How to Keep Decaying Gadgets Alive on Life Support

By Gary Cutlack on at

If you are a modern man, chances are you have a drawer or rucksack full of dead or outdated things you can't bear to part with. Routers deemed not fast enough, mobile phones not thin enough to be seen out with, and perhaps even the odd MP3 player from back when doing one thing was enough of a selling point for hardware.

But you can reheat them. Reuse them. Repurpose them. Bring them back to life. As long as you've still got their proprietary chargers and power leads somewhere.

Android Phone as a Dashcam

Apps like Car DVR can record footage on to an SD card, meaning you might get some awesome footage of road accidents, or angry cyclists, or meteorites, to whack on the internet. All you need is a way to wedge your phone facing forwards on the dash, and a charger.

Old Smartphones as Streaming Players

We've all got a first generation smartphone somewhere. With a 3.5-inch screen and as thick and appealing as a bar of medical soap, they're a waste of space. But no! They can be put into service by plugging in some speakers and using them as a radio. It doesn't matter how slow and rubbish it is or that it's still on Android 2.3, if all you're doing is pressing Play once a day. Some idiots pay £200 for Wi-Fi-enabled music players, you know.

Cassette Players as Musical Discovery Tools

They're rubbish, right? But imagine you're five years old, and suddenly given the gift of listening -- and recording! -- music at will. Even the most battered old 1980s Alba is an empowering, life-changing piece of technology to a child, plus tapes are so worthless they're literally given away now.

Local libraries will have stocks of audio books on tape, tapes no one's taken out since 1993. Ask and you can probably have them if you ask, kitting out a child -- or yourself -- with endless Roald Dahl's read by 1980s character actors for free.

Old Laptops Revived With SSDs

You'll be amazed how much of a difference it makes to even the oldest and most abused of laptops when you replace the creaking 5,400rpm drive with an SSD. No longer will you have time for a bath while it boots up. Opening documents won't mean staring at a spinning icon for so long you start to get dizzy. People struggling with crappy machines will think you're a thing-fixing god should you stick in a modest 128GB SSD and transform their 2005 Toshiba into a machine that is usable once more.

USB Drives as Virtual RAM

If the aforementioned 2005 Toshiba of an elderly relative is running Windows XP on 512MB of RAM as it almost certainly will be, many of those old USB sticks you've got in your sock drawer, in the kitchen drawer, in your rucksack of cables and everywhere can be turned into additional virtual RAM. An app like Eboostr makes it work on XP, which will again see a decent boost in performance.

Old HDs as Your NAS Fun Box

And, once you're done ripping out legacy spinning HDs, keep them. Storage is one of the biggest expense when it comes to building a small Network Attached Storage box, and when backing up files and streaming media HD speed isn't much of an issue. Hard drives are like shoes -- good ones last. If you've got one more than 10 years old that's great; it means they made that one properly. It should do another 10, shovelling Marvel films between the internet and your main TV.

Netbook as a HTPC

The trend for the netbook has long since died in favour of us just looking at our phones and tablets all the time instead, but if you still have one -- great. Install XBMC on it, as this lightweight media player is one of the best uses of the small machines' limited power. Hey presto -- you've got an HTPC plugged in via HDMI, only one that's better than most as it happens to have a keyboard and touchpad for setting it all up.

Old iPods as Security Cameras

Don't leave that iPod Touch in the loft. The mice can't control it because their claws don't trigger the capacitive touch technology. Get a monitoring app (like Presence) on it and use it as a home security camera, so you can laugh as some poor thief steals all the rubbish old gadgets you've got strewn about the place (see above and below). They also make great baby monitors, while also teaching baby that it needs to get used to seeing a phone pointing in its face because Facebook's more interesting than it will ever be.

Lumias as Door Stops

Got a door that's always banging shut in a breeze? Ram a first-gen Windows Phone device under it. Job done.


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