lens from any compatible web browser and cackle with glorious glee.

9. Repurpose it as a dedicated camera

Smartphone cameras just keep getting better, but we’re reaching a point where even cameras from a few years back are really quite good — and the differences between them and their more current siblings are relatively subtle.

With that in mind, an old Android device can be a perfect way to have a ready-to-roll camera at your disposal for times when you might not want your primary phone to be out and about on your adventures — whether you’re worried about it getting wet or damaged or maybe just trying to disconnect from the world of work-related dings and pings for a while.

The best part about this setup that is no special preparation is even required. Just grab the old phone and go, and rest easy knowing your “real” phone is safe and sound somewhere far away from whatever you’re photographing.

10. Reframe it as a full-time videoconferencing station

Set up your old Android device with the app for your video-chatting platform of choice — Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, or whatever the case may be — then drop it into a dock on your desk or conference room table. Say “hocus pocus” for good measure, and ta-da: You’ve just created a permanent access point for virtual face-to-face communications.

Just think: With enough old phones and tablets, you can create an entire house- or office-wide videoconferencing system. Sign each device into its own unique account, with the name of the room as its username, and seeing someone across the building will never be more than a couple quick taps away.

11. Turn it into a kitchen command center

Hard to believe, but my ancient 2011 Motorola Xoom tablet was one of the most used devices in my house until it finally kicked the bucket some six years into its life. That’s because I converted it into a multipurpose command center for our kitchen — a role my 2012 Nexus 10 tablet then took over for another couple years after that.

So how to make a kitchen command center of your own? Easy: First, use a custom Android launcher like Niagara Launcher or Nova Launcher to simplify your old tablet’s home screen and add in some easy-to-perform gestures — like double-tapping anywhere on the screen to launch Android’s voice search function for on-the-fly info-gathering and other hands-free commands.

Second, populate the home screen with the right apps for the purpose. Netflix and other video-streaming services will effectively turn your old tablet into a cooking-time television. Recipe apps can also be useful, as can Android note-taking apps — like Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote, and Notion — for quick viewing of personal recipes or editing of always-synced family-shared shopping lists.

If you really want to get wild, you can even set up a smart-display-like screensaver that’ll turn your device into a customizable intelligent info center whenever you aren’t actively using it — kind of like what Google has tried (but thus far mostly failed) to accomplish with its not-so-old Pixel Tablet product.

12. Make it a data-based extension of your current phone service

If you use Google Fi (formerly known as Project Fi) for your current phone’s wireless service, take advantage of a little-known bonus feature: the ability to get an extra SIM card that’s connected to your account and able to provide data on any other device — without any superfluous fees.

All you’ve gotta do is order the card from the Google Fi website, pop it into an old phone (or a tablet, if you happen to have one with a SIM slot) — and bam: That device is instantly online and connected. You’ll pay only for whatever mobile data the device uses in any given month, at the same flat rate associated with your regular Fi plan, so it’s essentially just an extension of your primary phone.

That opens up plenty of interesting possibilities: You could use your old device as a ready-to-go backup phone in case your regular one is ever missing, broken, or low on battery; you could use it as a dedicated hotspot to beam out mobile data access without draining your primary phone’s battery; or you could use it as an always-connected on-the-go slate for your kids (hello, airport video-streaming) without having to pay for an extra line of service.

13. Make it your live window into the world

Don’t have the greatest view from your desk? Let your old Android phone or tablet be your window to wild and exciting locales.

To get started, grab the EarthCam Webcams app from the Google Play Store. It’ll give you one-touch access to an impressive list of live streaming cameras around the world, from the hustle and bustle of New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street to the swooshing serenity of Niagara Falls. Pull up any view you like, then tap the icon to go full-screen and gaze the day away. If you find yourself craving some variety, you can consider upgrading from the app’s free collection to a set of 175 live cameras for a one-time $5 fee.

