back to article Under that pile of spare keys and obsolete cables is an IoT device: Samsung pushes useful retirement project for older phones

Smartphones have a finite usefulness before they’re stuffed in a drawer, or shipped to a recycling facility where they’re disassembled and melted down for raw materials. Hoping to extend that short lifespan is Samsung, which was pushing a program called “Galaxy Upcycling at Home” at CES 2021 earlier this week. Galaxy Upcycling …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Samsung pushes useful retirement project for older phones..."

    For Samsung, an older phone is one older than 6 months.

    1. Outski

      Well, my S5 lasted well, got it in 2014, then passed it on to the Outskette in 2019. It only got replaced this Christmas just gone, so I'd say it went significantly past 6 months.

  2. 45RPM Silver badge

    That older phone is the phone that I use every day. It works for messages, it works as a phone, it shows websites, it plays music. The camera is… adequate. Why on earth would I want to replace it or use it as something other than a phone? This obsession with the new shiny shiny is out of hand (Grumble, grumble, grumble).

    Sometimes I really feel like the living embodiment of the exploding granny character from Worms. Albeit that I’m not female.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      I find the lifespan of most phones these days is defined by how long the battery lasts, and how long you can continue to get battery replacements after that before the cost of replacing the battery exceeds the cost of a new phone...

      1. 45RPM Silver badge

        I've had the battery replaced in my iPhone, and the phone serviced with it, at an official Apple store (albeit that I'm really not sure that the chap who replaced the battery, pleasant though he was, really qualifies as a genius - I may be wrong though) for significantly less than the cost of a new phone - either Android or iOS. And if a phone can be purchased for less than £50 then I'm prepared to bet that it's a seriously junky and disposable piece of tech!

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Being mass-market phones, spare batteries for old iPhones are probably not too hard to come by. At least until Apple decides to cut off the supply.

          I used to use an HTC-10, which was a very nice phone for its generation, and about half the price of the equivalent iPhone, with, IIRC, a much better camera, amongst other better specs. The phone's only downfall was the rather weedy battery, which would only last a day before needing charging, and would last less if using battery-hungry apps. The rather beefy processor probably didn't help in this regard. Anyway, as well as needing charging frequently, the battery life wasn't great, and after about 18 months, it wouldn't hold much of a charge at all. Unlike Apple, trying to find a replacement battery was nigh-on impossible, so after going through a couple of cheap reconditioned ones, I was forced to buy a new phone (in this case a Xiaomi Redmi Note 9) at about 1/6th the cost of a new iPhone. Okay, the specs might not be as great as an iPhone, but it's a perfectly adequate phone, is dual SIM and takes an SD card for storage, and, most importantly, isn't locked into Apple's ecosystem. When it's time to replace it in 2-3 years time (or longer), I expect I'll be able to get an equivalent 5G one for a similar price, without having to splash out £1200. All-in, I've probably spent less than half of what I would have done on an iPhone and replacement batteries every 18 months.

      2. druck Silver badge

        For me it's not the battery, but the micro USB port which goes stopping me charging the battery. My Galaxy S7 just like the S5 before it, is becoming increasingly difficult to connect. It will eventually stop charging, despite having a battery with plenty of life, and otherwise working perfectly.

        At least with the S7 I could get a wireless charging pad, but then I'd also need one for the car, assuming there is ever a need to go anywhere again.

    2. elip

      Wish I could give you more upvotes. I run an 8 soon to be 9 year old Motorola Droid 4, mostly for its unmatched physical QWERTY keyboard. I admit, I use it for texting, notes, and as an ssh client more so than a phone, but it certainly still handles phone calls without fail. :-D Assuming I can keep finding the batteries, and that I can keep builds of LineageOS booting, I hope to run it another 8 years. Yes, yes, of course completely 'insecure' if I can no longer update LineageOS, but then, I tend to use my phone as a largely publicly accessible device that all phones on our current mobile networks truly are.

  3. Captain Hogwash

    Already doing it

    Automate running on Galaxy S3. Phone logged into a free SIP account. Cheap shower bluetooth speaker connected to it and fixed outside front door.

    User, er I mean visitor presses button on speaker, phone calls the only account it knows, the phone I'm carrying rings, I tell the guy where to put the parcel.

  4. MatsSvensson

    Certified second life ready

    It should be mandated that you should be able to pop out the battery easily without destroying the device.

    That way the battery could be recycled, and the rest could be reused as something else.

    You dont want a bunch of geriatric batteries charging 24/7 all over the place.

    Plus as bonus, if it easy to pop an old battery out, it's probably also easy to replace it.

    No more brittle lumps of solid glue, thanks.

