Seeking new cellphone for long-term relationship
January 29, 2018 5:41 PM   Subscribe

What smartphone on the market has the best outlook for a long-term commitment? My hand me down iPhone 4 is quickly reaching the end of its battery life and stopped updating years ago, so I'm trying to figure out my next step.

All I want in a cell phone is a good camera, pleasurable web surfing user interface, and durability (I am totally willing to buy whatever mega OtterBox will make that happen). I'm cool with Android, and I'm coming around to the idea of buying something new rather than being constantly chased/engulfed by obsolescence. If I buy new, I want it to last for 5 years - what should I buy? Or do I just get an iPhone SE and ask this question again in a couple years?
posted by Maarika to Technology (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, I just went through some shopping around for phones, and as much as I dislike Apple, the iPhone SE is one of the only mainstream phones available now that isn't too big to fit in your pocket.
posted by arxeef at 5:47 PM on January 29, 2018

Motorola Moto G is the price performance champ. They're just ridiculously good phones for what you pay. iOS used to be better than Android, but I'd say it's even or even slightly in favour of the robot now.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:48 PM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The iPhone 4 came out in 2010, and even if that’s not when you got yours, it was still useful to you until 2018. That sounds like a very good reason to stick with iPhone!
posted by ejs at 5:58 PM on January 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

My iPhone 6 is still working perfectly well - and the screen still looks good as new. (I did buy a good case). I’d probably stick with the iPhone.
posted by faineg at 6:10 PM on January 29, 2018

I have an approximately three and a half year old Moto G. I don't think it's the answer here--the battery is still in pretty good shape, but it no longer receives updates and it regularly misbehaves (overall performance is poor, data and wi-fi die randomly until you restart, it intermittently freezes while booting, etc). It's a good phone for $200, but I wouldn't expect a new one to make it five years. I'm gearing myself up to buy an iPhone SE, but haven't pulled the trigger yet. I suspect most people would have replaced mine at least a year ago.

(Also, the US Moto G doesn't have the right frequencies to get 3G/4G in the UK, and I believe you need the US version for data on T-Mobile. The international version may work on other US carriers.)
posted by hoyland at 6:24 PM on January 29, 2018

If you like the iPhone you have, I would recommend waiting what will allegedly be only a few more months and buying an iPhone SE 2.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 6:42 PM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm the same as you down to the otter box. Just got an SE recently.
posted by bquarters at 6:58 PM on January 29, 2018

My wife has a Pixel, I've got a Pixel 2. Durability and Usability have been great. Because there is no Samsung or Motorola or Verizon bloatware they seem to handle Google updates very well. If I thought any phone would last 5 years it would be these.
posted by trbrts at 7:07 PM on January 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Get the battery replaced in your iphone 4 is the cheapest best choice.
posted by jbenben at 7:58 PM on January 29, 2018

iphones are the long-term choice, certainly. Get whatever you can get for your budget from the Apple store, whether it's an SE, a 6 (still available in many stores), or whatever else is there. They are priced very accurately in my experience -- the higher price gives you improved life expectancy and more features.
posted by tillsbury at 8:12 PM on January 29, 2018

I think first you need to consider your phone plan and whether you want to stick with that long-term because moving phones to new carriers isn't always simple. How much are you paying for service now and do you like it? Does it have features, like international roaming, that you want? I use Boost Mobile and it's $30/month for unlimited everything. I considered switching to Project Fi because of the cheap international roaming, but I didn't like the phone selection so I got a new Samsung Galaxy S7 and locked myself into Boost Mobile.

I'd consider looking at a Samsung Galaxy S7. Its specs should be good for years, you can update to the latest version of Android and be up to date, and now it should only cost about $200-$300. It's a popular enough phone that finding cases and accessories will be easy.

But if you're used to Apple products and like iOS, then get one of their more recent offerings.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:16 PM on January 29, 2018

Response by poster: Plan-wise, I'm on a basic Cricket plan with a family member but am considering joining another family member's Google Fi plan if I go Pixel. No need for fancy plans here.

Normally I would entertain a battery-replacement option (a $7 eBay battery got an me an extra year with my beloved Sanyo Sprint phone, RIP), but that won't fix my iOS.
posted by Maarika at 8:42 PM on January 29, 2018

I'd get the battery replaced in the iPhone.

Right now we seem to be at a nadir in terms of smartphone longevity, at least on the Android side.

