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HR-shutterstock_370027193We show you how to turn your smartphone into every gadget you could ever need

We look at how even the cheapest smartphone can be turned into a computer, a games console, a smart TV device and a satnav among other things, with just a few apps and simple accessories.

Your phone is likely already an indispensable part of your daily life, keeping you in touch with friends, family and colleagues. It’s a communicator, but also a source of entertainment, with millions of apps and games available at your fingertips. What you may not realise, though, is that some of these apps (in combination with the right accessories) can turn your smartphone into other gadgets entirely, saving you money and putting everything from your old stereo to your pedometer and even your laptop on notice.

Crucially, you don’t need a brand new phone with a lavish touchscreen the size of your face to run any of these either. If you’ve got a phone running Android, iOS or Windows Phone, no matter how old or small, you can likely take advantage of these tips and tricks, which is great news, especially if your last handset is in a drawer somewhere, gathering dust. Without further ado, let’s see what your trusty smartphone (or tablet) can transform into.


Your smartphone is just as capable of providing precise directions to a location as a dedicated satellite navigation device, even at 70 miles per hour, if not more so. It’s painless to set up and of course has the decided advantage of being able to send text messages and answer calls via voice control at the same time. Can your old GPS that’s always sending you down non-existent roads do that?

The pros: Not only does every smartphone come with GPS built in, they all have direct access to the web too – which means data is bang up to date, unlike a traditional satnav without a means to get online. Plus, the best apps are entirely free to download and use.
The cons: If you’re unable to download maps before you leave, grabbing these while you’re abroad on holiday can be prohibitively expensive.

The apps to use
1 Google Maps (iOS, Android, free)
You’ve probably used Google Maps to find where you’re going before on foot, but you may not realise it has a navigation mode that not only provides turn by turn directions for driving, but even factors in live traffic data, indicating areas of congestion up ahead of you with uncanny accuracy in red. Google Maps doesn’t make downloading map data in advance very straightforward, unlike HERE, so it’s best used at home rather than abroad, but is otherwise peerless.
2 HERE (iOS, Android, free)
HERE once formed fallen mobile giant Nokia’s map division, but is now its own separate company. As a result, it’s made its excellent mapping app available freely on both major mobile platforms. HERE’s not as powerful for point of interest data as Google Maps, but has a killer USP: you can download maps for any country in advance over Wi-Fi, meaning that you can turn data off on your phone and still enjoy the benefits of GPS guidance while driving on holiday (since GPS itself does not use up any data).
3 Waze (iOS, Android, free)
Waze (owned by Google) is all about community reporting. Users flag up unexpected events on their journeys and even share data like where in the region to get the cheapest petrol prices. This isn’t especially helpful if you’re driving somewhere unfamiliar, but if you have a regular commute, it is – and is the best way to get alerts of any unexpected jams, closures or even crashes that might make you late.

How to get started
Most apps are very straightforward: just type in your destination and hit navigate to start. You’ll probably want to buy a screen mount for your phone (make sure it’s the right size for your model) and, if it’s a long journey, a USB adaptor to keep your phone on charge – though many newer cars now have USB ports in the dash already.

Should you do it?
Absolutely. Unless you run a large logistics company and need specialist software, there’s no reason you should buy a dedicated satnav in 2016. The apps for your phone are convenient and up to date.

Home stereo

Got Wi-Fi at home and a beefy pair of analog speakers, but no means to connect them? Of course you have: your phone. Even if they lack Bluetooth connectivity, many of the oldest radios and home sound systems provide an audio-in port, and that’s all you need to get started. Just connect them to your phone like you would a pair of headphones, and hey presto – all that music on your mobile can be played in your living room.

The pros: A wealth of apps with huge audio libraries, bypassing your phone’s tinny speakers.
The cons: Sound quality isn’t optimal as your phone does the audio processing.

The apps to use
1 Spotify (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, free or subscription)
The biggest and best. Spotify’s Connect programme makes it easy to play music on supported devices – they’ll just appear on your phone screen, no wires needed. If your old speakers aren’t Connect certified, you can still output tunes through them streamed via your phone, if you can cope with connecting them with an unsightly cable. Using the Spotify Connect programme will save you paying for Spotify Premium, which is usually needed to stream to other devices, though you’ll have to put up with ads of course.
2 TuneIn Radio (iOS, Android, free)
Turn your old analog radio into an internet one and access any of over 100,000 live radio stations from all over the world, in any genre, using the free app – or subscribe to drop the ads. Many old radios support audio-in, which means you can plug your phone into them and play music off it through them, almost as if they were headphones plugged into the handset.
3 Power Amp (Android, free)
You can grab much higher quality sounding tunes in advance using sites like HDTRacks, which let you purchase lossless audio file format versions of songs. You’ll need the right app to open these FLAC files, however, and PowerAmp is the best of them, handling these hefty files with nimble ease and no annoying stutter.

How to get started
If your speakers support Bluetooth you can pair wirelessly and start streaming from most music apps. If not, you’ll need a 3.5mm audio cable to plug your phone in.

