Is That Upgrade Really Worth It?

by Dan Forster - , Last Updated on September 4, 2014, Buying Guides

Mobile phone manufacturers are constantly releasing new models, and flagship phones get upgraded at least once a year. With new top end mobiles these days costing well over five hundred quid, you have to wonder whether or not that expensive upgrade is going to be worth it. So we’re taking a look at what upgrades really have to offer, what you should go for, and the things you need to keep in mind when looking at getting a new phone model.

The Truth About Upgrades

Let’s start with an ugly truth about flagship phone upgrades. Your mobile phone contract is probably for two years, right? And that contract probably also came with a phone. If you’ve got a shorter contract or a none phone contract, then you’re definitely in the minority these days. The problem with this is that phone manufacturers KNOW that the majority of people only consider upgrades once every two years when their contracts end.
Why should this be a problem for you? Well, simply because manufacturers are aware of the fact that successive phone models don’t necessarily have to have huge differences between them, since chances are that most people are going to skip one model before investing in the next. Don’t buy that? Let’s take a look at the numbers then.

A Couple of Examples

We’ll look at the Samsung Galaxy series and the iPhone as two great examples of exactly what we’re talking about. Let’s look at the Android first.

The latest Galaxy is the S5 and it’s a pretty awesome model. Basic specs look like this: quad core 2.5 GHz processor with 2 GB of RAM, 5.1 inch screen, 16 MP camera. Impressive. But what about last year’s Galaxy S4 model? Basic specs on that are: quad core 1.6 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM, 5 inch screen, 13 MP camera. All in all, other than processing power, that’s not a huge difference. And to be completely honest, the average user isn’t going to notice much extra speed on the S5- unless you’re heavily into picture editing or movie making.

On the other hand, Samsung’s flagship phone from two years ago was the Galaxy SIII. What are specs like on that? Quad core 1.4 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM, 4.8 inch screen and 8 MP camera. Compared to the S5, the SIII is going to be a huge difference in user experience.

What about those iPhones then? The top of the line right now is the iPhone 5S, at least until this autumn. Basic specs are: dual core 1.3 GHz processor with 1 GB of RAM, 4 inch screen and 8 MP camera. Last year’s iPhone 5 model? Well, strangely, the specs are exactly the same (though to be fair, the newer chip set on the iPhone 5S promises extra processing speed, and dual tone flash does make the 5S’s camera slightly better). And the iPhone 4S from two years ago? Dual core 1 GHz processor with 512 MB of RAM, 3.5 inch screen and 8 MP camera.

When Should You Be Upgrading?

Obviously the difference between a 2012 and a 2014 model is going to be much bigger than the difference between a 2013 and a 2014 model. And, again to be fair, we have only looked at basic specs, not special features. But that too is part of the problem. Many manufacturers tend to sell a new model based on its special features (it being waterproof, for example, or having a fingerprint lock) rather than on performance differences.

If you’re thinking about investing money in a new phone then you want to know that you’re getting your money’s worth. You might not be one of those people on a two year phone contract, but essentially you’re going to be held in the same pattern if you’re looking to get a phone that’s a decent upgrade from your current model, which means waiting two years before getting a new mobile.

Of course, what we’ve said so far mostly applies to flagship models, and doesn’t always hold true for less expensive models, and definitely won’t hold true if you’re thinking about switching brands rather than getting the newest model of your current phone. So what should you be looking for in an upgrade to make it a worthwhile purchase?

What to Look For

The biggest thing that you’re going to want to look for is processing power. Mobile processors are getting bigger and faster, but you want a noticeable difference in speed to make your new phone a decent investment. That means looking for at least 0.4 GHz MORE power than you have on your current phone. Anything less than that and you’re really not going to see or feel a difference. With RAM you should be looking to get at least 0.5 GB more, though once you hit 1.5 GB or so you’re not going to see any difference.

Screen sizes are really a question of taste. A larger screen might be nicer to look at, but it’s also harder to use one handed and less portable. 4.5 inches is really the minimum to look for. What you should look at is screen material or resolution for a clearer and better picture. Just look for resolution numbers that are higher and you should be fine. When it comes to material the options for low to high are: LCD, TFT-LCD, AMOLED, Super AMOLED, Super AMOLED Plus. Going up that scale is fine, but don’t go down!

For cameras, you should expect a decent jump in megapixels (unless you’re buying an iPhone, since Apple tend not to increase camera resolution at all). An 8 MP cam should be replaced by something around 13 MP, for example, whilst a 13 MP camera should jump to around 16 MP.

To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade?

An out of contract phone upgrade can cost a fortune, and even upgrading on a contract can add several pounds to your monthly phone bill. If you’re considering upgrading your phone and want to know that you’re making a sound investment then the rules are as follows:

  1. Try to wait at least two years between models in the same line, since you’ll be more likely to get a noticeably better phone.
  2. Look for a decent jump in spec numbers, you want faster processing speeds, more RAM, and a better resolution screen and camera, the numbers don’t lie!
  3. Look at special features last. Some features (such as a phone being waterproof) may make a big difference to certain kinds of customers, but try not to get sold on gimmicks. If your phone never leaves your desk then do you really need it to be waterproof?

A new phone can be very tempting, but in today’s economic climate none of us want to waste cash. Make sure that you really analyse that upgrade before committing, and the longer you wait the better your upgrade is going to be.