How long should a smartphone last?

I purchased a new Samsung Galaxy Victory less than two years ago (June 2013) from Ting for almost $300. I was counting on using the device for three years to maximize the savings I would get by using Ting. About two months ago, people started telling me they can't hear me and I sound muffled. After trying all the resets, including a factory reset, I'm being told my only option is to mail the phone to Samsung, spend at least $70 (probably more) and be without my phone, which I use for my business, for a week and a half to two weeks.

I'm just wondering, when you calculate how much Ting is saving you and you factor in the cost of the device, how long do you expect the device to last and how long are you counting on? Is it reasonable to think a phone that doesn't last even two years is unacceptable?

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24 comments
  • As a side note, that's a typical symptom of debris in the microphone port (pinhole next to the USB/charging jack). You might try a soft brush.

    For the smartphones I've seen in general, how long they last mainly depends on how well they're taken care of. I see 3 year old devices in pristine condition, and I see ones with beat up chassis covered in residue after a couple months. I see batteries in great condition from being topped up regularly, and batteries barely holding a charge because they were run to flat every day. So as far as physically lasting, it depends :P

    There's an entirely different set of points on the software/OS side due to upgrades or lack thereof, service changes, and wanting new capabilities.

    For me personally, I've never done contracts, so there was no savings calculation on the device side. It's a set cost for me regardless.

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  • There's a reason that most mobile phone contracts last two years, and it's probably because phones typically don't last much longer than that.

    I've found that lots of people on Sprint's network sound muffled nowadays.  I suspect its Sprint's new high definition network mucking up when the usage is high.

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  • Here s something else to keep in mind.

    Trevor mentioned the software/OS part. As a side effect, if the OS is too old, the phone may get increasingly unstable.

    My Samsung Epic 4G with the physical keyboard was a great phone. It's OS is stuck on Gingerbread. That is fine, but likely due to the updated apps in the Google Play store, the device got more unstable, sometimes randomly rebooting. I suspect the app developers to not always test on the older OS versions and may inadvertently introduce incompatibilities

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  • "if the OS is too old, the phone may get increasingly unstable."

    If the phone was having problems due to old age, it is likely a hardware problem such as capacitors aging and/or solder joints failing. Another possibility is data/filesystem corruption from sudden power loss (e.g. removing the battery while the device is running) or flash wear out. However, the OS being old would not be a cause of such problems. Software does not age and if an updated app has an issue as you claim, the issue would be limited to the app and not crash the phone due to virtual memory protection.

    As for the original question, my first Android phone was a LG Optimus V that did not last a year. A friend with a Samsung Galaxy 2 that had its speaker die recently. Given that these devices' manufacturers are fighting among themselves for market share at the expense of margins, I would not be surprised if they are cutting corners on hardware design. I have had much better luck with Apple's devices. iOS' springboard seems to have regressed since iOS 6.1 and crash on occasion on me, but the hardware just keeps working. It has a few of its own reliability quirks such as lacking ECC RAM, but I am aware of no mobile device that has it.

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  • I disagree with Richard.  Both Google's Android and Apple's iOS are routinely updated.  Those updates often introduced system-wide bugs that affect older models.  I'm convinced that they do it purposefully with the intent to force you to upgrade to a new phone.

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  • Also, many Android apps have system-wide impacts, including Google's Framework (which governs most of Google's Apps) and Google TTS.  There are lots of other apps that have system-wide impacts.

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  • I am not sure how your first remark matters for a phone that has not received those updates.

    As for your second remark, that is specific to Android and does not affect system-wide stability as you say. If Google Play Services fails, the core components should still work. Plenty of apps depending on it would fail, but that is very different from the phone itself crashing. iOS on the other hand uses sand icing and has no equivalent to Google Play Services. There might be a few APIs that allow data exchange, but the apps are not allowed to interact with one another to the extent they are on Android.

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  • That is sandboxing, not sand icing. Autocorrect caused it.

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  • An interesting topic. I just bought (used, on Ebay) an HTC EVO 4G LTE. I expect it to arrive tomorrow, have downloaded the manual, and noted that the phone's battery is not removable according to the manual but found simple instructions online explaining how to replace it, which should take no more than 2 minutes. I've always used a flip phone and this is my first smartphone.Question: How can I tell if the battery is worn out and should be replaced? Thanks to all.

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  • You should be able to get battery statistics from the Linux kernel by running cat /proc/acpi/battery/BAT0/info in a shell. You can get a shell from the android debugger, a SSH server app or a terminal app. The battery statistics will tell you that design capacity and the current capacity, so you can work out how worn your battery is. The following page shows an example of output:

    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=2128745

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  • I probably should add that the time to replace it depends on you. If it is at the point where it is a problem and the statistics show plenty of wear, you should replace it.

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  • Actually, the phone I originally mentioned is still in use by my daughter-in-law. It's replacement for me is a Nexus 5, first on Ting CDMA and now on Ting GSM.

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  • Richard,

    I believe you're mistaken for a number of reasons.

