Phoning It In (2017)
Around this time last year, I wrote a rant about mobile phones. It’s now one year later, and I think it’s high-time I did a little more ranting.
Let me begin by saying this: Mobile phones are giant money black-holes. Even financially intelligent people who can otherwise save money, seem to have a giant weakness for mobile phones and fancy mobile services.
I get it, smartphones are required equipment if you want to exist in the modern world. But how much of that is just marketing hype and social pressure? Probably a lot of it.
How much money is being wasted on these fancy gadgets? Well, new mobile phones aren’t cheap. This year’s models from Apple and Samsung start at a mere $700, and the flagship models now commanding up to $1000. Yes, $1000! That’s completely ridiculous for a device that will only last about two years!
Combined with the cost of mobile service (roughly $500), most consumers are spending close to $1,000 per year to own one of these gadgets.
Consumers need real alternatives to this over-priced profit-oriented nonsense… which is why I’ve decided to write a new version of this post every-single-year!
People need to know they have real options. Frugal options!
Do You Really Need A New Phone?
Most phones are designed to last about 2 to 3 years before the average consumer replaces them. Usually the battery wears first. Or, if the owner is particularly clumsy they’ll drop it (and the screen cracks).
This is the usual state of affairs when a phone gets replace. Why? The big failure points (the battery and the screen) are no longer designed to be easily replaceable in most models. While it’s technically possible to do for skilled individuals with all the necessary tools, it’s far from easy. The manufacturer designed it that that way, so you’d buy a new model instead.
This strategy appears to be working, most people opt for a new phone instead of attempting repairs.
But what if your screen isn’t broken? What if your battery still lasts? Do you really need an upgrade every 2 to 3 years?
Probably not! The decision to buy a new model is usually driven by ‘fashion’, not new capabilities or better performance. Despite all the hype, as long as the hardware is in working order, I honestly don’t think upgrades are necessary.
The Best Way to Save Money
Can a phone last longer than the average 2 to 3 year replacement cycle? Absolutely! I’ve been rocking my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 for nearly 5 years now. That’s almost twice as long as it’s supposed to last, and invariably a few things are starting to fail — The camera can no longer focus, and the battery life isn’t quite as good as it used to be.
Do these things bother me? Not really! Other than those niggly issues, my phone is great.
Which brings me to the first rule to save money on mobile phones: Take care of your existing phone! If you take good care of your older model, you probably won’t need to replace it every two years.
A little care can keep an older phone lasting a very long time!
New & Refurbished
Inevitably though, accidents do happen. Maybe you took your phone for a swim in the commode, or played one too many rounds of street hockey with it. Eventually your phone will break, and you’ll want to replace it.
So here’s the second rule to saving money when buying a phone — Don’t buy the latest model! Especially the latest flagship ‘hero’ model that gets all the marketing.
Don’t buy into that marketing hype — You don’t need the latest features or the fastest processor!
Instead, buy a new or refurbished model from previous years! These older models were hot-shit just a year or two ago, and are still incredibly powerful devices (especially if you’ve been rocking a much older phone).
“But wait a second Mr. Tako! What if my local phone store doesn’t carry these older models anymore?”
Yes, this happens! Those ‘local’ retailers only carry the models where profit margins are highest. This means they stock only the most expensive new models, and a ‘low-cost’ model made for profitability.
Just ignore the traditional retailers — they’re setup to maximize profit, not save you money! Instead, you need to be shopping for your new phone online.
Try places like Amazon, B&H, or Newegg. All of these online retailers offer competitive prices and are great places to find new or refurbished phones.
Just like last year, I’ve compiled a table of the most affordable unlocked phones under $500:
There’s tons of great options here, available for under $500! Several are even less than $200!
Second Tier Is Affordable
It’s also worth considering second tier brands to save yourself some money.
If you don’t mind less popular brands, there’s considerable savings to be found. Mid-range phones like this Asus Zenfone model can be had for as little as $148. That’s a lot of value!
