by Brian X Chenowhandjob The New York Times Company
It’s almost phone season again—that time of year when tech companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung are bombarded with spectacular marketing campaigns to persuade us to upgrade.
Their new phones differ somewhat, but the pitch is almost always the same: the phone you have now isn’t good enough because this new one has a great camera and brighter screen, plus it’s faster. So give the “old” one to a less tech-inclined member of the family or trade it in for credit toward a shiny new gadget.
This promotional cycle poses an annual dilemma: Is it time to upgrade? We all know that after a few years, our phones no longer work like they used to. It may not be able to run the latest apps. It can feel sluggish. Some components, such as the touch-screen, may begin to fail.
At some point, getting a new phone becomes practical, such as when too many negatives are added or the cost of fixing a broken part is too high. But often, upgrades can be unnecessary as the elements that make us unhappy with our phones can be fixed with some care.
In any case, let your personal situation—not the charm of phone season—guide you, and take your time to reflect.
“Normally, we need to get away with upgrading: ‘Hey, there’s a new iPhone. Now is the time to think about it,’” said Nick Guy, a senior staff writer at Wirecutter, sister of The New York Times. Publication that tests products. “There’s nothing wrong with picking up a phone later.”
Here are some questions to ask yourself — and some practical advice — to help deliberately make this decision.
Am I unhappy with my phone?
The first and foremost step is to assess your satisfaction with your phone. If there are elements that make you sad, focus on the problems.
Everything that makes us unhappy with our phones can be fixed, so it helps to be aware of solutions. Here are two of the most common frustrations and their remedies:
— If the device seems slow or doesn’t last all day, one of the simplest and most economical solutions is to replace the battery. Apple stores will replace iPhone batteries for $50 to $70, and many independent technicians can service batteries for Apple and Android phones for roughly the same cost.
Replacing the battery greatly prolongs the life of the device and increases its speed. Because batteries have a limited life, it is recommended to replace them every two to three years anyway, said Kyle Weins, CEO of iFixit, a company that publishes instructions on repairing gadgets.
– Another common problem is running out of data storage, which prevents people from taking more photos and downloading apps. A quick solution is to purge the apps you no longer use. On iPhones, Apple provides the iPhone Storage tool, which shows a list of apps that take up the most data and when they were last used. On Android devices, Google offers a similar tool, Files.
Some big problems cannot be easily solved. For example, it can cost $200 or more to replace a broken touch-screen, which approaches the price of a good new phone, like a $400 iPhone SE or a $300 Google Pixel 4A. When a repair is more than half the cost of a new phone, it may be time to think about trading in your beat-up gadget for credit toward a new one.
Can I get software updates?
Phone makers regularly publish software updates that include new features but also address security vulnerabilities, so it’s important to stay on top of installing them. A good rule of thumb is to consider an upgrade when you can no longer receive software updates.
Apple phones get software updates for five to six years. (Apple’s iOS 15 software, arriving this fall, will be compatible with phones dating back to the iPhone 6S from 2015.) Android devices get them for a short period of time — about two to three years.
Although security updates are important, it may not be practical for some people to upgrade as soon as software updates are finished, said Sinan Aren, an executive at security firm Barracuda Networks. In countries like Turkey, electronics are taxed 100%, which means customers have an economic incentive to keep a device for more than five years.
“It’s a difficult situation and so safety is a luxury to think about,” Eren said.
There are ways to solve this problem. Anti-malware apps like Malwarebytes can keep older Android phones running safely for a while. Apple phones can also run apps like 1Blocker, which blocks malicious ads from loading on websites.
How will a new phone change my life?
It’s important to imagine what your life would look like with a new phone, said the Guy of Wirecutter. If you have a newborn on the way and your phone camera takes blurry pictures, then an upgrade with a better camera will probably change your phone experience in a remarkable way.
But if you mostly use the phone just for basic tasks like calls, messaging and web browsing, a new, faster one won’t make a big difference because phones have been pretty fast for years.
“Don’t replace something that works just fine because there’s a new, shiny version,” Guy said.
This article originally appeared in the new York Times.