6 Creative Uses for an Old Smartphone

By: Dave Roos
smartphone, mature couple
An old smartphone can become a permanent GPS or music device. kali9/Getty Images

When you upgrade to a new smartphone, don't let the old one collect dust in the junk drawer. Here are six creative ideas for putting that used (but still useful!) device to work.


1. A Backup or 'Burner' Phone

If your old smartphone still works, consider using it as a second phone. A second phone can serve several purposes: a data backup if your new phone dies or gets lost; a safer choice for camping trips, beach outings, or other places where your fancy new phone could get damaged; or even as an untraceable "burner" phone.

To use the backup phone to make calls, it will need to be an unlocked phone that allows you to swap out the phone's SIM card for a new phone number and calling plan. Since you'll only be using the backup phone occasionally to make calls and send texts, choose a "pay-as-you-go" plan that only charges you when you use the phone. Those plans can be as cheap as $2 for each day you that you use them. Otherwise, there's no charge for letting the phone sit idle for months.


Even without a phone plan, that old phone call still dial 911, which may make it useful in an emergency situation.

A second phone can also be a handy data backup if your new phone runs on the same operating system. Make sure the old phone is loaded with the same apps and cloud access as the new phone. That way, if you lose the new phone or it breaks, you still have access to all of your cloud-based contacts and photos, and you won't fall behind on your favorite social media feeds.

If you want a second phone for added privacy and security -- a number to use on dating websites or Craigslist, for example -- turn the old phone into a "burner" device by wiping and resetting it, and signing in as a new user with a new email address (hint: don't use your real name!). With an app like Burner, you don't even have to get a new SIM card with a new phone number. The app uses VoIP to assign you a temporary phone number. You can even text from it.


2. Car Stereo and GPS Device

Every time you get in the car, you probably click your smartphone into a dashboard mount, plug in a power cord and fiddle around connecting to your stereo via Bluetooth. And then you have to disconnect everything again when you get out.

Depending on how you use your phone in the car, you could save some hassle by turning your old phone into a dedicated car stereo and GPS device.


First, a tip. This won't be as useful if you make a lot of hands-free calls in the car and your old phone doesn't have its own active calling plan. But if you primarily use the phone for playing music and podcasts, and for real-time driving directions, this could help.

All it takes is a little preparation. Since your old phone will be offline in the car (no access to wifi or a cellular data), you need to preload it with music and podcasts in your house, office or anywhere else with a wifi connection. Also, to use GPS you'll need to upload maps to the phone. CNET has a great list of map apps that can be preloaded for offline use. The best apps and maps cost money, but it beats getting hopelessly lost in Tulsa.


3. Baby Monitor or Security Cam

Don't spend money on a baby monitor! There are lots of cool apps that can turn any smartphone camera into an inexpensive baby monitor or even home security camera.

To use your old phone as a baby monitor, mount it within a few feet of the baby's crib and download an app like Dormi (Android) or Cloud Baby Monitor (iOS). Both apps pair your old and new phone so you can watch and listen to the baby from anywhere. Features include alerts when the baby is crying and the ability to talk remotely to the baby through the phone.


While your old phone may not completely replace a hi-tech home security system, it can double as a free single-location security cam. Presence is a free Android and iOS app that instantly turns your old phone into a streaming video camera accessible from any paired device.

4. DIY GoPro

GoPro-style action cameras retail for hundreds of dollars, but if your old phone records HD video, you can strap it to just about anything and take heart-stopping POV videos.

The key is finding the right mounting device. You'll want to look for either a universal head mount for smartphones or one that's specifically made for your device. If your phone is a bigger "phablet" design, it may be too heavy for your head, so look into ones that can strap to your bike handlebars or your chest.


Another useful gadget is a Bluetooth shutter remote. These inexpensive devices fit in your pocket and let you start and stop recording on your phone without fumbling with the phone midway through a mountain bike run.

5. Digital Photo Frame

This is a great idea for an old tablet or larger smartphone. Perch it on your desk or coffee table and use it to stream a constantly updated slideshow of your digital pics, plus online photos from your social media streams.

Apps like LiveFrame (iOS) and Dayframe (Android) will not only display photos on your device and from cloud-based photo libraries like Google Photos or Flickr, but they will pull in new pics from your Facebook, Instagram and other social media friends.


To mix things up, you can also use the old phone or tablet to watch streaming webcams from the world's most interesting and scenic locales. The EarthCam app (iOS) will stream live video from places like Times Square in New York City or Blackberry Mountain in Tennessee. Same for Earth Online for Android.

6. Donate to a Good Cause

Instead of recycling or reselling your old phone and pocketing the cash, consider donating it to an organization that will use the device to help others.

Sprint's 1Million Project aims to donate a million phones and tablets plus free high-speed internet access to underserved high school students. And nonprofit Secure the Call distributes donated phones to domestic violence shelters and senior centers to use in 911 emergencies.


Another cool charity, Cell Phones for Soldiers, doesn't actually send your old phone to troops overseas (security issues), but uses the money earned from recycling or reselling your phone to buy prepaid phone cards for soldiers.