Android phone updates aren't the source of anxiety they used to be

Galaxy S20 FE
Galaxy S20 FE (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

We talk a lot about the best Android phones here and a lot goes into those evaluations. From displays to battery life to cameras, smartphones are complex devices that are more than just their specs on paper. One factor that is talked about in more hardcore portions of the fanbase is updates, i.e. how long will a phone be supported.

In years past, update anxiety for Android phones was a real thing. Flagship-tier devices were often supported well enough, but mid-range and budget options could be left by the wayside shortly after release. Some might get updates and security patches months later, which I guess is better than nothing.

The point being, it was a crapshoot whether your phone from these manufacturers would receive updates to last you the life of the phone. It always sucked when your phone hit end-of-life before your carrier contract was up (which is how I got into rooting and ROMing).

Google Pixel 5

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Google was usually the best of the bunch with its Nexus and later Pixel families. OnePlus followed up eventually, getting better about longer and more timely support (and kicking off the Open Beta program). Internationally, Xiaomi has also usually handled updates well, too. But then you had the problem children, like Huawei, LG, and Samsung. None are as bad in 2020 as they were in the past, but that feeling of distrust is hard to shake off.

The good news is that things are improving. We're seeing more and more Android phones supported longer, with Google still leading the charge. Samsung has committed to three years of OS updates for some of its devices, which is crazy. It's almost like Android update anxiety may finally be going by the wayside, at least for flagship-tier phones.

The good news is that things are improving. Android update anxiety may, almost, go away soon.

Earlier, I mentioned that you typically only hear discussions about Android updates in the more avid fanbase, or from us who live and breathe this stuff for a living. Phones have received either praise or warnings in their reviews for the possibility of long-term support before. I reviewed several phones a while back where I cautioned people against purchasing them simply because I couldn't guarantee the device would see new updates and, arguably more importantly, security patches. I couldn't in good conscience recommend a phone if the company behind it wouldn't commit to supporting it.

This is a conversation we've had since the early days back when having the latest version of Android meant more than it does now. I think there's less emphasis nowadays on having, say, Android 11 when Google updates so many pieces separately through Play Services. One could argue that, assuming security patches are put out regularly, the version of your phone's operating system is less important now than in the old days.

OnePlus 8 Pro

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Of course, we can't talk about updates without mentioning the elephant in the room. Apple is king about supporting its devices, even ones as old as the iPhone 6S. Honestly, that's one of my biggest jealousy points when I look at Apple's phones. Your iPhone is more likely to go longer than your Android device, even a Pixel (RIP Pixel 2).

Despite its faults, and we could discuss them all day, Apple crushes any Android manufacturer when it comes to updates. I recently picked up an iPhone 8 with a bad battery. Got it fixed for some cash at my nearby Apple Store and I had what felt like a brand new phone, especially with a fresh installation of iOS 14 on it. This device has a few years left on it and while I have my gripes with iOS itself, I think I can almost live with them. It's just weird to think it'll be supported probably as long as my Pixel 4 XL with OS updates, if not longer.

This isn't, however, me griping about the problems you'll often find on Android devices. Hell, I use Pixels and they're no strangers to poor decisions and weird bugs.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

So why does this matter? I've made it clear this is something we Android nerds think about, and it is something we discuss. Most people care about their phones working right and even I, a long-time Android fan and writer about the topic, have to agree with them. Even if the regular consumer doesn't care about having the latest software, manufacturers making sure that they do with regular security patches and annual OS updates is quite admirable.

It gladdens my jaded heart to see that the pessimistic, younger me was wrong about Android updates never improving for the masses, like I was about so many things. I suppose that's the beauty of getting older, you can look back at just how wrong and stupid you were. I digress.

Younger me was wrong about Android updates not improving. I'm glad.

I used to loathe Samsung and TouchWiz and I don't think I was alone in that. But with how far the company has come, both in terms of software support and software quality, I think I might give them a running shot at my providing my next phone when it's time to upgrade. Once again, I digress.

Android software updates are still kind of a nerdy thing to talk about, but I think it's always been an important discussion even if we can't get excited about the nickname of the next version anymore. Family and friends have long sought my advice on which phones to buy, given my passion and knowledge about the Android ecosystem, and I've always stressed the importance of updates — not just for features, mind, but also for security's sake — and recommended phones that met that criterion. I'm sure many of you reading this can relate.

