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18 great uses for an old Android device

That outdated Android device in your closet still has a lot to offer -- if you know what to do with it. Here are 18 excellent ways to give new life to an old phone or tablet.

January 16, 2014 06:30 AM ET

Computerworld - Got extra smartphones sitting around your house? How about tablets? As we move multiple generations into mobile technology, more and more of us are building up collections of old, dated devices. And more often than not, those devices do little more than take up space and gather dust.

Here's a little secret, though: Your abandoned Android gadgets are actually virtual gold mines. You just have to find the right way to tap into their potential and give them new life.

So grab the nearest DustBuster and get ready: Here are 18 ways to make your old phone or tablet useful again.

(Note that some apps mentioned here may require your device to have a minimum Android version in order to run. In some cases that might be 2011's Android 4.0 or later, but we also include many apps that work with Android 2.2 and above. See each app's Play Store listing for details.)

1. Turn it into a home media controller

Even the junkiest old Android device has ample power to serve as a high-tech home entertainment controller. There are several ways you can make it work:

  • Pair the phone or tablet with one of Google's $35 Chromecast streaming sticks. You can then keep the Android device on your coffee table and use it to wirelessly cast content from apps like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, HBO Go and Google Play Movies to your TV over your Wi-Fi network. You can also use it to wirelessly cast audio from such services as Pandora, Songza and Google Play Music.
  • Set up a full-fledged home media server using Plex, then use your old device as a dedicated remote to stream your own local content to your TV. (The Plex media server software is free; premium subscriptions with added features start at $4 per month.)
  • Connect the device directly to a TV or audio system -- using the appropriate cable and/or adapter -- and then use it to control playback.
  • Comcast remote control Android app
    This Comcast app is one of many options for controlling entertainment devices from an Android phone or tablet.
  • Install an app to make your device a dedicated remote for your various home entertainment components. If your device has an IR blaster, odds are it already has programmable software in place to do the job -- or try the universal Smart IR Remote app.

    If the device doesn't have an IR blaster, try searching the Google Play Store for specific apps to control your components. A variety of apps are available to remotely control products developed by LG, Panasonic, Sony, Comcast, DirecTV, Roku, Google TV and other manufacturers.

2. Turn it into a kitchen command center

Hard to believe, but my ancient Motorola Xoom tablet is now one of the most used devices in my house. That's because I converted it into a multipurpose command center for our kitchen.

Using a third-party launcher -- Nova Launcher, to be specific -- I simplified the tablet's home screen down to a single panel with shortcuts to a handful of relevant apps. I also added in some easy-to-perform gestures, like double-tapping anywhere on the screen to launch Android's Voice Search function for on-the-fly Web searches and other voice-activated commands.

Android tablet as kitchen command center
An old Motorola Xoom tablet provides info and entertainment right in my kitchen.

In terms of the apps, Netflix is what gets used the most; between that service and a basic docking stand, the tablet has effectively become our cooking-time television. Pandora and Google Play Music are also favorites for stove-side streaming.

Android-based recipe apps can be useful in this sort of setup, too, as can cloud-connected note-taking services -- like Google Drive, Tasks or Evernote -- for easy viewing of personal recipes or always-synced shopping lists that your family maintains from multiple devices. A Google Calendar shortcut or widget can also be convenient, especially if you have a calendar that's shared among multiple family members.

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