The pace at which new smartphones are being introduced into the market is staggering. Typically, a lot of us prefer to wait a few months after the launch of a new phone. Reasons vary from ‘waiting for a long-term review’ to ‘the price is going to drop after a few months.’ Unfortunately, by the time either of these reasons have been met, enough time has passed and an updated version of the smartphone is on the horizon. Speaking from personal experience, I was mighty impressed by the Google Pixel XL which I reviewed and decided that I will buy a unit for myself, but by the time I was ready to spare the cash, rumours around the Pixel 2 had already started circling. Now I can’t get myself to buy the Google Pixel. For some reason, the launch of a phone that may not even exist is keeping me from buying a phone that is already pretty damn amazing.
I went back to using my OnePlus 2 and over the course of a few days realized that everything I needed my smartphone to do, the OnePlus 2 did exceedingly well. It was fast, didn’t lag while typing or browsing the web. It handled the occassional Asphalt Extreme sessions without any lag and the camera was more than competent to shoot everything I shoot with a smartphone. Turns out my more than two year old phone running a dated SoC was still chugging like a race horse, leaving very little reason for me to consider upgrading my phone. So how do you tell if you should upgrade your phone? Here are a few handy tips.
This is somewhat obvious. If you have a phone that’s one or two iterations behind whatever is the latest, it just might be economically smarter to buy the new phone. You get more value out of that proposition than you would from repairing a two year old phone. For example, if you have an iPhone 6 that you accidentally took into the pool with you, instead of paying the obscene replacement cost, just go for the iPhone 7. Sure there’s un-authorized third party repair guys who might get the phone working for cheap, but the phone might not perform as expected. Ideally, if repairs cost more than 40% of what it would cost to buy a new phone, get the new phone.
Performance needs are somewhat subjective, but what we all expect from our phones is that it shouldn’t hang while performing basic, day-to-day tasks like messaging and calling. It shouldn’t take the dialer three seconds to open and the keyboard should respond immediately while typing instead of having the letters lag a few seconds behind every keystroke. The phone has performance issue when it isn’t able to run apps without hanging or crashing. Simply put, if the phone takes more than 2 seconds to execute any command you give it on a regular basis, it may be time to buy a new phone. My OnePlus 2 which runs on the Snapdragon 810 chipset with 4GB of RAM can run games, Lightroom and a few browser windows without even a single stutter. In terms of performance, I see no reason to upgrade.
Sad Battery Life
We all wish we had phones that lasted a long duration, however we may choose to define “long”. I just wish I didn’t have to charge my phone every night. I remember owning an iPhone 4s which used to last me throughout the day when I originally bought it and about 14 months later, I would find myself scrambling for the charger by noon. While I agree that my usage of the phone had increased slightly, it wasn’t enough to impact the battery life so adversely. Unfortunately, Lithium Ion batteries suffer from “fatigue” if they aren’t maintained properly, causing their ability to hold charge to drop. If you find yourself scrambling for a charger every 4-5 hours, then you’re probably better off buying a new phone instead of relying on a portable charger or two. Just for reference, the OnePlus 2 still lasts me a whole day use as a primary phone and a day and a half when it is my secondary.
This is a tricky one. While some us just rely on our phones to receive and make calls, changes in our lifestyle or professional lives may result in the phone becoming more than just a communication device in the traditional sense. If you find yourself relying more and more on your phone to run your business, you may want to swap out your two year old phone with whatever suits your new needs. As a photographer, I needed a phone with a great camera, so I was happy with the iPhone 5c. However, once I started writing full-time again, I found myself relying on my phone to file more and more stories. The small screen and poor battery life of the iPhone 5c couldn’t cut it and I switched to a OnePlus2. Similarly, if you find yourself in a situation where your phone isn’t contributing to your needs in ways it should, upgrading might be a good option.
Death of an OS
It’s no secret that Windows Phone is dead. Those who own Lumia devices know that at any point, their phones could stop getting any updates for the OS or even apps. My Lumia 1020 now sits in a shelf as a trophy, instead of being my daily driver. If you’re holding onto a phone from years past, you’d find yourself in a situation where your OS stops getting software updates. Worse is when apps start dropping support for your device due to a dated operating system. Whatsapp recently did this recently by ending compatibility with iOS 6 (or below), Android 2.2 or 2.1 and Windows Phone 7. What good is a smartphone if it no longer runs the apps you rely on the most?
Special Must-Have features
Every now and then, phone manufacturers would develop technologies for their devices that would help them stand out and above from the crowd. The iPhone 7 Plus’s dual camera comes to mind when I think of something unique. Sure there are a number of other manufacturers too have tried putting dual cameras in their phones, but the iPhone’s focus on portraiture has lured plenty of photographers to their camp. While I found myself drawn to the iPhone 7 Plus SOLELY for its 56mm lens, the Pixel was a far more lucrative package for me because Google’s HDR algorithms really do squeeze a lot out of that tiny Sony IMX298 sensor. While it isn’t financially sound to ditch the flagship you just bought a few months ago in favour of the latest iteration, if you’re two or more generations behind, choosing to upgrade may not be a bad idea. However, it would be a financial blunder to buy a phone for just ONE feature. For example, if you want to buy the LG V20 just because it comes with a DAC chip, you’d be better off retaining your current phone and using the money to buy a dedicated high-resolution audio player with nice high-res headphones instead (and this setup would probably cost you lesser than a V20).
Some Final Thoughts
With each passing year, we see flagship phones become increasingly lucrative as they try to seduce buyers into upgrading sooner than expected. While it makes absolutely no sense to upgrade after a year of owning a phone sometimes it makes no sense to do so even after two or even three years. Larger RAM or a faster processor are hardly reasons to want to change, given that your existing flagship is probably more than capable of running the most demanding of games without breaking a sweat. This is something I noticed while reviewing the OnePlus 3T. Playing Asphalt 3 on the OnePlus 3 and the OnePlus 3T side by side revealed that there was absolutely no difference in performance, at least none that could be discerned by the naked eye. It made no sense to recommend going from the OP3 to the OP3T, but did it make any sense to do so from my OP2 to the OP3T?
At the end of the day, it isn’t about the specification that your phone ships with that determines the value you get out of it. What you should focus on is whether it does what you rely on the phone to do.