Who are these 2nd Tier Manufacturers? Typically they’re chinese brand phones made in the same factories that Apple and Samsung use. These guys go by names like:
The 2nd Tier manufacturers typically produce budget phones — meaning there will be trade-offs compared to “1st Tier” flagship phones.
While I don’t have any personal experience owning the phones of these manufacturers, I can say that I’ve read pretty decent reviews of these budget phones. They’re worth considering!
We live in a more connected world today, and the ability to have limitless information at your fingertips is a powerful technological advance… but not one that needs to come at excessive cost.
A new phone model isn’t going to add to your sex-appeal, or make you more attractive. Phones are not status symbols or fashion accessories… they’re simply information devices.
Honestly, nobody cares if you’re rocking a 5 year old phone or the latest model! From a few feet away every phone model looks exactly the same.
So don’t fall for the marketing hype! Save your dollars and pick a fantastic frugal option instead!
Invest the savings, and it might just supply an endless stream of income. That’s a far sexier option if you ask me.
50 thoughts on “Phoning It In (2017)”
I buy only mid-range, second-tier manufacturer phones.
I’ve bought a few ZTE phones through Cricket Wireless ($35 per month for service). My latest phone is the ZTE Blade X Max which cost me $149. That’s my max budget for a phone and I plan on replacing it every 2 or 2.5 years.
The ZTE Blade X Max is great. I really like the large 6 inch screen which I can see without glasses and the fingerprint reader. It also has Android Nougat and 32 GB of internal storage.
Seems like you’ve had a good experience with ZTE phones. How long do they typically last for you? For the second tier my biggest concern would be longevity due to slightly lower build quality.
I’ve never had a ZTE phone break yet, but I usually just keep it for a couple of years and then replace them.
The last ZTE phone I sold only after a year because I wanted a phone with a bigger screen. My eyes aren’t what they used to be. 🙂
Mr. FAF just bought a phone with the brand “Honor” for $250 a few days ago. He said it’s a Chinese brand. I wanted him to buy a better phone (more well-known brand), but he refused, saying it’s not necessary.
He actually bought a $400 Iphone 6 on Amazon, but the item turned out to be a knockoff, so we returned it. I’ve had my Amazon Fire for 2 years, and it’s still going strong! 😀
Wow, a knockoff iphone from Amazon? That’s pretty shocking. How could you tell it was fake?
I know! The phone wasn’t functioning properly. The earphones didn’t work from day 1 @_@ I have actually gotten a couple of Apple earphones from Amazon, and all of them were fake because they stopped working after a week!
I bought an iPhone 6S 1 and 1/2 years ago. My goal is to keep it 4 years or longer. I bought an otter box to protect it from drops. When I do get a new one, I will follow your advice and buy last years model.
Good luck with your Iphone6S. A decent case can go a long ways toward keeping a phone alive!
I’m rocking the 3-year-old Galaxy S5 right now, but I’m struggling on storage. Because I’m more a “techie”, I run a little more than most users. Right now, I spend my time every day trying to free up storage to make it through another day.
I’m going to get the S8 if there’s a really good deal on Black Friday. Otherwise, I’ll suck it up and wait until the spring when the S9 comes out and the price of the S8 drops.
Since my current phone’s still good, I’ll factory reset it and my wife will give it a new life for another few years.
May your Note 2 live on for another few years! 🙂
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I hope my Note2 lasts a couple more years! For extra storage I always look for phones that have SD card slots. They’re starting to get rare, but they’re extremely valuable for long-term owners.
Couldn’t agree more! That’s a big reason why I haven’t left the Samsung Galaxy phones for some of the other “cool” phones like the Pixel.
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I heartily recommend the Samsung Galaxy S5 – 90% of the function for about 10% of the cost – now under $100 at eBay. I replaced the battery for $12.00. Mine is 3 1/2 years old, takes great pictures, etc.
