While some people may be evaluating the best way to get a new iPhone each year (hint: your best bet is to buy a new phone outright and sell the old one after a year of use) many users aren’t interesting in upgrading every September, just because Cupertino releases a new device like clockwork. But if you’ve let a generation or two of iPhones pass without an upgrade, how do you decide when your phone is old enough to justify an upgrade?
The answer depends, of course, on whom you ask, but combine a quick evaluation of how your phone is performing with a little common sense and you can answer the question yourself. Generally, iPhones that are more than a couple of years old are good candidates for upgrades. If, on the other hand, you have the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6 Plus, the new features, even the upgraded camera system, may not be worth the upgrade.
Unless you’ve already grown tired of a year-old phone, the new 3D Touch and Live Photos features — which bring a touchscreen sensitive to how hard you’re pressing and enable your iPhone to capture 1.5 seconds of motion before and after you take a photo, respectively — aren’t a strong enough reason to shell out for a new iPhone this year. Brian X. Chen reports for The New York Times that owners of iPhones that are at least two years old — the iPhone 5s and any generation released before it — should consider upgrading to the new iPhone 6s.
“With the 6s or the 6s Plus,” Chen reports, “you’re getting a screen that is significantly larger than those of the older iPhones. Also, the phone’s processor, called A9, will deliver a big increase in speed.” The new phones also offer a number of different storage options, though most people recommend against the 16GB base model, especially because Live Photos makes photos twice as large as those taken by older phones.
If you have a phone that came out before the iPhone 6, then you can gain a number of new features and a larger screen by upgrading. (How much larger is up to you.) You’ll also have the option to choose 128GB of storage, a tier that Apple began offering with the iPhone 6. If you have a phone that came out before the iPhone 5s, then you’ll also gain the TouchID fingerprint sensor, which will enable you to lock your iPhone without needing to use a passcode to unlock it, or try out the Apple Pay mobile payments system. And if you have a phone that came out before the iPhone 4s, you’ll also gain Siri, the personal assistant that got significantly smarter with iOS 9.
Speaking of the latest release of Apple’s mobile operating system, paying attention to how well iOS 9 will perform on your iPhone can help you decide whether it’s time to upgrade. While the iPhone 4s, for instance, is technically compatible with the new release, Andrew Cunningham reports for Ars Technica that iOS 9 is nothing more than “a stay of execution” for the iPhone 4s. iOS 8 wasn’t kind to the phone, which was the oldest one supported by the release, and it surprised many when Apple announced that the iPhone 4s would be hanging around for another year.
The iPhone 4s doesn’t get all of the new features of iOS 9 — what you miss out includes the Spotlight Screen, predictive Siri, third-party Spotlight Search, public transit information in Maps, Handoff for apps, Metal API support, plus AirDrop and TouchID — though iOS 9 does manage to run about as well as iOS 8 on the four-year-old hardware. The iPhone 4s is much slower than any iPhone that Apple currently sells, and even 2012’s iPhone 5 is more than twice as fast. The 3.5-inch screen looks increasingly cramped, and there are noticeable wait times that you wouldn’t see on an iPhone 6.
In short, if your current phone is an iPhone 4s, you should definitely upgrade. (If you do choose to upgrade from your iPhone 4s to a new iPhone, either the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6s is a good choice. Or, if you still want a small iPhone that’s a lot faster than the iPhone 4s, even the iPhone 5s will be a significant upgrade.) If you currently own an iPhone 5, you should also upgrade, since you’ll get new features and a phone that’s more compatible with current software.
With the iPhone 5s, you should consider upgrading if your phone shows many signs of wear, if your warranty is running out, or if you’re still on a contract plan and want to take advantage of upgrade eligibility. And if you have an iPhone 6, you should probably wait — unless you’re OK with upgrading every year — because you probably won’t be able to resist whatever Apple introduces with the theoretical iPhone 7.