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You know how every new gadget that comes out makes your old one look slow and dingy...even if it's only slightly better? You don't need to be independently wealthy to always have the latest iMac, or upgrade to the newest Nexus every time it's announced. Here's how to get on the upgrade treadmill and always have the latest and greatest gadgets.
We've shown you how to get off the upgrade treadmill, and it's a good mindset to have. Personally, I hate seeing great new phones come out only to know I'm a few months into a new contract and won't be able to upgrade for years. Well, there's no reason to be a slave to someone else's timetable. We've decided to offer an alternative viewpoint: upgrade whenever you want to, even if it's every time a new flagship device comes out, without paying a boatload of money. It works for more than just phones, too: you can use this for laptops, tablets, or even the graphics card in your home-built gaming computer. Here's how it works.
Make Your Data Portable, Accessible, and Frequently Backed Up
Before you do anything else, back up your data and put it in as portable a format as possible. If you want to upgrade ereaders, make sure they're in a format that you can take to any other gadget, and that you're not swimming in unnecessary DRM. The same applies for your music and your movies. Yes—we know that telling you to essentially jailbreak your media so you can use it wherever you choose is walking the line on the DMCA, but it's essential to getting the freedom we want here. Photo by Gavin Baker and Defective By Design.
Once your data is free, make sure it's backed up and easily retrievable. We like Crashplan for local and offsite backups, iCloud does a great job for iOS devices, and Titanium Backup (with Dropbox) works great for Android backups. Remember, the more recent the backup, the easier it is to move to a new device. Keep your data accessible and easy to restore so getting a new gadget and setting it up will be a joy, not a hassle.
Buy Out of Pocket and Avoid Subsidies, Protection Plans, and Extended Warranties
It may come as a shock to the system, but the upgrade treadmill requires you to start buying gear at full price, without discounts that tie you to retailers or carriers. That's right: no more carrier subsidies, no non-transferrable "replacement plans" from your local electronics store, and no expensive warranties. That means the $99 Android phone you were going to pick up is now $599, or possibly more. It stings a lot at first, but don't worry—you'll get a lot of that money back later. Photo by Jared Newman.
Not only does this let you upgrade within the two-year window, but it gives you a lot more freedom in which phone and carrier you use. In this Time article, Jared Newman explains how he bought his iPhone 5 at the full retail price, just so he wouldn't be locked into a contract. He loves switching phones and trying new models, and he knew he'd want to upgrade in a year, maybe less if he fell in love with Android. He even bought a nano SIM card adapter so he can switch devices easily. Heck, if you wanted to, you could even switch carriers.
Plus, in the long run, it costs less. We've run the math on this before, and you always end up paying more when you sign a contract. Keeping you locked in is how carriers make money (and deprive you of choice). Buying free and clear costs more up front, but saves money over time. If you're stuck in a contract because you bought a subsidized phone or tablet and want out, here's how to break free without paying termination fees.
Keep Your Device In Good Condition, Complete with Packaging and Manuals
Okay, so you're out of your contract, you've bought a shiny new gadget free and clear, and you have your data all backed up. Before you tear open the packaging, here are some things to remember:
- Save the packaging, documentation, and accessories. Keep everything in as pristine condition as possible. After all, you'll need them again later when we sell this puppy, and odds are you won't need to read any of it more than once. Keep them in their original packaging, and stash it all somewhere safe where you can find it again easily. Photo by Warren Rohner.
- Get a case, screen protector, sleeve, or just be careful with the condition of your device. Remember, the goal here is to be able to upgrade and switch devices whenever you want. Since we're assuming most of you can't afford $600 phones every time you get an itch for one, you'll need to keep the one you have in as good condition as possible so you'll make the most money when you sell it.
- Follow our tips on taking good care of your gear. We've shown you how to keep items in good condition so you make the most money back when you sell them. In addition to using a case and keeping the packaging, we also show you how to fix your gadget if it gets a dent or ding, and how to tidy it up for the eventual sale.
- Watch the clock. Keep in mind that even if you choose to keep your device for the long haul, its resale value is decreasing over time. If you really like it, that decreasing resale value should be supplemented by the money you're saving by not buying something right away (eg, value goes down, but your income goes up.) If you're looking to upgrade soon though, you'll want to keep an eye on how much it's worth on the open market. If you stay on the fence too long, you may miss the opportunity to get the most back for it.
Get the Most Money Back for Your Gadget When Something New Comes Along
Most frequent gadget switchers only upgrade every year or so. Two years, like most cellular contracts, is too long to wait, and it's not cost effective to upgrade every two or three months, so between six months to a year is normal. For example, if you want to be on Google's Nexus product cycle, or the iPhone release cycle, you'll want to look out for announcements every 9 months and product launches every year. When those announcements come around, here's where you can get the most cash back with the least hassle:
- Gazelle: Gazelle may not be the place to get you the most possible money for your gear, but they do so much of the work for you that selling with them is completely hassle-free. They'll broker the deal with a buyer, tell you how much you'll get for your gadget, and even send you a box so you can pack it up and send it away. If you're waiting on a new device for yourself, you can lock in a price now, and then send in your old one when you get the new one. You do have to wait until the recipient gets it and confirms its condition before you get your money, though.
- Glyde: Glyde doesn't buy directly from you the way Gazelle does, but they will match you up with a buyer, and in my experience they tend to offer more money for your gear than you can get elsewhere. They tell you how much your item will sell for, how much you'll pocket in the end, and if you don't like their price, you can even change it—just keep in mind that doing so may change the odds you'll find a buyer.
- Amazon Marketplace: You'll have to compete with other sellers here, but Amazon makes the process of selling your gear via Marketplace so easy that it's worth the extra competition. Amazon won't broker deals for you or supply boxes, but they do have a huge audience, and listing an item there is easy, fast, and almost guaranteed to sell, especially if your price is competitive (which Amazon will help you find).
- Craigslist and eBay: No list is complete without these two stores. We've shown you how to master Craigslist and how to get the most money for gadgets before, and those tips are even more crucial when it comes to person-to-person sales. Besides, since Craigslist and eBay allow you to set your own price (and eBay Instant Sale buys your used gear outright), you can make more money if you sell wisely (post great pictures, write a good item description, even end the auction at the right time) and without a third party taking a cut of the sale.
Don't forget to check out our tips on selling your gadgets online beforehand. Remember, the goal here is to sell for as much as possible so you can put that money to the purchase price of the new gadget you want. The better condition it's in, the cleaner it is, and the more original packaging you have, the more the buyer will pay (and feel like they're getting a bargain, to boot) and the sooner you'll have your new shiny laptop, phone, or tablet.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Before we go further, it's worth pointing out that this isn't for everyone. Many people are just fine with their gadgets for the long haul, and get a phone they love and use it until the wheels fall off. That's absolutely fine. This is for people who hate being locked into a carrier when another carrier gets something great (like T-Mobile's exclusive Nexus 4), or people who feel burned when a better phone comes out in just a few months. Photo by Carlos Varela.
Once you're free of contracts and subsidies though, you're able to switch devices, try new operating systems, experiment with different platforms and manufacturers, and even try different carriers whenever you want. Bonus: by trying different things, you also have the opportunity to make informed decisions and opinions on them. If you have an iPhone but the Galaxy S III caught your eye, you don't have to resort to trickery to earn your freedom. Plus, you can upgrade as often—or as infrequently—as you like. Find a laptop you love, stick with it. If you're not loving the phone that all the tech blogs raved over, you can sell it and try something else without feeling like you're being punished for it. The choice is all yours.