Should you do it? 
Not if you’re an audiophile. Plugging your mobile phone in means it’s not very mobile, and streaming over Bluetooth doesn’t sound as good as a CD. But for music in the garden? Go right ahead, we say.

Smart TV

You’re no doubt used to watching YouTube clips on your phone by this point, but you may not be aware that most modern smartphones let you play these videos on bigger screens, using cable or streaming technology too. That means you can turn any screen in your house into a smart TV, capable of downloading full length movies or catching up on shows you missed.

The pros: No need to buy an expensive Blu-Ray player, plus cute cat videos are made bigger.
The cons: Image quality isn’t always great, though you won’t notice so much on smaller TVs.

The apps to use
1 YouTube (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, free)
The biggest video site on the internet works a treat. While better known for its many clips of pandas and puppies, YouTube lets you rent the latest movies through its site too, so there’s something for everyone.
2 Amazon Video (iOS, Android, subscription)
Amazon’s video service has a distinct advantage over rival Netflix – you can download shows and films in advance so you won’t have any interruptions from slow Wi-Fi while you binge-watch your favourite shows through your phone.
3 Kodi (Android, free)
Hard to set up but very powerful, this media centre app lets you install plug-ins for just about every video streaming service there is, meaning you can access them all from one app on your phone (and TV).

How to get started
You may be able to stream your phone’s screen to newer TVs, no cable needed, using Apple’s proprietary AirPlay tech, or the similar Miracast built into many Android phones. If not, you’ll need a cable that connects your model of phone to an HDMI source – these are often cheap and easy to find on Amazon.

Should you do it?
If you don’t have a laptop or a web-connected games console you can plug into your TV, definitely.

Bonus games console
Made yourself a smart TV from your mobile? You’ve got yourself a console too! Many smartphone games can be played on a big screen with a traditional button controller, making mobile shooters and driving games more precise and more fun. While it’s possible to install apps that let you use your phone’s touchscreen as an input, for most games played this way, you’re better off with a Bluetooth gamepad. These are inexpensive and connect wirelessly.

Security camera

Want to check in on your pet, or just have some peace of mind while on holiday? If you’ve got a retired smartphone to hand, you don’t need to shell out for any dedicated equipment. What you may not realise is that even the cheapest, oldest smartphones likely have a camera with high enough resolution to do the job.

The pros: A cheap way to keep an eye on things at home.
The cons: Needs an old phone, rather than your current one.

The apps to use
1 IP Webcam (Android, free)
A powerful, free way to check in on home at any time, from a laptop or another phone. You can even speak through your phone/camera using two-way audio to warn your dog not to chew up the rug again.
2 Home Security Camera – Alfred (Android, free with in-app purchases)
Want to be alerted whenever your camera detects motion in sight of your old phone? Prop your phone up in your home and use this app – it’s the way to go.
3 Presence (iOS, free)
The most polished option for iPhone (and old iPads or iPod touches with cameras) is free, and includes both live video feed and motion detection alerts.

How to get started
You’ll need a plug adaptor you can use permanently for your old phone – you don’t want the battery to drain while you’re out, after all – but beyond that, you just need one of these apps and something to prop it up in the hallway at the right angle. There’s no need for a SIM card either, just connect to Wi-Fi and you’re away.

Should you do it?
So long as you don’t have any stringent caps on your Wi-Fi, and a large amount of storage on your phone to keep any footage, then absolutely! You’ll need to delete footage regularly.

Home computer

If you can connect your phone to an external screen (like your TV), then you can also use it as a PC too. You’ll need to pair a Bluetooth keyboard, but you’ll find modern mobile browsers and word processors surprisingly fast for casual daily use.

The pros: If you have a monitor and keyboard, this could save you hundreds of dollars on a new PC.
The cons: You can only use websites and mobile, not desktop apps, and printing is complicated, though possible.

The apps to use
1 Andromium (Android, free)
A free app for Android smartphones that cleverly tweaks your phone’s homescreen for better use on a landscape desktop display, and even bolts in support for wireless mice so you can double click on apps to open them, as you would on Windows or Mac.
2 AirPlay (iOS, free)
Apple’s iPhone software already supports Bluetooth keyboards out of the box (if you use Apple’s official model, it will even work with the shortcut/brightness/volume keys). If you’ve got an Apple TV plugged into your TV or computer monitor, you won’t even need a cable to connect it. Sadly, iOS does not support use with mice, however.

How to get started
You’ll need a screen with an HDMI connection, a Bluetooth keyboard, and of course a desk to prop everything on. Output the screen to the monitor and voilà, instant iMac replacement.

Should you do it?
If you only need to browse the web to stay on top of news and don’t need to sort your photos as well as reply to Facebook, it might be worth a shot.

Check out Continuum
While Android and iOS both merge with their creators’ desktop software in different ways, Microsoft’s mobile platform also lets your phone itself become a PC. If you have a Windows Phone supporting Continuum, you can plug it straight into a monitor, pair up a mouse and keyboard and just start using it like Windows, with mobile apps even appearing as scalable windows in the interface. You’ll need to buy a Display Dock from Microsoft’s store to connect your phone to. It’s not powerful enough to play games on, but for browsing the web and typing documents, it’s a lot cheaper than buying a new PC.