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10 Steps To Make Your Old Smartphone Feel Like New Again

Have a phone that’s 3 or 4 years old? You can clean up and improve a device of any age

spinner image smartphone with light emanating from the screen

If your smartphone is getting a bit long in the tooth but you have no immediate desire to trade it in, you have several ways to freshen up your aging handset. You can add features, keep it secure and otherwise make it work better for you.

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1. Update the operating system

Apple and Google release yearly operating system updates for their iPhone and Android devices and minor tweaks throughout the year.

These updates are free and highly recommended. They often usher in security fixes and potentially helpful features. As part of Apple’s recent iOS 16 roster of features, iPhone users can share and edit family photos in a segregated iCloud shared photo library. They also now have the ability to recall text messages that were inadvertently sent, at least during a short window.

Refresh your phone

• Make your phone feel new again
• Download updates
• What to do about autocorrect
• Are passwords passé?
• Case for a password manager
• Tips to organize your apps
• Extend your battery life
• Give your home screen flair
• Free health apps worth the trek
• Health records in one place
• Info for an emergency
• Settings to make life easier
• Your phone knows where you are
• Apps to find gas, beat traffic
• Track your easy-to-lose stuff
• Cut down your screen time
• Quiz: Test your know-how

Learn more live and online

AARP’s free online classes can help you learn more about your smartphone, its capabilities and its apps.

•  Senior Planet from AARP has live courses that can help you choose and use the best phone for you.

• AARP’s Virtual Community Center has a Tech Help area with interactive events that include smartphone use.

The Android 13 update doesn’t add as many features as iOS 16, but this latest flavor of Google’s software enhances user privacy. You’ll generally have more say on what apps can see what data, also a feature in Apple’s operating system.

To get iOS 16, open Settings on your phone, tap General | Software Update | Install Now. The software is compatible with handsets dating back to 2017’s iPhone 8.

As of this writing, Android 13 is reserved for Google’s own Pixel handsets, though other Android partners, including Samsung, will eventually release versions for their phones. To fetch the update on an Android phone, go to Settings | System updates | Download and install

2. Change your passwords

Keeping your smartphone’s operating system up to date can bolster security. But that’s just a start.

Smart security means routinely changing your login and other passwords to something that you’ll be able to remember but no one else will and that’s more sophisticated than, say, the name of your first pet or mom’s maiden name. Whatever passcode you decide on — a lengthy combination of letters, numbers and special characters always makes for more robust security — do not use the same one on your phone that you use on all your other devices, lest a breach here results in vulnerabilities there.

While you’re at it, consider adding a password manager. These free or fee-based secure repositories for all your passwords can even automatically log you into sites.

If not already doing so, take advantage of the biometric security options on your device, which may include facial recognition, fingerprint authentication or a combination of these. You should enable two-factor authentication for any apps, services or websites that offer the option.

3. Weed out digital clutter

All the please-please-please-download-me apps you added to your phone way back when seemed like a good idea at the time. Now they’re collecting virtual dust.

Just as you may — or should — periodically rummage through your closets at home, apply the same mindset to your smartphone. Help tackle digital clutter by deep-sixing apps you rarely, if ever, use.

On both Android and iOS, consider organizing the apps you keep into folders by category, such as entertainment, finance, news and so on.

4. Replace the battery

You’ve got lots of ways to prolong the battery life of your phone, including closing apps running in the background, curbing notifications and dimming the screen.

But rechargeable batteries have a finite lifespan. Despite your best efforts, they may need to be retired eventually.

To check battery status on an iPhone, open Settings | Battery | Battery Health & Charging. Note the percentage next to Maximum Capacity, which is a measure of battery capacity compared to when the battery was new.

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Replace a battery with a maximum capacity below 80 percent, something Apple or an authorized service provider must do for you. Users can’t replace iPhone batteries themselves.

Checking the status of your battery on Android devices differs by model and manufacturer. On a Samsung Galaxy, launch Settings | Battery and device care | Diagnostics and tap Battery status. If the battery is still in decent shape, Samsung will report its status as Normal, suggesting it is not ready to be put out to pasture. When it has petered out, take the phone to an authorized provider to change the battery, just like with an iPhone.

5. Dress it up

Your phone says something about your sense of style and fashion. If you have a physical case that’s worn or frayed, getting a new one can make the whole phone feel new again. If the screen is cracked but still functional, you may want to replace it, too, if only for cosmetic reasons.

