Ask LH: Should I Upgrade My Android Phone Now?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm ready to get a new phone, and [insert phone here] looks great, but the [insert other, different phone here] comes out in two months. Should I upgrade now or hold off for the [slightly better phone]? Thanks, Antsy Android

Dear Antsy,

I get asked this question all the time, and while the answer is "it depends", it's probably not as hard a decision as you're making it. Android is rather different to the iPhone because new devices are coming out all the time. As such, there's always going to be a better phone two months down the road, and if you want to always have the "best phone", you're going to be disappointed. A phone will only be the "best" until something new comes out, and you can play the "should I wait" game forever. It depends on why that next phone is "better" than the one that's currently out.

What Features Are Worth Waiting For?

Generally, a phone is only worth waiting for if it has a major new feature that the current generation of phones don't have — like a new version of Android. For example, if you're really stoked about new, polished Ice Cream Sandwich, it might actually be worth waiting for the Galaxy Nexus (due for official Australian announcement next week, though grey imports are already appearing), or any other phone that comes with it pre-installed. Other phones will shift to Ice Cream Sandwich eventually, but you'll probably still be waiting a while for the update (though you can always get its best features now).

What Features Aren't Worth Waiting For?

If all you're holding out for is a slightly better processor, 256MB more RAM, or a few more megapixels on the camera, you're probably better off upgrading now rather than waiting. As we said before, there's always another phone on the horizon, and it'll always have slightly better "tech specs" than the last one — and if you're always waiting for the best Android phone, you're going to be disappointed in two months when something mildly better comes along.

If you want a phone through an Australian carrier, I suspect you won't be seeing too many new models for a while (the Nexus aside). The phones each telco will promote at Christmas were decided months ago. A lot of new phones will get announced at Mobile World Congress at the end of February, and if experience is any guide it will be a few months after that before they hit the local market. So if there's a phone out there that appeals, now isn't the worst time. But the principle still holds.

How Much Will An Upgrade Cost You?

Lastly, don't forget to factor in the cost of a new phone. If you're on contract, you'll have to either pay it out or sign up for a new, 24-month extension. Outright buying won't tie you down, but will cost a lot more up front.

All in all, the decision's up to you, but in general we wouldn't worry too much about incremental updates or new hardware that's only moderately different from the currently available devices. When you're so annoyed with your old phone that you can't stand it anymore, go ahead and upgrade. Unless you're waiting for a major new feature, you probably won't be missing anything.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Seriously thought at this stage of December why not wait to see what is announced at CES just to be sure you're not missing out.

    Same problem i'm having, I have been rocking a X10 for awhile now (got it awhile back because of the 8mp cam which is great) but I love the look of ICS and excited about the NFC/Google wallet.
    "A lot of new phones will get announced at Mobile World Congress at the end of February" this is really good to know but it might be hard to wait after xmass ....

      I've been rocking an alpha build of ICS for a couple of weeks now, and while I miss the additional functionality of CyanogenMod 7 - I'm having a hard time trying to convince myself I can give up the new UI in order to get all the tweaks back. It is definitely a step forward for the OS; but I’d still argue that you’re better off shopping around for a phone with better 3rd party developer support, then looking at the manufacturer to supply your OS updates – there’s just no commercial return in it for them.

      NFC/Google wallet does look intriguing; granted. While I haven’t actually used my phone for a NFC payment, I installed Google Wallet on my Nexus S and claimed the $10 free balance; it’s a pretty simple system to use. Having said that, so far Google seem to be very tight lipped about any potential Australian release; and Commonwealth’s plans for their own Android NFC payment system is just “in the future”. In any case, there’s been no indication as to whether they even intend to utilise the Nexuses NFC chips when they do roll out anyway.

    One of the benefits of Android handsets in my book is the fact that perfectly good phones can be bought outright for a few hundred dollars. This gives you the freedom to use a prepay plan instead of getting locked into a contract (I always recommend AmaySIM Unlmited - $40pm payable in advance with no contract for unlimited calls, SMS, MMS, voicemail, social network access, 4GB data, free tethering, dirt cheap overseas calls). You can now upgrade your handset as and when you want instead of getting locked into upgrade cycles.

    If you're out of contract and your phone is greater than 12 months old then you should "start looking".. if it's more than 24 months then you should start seriously considering an upgrade.

    However.. if your phone does ALL you want but may just not be as pretty as the newer phones, then there's really no point.

    One day it's the "top" Android phone, the next it's 50% off and not getting anymore offical updates. Oh the world of Android.

      Better than getting updates that cripple your phone and force you to upgrade... Ohhh the world of Apple

      Troll...

    I’m a big proponent for shopping value for money. Yes it’s nice to have a good product, but I think arguably, it’s not always worth the additional price tag for something only marginally better. That was my logic when I bought my Nexus S a few months ago. At $269 all up; it had shed a few hundred dollars from its launch price 10 months prior, and was always going to be next in line for Ice Cream Sandwich after the Galaxy Nexus. I’m a big fan of after-market ROM’s generally, and it’s hard to find better supported hardware than the Nexus line. The Nexus S’ hardware spec’s aren’t mind blowing, but it still manages to handle anything I throw at it.

    Similarly, as sexy as the Galaxy Nexus is; I’m not convinced that it’s worth its $800 price tag considering it will probably be sold for a similar figure 10 months down the line too. There’s not a huge difference in hardware between it and the Samsung Galaxy S-II, and at just short of half the price, it arguable represents a far better buy right now.

    What about 4G? Isn't Telstra supposed to be launching its 4G mobile range quite early next year? Wouldn't that worth waiting for?

    Outside of the iOS/Android sphere - I think if you've alreay got your WP7 then it will at least take all software upgrades and will play all games and run all apps - with a few exceptions - so holding off for the Nokia hansets or better yet until Q3/4 next year is your best bet.

    Wait until after January CES and February 27-March 1 Mobile World Congress - then you should have a good idea of what is coming down the track soon and what is a long way away.

    If Galaxy S3 is announced I'll probably get that - my Nexus One is getting old. If GS3 is a long way away I'll pick up a Galaxy Nexus.

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