    First, is there any reason to believe that we're talking about a two year old phone that has not been updated?

    Second, Google framework affects every app that you could ever install via Google Play, because it is involved in the update process.

    Third, there are lots of apps that can crash and appear to take down the entire phone, even though they do not technically take down the OS.  For example, if Launcher crashes and doesn't restart, you'll appear to have a dead phone.  If the dialer crashes, it will appear as if you cannot make any calls.  Technically, the OS is still running just fine, but to a user, the entire phone will appear to have become "unstable."  Google framework and TTS bugs are common causes of what appear to be system-wide instability.  Likewise, a bug in the GPS drivers (updated with the OS) can cause instability in every app that attempts to determine your location (more than you might think), and cause them to have delays or failures.  A user who sees a whole bunch of apps operating slowly or failing might well conclude that his Android is "unstable" even though the OS is technically stable.

    You seem to know just enough about Android to reach the wrong conclusions, but only because you don't seem to understand much about the user experience...

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  • As an aside, I've had several Android phones that appeared to become unstable, but when I flashed them back to the original ROM and denied updates, they worked great again.  

     

    The "update ruined my phone" is a very, very common experience among Android users, and even more common amongst iOS users.  Sometimes, people notice the problems right after the updates, but more frequently, it only becomes noticed when the user starts to make use of a feature that they didn't use before, or didn't use as often...

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  • In my case Gingerbread is the latest stock OS. Flashing did not help. The phone would spontaneously reboot, so the OS definitely crashed. Last year I moved on to a Nexus 5. Apparently, my daughter in law mist use a different mix of apps since I have not heard of any issue.

    If you do not update anything, you are stuck with whatever stock apps are loaded by the manufacturer & Sprint. An app from the Google Play store is generally only the latest version.

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  • If the OS crashed, the phone would likely freeze.  To reboot, you either have to have a power failure or a functioning software routing telling the phone to shutdown in a manner that prompts a reboot.

    Did you flash back to a stock ROM?  What was your source of the stock ROM image?  Did you make it yourself before you updated, or did you acquire it from somewhere else?

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  • Yes, stock Samsung ROM using Odin. This was an official stock ROM image compete with modem (radio firmware), not custom made.

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  • My experience with "official Samsung ROMs" is that there's no such thing.  Samsung doesn't make them available for download.  Rather, the community does.  Because they come from the community, there's no assurance that the ROM you flashed is really the official ROM, or that it is the exact ROM that your unit shipped with.  The only way to ensure that you have the right ROM is to create your own backup before you update, which most people never do.

    I did an update that screwed up my Galaxy S3 last year and looked into flashing it backward to fix the issue.  I found a number of sites purporting to host official ROM version for the Sprint Galaxy S3 that bore version numbers that had never been announced by Sprint or Samsung.  Ultimately, I waited it out and Samsung released an update (a year later) that fixed the issue I was experiencing.

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  • "You seem to know just enough about Android to reach the wrong conclusions, but only because you don't seem to understand much about the user experience..."

    Martin, I am a Linux kernel developer (Google me). I know enough that I switched from Android to iOS after concluding in 2012 that Android is fundamentally broken by design and that trying to in real it would require my entire lifetime. I am well aware that the user experience on Android is lousy. Failing to understand why prevents people from finding solutions in my case, my solutionis to throw it away and go with whatever I consider to have the most technical merit.

    To address your points:

    1. Bruce said that age causes problems for the OS. If that is the case, any device placed into a time capsule would have more problems than it had when it was new, hardware issues and absent network services not withstanding. That will not happen (excluding the clock if we see integer wraparound), so the issue is clearly in something else.

    2. Google Play Services does not affect every app. It is an odd mix of vendor lock-in (to Google's platform) and a workaround cellular companies controlling OTA updates. However, there are apps that have no dependency on Google Play Services and Android is mostly able to function without them. See the Replicant project for a version of Android that has had Google's proprietary bits removed.

    3. The number of processes that can do this are small, but the ability for them to fail without an automatic restart is a design flaw. A well designed OS would not be vulnerable to this.

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  • Richard,

    Your status as a Kernel Dev actually explains quite a bit.  The Linux Kernel is about as far as you can get from the user experience.  Kernel Dev is also as far as you can get from hardware design and development.  Your experience in Kernel Development probably explains why you've made various assumptions about users that are incorrect.  

    In a prior post, you assumed that the phone in question had not been the subject of any updates.  But, most users accept all of the updates that are offered to them, including updates to the Kernel. Samsung phones practically nag you into accepting Android OS updates.   Since you're a Kernel Developer, I understand why you made this assumption.  Kernels don't usually update themselves.  Since you're into Kernel Dev, you probably run a custom ROM.  Custom ROMs probably never force users into accepting kernel updates.  But, in the real world, users update their OS all of the time.

