Hey everyone, I did it! I held onto my smartphone for two years, long enough to completely pay it off through my carrier’s monthly installment billing, a standard system across the postpaid industry. So now that I technically own this thing, what is next? Should I be content with my paid-off device, sit back, and enjoy a lower monthly bill? Should I jump to replace it with a smartphone that packs all of the latest features? Two years was a long time to sit out of the fast-moving smartphone industry, what have I even missed? Did my carrier and handset maker even want my smartphone to last this long in the first place?
Impressively, my handset survived a lengthy two-year ownership without a broken screen or any major mishaps, which is especially noteworthy as I never added any cases or screen protectors. Chances are that a portion of you reading this will actually be doing so on a cracked smartphone. As “Danger” is definitely not my middle name, it is worth noting that I was set up for success by opting for an especially robust smartphone, Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Active, which is the ruggedized variant of the company’s then-current S7 generation.
In choosing the Active-edition, what I got was a handset that added MIL STD-810G protection and a shatterproof display to the IP68 water and dust resistance of the standard S7, as well as a boosted 4,000mAh battery that yielded more power than the regular version’s 3,000mAh cell. However, what I ignored was the forward progress that Samsung was making toward elegant design with its S7 generation. The appearance of the Galaxy S7 Active draws a closer resemblance to earlier S-series models than the S7 as it has wider bezels and trades refinements such as curved glass and capacitive buttons for rubber bumpers and physical hard keys.
In June 2016, Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Active was priced at $795, a $100 premium over the S7, and I was among the first to get one. Rather than paying $795 outright, the handset was offered to me for equal monthly payments of $33.13 for a total of 24 months, essentially a 0% loan on the hardware for two years. In December 2017, the average price of the Galaxy S7 Active matched the amount that I had paid for the unit thus far, but I was not done paying for it. Since then, I doled out an additional $200 to finish my payments and reach $795, however, not since December 2016 had anyone paid this much for my handset. Today, the average retail price of the Galaxy S7 Active is $412.
Now that I just finished paying $795 for the Galaxy S7 Active, my carrier will give me an underwhelming $75 to trade it in. This is an important fact because it means that I am not qualified to receive many of the promotions and deals tied to the latest smartphones. As consumers, we are accustomed to seeing bold incentives attached to new devices in the form of “half off” or hundreds of dollars in savings, but the words “up to” and “eligible” are critical parts of these advertisements. I will not be getting $500 in credits to purchase the S9, I am not eligible to save $400 on the unlocked S9 or S9+, and I cannot get 50% off Samsung’s new Note9 ($450 value)… I get $75.
What Have I Missed?
One factor that leads to such depreciation of my device is the break-neck speed of smartphone innovation. As I sit with my mature handset, a monthly bill that is $33.13 lower than before is my only consolation for not having some of the most recent features including:
Latest Android Version – Operating system updates are important as they include critical patches for security holes in addition to new features and functionalities, however older smartphones do not receive much love in this department. My handset started with Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) at launch, and it is now up to Android 7.0 (Nougat). Android 8.0 (Oreo) was released to the public back in August 2017, but my device has yet to receive that update. Android 9.0 (Pie) was just announced this month, so by holding onto the Galaxy S7 Active I am basically committing to an out-of-date and possibly unsecure experience.
AI Features – Artificial Intelligence (AI) is all the rage within the consumer electronics industry these days as numerous gadgets are becoming fortified with virtual assistants. Smartphones are leading this charge with players such as Apple’s Siri, the Google Assistant, and Samsung’s Bixby. It is also possible to interact with Amazon’s Alexa on smartphones as well, although the company no longer produces its own mobile hardware (RIP Fire Phone). While the Galaxy S7 generation was too early to feature Samsung’s Bixby, thankfully the Google Assistant was implanted into Android 7.0 and I am able to enjoy the benefits of on-board AI.
Updated Processor & RAM – Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 is the processor of choice for the majority of 2018’s Android flagships. In 2016, the Galaxy S7 Active leveraged the Snapdragon 820 as its top-of-the-line chipset. The performance of Qualcomm’s processors has gone from 2.15/1.6 GHz and a 4 core structure to now reach 2.8/1.7 GHz and include 8 cores. This is painfully obvious for me when comparing speeds on peers’ smartphones or when initiating demanding tasks, my smartphone simply lags. Available RAM also plays into this, with new handsets offering up to 6GB RAM compared to my 4GB that was class-leading in 2016.
USB-C – Hailed as the new industry standard, USB-C is anything but. For this user, microUSB has already given cross-device standardization. Every gadget that I own uses a microUSB connector including cameras, headphones, smartwatches, Bluetooth speakers, portable batteries, car chargers, etc. This was very apparent when packing my bags for a recent vacation… I only needed to bring one cable for everything. It was great! Upgrading my smartphone to a current generation would now introduce USB-C, and I have to admit that this is actually something that is deterring me from upgrading.
Multi-Camera Technology – Camera technology is a key selling point for smartphones, as evident by the devastation that they have done to the dedicated camera market! My Galaxy S7 Active has a 12MP rear camera that shoots 4K and a 5MP selfie camera on its front, which can still hold up against newer models like the S9 with its 12MP rear camera that shoots 4K and an 8MP selfie camera. However, the S9 and many other new models have adopted multi-camera systems to push imaging innovation further. These systems vary by manufacturer and introduce benefits such as versatile wide/telephoto objectives, better low-light results, and computational depth effects. Currently, dual-lens and triple-lens setups can be found in the smartphone industry, but this is only the beginning. Smartphones will soon pack much more as companies, such as Light, are experimenting with prototype models that feature between five and nine rear camera lenses. As a photo-enthusiast, these multi-camera systems are definitely something that I am missing out on by not upgrading my smartphone.
Edge-to-Edge Displays – Not only did I miss out on Samsung’s advancement in smartphone design by opting for the less-elegant Active variant of the Galaxy S7, but the flagship sector of the market has made great strides in providing truly edge-to-edge displays. For my 2016 generation smartphone, Samsung’s flagship portfolio was hovering around a 75% screen-to-body ratio, and the vendor has now pushed this limit to nearly 85% for its most-recent launches. This trend is ahead of its major competitors in the US market, but as others race to produce the thinnest bezels, it means that I risk using an increasingly out-of-date-looking device by keeping my current setup.
What to Do?
While I feel somewhat invigorated by my lower monthly bill, a review of the information above does make me long for a device upgrade. Waiting to pay-off my smartphone was probably not the best strategy noting that I missed the window for my S7 generation device to be considered “eligible” for any notable trade-in or upgrade promotion. Instead, my advice would be to pay attention to your current smartphone’s trade-in value, or more importantly, if it is on an “eligible model” list, around one year into your ownership. Most carriers will allow customers to upgrade earlier than a full 24 month cycle, and if you are switching from a competing carrier, most will bend over backwards to offer you the best deal and pay-off the remainder of your older device in the process. After two years, having a lower bill is nice, but by paying an extra $33.13 per month, it seems that the price of innovation is not as high as the cost of stagnation.
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