Sooner or later, you’re going to end up with a digital device you don’t use anymore—be that a smartphone, tablet, or even an e-ink reader. What can you do with one of these gizmos you no longer need? There are quite a few alternatives, depending on what kind of device it is. Some of them, you might not even have thought of. Let’s take a look.
For starters, of course, there are always eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, and other such options for selling or giving away your gadget. Those are so obvious that they almost go without saying—the only reason I really bring them up is so you’ll know I didn’t forget to mention them. But I’m assuming you’re going to want to do something more creative and potentially useful to society with your gadget.
Note that most of these uses assume that your device is still useful. If your gizmo is broken and no longer fit for use, don’t just throw it away—turn it in at a Best Buy or other tech recycling company and they’ll recycle it so it stays out of a landfill.
The first thing you should do is make sure you wipe or factory reset your device—though this is much more important for smartphones and tablets than for e-readers. You don’t want any of your personal information, old e-mail, passwords, etc. winding up in someone else’s hands. For Android devices, go to Settings, and then check under “Backup.” For iOS devices, it should be under Settings and “General.” Also be sure to deactivate any account-based anti-theft features such as iOS’s “Activation Lock.”
The leftover device you’re most likely to have will probably be a smartphone, simply because so many people use them now and there’s so much incentive to upgrade to the newest and shiniest smartphone every year. If you’re on a yearly upgrade path because of new and shiny, there’s probably still a lot of potential use left in your old gadget—assuming, of course, that you still have it, given that a number of carriers or retailers offer credit for trade-ins of old devices on upgrades, and there are even cash-for-used-phones vending machines in many malls. Itemcycle is another service that will buy your old phone. But here are some possibilities in case you still do have the old phone.
It’s also possible you might just want to keep your old phone as a spare for your own use as an e-reader, or in case something goes wrong with your main phone. That’s also a valid use for it, and you can certainly change your mind at any time.
Pass it on—if you can
If you personally know someone with an older phone or none at all who might be able to use your gizmo, either as a phone of their own or as a no-carrier WiFi Internet device and e-reader, why not give it to them? (Especially if they’re a younger person who might not be able to afford one on their own.) Note that not all phones will work properly without a carrier (the way the $10 LG Sunrise will), and you might want to try yours out first. For example, my Republic Wireless Moto X keeps trying to connect to a cellular service to update every few minutes, even when I turn data off. Conversely, some phones are locked to specific carriers (like the aforementioned Moto X) so they might not be useful to someone on a different carrier already. Fortunately, there are other alternatives.
Donate it to a helpful cause
A number of national and local charitable organizations make use of smartphones (and, in some cases, any “dumbphones” you might still have lying around from before you went “smart”). Many domestic-abuse centers reprogram cell phones to make emergency calls for people who have reason to fear someone might want to harm them. Verizon Wireless works with one such center called HopeLine, and the National Coalition against Domestic Violence and Shelter Alliance also take phone donations. Or you can check your local phone listings to see if there is a shelter in your area. Another possibility is a local homeless shelter or job-seeking center; if the phone can be activated with a carrier, it could provide a useful contact point for someone seeking employment. Check with the centers in your area and see if they are looking for such donations.
Other organizations can make use of smartphones for other reasons. Rainforest Connection equips donated smartphones with solar chargers and uses them as deforestation monitors to fight illegal logging and poaching. Cellphones for Soldiers uses them to help connect US soldiers with their loved ones. NASCAR’s Recycle for Victory program uses cellphone donations to help send kids with chronic illnesses to summer camp. If you’re looking for other local organizations that could use your phone, AmericanCellPhoneDrive.org can point you in the right direction.
With the ability to read e-books, view media, browse the web, and read email, even an out-of-date tablet can still be useful. As with smartphones, you can always pass it on to someone else you know. Also, some of the above charities can help you recycle your tablets as well as smartphones—Cellphones for Soldiers can use them in addition to smartphones, for example. But there are a couple of other possibilities that might help.
Shelters and job centers
Tablets can be very useful to people who have no home or computer of their own. They may not be up to completely replacing a computer, but they can serve as an e-mail drop for job seekers, and a way to compose and send out a resume. Some homeless shelters (such as Horizon House in Indianapolis) host job-search centers and services for their residents, and may be able to pass donated tablets along to people who can use them.
