Editorial: How long do you keep your mobile phone before switching to something new?

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After reading a recent article on Cellular News that discusses the replacement rate of mobile handsets in Japan, and how it’s now increased to 31.5 months compared to 28.6 months just a year ago, I wanted to share the logic and formula I use for my own personal hardware replacement cycle.

Before I get into that, let’s digest some of these Japanese figures: in April 2008, a measly 24.2% of people said they would upgrade their device after their 2 year contract has ended. A year later, April 2009, that number shot up to 40.8%. In April of this year that figure climbed once again, this time hitting 56.2%.

Now in today’s battered economy, these results are to be expected. A full 70% of people who were surveyed by the Communications and Information Network Association of Japan said that price was an important factor when deciding which handset they’d buy next.

I’ve got a bullet proof formula for buying my mobile phones and laptop computers that I’ve been keeping a secret for too long. It’s deadly simple, and impossible to forget. Say you want to buy an iPhone 4 and it’s 700 EUR unlocked. Note: I only buy unlocked phones. Always have, always will. Anyway, back to the iPhone 4: buy it and don’t upgrade it again until after X amount of days have passed where X = price/2.

Hear me out on this. 700 EUR device = don’t upgrade for 350 days. Simple as that. If you can’t put away 2 USD or EUR or GBP a day then … hey, you need a better job. I don’t understand people who buy cheap and poorly built devices and then keep them for a long time, living with broken screens, broken keypads, broken anything. Some people just want a phone that makes calls and texts, and I get that, but for the people who buy so called “mid range smartphones”, I just shake my head and wonder what exactly they’re thinking.

Now my formula for laptops is very similar. If I buy a laptop for say 1500 EUR, then I don’t upgrade it for X amount of days where X = price/3.

1500 EUR laptop = don’t upgrade for 500 days or a little over 1 year and 4 months. Instead of suffering with a slow and clunky sub 1000 EUR laptop I spoil myself a little and the return on investment in terms of lack of frustation is well worth the added up front cost.

I’m a blogger, so I’m not exactly taking in the big bucks, yet this formula has served me well since I got my first job as a dog walker, then my next job at a deli counter, then my next job as a telemarketer, then my next job in construction, then my next job in IT, and I can go on and on. I’ve been working for close to a decade now.

Share my formula, modify it to your liking, but most of all don’t feel bad about buying new equipment. They’re the tools you use to navigate your life. Tools are what separate us from other animals. Why would you use anything less than the best to get things done?

Message to Environmentalists: I often advocate keeping devices for as long as possible and it’s why I usually buy higher quality (read: more expensive) goods. The above mentioned formulas are what I use so I know when it’s OK to upgrade and to keep me from becoming a consumer whore who buys every new shiny thing to hit the market. Just as an example: my ThinkPad T61, which I purchased for a little over 1800 USD, lasted me around 3.5 years or double what I advocate in this article. I extended the life span of said laptop by upgrading my RAM and replacing my hard drive, but was forced to buy something new once it totally died on me one sad afternoon. Please don’t leave comments saying I contribute to “the problem” or whatever you hippies rant on and on about.

  • Matthew Crandall

    I do something fairly similar with my gadgetry, but I also take into account resale value. With phones, I buy 50% unsubsidized, 50% on contract. It's a fairly straightfoward system for me:

    Just bought my iPhone 4 on contract for 299.00. I keep each phone I buy for one year. So next July, I will buy another phone (probably another iPhone or an Android phone, it's a toss up for me at this point). I figure an average of 60% loss of unsubsidized value over the course of 1 year – unsubsidized, the phone is around 700.00 bucks, so I figure that in a year, I'll be able to get around $280.00 for it. Since I won't be eligible for a contract extension next year, whatever I buy will be unsubsidized (see, every other year I'm buying an unsubsidized phone). That means I'm going to spend around 500 – 700 on a phone. Figuring then the max I'll need to save, taking into account the $280.00 I'll get in resale, is $420.00. Over 365 days, I'm looking at around $1.15 a day I have to save – which for me just means buying a little cheaper coffee!

    A little more complicated then your method, granted, but it works for me. Also, since I sign a new 2yr every other year, on those years I can usually get pretty close to covering the cost on resale value alone.

    Back when I was buying imported Symbian phones, I followed a pretty similar pattern that you do.

  • JayDee

    Because sometimes cheap does the trick. A $5000 second hand VW golf will get you to work just as fast and reliably as a $150,000 Mercedes. Figure out what you need from a device then by the best value offering that does the job for you. Throwing money away is soooo 2006 ;)

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