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13 Things You’ll Wish You had when Your Smart Phone is Useless

August 24, 2018

I recently watched a video called “Thirty Things Your Iphone has Replaced.”  It’s pretty interesting to see how many things that used to be common accessories in everyone’s homes 25 years ago, have been made obsolete by the smart phone.  One good example would be that most families used to have a set of encyclopedias.  Who buys encyclopedias now that you can go on your internet connected smart phone and look up anything you want?

But, this video got me to thinking about the flip-side of the smart phone as an information multi-tool.  What would happen if your smart phone was suddenly rendered useless?  What items would you wish that you had if your smart phone cratered?  What follows is a short list for your consideration:

Communication Devices

Although it is used for many other purposes, the smart phone is still primarily a means of communication.  The network of cell towers that supports this technology is extremely vulnerable to EMP attacks.  If an EMP attack ever occurred, cell phone service would probably end.  Some alternatives to the cell phone might include hardwired field telephones for close by communication, rechargeable walkie-talkies and CB base stations for wider area (but still fairly limited) communications, and shortwave radio for long distance communication.


It never fails to amaze me when people show up for a survival class and expect to use the compass tool on their cell phone as a real compass.  No, no, no, no!  So many things can go wrong with a cell phone or its related infrastructure.  They are far too unreliable to ever take the place of a real compass.  Spend the $10 and buy a real compass to stick in you bug out bag or glove box.


Google Maps and various GPS applications have made paper maps virtually obsolete.  Don’t fall into this trap.  You need to at least have a state road map.  Better still; buy several topographic maps of the area around your home.


Everybody uses the flashlight on their smart phone.  Yes, it’s very convenient, but have a back-up.  You need an LED flashlight, rechargeable batteries, and a solar battery charger.


No more looking things up on Google, no more reading e-books from Amazon; you’re going to have to go old school.  It’s a shame that books take up so much space, but it’s a burden you’ll just have to bare.  You’ll need books on gardening, plant identification, canning and food preservation,  first aid and medical guides, repair manuals, gunsmithing books; all of the practical how-to books that you can find.  You’ll need books for entertainment (stick to the timeless classics), and don’t forget the children’s books.  If you have room throw in a set of encyclopedias.


You won’t be playing Candy Crunch on your smart phone anymore.  Buy a deck of cards, some dominoes, a few dice, a set of checkers with board, and a chess set.  A few old school board games wouldn’t hurt either.  Yatzee once got my wife and I through six months without electricity when we were young.  Also, definitely buy a copy of Hoyle’s Rules of Games.  It has the rules and how to play every card and dice game you’ve ever heard of and a bunch that you haven’t heard of.

Pencil and Paper

Everybody takes notes, makes grocery lists, etc on their smart phones.  Without a working smart phone you’ll need to do it the old fashioned way with a paper and pencil.  Buy yourself a couple of boxes of pencils and a few spiral notebooks.  They don’t take up much space, and they could come in very handy.

Musical Instrument

You won’t be listening to that play list anymore after your smart phone bites the dust.  How about learning to play a musical instrument?  My wife and I belong to a re-enactment group that uses no gear more modern than 1836.  We always have a campfire with a group sing-along.  One person plays guitar, a couple of people play the boron (a kind of Celtic hand drum), one plays the harmonica, and another plays the penny whistle and sometimes the fiddle.  The rest of us sing along loudly and poorly, and we all have a great time.

Weather Instruments

No more weather app, so buy yourself a thermometer, a barometer, and a rain gauge.  Learn a little about cloud formations and weather prediction.


The calendar and alerts function on your smart phone is very handy; but if your smart phone is useless, you’ll wish that you had an old time paper calendar.  Some businesses still give them away for free, or you can buy one or print one off of the internet.

Self Winding Watch

Hardly anyone under the age of 50 wears a wristwatch any more.  Most people just glance down at the screen of their ever present smart phone.  Knowing the exact time may not be all that important in a survival situation, but if you feel the need to know the time you will need an old fashioned wrist watch.  I would recommend a good quality self winding watch so you don’t have to worry about batteries running out.  I had a not so high quality self winder that lasted for over 10 years without repair.  Hey, if you have deep pockets buy a Rolex and you’ll probably be fixed for life.

Photo Album

If you have pictures that mean a lot to you; spouse, children, parents, etc; print them out and put them in a photo album.  You should do this anyway.  You could lose or damage your phone, and the pictures would be lost.

Solar Powered Calculator

Unless you are an engineer or a math teacher you probably depend on the calculator on your smart phone.  You really should buy an inexpensive solar powered calculator as a back-up in case your smart phone becomes useless.

Well, there’s my little list.  Now, I have to admit that I don’t even own a smart phone, so I’m sure that some of you smart phone owners can come up with a lot of things that should be added to this list.  If you think of anything feel free to add it in the comments section below.


  1. Very nice post and good list; I often chuckle and ask people how they would navigate if suddenly they lost the signal… or forget how to add a column of numbers…

    a self-winding watch would be a great conversation piece! here in ecuador i look at the sky and can guess the time pretty close, as long as the sun is shining.. watches with batteries don’t work for long for me, so i quit using them long ago… but the self-winding watch would be something ‘fun’ to own!

    thanks for all of your suggestions

  2. Stephen V. Kinsey permalink

    Thank you. Very thought provoking, indeed.

  3. Phillip Yelofox M permalink

    I resently found my slide rule packed away in “stuff”. We used them when I was in College for Electronic math problems. I got the idea that even a solar powered calculators have solid state components that would no longer be functional dye to an EMP.
    Glad I had the manual with the slide rule!!!
    I am having an enjoyable time “relearning” how to use it and going through the problem sets in the manual.
    We put men on the moon with slide rules!!❗
    Just a thought. Phillip YF

    • Phillip Yelofox M permalink

      Also, part of “on my person” gear is a butane lighter, even though I do not smoke.

      My wristwatch can service as a compass, with hands instead of digital and it doesn’t require a battery.

      Yellow Fox

    • Yellow Fox,
      Good hearing from you. When are you coming back to Texas? When I was a kid my dad was an engineer. He designed radar systems, missile guidance systems, communications systems, and at least one piece of equipment that went to the moon. I distinctly remember him sitting at the kitchen table with a slide rule and a pad of blue grid paper and designing equipment that protected our country in the 50’s and 60’s. He would be amazed that most people carry phones with more computing power than the Apollo Spacecraft that went to the moon had.

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