Guide: When to Buy a Smartphone

01 June 2012

With new devices coming out every day in the mobile market it can be difficult deciding when the best time to buy a smartphone will be. Has the device you’re interested in been out too long? Is there a better one right around the corner? Which operating system (OS) is currently the most popular and why?

The truth is trickier than any single simple answer and each OS has its own little cycles of when and why you should grab a handset. We’ll do our best to walk you through the current 3 top contenders: iPhones, Android devices and Windows Phone handsets.

When to Buy an iPhone

Where once Apple released a new iPhone every 12 months or so, of late that pattern has become a bit less reliable. However, when to buy an iPhone in relation to its release date has not really changed. If you want to get a new, top-of-the-range iPhone then it’s usually best to get your hands on one as soon as possible after it hits stores.

We suggest waiting no more than 6 months after an iPhone is released to grab a new one. After that time it’s probably worth waiting for the next iPhone to come out, unless you’re situation is more desperate than normal and you need a new smartphone ASAP. Once that next generation comes out your phone will not only be worth less monetarily, but will also lose some of its lustre. Grabbing a new iPhone soon after it comes out ensures that your handset will be as valuable as it can be for as long as possible.

More than 9 months after an iPhone is released is a definite no-no. Just wait the extra (probably) three months until the next one is released. Even if you’re happy to get the current model it will go down in price significantly once the newer iPhone comes out.

With Apple’s history of producing a small number of quality products, each iteration of iPhone doesn’t really need to be user-tested by the market. If an iPhone has software problems then they will be fixed down the road with updates to iOS (the OS used by iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches).

There are usually very few hardware issues with Apple iPhones, as the company spends all its time focusing on and testing just one phone, rather than many phones each year. As a result most hardware issues are solved before the phone gets out the door. The so-called “death-grip” issue with the iPhone 4 is an example of an instance where a hardware issue was left unsolved and as such iPhone 4 users had to deal with this usually minor defect for the life of their phone. However, instances like this are few and far between with iPhones and are usually discovered within only a few days of the release date. So even if there is an issue you won’t have to wait long to hear about them and make up your own mind as to whether or not it’s a deal-breaking flaw.

Please keep in mind that we’re not suggesting you queue up in line for 4 hours on the day of release. Waiting a few weeks to a couple of months is fine. You can even place a delivery order with most Aussie carriers and your phone will turn up whenever there are enough in stock.

When to Buy an Android Phone

It’s often joked about in the tech community that there is never a good time to buy and Android phone. This isn’t because Android phones are inherently bad, rather it’s because every time one is released there’s a potentially slightly better model just around the corner.

For the most part this is true. Generally the best time to grab a new Android device is a few months after Google releases a new version of the Android operating system (OS), or just after Samsung and HTC release their two competing flagships for the year.

Why a few months after the new OS release? That’s generally when the manufacturers start releasing their very own devices running on the “new” Android OS. Whenever a manufacturer designs its first devices that come running on a new Android update out-of-the-box it’s a sure bet that their flagship phone for at least the next quarter will among the names in the group. Alternatively, Google’s Nexus device line has been solid for a few generations now.

To accompany each new version of Android, Google partners up with one of the major smartphone manufacturers and releases a smartphone with the “Nexus” branding. This phone is the new flagship for the entire OS and it’s usually a few months before other devices running on that OS version go on sale. The Nexus phones have been becoming increasingly impressive with each passing generation and now compete convincingly with the very top of the pack when they are released.

New versions of Android tend to come out when they’re ready, rather than with a scheduled regularity. Android Ice Cream Sandwich made its global market debut on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus in November of 2011. Other top-ranking Ice Cream Sandwich devices only started to see market introduction around the March/April 2012 mark. Some quick research will show you when the last version of Android was released and when the next is expected.

However, like we said Android devices are always being released in rapid succession of one another. So either there’s never a good time to buy one or it’s always a good time to buy one. Just do a bit of research, find which Android handsets are currently selling the best and read some reviews on them. Don’t bother holding back just because there’s a rumour that the next one will be released in a month or so. If the phone is under 6 months old and has great reviews then it should provide you with a solid Android experience. You’re never going to have the top-of-the-range Android handset for an entire year, so it’s pointless to fret over your decision based on wanting to have the best for the longest.

We do suggest leaving a bit of time between an Android phone’s release and your purchase – at least a month. In Australia that tends not to be an issue, as we usually get our smartphones a month or so after international release anyway. The reason we suggest waiting for a while is to allow the rest of the market to user-test it. Releasing several top-end devices each year, as well as multiple other handsets aimed at lower ends of the market, means that errors and oversights are more likely to occur. If the phone has any critical faults then a month is easily enough time for them to surface and for your to make your decisions accordingly.

When to Buy a Windows Phone

Windows Phones tend to be very similar, due to the restrictive nature of the Windows Phone OS. Where on Android manufacturers are able to implement their own user interfaces (UIs), on Windows Phone it’s a mostly uniform experience across the board. As such it becomes more about hardware comparison, such as display quality and size, rather than software.

It is true that manufacturers tend to have big releases following a new version of Windows Phone hitting the market. But these phones are often followed by other handsets that are just as, or even more, desirable.

Windows Phones tend to see downloadable software updates quite quickly after a new version of the OS is out. We suggest you focus more in this instance on whether or not a phone has the hardware to suit your needs, rather than what version of the Windows Phone OS it’s running. Are you after a Windows Phone with an awesome camera, an large/vibrant display, a funky external design or do you not really care that much? Find the phone that’s right for you and just grab it, after reading a few reviews of course.

Once again we suggest going for something less than 6 months old and always check if there’s a new version coming out soon. With Windows Phone devices there tends to be less of an overall market cycle like there is with iOS and a slower, more-steady stream of new handsets than with Android. So if there is a phone right around the corner that better suits your needs then it’s probably worth waiting for, but there’s less of a specific “right time” to buy when one is talking about Windows Phone handsets.

In Summary

To quickly sum up that’s:

  • iPhones: Grab them as soon as you can after release. Do not wait more than 6 months and certainly don’t wait more than 9.
  • Androids: Never older than 6 months, check the ones that are at the top and try to get one that has adopted an Android OS update early on. Don’t forget to wait a month or so for the market to test out any critical flaws.
  • Windows Phones: Find whatever is best for you and grab it. Make sure it isn’t too old (once again try to stay under 6 months) and check if there is a new and better one right around the corner.

We hope this guide has been helpful to anyone looking to buy a new phone. If you have any other questions please check out our guides section for more handy smartphone information.



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