When's the right time to buy a new phone? Top tips for upgrading

Galaxy Note 8
Galaxy Note 8 (Image credit: Android Central)

Here at Android Central, we get a lot of questions. No matter if they come through email, social media, or in person at an event one of them seems to be asked a lot more than the others: "Should I upgrade from my phone to the new phone?"

I hate upgrading phones, but always end up doing it.

It doesn't matter which new phone, either. When a new phone comes from any of the major phone makers people want to know if they should upgrade. That's always a difficult question to answer, because only you know if you still enjoy using the phone you have now.

There are a few reasons to buy a new phone that seem to be universal, though. We're all different, but we like our electronics to work a certain way. Here are signs that it's time to break out the credit card and buy a new phone.

Need to upgrade? These are the best Android phones in 2019

Battery problems

Galaxy S10

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

This seems to be the single biggest issue people have with their phone once it's been in use for a while. The battery will drain too fast, charge too slow, or maybe it's not able to be fully charged. It's easy to get mad when it's happening to you, but that's just how phone batteries work.

A lithium phone battery is designed to have a life measured in charge cycles. If you drain your phone from 100% to 50%, then charge it back to 100%, that's half of a cycle. It doesn't matter if you're using quick charging, wireless charging, or a cheap wall wart and cable, it's a charge cycle. Even though the battery may be designed to have a life of thousands of cycles, it doesn't take long to eat away at the total until charging becomes an issue.

Non-removable batteries can be replaced by people who know what they're doing. For a price.

There isn't much you can do about it, either. Being super careful about how you run the battery down and how you charge it from day one can prolong its life by a small percentage, but it's going to happen to every phone. And since removable and replaceable batteries are a thing of the past, you can just order a replacement from Amazon.

You can send your phone to a repair shop to get the battery replaced. Depending on the model and where you take it, this could be under $100 or it can be a price too high to pay for an "old" phone.

When you notice that your phone loses a big chunk of its battery just as soon as it's off the charger and you're using it, it's time to think about the battery going bad and what you plan to do about it.

Broken glass

Cracked Nexus 5

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Most of us have or have used a phone with a broken display or a cracked back. When someone decided to make phones that were all-glass, it was bound to happen.

Never try to use a phone with a jagged broken display. Your fingers are more important than Facebook.

This doesn't immediately mean it's time to buy a new phone, though. There are a few simple tricks you can try, like putting on a new screen protector, covering the glass with clear packing tape, or if the back is broken a case can hold everything in place.

If none of that works, a repair shop might be able to replace the glass for some phones. Others have screens that are almost impossible to replace unless you have a shop that specializes in display replacement. That can get pretty pricey, and if your phone is more than a few years old you might be better off buying a new one.

Best Screen Protectors for Galaxy S10+ in 2019

Things are slow

Razer Gaming Controller

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Every year, no matter the brand, the current model of a phone will have new features that last years didn't. And we will want them for our older phones.

Phones are like people and get slow as they age.

There's a downside to that. The hardware inside a smartphone is amazing, but it gets even more amazing every single year. Features and software written for a 2019 phone aren't going to be as highly optimized and tested for a 2017 phone, and that can mean it doesn't feel fast and snappy anymore.

The same goes for the apps we download and use. Phone hardware gets better and developers add new features, and older phones can struggle to run it.

We all have our own threshold of when this gets too unbearable. When you hit yours, you can either try uninstalling apps you like or shutting off features of the software you enjoy using or cave and buy a newer model.

Software support

Pixel Update screen

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

No, I don't just mean up to the minute Android version upgrades here. I also mean the important software support that fixes bugs and patches security holes.

It's no secret that Android has a problem when it comes to keeping all the phones running it updated against security issues. Thankfully, things are a lot better than they used to be, though. These seemingly small updates are the real measure of commitment that a manufacturer has, but no company can update a phone forever.

Bug fixes and security patches are the important updates.

That means that the day where a glaring software bug doesn't get fixed or a security vulnerability goes unpatched will come. Depending on the bug or security issue, this might not be a big deal. But again, it will become a big deal eventually. No phone can last forever.

On this front, you can count of getting two to three years of "good" software support with monthly or quarterly updates to address bug and security issues. For a lot of people, an extra year without any isn't a problem. After that, you should probably just buy a new phone, though.

