Thursday, September 12

Uncovered: the best time to upgrade your smartphone

It isn't easy being a smartphone fan, especially if your timing's bad: no sooner has the ink dried on that two-year contract for the Uber Mega X than it's rendered obsolete by the slightly thinner, slightly faster Uber Mega Y.
And that got us thinking: are there patterns here? Should we be buying Samsungs in Spring and Nokias in November? Is August ever a good time to buy an iPhone? Let's look at the history and see what patterns emerge.

The most obvious pattern that emerges is the dwindling power of trade shows.
The big one for mobiles was always Mobile World Congress, which many manufacturers use to launch their most exciting products.
Increasingly, though, smartphone manufacturers prefer to host their own, separate events for their flagship phones to maximise publicity. Shows such as MWC and IFA are still important, but the biggest hitters are usually announced elsewhere.
The other pattern that you'll see is annual releases, so if you're a keen early adopter it's a good idea to get your existing handset on eBay or sent to a reputable trade-in firm a month or so before.
Leave it too late and you may see the value of your phone plummet as it goes from next big thing to last year's model.


iPhone 5S
Predicting a new iPhone launch is easy: for the first four years we saw new iPhones every summer, but in 2011 that schedule changed from summer to autumn and Apple's stuck to it ever since.
The iPhone 4S shipped in October 2011, the iPhone 5 shipped in September 2012, and Apple launched the iPhone 5S and 5C this week.
It's a pretty safe bet we'll see the iPhone 6 this time next year.
It's worth remembering that Apple is on a major/minor release schedule now: major revisions of the iPhone happen every two years, with relatively minor upgrades - the S models - in between.
Current flagship: iPhone 5S
Launched: September 2013
Current estimated price (SIM free): £529
Expected iPhone 6 release date: September 2014


The HTC Desire was launched in February 2010, the Desire S in February 2011, the One X in February 2012 and the newest flagship, the HTC One, in February 2013.
HTC is one of the few companies that still likes to do things around MWC, although this year it decided to hold its own launch before the big trade show. It still took a while to get the thing onto shop shelves though, so a launch date doesn't necessarily mean a new phone will be in your hands any time soon after.
There's also the fun issue of the name: HTC seems to think it will be able to call all its flagship phones the HTC One. We prefer to think it will be called the 'Old HTC One Two', in homage to boxing parlance.
But if we were betting people, we'd be sticking a portion of our wages on a new HTC flagship the next time the month rhymes with "mebruary".
Current flagship: HTC One
Launched: February 2013
Current price: £489
Expected HTC One 2 release date: February 2014


Samsung S4
Samsung loves variants - for every Galaxy there are eleventy-three variations to cover niches such as "smartphone owners who live under the sea" and "smartphone owners who don't believe Mars exists" - but the big ones follow a fairly predictable pattern.
All given the 'S' suffix, the Samsung Galaxy S was announced in March 2010.shipped in June, the Galaxy S2 was announced in February 2011 and shipped in May, the Galaxy S3 shipped in May 2012, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 was announced in March 2013 and shipped the following month.
Samsung's clearly working to an annual upgrade cycle here, with its launches timed for shortly after Mobile World Congress is over to ensure it gets the headlines all to itself.
Current flagship: Samsung Galaxy S4
Launched: March 2013
Current price: £549
Expected Samsung Galaxy S5 release date: March 2014


Nokia LUmia 1020
If there's a pattern to Nokia's release schedule it's the kind of pattern only Jackson Pollock could divine: since betting the farm on Windows Phone the Finnish firm has apparently been planning launch dates by throwing darts in the vague direction of a calendar.
The Lumia 800 and 710, Nokia's first Windows Phones, were unveiled in November 2011; their successors, the 900 and 610, turned up the following April - and their successors appeared in September 2012. Since then we've seen launches in December (the Lumia 620), May (the Lumia 925) and July (the Lumia 1020 and 625).
Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's phone business could mean price cuts, even on flagships: the Lumia 1020 has just dropped by $100 in the US.
Current flagship: Nokia Lumia 1020
Launched: July 2013 (UK release expected September 2013)
Current price: £550 (estimated)
Expected Nokia Lumia 930 release date: Your guess is as good as ours


Nexus 4
Do you prefer your Android unadorned, its skin unsullied by TouchWiz or Sense? If the answer is yes then it's Google's Nexus range for you, and so far that appears to be sticking to a reasonably predictable schedule.
The first Nexus, the Nexus One, may have been a January launch back in 2010, but since then Google has aimed to launch its Nexus phones early enough for the lucrative Christmas shopping season.
The Samsung-made Nexus S was launched in December 2010, the (Samsung again) Galaxy Nexus was unveiled in November 2011 and the LG Nexus 4 was released in November 2012.
That annual release schedule may be changing, however, or at least moving forward a little bit: in late August the Nexus 4 got a massive price cut, bringing it down to just £159 for the 8GB version.
That and the Nexus's sudden disappearance from UK retailers such as Carphone Warehouse suggests that the shelves are being cleared for a newer version, and the timing indicates that it might be coming much sooner than November – although don't be surprised if Google holds off to make the most of the holiday season rush.
Current flagship: Nexus 4
Launched: November 2012
Current price: £159
Expected Nexus 5 release date: October / November 2013