Have you got an old smartphone or two lying around and you’re wondering what to do with them? Well…if you’re like Kylie and I, and you love upgrading to the latest gadgets, you’ve probably got at least one sitting in a drawer in your home. I know I find it very difficult to just get rid of a device that once cost me a lot of money. So I started to think about what use could an old, unused smartphone be to the average caravanner? Well…as it turns out, there’s quite a lot of functions a spare smartphone can be used for especially for RV use and, when compared to purchasing individual hardware for each specific task, you could end up saving yourself a substantial amount of money.
Here we look at just 10 useful apps that we have found that you can install on a spare iPhone or similar device that will be useful for caravanning and camper travel.
1. GPS Tracking Device. Pretty much every iPhone and most other brands of smartphones, have a built in GPS function. Normally this is used for mapping and navigation but it is also used as a means to locate a lost or stolen iPhone using the Find my Phone application. This comes standard with iOS and basically allows you to view the location of any other iOS device you own using the internal GPS. Android phones have a similar app. The location is displayed on a map and, from what I have found, it is extremely accurate. By placing an old iPhone in your caravan or camper and having it connected to a constant 12v source, it can act as a GPS locator in the event your RV is stolen. Where ever the caravan goes, the phone will go. Obviously you will need to install a separate SIM card for the phone to work. I found that Vodafone offer a ‘pay as you go’ or prepaid account that has a validity period of 12 months for any credit you put on the card. This means you can put a minimum of $10 on the account and this will last you a year or until you run out of data credit. A dedicated GPS tracking device can cost anywhere between $300 and $1,000 dollars depending on functionality so the savings on this function alone justify keeping a spare phone in your van.
2. Video Surveillance Camera. If you have a look on the App Store, you will find a variety of video surveillance applications that turn a spare mobile phone equipped with a camera into an IP camera that can be accessed remotely from another smartphone. Some apps like Surveillance Pro allow 2 way video and audio communications. If you travel with dogs and, for whatever reason, you need to leave them in your van for a short period of time, you can monitor them and ensure they are OK and not barking. You could also place the phone in a window to keep an eye on your campsite. The uses for this are endless. Installing a similar dedicated IP camera could cost upwards of $150.
3. Caravan Levelling Device. Another unique feature of the iPhone is the inbuilt position and accelerometer sensors that are used to , among other things, detect the movement and orientation of the phone itself. It allows the screen to rotate between portrait and landscape modes automatically or for applications like the digital spirit level. Now some enterprising people have come up with an app that sends this positional data to another smartphone remotely allowing the spare phone in the van or camper to tell the driver when it is level. The app is called StayLevel. It’s a brilliant system that allows you to park your van in the most level position on a campsite before unhitching it from the tow vehicle. It should avoid one of the most common causes of arguments between couples and prevent you from rolling out of an uneven bed at night…! Again, there are devices that can be purchased for this very purpose that cost upwards of $350.
4. Remote Battery Monitor. Just about every modern caravan or camper has a 12v electrical system of some description and monitoring the health of your batteries is key to ensuring this system delivers constant power to all of your appliances. If, like me, you rely on your 12v power system to power a cpap machine overnight, knowing your batteries are fully charged before nightfall is essential to your health. Your van will likely have an inbuilt monitor of some type but imagine how good it would be if you could have that information at your side all the time? Well now you can with the availability of several devices that connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth and display all sorts of information about the health of your batteries and the rate at which you’re using power. They are not cheap, costing around $300 but the convenience they can offer can be very helpful. You can keep the phone with you outside of the van and at a glance see what state of charge your batteries are at. If they are not getting charged sufficiently, you can move the solar panels into better sunlight or consider other methods of charging. Some apps give you the ability to set alerts to prevent running your batteries too low and causing them damage.
5. Juke Box. If your caravan or camper has an inbuilt stereo system that allows the connection of a smartphone or MP3 player, you can store your favourite music on your spare iPhone and leave it in the van permanently connected to the stereo so you will always have your music with you when you travel.
6. Movies on the go. Take the above one step further and, if you have sufficient memory capacity on your phone, you can also store a selection of your favourite movies that, with the addition of an AV cable, can be connected to your TV. This saves carrying around a heap of DVDs or a separate portable hard drive.
7. Walkie Talkie. How many of us love watching others trying to back their campers and vans into a tight spot and have a giggle at the antics and agreements that inventively ensue. Sadly we do and often we have offered these poor souls the use of our portable UHF radio. I’ve often wondered why people don’t have one of these useful tools for assisting with this task. Well, there is a great feature on all smartphones called push to talk and it allows phones to communicate with each other without using valuable data or phone credit turning your phones into walkie talkies. Just do a search on ‘push to talk’ apps on the Appstore. It could save you $50 or more on a dedicated portable radio.
8. Night Light/Alarm Clock. You can spend hours trolling through all the night light apps on the app store. There are literally hundreds. Some will have sound activation, others will have various functions like a night clock that is sound activated. There are probably more out there with features you may not have ever contemplated. Either way, making use of your spare iPhone as a night light and a bedside alarm clock can be very helpful.
9. Children’s entertainment. We don’t have children but on occasion we may have people visit is when were in the caravan and they may bring their kids along. If it’s raining and there is not much for them to do , it may be handy to have a spare iPhone around loaded with a selection of games to keep them entertained without lending them your actual mobile phone. Kids have a habit of destroying things from time to time so if they do break your spare phone, it won’t be such a hardship.
10. Netflix Box. Netflix, if you haven’t heard about it, is an on-demand online TV streaming service that costs a fraction of traditional pay TV subscriptions. You can use the Netflix app on your smartphone to stream TV to a normal television using a device like the Google Chromecast. By installing the Netflix app on your spare phone you will always have a player handy in your RV and it will allow you to use your personal mobile phone for other applications. I wouldn’t recommend using a smartphone for Netflix unless you were at a caravan park with free WiFi access available.
So there you have it. Ten very practical uses for a spare smartphone that you can keep in your caravan or camper that can make life on the road just that little bit easier.