A lot of people, whether you’re a tech novice or a super fan, want the newest and latest gadget. That’s especially true when it comes to our smartphones. Our phones are such a ubiquitous part of our lives that we’re much more aware of its failures and downfalls than we are, say, when our fridge isn’t working as well as the newest model on the market. (I assume fridges come in models?) Your GPS not working, not having access to the latest apps, or reading an article on a security breach that you’re not protected against will get your attention pretty quickly.
But smartphones are a pretty big investment. Most of us don’t have the cash lying around to run out to the Apple store and take our pick of whatever’s available for sale. Plus, how do we know that the phone isn’t just going to blow up on us? Right, Samsung?
Here are three things you should take into account when you’re deciding whether or not you should upgrade your smartphone.
How do you use your smartphone?
It’s been a while since a phone was just a phone. Nowadays they’re computers and calculators; they’re how we stay in touch with loved ones; they’re how we pass time on the toilet subway. But we don’t all use our phones the same way.
That’s why the first thing you should consider is what you need your phone to do for you, and if your current smartphone is actually doing it.
Do you rely on Siri and Google Assistant to help find information and manage some of your day-to-day tasks? If you have an older phone, you might not have access to those digital assistants. Head over to your neighborhood Apple Store or Best Buy and give the phones a spin to see if the assistants give you the kind of functionality that will make your life easier.
Do you want VR capabilities, like Google’s Daydream at your fingertips? Those are only available on newer models, so if you want to add VR to your arsenal of entertainment options, you’ll probably have to upgrade.
Do you have major anxiety about your phone getting wet? A lot of new phones have better waterproofing abilities than ever before.
Do you want better battery life? Do you need apps to open faster and more smoothly? Are you really sick of that 3mm headphone jack? These are all things you’ll need to figure out if only a new phone can give you.
Of course, there will be some variation between what you need and what you want your phone to do, but if you use your phone heavily each and every day, that line is probably blurrier than you think. And some things – like security and cost – might be even more important to you.
Is your smartphone’s security a priority?
It seems like there’s a new data breach happening every week. We worry about having firewalls and antivirus programs on our computers, and about making secure passwords, but we might not give as much thought to the security of our smartphones.
Which is silly, right? We scroll through all of our photos on our phones, we bank on the go using our smartphones, and our email and social media accounts are readily accessible at the tap of a finger. If someone got into our smartphone, that could be disastrous. (Looking at you, Mr. President.)
Vulnerabilities in apps and smartphone operating systems aren’t particularly rare. That’s why Apple and Google release monthly security updates: Having a vulnerable phone is bad for business in such intense competition, so both companies want to make sure they’re not leaving any customers open to attack (and themselves open to embarrassment).
When you’re trying to decide if you should get a new phone, figure out if your phone is still receiving these security updates. Google guarantees three years of security updates for Android phones, while Apple is usually pretty good at offering longer periods of support for older iPhone models.
Keep in mind that security updates may not be in line with actually operating system updates. For example, Google provides three years of security updates, but when they launched the Pixel in late 2016, they said that new operating system versions would only be guaranteed for two years. If you want some of the bells and whistles described above, you probably need a new OS. But your main goal should be making sure your smartphone is as secure as possible – and that might just mean getting a new one.
Can you afford a new smartphone?
Finally, we get to the elephant in the room. You want a new smartphone. You need a new smartphone.
But can you actually afford a new smartphone?
The Google Pixel and Apple iPhone both start at $649. Depending on the model and storage size, you can end up paying $200-300 more than a base model. That’s not exactly pocket change.
Gone are the days when a mobile carrier will subsidize the cost of a phone in exchange for a locked-in contract. But you can still buy phones through carriers and pay a monthly cost if you’d rather spread out the expense. You can also buy your phone directly from manufacturers themselves – but be careful if you do.
Let’s take a look at Google’s financing options. You can get 0% APR for up to 24 months. That’s a great deal for getting a phone at $20-30 a month, interest free! That is...unless you don’t pay your bill on time, in which case your APR jumps to 29.99%.
Or let’s look at Apple’s financing program, brought to you buy Barclaycard Financing Visa: 0% interest for "the first six billing cycles after you open your account," and that jumps to 21.49% or 23.49% depending on your credit history.
Like other introductory credit offers, this can be a good deal if you’re very diligent in paying your bill every single month until your entire debt is paid off. But if you slip up, that can mean huge interest charges that can derail your budget and broader financial plans, meaning it isn’t for everyone.
Of course, there are other ways to make a new smartphone more affordable. One is to sell your current phone, offsetting some of the costs of upgrading. Another is to...not actually get a new phone. You can buy a used or refurbished phone through eBay, Gazelle, Swappa, or Usell. Or maybe you don’t buy a phone at all. If your problem is poor battery life or a cracked screen, repairing those issues can be much more cost effective than springing for a new phone.
In the end, the most important thing to do if you decide that you need a new phone is to make sure it fits into your budget. Whether it’s saving up in advance or paying it off a little bit every month, make your phone purchase part of your current saving and spending strategy. That way you won’t find yourself with a brand new shiny phone – but a broken budget.