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The case for keeping your old iPhone

There's no rule that says you have to upgrade your iPhone every year. In fact, considering growing inflation and the limited new features in the new iPhone 14, frugality may well be the new hotness.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
June Wan/ZDNET

'Tis the season. No, not the one with all the songs and decorations. This is the season with all the new goodies…new iPhones, that is. Every fall for more than a decade, we've marked the changing of the seasons with the annual migration (physically or virtually) of the Apple faithful to Cupertino.

This year has been no different. Apple released the iPhone 14 series of phones. Compared to the previous year's iPhone 13 series, Apple added two important safety features: car crash detection and emergency satellite call-for-help. The iPhone 14 and iPhone Plus have the same processor, same screen resolution, same storage, and same camera capabilities as the iPhone 13 series.

Also: Your Google Pixel has car crash detection, too. How to set it up

The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max do add a few new goodies. There's the "Dynamic Island," a user-interface hack that tries to find meaning for the notch where the front-facing camera peers out from behind the screen. It's well done, and generally adds some value, but it's sure not a reason on its own to buy a new iPhone. The pricier iPhone 14 models also add a 48 megapixel camera (which is a big deal for photographers), and update the processor another generation to the A16 Bionic, which does provide a bit of a speed bump.

Apple did not update the Lightning connection to USB-C, which means uploads from the iPhone 14 series, including the Pro with those very large picture and video files, remain slower than they need to be.

Also: iPhone 14 Pro: Huge new camera sensor, same slow Lightning cable data transfers

Apple giveth and Apple taketh away. This year's Apple taketh away is the ability to use physical SIM cards. All iPhone 14 models use only eSIM internal SIM implementations, which has its ups and downs.

I'm keeping my old phone

My daily driver is now a two generations old, refurbished iPhone 12 Pro Max, and I'm keeping it. I have no plans to buy an iPhone 14 Pro Max (which would be the model I'd switch to, if I cared enough to do it). There's nothing in either the 13 series or the 14 series that rocks my world enough to pony up the big bucks to make a replacement. Plus, the eSIM is such a pain in the butt to change out, almost always requiring some calls to the carrier, that it's just not worth it.

My wife, on the other hand, may still decide to upgrade to an iPhone 14. None of the new iPhone 14 features (such as they are) particularly intrigue her. But she's running a relatively low memory 64GB iPhone 11 Pro. If the low memory configuration proves too annoying sometime this year, she might opt to upgrade. But that won't be due to the attractiveness of the new phones. It's mostly due to the under configuration of her old phone.

Also: iPhone 14 Pro innovation scorecard: The hits and misses

Can't wait vs. upgrade calculus

Speaking personally, when it comes to tech upgrades, I usually approach them with one of two mindsets. The first is what I call the "can't wait" mindset. This is when I've been using a device for too long and it's become too difficult. That could be because of too little memory, because the battery is dying too often, because something's broken, or there's an issue with apps. "Can't wait" occurs after I've been holding out, desperately hoping for a new device to become available to meet some burning needs.

The second mindset is the "upgrade calculus" mindset. This is when I look at the features in the new device to see if any of them seem like they're something I really need. This often depends on how behind you are in phone releases. For example, when I jumped from my beloved 6s Plus to the iPhone 12 Pro Max, I saw tremendous improvements in just about everything. Additionally, the 6s Plus had just stopped being supported by current iOS versions, which was a fine motivator for upgrading.

But if you have an iPhone 13 and buy an iPhone 14, you won't notice any improvement at all unless you're stuck in a cellular dead zone on the top of a mountain. Those two models are almost identical.

Also: Most people don't need Apple's flashy new adventure tech. Here's what we actually need

The case for keeping your older iPhone

I've talked about a bunch of reasons I'm not upgrading, but let's turn it back to you. Here are some reasons you might want to stick with what you have. You might want to keep your older iPhone if…

If you don't want to spend big bucks on a new device. While you can still buy a bottom-equipped iPhone SE for $429, the iPhone 14 models start at $799 and top out at $1,599. That's a lot of green to spend, especially in a near-recession year sinking under the weight of unprecedented inflation. Given how little the iPhone 14 adds, it might be wise to hang onto your money (and your phone) for another year.

If the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus add nothing that will change your life. Unless you're climbing mountains or are traveling outside of cellular range, the iPhone 14 is an iPhone 13 minus the SIM card slot. There's just nothing here that justifies an upgrade unless you're coming from a much older model.

If your battery is holding up. If your battery is holding up just fine, you might not need to upgrade. Even if your battery needs help, most Apple battery replacements range from about $50 to about $70, a whole lot less expensive than buying a new phone.

If you have enough RAM. If you've got plenty of storage, you might not feel pressured to find a better solution. With 256GB, I have a lot of RAM in my phone and it's holding nicely. My wife, however, my decide to upgrade because she has a lot less RAM in hers.

If you don't care about bragging rights. Some folks like to show off that they have the latest tech. Perhaps that's because it says they had the money to get it, or because they think it makes them look cool, or simply because they love the product. But if you don't care, don't spend.

If you don't need one for some work-specific reason. I sometimes buy the latest tech to write about it, but when it comes to my phones and my computers (which are mission-critical to doing my job and managing my life), I wait until I'm darned sure the disruption is worth it.

If you travel out of the country. This is a tough one, because the satellite emergency feature is welcome insurance if something goes horribly wrong while hiking in the Alps. But the eSIM swap is quite problematic, especially when you're outside the country. You just might want to stick with an older phone.

If you use a non-mainstream carrier and don't want to switch. This is the eSIM again. Not all carriers support them.

If you don't want the hassle of switching eSIMs. We're banging the eSIM drum again, but swapping eSIMs between phones is very likely to require a visit to a carrier store or a couple of long and frustrating phone calls to your carrier's support line.

If you're comfortable with the physical size of your phone. If you like your phone's size, there might not be a reason to get a different phone, especially since you'd probably buy the same size. This is also true of the iPhone 13 mini. Granted, it's only about a 1/4-inch smaller than the iPhone 14, but it's still smaller. Hands can feel the difference.

If you can still upgrade iOS on your phone. If you have an iPhone 8 or later, you're good. If you're rocking an iPhone 7, 6s, first generation SE, or earlier, yeah, it's time to buy a new phone.

Also: How to fix your old phone's low earpiece volume fast for 25 cents

Are you upgrading?

I see a pretty strong case for keeping an older iPhone and a generally weak case for upgrading -- especially from a recent iPhone 12 or iPhone 13. What about you? Are you upgrading? If so, why? Let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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