An ode to my old cell phone

My phone is with me almost everywhere, even though I’ve basically kicked it out of the bedroom. It needed some maintenance today. And I’ve decided– for now — not to replace it.

I bought my Samsung Galaxy S5 used, on eBay, almost two years ago. This is probably the longest I’ve owned a cell phone. It was 6 months past state of the art when I bought it. Over the past few weeks, it has slowed down a lot and gone through its battery faster. Switching to a monster-sized battery pack like this one helped some, but only for a little while. Photos were coming out upside down. The browser stopped working occasionally. I started casually snooping around for a replacement, but decided to wipe the phone to its factory state and start over first. So far, so good.

I used to ride the cutting edge with my phones, tracking every new feature and rumor on various blogs.

BlackBerry-7100t--7105tI was a longtime BlackBerry user, going through six of those devices before I finally switched to Android. I still miss the intuitive simplicity of the BlackBerry, not to mention the physical keyboard. I get a little wistful when I see a federal employee using one of those old clunkers on the train. But I recognize most of my phone time these days is not spent composing words, so I’m okay.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 replaced a Galaxy S3. Lindy replaced something ancient with her first iPhone, a used 5s. According to that schedule, we’re both due for a replacement. But I’m holding off as long as I can.

Why I’m not itching to replace my phone

Having the latest and greatest of cell phones is impossible for very long, because the manufacturers keep unveiling new ones all the time. Do the new features make for a better phone? Usually. But if you’re not a chief technology officer or a developer of mobile apps, does it matter? I’m not sure.

It’s an expensive habit. If you use a no-contract mobile carrier, as Lindy and I do with T-Mobile, you’re responsible for the cost of the entire phone up front. The newest iPhones will cost you between $400 and $1,000. The newest Androids don’t reach quite that high, but they’re still a lot of money. Meanwhile, there are other costs…

Cost to the planet and its people

The Washington Post did a special report a couple of weeks ago about cobalt, a key mineral used in cell phone batteries. It’s mined in Congo under some pretty heinous conditions for workers, who include children. A new phone means a new battery. And that means more digging for cobalt.

Planned obsolescence

The new iPhone 7 famously doesn’t include a headphone jack because… well… those aren’t sexy anymore? So you get a pair of goofy-looking wireless headphones to use with your new phone. If you have a favorite wired pair for running, as I do, prepare for your new dongle. Another plastic bit to keep track of and replace if it breaks. Suddenly, the technology we’ve used for more than a century is obsolete, and you’re dependent on Apple for the new one.

Meanwhile, the newest gizmo isn’t always foolproof. Anyone remember the “Bendghazi” issue with the previous generation of iPhones? The iPhone 4 shipped with a crappy antenna. And back in the present day, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phablet is toast. At enormous cost to the company’s operations and reputation, Samsung is calling every single handset back because they keep exploding — and are banned on airplanes.

What’s next

If I do replace the Samsung at some point, it will be with another used or refurbished phone. And it won’t be the latest model. I’ll sell the old one just like I did with its predecessor. Truth is, there are so many users who trade up every year that there’s a huge market for the previous generations.

This strategy doesn’t last forever. Apple announced this week that it won’t repair the iPhone 4 anymore. This is after the company stopped updating the operating system on that handset last year. After a few cycles of app updates, the phone becomes obsolete. But it’s more than 6 years old. Meanwhile, Lindy’s phone is 3 years old and mine is 2-1/2.

We’re fine for now. How about you?

Also published on Medium.

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