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Nokia 7.1 phone

New phone models arrive every month. The main phone makers all upgrade their main models once or twice a year.

You could almost set your watch by Apple’s annual iPhone launch event. It usually happens three or four months before Christmas.  Samsung and Huawei have two major launches every year. The two companies often schedule one launch for the Christmas run-up and another around the time of Mobile World Congress which takes place late in February.

Other popular brands run similar regular launch schedules.

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 phone contracts are still popular, they’re not as common today as they were 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

No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable.

People hang on to phones for longer than they did in the past. Android phone users tend to keep their phones for less time than iPhone users. In  round numbers an iPhone stays in use for three years while an Android lasts about two years and eight months.

Compare this with five year-old research from Benedict Evans who said at the time that Android users keep phones for under two years. Apple iPhones stay in use for more than two years. There are interesting theories about this in the comments on Evans’ post. This may also explain why second-hand iPhones hold their value better than Android phones.

One reason people hold on to phones for longer is that each generation of upgrades is less dramatic than the past. Go back a few years and phones would change a lot from one year to the next. These days little changes other than camera upgrades and cosmetic makeovers.

Phone hardware can live for years

Phone hardware can last for ten years or more. There are no moving parts to seize up.

If you don’t drop your phone too often 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. The difference there is more work or the cost of paying someone to do the job. It may seem expensive, typically over NZ$100 if you pay someone to do the job, it’s a lot cheaper than buying a new phone.

Screen life

Screens tend to die somewhere between three to ten years depending on the underlying technology, the build quality and use patterns. Often it’s the screen backlighting that goes first.

There are times when a new model is compelling. I have an eye condition which means at times I squint at a tiny screen. For me the jump from the iPhone 5 to the 6 Plus wasn’t an indulgence, it was necessary.

There are other examples of when the 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.

7 thoughts on “How long should you keep a phone?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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