It’s a sad fact that the longer you hang onto your smartphone, the slower and buggier it’s going to get—and you can hardly open it up, desktop computer-style, to fit a faster processor or an extra memory module.
However, there are some very affordable and very effective upgrades you can treat your old phone to to help it keep pace with the younger, flashier models on the market—read on to find out how to extend battery life, add waterproofing, give yourself some extra storage space, boost the camera capabilities and more.
1. Battery case
Few commodities are as precious in the modern age as smartphone battery life, and if you’ve owned your phone for a while then chances are you’re looking at diminishing returns as far as time between charges is concerned.
With the help of a well-chosen battery case, you can eke out battery life that’s as good or even better than it was when your phone was brand new. Whatever type of phone you’ve got, you should be able to find a case to match, and a lot of the time it won’t cost you much at all: The Mophie Juice Pack for iPhone 6 Plus and 6S Plus is $49.99, while the Trianium Atomic Pro Charging Battery Pack for the Samsung S7 costs $45.99.
If you want to really push the boundaries with your smartphone upgrade then you could go for a case that enables wireless charging as well as supplying some extra juice, or you might prefer a portable battery pack to a case. Again, you’ve got lots of options for all makes and models if you shop around.
2. Waterproof case
Even if the manufacturer of your phone hasn’t seen fit to make it waterproof, you can usually take matters into your own hands by upgrading to a waterproof case—they’re available for most makes and models, and will often add extras like dustproofing and shockproofing too.
The best cases are going to depend on the phone you’re shopping for, but something like the Merit Waterproof Case ($16) will protect your iPhone SE against liquids, snow, drops from a great height, and dirt as well.
If you’re in the Android camp then there’s plenty of choice too—just make sure your phone isn’t already waterproof, obviously, in which case it’s a bit of a wash. Google didn’t make last year’s Pixel smartphone waterproof, but the Lifeproof Fre Series Waterproof Case will do the job that Google’s engineers couldn’t for a little over $50.
Make sure you buy a case that fits with your handset, read up on the reviews online, and you can’t go far wrong—and you don’t have to worry so much about taking your phone into the shower with you.
3. MicroSD card
It always feels like smartphone space is at a premium, no matter how much on-board storage a phone has or how diligently we delete photos we no longer need. One quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive way of adding some extra room is by fitting a microSD card.
This only applies to Android phones, because iPhones don’t have memory card slots, and not all Android handsets offer expandable storage. If yours does, though, then you can create some more space for your photos, videos, apps and music playlists. Cards in a variety of sizes are available—128GB of storage can be yours for under $45 for example—but double-check the maximum card size your phone can take (last year’s Samsung Galaxy S7can accept cards up to 200GB in size).
If you’re using an iPhone then all is not lost if you want to boost the storage space that’s available. You could either pay up for some extra iCloud storage (from $1 a month) on the web or invest in a device like the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive ($120), which moves photos and videos off your iOS device and onto a flash drive.
4. Clip-on lenses
Maybe the camera that came with your smartphone isn’t up to flagship standard, but you can improve its capabilities and add a few extra features at the same time with the addition of a clip-on lens or two.
The Amir 3-in-1 collection ($26) fits most smartphones, including recent iPhones, and gives you a fisheye lens, a macro lens, and a super wide angle lens to help you create some out-of-the-ordinary shots with whatever phone you’ve got. You simply clip the lenses on and off your phone as needed, and they don’t need any extra powering.
The Olloclip ($80) is aimed specifically at iPhone owners and gives you four different lenses: fisheye, wide angle, and two macro lenses (10x and 15x). Again, the lenses are simple to clip on and should give your next series of Instagram shots an extra edge.
Another upgrade that should ensure better smartphone photos is a tripod: Something like the Olloclip Pivot ($50) or the KobraTech Mini Phone Tripod Stand ($35), for example.
5. Better headphones
Your phone might be old and bruised and battered, but you can do your tunes justice with a serious headphones upgrade (assuming your handset can still act as a jukebox of course). You’ve got a host of options to pick from to cover all levels of budget, and a choice of form factors too—from earbuds to full-sized on-ear headphones.
You’ve also got the option of Bluetooth as well, if you don’t want the inconvenience of wires dangling everywhere and getting yanked out of their sockets every time you turn your head. Almost all headphones will work with almost all handsets, though watch out for the newer iPhones (which use Lightning ports) and some newer Android phones (which use USB-C in place of a 3.5mm audio jack).