Is my phone “old”?

Our smartphones rarely stay in our hands for more than a few years before they end up in the closet. However, the lifespan of a phone can far exceed the 2 to 3 years they get. A phone is not necessarily old after a few dozen months.

A little miracle in the world of Android smartphones: At the end of November 2021, the Dutch company Fairphone started implementing an update on its Fairphone 2, a 6-year-old phone. It’s sad to say, but in the world of smartphones (and especially Android smartphones), 6 year updates are a real luxury.

In general, manufacturers of Android smartphones offer between 2 and 4 years with major updates (from one version of Android to another) and a little more for security updates. Even Google only offers 5 years of security updates on its Pixel 6. Fairphone therefore performs better than all Android manufacturers.

What is an “old” phone?

Admittedly, the Fairphone 2 will only receive Android 10 (a two-year-old version of the operating system), but it will allow the phone to continue receiving security patches for some time to come, extending its life. Only downside, the phone will not be able to take advantage of the new features of Android 12 right away. Fairphone’s unique lifespan still raises an interesting question: when is a phone considered “old”?

The age of a technological object is completely relative. It’s very likely that your TV is older than your phone, or that your portable speaker has already had a few good years on it. But when it comes to phones, it’s a different story. According to an Arcep report published in July 2021, in France “IThe individual useful life of smartphones is estimated at between 23 months and 37 months», between two and three years. The pace of renewal of our smartphones has certainly tended to decline in recent years, but mathematically a phone more than three years old (since it was launched) could therefore be considered “old”. At least old enough for the first buyers to get rid of it.

But what exactly do we mean by old age? And is it possible to fight against this hectic pace of renewal?

Safety first

The first useful question to ask yourself to determine if your phone is old is: is it still up to date? Smartphones are constantly connected to the internet, so it is essential to keep them as up to date as possible to protect them from malware and other viruses that may be lying around.

Like we said, the reputation of Android manufacturers is not brilliant in the sector. Apart from Fairphone, no company in the industry tracks more than 5 years, neither for major updates nor security updates. However, it is the nerve of war. The brand new features of an operating system are not crucial, protecting it from security threats is much more.

On Apple’s side, the situation is different. The company is known for ensuring long-term follow-up of its units. For example, iOS 15 (released in September 2021) is compatible with the iPhone 6s released in 2014. No one is currently delivering better monitoring in the mobile world.

The first data to be taken into account are therefore this. If your smartphone is still up to date, its longevity is far from over. It may not have the latest hyped features or a fourth camera, but that does not mean it is outdated. The lack of use of certain manufacturers in the follow-up of updates unfortunately condemns certain phones to get premature. Therefore, in order to make the most sustainable choice possible, favor manufacturers that offer the best monitoring (Apple, Google, Samsung, Oppo).

And the performance?

The second sign of a phone’s old age is declining performance. Sometimes a phone is a little less responsive after a few years of existence. An application that takes a few seconds longer to load, or signs of slowing down at the interface, may appear after a few months or years of use.

Again, the disease is not incurable. If your phone is experiencing any signs of weakness, try cleaning up your apps. Some may load the processor in the background. If your storage space is full, you may also want to consider deleting some files. Some smartphones rely on storage space to offer an extra amount of RAM. If memory runs out, performance may be affected.

Is my phone

On an iPhone, replacing the battery can increase performance

Source: iFixit

Battery wear can also delay your smartphone’s performance, as Apple explained in 2017. If you have an iPhone, consider checking the battery status in the app Settings, Battery then Battery status. If it is worn out and your phone is idling, it is possible to replace it.

Also on the issue of performance, the age of a phone is relative. If your phone is really dying when you open the Google app and you’ve done your best to resolve the issue, then maybe it’s time to change it. But by taking a little care of your mobile, it is possible to give it a new youth. A drop in performance does not mean a smartphone is good for retirement.

Phones are often abandoned, not obsolete

As we have seen, the “aging” of a phone depends on several factors, which will be more or less aggravating depending on your case. Some, such as the duration of updates, do not depend on the clientele, but on the goodwill of the manufacturers.

That being said, it is rare for a smartphone to be really “old” if it is less than 3 years old. As Fairphone and Apple prove, the lifespan of a smartphone can easily reach 6-7 years. Smartphones are more often abandoned than obsolete today. Abandoned, first by manufacturers who can and should do better in the matter of tracking updates, and by consumers who switch mobile by storing their old phones in a drawer “for safety’s sake”.

According to a report by Ecosystem, the organization responsible for collecting electronic equipment, in March 2020, more than 100 million smartphones were sleeping in the drawers of French women and men. Of course, it is not forbidden to change phone (although it would be good for the planet to slow down the rate of renewal), but there are solutions such as recycling, reuse or renovation, which make it possible to extend the life of the smartphone.


Will the trio of cameras in the iPhone 13 Pro be used more and more by the professionals?  // Source: Louise Audry for Numerama

It is also important to put pressure on the industry to change its habits. At the consumer level, it can simply mean choosing a brand that provides updates in the long run. Surveillance has improved in recent years, but we are still far from a truly sustainable and relevant model. Legislative efforts, such as the Circular Economy Act and the Repair Index, have also been launched.

To clearly answer the question suggested at the beginning of the article: there is no specific date when a smartphone will get old. It depends on the goodwill of the industry and the sacrifices that customers are willing to make. 37 months seems to be the symbolic date of “old age” for a smartphone. But it is possible to change that.

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