Smartphone contracts would have you believe that your phone is out-of-date within two years, but the reality is that smartphones work well for significantly longer than advertised and by waiting to upgrade you could make significant savings.

Some people are always looking for the next new shiny object to own and so will be signed up to phone network “refresh” plans that offer new phones every 12 or 18 months, but the majority of people want a good phone that works well and will last. How long your phone will last will depend on a variety of factors from the model of phone itself, to how heavy a user you are, how well you treat your device, and whether you use a case.

It is worth noting that not all phones are created equal and if you buy a budget phone then it will not last as long as something more top of the range. Lower-end phones tend to use materials that are more easily breakable and internal components that are already from an older generation or slower at the time of purchase and may need more regular upgrading. But how do you know it is time to upgrade?

Battery life

No matter which phone you buy, you will start to notice the battery life you are getting from your phone will start to degrade after around 18 months. This is the nature of Lithium-ion (Li-ion) technology and is based on how many times your phone is recharged and with most of us charging our phones every night, batteries will start to degrade after around 500 cycles. Whilst the battery capacity will degrade after 18 months, phone manufacturers tend to aim for around 800 cycles, around 30 months, before a battery will need to be replaced or a phone upgraded.

Sluggish performance

The performance of smartphones varies significantly between devices, with the latest iPhone Pro or Samsung Galaxy significantly outclassing budget options, which makes sense with flagship phones retailing for five or six times the price of cheaper options from the likes of Xiaomi.

Part of the performance comes down the CPUs involved but also the amount of RAM and the speed of the storage used amongst other factors. CPUs become faster and gain ever more cores each generation and the amount of RAM goes up to match, with newer phones able to handle more advanced games and other processing than earlier generations. Most people do not push their smartphones to the max by trying to play advanced games and so may never notice the fact that their phone is running an older CPU for three or more years, but if you are a gamer then you might notice your phone becoming unable to play the latest games after just 18 months.

Apple got into a bit of trouble recently for actively slowing down people’s iPhone after a few years, which made older iPhone almost unusable after three years despite people only using their phones for email and light web browsing. However, they have promised to stop the practice and if you are a light user your iPhone should stay “fast enough” for years.

New apps and games are too slow

Most apps require relatively little processor power or RAM unless you are editing images, audio, or video and so older smartphones should generally run most apps quite well for three or more years. Games are another story. They will push smartphones to their limits, causing them to heat up, which lowers battery life, and you can be pretty sure that a smartphone older than two years old will struggle to play the latest titles.

Traditional platform games or board-game recreations like chess or Battle Ships are relatively simple and should work on most devices, as should gambling titles, like those from William Hill or Bet365 for which you can download the app from here or from Google Play or Apple App Store depending on your location. However, if you are looking to play Call of Duty or a similar graphics-intensive title then you will need a flagship phone preferably under 18 months old.

Unable to install the latest OS updates

Apple offers the best support for its users in terms of OS upgrades, giving iPhone users five years of updates with each phone compared to just two or three years for Android users. Historically, each of these updates have brought a wealth of new features, but over the last few years changes have become more iterative than game-changing, so whilst long-term updates are good for security you probably won’t miss any major feature additions.

Apple iPhone users, therefore, generally have the opportunity to hand onto their iPhones for a little longer than their Android-owning counterparts, but Google has recently increased support for its Pixel phones to three years and hopefully this extension will be followed by other Android manufacturers.

So, when is the right time to upgrade your phone? It depends. If you are happy with your phone’s performance, can still get a full day of battery out of the device, and you haven’t scratched the screen too badly then you don’t need to upgrade, but once these start to be a problem its probably time to recycle and upgrade.

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