Samsung launched something truly innovative in the smartphone market on Wednesday: an official consumer upcycling program. Samsung’s “Galaxy Upcycling at Home” initiative was announced at CES 2021 and today it comes in a “beta” release. The program allows users to turn old phones into smart home devices that work through Samsung’s SmartThings app, which has two new modes: a sound sensor and a light sensor.
Samsung says the sound sensor mode will “discriminate accurately sounds in the everyday environment and users can choose to save certain sound recordings. For example, if the device detects sounds such as a crying baby, dog barking, cat meowing or a knock, it will send an alert directly to the user’s smartphone and the user can listen to the recorded sound.” Samsung says the mode is meant to act as a baby monitor or pet care solution.
Light Sensor mode simply turns your phone into a light sensor, allowing it to detect levels of sunlight or room light and trigger your smart home to do something in response. If you want to use this mode on battery power, Samsung says it has “equipped the Galaxy Upcycling at Home upgrade with battery optimization solutions to minimize battery usage”.
Samsung says the Upcycling at Home feature is “available on all S, Note and Z series released from 2018 (S9, Note9 or later) running Android 9 and above. More devices will be supported in the future. ” For now, land support is limited to the US, UK and Korea.
Samsung’s upcycling program is a very modest starting point, and the company could do a lot more if it wants to limit e-waste and make old devices useful. So far, the program only uses the microphones and light sensors on old devices, but the most common still-usable feature of an old smartphone is the camera. Turning an old phone into an IP camera is a popular way to reuse devices (with apps like Alfred, Haven, and IP Webcam), but Samsung hasn’t explored that area yet.
It would also be nice if Samsung just open the doors to its end-of-life hardware and unlock the bootloaders, so users can erase the old abandoned operating systems and apps on these devices and install some newer, more appropriate software. Running a full smartphone OS on a single-use device is vastly overkill, and you could have better performance and longer battery life (when running on battery) if you wiped out most of the stock software.
Even years old smartphones could be very capable devices if they weren’t so locked. Think of the myriad uses of an open device like a Raspberry Pi, which is still slower than even a five-year-old smartphone. For now, we’re only getting a few smart home apps, but let’s hope for more hardware access in the future.
List image by Samsung