How To Constantly Upgrade Your Gadgets Without Spending A Fortune

How To Constantly Upgrade Your Gadgets Without Spending A Fortune

The latest new gadget is never new for long. Fresh Android phones emerge constantly. Even Apple has broken out of its 12-month cycle and updated the iPad twice this year. But you don’t need to win the lottery to stay at the leading edge. Here’s how to get on the upgrade treadmill and always have the latest and greatest gadgets without spending a fortune.

Title image made using Leremy (Shutterstock).

We’ve shown you how to get off the upgrade treadmill, and when it comes to saving money that’s the best mindset to have. But if having the latest technology is important to you, it is possible to stay current and acquire the latest flagship devices without spending a fortune every time or locking yourself to a 24-month contract. The secret? Resell your device while it’s second-hand but still relatively new, and then move on to the next one.

Phones and tablets are the most prominent examples, but you can also adopt this approach with laptops or other devices. Here’s how it works.

Ensure Your Data Is Portable


If you are going to regularly change devices, you need to ensure that your data is regularly backed up, and exists in a format that can easily be shifted between devices. Modern phone operating systems sync core data to the cloud, which can make migration a lot easier, but backing up to your computer is also a sensible precaution, and is essential if (for example) you want to shift between iOS and Android.

If you plan to upgrade ereaders, make sure your ebooks are stored in a format that you can take to any other gadget, and that you’re not swimming in unnecessary DRM. The same applies for your music and your movies. Remember, format-shifting media you have purchased is legal in Australia for personal use, so don’t stress over the copyright implications.

You also need to ensure all your personal data is backed up and easily retrievable. We like Crashplan for local and offsite backups, iCloud does a great job for iOS devices, and Titanium Backup (with Dropbox) works well for Android backups. You should be regularly backing up even if you’re not switching devices, and having an automated backup routine makes it much easier if you do decide to upgrade. Keeping your data accessible and easy to restore means getting a new gadget and setting it up will be a joy, not a hassle.

Buy Outright


Lifehacker attends a lot of mobile phone launches, and there’s always one question at the top of our list: how much does this phone cost outright? Given the choice between getting a phone “subsidised” by a carrier that forces you into a 24-month contract or buying the handset outright, we almost always recommend buying the device outright.Photo by Jared Newman.

Yes, that means spending a bit more money up-front, and not everyone has that cash to hand. But not being tied to a contract has multiple advantages. Your phone won’t be locked to an individual carrier, so you can easily switch providers if performance degrades or you move to a new house where your original carrier doesn’t work. You can buy a local SIM if you travel overseas and avoid excessive roaming charges. Most importantly for our purposes here, when a new phone comes along, you can switch if you want to, without worrying about paying out your contract.

There are plenty of options when it comes to getting connected. Check out our Planhacker guide to BYO phone plans to see what the carriers have on offer. For maximum flexibility, you want a prepaid or pay-as-you-go plan.

Buying this way often means that you’ll often end up purchasing a “grey import” model online. Sites such as Mobicity, Expansys, Kogan and Mobile Citi all offer a wide range of handsets that aren’t carrier-locked.

Taking this approach also means you’ll be able to acquire phones ahead of their “official” Australian release, which can occur months after the phones go on sale overseas. (Do your research and make sure the model you’re acquiring supports the frequencies used on Australian networks.)

Keep Your Device In Good Condition


The core of our plan here is to sell the phone (or tablet or laptop) when you next decide to upgrade. That means you need to keep it as saleable as possible, so follow these guidelines: Photo by Warren Rohner.

  • Save all packaging, documentation and accessories. Keep everything as pristine as possible. Store manuals and spare cables in the original packaging, and stash it all somewhere safe where you can find it again easily.
  • Get a case, screen protector or sleeve. Since the goal is to be able to resell your device, you want to avoid it becoming scratched or marked. No matter how careful you are, accidents happen, and wear and tear is a fact of life. You don’t need to spend a fortune on protective cases and sleeves, but they make a big difference to the overall condition of your device.
  • Watch the clock. The resale value for any device decreases over time. If you’re looking to upgrade in the near future, you’ll want to keep an eye on how much your gadget is worth on the open market by checking eBay occasionally. If you stay on the fence too long, you may miss the opportunity to get the most money for it.

Maximise Value When You Sell

So you know you’re going to sell your phone/tablet/laptop eventually, but when should you make the leap? The optimal cycle for reselling and upgrading gadgets typically falls between six months and a year. Wait longer than that and the device won’t be as desirable for other buyers; sell within three months and you’ll barely have the benefit of owning it yourself.

The most obvious option for selling your gadget in the Australian context remains eBay (and perhaps Gumtree, which eBay also owns). There are other online marketplaces (Quicksales being the most prominent), but eBay has the largest audience and it’s easy to see what other sellers are charging for similar devices.

An important point to remember when selling on eBay is that its emphasis is fundamentally on professional sellers and new goods these days, not one-off sales and second-hand items. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a good price, but it does mean you need to take time with your listing. Make sure you take plenty of photos, emphasise that you have all the original packaging, and answer questions from any potential buyers promptly.