I've started measuring phones using a metric called "months until suck". The Moto G is a good deal for the price, but the one we have in our family is less than 24 months old and it's already a dog; somewhere along the line, an Android update basically ruined it, performance-wise. It's still usable for email and the lightest of light web browsing, but the idea of using, say, Snapchat on it is laughable. It was, in retrospect, a 12-months-until-suck phone, or at least the generation we bought was.

I also got a Nexus 5X (which, admittedly, wasn't the top-tier flagship, but it was #2 at the time) around the same time, and while it's not totally unusable in the same way the Moto G is, heavy apps now take an excruciatingly long time to load: it's reached "suck". To the point where I'd like to replace it, but this is a phone that's not even fully paid off on the default installment plan. I bought it at the end of its run, and expected more, but I guess it was 24 months-until-suck. (If I'd bought it earlier in its run, I could have had 36 months-until-suck, although I would have paid almost $150 more, which is almost the cost of a 12 months-until-suck phone!)

As a result, I have a hard time recommending the Pixel 2 if you want a 4-year phone; I am very suspicious that they have an expectation of performance longevity for devices that is just shorter than that. So unless you're willing to tolerate a really crap phone for that last year, it's not going to work well.

I hate hate hate it, but right now with Android, you might as well buy a cheap phone like the Moto G and throw it away every 18 months or whenever you stop being able to run apps you like with acceptable performance.

Hopefully the next generations will be better, but it's hard to say just yet. I'd hang onto what you have and give the situation a bit longer to settle.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:52 PM on January 29, 2018

I have to plug the HTC One series here. They are very durable, it's what we buy for work now. And my personal phone is from 2011 or 12, I forget, and works perfectly still. All apps, updates etc. And I've never had it in a case and its spent a ton of time in the cold which is awful for the battery. Which is original and still works! Every once in a while I factory reset it and it updates the OS no problem and I reload everything from the SIM and we're all good.
posted by fshgrl at 4:26 AM on January 30, 2018

I'll pull real hard for the One Plus phones. I'm pretty tough on my phones. I had the OnePlus One until last year, and it came out in 2014. The OnePlus replaced an HTC one I had, which I managed to crack the screen and get wet. It couldn't recover.

I only gave up on the OnePlus One because I managed to get the charging port corroded (see below on how this happened). This phone survived constant dropping on its face (never cracked--I also didn't keep a cover on it!) and getting drenched in at least 3 storms (I was an avid bike commuter). I can still power up and use the phone now in a pinch if I really need to.

I'm on the OnePlus 3T now, but I think they have a more recent version out too. It seems to be as well-made because I've definitely dropped the phone on its face on concrete multiple times already from hip height, and nothing's cracked! The thing I love most is that it charges really quickly. I can usually get to about 80% charge from the single digits in about 15-20 minutes. The camera on this phone is also phenomenal. Both cameras are at 16MP. I've taken pictures of dogs and can zoom in enough to see each little fuzzy hair super clearly.

Oh, and it ships unlocked so you can take it to whichever carrier is the best/cheapest in your area.
posted by astapasta24 at 1:33 PM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

As things stand today, it's unlikely any phone will/should last 5 years anymore unless you stop updates altogether, which puts you at a great security risk (no online banking, etc.). Flagship phones will probably come the closest, as they have quite a bit of power that will stand up to more demanding apps/operating systems down the road, but they're also ridiculously expensive now.

So yeah, I have a Nexus 6P (Google's flagship from 2016), and it's still pretty great, but I'd be very surprised if it doesn't drive me crazy in another year or two. Maybe getting a cheaper phone and not expecting it to live so long is the way to go. Now that we're all dependent, the powers that be have made it really expensive to own a smartphone.

posted by nosila at 2:12 PM on January 30, 2018

5 years? New iPhone. And I say that as an Android fan.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:34 PM on January 30, 2018

As an Android fan, I have to say that Apple is really the only company even remotely trying to keep their devices from going obsolete within 2 years. I'd go with iPhone.

A big part of problem is that Google doesn't have the same ecosystem control that Apple has, and manufacturers and carriers both benefit from planned obsolescence. Apple's no saint here either; the recent hullabaloo with them degrading performance to extend battery life doesn't paint the rosiest picture, and they definitely benefit from having you buy a new phone often, but they don't abandon support of older phones nearly as quickly as Android manufacturers do, including Google's own Nexus/Pixel phones from what I've seen.
posted by Aleyn at 5:54 PM on January 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I am writing this from my brand new iPhone SE with super-discounted OtterBox! For $200 I am very satisfied.
posted by Maarika at 5:53 AM on February 14, 2018

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