Close call: Should you upgrade your phone?
It’s that familiar feeling in the lead-up to the launch of the latest and (if advertising is to be believed) greatest smartphone ever to come on the market.
You look at the one in your hand, the one that has done its job very well for the past year. And suddenly, it doesn’t seem so appealing.
You start wondering if your mobile plan has expired and whether or not you can justify the upgrading your phone. But do you really need that shiny new phone with the extra camera? Or is it just a combination of clever marketing and the fear of missing out?
Before you rush out to buy the next model, there are some important considerations that should give you pause for thought.
How often do we upgrade?
A recent survey found that almost one in three (29 percent) of Australians upgrade their mobile phones every two years or less. That’s a lot of extra dollars vanishing from your account and a lot of extra rubbish in landfills.
The reason? The same survey revealed that 69 percent of people pointed to performance issues as the primary reason for their last upgrade. Among these, 30 percent needed to replace their phones due to physical damage or breakage that made their devices unusable.
Fifteen percent identified slow performance, which disrupted their daily tasks and overall experience of using the phone. For the rest, battery performance and battery life were standout issues, with 12 percent experiencing complete battery failure and another 12 percent frustrated with rapidly draining battery life.
Eight percent said it was time to upgrade their phone contract, with many commenting that the timing often aligned with enticing offers for the latest devices from their telcos. Six percent were swayed by these offers, and received new phones as part of promotional deals or loyalty incentives.
Receiving a newer phone model from a family member or friend prompted five percent to upgrade, while two percent had lost their phones.
Surprisingly, only seven percent said the allure of the latest tech was undeniable. And they upgraded simply because a new phone model caught their eye.
Should you upgrade your phone now or wait?
If you’re mulling over getting a newer phone model or sticking with your current device, here are some questions to help you decide:
Can you afford to upgrade your phone?
Upgrading to a new phone is often a significant financial commitment, with some models costing more than two month’s worth of groceries. The price range of a 5G-enabled smartphone varies significantly, ranging from as low as $247 to a hefty price tag of $2,049, with an average cost of $909.
In addition to the base phone price, remember to factor in additional costs such as protective accessories, screen protectors, and potential increases in your monthly bills if you opt for a new contract.
How will it affect your monthly budget?
Suppose you are considering a 12-month contract with Vodafone for the iPhone 15, which comes at a monthly rate of $124. If you are on an iPhone 12 contract priced at $89 per month, there would be an increase of $35 per month. Over a year, this amounts to an additional spend of $420.
Are there significant new features?
When evaluating a new model, one of the key criteria is whether the features justify the price. Are there substantial upgrades that would benefit you, or are the changes mostly aesthetic or features you won’t notice?
To illustrate this, let’s examine the noteworthy differences between iPhone 12 and 15 models:
Super Retina XDR OLED with HDR10, Dolby Vision, 625 nits (HBM), 1200 nits (peak)
Super Retina XDR OLED with HDR10, Dolby Vision, 1000 nits (HBM), 2000 nits (peak)
iOS 14.1 (upgradable to iOS 17.1)
iOS 17 (upgradable to iOS 17.1)
Apple A14 Bionic (5 nm)
Apple A16 Bionic (4 nm)
Hexa-core (2x3.1 GHz Firestorm + 4x1.8 GHz Icestorm)
Hexa-core (2x3.46 GHz Everest + 4x2.02 GHz Sawtooth)
Apple GPU (4-core graphics)
Apple GPU (5-core graphics)
4GB RAM with storage options of 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
6GB RAM with storage options of 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
12 MP primary camera
48 MP primary camera
Li-Ion 2815 mAh
Li-Ion 3349 mAh
Given these differences, if you prioritise features such as a brighter display, a more powerful chipset, increased memory, and an enhanced camera, the iPhone 15 might be a worthwhile upgrade. However, if your iPhone 12 still meets your needs and you don't see significant benefits from the new features, retaining your current phone might be a more economical choice.