I’m a big fan of phones with replaceable batteries. Samsung used to do that, but I believe they’ve stopped on more recent models.
Wise words. Stick with the refurb or older models and save some cash. I often think about going to a straight flip phone again. No internet. No map. No twitter….but then I realize how helpful having a GPS and internet is. Super helpful. It makes it hard to switch.
Also currently we use FaceTime with my entire family. Sure I could try and make everyone switch to Skype, but it seems like a lot of effort for my aging parents.
Ahh…. social lock-in has got a hold on you! These so-called network effects are actually very important for the designers to keep you “locked” to the device and platform.
I think it’s one of the main reasons why Buffett invested in Apple.
I have an old iPhone4 that I have had for 7 years and I won’t replace it till it is broken. When it does finally pack it in I will go with a refurbished model,so I can still keep the plan that I am on. In Canada we do not have as many options/plans as you do in the US.
Wow, 7 years! That’s fantastic! I thought I took pretty good care of my phone, but your doing great!
Still using a “Blackberry” style LG phone. I’ll buy a smartphone when it breaks, which is what I’ve been saying for over five years now.
I bought an iPhone5 for 99 bucks recently. It is just fine for my needs. I found I wasn’t using my unlimited data plan (never once over 2GB/mo) so I went with a discount prepaid plan from Boost. Thirty bones a month all in. Not 30 plus fees and taxes: 30! I’m very happy but hope to improve on that in a couple years when the 5 is no longer keeping a sufficient charge.
Also, I am human or cephalopod and have checked the appropriate box.
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That sounds like a great value! Good job FV!
The idea is pretty much the same as other big ticket purchases: don’t buy the latest and greatest and keep whatever you buy as long as possible. If you think about it in terms of cost per use, every time you can get some utility from it, without still paying for it, is a great thing.
FWIW, I think this little hack probably isn’t long for this world. They’ve already figured out how to make repairing a phone cost-prohibitive. My guess is the next step is that to get a newer phone your only option is to lease for a monthly fee and then they control the upgrade scheduling, timing and costs. I can see cars going the same way if driverless really takes off.
Have you read my post on predicting the future? https://www.mrtakoescapes.com/the-future-isnt-what-you-think-it-is/
I agree that this probably applies to most people. The exception, IMHO, would be people who use their phones for work and need them to be in top shape at all times. Although phones are probably made this way on purpose (so-called planned obsolescence) I have noticed that my phones start getting glitchy around the two year mark. Like you say, the battery starts wearing out, but I also find that apps start getting slower, and the phone starts freezing more as each operating system and app update gets bigger and more demanding on the phone hardware. But if you don’t update, your risk security issues…it’s hard for the consumer to win.
It’s planned obsolescence. Apple and Google continually roll out new features that take more horsepower and more memory. You phone begins to feel old and sluggish. The battery gets worse, etc.
It’s all part of the plan. Fortunately there is a way around the security issues for Android users. The open source android project typically gets all security fixes implemented in mainline Android.
LineageOS is the packaged version of that open source mobile operating system, and many devices are well supported. For users of older android phones not getting updates, I recommend they check it out: https://lineageos.org/
It’s what I’ve been using on my Note2 for awhile now.
I cannot believe the price tag on mobile phones these days (most notably the new and boring iPhone). I only upgrade when my phones quite literally *stop working*. Unfortunately in our world of planned obsolescence, that means I can get 3-4 years from a phone. Bleh. But going with Google Fi has been amazing for our phone bill; we’re paying just a quarter of what we paid with big-contract carriers.
It’s sickening isn’t it? It’s hard to believe the annual cost of a phone is worth $1,000. I would have a VERY hard time justifying the utility or increased productivity from such an expense! 90% of that can be captured in a device 1/5th the cost.
Just got a Moto Z Play for $350 after I crushed my Moto X a few months ago. I’m very happy with my purchase and it helps to use Republic Wireless. My wife and I pay $50 per month for 2GB. No complaints here.
