Extending The Life Of Your Smartphone


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?

Makita Drill
My ancient Makita drill is around 30 years old, and I use it all the time. There’s no need to replace it, because the drills still works.

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”.

Fortunately users of Android phones have a solution.  Android is largely an open source project, and the fine folks at LineageOS continue to support and produce Android builds for older phones.

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!

This photo is from last year, but you can clearly see I’m running Android 7.1.2 on a device that was never officially supported past 4.1.1.

Over 185 phones are now supported by LineageOS, and you can freely download and install a clean bloatware free build of Android.

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.

iFixit
iFixit’s battery replacement guides have incredible detailed instructions and high resolution photos like this one.

There’s also a ton of Youtube videos that can help teach you basic smartphone repair.  Personally, I prefer iFixit’s slickly produced guides and videos over shakey Youtube videos.

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.

display assembly
Display assemblies (like this one), which are used to repair cracked screens can go from $70 to several hundred dollars depending upon your model.

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!

 

Final Thoughts

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]

36 thoughts on “Extending The Life Of Your Smartphone

  • November 10, 2018 at 5:56 AM
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    Great post – I have an IPhone 5 and people at work were shocked I had such an old phone. I refuse to upgrade because it works perfectly fine (but noticeablely slower). I used to be an Apple fan, but after reading that they deliberately slow down the performance on older models, I’m less than thrilled. It seems they want people to engage in endless consumption of their products and push people to buy the newest model (it reminds me of IKEA). Also the software update issue does freak me out a bit, but I just can’t justify a new phone. When my phone does bite the bullet I am switching to a used Samsung.

    Reply
    • November 10, 2018 at 9:25 AM
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      Solid strategy there. There’d been rumours for years that Apple deliberately slowed older phones, but BatteryGate was the first proof.

      Incidentally, I used to be an Apple person (in the old days), but switched when I realized my older devices were slowing down.

      Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 6:14 AM
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    Great advice for people wanting to extend the life of their phones.

    For me, I’m on a Sprint business plan and they still allow me to buy new phones the old way of paying a one time cost of the phone and no leasing/installment garbage that they try and get people to do now.

    So I do take advantage of my upgrade because to me it’s worth having the latest a greatest for a couple hundred bucks every couple of years.

    I feel it’s worth it because I basically depend on my phone 24 hours a day, and with multiple little ones and a dog, I love having the best camera I can with me all the time.

    That’s not to say I think everyone should always have the latest and greatest but to me it’s worth it. I frugal out on other things, like my car being a 2004, a good chunk of my clothes are 15 years old from college etc…

    Reply
    • November 10, 2018 at 9:44 AM
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      A couple of hundred bucks? According to the internet, an upgrade from last year’s iPhone to the XS is $649.

      For a device that is arguably the same as last years? You might have been brainwashed by the Apple Consumer Machine my friend. 😉

      Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 7:31 AM
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    Awesome advice, and as always, Android for the win! I did a post recently about smartphones as well, and I’ve never paid more than $100 for one. Just the mere thought of paying $1,000 or more for a phone that doesn’t allow you to use a Micro SD card or replace the battery boggles my mind….

    Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 7:55 AM
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    I agree with you on having a good camera handy. For those without an upgrade option through their SP, wouldn’t buying an actual camera be far better? If you can extend a phone’s life, then you can extend a camera’s life. There are a few vintage cameras that still work today.

    Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 8:12 AM
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    My Samsung S5 is still going strong (bought it used more than two years ago for 200.00). Plan to keep it until it just won’t work anymore. My secret? An otter box case. Never had a cracked screen. It boggles me how I have friends that run around with 900.00 phones that have no case and no screen protection. One friend has replaced her phone three times in one year due to cracked screens. No warranty, she pays out of pocket. Then complains about how hard it is to live on her wages.

    We used to try to keep up with all the latest, until we got smart. Now we drive cars until they just don’t roll anymore. Buy classic clothing that looks good for years, use appliances until they die…

    Reply
    • November 11, 2018 at 12:51 AM
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      Sounds like you’ve got your head on straight Christy m! Not everyone is good with money, but it seems like you’ve got a handle on things. 😉

      Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 8:13 AM
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    Awesome post! I haven’t heard of iFixit before – I’ll check them out. Since switching to Android when I began my FI journey 4 years ago I’ve tried to extend the life of my phone as much as possible. It has a few cracks and dings, but I think that just adds to my stealth wealth persona . Looking forward to using these tips to keep my phone alive the two years until retirement (and beyond if Project Fi still accepts my phone version for service transfers…) Thank you!

    Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 9:23 AM
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    You might feel frugal, but the guy I ran with this morning would call you extravagant! And if he called you it would be on his ancient flip phone. As for me, my Note 8 did cost $1,000, but I have never paid for a phone or a plan. I’ve always gotten those included as a perk when I had a job and later by my side gig clients. If you are doing tech work and tethering the features on later phones can increase productivity versus an older phone. However even for free I haven’t seen a reason to go to a Note 9. It doesn’t really do anything enough better that the Note 8 to make switching worth the hassle.

    Reply
    • November 10, 2018 at 9:48 AM
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      I think you proved all my points wonderfully Steveark! Thanks and good job not paying for phones! 😀

      P.S. Flip phones are cool too!

      Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 10:04 AM
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    Updating your phone every other year and throwing out the old ones is extremely wasteful. It’s terrible to the environment. Even if you recycle your old phones, some parts are still going to the landfill.

    Whatever happened to buying things that’d last?

    Reply
    • November 11, 2018 at 12:56 AM
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      Couldn’t agree more Bob. It used to be that people would pay-up for good quality and those things would last.

      Lately, it’s hard to find anything that isn’t designed to be thrown in the dumpster next week. It’s a shame. As a parent this troubles me to no end, but it appears to be the preferred economic model of our time.

      Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 10:58 AM
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    Definitely yes on battery replacement. I believe the Iphone battery discount is in place until December 31st, meaning it was $30 to get my dying iphone battery replaced. The price goes back to $80 in 2019.

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    • November 11, 2018 at 12:57 AM
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      That’s a good deal if you can get it! 😉

      Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 11:23 AM
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    It’s even worse in New Zealand. The iphone xs retails for $1900. Thanks for the useful tips and links

    Reply
    • November 11, 2018 at 12:59 AM
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      Wow, that’s a pretty big markup. $1900 nzd is about $1300 usd.

      Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 12:54 PM
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    I have held onto my current smartphone for I believe 4 years now (Samsung note edge). I absolutely love it and even though I get offers by my carrier that I am eligible for an upgrade I hold on to it.

    The thing I love about this particular phone was that Samsung was pushing out an idea of a curved screen but unlike more recent iterations of the curved screen this curved portion on my phone is not nearly a wrap around of whatever is on the flat portion. Instead it is a separate section where you can scroll or choose apps or receive notifications while doing something else on the main screen.

    I think it was a proof of concept phone and ended up being too expensive to continue with newer models that have the “curved edge”

    I’m also lucky that the battery is easily accessible by popping off the back cover (as well as a slot for added storage via a micro sd card). I hope to continue using this phone for as long as I can as it has by far been the best one I’ve owned.

    Reply
    • November 11, 2018 at 1:00 AM
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      Congrats on 4 years with your Note Edge. I know people with that phone, and it seems like a pretty sturdy device!

      Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 6:24 PM
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    Unfortunately, I’ve always been a big phone guy. However, I think that changed once I got my wife the Moto G6. It’s a a much cheaper phone (I believe we paid around $225 for it unlocked). When I spent time setting it up, I realized just how good it was. So why the #$%^ am I spending so much money on the Samsung high-end phones?

    I’m not sure, but I’m done with those. I’m rocking a Galaxy S8 and I love it… but I think that I’ll drag that out for as long as I can and then go with something like my wife’s phone.

    It’s funny that you mentioned LineageOS – I was a big fan of CyanogenMod and literally just learned yesterday that they became LineageOS. It looks like the S8 isn’t supported (probably because of the locked bootloader), so that sucks.

    — Jim

    Reply
    • November 11, 2018 at 1:02 AM
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      Yeah, Lineage does the best they can. Give it some time, there might be some support if an unlock for the bootloader is ever discovered. Stranger things have happened!

      Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 6:53 PM
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    Thanks for the post! This comes timely as Google just announced they are no longer supporting Nexus 5X OS updates. I didn’t realize there are other ways to go around it but this is awesome. Thank you.

    Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 8:20 PM
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    I’ve been following your for a while, but have only silently read your great articles. This one was so good, I just had to comment!

    We’re Android users, and a also pro-DIY battery replacements! They make such a huge difference, and are such a small cost compared to a new phone.

