Apple
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Few things are guaranteed these days, but you can always count on a new iPhone releasing every fall — and the temptation to upgrade that comes with it. The new iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro are looking like Apple’s best phones yet, with the company’s fastest-ever processors, some new camera upgrades that allow for professional-grade video capture and the promise of a few extra hours of battery life over previous models.

If you’re clinging on to an aging iPhone, the iPhone 13 will be a no-brainer upgrade that will likely offer a major boost in performance, battery life and camera capabilities. But if you just picked up an iPhone over the last few years, the question of whether to upgrade is a bit more complicated.

The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro are up for preorder now — here’s who should and shouldn’t upgrade, as well as some tips for getting the best trade-in deals if you’ve decided to take the plunge.

You should upgrade to the iPhone 13 if…

You’re clinging on to a pretty old iPhone

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iPhones are built to last when it comes to software support — heck, the major iOS 15 update coming this month will work with phones dating all the way back to 2015’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. But just because your old iPhone technically still works doesn’t necessarily mean that it still works well, and if you find that your device is starting to show its age, it’s probably time to make the jump.

“Given the improvements to battery life, cameras and cellular modems, I would recommend upgrading an iPhone X or earlier,” says Avi Greengart, president and lead analyst at tech research firm Techsponential. “Not only will you get faster performance, better pictures (especially in low light) and much longer battery life, you’ll also likely get better reception.”

You’re serious about photos and especially video

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All of Apple’s recent iPhones take great photos, and the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 remain excellent options for capturing your family vacations and shooting fun TikToks and Instagram stories. But if you’re someone who uses their iPhone to shoot photos and videos on any kind of professional level, the iPhone 13 and especially the iPhone 13 Pro may be worth the upgrade for the cameras alone.

Aside from a wealth of technical spec improvements built to offer things like better zoom and low-light performance, the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro both offer new camera features such as Photographic Styles (essentially special filters for boosting things like color and contrast) and a Cinematic mode. The latter feature seems like one of the most significant, as it allows you to adjust what the camera is focusing on both during and after video capture. This could prove useful for amateur filmmakers who want to easily add immersive, movie-like focus effects while filming scenes with multiple people in them.

There are also a few Pro-exclusive camera features, including the ability to take dramatic portrait mode shots in Night mode, and the ability to shoot and edit in ProRes, a video standard commonly used in movies and commercials. In short, if photography or videography is a serious hobby, side hustle or even job for you, the iPhone 13 models are looking like some of the best camera phones ever.

You care about 5G

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The iPhone 13 is only the second iPhone to support 5G, the latest standard for ultra-fast cellular connectivity that’s available on most major carriers. We’ve had mixed results with 5G when testing it on the iPhone 12 — you’ll definitely notice faster speeds under the right conditions, but ultra-wideband 5G (the faster version of the standard) is still limited to very specific areas, and the more common nationwide 5G is a pretty modest improvement over 4G. Still, those with an iPhone 11 or older may want to consider making the jump in order to have an iPhone that’s fully future-proof once 5G becomes more of a thing.

“Carrier networks have changed a lot in the last five years, and the new iPhones not only include 5G but also all the other frequency combinations that the networks use these days to provide coverage and capacity,” says Greengart.

You want the smoothest screen on an iPhone

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One of the most significant new features on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max specifically is their 120 Hz ProMotion display, which is up to twice as smooth as the 60 Hz screens on recent iPhones. To put this in real-world terms, you’ll notice a lot more fluidity when scrolling through webpages or flipping through your camera roll, and your favorite shows, movies and games will be capable of playing more smoothly.

This feature is adaptive too — in order to save your battery life, the high refresh rate will automatically kick in when you’re rapidly scrolling, but not when you’re, say, reading a text message. This type of screen has been impressing us on Android phones for years, so if you’ve been waiting for Apple to finally catch up before switching to iPhone, the 13 Pro or 13 Pro Max may be for you.

You shouldn’t upgrade if…

Your only issue is battery life

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We’ve all been there — after a few years of owning an iPhone, you notice that its battery starts to drain faster than usual, sometimes suspiciously close to the launch of a new model. But while it’s tempting to get a brand-new phone just for battery life, keep in mind that you may be eligible for a battery upgrade depending on which phone and warranty plan you have.

