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Smart Home

Turn your old phone into a home security camera you can watch from anywhere

If you have one or more old phones hanging around, here's a way to turn them into security cameras you can log into from anywhere.

Instead of letting your previous phones collect dust in your desk drawer, you can put them to good use. Aside from selling them for a fraction of what you bought them for, alternative uses for old phones abound. You can turn it into a baby monitor, a dedicated video camera or a makeshift Google Home speaker (as long as it's an Android phone). But one of the more useful ways to breathe new life into your old phone is to convert it into a wireless security camera.

As long as your old phone still turns on and the rear camera is operational, you're set. Getting everything set up is very easy and is often (but not always) free.

Step 1: Get a security camera app running on your old phone(s)

To begin, you will need to choose a security-camera app for your phone. Most apps offer up many of the same features, such as local streaming, cloud streaming, recording and storing footage locally or remotely, and motion detection and alerts.

Once you're set up, you will be able to monitor your living space and control your security camera from anywhere, straight from your phone.

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One of the best options for setting up your phone as a security camera is Alfred. It's cross-platform, so it doesn't matter if your old phone was an Android phone or iPhone ($1,829 at Apple). And the same goes for your new phone.

Alfred is free to use and gives you a remote view of your live feed, motion detection with alerts, free cloud storage, a two-way audio feed and use of both the front and rear cameras. To unlock additional features, like higher-resolution viewing and recording, zoom capabilities, ad removal and 30-day cloud storage, you can upgrade to Alfred Premium for $3.99 (£3.49 or AU$5.99) per month or $29.99 (£29.49 or AU$43.99) annually. Or, if you're happy with the free features, you can simply pay a one-time (per-account) in-app fee of $16.99 (£16.99 or AU$26.99) to simply remove ads.

To get started:

  • Download Alfred (Android, iOS) on both your old and new phones or any tablets you want to use.
  • On the new phone, swipe through the introduction and tap Start. Select Viewer and tap Next.
  • Once you get to the sign-in page, click Sign in with Google (a Google account is required) and sign in with your Google account credentials.
  • On the old phone, repeat the same steps, but instead of selecting Viewer, select Camera. And make sure you sign into the same Google account.

Once both phones are signed into Alfred, you're pretty much done with the setup. Alfred has simplified the camera options to only include a few settings. On iOS, you can only enable motion detection, choose between the front and rear cameras, and enable or disable audio. If you're using an Android device, you have those options as well as the ability to enable continuous focus, have Alfred automatically reopen if the phone reboots, set a resolution, and enable a passcode lock.

From your new phone, you can change a few more settings, such as turning off or on notifications, setting a camera or viewer name, add other people to your Trust Circle (granting other people access to your video feeds), remove a camera, check how many times a camera has disconnected, set motion detection sensitivity and enable a low-light filter on cameras.

While Alfred is a solid choice, keep in mind it's not the only choice. Far from it, in fact. If you're operating entirely with iOS devices, Manything is a solid free choice with an affordable subscription model if you need more features. And IP Webcam is one of the more popular Android-only options.

Step 2: Choose a spot to position your camera

After you have the stream up and running, you will need to set up and position the camera. You may want it focused on the main entry point to your home, your backyard, the place where you store valuables, or a point you think might be particularly vulnerable. You can also set up an IP camera as a baby monitor.

If you have multiple old phones laying around, you can set up multiple cameras for fairly robust video coverage.

Step 3: Mount and power your new security camera(s)

To mount or position the camera, a small smartphone tripod or suction cup car mount can work wonders and help you position the camera in an inconspicuous place.

To broaden the field of view, consider buying a wide-angle lens for your phone, which can be purchased for between $5 and $20 (under about £13 or AU$28) online.

Streaming video is very power-intensive, and the phone will be on 24-7. To keep the phone from dying in the first few hours, you will need to position it close to a power source. A 10-foot Micro-USB or Lightning cable will add some flexibility to where you position the camera.

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