When is the Best Time to Purchase a New Smartphone?

Everyone always questions themselves on when to buy a new phone. Smartphone users are even more apt to question the timing of such a big purchase. When a ‘dumbphones’ battery begins to drain a bit faster, the buttons start to stick a bit more, the screen gets a few nicks and scratches, it’s pretty simple – get a new one. But when your baby, your 1Ghz, 800×480 AMOLED screened sweetheart becomes “dated” by the latest and greatest device, when do you pull the trigger on that new beast?

The first and most obvious question is what does your carrier offer you in the form of early upgrades? Keep in mind, individual experiences may vary, but as a rule, this is what the salesmen told me at the local stores.

AT&T doesn’t seem to do much for users wanting new devices. “If you are on a contract, you get the device you buy at the time of contract. If you are over 12 months in, many times we can extend your contract another 12 months and get you a bit of a deal on a newer device.” Loosely put, as long as we have you for 2 years, we’ll keep an OK device in your pocket.

T-Mobile was my worst experience of the bunch. According to them, 2 year deal price up front, then full tilt boogie until your contract is up. Again, I hope the salesperson was just having a bad day or something, because this was heartbreaking.

Verizon offers a very good program for the ‘primary line only’ as you are allowed a new device every year for the 2 year price or you can opt to only receive that device every 2 years and get a $30 or $50 additional credit towards a new phone. Verizon also has ‘bent’ the rules quite a bit in the past to get new devices to users in exchange for one’s that do not work quite like they are supposed to. This was, by far, the best customer experience for me.

Sprint has a similar plan to Verizon, just without the additional credit for the 2 year wait. If you are a premiere member, your line receives a discounted phone (2 year pricing) each year through Sprint. Check with Sprint to see what you need to do to become a premier member – it’s well worth the effort.

After figuring out how much your nice new phone will run you, you need to decide if you really need a new one. Is there a defect in your current device that isn’t covered under a warranty? Did you purchase insurance when you got it? Is there functionality of the device that no longer works or works poorly (think email sync, photo quality, calendar apps, music player?)

Many smartphonies are turned on to the latest and greatest from blogs like this. The scary part is they are not ready for first generation issues. Take the Verizon BlackBerry Storm 1 (9530) for example. Verizon pumped out a million and a half units in the first quarter on the market. This compares to 1.0 million 1st generation iPhones, and 1.05 million Motorola Droids.  Unfortunately, they didn’t account for the technical problems and somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% of them came back because the users couldn’t get them to work correctly. Usually first generation phones and software are loaded with issues that can even make it hard to connect a call sometimes. If you do decide to go first generation, make sure you know where to find help online.

The next step is to weigh what the new device will do for you that your old one does not. When I moved from a Motorola Q to a BlackBerry Pearl, I was so excited about the connectivity that the Pearl offered. Unfortunately, I forgot to mention to the sales rep that I needed Office doc editing capabilities. $30 later for a program for the Pearl and I was back in business, but it was another $30 on top of all the new accessories, like car chargers and memory cards (who ever came up with the “MiniSD” card should be placed in a museum with the inventor of the BetaMax tape – but that’s another story for another day.) The bottom line here is to make sure your new device does everything you need it to and try to find one that uses the same accessories.

Finally, after you decided that your phone is dead, you need a new one and your carrier will give you a deal on it, start the shopping process. Begin with online research, then hit the stores to play with a few different models. If you find one you like, try it out at a few different stores. If you can, have them pull the battery out and reboot the device. Try out the functions you will use often – check the camera, the email program, the keys, the build quality, etc. Then leave the store – this is important so you don’t make an impulse purchase. Go home and read the reviews of the devices (phonescoop.com, phonearena.com, engadget.com  are all good sources) and see what other users are saying. If it’s coming up roses and matches with your impressions, you’re good to purchase. If not, go back to the store with the ‘issues’ on your mind and see if they are really problems or just picky people.

Just a few last passing thoughts now…

1) Never be afraid to leave a carrier for a ‘better deal’ – just don’t port your number until you are sure. Many times your savings will cover your cancellation fees in just a few months and you get a new device. Plus, you can always use this as leverage with your current carrier for new hardware or a discount.

2) The newest device isn’t always the best – check the rumor reports on the HTC Touch Pro 2 vs. Touch Pro 3.

3) Look at things like battery life and build quality – with the contract you’re signing this is a $2500 purchase you are making, not just a $200 phone.

4)  Never buy an accessory until you know you are keeping the phone.

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