$350 is on the higher end of what I was recommending in this post, but it’s a bargain compared to the newest phones!
Love the concept – but don’t neglect software security! Make sure that if you’re buying an older / refurb phone that the manufacturer is still providing timely security updates to the phones. A lot of these older phones can be just abandoned by the maker, resulting in a lot of known security holes left unpatched. You don’t want your privacy and security compromised to save a few bucks on a phone.
There’s also other options after the manufacturer stops providing security updates — I recommend LineageOS (https://lineageos.org/) as a good option. Many different devices are supported and the security patches are usually very up-to-date.
Apple iOS users are going to be out of luck however, as there is no open source option for that platform.
I have an iPhone 6S that a friend gave me after his company upgraded him. It is my first smart phone. Earlier in the year I was traveling with it in Tanzania and Kenya and people there were in awe of my phone. People would ask me how much it was worth and I was embarrassed to tell them. It was one of the only experiences I have ever had with owning a flashy, expensive item. I didn’t like it. I wonder how long it will take for it to be the old, obsolete phone. Probably not too much longer…
About 1 year! 😉
Every year new models are introduced and right around that time I check prices. Nearly every one of the older models sell for less and less each year.
At some point (seems to be about 3-4 years), the models become so cheap and unwanted that the manufacturer stops producing these unprofitable models. That’s probably about the right time to buy.
My company bought us one smartphone of our choosing a couple years back and I opted for the Galaxy Note Edge. It last about 18 months and then just started malfunctioning. Since I was on the hook for future phones, I bought a used LG G4 for $110 a few months back. So far, so good. There are a lot of very good options in the sub $250 range. I would never spend $800+ on the latest and greatest. I’m with you…
Wow, that’s a darn shame about your Note Edge. My Note2 has been a very solid device.
I wonder if there were specific quality issues with the Edge series.
Historically we’ve bought off brand mid level phones like the moto g. My last one is two and a half years old. My wife’s is a year and a half. both are going fine and compared the flip phone it replaced has been fantastic and republic wireless is cheap. Net of going from Verizon to republic the phone was actually cheaper then my flip phone it replaced.
Unfortunately I’m about to replace my phone courtesy of a shiny new work digital leash, aka iPhone 7. My wife however will continue to rock the mid teer phone for the foreseeable future.
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I’ve had good luck with offbrand chinese phones – from ebay or tech resellers. Son and I have had pretty good luck with Doogee, Cubot and oukitel phones. For about $70-80 you can get decent quadcore 2GB android phones. All unlocked and simple to setup.
Started years ago with a ipod touch; but no more brand name $$$$ phones for me.
Wow, I’ve never heard of those phone brands before! Are they any good?
Just fine. Easy to buy on ebay or aliexpress or other sites – also avoid sales tax and fees for those in california. Big bold world out there doing fine with offish brands.
Course there’s a risk but it’s a $80 risk instead of a $800 one. Most are likely made just down the street from the iphone. Least reliable device I’ve had was the ipod touch – and a nokia windows phone my son had.
5 years – that’s awesome…AS IT SHOULD BE. An expensive electronic SHOULD last that long but I think people get sucked into the upgrade syndrome so easily they forget you can repair for a lot cheaper than replace.
After reading this I had to go back and find out when I bought my last phone. Oct 25, 2015. I bought my IPhone 5S for $288 on Ebay and it has absolutely no issues (besides a fogged selfie camera – the outer camera works perfect). The Iphone before that (4S) I bought off of Craigslist. I told the guy prior to meeting him that my husband was a cop and he would be in big trouble if he screwed me over or I went missing. 😉 When I went to do the pick up the kid was a little shaken but the phone worked as promised. For my next phone I am holding on to a phone of a friends who got an upgrade and gave me his. Same model as my current one but not as much wear and tear as it has been sitting in a drawer for the past years just waiting to come out and play. 🙂
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You should occasionally charge that phone in the drawer. While the self discharge rate on lithium-ion batteries is low, if the level falls below a certain threshold it’s no longer considered “chargeable”.
