When Do You Really Need to Upgrade Your Phone?

Tempted by the latest shiny phone and want a new one? Canstar breaks down when it’s time to upgrade your phone and splash out on new tech.

The carousel of new-release smartphones might slow but it never stops. There’s always a new high-end device to make your old phone look shabby. But do you really need the latest model and are you just suffering from mobile envy? Canstar explores the right time to upgrade your phone.

As it stands, most major manufacturers update their top-of-the-line smartphones annually. There are wave after wave of new-release models. As a result, constantly upgrading to the latest and greatest mobile technologies can quickly become an expensive process.

Of course, most smartphones, and especially higher-end smartphones, don’t need to be replaced yearly. So it’s certainly worthwhile weighing up if you really need the latest features. And to ask yourself if the time is really right to upgrade your phone.

Galaxy Note 20

Samsung’s Galaxy Note20 Ultra
5G Dual SIM 256GB is a steal at $2299.

Upgrade your phone: how often?

Over the past decade, the smartphone market has enjoyed strong and sustained growth. However with the market at saturation point, the motivation to purchase a new model each year has diminished.

Currently the performance and feature upgrades on offer from one generation of smartphones to the next is not substantial enough to sway consumers. Especially since top-line models all come with four-digit price tags. Three-year-old phones are still powerful enough for most users, who aren’t in a rush to pay a premium for the latest devices.

As noted last year by the International Data Corporation (IDC), New Zealand consumers are now holding on to their smartphones for longer. However, when the time comes to purchase a new model they are prepared to spend more.

This has seen consumers gravitate towards higher-end models, reflecting the growing importance of smartphones in our daily lives. However, as the IDC noted, many consumers are still choosing to buy cheaper, older models, rather than the latest flagship.

According to the IDC, consumers usually hold on to a smartphone for an average of 3.7 years before acquiring a new model. And demand for flagship devices is likely to fall even further if prices continue to rise.

iphone 12 pro max
The iPhone 12 Pro Max 512GB will set you back a cool $2699.

Upgrade your phone: when’s the right time?

The right time to upgrade will, of course, vary consumer to consumer. Some people are first in line to upgrade from one year to the next. Others aren’t motivated to act until their current smartphone starts showing significant signs of wear and tear.

There are, however, some circumstances when the need to upgrade becomes pressing. And the fact of the matter is that smartphone hardware and software is simply not designed to last forever.


Hardware components will naturally degrade over time. In the case of smartphones, the most prominent example of this is battery degradation. Batteries degrade over the course of charge cycles, and the capacity to hold charge reduces over time.

Of course, it’s possible to replace batteries. However, the cost of doing so should be weighed up against the cost of replacing your smartphone completely. This involves weighing up the likelihood of additional potential hardware and software issues with older models.


At some point manufacturers stop providing software updates for older model smartphones. This can lead not only to security issues, but also to significantly impacted performance, such as compatibility issues with apps.

Be it an Android or iOS operating system, it’s important to run the most up-to-date software available for your phone model. It’s always worthwhile confirming that your smartphone has the latest software installed.

New technologies: what are the motivations to upgrade?

Beyond technologies simply becoming dated, the introduction of new and improved technologies also presents a compelling case for you to part with your hard-earned for a new flashy model.

New smartphones are constantly arriving sporting new technologies that supersede the offerings of previous models. And while it may not be necessary to upgrade immediately, many of these new technologies in turn become standard over time.

With this in mind, the following are some of the new technologies being incorporated into the current generation of flagship smartphones.

5G logo


5G, the fifth generation of wireless mobile technology, has the capacity to deliver significant performance gains over 4G, including faster download speeds and lower latency. Many new smartphones (especially flagship models) now have 5G capabilities.

However, keep in mind that the rollout of 5G networks is still very much in the initial stages, and that 5G is currently only available in limited areas. In NZ that’s pretty much small pockets of coverage in Auckland. For more info on 5G coverage from mobile providers, click here.

Wi-fi 6

Wi-fi 6 (also referred to as 802.11ax) is the latest wi-fi standard. It offers a range of upgrades over previous standards, delivering faster network speed and greater network capacity, and many new smartphones sport this capability.

Wi-fi 6 is backwards compatible with previous Wi-Fi standards. So if you’ve got a wi-fi 6 router, or are considering upgrading to one, this is a feature that may well be worth considering when it comes to purchasing your next smartphone.

New hardware

From faster processors, to new battery technologies, cameras and displays, every new smartphone generation (especially flagship models) brings consumers the latest and greatest technologies, designed to deliver improved performance.

Some of these technologies are more noticeable than others. For instance, foldable screens have attracted a lot of attention recently. But it’s important to consider if you’ll make use of these features, and if they’ll deliver true added value.

New software

The most recent Android or iOS operating system will contain the latest security updates. But it will also feature any new innovations, designed to enhance the user experience and make smartphone operation more intuitive.

New operating system releases are typically packed with a range of new features. So it’s worthwhile checking out what’s on offer from the latest respective versions of Android and iOS, and considering how you could utilise them.

Holding on to your smartphone

As noted above, the IDC has found that consumers are holding on to their smartphones for longer. And throughout the lifespan of a device, it’s important to do all you can to ensure it continues to perform.

It’s certainly worthwhile using protective screens and cases, taking care to protect your smartphone’s display. And there are a number of steps that can be taken to enhance battery lifespan, including using a battery saver and the right charging accessories.

Of course, also download any software updates as soon as they become available. This will ensure your smartphone is decked out with all the latest security features, which will contribute to a stable and smooth interface and an improved user experience.

Ultimately, the choice of whether to buy a new phone is up to you. If you’ve the cash to splash on an iPhone 12 Pro Max, the choice is yours. And, at least, with the latest and fastest iPhone in your pocket, you can rest assured you won’t need to update again in a hurry … well, at least not until next year’s release of the iPhone 13!

What is a phone without a phone plan? Nada! But don’t worry, Canstar is at hand with research into customer satisfaction and value for money covering all the major phone providers. For our latest award and ratings, just hit the button below.

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