Upgrading your smartphone or tablet will leave you with a decision: What to do with your old device?
Trading in, donating or recycling retired gear are all popular options, as is passing on a serviceable phone to a family member sharing your wireless-carrier account. But you have countless other ways to get more productive use from outdated hardware, without putting a lot of money into it.
Here are just a few ideas to get more use out of your demoted device.
Make a Media Machine
Need an extra television in the kitchen or home office? If you subscribe to a TV provider or streaming service, your old phone or tablet can step up. Just download your TV provider’s app (like Spectrum cable or Verizon Fios) or your separate service (Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Fubo.tv, Netflix or whatever) and log into your account. Prop up the device near an outlet so it can run on electrical power while you watch, since chances are good that the old device has a worn-out battery.
Likewise, parking your old phone in a speaker cradle that also charges gives you a bookshelf 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 at around $40, and a wide variety are available. Wirecutter, the product-testing and review site owned by The New York Times, has suggestions for Bluetooth speakers, general audio gear and those shopping on a budget.
And even if they have to stay tethered to a charger, old tablets also make good dedicated e-book readers or digital picture frames for photo slide shows.
Control Your World
Smart home appliances, music libraries, internet-connected televisions — so many things can be controlled by apps these days, so why not convert your old phone or tablet into an all-purpose 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 take a stroll through your app store for software that matches up with your hardware.
And even if you haven’t lost the tiny stick remote that came with your set-top streamer yet, the onscreen keyboard included with most apps makes it easier to type in passwords. (Apple, which used to have a stand-alone Remote app, folded the Apple TV remote software into the operating system in iOS 12, but still has an iTunes Remote app for iPhone/iPad users to control their iTunes music collections stored on Macs and PCs.)
Get Your Game On
Depending on the processor and battery state, dedicating your old device to the pursuit of gaming is another way to give it extra life. Wiping off all the old data to start afresh gives you more room to download and store new games.
Playing old games on old phones may have nostalgic appeal, and you can find many classics converted for mobile play in the app stores. And you’re not limited to stand-alone games. Subscription services like Apple Arcade and Google’s Stadia can run on many mobile devices, and you can beam your games (and other video) to the big screen if you’re using the Google Chromecast game mode or the AirPlay technology that Apple devices use to share the screen on Apple TV.
If tapping a touch screen has never been your idea of serious gaming, consider snapping 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 Backbone One ($100) are among the options.
Entertain and Educate
If you’ve decided that your child can handle a hand-me-down phone or tablet for games and educational apps, take a moment to do a little bit of setup to protect both of you. Visit the settings area and erase your personal information first.
Next, create an account for the child and configure the 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 functional camera (and can still hold a charge for an hour or so), you can also use it to teach the fundamentals of photography. Loading up the child’s app store account with a prepaid app-store gift card can impart money-management skills. And if the device’s old battery conks out after an hour, you can teach time management.