Sunday Debate: Better to Buy Older or Newer Hardware?

Sunday Debate: Better to Buy Older or Newer Hardware?

Join us in a fun Sunday Debate on New vs. Old. Come with your opinions and feel free to read some of our thoughts, then pick your side or play devil’s advocate to get your voice heard and engage in friendly discussion. You can read our food-for-thought or jump straight into the fray below!

Smartphone purchases make for some of the sweetest times of the year for many of us. After all, we are hobbyists of Android and a new device not only offers a new look at different technology, but also endless opportunities within the software and its possible advancements (or diversions). Nowadays, smartphones can be found in a variety of sizes with diverse hardware and software – there’s something for everyone within Android,  as reflected by the motto “be together, not the same”.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 7.59.25 PMAt the same time, a new phone is quite a commitment for those that do not have too much money to spare. Flagship phones, in particular, might grant you the premium feeling or bleeding-edge hardware but because of the previously mentioned diversity, you might be able to find what you need for much cheaper. What should also be considered is that smartphones have been “future proof” for a while now, and the typical 2-year life-span can be further expanded through custom ROMs. This is the best part about XDA to many of us, and getting the latest and greatest on an otherwise dead-beat device is a joy only the experienced minority can enjoy.

So the question of which phone to buy gets increasingly complex with each passing year, as many developers never abandon precious gems like the Galaxy S3, and as manufacturers sometimes extend their support to previously unexpected devices. As hardware gets stronger and Android more optimized, there’s also little getting in the way of performance. Flagships lose price over time, and mid-range devices of today also compete with these rather well. Moreover, there’s cheaper alternatives in the high-end space with Chinese OEMs like OnePlus and Xiaomi.

There’s a lot of things to consider, and we’ll explore some brain-teasers below. That being said, you can answer now: Do you usually buy new devices, or devices from previous years? How do you feel about the state of today’s hardware in comparison to last years’ and before? Is upgrading to a new phone frequently worth the buck?

New Hardware

Each year brings new advancements in virtually every aspect of mobile hardware: faster chipsets, better cameras, nicer screens, better battery life (well, sometimes), etc. Enthusiasts also love staying at the bleeding-edge, for many of these advancements unlock new features or possibilities that would otherwise be impractical or impossible to experience. For example, VR headsets that depend on mobile screens started with the 1440p craze, and the experience is substantially better than with a 1080p panel. The faster hardware also allows for prettier graphics or smoother frame rates in mobile games, and with a new phone you are more likely to get direct manufacturer support in a shorter period of time and for a longer while.

New hardware, however, can be quite expensive and sometimes the upgrades aren’t quite worth the added buck. Take a recent case: the M9 features a still-mediocre camera, a nearly identical design to the M8, and a chipset which has issues that hold it back from significant improvements. The M9 is significantly more expensive than the M8 which you can now get for $450 to $500 on Amazon, and for $1 on some carrier contracts. Luckily, there’s manufacturers like OnePlus that aim to bring you flagship phones at a cheaper price, like last year’s OnePlus One, and chinese OEMs also do offer top specifications for almost half of what the rest of OEMs charge you. Newer phones also have higher resale value, which can help mitigate the cost of a later upgrade. Finally, mid-range devices today are rather powerful, and still cheaper than older flagships of equivalent hardware. When the Moto G came out it was nearly half the price of a Galaxy S3, despite the much superior performance in real-world use and proximity in synthetic benchmarks. Battery life was also killer (talking from experience here!).

Older Hardware

With recent Android updates (particularly KitKat), you don’t need the latest hardware for a good Android experience. Flagship phones from 2014 mostly had excellent performance, and so did phones from 2013, which can often be updated to KitKat or Lollipop for big boosts. The prices of these go down with each year but their performance either stays the same or improves over time, making them solid purchases if you want a good Android experience. Some devices still feature amazing cameras and battery life, and with various suppliers trying to get rid of stock, it is not surprising to find phones like the LG G2 (which has a long-lasting Snapdragon 800 inside) being sold for around $200 every now and then. Some devices still see amazing developer support, like the Nexus 5, and because of this they can very much stay in the game for even longer than the 2 year update support standard.

20140307T104927This last bit is important, because some OEMs like Sony have been extending their support to various devices, and sometimes at the request of hungry consumers. And if you shop smartly, you can find devices that, while old, have all the things you’ll need. A good example is the Nexus 5 which is also a favorite of mine, and while it is turning 2 years old this year, it still outspeeds most phones out there. There are also enough XDA mods and tweaks to keep it going for a while, while grabbing the best new features of every other software release (that manage to get ported). A smart power user (like plenty of you!) can grab an old phone and make it run and look better than a casual user buying a brand-new device, while also adding new useful functionality that the other guy might not even know exist.


New devices bring you the hardware advances and sometimes allow for newer or better experiences, but in today’s day and age these bumps have diminished in value. Some older phones still have good software support and are able to see the latest Android versions as well as features that would otherwise be exclusive to newer phones. Some manufacturers offer flagship releases for very low prices, however, and these are usually much better bang-per-buck than both old and the rest of new ones. There are many enticing purchase permutations such as new mid-range, old flagship, new cheap flagship, old cheap flagship… so we ask you:

Do you buy the latest phones, or do you buy ones from previous years? Do you buy mid-range phones, or flagships? Which permutation do you think is best, and why? Does the price justify the hardware advancements?

Sound off below!

About author

Mario Tomás Serrafero
Mario Tomás Serrafero

Mario developed his love for technology in Argentina, where a flagship smartphone costs a few months of salary. Forced to maximize whatever device he could get, he came to know and love XDA. Quantifying smartphone metrics and creating benchmarks are his favorite hobbies. Mario holds a Bachelor's in Mathematics and currently spends most of his time classifying cat and dog pictures as a Data Science graduate student.