When to Buy a New Phone. Or Not.

Apple will talk on Tuesday about its new iPhones and other doodads. Brian X. Chen , a technology columnist for The New York Times, has a...


Apple will talk on Tuesday about its new iPhones and other doodads. Brian X. Chen, a technology columnist for The New York Times, has a three-question quiz to help you decide whether it’s worth considering a new smartphone or sticking with what you have. (You can watch Apple’s iPhone unveiling here. Or don’t. The Times will have the useful bits here.)

It’s that time of year again when companies scratch and claw and advertise like heck to get us to buy the latest versions of their phones. The difference this year is that it’s 2020, and the world feels upside down. Many of us are facing unemployment or dealing with stresses that can’t be solved with slabs of computer circuits — and have no desire or ability to buy a new smartphone.

The good news is that modern smartphones are so robust and reliable that most of us probably won’t need to ditch our old ones. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine whether it’s time to consider a new phone.

Can I still get software updates?

If your smartphone is so old that the manufacturer is no longer issuing the latest operating system for your phone, you may need to consider buying a new one. Without the latest operating system, you may be missing out on important bug fixes and security enhancements. Some of your favorite apps may have also stopped working properly.

Here’s how to find out:

  • Apple’s website shows that its most recent operating software, iOS 14, works for phones going back to the iPhone 6S from 2015. If you own a model that’s older than that, you should probably consider a new device.

  • Androids tend to have a shorter shelf life. On average, manufacturers support Android devices for two to three years before they stop providing updates to the operating system and security software. Do a web search for your phone model to find out whether it can download the latest version of Android, currently Android 11.

    For example, owners of the original Google Pixel smartphone are no longer guaranteed to receive software or security updates, according to a chart posted by Google. If you own the Pixel from 2016, it’s a good time to replace it with a newer phone. Here’s some information on Samsung smartphones that work with Android 11.

Is my device beyond repair?

If your device can still get the freshest software but it has other problems, like a short-lived battery or a broken screen, I recommend researching whether it’s worth repairing the device. Replacing a battery costs about $50 to $70, and a new screen from an independent fix-it shop usually costs around $100. That’s far cheaper (and less wasteful) than buying a new smartphone.

But at some point the cost of repairs isn’t worth it. The good news is that you don’t have to pay $1,000. Excellent smartphones, like the Google Pixel 4A and iPhone SE, cost $350 and $400.

Am I unhappy with my phone?

This is a tough one because satisfaction is subjective. If you feel that your phone isn’t keeping up with your needs in terms of speed, features or photo image quality, then it’s perfectly reasonable to upgrade, assuming you can afford to. But try to make the decision based on your needs and wants, rather than caving to pressure from peers or corporate advertising.

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.


It’s Shira Ovide, taking over the rest of the newsletter.

Mark Zuckerberg says he wants Facebook to give people a voice, and that has included allowing denial of the Holocaust on its websites and apps. The company on Monday changed its mind.

Facebook’s switcheroo is important for two reasons. First, it showed yet again that — despite the company’s claims — it is in fact an arbiter of speech. And second, it pointed to a conundrum in Zuckerberg’s argument that all views should be permitted online because the internet should be a place for people to be wrong.

On Facebook’s stance that it doesn’t want to be an “arbiter of truth” online, well, as I’ve written about before in this newsletter, it is.

Facebook has thousands of pages of rules of what people are allowed to say and do on its websites and apps. Most of us would agree that it’s good that Facebook takes a hard line against terrorists who openly plot violence online or people posting images of child sexual abuse. The debate is where Facebook should draw the lines in other areas and the trade offs of the company’s decisions.

Second, the policy change exposes holes in Facebook’s principles. When Zuckerberg two years ago defended the ability of Holocaust deniers to post their views, he said that people should have room to say factually wrong, even abhorrent, things on the internet — unless the bad information resulted in real-world harm.

That sounds reasonable. But in reality, wrong information on the internet often has devastating consequences. Unfounded information about wireless technology causing the coronavirus, about a school shooting being a hoax or about criminal activity in a Washington pizza parlor all caused real harm. Zuckerberg said that his views on Holocaust denial and distortions changed after he saw information about increases in anti-Semitic violence.

That reality most likely requires Facebook to devote more people and money to effectively spot when the lines have been crossed between online expression and real-world danger. And it requires a commitment from Facebook to be smarter about understanding humans and not merely regurgitating free speech principles that don’t stand up to logic.


  • Divided recommendations on an Uber ballot measure: I wrote Monday about Uber and other app companies backing a ballot measure in California that would overturn a state law requiring app contract workers to be reclassified as employees. The New York Times editorial board recommended that California voters vote no, because doing so would “ensure gig workers the protections all workers deserve,” the editorial said.

    The editorial boards of two large California news organizations, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Mercury News & East Bay Times, recommended Californians vote yes on the measure, known as Proposition 22.

  • When apps become politics: Pakistan banned the TikTok app, citing what the government said was immoral and indecent content. Government critics said the ban was intended to stop criticism of the country’s leadership over how it has handled the coronavirus and economic challenges, my colleague Salman Masood reported.

  • Is everyone OK? Our social media habits suggest NO, WE ARE NOT: Researchers created the “Hedonometer” to track our collective happiness based on the words we write on Twitter. The data are far from perfect, but readings show — perhaps unsurprisingly — sustained sadness this year, Casey Schwartz wrote for The Times. The saddest day recorded by the Hedonometer in the last 13 years was Sunday, May 31, 2020.

Birding enthusiasts in New York are obsessed with a barred owl that has popped up in Central Park. And I gotta say, the owl is beautiful, especially when yawning or looking sad.


We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

If you don’t already get this newsletter in your inbox, please sign up here.



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