Often that question is born out of honest curiosity – someone really wants to know if the promises a company has made about a new product are worth buying into. However, other people have already decided to buy something new and are just looking for someone to validate their choice.
Regardless of why people ask, my answer is almost always the same: If it’s not seriously broken and you got what it is less than two years ago, don’t even think about replacing it.
That’s my golden rule for gadget shopping, and I admit it sounds like a pretty obvious rule of thumb. But as long as companies put new smartphones, laptops, portable gadgets and more on sale every year — and then advertise them like crazy — it can be a little too easy to throw out an upgrade that might not move the satisfaction needle for you.
Our advice: Resist that temptation when you can. Not only will your bank account thank you, but the upgrade you invest in down the road will likely feel fresher and more capable because you’ve given the underlying technology a chance to further mature before embracing it.
As straightforward as my rule is, there are a few things about it that we should unpack, such as why the threshold is two years and what qualifies as “seriously” violated.
Is it time to upgrade your smartphone? Our quiz can help you decide.
Apart from accidents and e.g. manufacturing defects, the first year of a new gadget is likely to be your best year with it. And by the time you tiptoe past the first anniversary of your purchase, you’ll probably have built up considerable experience with it—which means you’ll have a pretty good sense of how well it should run.
Keep this baseline in mind as you continue to use your device.
In my experience, it’s after the second year that things you might have taken for granted before – like performance or battery life, if the gadget in question has a battery – can really start to turn south.
These types of consumer gadgets receive software and security updates for more than two years; in fact, it’s not uncommon for products from companies including Samsung and Apple to receive four or more years of updates. The hardware, by comparison, can struggle to last that long.
That’s not to say that a phone, laptop, or smartwatch suddenly breaks after two years; the process is usually much more subtle than that. Hang onto a device long enough, however, and you’ll reach a point where it runs too slowly or the battery doesn’t last long enough for your comfort. It is only after that time that we would recommend that you consider upgrading – or, if possible, repairing – your device.
What makes a device ‘seriously’ broken?
Let’s say you have a smartphone that does everything you want it to do, and you’ve been happy with everything about it except its battery life. However, it was not always like this; early on you could count on your phone to last all day, but now it barely gets you through lunchtime.
Is it worth upgrading?
We don’t think so. The details depend on your phone’s model, but you can generally expect to pay $100 (plus tax) or less to have a genuine replacement battery installed. You could spend even less if you wanted to take a stab at the process yourself. (I spent a weekend not too long ago disassembling old Samsung phones to remove their old bloated batteries, a process that ended up being a lot more pleasant and thoughtful than I expected.)
Paying $100 or so to fix your phone’s biggest problem is nothing, but it’s a fraction of what a brand new model would cost you. If the problem is a little more complicated, such as a broken screen, you can expect potential repair costs to increase slightly. Apple’s estimates for out-of-warranty screen replacements range from $129 for aging devices like the 2016 iPhone SE to around $379 for the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Even at the high end, these costs can still make a repair a better choice than a full upgrade if you’re happy with everything else. I would consider a unit “severely” broken – and therefore worth considering writing off – only when the potential repair costs hit 50 percent of the cost of a new model.
At that point, do what feels right for you and your budget, and don’t forget to recycle, trade, or upcycle the older device when you’re done with it.
Thinking of upgrading differently? Tell the help desk.