Phones age like bananas, or relationships. Our culture pressures us to spend money on the latest and greatest (phone, not banana). But there’s a wide range of ways to make your current phone feel new, for cheap or for free.
Speed up your old phone
The most serious way to improve an old phone is to make it perform better. Phones slow down over time, because their designers prioritise making them work really well for the first couple of years, and then move their attention to the newer, cooler phones that you don’t have yet. This sucks. You can fight it.
Too many apps slow down your phone by running in the background. Clear out the ones you don’t use. A useful way to do this is to sort them roughly by when you last remember using them.
Clear up hard drive space
Older phones come with less storage space. If you find yourself frequently bumping against the storage limit, this might be slowing your phone down.
First delete (or move off your phone) all the apps and files that you don’t use. Especially video files and long or high-quality audio files — that means music and podcasts.
Clean up media. Delete all the bad takes from your photos. If you store a lot of your streaming music and video locally, move some back to streaming mode.
On iOS, make sure you’re not automatically taking a “live photo” every time you use your camera; those take up unnecessary space. (Plus if you text someone a live photo, they can force-touch it to hear audio from that moment. Embarrassing.) You can also convert your existing live photos to regular photos to free up more space, with the Lean app.
Clear up the memory cache
On Android, app cache files can get corrupt and slow you down. Follow these instructions to clear them out (after saving any in-progress files and backing everything up).
If you’ve put off any app updates, run them. If you’ve put off any OS updates, google for reviews of those specific updates, and then if the reviews don’t include a lot of “This slowed my phone down!” then run them.
Maybe, maybe, and very carefully, do a factory reset and fresh install of everything on your phone. But only after backing everything up, making sure everything is synced, and definitely moving all two-factor authentication responsibility off your phone before wiping it. You will still inevitably lose something this way, like saved game progress.
Upgrade some hardware
Fix and replace
Your phone can’t feel new if it’s physically busted. You might pay a lot less than a full phone upgrade to replace your battery, screen, camera, or other component. But only visit authorised repair shops that you can verify through third parties. Many cheap unauthorised shops will install janky parts, like a new screen that stops working within days. Better to live with a cracked screen than to ruin the whole phone at a shop you don’t trust.
Before you pay any money, always hit up the customer service at your phone manufacturer, even if you’re out of warranty. Answer their questions honestly and there’s some chance they’ll help you out. Apple is particularly famous for giving support staff some leeway on when they can fix or replace an out-of-warranty device.
Buy a shiny accessory
One of my favourite iPhone upgrades is one Apple shouldn’t force you to buy separately: a faster wall charger.
One of my other favourite upgrades is a wireless charger, which is sometimes slower, but is a much more relaxing way to charge your phone at your desk or your nightstand. It feels great to just sit your phone down on a stand instead of hunting for a plug. Plus it gives you fewer chances to accidentally jam the plug in the wrong way and break something.
If you haven’t switched to wireless headphones yet, try it; they’ve gotten pretty cheap, and if you mostly listen to podcasts and streaming music then you won’t notice a dip in sound quality. Seriously, if you’ve gotten your headphone cord caught on a doorknob or turnstile or desk corner more than once, wireless headphones will make you feel like an ethereal seraphim flitting frictionlessly through this dingy world.
Get, or get rid of, a case
The cheapest shiny new accessory is a phone case. Remember to pick not just based on looks, but also on thickness and texture. Get a light and thin case that makes your phone physically feel new. Not like a very secure cement brick. Get one with a pocket if that’s your thing. Add physical functionality.
Or — and this really is stupid but it worked for me — remove the case you’ve been using. If you rarely drop your phone, or it’s insured, or you’re goth, then strip off your phone’s case and let it ride free. This is especially liberating if you carry your phone in your pocket. Do take note that your bare phone may be more slick (that’s the point) and slippery (not the point) and you may need to hold it tighter. If your phone is over two or three years old, its ancient materials also might be scratch-prone, but at this point the resale value was already shot.
Freshen up the interface
This tip comes from the Life Pro Tips subreddit, where redditor Samurai_Saint says:
[Change] the background and download a theme that will change your icons and fonts. It will appear as a different device and may scratch that itch and buy you a couple more months.
Rearrange your apps by category, or colour, or icon theme. Sort everything into folders. Leave just four apps on your home screen. Change email apps. Switch everything to dark mode. Increase your text size so everything’s readable; decrease your text size so your screen feels bigger.
It’s all a little silly, but so is spending $1,800 on a new phone when your old one still works great. The thread is full of suggestions on other ways to customise your interface: get an app launcher, build shortcuts on iOS Shortcuts or IFTTT.
Dig through your settings
Know what rules? Realising that an annoying bug was just a dumb setting you turned off, because phone settings are very complicated. Poke around the settings for a while and you’ll probably find some capability you didn’t know your phone had. This only sounds dumb until the first time that it works.
Android users have a lot more customisation and settings options. But iPhone users can jailbreak, a risky but exciting process for freeing your phone of Apple’s many software restrictions. Thanks to the many settings and entire apps available only on jailbroken phones, you will definitely feel like you have a whole new device.
Some day you will need to buy a new phone. Today does not have to be that day. But it can be the day you made your old phone new again.