10 Handy Uses for Your Old iPad or Android Tablet

Tablet sales are slumping at the moment, probably as a result of big smartphones and convertible laptops chip away at a tablet’s usefulness. But if you have one or more tablets at home gathering dust while you happily poke away at your giant smartphone, there are probably some good ways to put them to use rather than selling them or recycling them. Here are a few ideas.

Turn It Into Streaming Media Machine

Android and iOS apps for most streaming music and video services are readily available, even if they’re not specifically for tablets. So why not augment a hi-fi stereo or a Bluetooth speaker with a dedicated tablet controller? It’s much easier to manage than, say, a remote control, and in a kitchen a tablet is easier to press buttons on than a smartphone. Pandora and Spotify are obvious examples, but in a living room a shared tablet can be paired with a Chromecast or Roku for easier Netflix browsing or streaming. And speaking of living rooms…

Use It as a Smart Remote Control

Logitech’s Harmony series of remotes is a favorite among videophiles with big AV collections. But the Harmony system can be used with Android and iOS devices too, including tablets—and in fact the touch screen makes them much easier to program. Even if you don’t have a dedicated smart remote set up, many smart TVs and standalone systems like Android TV, Roku, Fire TV, and Apple TV offer remote apps for mobile devices, not to mention dedicated cable boxes and receivers. Individual quality of the apps notwithstanding, it can be a much better way to navigate long lists or complex user interfaces.

Create a Desktop Widget Screen

If you have a desktop computer workstation, or even a laptop that you periodically plug into a monitor setup for more comfortable work or play, an otherwise unused tablet can make a great accompaniment.  Paired with a stand and a charger, it can make a handy dedicated email screen (especially with push email and home screen widgets on Android), an RSS, Twitter or Facebook viewer, or even a second screen tool for PC gaming enthusiasts to check their thermal statistics. There are even programs that let you display a screen full of custom commands and macro keys that are then sent to your PC over the wireless network.

Turn It Into Second Desktop Monitor

Want to live the dual-screen desktop life without having to buy any more equipment? There are several apps that will let your computer treat your tablet like an extra monitor, either wirelessly via Wi-Fi or with a direct USB connection (which also helps with charging). Note that, unlike most of the other uses on this list, iOS and iPads seem to be better supported for external displays, but it’s still possible on Android—just not quite as good.

Use It as a Guest or Kid’s PC

Setting up an entire computer just for guests to use when they visit you is a bit of a chore, but don’t forget that a phone or tablet is basically an all-in-one computer that doesn’t need to be tethered to a conventional monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Using guest mode on Android or iOS, it’s easy to let someone use your system and your network without having to set up a new account for them or grant them uncomfortably close access to your own data. You can even add back a stand and a Bluetooth keyboard to make things easier for them. And of course, tablets are already quite popular as “starter computers” for kids who aren’t quite old enough for a full-power Windows machine or their own cell phone.

Give It New Life as a Dedicated Smart Home Controller

If you’ve invested enough money into wiring your house with smart gadgets like a Nest thermostat, Wi-Fi lighting, automatic blinds, and even connected appliances, you’re probably already using your phone to control some or all of them. Install all of the applicable apps on a tablet, stick ’em in a home screen folder, mount the tablet on a wall with a charger, and you have a dedicated hub for controlling everything in the house. Oh, and you might want to put a PIN number on that thing, too—especially if it’s within kid reach.

Turn It Into a Dedicated Security Monitor or Baby Monitor

Your tablet has a Wi-Fi chip, one or two cameras, and a microphone. That means that if you can find an appropriate place to stick it with constant power, it’s already well equipped to be a remote control camera… which can be a handy way to create one if you’d like to save some dough on the genuine article. There are multiple iOS and Android apps specifically designed to turn an otherwise unused device into either a standard Wi-Fi camera with recording capabilities, or a baby monitor that can alert another mobile device with noise or movement notifications. It’s a great way to re-purpose your existing devices.

Convert It Into a Mini Arcade Cabinet

This one’s pretty much just for the iPads, because Android tablets aren’t standardized enough to be slipped into semi-custom cases that look like someone took a shrink ray to that ancient arcade machine from your childhood. But the results are undeniably cool: these little stand-up cases include old-fashioned button and joystick controls (connected directly or wirelessly) and uses an iPad’s screen as a replacement for an arcade CRT. There are a surprising number of old and new games on the App Store that are compatible with these gadgets, and the most widely-sold seems to be the branded iCade. Of course you could do the same thing with a regular stand and a Bluetooth controller, but where’s the fun in that?

DIY Your Own Car Stereo Screen

If you’re a gearhead who’s seriously into the tech inside your car’s dashboard, and you’re comfortable voiding a huge part of your manufacturer’s warranty, you could try replacing the head unit of your car stereo with a tablet. This is a surprisingly popular car mod, especially for smaller tablets like the Nexus 7. Check out dozens of guides and breakdowns on YouTube if you’re interested…and remember that in most places it’s illegal to watch a video while you’re driving. These kinds of mods are best for music management and performance statistics, and even then, used carefully while the car is in motion.

Use It as a Dedicated Voice Control Hub

If you’ve been drooling over a voice controlled gadget like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, it might have crossed your mind that your cell phone can already do pretty much the same thing. Ditto for your tablet—heck, Amazon is even putting screens in these things now. Google and Apple’s tablets can both be activated hands free with “OK Google” and “Hey Siri” commands, and they tie into most of the same services. That being said, a dedicated tablet won’t have the rather nice 360-degree speakers or advanced microphones in the genuine article, but for the low price of free-because-you-already-have-it, it’s not bad.

A Note on Battery Life

For a lot of these applications, you might be wondering how to use your tablet untethered and keep the battery going for more than a day or two. Consider that a lot of these suggestions are periodical rather than constant—it’s not as if you need to use a remote for hours at a time. For instances where a dedicated dock or charger is impractical, remember to use your tablet’s airplane mode if you’re not actively connecting to the Internet. Combining low standby power use, no wireless drain, and a battery two to four times the one in your cell phone, most tablets will last for a week or more off the charger.

Image credit: Google Play Store, iOS App Store, Amazon, YouTube

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.