How to reuse or recycle your smartphone

So, you’re upgrading to a new smartphone. It’s an exciting time, of course, but before you get too carried away with the new toy, it’s a good idea to consider what you might do with your old phone. And here’s a quick clue – “chuck it in the bin” is the wrong answer.

There’s plenty you can do with an old handset, and at the very least, you can dispose of it responsibly. We’re going to look at exactly what your options are in this article, the first being to reuse that phone in some manner.

Reusing smartphones

An old gadget doesn't get much more useful than a slightly dated smartphone. For example, take the iPhone. Without a service plan it's essentially an iPod touch. The only thing it can't do is make phone calls, and even that isn't true if you download a third-party VoIP or video chat service like Skype or Apple's own FaceTime (for use between iOS users). The same goes for just about any smartphone; if it's got storage, apps, and Wi-Fi, it's never truly useless.

And with certain specific apps, your smartphone is always more than just a phone: It's an eBook reader, a gaming device, portable storage, a voice recorder, a streaming media player, an alarm clock, a photo album, an instant messenger, a camera, a universal remote control, and a full-blown digital assistant. Perhaps most importantly, it's the best method for checking IMDb when arguing with friends about who played the waiter at the Chinese restaurant in the scene where the guy gets kidnapped. That handset is still, in short, a little backup handheld computer. None of that changes without phone service, as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection.

Even if it sits in a drawer, it's always handy to have a backup smartphone that you can restore to service if your fancy new one happens to break, or get lost or stolen. Everyone should have a charged cell phone with them for emergencies. Incidentally, be sure all your phones have a contact listed as ICE for "In Case of Emergency" – this is the person first responders and medical personnel will contact on your behalf if they find your phone at an accident.

If you've always wanted to experience what it's like to have an iPhone detached from Apple's ecosystem, an old Apple handset can be unlocked with a jailbreak. Different models and different iOS versions have different methods of jailbreaking, so check out Lifehacker's “Always Up-to-Date Guide to Jailbreaking” before you go too far. Once done, you can get restriction-free apps that change the interface, give you complete music control, reprogram buttons, and much more. And you can just mess around and see what life is like without Apple’s watchful eyes on you.

Recycling smartphones

If two smartphones is one too many for you, donating the old one is the next best thing. You can give it away to a friend, or give it to charity – for example, the British Red Cross runs a phone donation scheme.

Alternatively, if you’d rather make some cash, you can sell it to one of the many companies which makes a living out of buying and reselling pre-owned handsets. Just be careful in the latter case, as some of these firms can be scam operations – to be safe, stick with the big names such as Mazuma. You can even sell your phone back to a network – O2, for example, has a recycling scheme whereby they’ll make you an offer for your old phone.

Whatever you do with your phone, before you give it away to someone else, make sure you reset it back to factory default settings, and erase any of your personal data. While these phone recycling companies will promise to do that for you, it’s best to be safe and do it yourself.