Introduction: Easiest Smart Home Panel and Info Center - Repurpose an Old Phone!

In this Instructable, I'll walk you through some of the steps I followed in repurposing a phone as a smart home touch appliance for my room. You'll be able to control your lights, know your daily weather forecast, and receive any other personal information (news, personal finance budget, email, sports, etc.) in real time and all from making a quick glance at your wall. Please bear in mind that we're not re-inventing the wheel here. However, getting your phone to function as an appliance is certainly not as easy as duct taping it to your wall and calling it a day.

We all love Raspberry Pi's. 'Course we do... But when I set out to make this little home appliance I could find no combination of a Pi and peripherals that actually made sense as far as a budget went. The more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that what I actually needed were simply the basic functionalities of a smart phone. So rather than buying individual components and trying to string them up in some sort of Frankenstein fashion, I simply went out and bought an old phone and couldn't be happier with my end product.

This tutorial requires little to no technical experience. This is more of a how-to using a compilation of things in order to streamline this process.

With my current setup, mine does the following:

  • Controls my lights (Belkin WeMo switches)
  • Provides me with a constant weather feed
  • Tells me my personal financial budget for the day and week (Not in .gif)
  • Shows me my daily bank account balances (Not in .gif)
  • Links to OneNote so I can jot down reminders whenever they pop into my head

You'll need the following in order to complete this Instructable:

Time required: 1 hour

Materials required:

  • Smartphone running Android (I'm running Cyanogenmod for more control, but to each's own. iOS won't work here) The older the phone the better. Repurpose that stuff, people!
  • Phone charger
  • Wall mount material of some sort (mine was purchased at CVS for $4)
  • Cable management material (optional)
  • Belkin WeMo switches (or whatever equivalent that has widget compatibility)
  • The following apps

Step 1: Get'cho Phone

Get your Android phone.

Pro tip: if you don't a smart phone already, search for one on eBay with a bad ESN (eBay Bad ESN phones). This will save you LOADS of cash. A bad ESN means that due to hardware issues, the phone is unable to receive service from a carrier. Since we're only going to be using Wifi in this project, that won't matter. This is the key step that makes this project more affordable than some sort of Raspberry Pi setup. I got my Galaxy Nexus 1st generation off of eBay for ~ $40 bucks. For what I'm doing with it, it's as snappy as I need it to be.

Hold off on mounting this guy just yet as being able to have the phone in your hand while it's being configured will make this project much more manageable.

Step 2: Install Nova Launcher

Here is the beginning of the process of turning your phone into a minimalistic appliance. Nova will allow us to get rid of the top notification bars, app dock.

To configure, install the app (link listed above) and do the following:

  • Open the Nova Settings App, go to "Look and Feel", go to "Notification Bar" and tap the slider to disable the notification bar
  • From the same app, go to "Dock" and tap the slider at the top of the menu to disable the dock

Step 3: Disable Backlight Keys

For Android users I'm not sure this is possible across all models. You may need to find an app to do this for you. However, in Cyanogenmod do the following:

  • Go to the Settings of your phone, tap "Advanced" and then select "BLD"
  • Set your timeout to something reasonable. I set my value to "4"

You may want to set your value to something different here, but this is so those backlit menu keys don't stay on and keep your phone from looking like a distraction-free appliance.

Step 4: Plug in Those WeMo Switches

Get however many switches you'll need. I found mine on Amazon. Though I won't go into the setup of the switches themselves, this YouTube tutorial should do the trick for first time users. Proceed to set the switches up with the official Belkin Wemo app. If you already have the app setup on a previous device, you can skip ahead to the next step.

Step 5: Step 4: Configure Your Light Toggle Widgets

Here is where you'll setup your light toggle widgets. The app link can be found in the "What you'll need section." In order to add the widgets to your screen, hold a blank space on the background area on your phone and you'll be prompted to enter the widgets menu.

Note: If your switches aren't recognized by this app automatically, you may need to enter the individual ip addresses of each switch.

How do you find those?? Simple. Use the Fing app or an alternative. Fing will scan your Wifi network and then return a list of all the devices that are currently connected to it. It should label your Belkin switches as such and also provide you with an ip address for each.

Step 6: Configure Your Weather Widget and Any Other Remaining Widgets

Download the weather widget previously mentioned. Once you have installed it, input your local information and drag its widget to your home screen.

Here is where I added two widgets from the Level Money app that allow me to see my personal live budget for the day and week. I also added Mint's personal finance widgets on another screen as well.

Of course feel free to mix it up. I imagine having a Flipboard feed for news articles or a Gmail feed for email would be super handy right here as well. Also adding a shoutout to the Lux app here as it allows you not only to set custom levels of brightness, but will affect the color of your display for better night time use. As this phone is setup in my bedroom, this is a must-have so it's not super distracting when I go to sleep.

Step 7: Mount Your Phone to the Wall

Mounting: For this I used the "Command, Damage-Free Hanging Strips." Found them at CVS. They work really well as they're able to hold up to 16 lbs and won't peel the paint off of your wall even if you leave this there for a year or so.

Note: I'm all for keeping it super simple but do yourself a favor and don't use duct tape. I did last time. Landlord was pissed :0 ...

Positioning: As far as positioning the phone goes: put it somewhere you know you'll walk past, preferably at eye level. I definitely endorse the philosophy of tech that stays out of your way and by placing this in a high traffic area, it's much easier to see new information at a glance.

Cable management: Up to you! Mine stays out of the way quite well in it's position on a column in my room. I used a single piece of tape to keep the charging cord from dangling down, but that's it.

Step 8: Install Wakey

Initially, I had wanted this appliance to turn off at night and back on at sunrise. However, countless hours of research proved that this wasn't entirely possible. Since we are using the phone background's you could ideally load a solid black screen app when you go to sleep via tasker and close it when you wake up. However, I'm going to keep it simple here and assume we want this thing on all the time.

Install the app Wakey, go to the app, and tap the bulb. By doing so, you'll see that it illuminates an animated bulb. This will keep the phone display on until you come back to this exact app and turn this off. It's that simple.

Step 9: Enjoy Your New Control Center!!

That's it!

Hope you guys enjoyed this Instructable!