Now that the holidays have come and gone, it's certain that quite a few of us woke up Christmas morning with a new cell phone under the tree or unwrapped something shiny, silver and technological to go with the traditional blue and silver of Hanukkah, or perhaps a nice, flat black (just like the go-everywhere little black dress or black dress shoes) to go with whichever of the other winter holidays you observe.
So, the question now is what do you do with that old cell phone? You know — the soon-to-be-forgotten device that kept you in touch with the outside world no matter where you were and maybe even let you play some games, look at or capture photos, or even more…
First, take advantage of what you've already got: all those numbers and other contact information in your old phone. Jettisoning an old device without first preserving that information is a near-guaranteed way to give yourself a headache (and maybe some aching thumbs), and it's simply unnecessary in most cases.
First, check with your service provider. Most of the major ones these days provide the option to back up your list of programmed numbers and other contact information to their own servers, either free or at minimal cost. Investing in a $3-per-month contact list synchronizing program for just a few hours — and canceling afterward — can save you that long in retyping on your phone's tiny keyboard, not to mention potential lost or mistyped information.
Take a visit to your provider's Web site and see if they don't offer either a free service or a downloadable third-party program in their phone software store. If they do, take advantage of it — unless you're moving to a new carrier.
Even then, you're not necessarily going to have to retype all your phone numbers for your new phone.
ZYB offers a free Migrator program on its Web site, at the easy-to-remember Internet address of www.igotanewphoneforchristmas.com.
There, if you're lucky enough to find your old and new phone among a selection of common phones, you'll be able to sync your old phone's stored contacts to the ZYB server and then sync them back to the new device, with a step-by-step process. This is available for a variety of carriers, even if the selection of devices is somewhat limited.
If you have a Windows Mobile device or other “smartphone” that normally syncs to desktop software, things can be even easier, since your contacts are already getting backed-up to your computer and possibly your desktop contact management software.
In that case, check your device instructions or the software manual to see how to create a new synching partnership, do a final sync of your information, make a second copy of the information on the computer (just in case Murphy's practicing his law on you) and sync up the new phone.
Any of these methods should make life easier for those who got a new phone for the holidays, unless you have just a few contacts to transfer over. In that case, we'll ask Santa to bring you a bevy of communicative friends for next year's holidays.
Before you chuck the old phone in the trash, you may also want to consider how to preserve any of the photos you took or received on your cell phone. In some cases, this is just a matter of hooking up a cable between your phone and your computer and taking the photos right off there. In others, you may be forced to — or simply prefer — sending yourself copies of the photos via e-mail or text/multi-media message (watch those per-message charges!).
For many cellular service providers, simply receiving a photo in a text message or e-mail attached to your cell service account is enough to add it to an online album of photos connected to your phone number. Check with your provider to see how to set up and access such an album online if you don't already have one.
The bad news is that in most cases you're not going to be able to transfer downloaded music and games from your old phone to your new one. If you've got third-party programs for your Windows Mobile, Blackberry or Palm phone, though, you should be able to take them with you to a new device with the same operating system. Look at backing up associated data files and dig out those installation files, CDs and registration keys, if you do.
Wipe it clean of more than fingerprints
Last, but not least, it's time to erase all that personal information from your phone. In this age of concern about the security of our identities and who has access to our information and that of our friends, this is a key point.
Every phone is different as to the steps needed to get rid of all that personal information you've stored inside. Your phone's user guide is always a good place to start for this kind of information.
But if you're like most of us and you've lost track of the manual, and you can't manage to find one online, there's a quick and easy way to find out how to wipe out all trace of yourself from an old cell phone.
Visit Wireless Recycling's Web site at www.recellular.com/recycling/data_eraser/ and look up your old phone by manufacturer and model (it's often under the battery if you can't find it on the outside or it's worn off). The site will then generate a PDF file with specific instructions for erasing all, or portions, of the data you may have entered on your phone.
Windows Mobile and other smartphone users: this is the time when you actually want to do that “hard reset” that wipes your phone back to a factory state, as opposed to the times you had to do it to fix a problem and then went through a potentially painful restore process.
Finally, make sure you've switched your service from the old phone to the new one and that the old phone is no longer active on your account.
A second life for old phones
So, now that you've gotten all of your data out of your old phone and into the new one, what do you do with that aging device?
Well, going with the theme of the Coastal Point's new “Go Green” section, I have to recommend you don't even consider throwing it away. While batteries are chiefly cited as culprits in cell phones poisoning the environment via our landfills, there are plenty of components of the devices that simply shouldn't be thrown away with the garbage.
Unless you got hold of one of the concept phones that was designed to bio-degrade and produce a pretty sunflower after its lifespan ended, dirt and cell phones do not mix. There are several alternative ways to handle your old phone that keep it out of the landfill, though.
The first thing is to consider whether that slightly aged phone might be useful to someone you know.
Is your pre-teen or teen perhaps ready for the responsibility of a phone, but you don't want to invest in a cutting-edge device until they've proven they can handle it? This might be a good step for you, even if it won't thrill them like a new Razr 2 would.
