The Joys of Being a Late Tech Adopter

The Joys of Being a Late Tech Adopter

The best gadget that I bought this year cost less than a week’s worth of groceries. After my smartphone, it’s my most frequently used piece of tech. It was also released four years ago.

Can you guess what it is?

The mystery gizmo is a used Kindle e-book reader from 2015, which I bought on eBay from a repair technician. It lacks frills that some new e-readers have, like waterproofing, but I’m not the type to read in the bathtub. So I decided to be a late adopter, and I couldn’t be happier: The dated Kindle does its job well, and if I ever break or lose it, I’ll be out 50 bucks and not $200.

I’m neither a Luddite nor a cheapskate. But after testing hundreds of tech products — and buying some along the way — over the last dozen years, I’ve come to a conclusion: People will almost always get more joy from technology the longer they wait for it to mature. Cutting-edge gadgets can invoke awe and temptation, but being an early adopter involves risk, and the downsides usually outweigh the benefits.

Keep this in mind when, starting next month, we enter the end-of-the-year tech frenzy. That’s when companies like Apple, Samsung and Google will try to woo us with hot new gadgets, including premium smartphones, tablets and wearable computers.

I’ve gone through a handful of iPhones since. But that experience taught me a valuable lesson about the cost of early adoption. Nowadays, whenever Apple makes major changes to iPhones, I wait at least a year for it to iterate the tech and release the S version. (For example, instead of buying the iPhone 5 in 2012, I waited till 2013 to buy the iPhone 5S, which was faster and more durable.)

Wirecutter took a similarly cautious approach with the iPhone X, Apple’s first radically redesigned smartphone, with a $1,000 price tag. When the device was released in 2017, Wirecutter gave it a positive review but encouraged people not to upgrade because Apple was likely to include the premium features in cheaper models the next year.

“We said everything seems to work well, but we don’t think it’s worth this price now,” Mr. Guy said. “If you like the iPhone X, wait a year or two and see what happens.”

The next year, Apple released the $750 iPhone XR, which was just as capable as (and in some ways better than) the iPhone X.

Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of iFixit, which sells parts and publishes instructions on repairing devices, said people had previously upgraded to new phones every 18 months on average, but could now wait more than three years. That’s because smartphones have reached a point where their improvements aren’t as noticeable year after year.

“We’re in the golden age of smartphones,” he said. “Your smartphone from two years ago still works great and will continue to work for a while.”

My waiting more than a decade to buy a Kindle is an extreme example of late adoption. There are other, newer examples highlighting the advantages to this approach.

My second-best gadget purchase this year was the Apple Watch Series 3. When Apple released that watch in 2017, it cost $330. This year, retailers like Amazon and Best Buy slashed the price to $200. Apple sells the newest version of the watch, Series 4, for $400, and its main improvement is a bigger display — a feature I can live without because I don’t often look at the watch screen.

In other words, by waiting and opting for a previous-generation model, I get to enjoy a fast, long-lasting watch that tracks my workouts and shows my calendar notifications, among other perks, for a steep discount.

The late adopter approach goes beyond tech, Mr. Wiens said. In the automobile industry, carmakers occasionally revamp models with new driving technology and chassis designs. Then they build on that same design for several years.

“With cars you never want to buy the first car of a new generation,” Mr. Wiens said. “When they radically change it, there’s all kinds of issues.”

A case in point: When I shopped for a car in 2013, I bought a used Toyota Prius hybrid from 2011, the year after Toyota released a redesign of the Prius. This generation also came with a price cut, so I got what had previously been a luxury vehicle for a modest price.

The question that I, as a tech reviewer, hear most often from friends and colleagues is whether they should buy the new (insert gadget name here). But using the approach I’ve described, you can develop an intuition for when it’s a smart time to upgrade — and when it’s risky.

Let’s say that in the coming weeks, Apple releases a new entry-level iPhone and Google releases a new Pixel smartphone.

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