Jonathan Wylie is a writer, educator and podcaster. You can hear the audio version of this article, and others, on the Unpacking iOS podcast
Keeping Up With the Joneses
Every September, almost like clockwork, Apple announces the latest iterations of it's flagship device - the iPhone. It's one of the best selling smartphones ever, and it changed a lot about how we use our phones. The new models feature the fastest processors, the best cameras, and the most cutting edge designs.
However, as interested as I am to hear all about the new iPhones, I've never bought one. I've owned several different iPhones but none of them have been the latest model. I always opted to buy an older iPhone because, for me, the best iPhone, is last year's iPhone, and it might be for you too. Here's why.
The Best Value iPhone
Perhaps the obvious place to start when comparing last year’s iPhone to this year’s version is the price. The iPhone 11 starts at $699, while the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max start at $999 and $1099 respectively. These higher price points were introduced with the iPhone X, which means to get a flagship iPhone, upwards of $1000 is going to leave your wallet. $1000 is a lot of money for a smartphone, especially if you plan to upgrade it again in a couple of years, as many of us do.
However, it’s not all bad news because Apple have cheaper iPhones that they are also willing to sell you. Last year’s iPhone XR, which used to sell for $750 is now only $599. The dual camera iPhone 8 Plus, from two years ago, is down to $549, while the venerable iPhone 8 is just $449.
Want even more options? Apple sells refurbished iPhones that come with new screens, new bodies, and the same one year guarantee as the new devices. They are essentially brand new, but they sell out fast, so check their website often. My carrier also sells refurbished iPhones. Yours might too. They are typically devices that people bought and then changed their mind about and returned to the store. They come with a very useful discount compared to brand new devices.
Speaking of carriers, the iPhone XS and XS Max are still available from stores who are looking to sell off their existing stock. You can’t buy them directly from Apple, but you will likely see deals on these phones as soon as the iPhone 11 starts to ship to customers. You may even find some iPhone X models too, so there are lots of options if you shop around a bit.
New iPhones Are Better Than Old iPhones?
I'm not going to argue with you. The new iPhone is the best iPhone Apple has made. However, last year’s iPhones did not turn into bad phones as soon as the new models were released. The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro are obviously going to be better phones than their predecessors, (this is what happens every year), but the jump in performance and quality is probably not as big as you might think.
Last year's iPhones run the same version of iOS that the new ones runs, and they will continue to get updates for years to come. This means the older iPhones already have the majority of the features that are available to the newer phones. Last year's models are more than fast enough to get things done, they have the same awesome cameras that Apple eulogized about 12 months ago, and they have the same warranty and reliability that the newest models have.
Why are last year's iPhones so good? One of the main reasons is that we are starting to reach a saturation point with smartphones. For the last couple of years, people have wondered what else you can do to make a smartphone better, and the answer is, not that much. They are a mature product. There are few, if any, missing features that customers are crying out for, because they already do what we need them to do, and they do it very well.
The iPhone Is My Camera of Choice
Are the cameras on the latest iPhones better than the cameras on your current device? Absolutely. Are they light years ahead of last year's iPhone. Depending on your current model of iPhone, probably not. In fact, you won't have to look very far for the reviews that came out a year ago that said how great the camera was on that iPhone. Why? Because that is what the reviewers say every year. Apple make good cameras.
Not convinced? Take a look at the award winners from the 2019 iPhone Photography Awards. Many of the winners are using the latest iPhones, but many do not. The photographer of the year winner, Diego Lage, captured his images on an iPhone SE, which was released in 2016. Other winning entries were shot on an iPhone 6, an iPhone 6s, and an iPhone 7 Plus. All of which reinforces that fact that you don't need the best iPhone to take the best pictures.
Are you tempted by the new ultra-wide lens in the iPhone 11 Pro? Let me help you out with that. Instead of buying a new iPhone, you could buy the Moment Wide lens. This handy add-on sits in front of your iPhone lens to give you a 18mm field of view, the same focal distance as the new iPhone 11 Pro. When you combine it with the case that is required for this to work, you are looking at around $150 to upgrade your iPhone camera - significantly less than the price of a new phone.
If you're serious about wanting to take better photos with your iPhone, take a class. The iPhone doesn't take the picture, you do. Owning the best iPhone money can buy won't make you a better photographer. It might help, but with a little knowledge, you can improve your pictures without investing $1000 in a new iPhone. Get to know the iPhone camera and all that it is capable of, then take a look at some online learning sites like Skillshare or Udemy and find a photography tutor that has the learning you need to get better.
Do You Really Need a New iPhone?
You don't have to replace your iPhone every two years. Your carrier might want you to, but you really don't need to. If you are thinking of getting a new phone, ask your self why you think you need it. How will your life be better with a new device? What new features can you not live without? If you don't ask yourself questions like this, you run the risk of treating these devices like disposable phones and could easily write off $500-a-year on a new flagship iPhone.
If your battery life is getting worse, consider getting your battery replaced at an Apple Store, or an authorized Apple Repair Center. The $50 cost is a lot less than that brand new iPhone and can quickly breathe new life into your smartphone.
Are you out of storage space? Go through your phone and delete apps that you no longer use, or go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage and enable the option called Offload Unused Apps. This feature saves app data and automatically removes unused apps on your phone when you are running low on storage.
If your photos and videos that are swallowing up more storage than you want, make sure the iCloud Photo Library is turned on so that you can save the full resolution photos and videos in the cloud, and have smaller, optimized versions taking up less space on your device. If you need more iCloud space, you can get that for as little as 99c a month.
I Still Want The Best iPhone
If you've made it this far and you still want the newest iPhone you can buy, then I'm probably not going to change your mind. However, I could still help save you some money. Apple has a pretty good trade-in program that you can use to turn in your old iPhone as part payment for a new one. Lots of people keep these devices for their kids, but if you can part with it, do it. It could save you up to $600 on your next iPhone. Learn more on Apple's website, or in an Apple retail store.
If you're not buying your iPhone from Apple, you can sell it to an online retailer. Simply select the model and condition of your iPhone and you will get an instant quote that locks in the price they are willing to pay for your device. There are lots of sites that are looking for new stock to refurbish and sell to consumers. Read, Where to Find Cheap Refurbished iPad & iPhone Deals to see a list of retailers.
If you don't trade, sell, or pass on your old iPhone on to a family member, make sure you take advantage of Apple's free recycling program. Smartphones have a noticeable impact on our environment due to the mining of precious metals and other materials that are used in their construction. Apple's program gives you the opportunity to help lessen that impact by recycling materials from your old phone to help make new phones. All you do is drop off your iPhone at a local collection point, or mail it with a prepaid shipping label.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Jonathan Wylie