If you’ve had it for a few years, you may be able to eke out another year (or two!) with just a few upgrades. For one thing, Apple will continue to support phones as old as the iPhone 6S and the first-generation iPhone SE when it rolls out iOS 15 this fall. (Sorry, iPhone 6 users: You didn’t make the cut.) Analysts don’t expect major improvements to this year’s iPhones, and holding on to an older device could save the environment as well as your money. 

A record 53.6 million tons of electronic waste was generated world-wide in 2019, according to the United Nations University’s Global E-waste Monitor Report. Still, you will need to take some steps to ensure the best performance from your device. Here’s how to spruce up your aging iPhone.

If your phone's battery has significantly degraded, a message will appear on the Battery Health page in Settings notifying you that it's time for a replacement / Apple.
Your iPhone’s battery age affects its system performance, as unrelated as those two things might sound. In 2017, Apple came under fire for slowing speeds on phones with older batteries, but it said it did so to prevent the iPhones from unexpectedly shutting down. When phone batteries are low, old or exposed to cold temperatures, they can struggle with power demands, making sudden shutdowns more likely. So Apple throttles app launch times, frame rates, speaker volume and other features when batteries are weak.

Like all lithium-ion batteries, the iPhone’s battery decays over time. It’s rated to retain up to 80% of its original capacity after 500 complete charge cycles (when your phone’s battery goes from 0% to 100%). Minhthe Nguyen, who owns several uBreakiFix repair stores in the Bay Area, recommends customers replace their phone’s battery if it no longer lasts a full day of standard use, typically after two years.

You can check if Apple is slowing your phone. Go to Settings > Battery > Battery Health to see the battery’s maximum capacity. If you need to replace your battery, a message will appear at the top of the page saying, “Your battery’s health is significantly degraded.”

On older models—iPhone XS or earlier—the Peak Performance Capability section will tell you if the battery is operating normally or applying performance-management software. (You can disable the throttling software but will risk unexpected shutdowns.) Newer models, starting with the iPhone 11, run a newer performance-management system that doesn’t tell you whether the throttling software is being applied, but will say if a battery replacement is recommended.

Out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacements through Apple cost up to $69, depending on your model. Independent shops generally don’t offer much of a discount for battery replacements, so it’s probably worth going through official channels. (Lithium-ion batteries can explode.)

Regardless of whether your phone is throttled, you can also turn off features—such as background app refresh and location services—to boost speeds. Enabling Reduce Motion in Accessibility can help, too.

If your iPhone is almost out of space, delete or move data.

You can manage apps’ data right from this page. For example, tap Photos to review the videos taking up the most space, and swipe to the left on each video to delete. You can do the same with podcasts or streaming apps such as Netflix. You can also offload unused apps—this temporarily uninstalls the app but retains your data.

Photos and videos are major gigabyte hogs. The easiest way to get them off your device is by backing up your media to the cloud, then deleting them off your phone. (You can also keep a backlog of received photos and videos from building up in your Messages app by going to Settings > Messages and limiting your message history to 30 days.)

I compared some of the top photo backup services earlier this year. The iPhone’s built-in solution is iCloud, which offers plans for 50 GB ($12 a year), 200 GB ($36 a year) or 1 terabyte ($120 a year). You don’t have to download a separate app, and turning on one iCloud Photos setting, Optimize iPhone Storage, automatically frees up space. But there are also cheaper services, such as Google Photos, which have sharing features that also work with Android phones.

You could also skip the recurring fee and back up data to a portable drive. I like SanDisk’s iXpand Flash Storage Drive Luxe ($45 to $83 depending on the storage capacity) because it can plug right into my iPhone and is just slightly bigger than a stick of Orbit gum. The drive starts backing up any new photos right when you plug it in, no internet necessary.

If your screen is cracked, weigh your repair options.

IPhone screen-repair costs vary. An official Apple replacement costs $149 for an iPhone 8 and $279 for an iPhone 12. You can get better prices elsewhere, so shop around in your area. At uBreakiFix in San Francisco, you can choose between an Apple-genuine screen or a discounted one. (You’d save $20 on an iPhone 8, and $59 on an iPhone 12.)

Just be sure that any shop you hand over your phone—and your personal data—to is a reputable service provider that uses high-quality parts. Many independent repair shops don’t have access to genuine Apple parts. (As my colleague Joanna Stern explained, a Biden executive order and proposed congressional legislation are intended to change that.)

Generally, screens are worth repairing, because the touch-capacitive performance on the display will likely decrease over time. A cheap repair might also be worth considering if you want to trade in your phone later. An iPhone 8 with a cracked screen is worth up to $30 as a trade-in, while a device with a crack-free screen is worth $120.

If you really do need an upgrade, give the phone a second life.

Maybe you want a better camera to take pictures of your pandemic pup. Or maybe you need much, much better battery life. If that’s the case, then you should upgrade. But what to do with the old phone? You can trade it in for credit. You can hand it down to your kids and even take out the SIM card for them to use with apps over Wi-Fi only—just don’t forget about parental controls

You can turn it into a high-quality webcam with the Reincubate Camo app, which is compatible with any iOS device running iOS 12 and up. You can also use it as a dedicated security-camera monitor. Just don’t turn it into a fancy paperweight or worse, landfill fodder—there are plenty of alternatives.