7 Ways to Use Your Old iPhone—After You’ve Bought the iPhone 12

TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT An image from the 2015 Sundance festival hit ‘Tangerine,’ shot on a trio of iPhone 5S devices.

Photo: Magnolia Pictures

IF YOUR SMARTPHONE is shattered or short-circuiting, you can guiltlessly put it out of its misery and upgrade to the new iPhone 12. If, however, your old device is just a little passe, upgrading might leave you feeling conflicted. Are you really going to bury it alive?


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Matty Benedetto, founder of the popular “Unnecessary Inventions” YouTube series, is eyeing alternatives. To motivate himself out of bed, he said, he’s considering stashing his old iPhone across the room as a backup alarm clock. Or, using it as a recipe reader to avoid coating his sparkling new device in cumin. More ambitiously, he wants to test the old phone’s water-resistance by using it as a shower speaker. Here, seven other ways to avoid being haunted by iPhones past.

1. Keep Your Media Libraries Secure

What’s an old iPhone if not a 64-, 128- or 256-GB hard drive? Malta-based site manager Adam Lumb keeps music backed up on a 32-GB phone as a way to safeguard songs from his youth—ones by local bands he bought on CDs, now largely unavailable on Spotify. “In most cases I have lost or broken the CDs, so it helps me guarantee that my library of old songs isn’t lost,” he said.

2. Combat a Source of Travel Anxiety

If you’ve ever been pickpocketed in Rome or left your bag on a U-Bahn in Berlin, you know how quickly a lost phone ruins a vacation. Annalisa Nash Fernandez, a tech strategist in Greenwich, Conn., always keeps an old phone in her suitcase. “Buy a SIM card from a newspaper stand in Madrid and your future is reinstated,” she said. “It restores lost access to your money, your reservations and your contacts.”

3. Disconnect, Sort Of

After enduring a bad bout of WFH Zoom fatigue, New York economist Will Stewart decided to try using an old iPhone 5S phone to dial into the majority of his calls camera-free. By retreating to the roof with a device that doesn’t constantly ping him with notifications, he’s found it’s been “surprisingly helpful in restoring energy during meeting-heavy days.”

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE Slide on the Razer Kishi to transform an old iPhone into a dedicated gaming machine. $100, razer.com

4. Watch Out for Intruders

Instead of installing a pricey security system that beeps and blurts every time you leave your home, mount your out-of-use phone on a tripod near your front door to monitor activity. Webcam apps like Alfred Home Security Camera (premium for $30/year) can channel what they see to your new iPhone 12 and send motion alerts while you’re away without taking up storage space. The same apps can also function as higher-tech baby monitors than the static-y monstrosities of the past.

5. Become a Visual Artist

To shoot photos and videos like a pro, use an old iPhone as a separate viewing screen. Just attach the phone to a rotating gimbal and connect it via dongle to your digital camera. “The screen is tilted at an angle that makes for easier viewing [than cameras offer],” said Karl Robinson, an amateur photographer in East Sussex, U.K. The iPhone 11’s powerful 12-megapixel camera can also find its way into the grubby hands of a kid who wants to film a TikTok dance.

6. Hand It Down

Parents who want to keep track of their children but aren’t ready to invest in a kid-friendly Firefly phone can give their offspring an old device stocked with apps like TextNow that keep lines of communication open without a phone plan. And unlike WhatsApp, TextNow doesn’t require a Wi-Fi connection to work (ad-free version for $8/month).

7. Up Your Phone Game

Evolved beyond Tetris? Phone-gripping devices like the Razer Kishi ($100, razer.com) feature buttons and analog sticks to transform an old smartphone into a hand-held gaming machine akin to a Nintendo Switch. Prefer Xbox-level controllers? The Nimbus+ ($70, steelseries.com) has a familiar configuration that lets you enjoy retro-style games like “Crossy Road Castle” on Apple Arcade.

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.

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