New uses for your old phone, tablet, or laptop | Popular Science
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New uses for your old phone, tablet, or laptop

How to breathe new life into an outdated device

Clean off those dusty old electronics

Clean off those dusty old electronics

In your excitement over the latest smartphone model, spare a thought for your old device. Tossing it into the trash is not only a waste of money, it's also bad for the environment. Instead, give a fresh lease on life to your now-outdated hardware.

Most of us have at least one phone, tablet, or laptop gathering dust in a closet. Here are a few ideas for what you can do with that old piece of tech, any of which can be tackled no matter what your level of technical know-how.

Alarm clock

Alarm clock

Your old phone or tablet may be way past running the latest games or apps, but it can almost certainly still function as a clock and alarm, whether through the native app or a separate app you've installed. Keep the device plugged in by your bed, and you won't have to worry about battery life either.

You might think that mobile alarms are a pretty simple affair, but there are actually a bunch of great apps in this category: Take a look at the minimal but beautiful Wake for iOS, for example, or the Good Morning Alarm Clock for Android, which will even try and wake you up at the optimum time in your sleep cycle.

Good Morning Alarm Clock

Home security camera

Home security camera

With an active Wi-Fi connection and the camera built into your phone, tablet, or laptop, you can turn one of these devices into a security camera to keep watch on your home. It's easier than you'd think. Apps like Presence or Manything will take care of the job for you, with minimal setup required.

You could also set up a separate Skype account on an old laptop, then set the program to automatically accept incoming video calls. This will allow you to call home from the office or the commute and check in on your pets whenever you like—with no complicated software to set up and no price to pay.

Manything

E-reader

E-reader

No matter how slow your phone or laptop has become, unless the hardware really is dated beyond help, you should be able to get a simple e-reader app up and running on it. You can then use it as a portable e-reader, whether you're opening up e-books stored locally or finding them on the web.

An app like Calibre for computers or the Kindle apps for pretty much any device can help you find content to read, as well as the native e-reading apps provided by Google and Apple. If you own an actual physical Kindle e-reader, then the mobile Kindle app for iOS, Android, and the web lets you pick up where you left off.

David Nield/Popular Science

Radio

Radio

Even if your aging device can't do anything except sit on a desk and look sorry for itself, you can still use it as a radio thanks to the wonders of the web. Pretty much every radio station out there these days has an online stream you can tap into, and it won't use up much of your internet bandwidth.

Of the mobile apps out there, TuneIn Radio is one of the best we've come across, and it'll work across pretty much any device out there. No matter what your taste in music (or talk shows), you should be able to find something of interest. And if you pay for the pro version, you can remove the ads and get some other goodies.

TuneIn Radio

Music controller

Music controller

Another function that just about any old device can handle is playing music, whether streaming it from the web or playing it from local storage. You could set up a laptop with an iTunes library or a tablet with Spotify, connect them to a set of Bluetooth speakers, and have your own dedicated jukebox.

Alternatively, fix an old tablet or phone in place, get hold of some Sonos hardware, and install the accompanying app on the device. You can then blast out tunes from Apple Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, and more through the wireless speakers, with your repurposed hardware acting as the hub.

Sonos

Media library

Media library

One of the most common uses for an old laptop is as a media library or server. If you store your library of movies, TV shows, and music on the computer, the networking tools built into Windows and macOS will let you beam the content to other computers and devices around the home.

The idea of setting up a media server might sound dauntingly technical, but there are applications around that can help. Plex is one of the best, and you can set it up in minutes. This will let you access all the files stored on your old laptop from other devices, whether they're in your house or anywhere else.

Plex

Word processor

Word processor

There are a number of lightweight word processing programs out there that let you repurpose an old and sluggish laptop into a dedicated writing machine: Google Docs, Write, Ulysses, and iA Writer are among the best. If your computer's too slow to run anything else, at least you know you won't be distracted from your task.

The same idea can work for a tablet too, as long as it has a decent-sized screen and you can find a keyboard accessory to plug into it (Bluetooth keyboards will work with most tablets). As before, you're going to need an app, but there are plenty to choose from, from Google Docs (again) to Pages, plus some of those mentioned above.

Ulysses

E-recycle

E-recycle

If none of the above appeal, then don't just throw out your old device or leave it to gather dust—recycle it instead. Unfortunately, e-recycling isn't part of your usual curbside pickup. The best place to start is with whoever made your gadget: Dell, Apple, Samsung, and several other major companies have recycling programs that are simple to use, and may get you some cash back too.

Otherwise, there are local recycling options, which will vary depending on where you live. For more information, follow this guide to recycling options that you should be able to access no matter where you call home. These programs should make sure the electronics and materials used in your old gadgets are disposed of in a way that's kind to the environment. Just make sure to wipe any personal information before handing over your devices. After that, it's time to think about buying some replacements...

Screenshot from Apple video

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