Contrary to what manufacturers would have you thinking, phones last for well more than just a year. New ads may make the new phones look sleek, but their predecessors were just there a couple of months before. And chances are, most of them are now half the price.
If forking out over $1000 for that latest iPhone 11 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S20 feels a little hard to stomach, here is a list of former flagships that have plenty of shelf life left. Some of these may still be sold at original prices in phone stores, but you can easily find them for much cheaper at third-party dealers, online retailers or trusted resellers. Good phones can come cheap.
How much do phones improve each year anyway?
To rid our minds of the consumerist notion that last year’s products are outdated, let’s look at how much progress is made with each yearly upgrade. Most flagships this year are equipped with the SnapDragon 865, moving on from last year’s flagship 855.
The consensus amongst most analysts is the 865 provides a roughly 20-25% improvement. In short, key improvements with the SnapDragon 865 is the GPU enhancements to support QHD at up to 144Hz for all your high-refresh rate goodness. The new processor also packs the brains for even faster charging and higher quality video recording and camera processing.
SnapDragon’s 5G modem doesn’t come integrated in the 865 but a separate package, which means that 5G isn’t exclusive to 865 phones. Those looking for 5G will find older models that support the next-gen network.
The new chip brings plenty that’s new, but as with each year, upgrades are often incremental. Anyone keen on shaving a couple of hundred bucks could well live without these upgrades.
Samsung Galaxy S10
Last year’s flagship Galaxy S10 still sits proudly among the best screens out there. While it isn’t 120Hz like the latest S20 phones, you can rest easy knowing you saved yourself the S20’s chunky camera bump and half the price – renewed versions of the S10 on Amazon cost as low as $409. The benefits of 120Hz screens are mostly reserved to scrolling, as most videos and games do not run past 60Hz.
Little has changed with the design of the iPhone since 2017 and the iPhone X still looks as sharp as ever. Apple has added it to its refurbished resale program, starting at $599, but you could even find it at third-party vendors or Amazon for as low as $400.
And for that price, you get all the long-term reliability of Apple, guaranteed iOS updates for years to come and a trusty camera that is still great to shoot with.
While its bigger brother, the OnePlus 7T Pro stole all the headlines, the 7T arguably offered more bang-for-buck. Stocked with three cameras, including a very cool macro lens mode that lets you get super close to objects, the 7T also has 8GB RAM – enough multi-tasking power for days. And it got to high-refresh rate screens even before Samsung did this year, with its silky smooth 90Hz AMOLED panel. It is baffling how anyone would consider a mid-range device at the similar price of $598 today over the flagship OnePlus 7T.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
If you’re looking for a stylus, look past the mid-range Android offerings and back to the master with the Galaxy Note 9. It may have been launched end-2018, but Samsung’s mastery of the stylus is still difficult to top. At around $400 renewed on Amazon, you get the Note 9’s gorgeous 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display and up to 512 GB and 8GB RAM, enough to match some of today’s flagships.
Ones to avoid: Google Pixel
While there are plenty of old phones worth a look, but there are some that have fallen behind in this race of endurance.
It’s hard to recommend Google’s flagship Pixel phones at this point. While you get a great camera and the fastest Android updates, the Pixel 3 – and probably the Pixel 4 as time will show – aren’t able to keep up with the competition when it comes to hardware and power.
It’s 2020, and the world has moved on to 8 or even 12GB RAM to cope with heavy-duty apps and multitasking. With the Pixel 3 clocking in at just 4GB, it is difficult to see it powering through the next few years if you’re more than just a casual user.
As tempting as it is to buy a sub-$300 iPhone 8 as an affordable gateway into iOS, rumors have it that Apple is on the brink of launching the iPhone SE2. The rumor mill suggests the sequel to the budget-friendly iPhone SE will pack current-gen specs into an iPhone 8 chassis. It is also likely to match the Pixel 3A’s price point and could trade blows with its top-class camera. This is worth the wait.