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. And with the announcement of Apple’s iPhone 13 range set to hit the shelves here, you may be thinking it’s time to get your hands on one. But do you really need the latest model? And are you just suffering from mobile envy?

As it stands, most major manufacturers update their top-of-the-line smartphones annually. There is 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. Not to mention, costly to the planet.

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.

Samsung galaxy fold 3 phone
The Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 5G retails for a cool $2899.

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.

While manufacturers market each new release as revolutionizing what a phone is capable of, in reality, most of what is on offer is more evolution than revolution. While the rollout of 5G resulted in a strong uptick in mobile phone sales last year, overall, consumers are failing to be swayed by the upgrades on offer with new models. Current and even two or three year-old models are still powerful enough for most users. Especially when top-line models all come with 4-digit prices tags.

Simply put, you don’t need to upgrade every year.

And as noted by the International Data Corporation (IDC), Kiwis aren’t. New Zealand consumers are now holding on to their smartphones for longer (an average of 3.7 years). However, when the time comes to purchase a new model they are prepared to spend more. As we upgrade our phones less, and as phones become more integral to our lives, consumers are gravitating towards higher-end models.

However, as the IDC noted, many consumers are still choosing to buy cheaper, older models, rather than the latest flagship.

iPhone 13 pro and pro max: Upgrade your phone
The new iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max.

Upgrade your phone: when’s the right time?

The right time to upgrade will, of course, vary from 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.

So when is the right time to upgrade your phone?

Firstly think about if you are actually unhappy with your current phone. If not, then any upgrades probably won’t be of much use to you. If your phone feels fast to you, the newer, faster phone will be redundant. And if you’re using your camera for casual selfies and snaps, an updated macro lens is of no use. Just because the new phone is better, doesn’t mean you need it.

If anything, you need to remove the idea of getting a new phone from new phone season. If you weren’t thinking about a new phone prior to the iPhone 13 announcement, then you probably don’t need a new phone.

But, there are 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

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. If you have a top-line model, replacing the battery may be worth it, if you have a cheaper model, perhaps not.

This also involves weighing up the likelihood of additional potential hardware and software issues with older models.

If you are an average phone user, a few release cycles could comfortably pass without you missing out on much. So for those of you with an iPhone 12 at home, it’s probably worth keeping. If you have an iPhone 8 (like me) well, then it could be approaching time to consider upgrading your phone.

Software

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.

Keep in mind, Android phones tend to be compatible with updates for at least a few years, and Apple updates tend to be compatible on phones even five or six years later. So unless your old iPhone 5s has somehow gone the distance, this shouldn’t be too pressing.

woman holding smartphone

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

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 has been ongoing for awhile now, but is still very much in the initial stages, and that 5G is currently only available in limited areas. If you’re not in central Auckland, your options are pretty limited. 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.

For example, while the numbers can sound impressive (in the past iPhones have offered a roughly 20% better single-core performance on their predecessor)  if you’re just scrolling Instagram, the difference may not even be noticeable. That big upgrade could actually just be saving you mere milliseconds. If you’re an avid phone gamer, on the other hand, this could be a big drawcard.

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.

What should you upgrade to?

Just because it’s time to upgrade, doesn’t mean you need to go all out. Before you do upgrade consider your needs. Do you actually need 1 terabyte of storage on your phone? Does anyone? Furthermore, with the release of a new phone cycle, comes the reduction in the price of the previous models. What was the top-line model one month ago can now be bought at a much cheaper rate. Will this be a better option for you?

Additionally, do you even need to buy new? Refurbished phones can be a great way to save money and reduce waste, a growing problem as our smartphone obsession wreaks havoc on our planet.

→ Related article: Should I Buy a Refurbished Phone? Everything You Need to Know

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. Looking after your phone means you won’t have to upgrade your phone as often.

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 when to upgrade your phone is up to you. If you have the cash to splash on an iPhone 13 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 14!


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author andrew broadley

About the author of this page

This report was written by Canstar Content Producer, Andrew Broadley. Andrew is an experienced writer with a wide range of industry experience. Starting out, he cut his teeth working as a writer for print and online magazines, and he has worked in both journalism and editorial roles. His content has covered lifestyle and culture, marketing and, more recently, finance for Canstar.


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