6 smart things to do with your old iPhone

Photo via Apple

Here’s how to turn your old iPhone into something super useful.

Now that Apple‘s announced a new iPhone, you may find yourself with a couple new problems. First, well, you’ve got to buy that new phone. Once it arrives though, you’ve got another issue: What to do with your old phone.

These days, there’s no reason for your old phone to sit unused in a drawer with miscellaneous junk. Even with a cracked screen or dismal battery life, you can put it to good use.

Just remember, though: If you plan to sell or donate your old iPhone, you’ll want to erase it first. For iOS devices, make sure you back up your data, turn off Find My iPhone (if you haven’t already), log out of iCloud and switch off iMessages, and then wipe the device by going to General, Reset, and then selecting Erase All Content and Settings.

You don’t have to get rid of your phone, though. If you need help coming up with ideas for your old handset, look no further. Here are some interesting things you can do with your old iPhone.

The best uses for your old iPhone

1. Turn it into a security camera

Phone on stand recording pet and child Photo via Manything

Why buy a pricey security camera for your home when you can just download a new app and plug in your old phone? Using one of these home security apps, you can keep an eye on your living room, front door, or anywhere else in your house for a fraction of the price of a normal security system. Now, there are caveats: You often need to sign up for a cloud storage package; your phone needs to be plugged in 24/7, which can limit positioning options; and if your phone restarts for whatever reason, well, there goes your feed. However, especially if you only plan to use your phone as a security camera from time to time (say, as a pet cam when you leave for the weekend), it’s a great option.

2. Make it a kid’s toy

Pixlplay Camera held by small child Photo via Pixl Toys

Just about every small child I’ve met in recent years either loves taking photos with their parents’ phones or having their photo taken. If yours falls in the same boat, you can give them a “camera” of their own with the $29.99 Pixlplay case. The case works with most smartphones, including iPhones from the iPhone 4 onwards and a variety of Android phones. Pixl Toys’ case itself is durable and dirt proof, with large rubber grips at either end for kid hands and a built-in screen protector.

You can switch off the old phone’s Bluetooth and internet connectivity so that it truly transforms into a glorified camera. Then your child can snap away (and learn what cameras used to look like).

3. Use it as a media streamer

TV and iOS devices using AirPlay Image via Apple

The ability to share videos and photos to your Apple TV via AirPlay is great. However, it puts whatever device you’re beaming content from out of commission. If you still want to use your phone while you stream video, just use an old phone for that. It doesn’t need a SIM card, just a connection to your local Wi-Fi network. It also doesn’t need great battery life—just keep it plugged in, or plug it in when you need it. And if it’s still connected via iCloud, it will stay up to date with your latest photos and downloads.

4. Donate it

There are a number of great organizations that will accept your old smartphone and pass it off to those in need. Here are a few noteworthy options.

Rainforest Connection

By donating your old phone to Rainforest Connection, you can help stop illegal logging and poaching in our planet’s rainforests. This organization turns old phones into autonomous, solar-powered devices that monitor for the sounds of chainsaw activity, and then triangulate where that noise is coming from. Agents can then arrive on the scene to stop the perpetrators and the damage.

Verizon’s HopeLine

HopeLine collects old wireless phones, chargers, batteries, and accessories and donates them to victims and survivors of domestic violence. The items can be in any condition, and work with any provider—they don’t have to be Verizon phones. Verizon handles the donation (you can donate yours online here), and works with nonprofit organizations and agencies that support domestic violence survivors.

Sprint’s The 1Million Project

70 percent of teachers are assigning internet-based homework these days, according to the New York Times. This puts students without phone or internet access at a distinct disadvantage. The issue is being called “The Homework Divide.” The 1Million Project works with schools and school districts to bridge that device. It aims to make free devices and services available to one million low-income high school students—and your no-longer-used smartphone can be a part of the solution. You can donate yours here.

Cellphones for Soldiers

To date, this organization has helped more than 3,100 veterans and their families with 300 million minutes of free talk time. When you donate $5 or a gently used phone to Cellphones for Soldiers, you’re giving someone 2.5 hours of free talk time on that device. The nonprofit, which AT&T also works with, takes cellphones or smartphones in any condition.

5. Sell it

Stack of twenty dollar bills fanned out Photo via wahousegop/Flickr (CC-BY-ND)

If your hard-pressed for cash, then selling your phone is probably your best option—as long as you’re OK with the fact that you will get far less for your handset than you originally paid for it. Most smartphone carriers these days have a buyback program that lets you fill out a form and mail in your old device in exchange for cash or gift cards. If you haven’t already purchased a new iPhone, Apple also has a Trade-Up program that puts the money from selling your old iPhone towards buying a new one. Gazelle, Glyde, and eBay are other popular places for selling your used smartphones (and other gadgetry, too).

If you’re selling an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, expect its value to drop at least $100 from its purchase price. Older devices will drop in value by 10 to 20 percent each year.

Through eBay, you can also sell your device but put the proceeds towards the charity of your choice. eBay for Charity includes up to 16,000 charities you can donate to.

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6. Recycle it

Your phone is ancient, cracked, dented, and hardly functioning. No one’s going to pay money for that thing; it’s borderline hazardous to use. In this case, recycling your old phone may be the best option, and you have several options for how to do that.

Through Apple

Tell Apple what kind of phone you have in its online recycling portal, and the company will mail you a prepaid label so you can ship it to them. Depending on its condition, you may get a gift card or in-store credit for your device. Alternatively, you can bring your old iPhone (or any old electronic device) to your neighborhood Apple Store and recycle it there.

Through EcoATM

EcoATM is an online portal (with real-world kiosks) for recycling your old device and getting cash back. You can price your old phone through its website, then take it to your nearest kiosk. There, ecoATM tests your device and will give you cash right then and there if it has value. It’s kind of like a Coinstar for your phone.

Through your carrier

Many wireless carriers have buyback or recycling programs in place. They will either resell your phone if it’s in good condition or sell it to a recycler. (Or, as we mentioned above, they may alternatively donate it to a nonprofit organization.) AT&T lets you recycle your phone by mail—details here. T-Mobile lets you recycle your device in-store. Verizon lets you return your device as part of a trade-in. Sprint’s recycling program will give you buyback credit, or place your phone with a charity.

Christina Bonnington

Christina Bonnington

Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.