So keep on fighting the good fight. Keep your loved ones and friends at least vaguely interested in updates to their phones, even if you're just telling them about some cool new feature(s) that they can try out. Android update anxiety may never go away, but at least it's better now than it's ever been.

Jordan Palmer
  • It never was an anxiety. Buy phone, use phone. You realise Apple aren't as good with Mac updates? Only supporting the most recent 3 versions and cutting Macs off much sooner than Windows does right? Cutting off thousands of perfectly good 32-bit apps in the name of progress. Apple get all the attention for IOS updates, whilst Microsoft quietly beats them.
  • I’m not sure you’re right about Mac’s my 5 year old iMac just received the latest OS update. Perhaps it’s the last it’ll get but it’s gotten more updates than any Android phone would. I may go back to Windows next time but I’ll cross that road at a later date.
  • Understandable for those of us who have been around with Android for many years. Many cases we learned the Android update we kept begging for was released too early and screwed up the phone. In many cases, the Android updates did nothing that we would use or care about. Therefore, we sat back and figured when it happens it happens and hopefully it happens for the best. As for the UI on particular phones, thanks to their manufacturer's idea of what is good for you, I hated most especially LG and Samsung, could have lived with Motorola, but went to Google Pixel to never go back (as long as they keep supplying phones).
  • I really don't care about updates much at all. My G8 ThinQ updated to Android 10 and now Im content for it to stay there forever. Security patches are maybe a necessary evil but getting them twice per year would be good enough. It makes me angry when any update requires wifi to download. I don't have home wifi and in the days of Corona I don't want to go hang out at the Speedy Wash to use their free wifi. Maybe when I get my vaccination but not now.
  • My phone is too old to be updated, well normally, but i did have an update for something called Huawei assistant a few weeks ago, something that I do not use.
    i like it being too old to be updated,
  • Don't care about updates.
  • There are Android updates, security updates and bug fixes. Pixels are mostly bug fixes.
  • I feel that getting a new version of Android from Google every year is BAD for Android as a whole. I am using my 3rd OnePlus phone - the 8T - which was released with version 11. Many are having issues with bugs and I am convinced that it is due to Android 11 being new and buggy as usual. My OnePlus 6 and 7-Pro were basically bug free because the version of Android they came with was more mature when they were released. Security patches to me are silly unless you are accessing shady web sites. Android version UPDATES usually cause more harm than good. The only thing I look forward to is bug/fix updates.
  • will someone please remind me how many different apple phone models made in the past 6 years. Now tell me how many different android models made during the same period? If you think about it, most likely, there are more andriod phones released yearly than apple has in the past 10 years combined. So of course, it would be easier for apple phones to get updates than android. Absolutely no way to create an android update that will work with all of those phones. Too many different hardware combinations and yes, bloatware requirements. Every android company that produces phones have different android requirements. The real question is, other than security updates, are updates really needed? Also, do the average user care about updates.
  • The only ones with update anxiety is AC. You push the need for updates down your readers throats in order to tell them that their perfectly working phone is no good, that they must buy another. It's gotten so your articles mention updates as if it was a feature, like a new cam or iris reader. I understand the need for security updates etc etc. Most updates people don't even realize they have it, unless it's a complete os upgrade and even so what they first notice are icon changes and colors. Any way take it easy with your anxiety, get some help.
  • Hey AC, there is no need to compare Android to Apple. That is why all the comments on this article are so hostile. Android updates are a legitimate topic, but with billions of users, Android can actually be discussed without mentioning the IPhone or IOS. Besides that, the comparison is useless. Guess what? Android has the exact same tight hardware and software integration that Apple has. Where updates come as scheduled and all supported devices are updated at the same time. It’s called the pixel line of phones. After that, all the other makers then release their updates. Everyone knows this. Now, there still is anxiety for many people. That problem could easily be addressed if the OEM’s would simply commit to a date and hold to that commitment. No one would care if Samsung released their stable version of Android 11 6 months after it was released if they would give a firm date as to when they will release the update. Not by country, or carrier. By model. All Galaxy S20’s will be updated on 12/15/20 or whatever it is. S10’s will by updated on 1/15/21 and so on. That would remove all guesswork and allow people who care about this stuff to know exactly when their phone will be updated.