Beginner’s guide to Android updates and why they’re crucial

With so much debate going on about the number of years of updates Android phones have been providing compared to the iPhone, and OEMs trying to improve each other on this front, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. You might also be wondering why the software on your device needs to be adjusted at all when everything is already running perfectly.

Aside from all these user-friendly UI changes, updates also introduce many under-the-hood tweaks. These include performance improvements and, more importantly, security and privacy updates. Let’s start by taking a look at the things you’re missing out on if you stick to an older version of Android or if your phone is reaching the end of its software support life.

Why should you update your Android phone?

Security and privacy improvements

One of the most common ways for malicious apps to gain access to your private data is through permissions, which ironically are mostly granted by the users themselves. Up until Android 10, apps were given lifetime access to things like the microphone or internal storage, upon user consent.

Android 11 changed this by introducing a “This time only” permission in the permissions dialog. If the user selects this option, the app is granted a temporary one-time permission. Android 12 further enforced privacy by introducing special privacy indicators when an app accesses your microphone and camera. Then Android 13 enhanced this with built-in controls to prevent apps from using Wi-Fi permissions to collect your location data.

Android 12 privacy indicators Privacy indicators on Android 12

You can see what we’re getting at here. The older your Android version is, the more important security features you miss. But it doesn’t end there. The Android system is not infallible, just like any other operating system, and attackers often find new vulnerabilities to exploit by patching older ones. It’s really a game of cat and mouse, with Google patching exploitable vulnerabilities, bad guys finding their way around, and Google fixing things again. These patches are rolled out via monthly security updates, making such updates as important as full Android version upgrades.

performance gains

Android 12 saw some of the platform’s most notable performance improvements in a long time, with Google claiming it “reduced CPU time spent on core system services by 22%.” As a result, apps launch faster and the system runs smoother. Apparently, some versions of Android bring a more significant increase in performance than others. But you can rest assured that regression rarely occurs – unless of course when the OEM messes things up on their end, which unfortunately is often seen with budget phones. However, the advantages usually outweigh the disadvantages.

User interface adjustments

While “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is mostly a well-founded adage, many Android users will actually disagree when it comes to the operating system. Google likes to make frequent changes to the Android interface, and they’re great at bringing a sense of newness when things are outdated. For example, Android 12’s brand new Material You theme, which switches system and app colors based on the current wallpaper, was quite well received by users.

Android13_MaterialYou_1 Android 12/13 extracts colors from the background image and presents them to the user for application (Image credit: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

How to update your Android phone

If your current Android phone was released in the last two to three years, there’s a good chance it’s within its software support lifetime. Gone are the days when Android phones were spoiled with a few updates at best – OEMs like Samsung are now joining Apple in promising up to 5 years of security updates and 4 Android system updates. Even if you think your phone has reached the end of the road, there’s no harm in checking it out. Just make sure your phone is connected to WiFi and has enough battery before attempting the update.

How to update your Samsung phone

Samsung devices are often seen as the kings of Android updates, often beating Google by their own means. Samsung devices have different update methods depending on the model and One UI version:

Settings > Software update > Download and install

Settings > About device > Software update > Update now

Settings > About device > Software update > Download and install

Settings > Software update > Download updates manually

Usually you get notifications when a new update is available (be it any device), but you can manually check if you suspect your phone isn’t on the latest version.

How to update your Xiaomi phone

Xiaomi has started promising up to 3 years of Android updates and 4 years of security updates for some of its newer phones. You can check for the latest available MIUI version by navigating to:

Settings > About phone > MIUI version > Check for updates

Xiaomi Miui 13 update screenshot Xiaomi has yet to announce its MIUI skin based on Android 13

Xiaomi also offers the option to download and install updates automatically. On the update page that just opened, tap the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner, click Settings, and enable the “Download automatically” and “Install automatically” options.

How to update your OnePlus phone

OnePlus is currently rolling out the slightly controversial OxygenOS 13 for eligible devices. You can check for the latest software version by going to:

Settings > System > System updates

How to update your Oppo and Vivo phones

To check if a ColorOS/FuntouchOS system update is available for your device, go to:

Settings > Software update

Vivo Funtouchos update

How to update your Realme phone

On Realme UI 3.0 you need to go Settings > About deviceand then click Current.

On Realme UI 1.0 and 2.0 you need to go Settings > Software update.

How to update your Motorola phone

Open the Settings app, scroll all the way down, tap System Updates, then tap Check for Updates.

Motorola also offers users the ability to sit back and relax and let the device update itself. To do this, go to Settings, scroll down, tap on “System updates” and toggle on “Smart updates”.