When should you upgrade your smartphone?

How do you know when it’s time to replace an old mobile phone?

Woman holding a broken mobile phone
It usually costs around £170 to repair a broken screen
(Image credit: © Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Your smartphone “is your everything now”, says The Wall Street Journal. Once governments start issuing digital driving licences there will be little point in owning a wallet anymore. From paying bills to monitoring our health, we do practically everything through our mobiles. But how often should we replace them?

Some technology addicts upgrade their phones every year, lured by the latest innovations (100-megapixel cameras! Super-fast charging!). That’s an expensive habit. The technology has matured so annual upgrades are less game-changing than they used to be. Shoppers have noticed. According to research by consultancy Strategy Analytics last year, consumers in western Europe waited more than three years on average to replace a phone, compared with just over two years in 2015.

So when is it time to replace an old phone? The three main things to consider are screen damage, battery life and performance. An analysis by consumers’ group Which? found that it costs an average of £170 to repair a broken phone screen (check if your warranty covers the work). As that represents a significant chunk of the cost of a brand new budget or mid-range device, many people decide screen surgery is not worth it. Screen cracked but not broken? Apply a cheap plastic screen protector to avoid getting glass shards in your fingers. And invest in a phone case to avoid future damage if you don’t already have one.

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Batteries degrade over time. Happily, battery replacement is much cheaper than screen repair. Which? finds that the average battery replacement cost is around £85 when going through the manufacturer.

Does your phone take two minutes to launch an app that once took it seconds? Unlike the battery, physical degradation isn’t the main culprit here. Rather it is because software moves on: app developers optimise apps so that they work well on more recent chips.

That can leave older chips struggling to keep up with modern memory requirements. There are tricks available to speed up a slowing phone (purging apps you don’t use, for example), but this is ultimately a rearguard action. Eventually your phone will be as outdated as Pac-Man’s graphics.

Software updates are crucial

Although they are a nuisance to install, software updates are essential to protect against the latest attacks. A smartphone is a miniature computer, and it can get viruses in just the same way. Shockingly, phone manufacturers stop rolling out updates to older phones. If your phone is older than two to three years then it is worth checking to see if it is still getting security updates.

Some manufacturers offer longer support: Apple phones enjoy five to six years of updates, while Samsung Galaxy phones released since 2019 should get four years. Which? offers a handy phone support calculator on its website that lets you check whether your phone is still covered. If it isn’t then it might be time to switch. And don’t use the device for sensitive tasks like banking in the meantime.

If you only need a phone for calls and texts then consider going back in time with a “dumb” phone (the sort we all used to have in the mid-2000s) to escape smartphone addiction. You might not be able to browse the web, and going back to paper maps is a faff, but these phones are durable, the battery lasts for days and you have much less to fear on the security front. Not bad for a sub-£100 device.