Tempted by a new gadget? Before you buy, remember the golden rule

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We get a lot of questions here at the helpdesk and are always striving to solve your toughest technical mysteries. But if there’s just one thing I’ve heard the most over the years, it’s: “I had [insert gadget name here] for [usually not a long time] — shall I get the new one?”

Tech reporter Chris Velazco helps his peers decide whether or not to consider upgrading their smartphones. (Video: Monica Rodman/Washington Post)

Often this question arises out of genuine curiosity – someone genuinely wants to know if the promises a company has made regarding a new product are worth pursuing. However, other people have already decided to buy something new and are just looking for someone to validate their decisions.

No matter why people ask, my answer is almost always the same: Unless it’s seriously broken and you got it less than two years ago, don’t even think about replacing it.

That’s my golden rule for buying gadgets, and I’ll admit it sounds like a pretty obvious rule of thumb. But as long as companies have new smartphones, laptops, wearables, and more for sale every year — and then promote them like crazy — it can be a little too easy to treat yourself to an upgrade that might not move the satisfaction needle for you.

Our advice: resist this temptation whenever you can. Not only will your bank account thank you, but the upgrade you invest in later on will likely feel fresher and more powerful since you’ve allowed the underlying technology to continue to mature before embracing it.

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As simple as my rule is, there are a few things we should unwrap, e.g. B. why the threshold is two years and what counts as ‘seriously’ broken.

Is it time to upgrade your smartphone? Our quiz will help you decide.

Barring accidents and manufacturing defects, for example, the first year with a new device is probably your best year with it. And by the time you’ve tiptoed past the one-year anniversary of your purchase, you’ve probably had some considerable experience with it – which means you’ve got a pretty good sense of how well it’s supposed to go.

Keep this baseline in mind as you continue to use your device.

In my experience, things you may have previously taken for granted — like performance or battery life if the device in question has a battery — can really turn south after the second year

These types of consumer gadgets receive software and security updates for more than two years; In fact, it’s not uncommon for products from companies like Samsung and Apple to receive updates for four or more years. The hardware can struggle to last as long in comparison.

That doesn’t mean that a phone, laptop, or smartwatch suddenly breaks down after two years; the process is usually much more subtle than that. However, if you hold on to a device long enough, you will reach a point where it will run too slowly or the battery will not last long enough for your comfort. Only then do we recommend that you consider upgrading – or if possible repairing – your device.

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What “seriously” breaks a device?

Let’s say you have a smartphone that does everything you want and you were happy with everything except the battery life. It wasn’t always like this, however; At first you could count on your phone to last you all day, but now it’s struggling to get you through lunchtime.

Is it worth upgrading then?

We don’t think. The details depend on the model of your phone, but in general you can expect to pay $100 (plus tax) or less to install a genuine replacement battery. You could spend even less if you want to try the process yourself. (I spent a weekend not long ago disassembling old Samsung phones to remove their old, bloated batteries, a process that ended up being a lot more enjoyable and thoughtful than I expected.)

Paying around $100 to fix your phone’s biggest problem isn’t nothing, but it’s a fraction of what a brand new model would cost you. If the problem is something more complicated, such as B. a cracked screen, you have to expect that the potential repair costs will increase slightly. Apple’s estimates for out-of-warranty screen replacements range from $129 for older devices like the 2016 iPhone SE to around $379 for the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Even at the high-end, that expense can still make a repair a better choice than a full upgrade if you’re happy with everything else. I wouldn’t consider a unit “seriously” broken — and therefore worth writing off — until the potential repair cost reaches 50 percent of the cost of a new model.

At this point, do what feels right for you and your budget, and don’t forget to recycle, trade in, or upcycle the older device when you’re done with it.

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Do you think differently about an upgrade? Inform the helpdesk.