    But what really excited me was Lineage. I’ve NEVER heard of this! We have Google phones in our house, so I’m sure we’ll be able to make use of their updates.

    Also, I totally agree with you about the monetary and environmental cost of constantly upgrading our phones. THANK YOU for sharing this valuable info!

    Reply
    • November 11, 2018 at 1:08 AM
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      Thank you for such a kind comment Chrissy. The phone business tries to follow Apple’s “walled garden” approach because it’s very profitable, but I believe it truly does the world a disservice. The world needs things like Lineage to make better use of our scarce resources (on both a personal and global level).

      This is why I really wanted to share it. I hope it serves you well in the future! 🙂

      Reply
  • November 11, 2018 at 11:40 AM
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    Good tips here! I’m rocking an old Samsung Galaxy S4 Active that I think I paid $80 on ebay almost 2 years ago (and it came with extra batteries and a battery charger). I’ve never liked the “active” part of the phone, and I think the base Galaxy S4 works a lot better and has a much better camera. So I’ll probably upgrade sooner rather than later. The GPS is also kind of flaky at times.

    So your article actually made me look at new and newer used phones and motivated me to upgrade 😉 Though in the past I’ve fixed old phones with cheapo parts ordered online.

    Reply
    • November 12, 2018 at 1:38 AM
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      I see a ton of phones for sale with a broken screen. Most are only one or two generations old. If you’re not afraid to do repairs it can be a great way to get a decent phone for cheap.

      Reply
  • November 11, 2018 at 11:25 PM
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    Lots of decent quality fast android phones out there for under $100. I tend to swap out every two years or so when either a phone breaks or just gets sluggish. Course most of these are off brands and aren’t likely to get any android upgrades or be worth repairing.

    Reply
  • November 12, 2018 at 6:57 AM
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    I need to replace the battery soon. I think my phone is about 5 years old too. I need to check my record to see exactly when I got it. It’s working fine so I don’t want to make any changes. Fixit sounds like a good option.

    Reply
  • November 12, 2018 at 9:13 PM
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    Hey remember, because of this post I bought a moto g4plus $70 cad saved a lot of money as I was about to buy an iphoneX. Of the remaining cash I bought Apple shares!

    Reply
  • November 13, 2018 at 9:45 AM
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    I currently have an iphone 6, originally bought as a company phone that I paid a small amount for and then was allowed to keep when I left. In general it works well, but I have noticed the battery starting to drain very quickly especially when I am out running, having my run mapping app as well as spotify/podcasts at the same time drains the whole battery in about 30 minutes, which is a pain.

    I have now started running with a battery pack, which stops the problem.

    But other than that I don’t see needing anew phone for a while. Even when I do need a new one I will probably look into a refurbished one from Gazelle or similar.

    Reply
  • November 13, 2018 at 12:49 PM
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    “We seem perfectly content to lining-up and pay for that $1000 smartphone every couple of years.”

    So true. I hate this as well. I have no plans on spending $1000 on a smartphone. Especially since I travel a lot and there’s a good chance it’ll just get dropped or stolen. I’m also completely against having to replace it every 2 years or so and keep spending that amount. Plus, it just ends up in the landfill. Good idea on replacing screens and battery yourself.

    Reply
  • November 16, 2018 at 6:29 AM
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    I was given a 2009 iPhone 3GS in 2011 by someone who felt sorry for me with my Nokia dumb phone. I still use the 3gs and have replaced the battery once about 5 years ago (non apple repair person). I have to charge it every night and never upgraded the software. In the last couple years some apps stopped working as they were no longer supported but it did most things sufficiently well for me to keep it. Recently someone else gave me their iPhone 5 needing a new battery. Unfortunately this cost $120 to replace the battery, but the phone lasts 2 days without a charge and runs all the apps I need. I now use the 3gs as a travelling phone to run different sims and as an iPod. Its battery now lasts a few days that it is not being used as a phone. I’m sure security on iPhones is a little dodgy without constant software upgrades but I try not to use it for risky stuff. My partner thinks apple are corrupt and always buys android phones but is on his 3rd smart phone in the same time I have had the iPhone due to them malfunctioning. So despite apple’s planned obsolescence their early phones seem robust enough. We were still using 15 year old dumb phones for travel till a year ago till they shut down the 2g network. I do resent having to pay roughly $300 a year for mobile services though and wish we had access to cheaper services in Australia. My partner spends $10-$20 a year but he only makes about 20 txts a year and a couple of phone calls.

    Reply

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