It can be hard to resist the temptation of a new smartphone. Yet phone development has slowed to the point where a new device isn’t guaranteed to be that much better than an old one. Especially not $1,000 better, which is what you might end up paying.
So maybe a better solution is to get more from your current Android phone. Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons for upgrading, and how you can work around them.
You Want Updated Software
As desirable as it is to have the latest version of Android, it isn’t actually that important. Sure, you’ll miss out on some new features and performance optimizations, but almost all apps can run on old versions of the operating system. You won’t lose anything by not upgrading.
Still, if it’s important you can try and prevent the problem in the first place. Choose a manufacturer that offers regular Android updates.
- You get to run a more up-to-date version of Android than your phone officially has.
- The latest security updates are incorporated into the builds.
- There are extra features you won’t find elsewhere, especially for privacy and security.
If the latter is particularly important to you then you might want to look at CopperheadOS instead, although it only supports a very limited number of devices.
Get a New User Interface With Launchers
Obviously, flashing a ROM is a more technical solution, so it isn’t for everyone (and cannot be done on every device, either). An altogether simpler and more accessible option for upgrading your Android phone is to install a new launcher.
Launchers replace your phone’s home screen and app drawer. They can give your device a fresh new look and are highly customizable, with support for icon packs and different-sized icon grids. The best launchers, like Nova and Action Launcher, also carry over features from the latest version of Android and the Pixel devices, such as the “At a Glance” widget and the search bar in the dock.
A launcher isn’t a substitute for a full update. But if you’re getting a thirst for something different, experimenting with a new launcher might be enough to keep you happy.
You Need More Storage
One of the most common reasons for buying a new phone is that you’ve run out of space on your old one. A fresh out-of-the-box device might have tens of gigabytes of free space, but it only takes a few months before your photos, videos, games, and music have it creaking at the seams.
But before you decide to upgrade, you have a couple of options to try first.
If your phone has a MicroSD card slot, then obviously you should make use of that. Many devices running Android 6.0 or later support a feature called adoptable storage.
This enables Android to view your card as an extension of the internal storage space. You don’t need to worry about having to move files and apps from internal to external memory — it all happens automatically.
On phones that support adoptable storage, you’ll be prompted to set it up when you first insert a card.
You can also switch an existing card by going to Settings > Storage. Tap the card and select Storage Settings > Format as internal storage. Both methods will wipe your card, so make sure you’ve backed them up first.
If your device doesn’t have a memory card slot, you can offload a large amount of your data to the cloud instead.
You can do this for your photos and videos by opening Google Photos and selecting Menu > Free up space > Free up. This removes from your phone all the images that have been backed up to your Photos account and are more than 30 days old.
Similarly, you can upload all your music files to Google Play Music and delete them from your device. You’ll then stream or download them on your phone only as you need them (and the app caches your streams to save data). And you can upload movies to a Dropbox account and stream them using the native Android video player.
Your Phone Is Slowing Down
Every phone slows down over time. It isn’t that the hardware is getting slower, it’s that day-to-day use causes the system to become bloated and inefficient. But instead of upgrading to a new Android phone, you can make sure you’re getting the most out of the hardware you’ve already got.
Don’t be tempted to use utilities like task managers or apps that claim to offer more speed. They don’t work. Instead, opt for the simplest solution of all: a factory reset.
Make sure you’ve backed up your important data first. Then head into Settings > Backup & reset to restore your phone to its original out-of-the-box state. Now only install the apps, and setup the accounts that you actually use, and you should find that your phone runs as smoothly as it did when you first got it.
From there you can explore some of the more advanced ways to make your phone faster, from speeding up animations to installing root apps that manage your RAM more effectively.
You Want a Better Camera
The camera is one of the few parts of a smartphone that still improves from one generation to the next. And while there’s nothing you can do about the sensor size or aperture in your current phone’s camera, it is still possible to get more from it than you currently are.
Software goes a long way towards determining the quality of your photos. Google’s Pixel phones are generally regarded to have the best software, especially its HDR+ feature for producing excellent high dynamic range images.
The Google Camera app is only officially available for the Pixel devices. Unofficially, there’s a modded version that makes it work on devices with the Snapdragon 820 and 835 chips.
These include the OnePlus 3T, 5, and 5T, the LG G6, and the Snapdragon variants of the Samsung Galaxy S8. The mod supports HDR+, zero shutter lag, and RAW shooting. You can read more and download it here.
Upgrade the Lens
If you’re serious about your smartphone photography, you can also try lens attachments to change the focal length your camera can shoot at. The priciest of the lot is the high-end range from Moment.
For something a bit more affordable, take a look at the VicTsng 3-in-1 lens. This is a clip-on fisheye, wide angle, and macro lens that should fit most Android phones.
Your Battery Life Is Getting Worse
Sometime around a year after you buy your phone, you will start to notice that the battery doesn’t last as long as it used to, and it’s downhill from there. This is unavoidable: a battery’s capacity shrinks the more it’s used and recharged. And most batteries are only guaranteed for 300-500 charging cycles.
There’s no way around this. You can try removing the apps that drain your battery the most, but you cannot reverse the effects of an aging battery.
But if you’re happy with your phone, you don’t need to throw it out and buy a new one. Most phones — at least from major manufacturers — can have their batteries replaced. You usually can’t do it yourself, but you can take it either to the manufacturer, the carrier, or a reputable third-party repair shop. Expect to pay somewhere around $70.
Upgrade or Not?
As much as we all love unboxing a new phone, sometimes making sure you’re getting the most out of your current handset is as good as an upgrade. Some new software, a choice accessory, a quick spring clean, or even just a new case can be enough to breathe life into an old device.
If you decide to look for a new phone after all, check out the best Android One phones for something different.