5 Signs That Your Family Needs New Phones

Apps not working? Batteries dying? Cameras too crummy?

By Jacqueline Emigh

A new phone hits the market every two weeks or so, according to industry estimates. So there's lots of temptation to switch phones. On the other hand, shopping for new phones can be time consuming, and getting used to them can be a bumpy ride. Here are five signs that you should look at getting new phones for your family, anyway.

Sign #1: The contract for your current phones is going to end.

Let's say that you're getting close to making the final installment on the high-end smartphones—maybe Samsung Galaxy S5 or iPhone 5 models?—that you bought from a major carrier two years ago. In the meantime, Samsung has hopscotched a couple of generations to the Galaxy S7 Series, released in March 2016, and Apple is rumored to be readying the iPhone 7 for September.

When you pay that last installment, your contract will end, and so will your obligations to your carrier. You'll own your phones outright. You'll be free to keep them or sell them and move on to other devices.

If you decide to move on to new phones, you might consider switching carriers, too, especially if your present carrier's wireless coverage in your geographic area isn't so good. Telltale symptoms include frequent call drops and slow Internet connections, even if your service isn't being throttled.

There's little financial incentive these days to stay with a major carrier like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile. If you don't want to pay a lot of money up front, you can easily find a 12-, 24-, or 30-month finance deal with an upgrade option. In addition, major carriers have been introducing lease plans, with monthly installments that are a little cheaper, along with new prepaid options.

But the kind of subsidized contracts you traditionally got from the Big Four—which might give you a $600 phone for only $200 if you renewed your contract—are now a relic of the past.

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On the other hand, new choices have opened up with smaller, no-contract carriers such as Page Plus, Virgin Mobile, Boost, Ting, and Straight Talk. Most of these smaller carriers are Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which provide service through agreements with one or more of the Big Four. The small carriers offer calling plans that may cost a lot less than you've been paying. Types of services—and phones supported—vary considerably, however.

You might want to switch to a different mobile operating system (OS), too—Android if you've been using iPhones, or iPhones if you've been using Android phones. Microsoft Windows and BlackBerry phones are still out there, too, but they don't support nearly as many apps.

Sign #2: New apps won't run on your phones.

If folks in your family are having trouble installing and running smartphone apps, it could be a sign that your mobile OS or hardware is outdated.

OS issues are particularly common on Android phones. Some software developers release apps for the latest edition of the OS to Google Play and other Android app markets rather quickly so they can take advantage of the OS’s newest capabilities. Meanwhile, the makers of Android phones tweak the latest editions to run on their own hardware, releasing OS updates to the wireless carriers on varying schedules. Beyond that, the carriers create further delays by adding customizations and special features for their own networks.

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Even if you were to install a newer edition of Android, your phone might not provide enough processing speed or random access memory (RAM) to run the latest apps. When shopping for a new phone, look for models with faster quad-core processors—as opposed to slower dual-core processors—even though the faster phones are pricier.

Sign #3: Your batteries are running down too fast.

It's generally a good idea for all family members to charge their phones overnight. Then, hopefully, their phones can get through the next day without running out of battery power.

Unfortunately, as time goes by, batteries lose their ability to hold power. When smartphones first arrived on the scene, you could solve this problem by removing the back cover and inserting an aftermarket replacement battery.

Now, though, many phones—including the most recent editions of the iPhone, and lots of Android phones—are completely sealed. If your phones' batteries are konking out too early in the day, it's time to think about buying new phones.

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Sign #4: You're ashamed of the photos you're posting to Facebook.

With so many photos getting posted to Facebook, Instagram, and other social media, a phone with a good camera is practically a necessity. And now that smartphone cameras have gotten so much better, many consumers don’t use standalone digital cameras at all. Why bother toting an extra device?

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Phones today typically come with a resolution of at least 16 megapixels in their rear cameras and almost 5 megapixels in their front cameras, which are used for shooting selfies. Yet whether you are pleased with the quality of the photos may have less to do with your phone’s specs than with such variables as how well it handles things like light and focus. To find phones with awesome cameras, check smartphone reviews.

Sign #5: Your family's financial picture has just changed.

If the change in your life is a raise or promotion, congrats! This might be a good time to buy new phones outright, either through a carrier or a retailer. Then you'll own the phones immediately, without having to wait until they're outdated. If you have a specific model of phone in mind, you can find out which networks it will run on by using a free tool called WillMyPhoneWork?

If you (or your spouse) has lost a job… well, a better job is probably just around the corner. Meanwhile, take the opportunity to look at phones and calling plans available through the MVNOs, which tend to be more affordable. A website named WhistleOut lets you compare phones and plans across the Big Four and 24 other carriers.

If you're not satisfied with an MVNO's service, you can always switch to another service, because no contracts are involved. And if you do like what your family is getting, you can stay with the carrier even when your financial picture brightens up again.

Photo credits: T-Mobile, Samsung, Apple, Jacqueline Emigh, Pexels.com.