We all have a different set of tolerances when it comes to our phones. I'm willing to charge more often as long as I can have a specific feature I want to be added back to my phone or the manufacturer addresses any serious bugs or flaws in the software. You might not be able to tolerate a slow phone or one with a crack in the screen and not care about bud and exploit patches.

The good news is that today's phones are so much better than they were even a few years back that assuming one will last three or four years is reasonable. Shop wisely and you'll probably get your money's worth.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • I can definitely understand the pressure to buy a new phone with all the quick advances in technology today. My previous phone was the Galaxy Note Edge. Was my daily driver for 4 and a half years. But after all that time being the best phone I ever owned, it got long in the tooth (battery stopped charging to 100%, using the flash on the camera rebooted the phone, stopped getting security updates from last year) and it showed. And having 32 GBs in a phone in 2019 is a sin today. I upgraded to the Note 10+ in August and haven't looked back. I wanted a phone I know I will use for at least as long as my previous phone. And that's a proposition that's important for me going forward. The alleged specs on the Galaxy S11 looks absolutely sick! But I am happy with my purchase and I'm sure others are as well. If you are in the market for a phone, get what intrigues you and you alone.
  • Indeed we all have our reasons for upgrading. Mine is the commitment to updates. Thus I have a Pixel.
  • I went a full 36 months with the Motorola Z Force (1) and got to the point where I was charging the phone about 3 times a day with less than an hour total of screen on time. Just recently got the ROG2 phone with a 6,000mAh battery and now go 2 to 3 days before charging and average about 9 hours of screen on time. Was on the fence between the 1+7pro or the ROG2, and an glad I went with the ROG. I'm absolutely loving it.
  • What network are you on?
  • Verizon. I'm on the grandfathered unlimited data plan where I still get charged per minute and sms text, so I've been living on data only texting and calling for years now. Not a big deal for me that the phone only had a data connection here in the states. I could always get a minutes only SIM to put in the second SIM card slot if worse came to worst.
  • I upgrade when there's a compelling reason! We used to do every year, but part of that was because iPhone batteries begin losing capacity after 9 months. Battery was one of the big reasons we moved to Android in the first place. I went from a wall hugger, to coming home after work with the battery above 70% (thank you HTC!). I actually have not charged my phone at work for over two years. Don't need to. The only phone screen *I* have broken is an LG, and I did that on purpose because of the frustrating UI. My M8 I used to slap into wall and steel doors on purpose, screen first! The screen is still perfect. My kids are different story, and have broken 14 iPhone screens. I still have one of their iPhones on my desk, with chunks missing from the screen! Oddly, my former U11 was droppped over a dozen times (mostly other people). It got a few scratches, but never broke. "Phones are like people and get slow as they age". Depends. All my old Samsung's got slow, my Note 3 is painful, my old iPhone 5 is unusable. The U11? Still fast. The U12 Plus? So fast that it beats my own personal iPhone 11 in some things, and keeps up with my son's Note 10+. Actually, games like Asphalt 9 open faster on the U12 than the iPhone 11, and it's a tie with the Note. Updates are important, and I have a Lenovo tablet that was NEVER updated. My old Note 3 is on Lollipop and the last security update is from 2016. But, nothing important is on it and the kids use it for lightweight games. Apple goes a little too far, and updates devices that can't handle it anymore. The oldest viable iPhone is the 6S. Frankly, I wish Apple would get their update act together. An update followed by a bug fix by a bug fix by a bug fix....
  • I upgraded recently and it just felt like the time. I had the Honor 7X which ran surprisingly well for a $200 budget phone. However the glass screen was breaking apart, the performance was becoming slow, and battery life was starting to deteriorate FAST. I did some quick research and concluded a 1+6 would be the ideal phone for me for less than $400. However, most places had it ranging from $375 to $440. Not bad but it became hard to justify when the newer version, the 6T was frequently $300, often less. Midrange phones were surprisingly poor value (something I feel doesn't get talked enough about). I was reluctant to sacrifice my headphone jack but at least there's ways around that. There is no work around middling hardware and that's how I settled on my 1+6T.
  • Battery drain is usually what drives me to upgrade. I've using the note 9 for a year and the battery is doing great. I'm hoping I can get 3 years out of this phone.