Is the environmental impact worth it?
Every smartphone produced leaves a notable carbon footprint. The extraction of metals, manufacturing processes, and transportation all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s estimated that the production of a single smartphone generates about 104kg (or 0.1042857 metric tonnes) of CO2 equivalent. When multiplied by the predicted shipment of 1.4 billion phones in 2023, this adds up to a substantial environmental impact.
To provide a practical comparison, let’s compare it to the average emissions driving passenger cars and light SUVs in Australia in 2021, which was 146.5g/km. This suggests that the carbon footprint of producing just one smartphone is roughly equivalent to driving an average passenger car or light SUV in Australia for about 710km.
In addition, there's the escalating issue of electronic waste - with every new upgrade, millions of ‘old’ phones are discarded. According to estimates from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), 5.3 billion phones were deemed e-waste in 2022. This waste can harm the environment, as it may release toxic substances into the soil and water.
When is the best time to upgrade your phone?
When deciding the ideal time to upgrade your phone, several factors come into play. Consider:
1. Software updates
If your phone no longer receives essential software updates, it could become susceptible to security threats. To give you an idea of the typical duration for software support for your smartphone, here’s a summary of Wired’s insights:
- Apple generally maintains device support for up to seven years and offers security updates for an additional year or two after major software updates conclude.
- Google assures Android updates for its Pixel phones for a minimum of three years, along with security updates for five years.
- Flagship Samsung Galaxy phones come with a four-year software update guarantee and five years of security support.
- Fairphone 5 commits to providing software updates for five years, accompanied by security support extending to eight to 10 years.
It cannot be overstated how crucial timely upgrades are. When your device no longer receives updates, apps may malfunction or become unavailable. More critically, the security risk increases. Many mobile security threats specifically target older operating system versions that lack the most recent defence mechanisms. As time passes since the last security update, the vulnerability of your phone - and your privacy - increases.
2. Performance issues
If your phone is plagued by significant performance problems, such as frequent crashes or unresponsive apps, it might be time to upgrade your phone. Such issues can severely disrupt daily usage.
3. Cost of repairs
Another consideration is whether the cost of repairing your phone is nearing or surpassing the expense of buying a new one. For example, if you have an iPhone X in need of a screen replacement, according to price comparison data from iprice.au, a pre-owned or refurbished iPhone X will set you back around $307, while a screen replacement alone costs $449. Opting for the screen repair may not make financial sense.
4. Specific needs
There are instances where professional or personal needs arise that require features only available in newer phone models. Take, for example, a travel blogger who needs to capture night scenes, operate in low-light conditions, and edit high-resolution media on the go. In such cases, a phone with superior features and a faster processor is beneficial.
How to save money when upgrading phones
Trade in your old device
Many manufacturers and retailers offer trade-in programs that allow you to receive credit or discounts when you hand over your old phone. For example, the iPhone 14 can fetch up to $830 in a trade-in, while the Galaxy Z Fold4 has a similar trade-in value of up to $830. This is more than half the cost of a new iPhone 15 ($1,499) and about half the new Z Fold5 ($1,919).
Looking after your phone is paramount when aiming for trade-ins, as devices in optimal condition get the highest possible trade-in value.
Wait for sales and promotions
Keep an eye out for seasonal sales like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and end-of-year discounts, which often feature significant discounts on smartphones. For example, during Black Friday 2023, Amazon is offering a $392 discount on the iPhone 13, while the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (512GB) will cost $250 less.
Beyond these seasonal sales, it's also worth keeping an eye on promotional deals from phone manufacturers during product launches, as they often introduce special offers to entice customers.
Consider buying refurbished
Refurbished phones are devices that have been returned to the manufacturer, repaired if necessary, and tested to ensure they meet the original factory standards. They often come with a warranty and can be much cheaper than brand-new models. A brand new iPhone 13 128GB, for example, comes with a price tag of $1,099; a “Like New” refurbished one costs just $829.
