Here’s How to Upcycle Your Old Android Devices
At the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), electronics giant Samsung announced its expanded Galaxy Upcycling at Home program. The program provides Samsung-sanctioned methods for users to transform their old Galaxy devices into various useful household gadgets.
In an email to members of the press, a Samsung spokesperson described a few of these possibilities:
Upcycle a Galaxy device into a childcare tool. Using sensors within the phone, users can incorporate into SmartThings and can leverage the phone to monitor audio around a baby and send alerts if it hears crying.
Turn a Galaxy device into a long-distance remote to turn on scenes and automations through SmartThings.
Turn the devices into sensors, monitoring cams, pet cams, fitness cams, table clocks, music players, and integrate within all the current products in the SmartThings ecosystem.
Samsung’s upcycling initiative has been around for years, but the company’s CES announcement breathes new life—and likely new resources—into the program.
Of course, the program isn’t totally altruistic and eco-minded. If you upcycle your old Galaxy device into a useful gadget, Samsung is probably hoping you’ll go out and buy a new one. But the program is still a nice contrast to the ordinarily relentless process of planned obsolescence and two-year upgrades that has become ubiquitous in the phone and tablet world.
Upcycling is nothing new. DIY tech people like me have been doing it for years. Here are five DIY gadgets I’ve created by upcycling old Samsung Galaxy devices. You can do this, too — even without Samsung’s help.
With the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly forcing many people to work from home, high-quality webcams are scarcer than toilet paper, and the one built into your laptop is probably terrible. If you have an old Samsung phone—or any modern phone—you can quickly transform it into a kickass webcam for $7.99 with the iVCam app.
The app uses the front-facing camera from your old phone, streaming its video over your Wi-Fi network to software on your computer. The software turns the feed into a virtual webcam, which you can pull up in your videoconferencing app of choice.
I showed the full process in my article on building a professional Zoom setup for under $200.
How to Create a Professional Home Zoom Studio for Under $200
Or for $57 if you’re really cheap
Home automation console
Do you have an old Galaxy tablet, maybe one with a battery that no longer holds a charge? Want to make accessing and controlling the smart devices in your home easier?
Grab a stand for your tablet, change the power settings to keep your tablet’s screen on 24/7, and pull up your home automation app of choice. (Samsung would love it if you use SmartThings, but you can also use an amalgam of apps from Hue, Nest, and more.)
Many of these apps provide Android shortcuts for their core functions. Add these to your tablet’s home screen, and you’ll have essential home automation functions right at your fingertips on a dedicated device that’s always on and ready to use.
Have an old Samsung Galaxy S6? The S6 came with an IR blaster, which you could use to control nearly any TV or other appliance that comes with an infrared remote.
Samsung phased out the IR blaster after the S6 because few people used it. But if you have an old S6 sitting around, you can still fire up the Peel app that came with your phone (or download an alternative) and use it to control your TV or home theater system. I kept my S6 for several years and used it for exactly this purpose.
If your old phone or tablet doesn’t have an IR blaster, you can still download an app like TV Remote Control and use it as a remote for your Samsung TV.
Even older cellphones often have much better lenses and camera hardware than modern network cameras from Nest or Ring. The Samsung Galaxy S7, for example, has a 12-megapixel camera, whereas the camera in a new top-of-the-line Nest Cam IQ is only 8 megapixels.
You can leverage that hardware by using an app to turn your old phone into a wireless security camera or baby monitor. Just download a security cam app—I’ve used IP Webcam on Samsung phones, but many people love Alfred—plug your phone into the wall to ensure it always has power, position it on a cheap tabletop tripod, and you’re good to go.
Apps like IP Webcam also allow you to read sensor data from your old phone’s built-in sensors—including movement, light levels, and more—and graph the data online. This can reveal if someone turns on the lights in your home when you’re not there (or, in the case of the phone’s magnetic field sensor, reveal the presence of ghosts — though I can’t vouch for that functionality, thankfully).
If you’re into audio, you can spend a fortune on a high-end streaming speaker from a company like Sonos.
But if you already have a great sound system — and an old phone with a standard headphone jack — you can hack one together yourself for a few dollars. Just get a headphone-to-RCA adapter, plug the headphone jack into your old phone, and plug the RCA cables into your sound system.
Set the volume on your device to medium—you want your sound system doing the amplifying, not your phone—select the proper input on your sound system, pull up a streaming app like Spotify or Pandora, and stream away. Your old phone will send audio from your streaming app into your sound system, allowing you to play your favorite tunes on your good speakers without a fancy, expensive external device.
Here’s a full writeup on the process:
DIY Sonos With My Android Home Automation Tablet
Building a free Sonos replacement with a tablet and home stereo
And a video I made about it in 2015, where my voice cracks rather a lot for reasons I can’t recall:
Anything that reduces e-waste and makes gadgets more sustainable is a positive step, and it’s great to see an official upcycling program come out of a company as big as Samsung.
But even if you don’t want to use Samsung’s official systems — or if you have an old phone in your drawer and would like to do something useful with it right now — there are tons of ways to upcycle your device without the company’s help or permission.