The other alternative is to sell your handset to a phone resale site such as Mazuma or Cash For Phones. This eliminates the uncertainty of waiting for an eBay bidder, but the chances are you’ll get less money that way. When we compared iPhone 4 pricing on phone sites to what you could get on eBay, auctions definitely came out on top.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat


Once you’ve settled into this approach, it becomes easier to control gadget lust every time a shiny new option appears. You won’t be able purchase absolutely everything that comes out, but you will have the flexibility of being able to upgrade without being tied down or spending a fortune. Photo by Carlos Varela.

With this approach, you can upgrade as often — or as infrequently — as you like. Find a laptop you love? Stick with it. If you’re not loving the phone that all the tech blogs raved over, you can sell it and try something else without feeling like you’re being punished for it. The choice is all yours.

Alan Henry & Angus Kidman


  • This is just perpetuating “the light bulb conspiracy”. All we are doing is making more and more crap to send to a poor African country under the pretence that it is second hand and therefore still useful, when in fact it was just plain redundant and broken rubbish.

    • Absolutely. I mean the iPhone 4 is just a piece of useless garbage now.
      Not even Africans would want it!

      I think you will find that the function life cycle of a device is by far long enough to allow people to get usage out of second hand ones.

      • Yeah but that’s not what’s happening, they are sending stuff over that has reached its clock or count down cycle. So in other words there’s is nothing wrong with it but because the chip has reached the redundancy limit it kills the device, thus rendering it useless. They then send it to some poor African country on the pretence that it is second hand when in fact it is dead. Total scum of the earth imo.

  • On the flipside if the buying outright thing though, if you are looking to save money and don’t mind being locked into a contract then carrier subsidy is definitely the way to go. In many cases you’ll end up only paying about half the cost of the actual phone over the 12 or 24 months.

    Not saying you shouldn’t buy outright because it does have advantages, but going onto a contract has it’s advantages too.

    • Yeah, the BYO deals through carriers are rubbish!
      You’re definitely financially better off to go on-plan if you aren’t the sort to lose your handset.

      And frankly, with modern smartphones, I’m finding less upgrade lust! My Galaxy S can pretty much do everything that a current model can do, albeit a bit slower.

      • Really?

        I bought my HTC Desire outright, and went on a BYO plan. Compared to the only available plan options when I bought it, I saved $360 in the first year, while getting twice the call credits and ten times the data quota.
        Then I changed to a BYO plan that was $10 a month cheaper again, with even more call credits & data quota.

        Total cost difference over two years? $840. I paid considerably less than that for the phone, outright. If you add in the costs for data that I didn’t have to buy, I probably saved $300-$400 over getting it on plan. At least. (I’m not sure, there might have been additional ‘handset repayments’ in the phone plans too, which would increase my savings considerably).
        It still works nicely, too. Sure it doesn’t have the specs of more recent handsets, but I don’t tend to watch movies or play games on my phone, so that doesn’t bother me at all.

        • Please detail the carrier and how you were able to connect to the same plan value at $30/month cheaper? (Telstra maybe?)
          A MVNO I could somewhat understand, but a carrier, I’ve never heard of them offering cheap options for BYO.

        • Maybe it works better at higher plan values…
          My plan bought SGS cost me $936 overall (free phone for $39/month service on Virgin).
          It was worth say $700 (probably more) outright plus cheapest equivalent service that I’m aware of $12/month Live Connected =$288 for a total of $938.
          Going with a carrier, you’d be looking at barest minimum $30/month for the same plan value. which would cost $432 more!

  • Agreed, a contract is not always a bad idea. For example, we upgraded my wife’s phone only 1 year into her 24 month contract and only had to pay $240 for the outstanding MRO with Telstra, and getting a new iphone free. Could then sell the one year old phone and probably not be out of pocket at all…

    • I have found an outright phone with a cheap plan from Vaya or TPG to work out less than a contracted plan with a phone included over 24 months 🙂 Unless you need really broad coverage or super fast downloads, these plans are great!

    • Yes but I found in most cases – these contracts will force you to hit the higher plan caps whereas you can just pick the cheapest phone plan imaginable and come out miles ahead in 24M.

  • I really don’t see the need to upgrade handsets constantly. At least not for the majority of the population. Considering you can run the same OS if you upgrade or not, the benefits are minimal.

    I’m not an Apple fanboy in the least, but one thing they do well is make it easy to upgrade the OS. Whereas with Android you have to wait, or learn (you’ll have to learn to flash, and perhaps root) but once you learn how (there’s a misconception that it’s complicated, but all you need to do is find a good tutorial) you’ll be forever reaping the benefits.

    My rooted Galaxy SII runs better than any stock Galaxy SIII I’ve come across. It’s all in the software and setup…

  • A new smart phone is being released pretty much every month (outside of Apple). So if you consider being locked in for 2 years (a lifetime in terms of technology) is a good thing, then by all means lock yourself in. I much prefer having the freedom to sell my device after a few months for very little loss and get the latest and greatest. I was pretty shocked how much a smartphone can fetch on ebay in excellent condition. Yes there are tight wads that won’t pay but there are also people in different countries who will pay (just my own experience). The only downside is if you’re a grub who doesn’t look after his gadgets then your device won’t be worth much at all once you’ve used it. Fortunately I looked after my things and I’m not a grub so it works out.

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