Some industry experts believe we’ve reached “peak phone,” the point where there’s no longer any real need to upgrade. Once you find a phone you like, why spend a bunch of money just to get a slightly faster processor or slightly improved camera?
I have an iPhone 6S Plus, for example. It’s over two years old, but I have no intention of replacing it. It does everything I need it to do, and because the iPhone 8 ($600 at Boost Mobile) and iPhone X ($900 at Boost Mobile) arrived without the Pez-dispenser I was hoping for, I’m staying put.
Of course, older phones can have issues. Battery life is a big one, and probably one of the main drivers behind buying new. But there are aesthetics as well: Sometimes you just get bored looking at the same old phone. Sometimes you want shiny, you want new.
Well, guess what? There are ways to make that old phone seem new again. A few upgrades here, a few tweaks there, and suddenly you might feel less need to upgrade. Let’s start with the biggie:
Install a new battery
My aforementioned iPhone is starting to show its age when it comes to the battery. There are days when I can’t get by without a trip to the charger, and it’s likely to be the same with any phone more than a year old. Over time, batteries lose capacity; there’s no getting around it.
Well, there may be: Even if your phone is sealed, it may be possible to install a new battery — and nothing makes a phone feel like new again like a new battery.
My advice: Hire a pro. Although the actual batteries can be had for cheap — as little as $8 (£5) — if you hit up eBay or another online source, the labor is tricky. (To open a Galaxy S6 ($99 at Amazon), for example, you have to apply heat to weaken the glue.) I think it’s worth finding a local phone-repair shop that has experience doing the work and uses reliable batteries.
In my neck of the woods, for example, I found a shop that would replace an iPhone 6S Plus battery for $59 and a Galaxy S6 battery for $69. That’s a lot less than buying a whole new phone just to get all-day battery life.
If you have an iPhone 6 or later, you can now— by far the best option, though you’ll have to make an appointment and probably wait at least a couple hours for the work to get done. (Side bonus: Apple has admitted that , so that new battery may make your phone run faster — another way to make it feel pristine.)
Buy a new case
Criminal though it may seem to wrap your lovely phone inside a case, it’s necessary if you want to prevent gravity-related mishaps — like a busted screen.
But a case can provide more than just protection: It can change the whole look of your phone. If you’ve been walking around with, say, basic black, how about swapping it for fire-engine red? Or a case with your favorite team’s logo?
It’s a gross understatement to say there are lots of options. I’m a fan of Skinit, which offers not only a wealth of themed cases for popular phone models (iPhones, Galaxys and so on), but also custom options: You can upload your own photo or artwork and turn it into a case.
Meanwhile, hit up eBay and search for “[your phone model] case” to find a wealth of choices: rugged cases, color cases, designer cases and more.
I’m also a believer in different cases for different occasions: Keep something rugged on hand for your outdoor activities, something blingy for nights on the town and so on. There’s really no better way to give your phone an external makeover.
Try a new launcher
That takes care of the outside; now let’s focus on the “inside” of the phone, specifically the screen that greets you when you turn it on. There are makeover options here as well.
Android users can choose from a huge assortment of themes and launchers that can dramatically transform a phone’s user interface (UI). For example, if you always liked the look of Windows Mobile (), SquareHome 2 brings a similar “metro” UI to your Android phone. And the venerable Nova Launcher offers thousands of icon themes to give you nearly any interface style you want.
iPhone users can’t really transform iOS this way, not without jailbreaking. But you can at least choose a different wallpaper, and perhaps spend some time organizing your icons into folders — anything that makes the interface feel new for a while.
Add some accessories
One way to create a feeling of “newness” is to change the way you handle your phone. For example, I’m a big fan of the Ninja Loop, a simple but effective strap that works with just about any case.
Once installed, it provides a finger-holster of sorts for the back of your phone, allowing you to interact with your screen more easily using just your thumb. It also adds drop protection.
Another “new” way to interact with your phone: Install a car mount that puts it up near eye level, on or near the top of your dashboard.
Not sure what kind of mount to get? Check out these.
Add more storage
If you’ve been thinking about a new phone because the old one is running out of storage, consider a Band-aid in the form of external storage.
A wireless media hub, for example, can sit inside your pocket or purse while streaming gigabytes’ worth of music, video and more to your phone. I continue to be a fan of the RavPower FileHub Plus, a $40 (£38) hub that you stock with your own SD card, flash drive or even hard drive. It doubles as a mobile charger as well — a handy fix if you’re still dealing with battery issues.
For around the same price, you can get a 64GB SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick, which isn’t much larger than a traditional flash drive but still offers wireless streaming for Android and iOS devices.
Try features you’ve ignored
Finally, plumb the depths of what your phone has to offer. Many of us barely scratch the surface of its capabilities, to the point where trying out existing features might make you feel like you’re using a whole new model.
For example, did you know that many phones can track your steps, just like a Fitbit? Check outand .
And perhaps you never bothered to set up Apple Pay or Android Pay, figuring it was too hard to use or not worth the hassle. Sure, there’s a bit of a learning curve — that’s always true with new things — but why not give it a try? I’ve actually found.
Get the idea? Poke around in the settings a bit and look for features that are turned off. If they sound interesting, turn them on and experiment! You might just find an amazing option you didn’t realize — or remember — your phone had.
Add wireless charging
It’s been around awhile for Android, and of course it’s the big news in Apple’s latest iPhones. There’s something to be said for charging your device just by laying it down on a pad — no futzing with a cable every time.
But guess what? If your phone doesn’t support Qi (pronounced “chee”) wireless charging out of the box, you can add the capability by way of an inexpensive receiver.
How inexpensive? How does $10-15 sound? Just hit up Amazon or eBay and search for “Qi receiver” and “Lightning,” “Micro-USB” or “Type-C,” depending on the type of connector your phone has.
Needless to say, this is way cheaper than buying a new phone. There are potential hassles with having to remove the receiver plug at times, but this is a great way to dip your toe into that “new” wireless-charging tech.
Can you think of any other ways to make an old phone feel like new? Share them in the comments!
Update, Jan. 5: This post was originally published on May 22, 2017, and has since been updated.