Time for a new phone?

This is the time each year when the world’s two largest phone manufacturers introduce their new models and entice us to buy. This year I don’t think I’ll be buying.

Samsung just introduced a pair of folding phones and Apple will be announcing their iPhone 15 series in September. I’m usually first in line for a new iPhone when my existing phone hits the 3-year mark. But strangly I have no desire – at least right now- to upgrade my nearly 3-year old iPhone 12 Pro Max.

It’s not much different from the current iPhone 14, and it’s unlikely the iPhone 15 version will have enough new features that justify its estimated $1000 or possibly greater cost. From the initial information I’ve seen, the iPhone 15 series will have a new charging port, the familiar USB-C replacing Apple’s Lightning connector. The EU regulation bodies have mandated a universal charging cord standard. But USB-C cords are not all equal. (Some USB-C cords are designed for charging, while others for data transfer. The problem is they look exactly the same.)

What might get me to upgrade would be a significantly longer battery life or the ability to work at higher ambient temperatures. In these days of extreme weather conditions, phone displays occasionally dim as the phone heats up from frequent usage and high ambient temperatures. Often the display becomes impossible to read.

The failure of our devices to perform properly – whether it’s our electric car or cellphone – may be what it takes to get more people to believe that climate change is real. There are certainly too many that are still deniers. But effecting my gadgets?…that may be what it takes. With regard to climate change, there’s a good argument to make do rather than replace our products so often.

I used to think a folding iPhone might be enough to get me to upgrade, but after trying out a Motorola Razr+, I have some doubts about folding phones. The displays are plastic rather than glass – more easily scratched – and the complex folding mechanism is susceptible to dust and dirt. Nevertheless the $1000 Razr+ and the folding phones from Google and Samsung are all significant engineering accomplishments.

Samsung has just introduced their latest models, the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and the Galaxy Z Fold 5. The first is a standard size phone that folds in half, much like the Motorola. The Fold 5 is a squarish tablet sized display that folds in half to become the size of a normal phone. The phones retail for $1500 and $1800 respectively. No word on whether Apple is working on a folding iPhone.

One reason iPhones don’t need replacing very often is that iOS upgrades are rolled out automatically to everyone, unlike Android phones where the upgrades are handled by the manufacturer who don’t always offer the latest software. That gives iPhone users many of the feature improvements that newer phones get. But if you have an older model that can no longer be updated, that’s a good reason to upgrade, as it usually means it’s susceptible to security issues.

I would also encourage repairing your phone instead of replacing it. Repairs have become less expensive when they’re under Apple Care or other insurance, and a new battery can often improve an old phone. The cost of repairs often defy logic. Recently, I noticed that my camera images appeared soft and full of flare in which a small light source in the picture would show up as a larger bright spot with rays eminating in all directions. When I checked the glass lens covers over the camera lenses, I noticed lots of fine scratches. Apple told me the covers could not be replaced and I thought I’d need a new phone.

They explained that the covers were a non-removeable part of the camera that was a non-removeable part of the camera back assembly, which itself was the entire phone except for the front display and the rear glass. So while they couldn’t replace the lens covers, they did something much better. For $29 with my Apple Care, they replaced the entire back assembly, which gave me essentially a new camera- new electronics, new housing and new batteries. With Apple Care, the cost is usually modest and usually can be done the same day at an Apple Store. And now that Apple was forced to supply parts and repair information, there are many 3rd party repair companies. Apple lists some here.

So, replace your phone if….

  1. It’s so old it doesn’t work with the latest software, or upgrades are unavailable for your Android.
  2. It has so much physical damage that it’s hard to use
  3. You have a friend or relative that would love to take/buy your current phone, giving you an an excuse to buy a new one
  4. You want to take advantage of the expanding 5G networks and your phone doesn’t support 5G
  5. You’re changing carriers or adding a new line and your carrier is offering a free phone or a hefty discount. Typically they can save you $400 or more.
  6. You really want a folding phone because you “need” something that’s much easier to carry or a phone/tablet in a single device.
  7. You want to change from Android to an iPhone or vice versa.

GM CEO Confirms Chevy Bolt Returning

In an earlier column I noted how foolish GM was to kill the Bolt, America’s least expensive electric car whose sales have been very good and keep getting better. One of my readers sent me this news today that GM is reversing that decision and will offer a new version of the Bolt:

Barra took it a step further on July 25 during GM’s second quarter earnings call when she confirmed that the Detroit automaker plans to soon revive the Chevy Bolt after discontinuing it.

“We are investing significantly less capital and expect to deliver vehicles that will have much higher levels of customer-facing content and even better margins than today,” Barra said in the earnings call. “Another great example of a capital efficient program is the next generation Chevrolet Bolt that we plan to execute. Our customers love today’s Bolt. It has been delivering record sales in some of the highest customer satisfaction and loyalty scores in the industry.

Barra, however, did not provide any further details on models, pricing or when it would launch the new Bolt.

by Phil Baker