Security patches for Android are delivered monthly, while full-blown Android updates are released annually in August. Devices that run stock Android (such as Google Pixel, Motorola and Nokia phones) will typically get these updates first, while others may have a several-month wait for them to arrive. This is because both the phone maker and the network operator must first prep them for any software customisations they have made.

Android updates are usually pushed out over the air, which means you should get a notification when they are available. But if you've missed the notification or haven't had one for a while it's also worth manually checking for updates.

The best way to check whether a software update is available on an Android phone or tablet is to go to Settings > System > System Update, then click 'Check for Update'. If an update is available you'll first be prompted to download it (make sure you're connected to Wi-Fi), and then to install it now, overnight or later. A restart will be required to apply the update.

Manufacturers will typically support high-end Androids for a couple of years after release, but cheaper models may not be supported for this long, if at all. It's for this reason that there is so much fragmentation in the Android market, as we'll outline below.

If you can update your Android phone or tablet then you absolutely should. Keeping Android up to date is critical for ensuring the latest security patches are installed and that you have access to the best new features.

Manually Update Android

If you are running a recent Google Pixel device it is possible to manually flash a newer version of Android to your device before it officially rolls out as an over-the-air (OTA) update to said device. 

You'll need to download the appropriate system image for your phone, then manually flash the image using ADB. You'll find full instructions here.

Do not attempt to flash the system image on an unsupported phone, and remember to back up your data before you begin as you WILL lose it.

What is the latest version of Android?

The current version of Android is 9.0 Pie, which was released to the public in August 2018. We're expecting to see the release of the Android Q Developer Preview any day now, followed by a public beta on 7 May and the final release in August.

Previous versions of Android are as follows:

  • Android Donut (v1.6)
  • Android Eclair (v2.0)
  • Android Froyo (v2.2)
  • Android Gingerbread (v2.3)
  • Android Honeycomb (v3.0)
  • Android Ice Cream Sandwich (v4.0)
  • Android Jelly Bean (v4.1)
  • Android KitKat (v4.4)
  • Android Lollipop (v5.0)
  • Android Marshmallow (v6.0)
  • Android Nougat (v7.0)
  • Android Oreo (v8.0)
  • Android Pie (v9.0)

Android Device Fragmentation

According to Android Developers, device fragmentation is still very much a thing in the Android market.

At its last count in October 2018 there were still devices in the wild running Android Gingerbread. While many people don't know how to check for Android updates, it's more likely that these smartphones cannot be updated to a more recent version of the operating system. 

Despite the fact the software is no longer supported and is old, missing recent features and comparatively buggy, it makes little sense to bin an otherwise working smartphone, especially if you're on a budget.