Is there ever a ‘best time’ to upgrade your Android smartphone?

by Marty Gabel

After two years with my trusty Droid Incredible on Verizon, I’m finally eligible to upgrade (at a reasonable cost) my Android smartphone. Exciting news perhaps, but is now a good time to do so? Many people will upgrade as soon as they can, especially if there is a better device out there or if their current one is ailing. Others prefer to wait a while and test the waters a bit. While you you can’t wait forever, here are a few things I’ve learned over the past few months that might help other people facing a situation like mine.

This time of year is not the best time!

Well, I read a few articles stating that early in a new year is a poor time to upgrade or even buy a new smartphone, and there’s some logic to that. After all, the Christmas and New Year sales are likely over, and the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show already showcased some new Android smartphones that won’t appear until later in the year. Also, next week is the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, and there most likely will be some hot devices emerging that may make you think twice about upgrading immediately.

Quad-core phones are just around the corner

While dual-core phones are certainly speedy little beasts, even better may be just around the corner. According to many sources, HTC is expected to unleash its quad-core devices at the Mobile World Congress trade show. Admittedly, it could take a few months before they see the light of day, and you never know which networks they’ll be available on. Still, it’s very likely that there will be some swift quad-core smartphones ready in the second quarter of 2012 which could make it worth hanging on a bit.

Be careful where you buy

Now here’s something I wasn’t really aware of until I did a bit of research, but I thought it’d be helpful advice to anyone facing a similar predicament. According to the Verizon website, the nifty Samsung Galaxy Nexus is available for $269. That’s still quite a high price. So I looked around online and discovered another online retailer offering it for a mere $99. Score! Until I realized that was the price for a brand new contract. It’s actually $229 to upgrade.

See, you have to be careful. Upgrading your device from another source (say Amazon Wireless, Let’s Talk or WireFly) is a bit like signing a brand new 2-year contract with that provider. You’ll need to start afresh, choose a new plan, and be under the rules and regulations that they stipulate. Upgrade with Verizon, however, and you can keep your old plan, sign a new 2-year contract, but of course, your initial device cost will be higher. For many folks, that might not seem like a big deal, but a lot of current Verizon customers (like me) are still on an unlimited data plan and want to keep that even if they sign a new contract, a process known as ‘grandfathering’. Is it worth spending extra on a new smartphone if it means keeping your old plan intact? For many, definitely so. If you’re a heavy data user, Verizon’s newer, limited data plans could be restrictive, especially in this age of 4G streaming and cloud storage.

Just do it, already!

I know, I know... you could keep waiting for months and never upgrade. That ‘perfect smartphone’ will always be just around the corner and as you buy the latest and greatest device, something bigger and better is on the horizon. But sometimes you have to take the plunge. I’m pretty sure the Droid Incredible won’t be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich for example, and its slower single-core processor can’t always handle some newer apps and games. There is no denying that a device like the Galaxy Nexus would likely keep me happy for two years rather like the Droid Incredible has the past two. Then, in 2014, I’ll be ready for the octo-core 3-D ultra-high resolution smartphone that will finally be able to do the dishes.

Clearly, there are a lot of considerations to make when deciding whether or not to upgrade your Android smartphone. Just be aware of the pitfalls and contract/plan repercussions and be wary of deals that look too good to be true.