If you’re searching for a new GPS navigator or a touchscreen remote control, a good place to find one is at the bottom of your desk drawer. Old smartphones, long forgotten after being buried under a pile of debris, still pack some punch with a decent processor, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth–and the devices can run apps that transform them into a new stand-alone machine.
My colleague Rick Broida looked last year at eight practical and fun uses for an old smartphone–uses including an emergency or Wi-Fi phone, a gaming machine, a portable hard drive, and an e-reader, among others–but here’s a look at eight other ideas to give your old phone a new lease on life.
Stand-Alone GPS Navigator
GPS use can drain your battery before you reach your destination, so spare yourself the hassle of plugging your new phone in and out every time it rings and use your old device instead. You don’t need to keep your data contract for the old phone; instead, just download a GPS app that stores the maps locally–like TomTom for iPhone ($60, a cost much less than a new GPS navigator) or CoPilot for Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone 7 devices (just $20). A generic windshield mount goes for around $10 on eBay, and now you won’t miss the next turn when a phone call comes through.
Touchscreen Remote Control
Downloadable apps can turn that old smartphone into a handy remote for your computer, media player, or TV. If you have a Google TV device, the Google TV remote app has a mousepad, arrows, and a range of buttons, while the Remote app for iPhones lets you control your Apple TV, and the keyboard comes especially handy when you need to type. To control your TV, cable box, stereo, or Blu-ray player, the Griffin Beacon ($70) is an infrared blaster that turns your smartphone into universal remote by translating actions from your phone to IR signals that other devices can understand.
Touchpad and Keyboard Extension
The iPhone’s glass display can make one smooth trackpad to control your computer via Wi-Fi, with apps like TouchPad ($5). You can also extend your keyboard functions with companions such as NumPad ($4); while for Android, RemoteDroid acts as a touchscreen mouse control with onscreen mouse buttons. Each option will also require you to download a separate remote app on your computer, and RemoteDroid is compatible with PCs and Macs.
Jailbreak and Experiment
Since your old phone is now probably out of warranty, you don’t have to worry about tinkering with it anymore. Be brave and experiment with jailbreaking your iPhone and try cool apps that you can’t find in the App Store. If you’re on Android, you can have a go at installing a new ROM (modified versions of Android), whether it’s a new version of the OS, or a ROM that adds new features; or perhaps you just want to speed things up a bit by removing the manufacturer and carrier bloatware that comes preinstalled. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can also install Android on an old iPhone.