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The average shelf life for tech was perfect before smartphones came around. Unless you’re even more dexterity-challenged than I, you likely weren’t buying CD players, iPods, Game Boys, and pagers every year, and probably not even biennially. It wasn’t until someone put big ass color touchscreens and cameras on these things we all devolved into perpetual discontentment.
There’s always something hot and new around the corner, and the people responsible for the new hotness (hot newness?) spent millions figuring out how to convince you you need it. I’m here to tell you that—typically—YOU DON’T. Yes, I’m yelling at you, myself, and anyone else daring to join this rat race. Don’t give them all those millions back so fast.
I can speak to this so unabashedly precise because I’ve lived that roller coaster. Over two years starting from around 2010 (in no specific order because I can’t fully remember, OK?), I jumped from a T-Mobile G1 to an HTC Hero, onward to the HTC EVO 4G, HTC EVO 3D, Samsung Galaxy Behold, Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy S, Google Nexus S, an LG G2 Optimus 2X, Samsung Galaxy S2 Epic 4G Touch (Sprint’s stupid name for a Galaxy S2 with a keyboard), Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and weathered a three-week stint with Verizon’s original DROID before the Galaxy Nexus arrived.
Whew. And those are only the ones I can remember buying with my own money. Lots more would follow.
It was a thrill ride with tickets that cost thousands, and far more often than not, it just wasn’t worth getting on. The HTC EVO 4G was the first phone on a terrible new network. The paint on my EVO 3D wore off almost as fast as the novelty of its stereoscopic 3D display did. (Seriously, anyone watch anything other than The Green Hornet on that eye-watering thing?) The Galaxy Nexus and HTC Thunderbolt with their eight-hour battery life nearly ruined my trust in all forms of technology. (Did I tell you about the time an HTC rep publicly apologized for releasing that abomination?)
This all began in 2013 when Verizon debuted its DROID RAZR lineup, a trio of Android smartphones that didn’t promise the same dog and pony show that everyone else was. It didn’t sport the biggest, sharpest display, a dreamy camera, or the best gaming performance. What it had was amazing battery life (especially on the MAXX, which could go for two days, unheard of for the time), great software perfectly optimized for the hardware inside, and one of the sexiest chassis designs I had seen to date. I still miss that carbon-backed beaut.
Android hitting its maturation phase around this time was a big help. Before then, the platform was evolving and growing like a pissed off Pokémon, and as manufacturers scrambled to cash in, the tech to support it arrived just as briskly. Whether it was new charging standards, better displays, sharper cameras, or more complex apps and games which required new hardware to run, there once existed a plausible excuse for my technological gluttony, especially considering I wrote about smartphones for a living.
Somewhere down the line, that changed. I didn’t need an extra megapixel in every new camera. I could live without the 4G radios that only worked in five cities I never visit. Performance gains from constant reiteration on mobile processors started producing diminishing returns. Chief among these reasons? After a while, every smartphone started to look and feel the same, and I held my wallet’s thin, green paper hostage in protest.
But I digress. The point is, I no longer felt pressure to have the newest, biggest, besterest smartphone in the world, as long as the one I had was still capable of doing everything I needed.
Even now, stuff like 3D Touch and Animojis are cool but ultimately didn’t add so much value to my smartphone experience that paying $1,000 for the iPhone X seemed wise. (DAT AMOLED, THO!) The Galaxy Fold is a novel idea to which I credit Samsung for Making Smartphone Design Great Again™, but you’ll have to pry that $2,000 from my cold, dead hands before I pay that much for a glorified Twitter machine with a camera attached.
So, where am I today? I gave that iPhone X to my brother and used his upgrade for the Galaxy S9+ back in 2018. It was tops in the smartphone game then, and even today, I’m not compelled to move up quite yet.
The display is nice and big, and there’s no stupid notch cutting into it. I have two rear cameras for decent portrait mode shots. I also have USB-C w/ Samsung’s adaptive fast charging tech, wireless charging, Samsung Pay for mobile payments at nearly any credit card terminal. Paired with 6GB of RAM, The octa-core Snapdragon 845 chipset inside remains overkill for smooth apps and games, and I haven’t had a problem running even the most demanding titles yet. I’m not blowing the top off benchmarks anymore, but who cares? Those things are rigged anyway.
What about software? I’m still stuck on Android 9 because I moved it from AT&T to Google Fi, but I could always borrow someone else’s SIM card to get Android 10. I just haven’t felt the need to rush because Android 9 can do 90% of the things Android 10 can, thanks to Google’s apps-based approach to feature updates.
Am I missing some of the new stuff? Kind of … not really? Dark Mode has long held permanent residence on everyone’s wish list, but Samsung’s One UI 1.0—the one that shipped with Android 9—already does that. Ditto for gestures. Faster security updates would be nice to have, but I ain’t stressing. Smart replies are useful, but developers have been able to implement this at the app level for quite some time. And if you look hard enough, you can replicate most features with apps from Google Play.
It’s even easier if you’re an iPhone user. Unless you want a new hardware-dependent feature, you could go three years without an upgrade and still feel content.
I’m no longer aboard the impulsive upgrade train. What’s the trick? I poll myself when money is burning a hole in my wallet. Let’s play a little “choose your own adventure” game! (Pro-tip: This works for anything you buy!)
- Do I actually need this item?
- Do I need it … now? Does it fill a specific need I have today?
If you had to meditate to answer these first two questions, you most likely don’t need it, and you’re free to move on to the next paragraph. If you do, however:
- If I do, can I buy it cheaper?
- Can I find a cheaper alternative?
- Can I get away with an older one?
Be honest with yourself, too. Some of you just can’t stand to be without the latest, and that’s a fine conclusion, but first, really dig deep into your usage habits and have an internal debate on whether the upgrade will offer significant benefits.
Since I’ve been cured, I’m more than comfortable recommending you check out refurbished flagships instead of going with the cheap mess they peddle at retail. A same-year $200 phone outright sounds killer, but most only barely beat grandma’s old Macintosh on paper. Instead, put that $200 toward a refurbished Galaxy S9+ (or any other decent flagship within the past two years) and go much further with your dollar.
I understand I’m an outlier with my previous purchasing habits (it was only like that for smartphones, I swear!) and people tend to upgrade, at most, once a year now. Even that seems too frequent for the pace technology moves these days. It’s a lot more iterative than innovative now, and the tiny advancement we get each year feels increasingly difficult to splurge on. Try to stretch that baby out another year or two and pocket the extra cash for what’s really important in life.
P.S.: Back Market is hooking Inventory readers up with an exclusive promo code to take $10 off the cost of a refurbished Samsung Galaxy S9+(starting at $300 post-discount), you know, just in case that Obamaphone of yours is finally on its last legs. Just use promo code LOVE9PLUS at checkout.