As times get tougher and budgets get tighter, we’re all looking to slice our cost of living where it counts, without sacrificing the quality of life it brings us. Smartphones have become an increasingly important part of our business lives, as well as our personal lives, and the pressure to upgrade and flash the latest device can be immense.
That said, the lifecycle of a useful smartphone is far longer than annual upgrades (yes, we’re looking at you, Apple) and marketing pressure can make it seem. Today we take a deep dive into the true lifecycle of your mobile device, and how to know if you’ll benefit from an upgrade, or are just suffering a case of FOMO.
Advances have Slowed
Early in the smartphone era, it was actually quite important to upgrade your phone. Each generation had a massive leap from the one before, specifically on speed, capacity, and performance.
You’ll still see important spec updates in modern generations, of course, but the rate of evolution of the smartphone has slowed considerably. We see the most upgrades in camera technology, and even there, there’s a limit.
Almost every phone created in the last 2 years has a great camera, powerful hardware, and a battery you can trust. While there’s been an improvement in wireless technology- 5G especially- it’s a ‘nice to have’ that won’t make a meaningful impact in how you experience net-related activities on your mobile and the average user would be hard-pressed to tell the difference, even in streaming activities.
This is a critical point to consider when deciding if you really need an upgrade, or just want one. Hardware spec changes look fantastic on paper, and every new generation will market them heavily. However, modern high- and mid-range smartphones have gotten so good already, that many of these on-paper advances are nothing but feel-good lures. Very few people will notice the real-time difference between a phone with 8GB of RAM and one with 12GB. Likewise, processor updates look fancy on paper, but give very few meaningful metric improvements in practical use for all but the heaviest users.
So rather than be lured by paper promises, decide if the latest ‘innovation’ will meaningfully change your user experience, or simply be a nice-to-have. The raw numbers don’t lie, but they do distract. If you’re simply looking for a new network and better deal, get your phone unlocked online. For example, these days it’s easy to get an AT&T device unlock to move to Verizon or T-Mobile.
Batteries Last 2 Years (or More)
Lithium-ion batteries do deteriorate with time, and integrated batteries have made it harder to swap out a dying battery for a new one. But their lifespan is closer to 2-years than one. In fact, most modern li-ion batteries will perform optimally for at least 2 years. With proper charging in line with manufacturer recommendations, they can easily last well beyond that.
The iPhone, for example, has been shown to retain 80% of its maximum capacity after 2 years of average usage. And even internal batteries can be swapped out for the fraction of the cost of a whole new device.
Software Stays Valid
Another key aspect to consider when upgrading is the lifespan of the software. Unlike a battery, you can’t reload an OS on your device easily. However, most high-end smartphones are released with the very latest software on board. Many top Android phones, for eg, promise at least 2- to 3-years of OS updates and another year of security updates. Apple, surprisingly, does even better- most iPhones get OS updates for up to 6 years after release. So there’s a long time before you start running into compatibility issues with newer software.
That said, finding that more and more of your apps are not available for your current phone’s OS is a great sign that you need to upgrade.
Flagship is No Longer Cost-Effective
Back in the day, you could pick up so-called ‘flagship’ phones for a reasonable $600-$700. Today, you’ll pay well over $1000 for the same phone. You can argue that evolving price points and inflation make this a fair trade but look back at our other points. Hardware changes are no longer as drastic as they were, and software is far more supported than is often disclosed. If you’ve already invested in a top-end model in the last two years, you’re unlikely to get anything like real value from rebuying so soon.
About the only way to make flagship upgrades worth the money is to be smart and trade-in your old device to a program like Gizmogo that will pay you something for it, allowing you to roll-over the money into your new purchase. Otherwise, you’re paying a premium price for very little.
While regular upgrades can still be an important part of staying up-to-date if you’re purchasing at the low end of the range, most modern mid- and high-end smartphones will be practical, beautiful, and perform well for way longer than a single year. If you’re feeling the pressure to find the money to upgrade your device on a tight budget, think again. Money should never become a stress point for you, and it’s better to view regular updates as a luxury than fall for the marketing gimmick that they’re a necessity. Being smart when you choose your initial device will also help stretch the longevity of the phone.
So put the marketing messages aside, and look at the facts. Are you getting something for that annual upgrade, or will what you already have work just fine?