Update: The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 has been announced with official specs.
The consumer tech industry has always been focussed on what comes next. The next big phone, or laptop. Like the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4, which is rumored to be arriving next week. It’s always about the next opportunity for you to upgrade your devices, despite the fact you likely dropped hundreds of dollars on the last model.
Obviously companies want your money, and flashy new products are the way to get it. But should we really be that focussed on upgrading our machines at every available opportunity?
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I got thinking about this recently after having some issues with my laptop, a Huawei MateBook X Pro from 2018. I nearly dropped it onto a tiled floor, but in the process somehow managed to break the hinge separating the screen and the keyboard.
That’s what happens when your hands are full, and you instinctively wind up slamming an open laptop against the door. So now my laptop screen can move a full 180-degrees, rather than stopping at a 150-degree angle like before
Fortunately, that’s the extent of the damage, and isn’t nearly as bad as what might have happened if it had hit the hard floor at a strange angle. But the incident, along with some other damage the machine has accrued over the past three years, got me thinking about whether it’s time for an upgrade.
Until I realized there wouldn’t be much point. Because my laptop still works just fine.
This iterative upgrade cycle isn’t exciting
There’s never any shortage of new tech. Especially the laptop industry, which seems to have new models launching every couple of weeks. Except none of them seem to offer anything particularly exciting. Not compared to the machine I have, which is still running incredibly well. Even with all the cosmetic damage.
The Surface Laptop 4 would be new and shiny, though. I wouldn’t have to contend with scratches, the dented casing, or a hinge that tilts further than Huawei likely intended. But in terms of actual performance there doesn’t feel like there would be much to gain.
Chips are faster than they were three years ago, efficiency has improved and some of the best laptops can even display content in 4K. But how serious are those improvements compared to what I already have?
The MateBook X Pro I own was pretty much top of the line when I got it back in spring of 2018, and in those three years it hasn’t done much more than be a basic work computer. The specs it has still perform perfectly for what I need.
Sure, I could pick up the Surface Laptop 4, which is rumored to come with an 11th gen Core i7, rather than an 8th gen chip, and should come with more RAM and a better graphics card. But there’s no real benefit for me. Plus, I don’t need the boost in CPU or graphical power for my day-to-day use. Maybe if I wanted to play games, but I’ve never been much of a PC gamer.
A beefier battery would be nice, because three years of use does take its toll. Though so does all the software I tend to keep open all day.
So why spend anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 for something I don’t actually need, and go to the trouble of setting it up just the way I like it? As I found with my recent purchase of an Xbox Series X, it often feels like shopping for new tech is more exciting than actually owning it.
I feel much the same way with my phone. I’m still using a OnePlus 7 Pro as my day to day phone, despite the fact that the OnePlus 9 Pro just launched. I will admit I have been tempted by the prospect of picking up that new device.
But at the same time, there’s little point in spending $1,000 on a new phone when the one I have works perfectly well. And I don’t have to go to the trouble of transferring everything to a new phone, logging into all my apps, and so on.
Security won't be an issue for a long time
Of course, smartphones do effectively come with built-in expiration dates at the moment. Android phone makers typically only support a phone with new software for three years - with that final 12 months usually only getting essential security updates.
After that window closes, your phone isn’t just unsupported by the manufacturer. It’s an active security risk because any issues that arise won’t be fixed. So replacing a phone after three years isn’t just about upgrading, it’s about keeping you and your data secure.
Laptops don’t tend to have that problem, and certainly not Windows laptops. Security issues do come up, but Microsoft has a history of supporting older operating systems long after users should have upgraded. Support for Windows XP ended in 2014, 12 years after it first launched, but even that wasn’t the end. Security threats like WannaCry and BlueKeep (opens in new tab) prompted Microsoft to release emergency updates for XP in 2017 and 2019, respectively.
Even if Windows 10 wasn’t effectively the “final version” of Windows, with updates in perpetuity, it would still be a very long time before my own laptop posed enough of a security risk to warrant an upgrade.
Never say never, but don’t hold your breath
Upgrading for the sake of upgrading is a waste. That’s how I see it. Not only does it cost a fortune to swap out tech for the latest models on a recurring cycle, there are environmental factors to consider.
A lot of harm can be done in the development by a new piece of tech, whether it’s to do with mining, production or transportation across the planet. Plus, there’s the issue of disposing of your existing machine responsibly, and hoping the components get recycled properly.
Obviously, a time will come when I need to buy a new laptop. Whether that’s because my current machine has aged beyond its usefulness, or if I manage to damage something more important than aesthetics.
But that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be happening anytime soon. Or at least, I hope not, because I have much more important things I need to spend my money on at the moment. Like actual windows, because mine are long overdue an upgrade.
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