While most tablets have a shelf life longer than six months (*cough* iPad 3 *cough*), they all grow obsolete eventually. When the march of technology sends your slate to the junk drawer don't just sell it off. Recycle it into a high-powered specialist device.
A Dedicated E-reader
Why shell out $80 for a Kindle when you have a perfectly decent legacy iPad—or first-gen Kindle Fire—just gathering dust? It might not be as light as Amazon's E-ink offering, but the iPad's bigger, brighter screen and beefier processor make it a viable alternative to keeping a clutter of books on your coffee table. Simply install your preferred reading app—iBooks, Newsstand, Nook, Flipboard, and the Kindle, for example—lock your screen orientation in portrait, and curl up with your ebook.
A Comic Book Library
If you prefer graphic novels over classic literature—or if reading walls of text on the iPad's LCD screen strains your eyes— the iPad still makes a great dedicated reader. The Comic X app from comicXology carries more than 30,000 titles from Marvel, DC, IDW, and indie publishers. Dark Horse fans, however, will have to use that publisher's proprietary marketplace. They're both free, though you will have to pay for what you read.
A Kitchen Companion
Your old iPad can also save you some kitchen counter space by replacing all of your might cooking tomes. First load your preferred cookbook app. Big Oven is great if you've already assembled a sizable recipe collection, as it leverages the phone's camera to import them from old paper cards. The app also organizes your recipes, automatically generates shopping lists, and offers an 200,000 additional cooking projects online. It does require iOS 5.1. How to Cook Everything, by New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, is another essential, especially for neophyte cooks. This $10 app (which also works on the iPhone) explains the basics of kitchen etiquette and walks the user through more than 2,000 recipes, literally step by step. It too generates grocery lists and works with devices as old as iOS 4.3.
Once you have the app downloaded, you'll need to devise a means of suspending the iPad as you work to keep it both out of your way and out of splashing range of whatever you're cooking. Depending on how permanent you want the fixture to be and how much you want to pay, there are several options. You could drop $50 on a magnetic iPad holder what hangs on your refrigerator or $20 for a bracket that hangs it from brick walls or bore out a panel on your kitchen cabinet and mount the iPad in there. You can also just use a dedicated iPad stand like Twelve South's Compass. Whichever method you choose, just be sure to wipe your hands before swiping the screen.
A Second Monitor
Even if that old iPad can't keep up with your shiny new laptop in terms of processing power, it can still find value as both a wireless extension of your computer's screen and a tactile input device with Air Display. This $10 app will extend or mirror your desktop to one or more wirelessly linked iPads. What's more, the app allows you to use the tablet's touchscreen interface in conjunction with your keyboard and mouse; you can even use the iPad's digital keyboard in lieu of the physical one if you prefer (but... don't do that). Simply install the free Air Display server software on your computer (it works on both Mac and PC), load the app onto your tablet and follow the setup instructions.
A Portable Media Center
Between iTunes, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu, that clunker of a tablet is still equipped with an arsenal of entertainment options; you just need to borrow a screen. If your iPad is running iOS 4.3 or later, you can simply use Airplay mirroring to bounce your content to a nearby compatible television. If not, 30-pin to HDMI adapters are available from Apple for $40 or Amazon for $28. Even if your original iPad's display isn't retina, it can hook up to something that's close.
If you've taken the time to load and setup your iPad as a portable entertainment center, chances are you'll end up using it to placate your kids on long road trips. This is a great idea, but fraught with peril. I mean, have you seen a kid's hands? Those sticky, grubby appendages carry more bacteria than the inside of a Komodo dragon and are capable of smearing jelly into, well, everything. To keep the little terrors from feeding your iPad's 30-pin port Cheerios, keep it strapped to the back of the driver's seat headrest—and well clear of the reach from the booster seat.
A Picture Frame
Perhaps the easiest way to squeeze a few more years out of your legacy tablet is as a repository of your legacy memories. iOS has a native Picture Frame app that will automatically organize, cycle, and display your digital photos. Simply tap the small flower in the lower right corner of the iPad's lock screen to activate this slideshow. You can also set the slide duration, transition, and designate which albums to pull images from (be very sure "that one folder" isn't selected) through the Picture Frame tab on the settings screen. It might seem crazy, but remember that digital picture frames can retail for over $200. Good luck getting that much for your three-year-old iPad.