You can address the internal cosmetics as well. You can select a dark theme motif over light mode, or vice versa. You may also find that dark mode reduces eye strain in low light.

On an iPhone, you can change from light to dark or dark to light in the Settings or Control Center. Head to Settings on Android to do the same.

From time to time, you may want to change the wallpaper and lock screen on your device.

On iPhone, tap Settings | Wallpaper | + Add New Wallpaper and choose among custom options that Apple features or pick a priceless image from your own photo library. On Android, tap Settings | Wallpaper & style. Again, you’ll have numerous designs to choose from, or you can create wallpaper from your own photos.

6. Monitor your health

While you’re improving the health of your smartphone, you can take steps to improve your own health.

Health apps are probably loaded already on your device: the Health app on iPhone, Google Fit on Pixel phones and Samsung Health on Galaxy devices. You also can download Google Fit or Samsung Health from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Each of these apps can monitor fitness, workout and other health-related metrics. You can consult myriad third-party health and fitness apps available in either app store, too.

Though features vary across apps, you can do such things as count steps, determine your heart rate and learn your calories burned. The apps can even collect metrics when you sleep.

A fitness tracker, smartwatch or other accessory is required for some of the data to show up in these apps. But in general, the apps provide insights to follow a healthy lifestyle, help you stay in shape and in some cases store medical records.

7. Prep for an emergency

It’s no overstatement to suggest that your smartphone can save your life. On iPhone, begin by creating a Medical ID in the Health app. You can list the medications you take, any medical conditions you have, your blood type and other vital information that an emergency responder can access from the lock screen, even without knowing your passcode.

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You can set up the phone to dial 911 in an emergency when you are incapacitated and cannot tap out 9-1-1. On an iPhone, you can call 911 by pressing and holding the side button and either volume bottom, or you can do so by rapidly pressing the side button five times. Go to Settings | Emergency SOS to set up these options.

Similar tools are available on Android. On Google’s Pixels, tap Settings | Safety & emergency | Emergency SOS. You can review and add emergency contacts, add a Medical ID and enable a switch that will let you summon 911 by rapidly pressing the power button five times.

8. Dig into accessibility

More than a billion people globally live with some sort of disability, according to the World Health Organization. Numerous accessibility tools, all free, are baked into modern smartphones, and each is aimed at addressing a different kind of disability.

Some tools can help people who are blind or have low vision. Some are designed for folks who have experienced hearing loss. Others can assist people with motor-skill issues.

People with vision problems can magnify text or have everything on their screen read aloud. Filters can be applied, so someone who is color-blind can see what’s on the screen.

Those who are deaf or hard of hearing can benefit from live captions that may help them take in a podcast or other media. Certain other accessibility tools can alter how the phones respond to a person’s touch.

On both iPhone and Android, most of these tools are found when you open Settings and tap on Accessibility.

9. Protect privacy

Honestly, having your phone know where you are is a mixed bag.

On the plus side, it can help you find a gas station when you’re running on empty, navigate around a traffic jam and retrieve a lost phone. But privacy advocates fret about the creep factor in capturing location data because of advertisers’ or law enforcement’s potential misuse or scammers stealing your identity.

Fortunately, you can shrink your digital footprint to match your comfort level, control who can see your whereabouts and determine which apps have permission to track your location. In individual apps, you can even choose whether to share your “precise” location, useful if you have a ride share picking you up, or “approximate” location, useful because a weather app doesn’t need to know exactly where you’re standing.

On iPhone, launch Settings | Privacy & Security | Location Services. On Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy, open Settings | Location | Location Services.

Check out other Privacy settings on your iPhone or Android handset. When you accepted each app initially, you may have granted permission to use your device’s camera or microphone that might not be needed.

10. Limit your screen time

We’ve listed all these nifty ways to make your smartphone more secure, helpful and pleasurable to use. Now we’re going to tell you how to spend less time using it.

Indeed, you may lament all the time your kids or grandkids are in front of their screens, but the same is true about you. Parental controls aren’t just for parents. They can supply insights into how often you’re picking up your devices and provide wind-down tools when, frankly, you should be getting ready to sleep.

On Android, you’ll find such tools in Settings Digital Wellbeing. On iPhone, check controls in Settings Screen Time.

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