Benjamin May gives a shout-out and asks a question about the ever-elusive “right” time for a smart phone upgrade:

When is the best time for a smart phone upgrade? My two-year contract is nearing expiration and I’ll soon be able to upgrade my old iPhone 4. I’ll be moving to Android because I’m tired of iOS’ staleness. Should I just buy a new smart phone now (probably the Galaxy Note II) or wait until new phones, such as the Galaxy S IV, are released in the summer?

One thing I’m worried about is waiting so long for phones — that are solely based upon rumors — instead of being content now. By the way, I’d like to get a phone that can actually last over a two-year contract. My iPhone 4 is showing its age, struggling with more intensive webpages and tasks. I’d love to hear your opinions on this.

Smart Phone Upgrade: When is the Time Right?Ben, this is a great question, and there are nearly as many ways to answer it as there are smart phones. But since you’re asking for my own opinion on this, I’ll tell you what I usually do: I buy what’s available, when it’s available. The way I see it, there’s no better time to purchase new tech than the present. By the time you wait for the Next Big Device to arrive, you’ll be asking yourself the same question: should I get a smart phone upgrade now, or wait until the next wave of innovation arrives? Particularly when it comes to smart phones, the longer you wait, the longer you’ll be missing out on the technologies everyone else is enjoying today. So if you’ve been lugging around an obsolete smart phone for years in hopes that something monumentally better will come out tomorrow — and you can afford it — you shouldn’t be afraid to invest in a smart phone upgrade today. (But if you can’t afford it, there’s no shame in using an older smart phone, either.)

Smart Phone Upgrade: Is the Right Time Now?

Smart phones are a curious market, especially in the US, because the devices are typically expected to last less than two years. That doesn’t mean the devices can’t hold up longer; it’s simply that most consumers in the US have their smart phones replaced every two years or so. (According to research, handsets in general are expected to last about 21.7 months.) Knowing this, both manufacturers and developers of smart phones work to continuously “evolve” smart phone technology so that consumers will see the need to replace whichever handset they’re currently toting around. Smart phone upgrades are a big business.

Unless there’s a specific new technology that you absolutely can live without, there’s no reason to wait for tomorrow’s technology to arrive. Retina — Apple’s high-resolution display — is a good example. When Apple introduced Retina, its iPhone line stood out from most competing smart phones for its outstanding combination of display technology and highly satisfying user experience. Though anyone with half a brain was able to realize that competing manufacturers would incorporate similar display technologies into their own devices sooner or later, there simply wasn’t a reason to wait for that to occur unless you were attached to another mobile operating system or device.

Have You Been Depriving Yourself?

Today, many more smart phones have higher-resolution displays than those that were available two years ago. But if you waited until 2013 for a smart phone upgrade to purchase something that has been available since 2010, you’ve missed out on a user experience that others have been enjoying for well over two years. In fact, if you’re waiting for a smart phone that beats the iPhone 5 in terms of display technology, you may have to wait for a very long time. Apple may always be ahead of its competitors in that area; it’s simply one of the areas where Apple excels, and the company is doing its very best to keep it that way.

Android has come a long way since we first began seeing it on the HTC Dream in 2008. Today’s Android delivers a polished and fluid user experience — on some devices, it performs as well as Apple’s iOS, and on a few devices it exceeds iOS in some areas. That said, if you’re moving to Android because you feel the overall user experience on your aging iPhone is outdated, you might find yourself disappointed unless you opt for the most expensive of Android smart phones available. The Android user experience varies considerably from device to device, while Apple iOS remains steady — and though you perceive that experience to be stale, I view it as mature. Android is approaching maturity, but is still unstable and unpredictable at times. If I were in the market for a smart phone upgrade (at the time of this writing), I’d stick with iOS, myself.

But if you’re set on Android, get the best Android-based smart phone you can buy today. Don’t wait until this summer for what the pundits are telling you will be the best Android smart phone to date. You’ll likely find yourself impressed at first, only to find yourself disappointed when the next Best Smart Phone in the World arrives in the fall. So upgrade as soon as your two-year commitment expires, or whenever it is that you qualify for an upgrade. It’s too bad that carriers require a two-year commitment, particularly when research shows we upgrade our phones every 21 to 22 months. When a smart phone upgrade is available today, you don’t want to have to wait a few to several months to be able to use the device. Which brings up my next point…

Have You Considered a Prepaid Carrier for Your Smart Phone Upgrade?

Have you considered a prepaid carrier? Breaking out of the two-year cycle is one of the best ways you can ensure you’ll have the opportunity to begin using a new smart phone as soon as it’s available, rather than taking a chance that the technology will become less relevant during the months that pass as you’re waiting to meet the requirements of your carrier’s plan. LockerGnome contributor Harold Johnson has been using a smart phone with a carrier called SIMPLE Mobile, which he reports to be “the best smart phone experience” he’s ever had. If you have access to an unlocked phone and live in an area with good T-Mobile coverage (since SIMPLE Mobile uses T-Mobile’s network), the prepaid carrier offers a very affordable way to get out of the two-year cycle altogether.

As I noted when I first began answering the question of the best time for a smart phone upgrade, there are as many ways to answer the question as there are smart phones. So I’m hoping some of you will have some more advice on the issue, and I welcome suggestions that differ from my own. Chime in today — don’t wait until tomorrow!