Don't Upgrade Your Phone, Add an Accessory Instead

If you think you need to upgrade to an expensive new smartphone because you don’t have the latest features, think again. While the industry wants us to keep replacing perfectly good phones, it can be very costly. A new iPhone 7 costs between $650 to $850 and an iPhone 7 Plus costs as much as $970!

The cost of phones from the major manufacturers hasn’t fallen as other electronics products have. Large screen HDTVs are now a third of what they were five years ago, but phones have actually gone up about 10% each year. So why not consider accessorizing your phone to give it new capabilities instead?

Wireless earbuds

With wireless earbuds you can leave your phone in your pocket or purse most of the time. I’ve been testing the Rowkin Bit Charge stereo Bluetooth earbuds with portable charger. They’re likely the smallest wireless headphones you’ve ever seen, even smaller than the new ones announced from Apple.

The kit consists of two wireless buds that fit into your ear and are nearly invisible. They come with a storage case about the size of a Bic lighter that keeps them charged, using an internal battery that can also be used to charge your phone. More importantly, it can keep you from losing them.

Like most Bluetooth devices, you need the instructions to learn how to pair and follow the cryptic blinking lights, and sometimes they don’t connect the first time. Each of the two earbuds needs to pair to each other and then one of them, called the master,  pairs to the phone.

But the effort is worth it. Voice quality is loud and clear, perfect for calling and podcasts. The downside? Like most Bluetooth headsets, they’re not very good for music. Also, sound from one ear would occasionally drop for a second or two. Yet among this growing category of discreet headphones, they get the best reviews, and at $130, they’re among the least expensive.

Improve your phone’s reception

A new iPhone case for the iPhone 6 and 6s from MJoose can improve your phone’s cellular strength as well as extending battery life.  The snap-on case incorporates both a second battery and circuitry to amplify the cell signal. The company claims it reduces the number of dropped calls, but that was difficult to test. I did find that adding the case increased the signal strength of the cell signal by anywhere from 5 to 10db, and that’s meaningful.

The built-in 2950 mAh battery doubles the iPhone battery life and the the phone’s battery should last longer when your signal strength is stronger, since the phone doesn’t need to work as hard to find a signal. The $130 case works with 2G, 3G/4G, and LTE frequencies and all U.S. carrier networks. I tested it on a Verizon phone.

Adding wireless charging

The Mophie juice pack wireless charging base adds wireless charging to all iPhone 6 and 6s series phones, including the Plus models. The juice pack is a protective phone case with a battery that provides 50% more power, working like most Mophie packs, but it contains wireless charging circuitry, as well.

To charge, simply set the phone on its base.  The primary benefit is that you can charge your phone in coffee shops, cars or anywhere there’s a wireless charge system. Many of the 2017 cars have this wireless charging built in, including the new Prius and many GM cars. This gives your older iPhone a feature the new models still don’t have. It costs $100 for the small iPhone and $130 for the Plus models.

Waterproof your phone

One of the new features in the iPhone 7 series is water resistance, but by adding a Lifeproof case you can make your phone fully waterproof, dust proof, and drop proof. Cases are available for iPhones and some models from Samsung, LG and Motorola. The $90 case comes in two styles, the Nud and Fre. The first has no transparent cover over the display, while the latter adds the cover. But both allow you to use your phone to take pictures under water and make it much more rugged than the latest water-resistant models.