So, soon this year it will be exactly 3 years since I last got a new smartphone! 3 Years! I can hardly believe it myself. This is a record for me given that prior to that I was changing my phone every 12-18 months both because of being on a mobile phone contract and even when I started buying phones SIM-Free.
My current phone is the Sony Z3+ which has served me extremely well and still does. That phone set me back around £500 and I use it with a SIM Only contract from Three at £14 a month (Unlimited Minutes, texts and 12GB data, in case you were wondering).
Each year since, I tell myself I would like to get a new phone, and potentially switch back to Apple iOS and get an iPhone. When that time comes I start doing some research, visit the Apple website, gawk at how beautiful it looks and then see the price and disappointment hits my initial joy.
This brings me to feel that buying a new phone, particularly a premium device like the iPhone or the latest Samsung Galaxy is just not worth it. The outlay for something I’m actually trying to spend less time on seems counterproductive too and I’m not the only one who has this opinion. More and more people are keeping their phones for longer and questioning why they need to upgrade their phone when they have a device that does everything they need it to do.
Phones and Apps are Addictive
Shot of a young couple using their cellphones in bed at night back to back
Why am I trying to spend less time on my phone? Well, like many people now, I believe we are somewhat addicted to checking our phones, scrolling endlessly through social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And don’t get me started on games like Words with Friends. I love it and am totally addicted to it, but I realise I should limit my time on these things and be more proactive in other more rewarding activities whether that’s reading a book, going out with friends or playing some sports. It’s also about getting better sleep (there is a detrimental effect on sleep when using electronic devices like your smartphone at night before bed – Harvard Health – Blue Light has a Dark Side.) and realise that if I’m bored at home or somewhere else, I don’t have to turn to my phone seeking something to pass the time. Maybe it’s ok to just sit, stare, daydream and be bored for a little while. Or even, God forbid, start a conversation with someone (if they’re not busy with their phones of course). And then there’s this trend to be mindful and present which in this day and age kind of makes sense.
Anyway, I guess that’s all part of a broad subject of how smartphones have changed culture, society and health but I have to say it’s also a contributing factor to why I am put off getting a new phone as it means I will be compelled to using it even more, at least during the honeymoon stage.
Apple Fan Boy No More
It’s also been a long, long time since I’ve had an iPhone. Back in the day, I was all over the Apple and Mac gear with an iMac, iPod and iPhone to complete the set but since the iPhone 3Gs I just haven’t been overly impressed with what Apple brings out every year. That and the price of their products just seems to be going up and up and becoming less affordable if you want to buy the phone outright. £1000 for an iPhone X. No thank you. I feel like I’d rather spend it on a holiday or invest it.
There are many new advances on the Apple iPhone including faster processors, an amazing camera, a superior user experience and design compared to Android phones and then there are the privacy concerns of using their apps and services. As a brand, I trust Apple and it’s App Store more than Google. In reality, they are probably just as bad as each other.
The Latest Features
So, in terms of features, what am I missing out on by not upgrading to the latest premium device?
Faster Processors and more memory
Compared to my Sony Z3+ which has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, the latest smartphones obviously have the latest chipsets. The Sony XZ2 and Google’s Pixel 2 have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and 835, respectively. Now, if you’re like me then that means absolutely nothing on the face of it but these processors are not only faster but more efficient too and so can handle more demanding activities along with more RAM and faster CPUs. Today’s phones also come with at least 4GB RAM compared to the 3GB in my current phone.
At the moment I have 32GB with a 16GB microSD card and that’s full to the point that I have to delete an app to download a new app. It probably just needs a clean-up but who can be bothered doing that hey?! More space would be ideal, and I could just get a bigger memory card for £20-£30. Today’s phones come with 64GB to 128GB built in memory, but most are losing the external memory card option. 6
Better Cameras – Particularly Zoom and Low Lightings
My camera has never really been that great, particularly in low-light scenes and I’ve always found that my friends’ iPhone or Samsung phones take more vivid and clearer pictures despite the Sony boasting a 20MP rear camera. Pixels aren’t everything as they say!
Phones like the Pixel 2 have just 12MP but have dual lenses, phase detection and laser autofocus.
Selfies also seem to be much more realistic on the new phones too, not that I’m too concerned by this, you can see the improvements with the use of wider angles and improved lighting. The detail and clarity is also quite frightening and in some respects I prefer my older camera as it shows less blemishes.
Cameras on the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X also have features like portrait mode that are specifically designed to highlight the subject, and then there are the bokeh effects (blurred backgrounds) that can also be achieved with other smartphone cameras that make pictures look like they have been take with a DSLR.
The S9’s Dual Aperture is best-in-class when it comes to low light and super low light.
One feature that I love the look of is the ability to do slow-motion video clips. I can imagine this would be great for taking videos of wildlife, sporting events or other activities.
Improved security – Fingerprint sensors and Face ID
One major feature I don’t have is the fingerprint and face ID features of the latest phones. Fingerprint sensors have been available for a couple of years now and Apple have set bar for face identification with the iPhone X. I can see the benefits of this particularly as I use Androids swipe password facility and sometimes it can take a few attempts to unlock if you’re trying to multitask or if you haven’t swiped properly.
