Beginner’s Guide to Android Updates and Why They’re Crucial

With many talks about how many years of updates Android phones provide when pitted against the iPhone, and OEMs trying to outdo each other in this regard, you might be wondering what the fuss is about. . You might also think why your device software even needs to be changed when everything is already working perfectly fine.

The thing is, apart from all these user-appealing interface changes, the updates also introduce a lot of optimizations under the hood. These include performance improvements and, more importantly, security and privacy updates. Let’s start by taking a look at the things you miss when you’re sticking to an older version of Android or if your phone is reaching the end of its software support life.

Why 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 users themselves. Until Android 10, apps were granted lifetime access to things like microphone or internal storage after user consent.

Android 11 changed this by introducing a “Only this time” permission in the permissions dialog. If the user selects this option, the app is granted a one-time temporary permission. Android 12 boosted privacy even further by introducing dedicated privacy indicators when an app accesses your mic and camera. Then Android 13 expanded on that with built-in controls to prevent apps from using Wi-Fi permissions to collect your location data.

privacy flags android 12 Privacy Indicators on Android 12

You can see what we’re trying to achieve here. The older your version of Android, the more important security features you miss. But it does not stop there. The Android system isn’t foolproof, like any other operating system, and bad actors often find new vulnerabilities to exploit when old ones are patched. It’s really a game of cat and mouse where Google plugs exploitable vulnerabilities, bad actors get in there, and Google fixes things again. These fixes are rolled out via monthly security updates, making these updates just as important as full Android version upgrades.

Performance improvements

Android 12 has seen some of the platform’s most notable performance improvements in a long time, with Google claiming it “cut CPU time needed for basic system services by 22 percent.” This helps apps launch faster and the system runs smoother. Obviously, some versions of Android provide a bigger performance boost than others. But the one thing you can be sure of is that there’s rarely a regression – unless of course the OEM messes things up on their end, which unfortunately is often seen on budget phones. Still, the pros usually outweigh the cons.

UI adjustments

While “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is generally a well-founded saying, many Android users will actually disagree with it when it comes to the operating system. Google likes to make frequent changes to the Android interface, and they’re great for instilling a sense of novelty when things get stale. For example, Android 12’s brand new Material You design, which changes system and app colors based on the current wallpaper, has been quite well received by users.

Android13_MaterialYou_1 Android 12/13 extracts colors from the wallpaper and presents them to the user to apply (Image credit: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

How to Update Your Android Phone

If your current Android phone was released within the last two or three years, chances are it’s well into its software support lifespan. Gone are the days when Android phones only got a few updates at best – OEMs like Samsung are now approaching Apple by promising up to 5 years of security updates and 4 Android system updates. Still, even if you think your phone has reached the end of the road, there’s no harm in checking. Just make sure your phone is connected to Wi-Fi and has enough battery before updating.

How to Update Your Samsung Phone

Often considered the kings of Android updates and often beating Google at its own game, Samsung devices have different update methods based on the One UI model and 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

Normally you’ll get notifications whenever a new update is available (whether it’s for any device), but you can manually check if you think 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 new phones. You can check the latest available version of MIUI by going 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 automatically download and install updates. On the update page you just opened, tap the three-dot menu in the upper right corner, tap Settings, and enable the “Automatically download” and “Automatically install” options.

How to update your OnePlus phone

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

Settings > System > System Updates

How to update your Oppo and Vivo phone

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

Settings > Software Update

funtouchos vivo update

How to Update Your Realme Phone

On Realme UI 3.0, you need to head to Settings > About Devicethen click “Update”.

On Realme UI 1.0 and 2.0, you need to head to Settings > Software Update.

How to update your Motorola phone

Open the Settings app, scroll down, tap “System updates”, then tap “Check for updates”.

Motorola also gives users the option to sit back and relax and let the device handle updates on its own. To do this, go to Settings, scroll down, tap on “System updates” and toggle on “Smart updates”.