Tempted by a new gadget? Keep the golden rule in mind before buying
If there’s just one question I’ve heard the most over the years, it is: “I’ve had [insert gadget name here] for [usually not a long time] – should I get the new one?”
Oftentimes, that question is born of honest curiosity – someone really wants to know if the promises a company has made about some new product are worth buying into. Other people, however, have already made up their minds about buying something new and are just looking for someone to validate their choices.
No matter why people ask, though, my answer is almost always the same: If it isn’t seriously broken, and you got whatever it is less than two years ago, don’t even think about replacing it.
That’s my golden rule for gadget shopping, and I admit it sounds like a pretty obvious rule of thumb. But as long as companies churn out new smartphones, laptops, wearable gadgets and more for sale each year – and then advertise them like crazy – it can be a little too easy to splurge on an upgrade that may not move the satisfaction needle for you.
Our advice: Resist that temptation whenever you can. Not only will your bank account thank you, but the upgrade you do invest in down the road also is likely to feel fresher and more capable because you’ve allowed for the underlying technology to mature further before embracing it.
As straightforward as my rule is, there are a few things about it that we should unpack, such as why the threshold is two years, and what qualifies as “seriously” broken.
Barring accidents and, say, defects stemming from production, the first year with a new gadget is likely to be your best year with it. And by the time you tiptoe past the first anniversary of your purchase, you’ve probably built up some considerable experience with it – which means you have a pretty good sense of how well it’s supposed to run.
Keep that baseline in mind as you continue using your device.
In my experience, it’s after the second year that things you may have taken for granted before – like performance or battery life, if the gadget in question has a battery – can really start turning south
These kinds of consumer gadgets receive software and security updates for more than two years; in fact, it’s not uncommon for products from companies including Samsung and Apple to receive four or more years of updates. The hardware, by comparison, may struggle to last as long.
That’s not to say a phone, laptop or a smartwatch will suddenly go batty after two years; the process is usually much more subtle than that. Hang onto a device long enough, though, and you’ll hit a point where it runs too slowly or the battery doesn’t last long enough for your comfort. It’s only after that point that we’d recommend you think about upgrading – or if possible, repairing – your device.
What makes a device ‘seriously’ broken?
Let’s say that you have a smartphone that does everything you want it to and that you’ve been satisfied with everything about it except its battery life. It wasn’t always this way, though; early on, you could count on your phone to last full days, but now it barely gets you through lunchtime.
Is it worth upgrading then?
We don’t think so. The details will depend on your phone’s model, but you can generally expect to pay $100 (plus tax) or less to get a genuine replacement battery installed. You could spend even less if you felt like taking a stab at the process yourself. (I spent a weekend not too long ago dismantling old Samsung phones to remove their old bloated batteries, a process that wound up being way more pleasant and contemplative than I expected.)
Paying $100 or so to fix your phone’s biggest issue isn’t nothing, but it’s a fraction of what a brand new model would cost you. If the problem is a little more complicated, such as a shattered screen, expect potential repair costs to go up a bit. Apple’s estimates for out-of-warranty screen replacements range from $129 for aging devices like the 2016 iPhone SE to about $379 for the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Even at the high end, those costs still may make a repair a better choice than a full-on upgrade if you’re satisfied with everything else. I’d consider a device to be “seriously” broken – and therefore worth considering writing off – only once the potential repair costs hit 50 percent of the cost of a new model.
At that point, do whatever feels right for you and your budget, and don’t forget to recycle, trade in or upcycle that older device once you’ve done with it.