Buying last year's tech can save you piles of money, not unlike the pile seen above.
This has been a huge week for lovers of the latest smartphone tech, but, as we put away our tongues and put down the spec charts, we wonder whether you'd be better off buying yesterday's heroes.
As the telcos prepare to stock the next generation of top-end phones, they are clearing out last year's stock at some surprisingly low prices. While the new HTC One X will set you back AU$59 per month for two years, a Samsung Galaxy S II costs between AU$29 and AU$35 per month, depending on the carrier, and the HTC Sensation XL is AU$29 per month on Vodafone. Even the Galaxy Nexus, which was only released earlier this year, is now available for AU$29 per month through certain promotions.
These aren't the only bargains worth mentioning, but the point is that you can typically get last year's flagship phones for about half price. Even if your budget is enough to take on the latest and greatest, should you bother paying double? Here are some pros and cons.
For screens, for sure
For the extra money, you will get a far better screen on your phone this year. We have a couple of Galaxy S II handsets still floating around the CNET Australia test labs, and, while the WVGA AMOLED display is still perfectly usable, it really doesn't compare with the sharp, crisp 1280x720-pixel screens we've seen on the latest models already this year.
The quality of the screen is almost always the trade off with cheaper mobile devices, and the sacrifices continue further as you look to the prepaid range. In short, if you want the best, sharpest, most colourful smartphone screen, you will have to pay top dollar.
Fast phone is fast
Perhaps the most contentious qualitative comparison is whether this year's phones are "faster" than last year's phones. This question is loaded with variables, and often determined by personal preferences and expectations. But when you ask whether a new phone is faster, our response is "faster at what?"
Most of the top phones of 2011 zip around the main home screens and load apps without a hitch. They will also handle all of the latest 3D games on the market. If this year's phones are "faster", it would be difficult to perceive the speed improvement in everyday use.
Web browsing is one area where you might experience a notable dip or enhancement in performance; in the way the phone handles complex content like Flash frames, or how smoothly it renders a page when you are scrolling to see the content at the bottom. But, again, in most cases, last year's phones handled this sort of activity with aplomb.
One app fits all
As we alluded to in the previous section, a brand-spanking new phone won't give you access to any unique content or apps. Actually, this statement is only 99 per cent accurate: there are a few apps that require Nvidia's Tegra processor, found in the HTC One X, that won't work on handsets using different hardware. Aside from this, you should find that your favourite apps support last year's hardware as well as they support the new phones.
It's even difficult to argue that newer phones will give a better performance than older models. Photography apps will get a boost from improved photography capabilities, and apps pulling data from the web may improve with a faster 4G connection, but, in terms of processing, the app experience will remain largely unchanged.
Photography is one of the key areas where the new products are superior to their predecessors. This is one part Android Ice Cream Sandwich, and one part the hard work of the manufacturers, but the end result is a slew of new features like Burst Photography, HDR image bracketing, voice-controlled cameras and the ability to take a photo during a video shoot.
Great photos remain high on the list of priorities amongst most of the information we receive from our readers. Even if you'd prefer not to capture your precious memories with a phone, chances are that you will, especially for spontaneous moments. That said, some of last year's camera phones, like the Galaxy S II and the iPhone 4S, were outstanding.
One factor to consider before letting the bargain bin bug bite is how important future proofing your smartphone purchase is to you. While last year's phones will handle everyday tasks and current-generation apps without issue, there are a few features in the latest phones with applications that are yet to become mainstream.
NFC is the obvious example. At this time, NFC is being used primarily as a way for devices like phones to communicate with other, similar devices. Google introduced Android Beam in the latest version of the Android OS, which uses NFC to create an ad hoc connection between two phones for file sharing. But NFC is packed full of unrealised potential, with banks and credit vendors lining up to turn our phones into virtual wallets, and advertisers are looking to install NFC chips into all sorts of interactive campaigns.
There are other features, too; 4G connectivity, Bluetooth version 4.0 and inductive wireless charging, to name a few. The uses for these features may be not be entirely apparent, but are bound to expand over time — sooner rather than later — and it would be a shame to miss out on that functionality if you feel it could be important to you in the near future.