Upcycle Old Phones By Turning Them Into Security Cameras

The smartphone – or at least, the smartphone we know today with touchscreens in the place of keypads – is a bit over 10 years old at the time of this writing. Since then, they’ve come a long way. Advancements in microtechnology have made smartphone processors faster, their cameras are clearer, their screens larger and more vibrant, their batteries larger and longer-lasting, and their software smoother and more intuitive. As a result, our smartphones have effectively replaced a lot of the gadgets that used to be separate units, combining them all into a device only the fraction of the size of a typical computer.

Smartphones have come a long way, that much is true, but these gadgets as we know them today are not without their flaws. One flaw in particular plagues all modern smartphones up to this day – longevity. No, it’s not about the battery, which has honestly improved quite a bit over the past few years. The problem with smartphones is that, despite their utility, they are not designed to stay that way for a very long time. Instead, smartphone manufacturers, in a bid to sell more and more smartphones, deliberately design their smartphones to go obsolete very quickly. For example, the iPhone 3GS was initially released in 2009 and went obsolete in 2012 – a span of only three years.

To put things into perspective, typical desktop computers will work reliably for about 5 years, but because all of the computer’s parts are built using standardised ports and connectors, new parts can easily be integrated into the old system if an individual part breaks – in other words, desktop computers effectively cannot go obsolete. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for smartphones, as they are manufactured using a system on chip design that locks all of the important parts into one complicated, delicate sandwich. In other words, if even one component breaks, the entire phone has to be replaced. Ultimately, these smartphones’ very short life cycles result in millions of people ending up with phones that work perfectly fine but are now deemed obsolete by their manufacturers, effectively rendering them useless.

If you happen to have an obsolete yet fully functioning phone or two laying around collecting dust, there may be some hope for it yet. As it turns out, you can give your old smartphone a new lease on life by giving it a new job – like, say, a security camera. In this article, we will discuss how you can do just that.

Step 1: Set up the phone

Before anything else, you would need to prepare the phone itself. First off, you have to check the phone and make sure that, at the very least, its display, power buttons, and cameras are all in working condition. For the cameras, you would ideally want the rear-facing camera to be in good condition as it often has a higher resolution than the front-facing camera, but the front camera will suffice if you have no other options. Once you have that down, you would need to download and install a security camera app for it. Normally this step would take the most time, since you would need to do a bit of research into finding the right app that offers all of the features that you need, isn’t too expensive, and most importantly, is compatible with the phone you will be using.

To save you the trouble of going through that entire process, however, we recommend that you get the Alfred camera app. We chose this security camera app in particular for its robust set of useful features that are accessible to you before you even spend a dime on the app. Alfred’s features include secure live streaming of your camera footage, free cloud storage for that footage, motion detection alerts (where the security camera alerts you if it detects suspicious motion), and the ability to connect multiple cameras to the same account, allowing you to create an entire home surveillance system made up of only old smartphones. Alfred is also compatible with a wide range of smartphones, with the iOS app capable of supporting Apple devices running iOS 6 or later (or as old as the iPhone 3GS) and the Android app supporting version 4.2 of the OS and later (or as old as the Samsung Galaxy S3). The app itself runs ads by default, but you can have these removed and also gain access to HD recording and streaming of your camera’s footage by paying for their Premium subscription of about $4 a month.

Step 2: Set up the accessories

Now that you have your phone all set up, you’ll need to buy a couple more things. As you’ve probably already noticed, modern smartphones are not exactly designed with the job of a stationary, always-on security camera in mind. A lot of smartphone manufacturers are pushing smartphone design year after year towards a sleeker, smoother, and more luxurious aesthetic, and the resulting slim form factors with rounded edges make these phones incapable of standing upright on their own. To solve this problem, you will need to buy a tripod for your phone. Ideally you would want the tripod to be flexible so you can set it up in a variety of locations and positions. If you already own a tripod, you can alternatively buy a phone mount for the tripod, which usually costs little more than a dollar.

Next, you’ll need to connect your smartphone to a constant power source. Most smartphone charging cables are only 4 feet or 1.2 metres long. Although this length is useful for a majority of cases, it may be a bit too short if, say, you are mounting your camera on the ceiling while the power outlet is close to the floor. If this happens, you’ll need a longer cable.

Step 3: Put it all together

This last step is the simplest one; now that you have all the materials you need, it’s time to activate your security camera app, mount your phone onto your tripod, secure your phone onto your chosen location, plug it into your power source, then let it run. The rest is up to you.