Upgrading your smartphone or tablet will leave you with a decision: what to do with your old device?
Trading in, donating, or recycling retired equipment are all popular options, as is passing on a known-good phone to a family member who shares your wireless service provider account. But you have countless other ways to use outdated hardware more productively, without investing a lot of money in it.
Here are some ideas for getting the most out of your downgraded device.
Make a multimedia machine
Need an extra TV in the kitchen or home office? If you subscribe to a TV provider or streaming service, your old phone or tablet can kick into high gear. Simply download the app from your TV provider (like Spectrum cable or Verizon Fios) or your separate service (Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Fubo.tv, Netflix or other) and sign in to your account. Place the device near a power outlet so that it can run on electricity while you watch, as chances are the old device has a dead battery.
Likewise, parking your old phone in a speaker stand that also charges gives you a library sound system for music and podcasts. Or you can keep the phone connected to its charger and stream music to a nearby wireless Bluetooth speaker. Powered speaker docks can be found online starting around $40, and a wide variety is available. Wirecutter, the product testing and review site owned by The New York Times, offers suggestions for Bluetooth speakers, general audio gear, and budget purchases.
And while they must remain attached to a charger, old tablets also make good dedicated e-book readers or digital photo frames for photo slideshows.
Control your world
Smart home appliances, music libraries, internet-connected TVs – so much can be controlled by apps these days, so why not convert your old phone or tablet into a versatile universal remote? Third-party remote apps abound, but many tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Google, LG Electronics, Roku, and Samsung, to name a few) have their own programs. Just browse through your app store to find software that matches your hardware.
And even if you haven’t yet lost the little remote that came with your set-top box, the on-screen keyboard included with most apps makes it easy to enter passwords. (Apple, which previously had a standalone Remote app, integrated the Apple TV remote software into the iOS 12 operating system, but still has an iTunes Remote app for iPhone/iPad users to control their iTunes music collections stored on Mac and PC.)
Launch your game
Depending on the processor and battery condition, devoting your old device to continued gaming is another way to give it some extra life. Clearing all old data to start fresh gives you more space to download and store new games.
Playing old games on old phones can have a nostalgic appeal, and you can find plenty of classics converted for mobile play in app stores. And you’re not limited to standalone games. Subscription services like Apple Arcade and Google Stadia can work on many mobile devices, and you can cast your games (and other videos) to the big screen if you use the Google Chromecast game mode or AirPlay technology that Apple devices use to share the screen on Apple TV.
If tapping a touchscreen has never been your idea of serious gaming, consider plugging your old phone into a special controller that brings physical buttons, the standard D-Pad, and thumbsticks to the gaming experience. The Razer Kishi ($80 to $100) or the Backbone One ($100) are among the options.
Entertain and educate
If you’ve decided that your child can handle a second-hand phone or tablet for games and educational apps, take a moment to do a little setup to keep you both safe. Visit the settings area and clear your personal information first.
Next, create an account for the child and set up parental controls for screen time, app purchases, and internet access; Operating systems for Amazon, Android, Apple, and Samsung all include similar parental control settings.
If the phone still has a working camera (and can still hold a charge for about an hour), you can also use it to teach the basics of photography. Loading a kid’s App Store account with a prepaid App Store gift card can give them money management skills. And if the old battery of the device runs out after an hour, you can learn time management.