There’s actual hardware that stops it from charging. At that point, the device is dead without a battery replacement.
It’s a safety thing to keep the batteries from catching fire.
I’m not sure how long I’ve had had my Moto X from Republic Wireless. Probably 4 – 5 years now. It’s been great and I don’t need anything better. I take care of my electronic gears pretty well so it should be okay for a couple more years. I’m a big fan on Republic Wireless. They work quite well for me.
I have friends who get a new phone every year (as well as people who get a new car every year, which is a different story). 3-4 years for a phone and then buy the last years model from gazelle.com has been the model with our family.
The same with laptops, always felt i needed a new one every 2-3 years, then realized I didn’t really I was just being attracted by shiny things.
Can you please suggest me a good phone with good battery life, camera and ram on a handy budget, please? I looking for a good one, but can’t decide which one to choose.
I would set your budget first and then start looking for a phone. You also need to decide how much storage you need, as well as options like an sd card slot or replaceable battery.
Narrow down your search to just a couple models that meet your criteria. Then, check-out professional reviews to see if there’s any gotcha’s like poor battery life or a bad camera.
I currently have an older Blackberry and I hate it! I can’t download any app or very few. It probably doesn’t help that I am “technology challenged”. Lately it keeps shutting off on its own. I have to get a new one and not looking forward to it, too many options for phones and plans.
Wow, I’m amazed someone still owns a blackberry device!
Yes, there are many options. I suggest starting with the price you’re willing to pay. That will narrow the field considerably.
Apparently I don’t exist in the modern world. ; ) I have a Samsung flip phone that’s around 6 years old, paid $40 for it and pay less than $30 a month for service. Call and text only, unlimited, and that’s way more than enough. Now if I can only convince telemarketers of my non-existence.
Congrats on your non-existence Emmy! The “modern world” isn’t always one that makes sense to follow. So kudo’s to you for sticking with a flip phone!
Another added advantage to using a older model iphone…doesn’t get stolen! Since we travel a lot, we need to be aware of our electronics (though we have travel insurance to cover it, but I’m still pretty vigilant about it). We use an old iphone 4S and don’t have to worry about it being stolen. Because we bought this awesome phone protector ($10 at Marshall instead of the $40 you’d pay for an otterbox defender) and even thought we’ve dropped it multiple times, it still works great.
I’m not sure about 2nd tier manufacturers though. I’m usually not picky about brands except for when it comes to electronics. I’d much rather buy an old version of a good brand with warranty than an Huawei or “Honour” (Chinese brand that I see people using in Thailand). I’ve had friends who bought it them and they are just not reliable. Hopefully they’ve gotten better over the years, but still I’d rather not have to deal with the headache of a buggy phone. Iphone 4S and MotoG has worked out great for us. I have no desire to get the latest phone. Ditto with the GoPro…bought an old version recently for travel and I think we could resell it for about the same price in a few months.
I am amused to see this come up, since I just got a “new” phone to replace the phone I had from 2013. I had spent the last 5 months frustrated by the things that didn’t work, mostly that the data connection stopped working. And I had learned that I loathe having to do everything on a touchscreen, so I was unwilling to spend money on a phone that I didn’t think I would like any better. I finally saw someone using a phone that turned out to be a blackberry, which looked ideal for my phone usage. For under $50 I was able to get a phone with a real keyboard, so it was much better for what I actually use a phone for (communication). There are a limited number of apps for it, but I don’t care. It does calls, texts, and emails like a champ. It connects to data, so I can use the internet on the go again. I never would have bought one of these while they were “hot”, but I do love the trailing edge. Probably by the time I get another phone they’ll clean toilets or something, which would be a real technological advance.