Has battery life improved? Question marks over this.
Battery life is one of the things I value highly and Sony have been pretty good at leading the pack with phones that can get up to 2 days battery life. I can’t quite get that with my phone with fairly average use, I typically charge every night so I have a full battery the next morning. However, I have to say that I haven’t notice a huge change in the battery’s life over the last 3 years. It’s quick to charge and lasts me roughly the same time during the day.
I don’t see much improvement on this with newer smartphones although some come with larger batteries or are more efficient. The Google Pixel 2 XL for example is one of the best phones for battery life and packs a 3520 mAh battery compared to most other phones that are 3000 or less.
Removal of the headphone jack
One major change that I see as a disadvantage is the removal of the 3mm headphone jack and audio output. I don’t use Bluetooth/wireless headphones and just prefer to use wired earphones to listen to music sometimes but not having the separate headphone socket means that I wouldn’t be able to charge my phone and listen to music at the same time. In this instance I can see how a set of wireless headphones could come in handy but what about connecting the phone to external speakers or to my car? Sorry, I’m not going get a new car as well!!
How to make the cost less painful
So, taking on-board just some of these factors I’ve highlighted above, I should probably upgrade sometime soon but overcoming the high expenditure of a smartphone is still off-putting.
One solution to this is to spread the cost of the phone potentially using a 0% interest credit-card or other credit agreement that is interest. Apple themselves have their Upgrade program that allows customers to purchase their phones interest free but with an additional cost for Apple Care. There is also Apple Payments that doesn’t include the yearly upgrades or Apple Care and it’s 0% interest as well. This is definitely an option for many people looking to get an iPhone without having to stump up the cash upfront.
Samsung also does a 0% interest purchase option on their phones and other technology too.
Is a mobile phone contract better than buying SIM-Free/SIM Only?
Should one therefore consider switching back to a mobile phone contract? Even if it costs more in the long run? Or should I just be looking at mid-range phones instead of a brand’s flagship.
Having had a quick look at the current cost of buying an iPhone 8 on a 24-month contract and comparing that cost to purchasing it SIM Free with an equivalent SIM Only plan we found that you could easily save up to £194.
Keeping your current phone and switching to a cheap SIM Only tariff could save a whopping £456.
See how much you could save with a SIM Only vs a mobile phone contract with our easy to use calculator.
What do I actually use my phone for at the moment?
I’m not going to go all scientific and monitor my app usage but I’m going to note down what I use my phone for the most and which apps I use.
- Chrome/Firefox for browsing the web.
- Instagram – Not so much posting these days but following friends and family, inspiring people, fitness amongst others.
- WhatsApp – Use fairly often and has replaced text message app.
- Twitter – Use to keep up with the latest news in digital marketing, football and other interests.
- Pocket – If I find an article I want to read then I typically save it to Pocket to read later or the articles get set to my Kindle in PDF format so I don’t have to use my phone.
- Sky+ for checking the TV guide.
- Gmail – Check email obviously
- Flashscore – Keep up to date with the football scores
- Words with Friends – Passes the time, I have a few games running concurrently and play when I choose to.
Those are probably the apps that I use the most and on the whole it’s mainly consuming content. There are other apps that I use as and when I need and so I haven’t included those.
The app that would probably most benefit from a new phone would be Chrome for browsing experience and Instagram for pictures. On the whole, that isn’t really a good enough reason to justify a new phone.
*There are apps like Quality Time for Android that can measure and provide you with insight into what apps you are using the most and when. You can even set up counter measures to limit your activity like locking the home screen or prompting you to do something else.*
Kudos and Status
A shiny new phone always goes down well with friends and family and can also make you feel good. If it’s an expensive iPhone X then all the better right?! Some may show disgust at how you’ve spent £1000 on a phone but others will be more excited and be like, “Oh wow, that’s so cool”. Me personally, I’m not one to show off but owning new or premium things can make you feel good on many levels.
Staying away from Apple and Samsung
In this article I’ve mainly talked about Apple, Samsung and Sony but of course, there are other top quality, premium smartphones available and at a lower cost than the aforementioned. Brands like Huawei, Xiaomi, LG, OnePlus and Nokia all produced great mobile phones with the latest technology.
Writing this article I’ve realised some of the new tech that I’m missing out on and maybe I would get an improved experience in terms of photo quality, on-board storage, speed and security too. Where I love new technology, as I’ve got older I’ve become less materialistic though and my current phone still works and does what I need it to do.
There are options to avoid the initial high cost of buying a phone SIM-Free too like 0% interest credit cards or credit agreements direct with the brand like Apple or a retailer like Currys PC World. We don’t all have to be put off of buying an expensive smartphone and it might even be a more cost effective way to buy it rather than buying it on a long term contract that will effectively charge you more.
The likelihood is I will keep my Sony z3+ until something breaks or I lose it but I may also miss out on resale value should I only decide to get a new phone at that point.