Many of us are now at the point where we’re trading in old smartphones for new. The big question is often, what to do with the old one?
Possible solutions include leaving it in a drawer; trading it in; downloading maps and creating a dedicated in-car GPS navigator (Google Maps are now downloadable, so you won’t need an expensive mobile connection because you can update while at home on WiFi); or turning it into a free webcam.
We’ll look at some more solutions in the future, but for now, the last of these is a nice option.
See update published Apr 2, 2020:How to Turn an Old Android Device Into a Cool, Useful Gadget
Turning an old Android phone into a webcam — or weathercam, baby monitor, petcam, nannycam — and streaming the image over a network is fun project, and accomplished with an existing WiFi connection.
Here’s how to go about it.
Step 1: Verify the phone’s network functions
Open the Settings drawer on the retired phone’s Home page and browse to Wireless and Networks. Select Turn on WiFi.
The phone will obtain an IP address and connect if it is configured for your home network. If it won’t connect, open WiFi Settings — it’s in the same area — and choose Add WiFi network.
Then enter the network details like the network name — called SSID — and password. It’s the same information you use to connect a laptop to the network.
Test the connection by browsing to any Web page.
Step 2: Download a webcam app
Browse to the Google Play store and look for a suitable camera streaming app. I’ve been using Pavel Khlebovich’s free IP Webcam, with which I have had success.
Click on the install button and allow the app to install to your device.
Press Start Server or similar within the app and the camera video image will appear on the phone.
Step 3: Configure the viewing medium
Open a Chrome or Firefox browser on a laptop that’s connected to the same router as the phone. You configured this network on the phone in the earlier step.
Tip: The laptop doesn’t have to be on the same wireless network, just the same network.
Enter the IP address of the phone into the browser address bar.
Tip: IP Webcam will tell you what the address is if you click on the “How Do I Connect” button within the app. It will be something like “http://192.168.1.3:8080.” The “:8080” is related to a port — the phone is serving the image and audio much like a website does.
Press the laptop’s Enter button and the phone’s webcam server options page will display on the laptop.
Choose Use Browser Built-In Viewer, or similar, if you’re using Chrome or Firefox — they’re tested to work.
Alternatively, choose Use Java Browser Plugin and agree to any security prompts if you’re using another browser. You may have to install Java Plug-in from the resulting link.
Tip: It can take a moment for the video to display.
Step 4: Locate the phone
Point the camera at the subject using the on-screen image for placement — at a dog run or driveway, for instance. Window panes make good weatherproofing — place the camera inside pointing out of the window.
Tip: Choose a location near a power outlet.
Neat interior placement results can be accomplished with failed automotive phone cradles — the kind that are supposed to attach to the windshield and hold your phone while driving work well for this purpose, if not for their intended one. They often come with double-sided tape. Just make sure the cradle doesn’t obscure the phone’s camera hole.
Tip: Don’t point the camera into the sun. Try to obtain light from behind for best images.
Step 5: Set up power functions
Connect a USB power cable from phone to a wall outlet. Two-year-old and older phones can suffer from battery degradation — the battery holds less charge and expires sooner — so don’t rely on battery power for long-term camera use.
Step 6: Configure the audio medium
Select Click Here to Play Audio with Browser, and the audio will commence. Perform this step last to avoid potential feedback, which can occur if the phone and laptop are close to each other.
Step 7: Take a look
View the resulting video and audio on the laptop.
Want to Ask a Tech Question?
Is there a piece of tech you’d like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that’s got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I’ll try to answer as many as possible in this column.
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