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Hunter Bonner: Should you upgrade your smartphone every year?

Smartphones. Gotta love them. What wonderful inventions that have taken so many functions that we have had over the years and consolidated them into one device.

No carrying around a clunky map, or having to call information to find the number and address of the new swanky restaurant in town. Instead we have maps and yellow pages that update literally by the day. With each passing year new models of smartphones come out with new bells and whistles, but should you upgrade each year? This article takes a serious look at that.

Each year a new iPhone, or some Android-based or Windows phone comes out and these manufacturers try to lure in not only new but established users to buy the latest thing.

However, of late, many of these “new models” may have only come up with small, if not, relatively insignificant improvements, and because of that, they are considered “new.” Maybe they moved the phone jack to the bottom of the phone like they did with the iPhone 5 series (yes, I know it has a larger screen but only minimally so), or perhaps the new version of Google Voice now is a bit better than the current model. Is it worth throwing down an upgrade fee, usually as much as $200 or more, for the latest phone considering this? My assessment is, not really.

I currently have an iPhone 4S, and with the OS upgrades of late from Apple, from a functionality point of view is by and large no different than the iPhone 5 series of smartphones. The most popular apps that are available now for the iPhone 5S are still available for the 4S. Frankly, there have not been many changes on the 5S since the 4S that really make a difference other than the longer screen. Even then, I would contend that as a former Samsung Galaxy 3 user, that this screen improvement, if you want to call it that, was seriously lacking as it was longer but not wider.

On the Android side, there really has not been much improvement, say the continuing proliferation of the phablet. A phablet is a phone that is almost the size of a small tablet and has similar functions. Please look at the Samsung Galaxy Note and Galaxy Mega for examples. My wife has a Galaxy Note, the first generation, and honestly, there really is no discernable difference in functionality or app availability between that and the current generation. Yet, unless you have some awesome corporate upgrade pricing plan, they want you to pay a lot of money for miniscule improvements.

For those of you who may be relatively new to the smartphone world, as in, you have only owned the current one you have now, you are faced with these decisions. My best advice is, unless there is some radical improvements on say Siri, which frankly has been sorry, or something of the like, it is probably best to continue on with the device you have now. Microsoft just released the new Lumia Windows Phone that has the assistant Cortana. Couple that with a bigger screen and camera pixels, that was to me, a viable solid product launch and probably right now the only thing to consider upgrading to when stacking it up against your hard-earned money. I am not a fanboy of Microsoft but just using this as an example.

Now if you are still one of the iPhone 3 commanders, or Samsung Galaxy First Generation users, then yes, it’s probably time to consider upgrading, as your phones are probably slow as molasses and you cannot get apps that work. However, if you have bought a smartphone in the last couple of years, you might want to hold onto it a bit longer. Especially now, as Apple is getting ready to have their conference and announce their new products, and of course, Samsung will be right on their heels.

HUNTER BONNER is an Information Technologist. He can be reached via his blog at and on Twitter @HunterBonner.