    1. the hatter

      Re: Certified second life ready

      Also implies either they'll have a through-power mode, so they don't need a battery all. And better yet, for untethered uses, first- party, reasonably priced replacement batteries. The biggest problem with replacement batteries is finding ones you can trust. If paying £10 for one guaranteed me a more reliable cell than a £1 I would do that, but most of the market is shonky £1 batteries priced at all levels above.

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    “Galaxy Upcycling at Home”

    When replacing the black hole remember to dispose of the old one responsibly.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Just chuck it into the new one. Eat your gamma-ray burst, or you won't get any dessert.

  6. Sparkus

    Using TouchPoint....

    I turn my old phones and one tablet into touch screen controller........

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Using TouchPoint....

      Got a link? It appears touchpoint is on the bullshit bingo card so it's impossible to find.

  7. mark l 2 Silver badge

    So is this an app that runs on top of Android or a replacement for the whole OS to make it into an IoT device?

    If they are just providing an app then what about the security patches for the underlying OS if these are going to be internet enabled?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Jesus, I was thinking about maybe getting an S8 to replace my old phone..

  9. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Reality check

    "shipped to a recycling facility where they’re disassembled and melted down for raw materials"

    Or commonly "shipped to a recycling facility that dumps them in bulk on remote third world villages where they get crudely broken down by hand or burned on bonfires"

    Average annual per capita e-waste production (2019) from the Global E-waste Monitor

    Africa 2.5 kg

    Asia 5.6 kg

    America 13.3 kg

    Oceania 16.1 kg

    Europe 16.2 kg

    Strangely (or maybe not) the two lowest per capita producers get landed with handling most of the ultimate disposal.

  10. Jim-234

    An option to turn them into security cameras would make this really popular

    If they had the option to turn it into a manageable IP connected security camera that would probably be the single application that would make this explode in popularity.

    Attach a charger cable stick the phone somewhere with a bit of double sided tape and security camera for the house done.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Re: An option to turn them into security cameras would make this really popular

      Especially if it's a Galaxy Note 7.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: An option to turn them into security cameras would make this really popular

      There are already ways to make a phone relay its camera to something else, so you could already configure that. It would involve some work on the system which takes the video from the phone and makes it useful, but that's the same problem you get with any other camera. The problem with a phone used for this purpose is that they're usually not so designed to be taped up outdoors. Even the ones sealed for water resistance aren't expecting long-term exposure. Anything on the outside of the building is likely to be exposed to sunlight, solar heating, cold not often seen indoors, and precipitation. The hardware may not enjoy those conditions, and at least two of them have been known to create battery problems.

      1. SlippyBuckfast

        Re: An option to turn them into security cameras would make this really popular

        can do that now - i use 'AtHome' app.

        only issue is that I've gone through 3 phones now, since plugged in all the time the battery charging circuitry seems to be absolute shite. so after about a year the battery starts blowing up like a whale, inflating the whole phone till it stops working. by then its buggered it and a new battery isn't enough.

        all caused by crap charging circuitry. So far thats been one chinese thing, one motorola, and the last a very nice samsung s6..

    3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: An option to turn them into security cameras would make this really popular

      Attach a charger cable stick the phone somewhere with a bit of double sided tape and security camera for the house done.

      Until some passing low-life sees it & thinks "hey, a free phone", that is.

      1. Captain Hogwash

        Re: Until some passing low-life sees it & thinks "hey, a free phone", that is.

        Do you think the phone might take photos/video of them stealing it?

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Until some passing low-life sees it & thinks "hey, a free phone", that is.

          There have been videos of people stealing security cameras.

      2. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: An option to turn them into security cameras would make this really popular

        > Until some passing low-life sees it & thinks "hey, a free phone"

        Indeed, a glitzy "$1000 till recently" smartphone taped to the wall is perfect as a means to control criminals! But that's not all.

        First of all there are all the technical issues like powering 24/7 something built for occasional charging (I want a camera, not a Claymore mine!), aiming and zooming a smartphone camera towards the area of interest (which is rarely level and straight ahead), protecting the phone from excessive temperatures and humidity (if only its charging plug...), and finding a power outlet close enough to plug that USB charger...

        And for what result? There is nothing sillier than a big, glitzy smartphone taped to the wall with a charging cable dangling under it... I mean, if I were a passing burglar I would pinch it just for the LoLs.

        Seriously, like everyone I have a couple old phones, and have pondered myself using one of them for that use, but quickly abandoned the idea. A choice of (apparently) adequate software exists (just search the Play Store), but the devices themselves are totally unsuitable as even semi-serious IP cameras.

  11. Jean Le PHARMACIEN

    My old Motos...

    Use mine as remote controls for the Kodi boxes masquerading as TVs round the house.

