How to Extend the Life of Your Smartphone by Years Without It Slowing Down

CC BY-SA 2.0. edowoo

Earlier this year Apple's stock took a big hit when its earnings release showed that iPhone sales had decreased and its earnings were down for the first time in 13 years. This report, as well as others from mobile companies, indicates that smartphones have hit a saturation point. They aren't going anywhere, but sales won't be leaping year over year anymore. It's just that most people have a smartphone already.

Currently two-thirds of Americans own smartphones, while it's estimated that at least the same amount globally will own smartphones by 2020. Even with sales stagnating, people are upgrading their phones every two to three years when smartphones are built to last for much longer. Extending that lifetime would make a huge difference in the amount of e-waste generated every year.

Last week, the New York Times partnered with the gadget repair experts and TreeHugger favorites at to empower consumers with ways to extend the life of their smartphones, tablets and computers so that they won't feel the need to upgrade as often as they do. Kyle Wiens, the founder of iFixit, says that the smartphones and computers being made today are so fast and capable, there is really no reason to upgrade so quickly.

“A five-year-old computer is still completely fine now,” Mr. Wiens said to the New York Times. “We’re starting to hit that same plateau with phones now.”

Wiens said that there are two main areas to concentrate on when keeping your phone fast and performing as if it's still new: data storage and battery capacity. When your data storage is close to full, your phone will slow down, while an older battery will lose its charge faster and annoy you with the amount of recharges you'll be doing. It's those two issues that usually drive a person to buy a new phone, but Wien says keeping those two things in check is simple.

To free up space on your phone so that it stays fast, store large files like photos and videos on either a removable memory card (works for Android phones) or back up older files on an external hard drive and remove them from your phone.

There is another trick for clearing up excess cached files on Apple products. Try renting a movie or TV show that is larger than the space available on your phone or iPad. When the device realizes there isn't enough room, it will reject the download and automatically clear cached data in the apps and free up space. Wiens tested this on an old iPad and it opened up two gigabytes and sped up the processing speed of the tablet.

Paring down your apps to just those you use frequently will also keep data storage down and speeds up.

For the battery issue, you'll have to replace it when it starts to lose the ability to keep a charge. Every battery has a maximum amount of charge/deplete cycles it can go through before its drain time accelerates. You can run diagnostics on your iPhone battery by plugging into a Mac computer and running the app coconutBattery. This will show you the number of charge cycles its been through and give you an idea of when to replace it. On Android there is an app called Battery by MacroPinch that will give you the same information.

Apple says the iPhone battery loses about 20 percent of its original capacity after 500 charge cycles, but a good rule of thumb is to replace a smartphone battery every two years, four or five years for a tablet.

A new battery costs between $20 and $40 and you can find repair guides for how to do the replacing yourself over at Many Android phones have a removable back cover where the battery can easily be swapped out.

Using these tips, your smartphone should serve you well for years longer than you thought.