The same goes for the senior in your life. Older phones tend to have fewer bells and whistles, making them ideal in some cases for a way to help older folks keep in touch when they're outside their home without having to invest in a new phone.
In either case, most cell service providers will allow you to keep your old phone on your existing plan under a new phone number and add your new one (using your old number) for something in the neighborhood of $10 per month, if you share your total minutes on a family plan.
Even if you don't have a family member nearby who would find your old phone useful, there are other options for that defunct device.
Friends or acquaintances who could use a decent cell phone but can't quite afford the $60 or $100 price of a brand new one might be interested in your formerly cutting-edge device if it's still relatively contemporary in its features. Make it a post-holiday gift by letting them save some of the cost of getting cell service for the first time and still let them have a relatively nice device, even if only second-hand.
If your phone does fit in that category and you don't have a taker for the hand-me-down, you can also look to recoup some cash for your old device by selling it locally, or via eBay or Craig's List online.
People who can't afford the $300 or $400 cost of a new high-end phone are often willing to spend half that for one that's a year old and still meets their needs. Even a two-year-old high-end feature phone can net you $25 or more from someone who needs one. And that's money in the bank, or at least to help pay your own cell bill.
Even if your phone's not in great shape, or perhaps not even working, there may be a market for it. Those who bought the device themselves when it was new may be searching for parts to repair their own. Take a look at the online auctions and reseller/buyers to see if there seems to be some value left in the phone. Wireless Recycling, which I mentioned above for their data eraser, is one such outfit.
If you're the type who prepares for the worst case scenario, it might also be worth considering keeping your old phone as a backup device. If you do, a lost, misplaced or damaged new phone doesn't have to mean you're unreachable. In such a case, you just call your provider and have your number switched back to the old phone.
That will not only save you the cost of paying cash for a replacement but also keep you connected while your insurer arranges for a replacement or until you find that wayward new device. In such cases, it might even be worthwhile to skip wiping your data from the old phone in the first place.
Working cell phones that you don't have another use for can also be handy emergency devices, since federal law requires that any working phone be able to dial 911, even if it doesn't have an active cellular service account attached to it.
That means that old phone could be tucked into your emergency kit with a wind-up charger, or into your car's glove compartment with its car charger, where it could come in handy should your regular cell phone stop working in an emergency or should you forget to take one on the road and find you need it. It can also be tucked into a child's backpack or a senior's car.
If the phone works, it can dial 911, always. Well, nearly always — the February 2008 elimination of analog cellular service means that truly old phones won't get a signal anywhere. But even those shouldn't go into the garbage…
Charity begins at phone
Is your old phone really ready for the dustbin? Or do you want to extend the charitable giving of the holiday season by doing something nice with your old phone? There are options here, too, and some pretty great ones at that.
Most major carriers have donation boxes at their retail outlets and will take any old phone, regardless of its age or condition. Once donated the phones are refurbished for resale, recycled safely or donated to charities that need them.
At Sprint, there's Project Connect, which uses the money raised through donations to benefit Easter Seals and other organizations supporting people with disabilities.
Verizon's HopeLine refurbishes, recycles or re-sells donated phones to raise money for groups supporting victims of domestic violence, such as the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, or they donate basic phones to such groups, so that victims of domestic violence can call take advantage of that federal law and call 911 quickly and easily if they feel threatened. T-Mobile's donated phone program benefits the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
Aside from the provider programs, there are a wide variety of groups and charities that will accept your donated cell phone and put it to good use.
The 911CellPhoneBank.org charity benefits law enforcement and victims' assistance programs with money and emergency phones. Similar programs include Donatemycellphone.org and www.americancellphonedrive.org, both of which can also be contacted through their respective Web sites.
And locally, old cell phones are currently being collected to benefit military personnel through the Cell Phones for Soldiers program.
The Lord Baltimore 4H Helping Hands Club is sponsoring the local collections, and Good Earth Market, Lord's Landscaping and Sea Coast Realty are serving as official cell phone collection centers. The public can drop off old cell phones at these businesses in Millville and Bethany Beach during normal business hours.
Cell Phones for Soldiers was started by two Norwell, Mass., teenagers to help buy pre-paid calling cards to send to service people serving overseas. Started in April of 2004, Cell Phones for Soldiers has raised close to $1 million and has sent more than 75,000 pre-paid calling cards to U.S. service personnel.
In addition, Cell Phones for Soldiers is now sending video phones to units in the Middle East and to their home bases, so that military families can see each other as they talk. The phone and service is provided free to service personnel and their families.
Cell Phones for Soldiers will accept any model or make phone. The public may drop off phones and attached batteries, as well as accessories. The phones are then recycled for cash to purchase cards or unlimited free video phone calls for the service personnel.
For more information on the program, visit www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com online, or call (302) 537-4221.
Whether you choose to give your old phone to a family member, sell it for a modest profit or donate it to charity, there are many options for such devices that don't involve consigning it to becoming a source of toxins in the landfill.
A little thought and a few minutes of your time can mean not only helping the environment but providing a smile to yourself, someone you know, or a complete stranger, when that old, defunct cell phone extends its useful life in one way or another.