A new iPhone in October? A better digital camera before your vacation? A faster notebook for the next lockdown? Manufacturers of electronic devices launch new models on the market every year. Consumers gratefully receive them. Because they are faster, sharper, bigger or simply better. Electronics, it seems, have a short half-life.
What happens next is a tragedy. Many old devices end up in the trash. The mountains of electronic waste are growing steadily. Worldwide, there are 55 million tons per year. What doesn’t end up in the garbage lies around unused.
Yet these devices can still do good service. They have a second life slumbering inside them. Upcycling is what hobbyists call it and play new software on them or make small changes. In this way, old things become useful again. Sometimes it’s even quite simple.
More megapixels, a higher video resolution or simply smaller: digital cameras are among the electronic products that are often bought new. Almost every household therefore still has an older model that is no longer in use. Especially now during the Corona pandemic, these are little treasures. Because during video conferences with Zoom or teams in the home office or homeschooling, their image quality beats any notebook webcam.
External webcams that plug into computers have doubled in price in many cases during the Corona pandemic. Many manufacturers of digital SLR and mirrorless compact cameras now offer software for computers that turns digital cameras into webcams. At Canon, the program for Mac computers and Windows computers is called “EOS Webcam Utility”.
Once installed, the camera must now be connected to the computer via a USB cable and the movie mode set. In the video conferencing software on the computer, the user then just selects “EOS Webcam Utility”. This works with more than 40 different EOS and PowerShot models from Canon. At Nikon, the software is called “Nikon Webcam Utility”, at Panasonic it is called “Lumix Webcam Software” and at Sony it is the “Imaging Edge Webcam”.
Old smartphones can be used in many ways – and are thus capable of solving many problems. Most recently, Samsung unveiled its plans for “Galaxy Upcycling at Home” in January. The company is preparing software that will turn old Galaxy smartphones into baby monitors, for example. In this case, the smartphone is placed in the child’s room and sends a message to the parent’s smartphone when the baby wakes up and starts crying.
There are already a large number of apps in the Google and Apple app stores that can do just that, including Babyphone 3G, Mam Baby Phone and Dormi. In most cases, the apps are installed on both smartphones. If you don’t have a baby, you can also turn your old smartphone into a remote control. Some older Android devices have a built-in infrared transmitter, for example the Galaxy S4, S5 or S6, or even the G5. However, many electronic devices can also be controlled remotely via Bluetooth or WLAN.
There are several hundred of these applications for iPhones and Android smartphones in the respective stores, including “Any Note” or the “Universal TV Remote Control”. Even old cell phones without smartphone functions can be reused. If you remove the battery from an old Siemens cell phone, you can store your cash there – and be pretty sure that burglars won’t touch these devices.
Anyone who takes a look at a running CRT PC monitor or CRT TV today has no regrets about switching to high-resolution flat-panel displays. It’s hard to get a sharper picture out of the old devices. But the bulky housings can still perform any number of tasks.
They are popular as flower boxes, trash cans or bookshelves, for example. If you have pets, you can free the case from its inner workings, put a cushion inside and leave it as a new home for the cat or dog. The colorful iMac G3, which Apple presented in 1998, has now been given a second life as a stylish hanging lamp in many places.
By the way, the successor to the colorful all-in-one iMac was the iMac G4, which was called a “desk lamp” while it was still alive – and later converted by some to exactly that.
If you replace your router, you can still use the old device: for example, as a repeater to extend the WLan into the garden or to previously unserved areas in the house. AVM’s Fritzboxes even have their own “mesh bridge” mode for this purpose and can thus cooperate with more modern devices without any problems.
But be careful: Devices that are too old can slow down modern WLans because they occupy frequencies. Alternatively, the routers can also be used for a second wireless network alongside the first – for example, if you want to physically separate smart home devices from the rest of the home network for security reasons. Last but not least, users can use their devices for free wifi projects like the Freifunk network if they want to give their neighborhood free Internet access.
Those who replace their old tablet, even though the screen still works well, can put it on the shelf as a digital picture frame. There, it can display current pictures directly from the owner’s smartphone – as long as the owner uses a photo cloud like Google Photo or Apple’s Photos. All that is needed is an app that is connected to the owner’s cloud accounts.
Android tablets, for example, become a photo display with the “Fotoo” app or the “Digital Photo Frame Slideshow” app. Apple’s iPads already come with suitable software.
Alternatively, old tablets can also be used to display YouTube videos in a continuous loop. What sounds pointless can be fun if you start a video of an aquarium, a fireplace or a livestream from an eagle’s nest.
Chips and other components
If you’re completely cannibalizing old computers, you can creatively repurpose the shiny gold components, such as CPUs or memory chips – for example, as Christmas tree ornaments. Old keyboards can be used to make an analog message board, and the magnets in old hard drives are very strong and can be used as photo holders.
Electronic components such as transistors or multi-legged IO chips are also suitable for craft ideas. If you want to give it a try, you can find ideas on the Pinterest platform under the keyword “Upcycling electronic components”.