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How long should you keep a phone?

New phone models arrive monthly. Most phone product lines get an annual refresh.

Apple usually does its annual iPhone upgrades all at once.

Top Android phone makers like Samsung, Huawei and Nokia have a few product lines. Each line gets its own annual update. The phone makers tend to stagger their launches.

Add in the smaller brands and yes, we see a dozen launches of note each year.

Goodbye two year refresh cycle

Phone makers expect you to hang on to a device for at least two years even if they refresh their model lines every year.

Carriers agree. Their phone plans are usually two-year contracts. Remember carriers make money when you to buy new phones and roll over two-year contracts.
While two-year contracts remain popular, they’re less common today than five years ago.

New Zealand’s Inland Revenue Department depreciates phones at 67 percent a year. That implies a life expectancy of under two years.

We’re holding on for longer

Most of us now hold onto phones for longer than two years. No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable.

There’s still a difference between Apple and Android phones. Android phone users tend to keep their phones for less time than iPhone users. Apple’s sales figures reflect this. iPhone revenues peaked two years ago. Apple is now focusing on selling services to its customers to make up the shortfall.

Five years ago Benedict Evans reported Android users keep phones for under two years. Back then, Apple iPhones stayed in use for more than two years. There are interesting theories about this in the comments on Evans’ post. This also explains why second-hand iPhones hold their value better than Android phones.

One reason people hold on to phones for longer is that upgrades are more incremental than in the past. A few years ago there would be dramatic changes from one year to the next. Now the emphasis is on cameras and cosmetics.

Phone hardware can live for years

Phones can take a beating. Owners handle them many times each day. They get dropped, knocked, scratched and soaked.

Yet, in most cases, there are no moving parts to seize up.

If you look after your phone and it doesn’t pick up too much moisture, the battery is the first part to wear out. Constant use and charging cycles mean they degrade over time. After about three to four years use they hold as little as half the charge they managed when they were new.

You can replace most phone batteries, even those in sealed phones. It can be difficult, there are official repairers and a cottage industry exists.

Although it may seem expensive to pay someone NZ$100 to replace a battery, it’s cheaper than buying a new phone.

Screen life

Screens last three to ten years depending on the technology, build quality and your use. Often the screen backlighting goes first. Again, repairers can fix these problems.

There are times when a new phone model is compelling.
Sometimes move from one year’s model to the next brings a must-have feature. Even so, you can expect to get at least two years from a device. They should last for three or more. Five years is no longer exceptional.
 Of course, some users give their phones a pounding. If that’s you, or a family member, you have two choices. You could buy a more robust phone model. Or you could opt for a a cheaper model that won’t break the bank when replacement time rolls around.

By Bill Bennett

Not actually a geek, more a chronicler of geekdom. Still mainly a journalist, sometimes a blogger.

14 replies on “How long should you keep a phone?”

I think you’re underestimating how hard people treat their phones. For phones in cases I am sure most can last 3+ years but most phones I see people use have lots of dings and quite often broken screens.

Even though there is no moving parts things can still get dislodged with movement and moisture entering the device (especially sweat which has salt that does a lot of damage to circuits).

Another thing that seems to break often is the plugs for headphones and USB cables.

Yes, there’s a difference between how long a phone lasts before it fails and how long you should keep a phone. If it’s on its last legs then it needs replacing.

I’ve seen people do nasty stuff to phones via the microUSB plug – picking it up, swinging it around… There’s not a huge amount of solder between the plug and the circuit board it’s on and rework in that area is often hard. There’s an efficiency loss with inductive charging, but it’s connectorless.

I’ve had my Samsung S3 for about 3 years I think. When I got it I thought, hm, plasticky, with crappy finish around the bezel and side buttons…IDEAL. Because a phone is a tool, not ‘bling’, so I didn’t want to have to ‘look out’ for it.
Still goes just fine, looks like a pile of junk, and has an extended life battery fattening its profile because the first one crapped out.
Only thing now that makes me want to replace it is the flash has stopped working, affecting my ability to take pics of the kids. Your Huawei P8 review has me interested, Bill, so I blame you.

I have had my iPhone 4S since 2011 & it still works fine & runs the latest operating system. Which is why I bought Apple in the first place. When you shell out $1000 for something that is small enough to fit in your hand (I used to tell people it was my 3rd kidney) you want it to last a good while.

After looking at some of the newer models I’m starting to think it should have an unfortunate ‘accident’… 😉

Any device you buy will carry on doing what it did at the time of purchase until it drops dead. Thanks to regular software updates it can actually get better until an update comes along that asks too much of the hardware.

If you’ve had four years use then it has cost about $5 a week, not a bad deal. Is there anyone you can pass the old phone on to? That might be a better justification for an upgrade than dropping it.

My answer would be: as long as possible 😀

I kept my iPhone SE and 7 for 3 years now and want to get both of them going for two more years.

And that allows me to skip one to two models. I have the P20 Pro and as long as I don’t need to sell a kidney I’ll probably get the P40 Pro sometime after release next year… I think that will be about 2 – 2.5 years

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