Schools or libraries
Your local school or public library may also be able to make some use of a tablet you no longer need. But before you drop your tablet off, give them a call and check. Not all schools or libraries will have that sort of program, and if they don’t, the most they could do with your tablet would be to pass it on to some other agency, or sell it at a friends-of-the-library sale as they do with unwanted donated books.
A number of charities effectively treat tablets the same as they do e-book readers, so it’s likely that many of the organizations listed in the next section will be as happy to have your donated tablet as they would an e-ink reader.
A used e-ink reader is at the same time one of the most and least useful used devices. It’s most useful because the only thing that really changes about e-readers is the sharpness of the e-ink screen. You don’t need a powerful processor to read an e-book, and a first-generation Kindle will still work just as well today as it did when it was new. But at the same time, it’s not good for much more than the single specific purpose of reading e-books. Fortunately, there are still plenty of situations where that purpose will be extremely useful.
Schools or libraries
As with tablets, it is possible your local school or library might have a use for e-readers, especially if it has an e-book checkout program of its own. Again, don’t assume—call them and check first.
One of the benefits of e-readers is that they’re relatively simple to use and you can increase the font size on any e-book you read—and many seniors enjoy reading. Why not check with your local center and see if they could use your e-reader? (They might be able to use your tablet, too, but it’s possible many elderly people might find them too confusing.)
There are plenty of literacy charities that can make use of e-readers. Project Hart is a non-profit set up in honor of Project Gutenberg founder Michael Hart, which will load up e-readers, tablets, and “similar devices” with thousands of free e-books and pass them along to a child in need of reading. (Found via The Digital Reader.) Develop Africa takes e-reader and Kindle donations. Iserotope accepts Generation-2-and-up Kindles for use in San Francisco and Oakland classrooms. Ebooks for Troops accepts Generation-2-and-up-Kindles for use by American soldiers.
Any Other Ideas?
Did I miss your favorite charity or donation center? Please leave a comment to let us know of any other worthy causes who are looking for device donations!
You said, “my Republic Wireless Moto X keeps trying to connect to a cellular service to update every few minutes, even when I turn data off.”
If you put the phone in airplane mode, that should prevent it from trying to contact the carrier.
Maybe so, but then I couldn’t use it with WiFi either. Which would mean I could still read e-books with it, or play other locally-stored media, but not much else.
Yes, you can still use wif-fi in airplane mode, on every device I have used. You just can’t get texts or calls.
Huh. Looks like you’re right. I’d always noticed going to airplane mode turned off my WiFi and Bluetooth, but I’d never tried turning them back on. It seems I can. It remains to be seen, though, whether this stops the phone from trying to update with Republic. Will see.
An old smartphone without a data plan still makes a good emergency phone (can’t remember what year but at least 5 years ago all smartphones required to have e-911 service). I use an old phone for an MP3 player. It is smaller than my current phone and easier to tuck into my pocket when going on walks. I won’t be disturbed by calls, etc. but make a 911 call if needed.
I bought an inexpensive dock and use an old iPad as an entertainment center for my shop. Besides the loaded songs and videos I can use Pandora and iRadio apps. Whole thing is connected to an old garage sale amplifier and stereo speakers.
I have a great idea! I have donated all my old Kindle devices to the most AMAZING and wonderful organization called the Kindle Classroom Project. This guy, Mark, fixes us these old Kindles and then loans them to high schools around the Bay Area, because, apparently, a lot of kids really love reading on Kindles. I donated when he started out and had 15 or so Kindles. Last I checked, he was up to 600! He’s got people all over the world sending him Kindles, which means he has 600 Kindles in students’ hands. It’s so cool! You should check him out and definitely spread the word: j.mp/kcpdonatekindle
Thanks for the information! Great post!
If you’re not comfortable with larger charities and want to actually see your e-reader (or financial) donation at work, donate your kindle to the Kindle Classroom Project. If you donate a Kindle or e-books to KCP, it’ll go to students in need. In return you’ll get things such as handwritten thank you notes, updates and the ability to keep up with the impact of your donation(s). Much better than blindly donating to larger corps and not knowing where your technology or dollars end up. Check out the KCP at http://iserotope.com/kindle-classroom-project/ or http://www.kindleclassroomproject.org/