Every year around this time I write a blog post where I rant and rave about the excessively high cost of this year’s new smartphones. I called these posts “Phoning It In” and did one for both 2016 and 2017.
The even higher cost of this year’s phones still bothers me, but this year I’ve decided to do something a little different. Instead of telling you great alternatives to spending $1000 on the latest iPhone XS (or $720 for the latest Samsung Galaxy S9+), I’m going to tell you about how to get more life out of your existing phone.
Yes, your current phone … the one in your hand right now. It might be slow, have a cracked screen, or maybe it only lasts half a day before you need to charge it — but just two or three years ago that phone was probably the hottest device around.
What a difference a couple of years make! Consumers fail to understand that this very expensive gadget we carry with us at all times was designed to be obsolete and replaced in just two to three years.
This fact should anger and enrage consumers, yet we seem perfectly content to lining-up and pay for that $1000 smartphone every couple of years.
Well, we can fight back against this ridiculous corporate cash grab! I’ve literally been rockin the same smartphone for 6 years now. That’s double the expected lifetime for a device of this sort, and it’s still holding up just fine. I still make phone calls, take pictures, browse the internet, play music, and install all the latest apps, etc etc.
Before you discount my phone’s extreme longevity as a statistical outlier, please also note that Mrs. Tako’s Nexus 5 is now 5 years old.
Clearly, phone longevity runs in our family.
The reality is that there’s more going on here than meets the eye. We didn’t just get lucky with good phones, but behind the scenes there’s been a number of fixes and upgrades to keep our phones running this long.
Think of it like healthcare for your phone, but without the high price…
First, Fix Your Attitude
Have you noticed how this year’s round of fresh new smartphones all look exactly the same? They all have that same goofy notch at the top, multiple forward facing cameras, and are very similarly shaped rounded rectangles.
…and they’re basically the same as last years little rounded rectangles!
These little rounded rectangles haven’t appreciably changed in nearly a decade. They still do pretty much the same things — make phone calls, take pictures, play music and games, and of course browsing the internet.
Sure, there are improvements — every year we get new versions of these rounded rectangles, and small improvements to performance and image quality.
See the problem yet?
The problem is us. Humans get bored quickly, and these little rounded rectangles are largely treated as fashion accessories… to be swapped out each “season” and replaced with the newest fashion by our favorite designer.
The media machine whips our boredom into incredible desire — All the advertising, fashion “shows” and media hype have consumers chomping at the bit to buy this season’s latest little black
dress rounded rectangle.
Forget fashion — these are tools. Think about it — the functionality, the actual tasks the tool completes haven’t changed in years. For example: Would I replace a perfectly functional drill just because I got bored with the old one?
No, of course I’m not going to replace it! It still drills holes! Maybe a newer drill would drills holes a tiny bit faster and the battery might last a tiny bit longer. (No big deal, I actually built myself a better battery for free.)
To extend the life of your smartphone, your attitude first needs a change. These are tools that perform tasks. It’s not fashion. Ignore all the media hype. Give Mother Earth a break — You really don’t need a new rounded rectangle to impress your friends and co-workers!
Get New Software
Inevitably, after a long enough time, your warranty is going to run out and the manufacturer is going to stop offering software updates for your phone. In Apple terminology the phone becomes “vintage”. It’s obvious of course — they want you to buy a new phone instead of holding onto yesterday’s phone, so they simply stop supporting this device.
What’s the problem? Can’t we just keep using the old software?
Largely you can, but we live in a world where any internet connected device is continuously under attack by hackers looking for unpatched devices. Security updates are important, and part of the reason why many people fear “falling behind”.
These LineageOS android builds contain all the latest security fixes and patches you need to keep your aging phone secure from unwanted hackers. Besides that, you can continue to use all the apps and services you know and love.
I’ve been using LineageOS builds for years now (after Samsung stopped supporting my phone at Android 4.41), and it works great!
If you have a older Android phone that’s fallen out of warranty and hasn’t seen software updates in awhile, you owe it to yourself to check out Lineage!
Sadly, Apple iPhone users have no such open source alternative. Once Apple deems a device “vintage”, you’re unlikely to see any updates, security or otherwise. It’s also worth noting that older Apple devices have recently suffered from controversial software changes dubbed ‘BatteryGate’ that significantly degraded older phone performance.
Replace The Battery
Next on the list of phone fixes — everyone with an older phone wants a new battery!
Lithium-ion batteries (of course) are consumables. After a few thousand charges, any battery is only going to hold a fraction of its initial capacity. This is largely due to the chemistry that makes lithium-ion batteries function. Over time, they will degrade. Period.
Back in the old days, swapping out a phone battery was as simple as popping off the back cover and putting a fresh battery into place. Not anymore. Modern phones come with something called a “non-replaceable” battery. It may be called a “non replaceable”, but in truth that’s hardly the case.
Older “non-replaceable” battery phones *can* have the battery replaced (and probably should), it’s just a lot more work because modern phones are glued together. Often times the battery is glued to the phone as well.
This makes removal difficult, but that’s nothing a little heat and a solid guide on how to replace a battery can’t fix. This is where iFixit can help. iFixit is a company whose focus is on helping consumers repair their own electronic devices — The company publishes free guides on how to repair your electronic devices, as well as selling necessary tools and replacement parts to help you do that.
Technically you can get a manufacturer to replace a phone’s battery out of warranty, but the cost will certainly be more expensive than doing it yourself. (I’m all about saving money!) I’ve seen repair quotes that go anywhere from $30 to several hundred dollars for a simple battery swap.
Frankly, it’s often cheaper to DIY fixes by using an iFixit or other internet guide. In my case, I swapped out my phone’s battery a couple of years ago for a $9 OEM Original battery I found on Amazon.
Most phone battery repair kits shouldn’t cost you more than $20, and will typically take less than an hour to replace.
Fix That Cracked Screen
Is your screen cracked on a phone that’s out of warranty? Don’t freak out! It’s certainly not the end of the world, and you don’t need to buy a new phone!
You can easily purchase a replacement display from places like Amazon, Ebay, or iFixit for substantially less than the manufacturer’s service department is going to charge.
Especially on older phones!
A new display for my Samsung Galaxy Note II sells for $70, which isn’t terrible considering the age of my phone. Prices vary wildly, but typically the older your phone is, the cheaper replacement parts are going to be.
Again, iFixit and Youtube have guides on how to repair most screens yourself, but I would only recommend doing so if your phone is out of warranty. Screen replacement is a pretty significant repair job that requires access to the delicate internals of a phone. If you’re not careful you could damage something!
While this kind of repair job does take some time and a little money, you’re still going to save considerable cash over buying a brand new phone.
Better yet, buy a nice high quality Spigen case and screen protector, and then don’t drop your expensive phone in the first place!
I hope by writing this post that I inspire at least a few people to hold onto their existing phone a little bit longer. We live in a world of planned obsolescence, and these little black rectangles have become nearly indispensable to our modern lives. Don’t let the consumer marketing machine convince you to buy something you don’t need!
The world already has enough e-waste in landfills that are already filled to the brim with too much consumer garbage.
The only way we consumers can win is by fighting back and refusing to replace our phones every two years. Yes, you might need to do some DIY repairs, or change the phone software to open source versions, but there definitely is a path to greater phone longevity (and considerable savings for your pocketbook).
Do you have a long lived phone? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
[Image Credit: Flickr]