It’s time for a clear out. There’s a good chance you have a phone, or phones, you no longer use lying around at home. Every month its value diminishes, and it heads closer towards an oblivion of security-update-free obsolescence. Let’s do something with it before the situation gets worse.
There are three good routes for your old phone. You can donate it to one of the fistful of charitable organisations that will either put it in the hands of someone in need, or “convert” it to cash without making you do the heavy lifting.
You can sell the phone, using one of the handful of classifieds and auction sites online, or to one of the giant middle-man reseller portals.
Or, the tech nerd favourite, you can find a new job for your old phone. Every Android phone and iPhone is a mini computer, a camera and a control surface with stacks of potential.
But let’s start with donation services that let your phone do a little good in the world.
Donate your phone
Three’s mobile phone donation service is called Reconnected. It’s a partnership with GSUK, a large company that helps retailers and manufacturers avoid landfill by selling old and returned stock. Even when other clients use GSUK to recover some value from returned stock, there’s a positive ethical argument.
Phones you send to Three Reconnected are either recycled, if they fail GSUK’s quality standard checks, or make their way to community organisations. These distribute the phones to those who perhaps cannot afford a device themselves.
The redistributed phones come with a 90-day of free use on Three’s network, after which the recipient needs to sign up for Three services just like anyone else. Three does benefit in the long run, but it offers some of the more affordable SIM-only plans.
Tesco’s phone donation service is called Tesco Mobile Reconnects. It’s a partnership with Crisis, a homelessness charity.
Tesco Mobile Reconnects does not put your phone into the hands of a homeless person. It is “converted to cash”, the proceeds then put into a pot to supply phones and other devices to Crisis. This programme launched in late 2020 and current plans extend to 2023.
Fonebank is a trade-in site, but it also lets you donate part, or all, of the proceeds to one of three charities. These are WaterAid, Oxfam and the National Trust.
This is a sound choice if you want to do some good, but would also like to claw some money back to offset the cost of a new phone.
Community Calling is a partnership between O2 and charity Hubbub. It launched in 2020 as a way to provide phones to “digitally excluded households”. Following a trial run in London, Community Calling has extended to Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, South Wales and Glasgow. It aims to reach 10,000 homes. Donated phones are redistributed with one year of “free credit” from O2.
Little Lives is a small charity that operates three shops in London, in Raynes Park, Tooting and Fulham Broadway. It says phones will either be sent to the “schools, councils and refugee centres” with which it works, or sold to help fund its charity campaigns. You can download a pre-paid envelope from the charity’s website.
Trade in your phone
A stack of companies offer money for traded in phones. These are phone recycling services. Don’t take that term “recycling” too literally. Many simply get your phone in, check it over and then sell it to another person.
You can check these companies’ websites for quotes, they will provide you with a courier label and, usually, pay pretty promptly after it is received.
There are no worries about getting scammed our of your money by a dodgy buyer, only that the courier may lose your phone in transit. However, do take a look at each site’s condition criteria before picking a phone recycler.
And be realistic. You may have stopping seeing that deep 1cm-long scratch on your iPhone’s side, but it’s likely enough to downgrade it to “poor” condition status at many of these recyclers. And that will reduce the amount of money you get. Here are some of the biggest names in phone recycling.
iPhone X value: Up to £215
O2 Recycle is the non warm and fuzzy alternative to O2’s charitable phone recycling programme. It’s administered by Ingram Micro Services Ltd. The contract formed is with that company, rather than O2. Take a read of O2 Recycle’s terms and conditions document, because it details ways the grading system may well reduce the money you receive.
iPhone X value: £175 (£234 credit)
High-street retailer CeX is the obvious place to offload your phone in person. A shop front presence means you will typically receive less money than from one of the remote phone recyclers. However, the figure bumps up significantly if you take store credit rather than cash.
iPhone X value: £245 (£160 “poor” condition)
Mazuma Mobile is one of the best-known phone trade-in sites. It uses just two grades to judge condition, assuming your phone is in reasonable nick. However, bear in mind it will be classed as “poor” if the battery health is below 80 per cent, if it has any case engraving or significant scratches. And if you’ve managed to set off the LDI, liquid damage indicator, it will be classed as faulty.
iPhone X value: £240 (£216 “poor” condition)
Music Magpie is the top alternative to Mazuma Mobile. It uses a near-identical grading system and seems to offer more money for “poor” condition phones in some cases.
iPhone X value: £250 (Or +12% Envirofone cash)
Envirofone is one of the most generous phone trade-in sites. It has a far less black and white grading system than Mazuma Mobile or Music Magpie, and its parent company used to run the trade-in programmes for Three and O2.
