Turn an Old Smartphone into a 24/7 Weather Monitor – Fix Problems by Repurposing Gadgets
ITEM – If you’re like me, you have drawers and shelves full of products you bought, used, and then put aside after updating new products or getting bored of them. I call them my misfit gadget drawers (in a nod to the island of misfit toys in the classic Rudolph the red nosed reindeer cartoon). Instead of letting your unloved old technology gather dust, why not create a new purpose for them.
I thought it would be a good idea to start a recurring series on using old unused technology and gadgets to solve everyday problems to make life better. My first post in this series was How I Repurposed a Blink Camera to Create the Ultimate Birding Camera and now I’m back with another use for an old smartphone.
Problem to solve
We had a very basic La Crosse Technology weather station on our kitchen counter for years that features a mono LCD screen that displays the current time and date as well as temperature, humidity, and forecast information from a battery-powered wireless sensor that is placed outside. This little weather station started reporting wildly inaccurate temperature information and instead of buying a new one I decided to make my own using the technology I already had.
- A way to display real-time data from my existing storm weather system
- Always on the backlit color screen. The old La Crosse was not backlit and was difficult to read without turning on a light in the kitchen
- No batteries to charge or replace in display or sensors
- An old smartphone with the Tempest Weather app
At first I was going to use the Dakboard and Raspberry Pi solution, but realized I wanted a very small monitor so it wouldn’t take up too much space on the kitchen counter. It meant I had to buy something new, which wasn’t the point, so I gave up on that idea.
The idea of a laptop wasn’t going to happen either due to taking up too much counter space, so the obvious choice was an old smartphone. I decided to use my old Pixel 2 XL because I thought an Android phone would be easier to customize than an iPhone and I didn’t have an old, unused iPhone anyway.
I pulled the Pixel out of my unsuitable gadget drawer, charged it, performed a hard reset, and disabled security requiring a fingerprint or PIN to unlock the phone. I then only installed the Storm Weather app for my existing Tempest weather system.
To resolve the always-on requirement, I enabled the Developer Options feature by going to the About phone settings screen and tapping Build number 7 times. Once enabled, I went to system settings and developer options.
From there, I enabled the Stay Awake feature, which meant the screen would never turn off. Yay! But even with this feature enabled, the screen still went dark after a period of time which I didn’t want. I wanted to keep the screen at near maximum brightness all the time.
As with most things, there’s an app for that! I searched the Google Play Store for “idle screen” and found several apps, but many of them had in-app purchases or ads. I ended up using the free app you see above called Keep the screen on which has a checkbox to keep the screen on. It’s simple and does what I need. I can’t guarantee this will work with all Android phones, but it works fine on the Pixel 2 XL.
I didn’t want to put the phone on a stand, so I used some 3M Command Strips to attach it to the tile backsplash above the kitchen counter and right next to a wall outlet.
When we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago, I made sure the outlets had built-in USB ports. I found a short USB-A to USB-C cable to use, but I’ll probably end up buying an even shorter one to make things a little neater.
Improvements and future enhancements
I’m thinking of using Tasker or another app to kill and restart the Tempest Weather app once a day, as I find that it sometimes doesn’t update itself to show the latest data from my outdoor sensor that shows on a second screen in the Tempest app.
I would also like to be able to switch between the Tempest Weather app for my sensor and another app that shows a live weather radar view. Maybe I can do it with Tasker. If anyone has any ideas, let me know…
Another improvement would be to use a small tablet that can display a split screen view and have the Tempest Weather app in one window and local radar, calendar etc. in the other window.
I realize that not everyone has a Tempest weather station, so this specific project won’t apply to everyone. BUT, as long as your phone has WiFi like most others, you can still use this idea and use it to display any weather app.
Do you have a problem that could be solved with existing gadgets/technology? Let me know and I’ll consider writing about it in a future reuse article.