EarthCam lets you gaze down Niagara Falls — or a slew of other webcams around the world — for a break from the mundane.

JR Raphael / IDG

You can find quite a few mobile-friendly live cameras on the web as well: Pull up your device’s browser and try out the San Diego Zoo’s assorted animal cams — including a penguin cam, koala cam, and tiger cam, among other exotic views — or the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s extensive underwater cams for even more “aww”-inducing options.

14. Convert it into a digital photo frame

Ah, memories. Snag an inexpensive stand, plug your device into its charger, and turn it into a cloud-connected photo frame for your home or office.

If you use Google Photos, just open up the app, tap on any photo in your main library or within a specific album, and then tap the three-dot menu icon in the upper-right corner of the screen. Scroll horizontally along the menu that appears and select “Slideshow.” The app will cycle through your photos and give you plenty of memories to reflect upon whilst relaxing or taking care of business.

If your old Android phone is a Pixel, you can also set it on one of Google’s official Pixel Stands to start an ever-evolving Photos-linked slideshow showing any specific albums or even specific people you want.

15. Use it as a dedicated e-reader

Want a distraction-free reading environment for your next business trip or public transit commute? Load up your old Android device with only the apps you need for reading — Google Play Books, Amazon Kindle, Nook, or whatever tickles your text-ingesting fancy.

You can even borrow books from your local library: Check with your nearest branch for information on how to do it or download the free OverDrive app, which is used by a variety of libraries, schools, and institutions.

Be sure to disable notifications from Gmail and other noisy apps — heck, even switch the device into airplane mode once you’ve downloaded the content you need — and you’ve got the equivalent of a dedicated e-reader without all the usual phone or tablet temptations.

16. Transform it into a dedicated desk calendar

Dock your old device on your desk and put it to work as your personal calendar. Google’s own Calendar app can get the job done with plenty of productivity-oriented elements, or the free DigiCal Calendar Agenda app will give you an even more graphical and customizable interface that’s perfectly suited for this purpose.

The DigiCal app looks especially sharp in its landscape (horizontal) orientation.

JR Raphael/IDG

DigiCal is free with an optional $5.50 upgrade for extra themes and customization options.

17. Treat yourself to a dedicated audio player

The idea of an iPod may seem amusingly antiquated at this point, but there’s something to the idea of having a dedicated device for the specific purpose of playing podcasts, music, or even just some manner of white noise.

By outsourcing that task to an old Android device, you can grant yourself the freedom to leave your current phone behind when you’re working out, doing something outside, or even just taking a break from business on the weekend — and eliminate the temptation to keep checking your inbox or looking at other work-related distractions.

You can also give yourself a great way to listen to audio while traveling without having to wear down your primary device battery during a long day of flights.

18. Make it a mounted command center for a non-connected car

Save yourself the hassle of futzing around with your current phone in your car by turning your old device into an always-available command center for a car that doesn’t have its own built-in equivalent.

Just find a decent car dock and mount the device somewhere safe. Be sure to plug it into your car’s power port and connect it to the stereo (via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm headphone jack). Then, either use your primary phone as a hotspot to keep it online or go the economical route and download any necessary music and directions before you hit the road, while you’re still connected to Wi-Fi.

All that’s left is to open up the Google Maps app and start a navigation — or say Hey Google, driving mode, if the device is recent enough to feature Google Assistant — and you’ll be moving full-speed ahead with a simplified interface and ready-to-roll voice commands.

19. Turn it into a kid-friendly learning tool

Your old tablet may seem tired to you, but it’s still top-notch tech by toddler standards — so why not turn it into a fun and educational gadget for your kid?

On most reasonably recent tablets, you can find a native Restricted Profile feature right within the operating system: Just head into the system settings, tap “Users” (or “Users & accounts” and then “Users,” depending on your OS version), and then “Add user or profile.”

