When It Is (& Isn’t) A Good Time To Update Your Smartphone

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It is the best of times and it is the worst of times to own a smartphone. Without a doubt, today’s smartphone users benefit from an explosion of available apps and more computing power than what many PCs had just a few years ago. But it is also a difficult time when trying to decide if you need an upgrade. OEMs consistently launch phones packed with what they say are “next generation” features and computing power, while the real benefits of making the switch are not always apparent.

Today’s smartphone users benefit from an explosion of available apps

Today’s smartphone users benefit from an explosion of available apps

There are certainly times when upgrading your smartphone can make a lot of sense, of course. Only an OS or hardware upgrade, for example, might be necessary to run certain apps you need. But at least as often, users often confuse “nice to have” with “must have” features and end up investing in something that just does not work that much better than their old smartphone did. To get around the conundrum, here are some things to keep in mind when deciding when it is and isn’t time to invest in something better.

Making the OS jump

Whether your smartphone is running an older or a recent version of the OS it supports, upgrading to the latest release makes good sense. A case in point is Google’s Android 4.1 (aka Jelly Bean). It definitely will tax older smartphones’ CPU resources and memory to run it, but older and newer Android devices will benefit from better animations, user feed-back, and other features.

However, upgrading to a new OS has its caveats

However, upgrading to a new OS has its caveats

However, upgrading to a new OS has its caveats. The new OS can delete existing apps and data, or in the worst case, cause the device to crash beyond recovery, although this rarely hap-pens. A rule of thumb is to back up your data before installing a new OS (hopefully you are backing up your smartphone’s data regularly, anyway) in case the new OS installation re-moves any of the data you need.

Do you really need that 8 MP camera?

Users continue to invest in PCs with faster CPUs even when they only run basic office and Internet applications and notice little, if any, performance improvements. Similarly, in the mobile space, your basic email, calendar, or Web browser apps are not going to run that much faster after upgrading to a 1.4GHz from a 1GHz processor.

Vendors also try to convince users to upgrade their devices based on smartphone-specific hardware features that they claim are important without making a solid case why you need them to work better. Bigger screens or cameras with more mega-pixels are a case in point. For work use, it almost goes without saying that neither of these “improvements” will help you work faster or smarter. A larger screen will likely also result in an extra drain on the battery.

Faster network speeds

The usefulness of the feature depends on what you use your smartphone for

The usefulness of the feature depends on what you use your smartphone for

U.S. carriers have certainly made significant improvements to their cellular networks during the past few years. As an example, users have seen download speeds of well over 6.4Mbps when switching from 3G to newer-and-much-faster 4G networks. Users who consistently download large files or stream video feeds to their smart-phones are definitely able to benefit from upgrading to devices that can take advantage of fast network speeds.

However, once again, the usefulness of the feature depends on what you use your smartphone for. Being able to download your push email faster or quicker access to Web browser content may not be worth the upgrade cost for many users. And for users who need to conserve their smartphone battery life for as long as they can, 4G networks can drain much more power than 3G connections do.

Timing the upgrade

Phone carriers have largely subsidized the smartphone boom by selling devices below their suggested manufacturer retail price in order to entice customers to buy into their often costly data service plans and two-year contracts. An upgrade can certainly make sense at the end of the contract period, but before that, paying a hefty premium for a new device or OS becomes a very expensive proposition. For enterprise buyers who are outfitting hundreds or even thousands of users, the price gouge is compounded.

Vendors and carriers will always tout the new features of their new devices as major advances in mobile technology

Vendors and carriers will always tout the new features of their new devices as major advances in mobile technology

Vendors and carriers, of course, will always tout the new features of their new devices as major advances in mobile technology. But for the reasons described above, a new processor, screen size, or other hardware upgrade is probably not going to improve your mobile computing experience enough to compensate for the hefty markup you pay for a new device purchased before the contract period is over.

Many users also hesitate to upgrade when their contract period is over, hoping that a new “next-big-thing” smartphone launch is just around the corner. Many users do this because they have been burned before, such as when they are locked into a new contract just week before a phone goes on sale with much better features for the same price.

But guessing when a much better phone will launch is often like trying to guess when a company’s share price is going to go up. Even journalists who obsessively track smartphone releases usually do not know when a vendor will launch a new phone with major improvements. So once the contract period is over, it is usually best to upgrade to something new you need now, instead of waiting for when and if something better becomes available for the same price.

The backup imperative

If you are not regularly backing up your smartphone’s data to an enterprise or cloud server, then download the right app now and begin making backups today. If your smartphone does not offer this capability, then now is the time to upgrade your device to begin making those backups. In fact, one of the most legitimate reasons to invest in an upgrade is to be able to add data-recovery security to the repertoire of available apps that your smartphone can run. The reason becomes painfully obvious once you lose your smart-phone that contains the only copies of your contact, calendar, and critical data.

However, the upgrade you choose for backups should hinge on which solution offers the best fit with your company’s network. Some enterprises have systems in place that automatically back up and store mobile data through cellular connections, but the new phone you choose will require an OS that is compatible with that software. If your enterprise does not have a backup system in place for mobile devices, cloud alternatives exist for multiple platforms.

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