Ask LH: When's The Best Time To Buy New Hardware?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm always wary of buying new products, especially Apple ones, a certain amount of time after they've been released (typically around six months), as a new model is usually due before long and I don't want to end up feeling like I have (or will end up having) outdated hardware. Is there a "sweet spot" after release when you can recommend buying? Thanks, Purchase Problems

Picture: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Dear PP,

Sorry to disappoint you, but we don't think there's a single "sweet spot" that defines the ideal time to purchase a new gadget (whether that's a phone, computer or tablet). Release schedules vary and are hard to predict. The only rule that really matters is: will the gadget be useful to you for a reasonable period of time?

It's true that some Apple products tend to refresh on a relatively regular cycle, but this isn't an absolute. Apple watchers like to try and observe patterns in release dates, but Apple itself generally puts out hardware products when it believes they are ready. The two do not always coincide.

Last year, there was something of an outcry when Apple updated its iPad models just eight months after the previous release. It was widely assumed that iPad updates would be an annual event, but that turned out to be incorrect. That didn't render the older iPads useless, unless your sole criterion for usefulness is newness.

The words I wrote about that issue at the time remain entirely applicable here:

Technology evolves rapidly. You have to accept that a new model will almost certainly come along during the functional lifespan of your current product. You also need to recognise that this doesn’t obviate the usefulness of your existing purchase, provided you made that original purchase for sensible reasons.

There can be good reasons for holding off and not buying something as soon as it is released. You'll give the manufacturer time to iron out any showstopper problems, and you'll almost certainly pay less (Android handset prices drop particularly rapidly). The measure that is relevant is not "how new is this?", but "how useful is this?" Jump off the upgrade treadmill and you'll save money and reduce stress.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    My rule of thumb is to breakdown the charge to a point you are happy with the expense per day.

    I did this with the iPhone 4 when I purchased it outright (originally I was going to use it for 2 years, however I have had to push it to three years, meaning it actually cost me less than $1.00 for the unit) with the proposed iPhone 5S depending on the actual cost of the unit outright I would apply the same rule.

    Regards

    I remember a friend talking about a friend of theirs who was constantly holding out on buying a new phone because just when they were about to buy a new model, they heard about a newer model that was coming out in a few months.

    Personally I do tend to go for launch day, though only on "sequels" so hopefully most of the bugs have been worked out

    Three main rules with tech:
    (1) Everything becomes obsolete. Or in a different sense, there's always something new coming out.
    (2) "good enough" is in fact good enough.
    (3) At some point, it's going to cost something. Set a price that's reasonable for you, and be prepared to pay it.

    No matter how bright, shiny and cutting-edge a device may be, in 5 years it will look a bit dated at best. More often than not, that point occurs within 3 years - don't forget the original Samsung Galaxy S came out in June 2010!

    Keeping this in mind helps me realise just how fleeting "newness" is. So you have to consider your needs rationally. Is a given device literally "good enough" to suit your requirements? It's not that hard to predict what you're going to use a phone or PC for, and if it does the job for now and the foreseeable future then it should be a candidate.

    At some point you have to lay down your cash. Sure, it's nice to get a deal and it's disappointing to miss out on a pricedrop (like I did on my Surface). But (to use that example) I enjoyed the machine for two weeks longer than if I'd waited for the pricedrop, which is true of all tech. It reached my target price, I bought it, end of story.

      "Newness" lasts about 6 months tops in the mobile gadget world. Then you hear about the next model rumoured to come out.

      I still have my Samsung Galaxy S 1 (GT-i9000) that came out over 3 years ago and purchased on 31st July 2010 brand new for $510 which works out to be around $0.47c per day of ownership. Recently upgraded it to CyanogenMod 10 (Android 4.1.2) from Android 2.2.3 on TouchWiz which breathed a new life into it. Not to mention added a new $6 1800mah battery from eBay to replace the worn out 1500mah Samsung battery that came with it.

      Even now Im debating whether I should spend $600 on a Galaxy S 4 (which work has already given me one (for work purposes of course)) or hold out for the Nexus 5 which is rumoured to be announced in Q4 this year and to be made by Motorola.

      Anyway, the best time to buy new hardware is:

      1. When you can no longer operate the existing hardware (broken, lost/stolen, or runs like a dog)

      AND

      2. When you can afford new hardware.

      Of course, if you have cash to burn then you can ignore the above two points. I have a mortgage and mouthes to feed on a single income so not going to be splashing money around unnecessarily.

    I recall an article, I believe on here, that as far as smartphones and tablets are concerned, Apple products drop off in price from release slower than their Android equivalents.

    This makes intuitive sense when there are constantly new devices with faster processing chips, better screens and cameras coming out on the Android side, whereas Apple in effect has a monopoly on iOS.

    On that basis it would make sense to buy new Apple devices no later than say about 1 month after release, ie. long enough for the initial intentionally induced shortage to subside, as odds are you won't get significant discounts until the next iteration. By the looks of it, the iPad quick redux was more an exception than the rule.

    On the Android side though, it's more strategic. If a new super fast chip is released or say camera quality jumps (which may be true for the upcoming Sony phone for example), it may be worth buying straight away or within a month. On the other hand with the drop off in prices of Android phones especially, there's a case to be made for making a value conscious purchase mid-cycle if the discount is deep enough.

    If anything's an obviously bad idea in all cases, it's buying just before a new device is anticipated to be announced. Retailers, manufacturers and the media are aware of it, but since there isn't wide public awareness, prices don't have to drop significantly. Once the new device is announced and especially once it's released shortly after, the old models drop in price dramatically.

    The best time to buy something is when you need it. If you can wait until the new model comes out, then wait. If you can't, buy the one that's out now.

    Best time to purchase an iOS device is when untethered jailbreak is available for that device.

    Just my 2c.

    May I ask what's the obsession about ALWAYS having the latest and greatest.

    Get off the 'upgrade treadmill' people

    If you time it right for example Windows - there was on OS hit, miss, hit, miss affair.
    Slightly similar for Intel processors. If you catch it on crest of a wave, you might be able to stretch your equipment worth just a little bit longer (Haswell being a point in case).
    But there will always be something better around the corner in no time.

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