However, Envirofone went into administration in July 2020 and was acquired by TES in September. Its terms and conditions suggest your should still get a good trade-in deal for a phone in solid condition, but internal working practices may have changed since the acquisition. Envirofone offers a bonus for payouts in store credit.
Sell your phone privately
Not happy with trade-in values? You can sell your phone privately, and will most likely rake-in more money doing so. But there are some downsides here.
There’s more admin. You’ll need to setup a new account, if you don’t have one already, make a listing and take pictures of your phone. Better pics usually means a better final sale price.
There’s also a risk of getting scammed by a buyer. To avoid this, always send your phone via a tracked service that confirms delivery.
However, this does not fully protect you. Paypal, the service used most often in these transactions, has a very good buyer protection system that can be manipulated by duplicitous online shoppers. But for those willing to risk a headache and a small chance of losing money, private selling nets the most cash.
If a potential buyer asks for something that seems dodgy, like payment via a service you’ve never heard of, or half payment after they’ve received the phone, assume it is dodgy.
You already know about this one. If you want to sell your phone and get the biggest potential audience for your listing, head to eBay. While you’ll likely be able to list for free, eBay charges a 10 per cent final value fee. eBay is in the process of offering direct-to-bank payments, but PayPal transactions come with an additional ~5 per cent fee.
Facebook Marketplace is an obvious place to head if you want to sell your phone locally. Sell in person, covid restrictions allowing, and exchange cash, and you avoid some of the potential headaches of remote private selling. Just make sure your pictures are good and your description is accurate to avoid arguing over the price in a public park.
A smaller, much less aggressive alternative to PayPal or Gumtree. Preloved is an online classifieds website. There are no fees for selling and you can get an account for free. Preloved makes it money by charging membership fees to those who want to respond to recently listed ads and make fancier listings with video embeds and larger image galleries. There’s no payments system so it tends to suit in-person payments.
Home to pelotons’ worth of stolen bikes and small cities of dodgy flat listings, Gumtree is a good place to sell phones locally. It’s much like Facebook Marketplace in this respect. What’s the difference? You simply reach a slightly different audience. Gumtree offers no particular seller protections, so be careful.
Uses for old phones
You don’t actually need to get rid of your old phone. Here are some ideas on how you can put it to good use, both in and out of the home.
GPS eats a phone’s battery. Why not give your old phone a semi-permanent position in your car for Waze and Google Maps navigation? Most phone mounts made for a car’s dashboard have quick release mechanisms so you can avoid attracting thieves who might break in, assuming the phone is still worth nicking.
Smart-home control panel
A control panel for smart-home tech is one of the best new lives for an older phone. Use an app like Ariela to get a front-end for a bunch of different devices, and to drop control widgets onto the home screen to make it seem more like a made-to-measure smart-home interface.
Don’t have too much smart-home tech? You could use the phone as a music controller for audio sent to a hifi via Bluetooth or a Chromecast. Or perhaps a dedicated Wi-Fi Sonos controller? This project might fit well if getting away from your “normal” phone while at home is an issue.
DIY fans might even want to create a wall-mounted MDF housing for the phone that blocks off the outer casing. But keep in mind this will work best for phones with in-screen fingerprint scanners, removing the need for access to the side power button.
If you own a laptop, it probably has a bad webcam. You can use the camera of your old phone as a replacement. This works best using an Android phone and a Windows PC, using the DroidCam app on the phone and the companion client on your laptop.
For iPhones, try Epoccam by Elgato. There are Windows and MacOS clients. For cross-platform use, try Iriun 4K. You experience of lag will vary. Based on our experience DroidCam works best, with virtually zero lag over USB (it can also connect over Wi-Fi).
Buy a phone tripod so you can mount the camera to let you see the screen and look vaguely into the camera at the same time.
Security camera and baby monitor
Your old phone can have a new life as a baby monitor or smart security camera. Download Alfred on your current and old phones and one can monitor the camera view from another. Alfred is free to use and download. It’s packed with ads but these can be removed if you upgrade to either Alfred Premium or Plus. Plus is a one-off purchase that removes ads. Premium uses a subscription model that unlocks advanced features like motion detection and cloud storage of recorded clips.
If you already use a camera system such as Nest, for example, keep in mind you can make your old phone a dedicated viewer for these apps, too.
More great stories from WIRED
🧮 The UK can’t even keep track of its spiralling Covid-19 case numbers
💉 Inside the race to stop the next pandemic
🏋️ Gyms are closed so which workout app is better? Apple Fitness+ vs Peloton vs Fiit