How to decide whether to buy a new smartphone

So you want a new smartphone? Of course you do. With a big new phone coming out every couple of weeks, it’s easy to feel a little dissatisfied unless you have a mint version of the latest and greatest device out there. But you also want to make sure you get the cheapest deal on the newest device, right? That requires some planning.

Smartphones are expensive, and you don’t want to get stuck in a two-year contract with a phone you don’t need or like. There are lots of things to consider before buying a new phone, and I’ve chosen 10 questions to help you decide whether it’s time to take the plunge, and how to get the best deal. Ask yourself these before buying your next device.

  1. Does your phone work?
    This might seem like a no-brainer, but does the phone you carry right now work? Can it make calls? Does it do whatever else you need it to do? Yes? Then what do you need a new phone for? Unless your contract is up (see below) or the phone you carry is completely useless, you should think long and hard about why you’re replacing it.

    Smartphone upgrades

  2. Can you renew your contract to get a subsidized price?
    This is probably the most important factor to consider when buying a new phone. After all, phone prices are heavily subsidized when you renew your contract, which can mean the difference between plunking down $200 or $600 at the register. Are you not ready to renew yet? Then you can probably wait to buy a new phone too. On the other hand, are you on a contract-free carrier? The good news is that you can buy a new phone whenever you please. The bad news is that you’ll be shelling out the full price, so choose wisely.

  3. Can you get a discount?
    Some companies work out discounts with particular carriers. Make sure to check with your company to see if any such discounts exist. Carriers will often ask where you work as well, but if they don’t, make sure to see if you are eligible for a corporate discount (or any other type of discount, for that matter).

    smartphone hands

  4. When was the last version of the phone you want refreshed?
    In general, hero phones (think brand-defining, standout phones like the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S 4) refresh about once every 12 months. Did the last Galaxy S come out 2 months ago? Buy away! Did it come out 9 months ago? Then you probably want to stick it out and wait for the new one.

  5. Have you chosen a carrier?
    Most people stick with the same carrier when they buy a new phone, which is fine as long as you’re happy with the price and quality of the service you’re getting. But if you’re looking to make a switch, it’s important to take some time to figure out which carrier will work best for you. You want to get a good price, of course, but you should also take network coverage and quality into account. At this point, for instance, I wouldn’t want to sign up with a carrier that doesn’t offer 4G LTE where I live right now.  And that’s just the beginning. Because there are so many factors to consider in choosing a character, I plan to take a much more detailed look at this in a future post.

  6. Which is the right platform for you?
    Do you know which phone you want to get? If you already have, use and love the iPhone(s aapl), then sure, a newer iPhone is almost certainly the right choice for you. Ditto Android(s goog) and Windows Phone(s msft). BlackBerry(s bbry) is more of a wild card, since BB10 is completely different than anything that came before it. If you’re unsure, here are a few things to think about:
    Do you love apps?
    If you love apps, get the iPhone. The Apple App store is home to more than 900,000 apps. Google Play has recently surpassed that number, but Apple has a much more rigid approval process, so you’re guaranteed a quality app without a side of malware. Windows Phone and BlackBerry are doing their best to keep up, but simply put, they can’t compete with Apple or Android when it comes to apps.

  7. Or do you love freedom?
    The iPhone has a more curated selection of apps, but it’s far less customizable than Android phones, and Windows phones, for that matter. You can load your iPhone up with a ton of apps that’ll allow it to do just about anything, but if you want, say, a weather widget on one of your home screens, it’s not going to happen. You should go with Android if you prefer a phone you can tweak and modify to your heart’s content. Heck, even Windows Phone has resizable live tiles and superior Facebook integration. And if you place typing above all else, no phone is home to a better keyboard than BlackBerry.Lumia 920 colors

  8. And which is the right phone?
    So you know which platform you’re interested in, but what about the phone? It you’re buying Apple or BlackBerry the answer is easy, since there aren’t many models to choose from. Even Windows Phone has a fairly limited selection, so you don’t have more than a few options on any given carrier.But if you’re into Android, things get a lot more complicated. First I’d figure out the largest size phone you feel comfortable using. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a specific size range, you’ll want to round up the newest, most powerful phones available and choose from there. This is the one time I’d actually recommend you not take price too highly into consideration. After all, you’ll like be spending upwards of $100 on a data plan per month. And when you think about it like that, whether a phone costs $99.99 or $199.99 doesn’t add all that much to your total overall cost.
  9. Try before you buy.
    You can read a ton of reviews before deciding which phone sounds right for you (and you should). But nothing quite compares to the actual experience of using the phone, if only for 10 minutes. Make your way to the nearest retailer that has the phone you want and spend a little time with it. If everything suddenly feels right, you’ll know you’ve made the right decision. And if it doesn’t, there will be plenty other phones to try on until one fits.blackberry Q10

  10. Can you return your phone?
    Most carriers offer a two-week grace period in which you can return a phone and back out of contract — all you have to pay is for the portion of the month you’ve already used. If you buy a new phone you decide you just can’t live with, then don’t! Bring it back and start the search all over again. After all, you waited two years for this moment. You don’t want to get stuck another two with a phone you don’t love.

  11. Do you even need a new phone?
    Look, you’re (presumably) an adult, so no matter how many times you type “Should I buy a new smartphone” into Google, you’re never going to just get back a single, validating result that simply says yes. Google doesn’t know if you need a new phone. I don’t know if you need a new phone. Only you know that. And you should be able to make that decision on your own.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock user D. Hammonds.
This post was updated at 7:00PM PT to correct a sentence about which mobile app store has the most apps.