    In your latest post, you compared a phone that had been used for several years with a phone that has been sitting in a box for two years, and suggested that the two year old phone sitting in the box "would have more problems" than a new one.  That's just not right.  Most phones that have been sitting in a box for two years will work just as well as a new one, because most hardware components will last 25 years before they degrade from non-use.  In the real world, hardware components fail because of heat, and heat is a product of use.  The only notable exception is the battery, which can fail because of lack of use.  But, today's modern lithium ion batteries are actually pretty good at standing up to disuse, especially compared with the older technologies like NiMH and NiCad.

    You've also failed to understand that users cannot distinguish between app instability and OS instability.  To a user, if some apps that worked before routinely crash or if the device reboots, he may say that the device or OS is unstable, without really understanding what's causing the instability.  Along those same lines, Bruce didn't say "that age causes problems for the OS".  He said that as the OS became older, the "device got more unstable" because the apps were no longer matched to the OS.  Bruce is right.

    While I agree with your general proposition that if nothing about the software changes and problems increase over time, the problem is likely hardware.  But, in the real world, users make changes all of the time.  They change default settings to non-default and they try features that they didn't use before, sometimes years after they first started using the device.  Those changes can reveal software bugs that were always present, but which didn't manifest themselves because the routines were never used until the user made the change.  To the user, the phone has become more unstable over time, but in fact, the phone was always that unstable and the user just never realized it.

    Likewise, in the real world, users accept updates that directly impact the operating system, or they update apps that can affect other apps in ways the user isn't aware of.  While the phone may appear to have gone bad because of age, the reality is that the instability is often (and usually) software driven.  For example, a bad GPS driver update ruined my Sprint HTC Hero, and an OS update messed up my Galaxy S3.  Most users would be surprised at how many apps will fail when the GPS stops working.

    Of course there are apps that have no Google Play dependencies.  But, there are lots of apps that do.  But, most users aren't able to distinguish between the two.  If several apps that they use regularly start malfunctioning, the user will complain that the phone or OS is unstable, even though the problem is actually App driven.  I'm not surprised that a Kernel Dev like yourself wouldn't understand this. But, that's only because you would be able to tell the difference.  Your assumption that others would know what you know is not correct.

    Your statement that you've switched to iOS is also very telling.  Apple is notorious for hardware issues.  The iPhone 4 series had a well-known defect in the Wifi module.  That defect appears to have been heat related, as evidenced by the fact that many users were able to get it working again by putting their phone in the refrigerator.  The iPhone 5 series has a different hardware defect that causes the screen to become loose, and then phone then makes a farting noise when users push on the screen (obviating the need for all of those iOS fart apps).

    While hardware can explain age related failures, software can as well.  Indeed, in many cases it's difficult to distinguish between hardware and software related failures, and the software guys blame the hardware guys and vice versa.  My personal opinion is that software much be written to match the hardware, and so if the software can be written in such a way that the product works correctly, the software is to blame.  Since you're software guy, I'm not surprised that you feel the other way around.

     

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  • Turning back to the original post, my dad tried about Ting on a Samsung Galaxy Victory and said it was the worst phone that he ever used.  The phone may well have been poorly made or have bad software.  In either case, it sounds like the OP needs to upgrade.  

    In contrast, I have a now two-year old Galaxy S3 and aside from a bug that was introduced in an Android OS update (which has now been cured), it works great.  So, to the OP, a phone can last more than two years, but it depends upon the quality of the hardware and the quality of the software updates that follow.  My experience with the high-end Galaxy series (S3) has been hit and miss, but not nearly as bad as my experience with Apple's devices, which are notorious for having failures exactly one week after the warranty expires...

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  • Every mass produced product has had some instances of its production run fail one week after the warranty expired. If you purchased it on a credit card, you likely could file a credit card claim. That said, it sounds like you were one of the lucky people who are able to say that you owned one of the few that failed in that one week window after the warranty expired, but that does not suggest that the failures are rampant. Neither does my experience of zero hardware failures over half a dozen devices indicate that the products are flawless. What matters is the distribution of the failures, which neither of us likely knows.

    That said, I have multiple iOS devices that are about 2.5 years old and I expect to get many more years out of them. My recommendation for a replacement is an iOS device. I have yet to see an iOS device that had a hardware failure in person. That is not saying that they do not exist, but Apple seems to be under the least pressure to cut corners of all of the phone manufacturers.

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  • Distribution of failures is well known.  Consumer organizations like Consumer Reports track them using surveys and statistical analysis.  Apple is notorious for hardware failures.  They're not under pressure to cut corners, they just do it to save money.

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  • This has become tiring. Your statements are unsubstantiated and seem consistent with a vendetta than rational advice. As far as failures go, there is plenty of blame to go around and in the grander scheme of things, everything is bad and it is a wonder anything works as much as it does. However, age related issues are due to hardware. Software failures that seem age related are far more likely to be caused by some confounding variable than an actual timer saying to stop working. Hardware on the other hand has capacitor aging, metal fatigue, solder joints, electrochemical cell wear, etcetera that is actually a kind of timer.

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