To begin with, there’s nothing wrong with old smartphones. If you want them to make calls, texts, and some browsing, they will continue to serve you for years to come. The biggest problem with smartphones is that they are like little computers in your hands, and the temptation is to fill them with apps. Some apps need RAM to run smoothly (or at all), and older phones have 1GB and often less. They also need internal storage ROM (the SD card storage won’t do for many things, particularly with older versions of Android), and this might be restricted to, say, 8Gb. You end up with a phone that struggles with the basics, and doesn’t even have space to install updates.
A couple of years ago, I sung the praises of the Cubot X12 smartphone. I passed it to my partner when her Samsung slowed to a crawl, but due to the same memory restrictions (1Gb RAM/8Gb Internal ROM), it eventually got too slow to use. So it has been replaced. So what to do with it?
I thought that it might be fun to see what it could do when paired via Bluetooth with the Cambridge Audio One system we recently bought. All the music on my Personal Stereo is stored as either OGG or MP3, and kept backed up on my home computer. Having reset the phone, got rid of all the programs on it, I rooted it again, add installed a program called Pulsar (there are plenty of sound playback programs on Google Play, this one seemed most suitable for simple operation). Having reformatted the SD-card, I copied all my music onto it, in the same Folder-hierarchy form (Music > Artist > Album > Tracks – with track names prefaced 01- 02- etc) as I keep it on my player and hard drive.
The first thing I wanted to do was to see what the sound quality was like. Even through headphones, playing back music on the Cubot was nothing to write home about. However, what seems to happen when you send digitised music from a phone is that it stays digitised, maybe converted from one format to another, but not Digital to Analog back to Digital. So the quality of the output depends a lot on how well the original music was digitised, and how good the Digital to Analog converter (DAC) is in the receiver.
I needn’t have worried, because the Cambridge Audio One has a wonderful DAC! I can’t say that the quality sounds as good as CD, because Bluetooth can’t handle the full bandwidth of uncompressed digital audio, but to my ears it sounded as good, bearing in mind that my stuff is stored compressed as I mentioned before, OGG or MP3. So all this stuff on an otherwise abandoned phone is coming through the loudspeakers in real high-fidelity.
I understand that more and more hi-fi amplifiers are being built with state-of-the-art DACs these days, and with Bluetooth input, and I was pleased to see that a few prejudices I had about this type of setup were proved unfounded. If you have a hi-fi amp with bluetooth input, this is a brilliant way to make use of an old smartphone!
Another feature of the old Cubot X12 is infra red remote. Thanks to an app called IrPlus, and crucial help from its programmer, I was able to add a bank of 4 buttons to the HomeScreen, which controlled the Cambridge Audio One as follows:
- Switch on in Bluetooth Mode
- Discrete switch off
- Volume Up
- Volume Down
I wouldn’t want to use the Infra-Red properties to construct a full remote. As much as anything, it’s not the greatest IR transmitter (on the phone, the IrPlus program is just fine) and you sometimes have to press the button a few times. Anyway I have the amazing One-for-All URC 6440 for that!
But it’s nice to have something that you can pick up, point at the amp, and play your music with minimal fuss. One of the great things about having this setup, is that it’s far more convenient to play music. So I find myself, when at home, playing music far more than I ever did. I suppose the next task is to digitise more of our CDs and records!