Sunday 20 October 2019

Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems


Still powerful: the Galaxy S8, launched in 2017, is unbeatable value at €500 in some places following the arrival of the S10
Still powerful: the Galaxy S8, launched in 2017, is unbeatable value at €500 in some places following the arrival of the S10
Sony Xperia
Samsung earbuds
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Question: Is now a good time to upgrade my phone? If so, should I get one of the new folding models?


I'm going to focus my advice more towards Android phones rather than iPhones for one specific reason: February and March is the most concentrated phone-launch period among major Android manufacturers in the Irish market.

That especially means Samsung and Huawei, as well as Sony and one or two others. (Apple's new iPhone launch is always in September.)

Other than new models to choose from, what this means is that the existing top smartphones generally get a price cut of around €100 and stay on sale.

So if value for money is what you're after, the next few weeks is the very best time to upgrade your phone if you want one from the biggest Android manufacturers.

For example, last week we saw Samsung launch its new Galaxy S10 flagship phone. I have one and can say that it's a very, very impressive handset. (Although it might not be of importance to everyone, I hugely appreciate that Samsung has added a third camera on the rear of the phone letting it shoot very wide-angle photos.)

But the upshot of the S10's launch is that existing high-end Samsung phones over which we would all have oohed and aahed last year are now a lot more affordable.

For instance, the Galaxy S8 (first launched in 2017 but still a high performer) is now down to €500 in some places, a huge discount on its original price. This 5.8-inch device is still very powerful, well designed and relatively high end. So if you don't really need the absolute latest handset to run graphically powerful games, this kind of deal - the Galaxy S8 - looks unbeatable. The same thing will happen next month with another of the 'big three' phone makers. Huawei is set to launch its new P30 and P30 Pro phones towards the end of the month. That means that the existing P20 Pro, currently selling at between €700 and €750, will fall sharply in price. Now this is an excellent phone with just about the best battery life on the market and some incredible screen and camera technology. I've recommended it strongly before. So if you start seeing this fall anywhere close to €500 after the new model is launched next month, that is indeed a bargain.

It's exactly the same process for iPhones, by the way, except that those price cuts happen in September. Apple always releases its new iPhone models around the time that kids go back to school. So whereas an iPhone 8 currently costs €700, you can expect this to fall to around €600 in the second week of September. The same might happen to the higher-end all-screen 'notch' iPhone Xs and Xr models, although last year, Apple simply withdrew the existing high-end iPhone X from general sale.

Of course, all of this goes with the caveat that times moves on. Last year's phone may seem perfectly adequate for what you think you want to do, but it's still last year's phone. The new models always have a few new features worth considering.

But even if you're not fussed about this, there's another issue to consider: some brands gradually phase out support for phones that are a couple of years old. Apple is a prime example here. It has often restricted key features of new software updates to phones that are no older than four years old. In other words, some new messaging feature that may take off with your friends and family might not be supported if you have an iPhone 5S from few years back. (To be fair, Apple has started to stretch iOS upgrade compatibility further and further back so that it's a good bet that even those with old iPhone 6 models will get most or all of this year's interface updates.)

Storage and battery life is another consideration. This year's phones, by and large, all come with what we now consider to be a reasonable minimum storage amount - at least 64GB. The models from 2018 or 2017 may still feature 32GB models. While that's okay for someone who really doesn't use their camera, music or video streaming service much, it's too little for what is now regarded as 'ordinary' smartphone behaviour. If you're a subscriber to Netflix, you might often want to download a few episodes to your phone for when you're on a plane. It's a similar story for Spotify tunes. Or Sky. And that's before taking into account how quickly your phone fills up with photos and short videos you might shoot yourself. (On this count, there is a solution for those with low storage capacity - set your phone to automatically upload to Google Photos, which is free and unlimited and frees up lots of phone storage space.)

You asked about a 'folding phone', which I assume is a reference to the Samsung Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate X devices announced in the last week. These are the only "foldable screen" phone being launched on the Irish market in the foreseeable future. I can't recommend either of them yet as I haven't really had a go. I can say, however, that it they are being aimed at haute tech fans, with a price tag of over €2,000. They will also be somewhat 'blocky', as you're carrying almost the weight of two phones fused into one device.

Recommendation: Samsung Galaxy S9 (€629 prepay from Three or from free on contract with operators)

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Tech Two

Sony Xperia 10

€329 sim-free

Sony Xperia

Sony has a new mid-range phone made for watching movies on. The Xperia 10 has a narrower 6-inch screen than rival handsets because it's aimed to fit widescreen movies in a 21:9 ratio. (Normal TV will show black sidebars.) This also makes the phone, which has 64GB of storage and a modest battery, easier to use one-handed.

Samsung Galaxy Buds

€159 from retailers

Samsung earbuds

The surprise hit of the last year? Apple's AirPods, the small wireless earphones that look a bit like earrings. Samsung has launched a new version of its own wireless earphones, together with a charging case. They also have a microphone, making them a decent hands-free kit.

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