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Is it time to upgrade your iPhone?

Marc Burrows / 04 October 2018

Should you get a new iPhone, or stick with the old one? Marc Burrows weighs up the pros and cons.

An older woman types on an iPhone

Every year Apple release a new iPhone (or three), and every year there’s temptation and pressure to upgrade. There have now been 21 different iPhones, from the iconic original introduced by Steve Jobs in 2007, right up to the iPhone XS Max, the biggest and most powerful yet, unveiled at a special event last month. There’s been a lot of debate around the phones in the last few years, especially around the notion of “in-built obsolescence”, the theory that electronic products are specifically designed to need upgrading when a new product is available. It’s something Apple have tackled head-on with their latest release.

A quick note: In this article we’re going to be dealing with Apple iPhones only. Of course, there are hundreds of other smartphones and feature phones available at a variety of prices. Whether it’s time to jump ship to a Google or Samsung model, or downgrade to a simpler, cheaper handset is a much bigger question for another day. From here on in, I’ll be assuming you’re an iPhone user, and happy to remain so.

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OPTION ONE: Keep your existing iPhone

The first question to get out of the way is this: Are you happy with your phone as it is? Because if it’s doing its job and fulfilling your needs, then there’s no real reason to get a new one. Indeed, from a strictly environmental perspective we should really be hanging onto our tech for as long as we can. Older models of iPhone, going right back to that ground-breaking original version can still be going strong, though for security reasons it is a good idea to make sure you have the latest software update available for your phone.

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Apple has been criticised in the past for making customers feel they should always have the latest phone. This wasn’t helped last year, when it was revealed that the company did indeed deliberately slow down older models in order to preserve their battery life. Since the battery is one of the things iPhone owners like to complain about the most, you might feel this is fair enough; many users resented the feature however, and it deepened suspicions in some circles that Apple was quietly pressuring its customers to upgrade to the latest handset. Protests were such that the tech giant felt the need to issue a software update that meant the feature could be turned off. The whole thing left a bad taste in the mouth of a lot of iPhone owners.

Someone has clearly learned from the experience. Apple announced a new focus on sustainability at its September ‘Special Event’, with the company’s Vice President for Environment and Social Policy, Lisa P. Jackson, specifically saying products should last longer. It is one of the first examples of a major tech company hinting that you don’t always have to upgrade to the latest device. Putting its money where its mouth is, the just-released iOS12 software update proves this point.

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One of the major criticisms of past iOS updates is that they can run badly on older phone models, especially true of iOS11. iOS12 bucks the trend by specifically concentrating on improving “under-the-hood” performance with an eye on previous models as much as the latest release. iOS12 will support phones right back to the five-year-old iPhone 5s, which also means it will work with the 6, 6s, SE, 7, 8 and X, as well as the newly announced XR and XS and the various “plus” and “max” versions of all of those. Reviews cite improvements in speed, battery life and performance across all models, so it’s definitely worth hitting the update button in your settings.

Though iOS12 will improve performance of the iPhone 5s, 6 and 6s models, inevitably they will start to show their age and could struggle with some bang-up-to-date apps that require a lot of processing power, such as video editing, more advanced games or apps that use augmented reality features. However, if your regular iPhone use is restricted to browsing websites, basic games, social networks and playing music and podcasts then you’re going to be fine with an older model. If you’re an iPhone 7, 8 or X owner then there’s even less need to consider a new phone: iOS12 will work like a dream on those newer phones, and they will largely meet any needs your throw at them.

It’s also worth noting that if your phone is out of warranty there are tons of services which can replace the battery, screen or upgrade the hard drive for you. It’s a cheap(ish) way of refreshing an older model, and a quick google will find a handy local business who will know what to do. Bear in mind this will invalidate any warranty you have with Apple.

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OPTION TWO: Get a new phone

If you do fancy a new iPhone, the company is only too happy to oblige. At September’s event three new iPhones were introduced, essentially a standard version (iPhone Xs), a cheaper version (XR) and a MASSIVE version (Xs Max). As usual the cheap one isn’t really that cheap, starting at £749, with the Xs starting at £999 and the Max a whopping £1099. If you go for the top-end spec with 512gb of memory it’ll set you back £1499, which does feel excessive for a phone, no matter how fancy. Of course most mobile providers will have various offers, freebies and ways of spreading the cost, but top-spec phones do not come cheap.

Reviews for the XS have been, by and large, very positive with the camera, speakers and overall performance all being singled out as impressive, though most agree the improvements on last year’s iPhone X aren’t quite enough to warrant replacing it if you already have one. The XE is yet to be reviewed properly, so the jury is still out here.

If those prices feel intimidating, Apple is still selling the cheaper iPhone 7 (£499, literally a thousand pounds cheaper than the top-spec Xs Max) and last year’s iPhone 8 (£599), and your phone provider would probably do you a decent deal on either. Both are fine phones which, with the addition of iOS12, will do pretty much anything you need them to… just fractionally slower than their newer siblings. The iPhone 8 benefits from wireless charging, a better camera and louder speakers, but was criticised for its slippery, more fragile glass back.

The 7, first introduced in 2016, is more durable but slightly slower and doesn’t have the wireless charging option. The differences between the two, it has to be said, are not huge. If you have an older phone that’s not cutting it for you anymore, want to stick with Apple but also need to keep things as cheap as possible, a new iPhone 7 is a really good choice, and Apple’s new commitment to sustainability should see it supported for a few years to come.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.