Investing in laptops, tablets, and smartphones is a necessary evil, so it's frustrating when pricey technology needs an upgrade every couple years -- which is about how long most Americans keep their smartphones, according to a Gallup survey. But it doesn't have to be that way. There are simple ways to make the old ones last a bit longer, even without opting for an expensive extended warranty, and relieving some pressure on the pocketbook.
Batteries degrade over time, but there are ways to extend their long-term use. Few devices use older nickel-based batteries, which were fine running down to zero charge completely; for newer devices using lithium-ion batteries, don't worry the details too much -- but avoid a full zero to 100 percent charge, which can shorten their lifespan, Popular Mechanics says.
By now, most tech users have amassed a collection of chargers, old and new. But just because a charger seems to fit a device doesn't mean the voltage and amperage are correct. A device could get fried if they're wrong, and it's also best to stay away from potentially underpowered knockoffs and stick to authorized gear, Lifehacker says.
Most technology is engineered for use at "normal" temperatures -- such as between 32 and 95 degrees for Apple iPhones or iPads. The International Business Times lists a number of ways cold weather can wreak havoc on technology: premature battery drain, slow or shattered touchscreens, and even a buildup of damaging liquid condensation.
Yep, very hot conditions can be just as bad, with hard drives on older computers especially vulnerable to failure from high temperatures. The Guardian warns of the potential for slow processors and cracked screens on smartphones. And extremely high temperatures can permanently damage battery capacity across the board, whether for a phone, tablet, laptop, or even smartwatch, Apple warns.
While some phones such as the iPhone 7 are finally becoming more water-resistant, water or other liquids remain a no-go for most gadgets, especially laptops. Use lids and keep beverages at a safe distance from computers. At least consider trying a keyboard cover that can prevent liquid or crumbs from infiltrating.
It's easy to ignore software updates for devices. But as Techlicious notes, it's important to make the time. Updates are how developers fix bugs, and more importantly, combat critical security vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit, potentially stealing data or slowing down a machine with malware.
One good drop can kill a phone, tablet, or laptop. Smartphones are particularly vulnerable, since they go everywhere with us. Popular brands with cases drop-tested by Digital Trends. include OtterBox, Tech21, Lifeproof, and Speck. Computers that stay put may not need a special case, but a basic neoprene laptop sleeve is recommended for anyone toting a laptop in a purse, backpack, or other bag that lacks padding.
It might seem like a good idea to give gadgets frequent rests, but that's not always the case. Steven Leslie of the Geek Squad tells Digital Trends that leaving a laptop on is less stressful to the system than turning it on and off several times a day. As for smartphones, feel free to leave 'em on, too -- powering down won't actually preserve the battery.
If your laptop isn't running an antivirus program, it's time to get one. While PCs have been more vulnerable to viruses than Macs, that doesn't mean Mac owners should skip protection completely. There are several free programs that fight malware -- PCWorld several options for PCs, while Tom's Guide has picks for Mac owners.
If a computer is taking forever to do things it used to do with blazing speed, it might be because stored data has gotten too spread out -- or fragmented -- across the system. Instead of shopping for a new, faster computer, defrag a spinning hard drive (there's no need with a solid-state drive) to speed things up if a system doesn't do it automatically. PC Advisor and MacWorld have advice on how.
Better yet, swap out that hard drive for a newer, faster solid state drive. According to CNET, a relatively inexpensive upgrade can help a 5-year-old PC boot up faster than a brand-new model using a regular hard drive. Bonus: Solid state drives run cooler and quieter than hard drives.
Deleting unused apps makes room for what you truly need, and may help speed up a smartphone, according to the tech blog Too Many Adapters. Keep an eye on what programs boot up automatically when starting a computer, too; they can be kicked off the startup menu to speed up the process.
Power surge protectors can protect against file corruption and data drive failure caused by power spikes, at least up to a certain voltage. But beware: Most surge protectors look just like power strips, and basic power strips don't offer real protection.
While most tech lovers won't be squirreling devices away for long, the best practice is to charge (or discharge) a battery to around 50 percent before long-term storage. If there's a removable battery, remove it. And avoid attics or garages that get too hot or cold -- unused technology is still vulnerable to temperature extremes.