Broken Smartphones: Laptops In Disguise

Modern smartphones are a dizzying treatise on planned obsolescence. Whether it’s batteries that can’t be removed without four hours and an array of tiny specialized tools, screens that shatter with the lightest shock, or (worst of all) software that gets borked purposefully to make the phone seem older and slower than it really is, around every corner is some excuse to go buy a new device. The truly tragic thing is that there’s often a lot of life left in these old, sometimes slightly broken, devices.

This video shows us how to turn an old smartphone into a perfectly usable laptop. The build starts with a screen and control board that has USB-C inputs, which most phones can use to output video. It’s built into a custom aluminum case with some hinges, and then attached to a battery bank and keyboard in the base of the laptop. From there, a keyboard is installed and then the old phone is fixed to the back of the screen so that the aluminum body doesn’t interfere with the WiFi signal.

If all you need is internet browsing, messaging, and basic word processing, most phones are actually capable enough to do all of this once they are free of their limited mobile UI. The genius of this build is that since the phone isn’t entombed in the laptop body, this build could easily be used to expand the capabilities of a modern, working phone as well. That’s not the only way to get a functioning laptop with parts from the junk drawer, either,  if you’d prefer to swap out the phone for something else like a Raspberry Pi.

Thanks to [NoxiousPluK] for the tip!

22 thoughts on “Broken Smartphones: Laptops In Disguise

  1. The only problem is if you can’t get that purposefully borked software running fast again then it’s still going to be bad as a laptop too. If you can then why did you bother buying a newer phone?

    That, and assuming you do still have a non-old phone you can just use that so long as you aren’t permanently affixing anything. As a bonus you get the phone’s internet connection without any hassle trying to tether it.

    I’m waiting for my Nexdock to use with my phone now.

    1. I was also thinking this does nothing for the software issue. I’d comment that an Android device that has a build of something like Linage OS might be a good option.
      But at nearly $90 for just the screen and another $40-50 for the keyboard cover and battery bank, this is getting into Chromebook or Pinebook price territory. Then there are the materials for the chassis to consider too.
      It’s cool, but not something that makes a lot of sense to do from an economic standpoint.
      As for an environmental standpoint, it seems that this is more like a protest rather than an impactful solution.

      1. you can buy used 19-20″ displays with HDMI input for peanuts – more like in the 10-20$ range. and use a wired USB keyboard (likely around $5) and an USB hub (sometimes it is integrated in the display). while it looks kinda nice, to be used as a real laptop it’s kinda bulky. but this combo does make a pretty good desktop AiO setup. essentially it can be a desktop dock for your not-to-bashed-up android phone.

  2. I miss those, earliest PDAs, that were monochrome and had a simple wp & spreadsheet. They still have some following in the UK. (Who’d ever need more than 8k of ram?!?)

  3. This is a great idea and offers a lot of possibilities – I’ve been a longtime fan of harvesting the extraordinary power of disused phones. What’s really at hand here is tbuilding an expansion screen & keyboard for your phone that just folds up like a tablet keyboard case or anything else you’d like (rather than trying to make it all look like a laptop). I can’t wait to see how this spins outward into clever and very portable non-laptop configurations.

  4. I have a whole bunch of Android-devices that I would like to make use of, but they’re all stuck with Android and none of them have any sort of desktop-mode, so….well, the whole idea of making use of them as e.g. DIY-laptops falls apart. If only I could just install a proper Linux-distro on them, but nope. Before anyone suggests it, no, I do not consider running a chrooted, user-mode Linux with a desktop over VNC usable.

      1. Unfortunately it still won’t let you boot on random hardware with ARM’s architecture, boot process, etc. even if there is SOC support. The kernel does have support for most (all?) of the phone processors.

    1. I have an old Landvo V1 perfectly functional but in need of a very elusive ROM image… These things really need a generic OS for them. Even without phone support, it would be far more useful than the dust collector it is now.

  5. “this build could easily be used to expand the capabilities of a modern, working phone as well”

    Well, of course it takes whatever you can play-doh to the back of the screen. Really he just barely made it above the “ghetto mod” category by not using duct tape and cardboard. A power “switch” that levers out the USB connectors? Sure, I also turn my lights off by yanking the power cord.

    It is alright for what it is: Youtube fodder. And good on him for all the likes, subscribes, and smashed bell buttons. But it is hardly a marvel of engineering or ingenuity.

  6. I got excited about this project, but then not. The problem is, everything is so damn cheap these days. If I wanted a small cheap ARM compute board, I’d have to be crazy to go fighting with my pile of dead cellphones, each one of which has a different obnoxious bootloader that wants to get in my way, and different flaws that caused them to be labeled “dead”, and different internal connectors, and so on….when I could just buy a raspberry pi or pine A64 board.

  7. Disappointingly I have one phone with a b0rked digitiser, and screen cracks, but it has no HDMI out (At least not on any of the pins common adapters use) and it’s USB OTG implementation barely supports anything. I’d like to give it a new purpose in life, but I’d have to have a few tablets and laptops die before it would get any priority.

  8. I knew what this would be as soon as I saw it. This video is very misleading for the following reasons:

    – Many phones DONT have video out. Is a requirement for me and it isn’t actually all that common.

    – He is using the Galaxy S8. Which had a handy thing called DEX which gives Windowed modes and multi tasking. This thing would look and function terribly without DEX which is only on a select few S8 (+, etc).

  9. First 6 minutes is about mechanical stuff, which is not interesting to me personally, and in the end @9.25 he puts the phone on the back because WiFi does not work if it’s in the box, which makes the whole project dead.

    Nothing at all is said about software, Some Samsung desktop is mentioned, which I assume is android.

    Also, a decent TFT screen alone costs more then a decent linux board such as the Olinuxino A64 or the hardkernel boards, and they give you Linux compatibility out of the box, so trying to save a few Euros by re-using an old phone is not really a huge factor. With such a real board you also get plenty of extra and accessible I/O.

    With android you’re stuck with no (security nor OS) updates so it’s still planned obsolescence in effect.

  10. Holy cats!

    US $83.88 for just the controller board? Nope, nope, nope. By the time you’re done, you’re well into Chromebook territory and those work without horrible power-switching Rube Goldbergian messes.

  11. Was it Moto that had setup like this about 10 years ago? Dock your phone in a laptop like enclosure and it became a laptop ? I remember a commercial about this. Then about 5 years ago Moto had Hello Moto commercials about all the snap on “hats” for music, photography, and such each costing more than the phone.

    1. Yup — Motorola did that “lapdock” thing on their Atrix phones and I think one other model. I picked up one of the lapdocks after the line was remaindered and use it as a Raspberry Pi console, as it supplies a screen, keyboard, trackpad, battery, and USB hub; it’s a simple matter of adapter cables and velcro, as those phone models had separate micro-USB and micro-HDMI jacks. (I think it also has speakers for audio over HDMI.)

      (The battery pack is just barely hefty enough to run a 3b+; it probably wouldn’t be able to power a 4b.)

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