Select the option to add a restricted profile. You’ll be prompted to enable or disable access to each app installed on the tablet, allowing you to control exactly what processes your progeny will and won’t be able to use.

If your old device has Android 7.0 or higher (or Android 5.0, on a limited number of models), Google’s Family Link program can give you even more robust controls — including the abilities to set screen-time limits and receive weekly activity reports. You can learn more and sign up at the Family Link website.

20. Let it serve as a high-tech e-clock

Time for something new? An old phone with a dock can make a snazzy customizable clock for your desk or nightstand. Google’s own Clock app is a great place to start, especially if you want to use the clock for alarms. Look for the “Screensaver” option in the Display section of your system settings to make it automatically activate anytime your device is plugged in.

21. Convert it into a gaming device for your downtime

Put down the briefcase and summon your inner Pac-Man: Silly as it may seem, your old Android device is a mini-arcade just waiting to be called into action. (Hey, we all need the occasional break from working, right?)

To complete your device’s Game-Boy-like transformation, just surf the Play Store for some games — you can even find emulators for console-level systems, if (ahem) you know where to look — and then level up by grabbing one of Moga’s universal Android game controllers, available for $56 and up.

22. Keep it handy for emergencies

Any cell phone can make emergency calls, even if it’s not connected to active service. Keep an old phone charged and in your car or travel bag; if something bad happens and your active phone is either dead or unavailable, you’ll still have a way to get through to 911.

23. Turn it into your personal testing ground

Android is a tinkerer’s dream. It typically doesn’t take too much sorcery to root, or gain system-level access to, an Android device — and once you’ve done that, you open up a whole new world of possibilities. You can install powerful root-only applications and even replace your device’s entire operating system with a custom ROM full of fresh features and advanced customization potential.

Anytime you start poking around under the hood, though, you risk screwing something up. And when the device in question is your primary phone or tablet, that can be a daunting gamble to take (especially since rooting a device usually violates its warranty).

That’s where an old phone or tablet can come into play. Put on your hacker’s hat and do a Google search for “root [your device name]” and then “[your device name] ROM.” There’s a huge community of Android enthusiasts out there, and you’ll almost certainly find some helpful user-generated guides to get yourself started.

24. Sell it

This one’s easy, right? After all, what’s old to you is new to someone else. You can go the regular route and list your device on Craigslist or eBay — or you can check in with a more niche service like Swappa or Gazelle to get an instant estimated price for your device. Amazon and Best Buy also both offer buyback programs that may be worth investigating.

Whatever you do, make sure you head into your device’s system settings and perform a full factory reset before passing anything along. You’ll probably also want to remove any memory cards you might have added, if your old phone or tablet has an external storage slot.

25. Donate it

Feeling philanthropic? Rest assured: There’s no shortage of organizations ready to put your old Android device in the hands of someone who could really use it.

A few possibilities worth considering:

Medic Mobile: This nonprofit organization recycles old phones and tablets and then uses the proceeds to purchase new phones for health workers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The workers use those phones for things like tracking disease outbreaks and communicating in emergencies. You can print a prepaid shipping label on the Medic Mobile website.

Cell Phones For Soldiers: This nonprofit sends old phones along with free international calling service to troops serving overseas from all branches of the U.S. military. You can donate a device by finding a local drop-off point or requesting a mailing label.

Rainforest Connection: This nonprofit utilizes old phones to protect threatened rainforests in Indonesia, Africa, and the Amazon. How? The devices are fitted with solar panels for energy as well as specialized software that uses their microphones to monitor for the sound of illegal chainsawing and then alert nearby rangers to the activity (yes, really!). You can donate a device by mailing it to the organization’s California headquarters.

So there you have it: 25 intriguing options for giving new life to your old device. Figure out which one best suits you — and send those gadget-dwelling dust bunnies packing.

This story was originally published in August 2014 and most recently updated in May 2023.

Android, Mobile, Small and Medium Business, Smartphones, Tablets

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