Avoid financing plans if possible
While monthly instalment plans may make a new phone appear affordable, they often come with interest rates or longer-term commitments that can make the phone more expensive in the long run. Save up and pay for the phone upfront to avoid these additional costs.
Prior year or mid-range models
Instead of going for the latest flagship model, assess what features you genuinely need.
When a new phone model is released, the previous year's model often sees a price drop. These slightly older models remain up-to-date and typically include most of the latest features but come with a more budget-friendly price tag.
Additionally, mid-range phones often deliver exceptional performance and a wide array of features, all at a fraction of the cost of premium models.
Sell your old device
If you're not opting for a trade-in program, consider selling your old device online through platforms like eBay, Gumtree, or Facebook Marketplace. Remember to erase all your data and restore the device to its factory settings before selling.
Explore carrier deals
Sometimes, carriers offer special deals or discounts when you switch services or add a new line. Some also bundle deals where you can get discounts on accessories or other products when purchasing a new phone. However, be sure to read the fine print and understand any long-term commitments or potential increases in monthly rates.
Alternatives to upgrading
Upgrading isn't always the best or only solution. Before diving into a purchase, consider some alternatives that might extend the life of your current device while both saving you money and reducing your environmental footprint.
- Speed boost with a factory reset - If your phone has become sluggish, a simple factory reset can refresh it by clearing out unnecessary files and apps that might be slowing it down.
- Solve storage woes - If storage becomes a problem, using cloud services like Google Photos or iCloud to back up your photos and videos can free up valuable space. If your phone supports it, consider using a microSD card to expand your storage capacity.
- Address battery concerns - Rather than discarding your phone due to declining battery life, replace the battery. Many older models facilitate battery replacements, and if you're not comfortable with a DIY approach, professional services can manage it for a fraction of the cost to upgrade your phone. Moreover, understanding how to preserve your battery life can also extend its longevity.
- Explore third-party apps - If you’re seeking new features, explore the app store. Many third-party apps can replicate or even improve upon features found in newer phone models. For instance, if you want better photo editing capabilities or a more efficient task manager, there's likely an app for that.
Where can I complain if I’m having issues with my phone?
If the above solutions don’t work for you or if you have a new phone and are already experiencing problems, you have several avenues to address your concerns. Here's a step-by-step guide on where to turn:
Contact the manufacturer’s customer service
Your first point of contact should typically be the phone manufacturer's customer service. Brands like Apple, Samsung, and Google have dedicated support lines and online chat services. They can assist with troubleshooting, guide you through warranty claims, and provide details on repair options. Notably, Apple has a free two-year warranty for their devices.
Retailer or mobile service provider
If you bought your phone through a retailer or a mobile service provider, they should be your next point of contact. This is especially relevant for issues related to network connectivity or billing concerns, as they are the appropriate party to address these concerns.
Telecommunications authority - ACMA
If you believe there's a broader issue, such as a breach of telecommunications standards, you can contact the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). They are the regulatory body overseeing telecommunications services in Australia.
Consumer rights authority - ACCC
In cases where there's a broader issue affecting many consumers, and you believe your consumer rights have been infringed upon, particularly if you feel deceived or misled, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) can help.
State and territory consumer protection agencies
Each state and territory in Australia has its own consumer protection agency. Bodies like NSW Fair Trading or Consumer Affairs Victoria can provide assistance if you suspect that your consumer rights, particularly regarding warranties, repairs, or refunds, have been violated.
Handle My Complaint
We know how time-consuming and frustrating it can be to make a formal complaint. This is particularly true if you get the runaround from the manufacturer or point of sale. If you have problems with a current or new phone, get in touch with us. We’ll help you handle it with the minimum of fuss.
Of course, if you need a new phone, you should explore your options and find one that suits your circumstances. But don’t be tempted to upgrade your phone too soon just because the new model looks better than yours. Chances are the differences are minimal, and you could be putting a lot more pressure on not just your bank balance but the environment.