If your iPhone is still under warranty or an AppleCare+ plan, you can get your battery replaced for free. All iPhones come with a one-year limited warranty. AppleCare+ plans vary by price based on your phone model but include a battery replacement if your iPhone’s battery is down to less than 80% of its original capacity, in addition to coverage for multiple instances of damage or loss every 12 months. If you’re out of warranty, a battery replacement will cost you $69 for all mainline iPhones dating back to the iPhone X, and $49 for both versions of the iPhone SE as well as the iPhone 8 through iPhone 6.

Note that the A15 processors in the iPhone 13 series promise a notable boost in battery life (up to two and a half hours more than their respective iPhone 12 models), so you will be future-proofing if you make the investment just for battery life. But if you’re pretty happy with your current phone’s performance and just want longer endurance, battery replacements are worth considering.

You want something that looks radically different from your iPhone 12

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The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro each have some small design refinements over last year’s model, including a slightly smaller notch where the front camera lives. But other than that, you’re pretty much getting the same stainless steel and matte glass design as on the iPhone 12 range, and even the colors offered on both the 13 and 13 Pro are very similar to what we’ve seen before. There are some small differences — the iPhone 13 comes in pink, and the iPhone 13 Pro has a lighter Sierra Blue variation — but those with a newer iPhone seeking something truly fresh-looking may want to hold out.

Related: Why I’m skipping the iPhone 13 and keeping my iPhone 12 Pro.

How to upgrade to the iPhone 13

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If you’ve decided to make the jump, there are a number of ways to get the iPhone 13 while saving some cash via trade-ins and carrier deals. iPhone 13 preorders are live now and begin shipping on Sept. 24 — here are some of the best trade-in options we’ve found so far.

  • Apple: You can trade in your old smartphone when buying the iPhone 13 directly from Apple, whether you’re connecting to a carrier or buying unlocked. You’ll get the most value when trading in the iPhone 12 series (up to $400 to $790, depending on model), while older iPhones like the iPhone 6 and 7 will get you between $30 and $100. You can even trade in select Android devices, such as the Galaxy Note 20 (up to $400) and Google Pixel 5 (up to $315). And even if you’re not trading in, you can preregister on Apple’s site right now to have the best chance of avoiding long waits for Apple’s phone on Sept. 17.
  • iPhone Upgrade Program: If you’re keen on always having the newest iPhone, Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program is also worth considering. This plan starts at $35 to $54 per month for the iPhone 13 range and allows you to upgrade to the next model once you’ve made 12 monthly payments. The Upgrade Program also includes AppleCare+ coverage, and allows you to connect to any of the major carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon).
  • AT&T: AT&T customers can get the iPhone 13 at no upfront cost (or at least a pretty steep discount) based on what they’re trading in. The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Mini can be picked up for free with an eligible trade-in when coupled with an unlimited plan, while the 13 Pro Max and standard iPhone 13 can be had for as little as $99 under the same conditions. As with most carrier deals, these prices are dependent on you being locked into a monthly plan.
  • Verizon: Verizon is offering up to $1,000 off any iPhone 13 model with trade-ins, plus up to an additional $500 for new customers to help cover the cost of switching. That’s essentially a free iPhone 13, though you’ll likely need to trade in a newer model to get the full value.
  • T-Mobile: T-Mobile is also looking to entice customers with a “free” iPhone 13. The carrier will be offering the new iPhone at no upfront cost with a Magenta MAX plan (which starts at $57 per line and has unlimited data) and an eligible trade-in. As part of its “Forever Upgrade” promotion, the carrier is also promising up to $800 off a new iPhone every two years for as long as you’re a Magenta MAX subscriber.
  • Decluttr: If you’d rather buy your iPhone 13 at retail and sell your old device separately, Decluttr is a reliable option for getting some decent trade-in cash. You can currently get up to $537 for the standard iPhone 12, and up to $362 for the iPhone 11, to name just a few examples. And if you use the code CNN2021 at checkout, you’ll be able to get 10% more trade-in value. Decluttr will provide a shipping label for any products you’re selling, though you’ll have to provide your own packaging. You can be paid via direct deposit or your PayPal account, or choose to have the money sent to charity.