    As a bonus, they can run my MPD music server, let me track network status at my UK address 700 miles away and even act act as wireless phones round house thanks to PSTN to wifi bridge...

    1. Craig 2

      Re: My old Motos...

      An old iPhone 4 made a great dedicated kodi remote, but now the family just has the app on their current phones. Since it seems phones are permanently glued to their hands it removes the need to even get up and look for the remote!

  12. MCPicoli

    S8 and S9 old?

    Only in Samsung's mind... I have in some drawer somewhere the following galaxies: S1, S3 (2x), S5, S7 and a S8 (almost destroyed). All of the other ones are in perfectly fine condition, only hopelessly obsolete.

    Samsung could do the right thing and:

    - Unlock their bootloaders

    - Release the device's technical documentation

    - Release source code for their kernel drivers, etc.

    Allowing the community to create something really safe and useful with this old hardware.

    1. don't you hate it when you lose your account

      Re: S8 and S9 old?

      Was just what I was thinking. Let me pop a lightweight Linux on them and let the fun begin.

    2. sinsi

      Re: S8 and S9 old?

      My old S5 is running android 10 via LineageOS 17. The bonus of no Google/Samsung crap is a battery which lasts longer (2+ days) than my A71.

      1. Thicko

        Re: S8 and S9 old?

        lineageos on an S5 is surprisingly nippy. I set one up for my mum and she is very happy with it pottering about the BBC food pages. She has now even mastered the art of accidentally calling me on Whatsapp (yes I know, I should change it to Signal!).

    3. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: S8 and S9 old?

      > - Unlock their bootloaders

      You missed the point of this whole exercise: It's all about consoling people for the ridiculous life expectancy of their extremely expensive gadgets. "Yes, your $1000+ smartphone will be landfill next year, but look, you've gained a free baby monitor!"

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Agreed with (and upvoted) a few above comments. Hey Samsung: update the OS (at least with security patches) and the usefullness of an "old" phone is greatly improved.

    1. nagyeger


      If too miserly to update the OS, then they could at least provide some kind of support-in-kind to the good folks at lineageOS* and give users and an easy 'Samsung are not supporting your phone any more, click here to upgrade to community-supported lineageOS'

      *yes I know, other AOSP flavours exist.

  14. Dippywood

    At the risk of being boring... shows another introduction - from 2017, no less.

    It seems that the project has taken a little time to reach fruition...

  15. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    I have an ancient Moto G that I use in the garage as the screen for a bore scope remote camera that allows me to inspect the piston crowns of an engine without taking it apart. Once rooted and with all the bloatware uninstalled it works fine for it's purpose and the battery holds enough charge for a couple of hours usage.

    The biggest problems with repurposing older Android devices are the older versions of Android themselves and a simple lack of RAM. With the right software they could be repurposed into security cameras, vehicle trackers, and a whole raft of other functions.

  16. Persona

    Green credentials

    I see this as a PR gimmick. How many old phones will end up being repurposed in this way? One in a thousand sounds wildly optimistic even for the people here. Even then all it does it postpone the recycling date by a year or two.

  17. clyde666

    It's about the battery

    I got a new phone before Christmas, chose the model because it has a replaceable battery.

    Great, yes it does.

    Except there's no batteries available for it, none in the country.

    Motorola E6 plus.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: It's about the battery

      I did the same, but with a Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro.

      Removeable battery. And I can get spares.

      Wired headset.

      USB-C standards.

      Clean, up-to-date Android.

      Dual SIM (if you buy the right model).

      I wonder when companies will realise that "removeable battery" is a feature, not a bug.

    2. Persona

      Re: It's about the battery

      To be fair that phone came out in October 2019 so there will be very few people looking for replacement batteries. They do seem to be available locally on ebay though the price is high. As time goes on and it becomes less of a niche purchase the demand will grow and competition will bring the price down.

  18. Lee D Silver badge

    Great I have an S4 Mini, and S5 Mini and a Galaxy Ace.

    What can I do with those?

    I'll tell you what - install LineageOS and maybe get another few years out of them as phones, not to mention use them as universal IR remote controls for the Mini's (they came with IR blasters by default). The Ace, though, is pretty much bin material and/or emergency phone only.

    Samsung hasn't released updates for any of them in literally years, you'd think they'd at least have the decency to open the bootloaders etc. to make turning them into LineageOS machines a bit easier.

  19. IGotOut Silver badge

    My old knackered phone.. used as a media player in the car (Music and Podcasts)

    And my old tablet is a desk mounted audio streamer for my HiFi.

    Doesn't take a lot of imagination to use old shiny.

  20. Open Sauce

    Anyone willing to wager when Apple will follow suit ?

    Nope i didn't think so.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like