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 prepare them for any software customisations they have made.
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.
What is the latest version of Android?
The current version of Android is 11, which was released to the public in autumn 2020. Google has ditched the dessert names on its latest software, so just expect a numerical format from now on.
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 10
Update Android early
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.
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 otherwise.
If you're at all unsure about this process, we'd recommend not doing it on your main device.
Manually update once available
Many phones automatically notify you of new updates by default, but will only download them when connected to Wi-Fi and over 50% of battery.
If you'd like to check if there are any updates for yourself, the process is incredibly simple. Head to Settings and choose System. Under the 'Advanced' drop down menu you'll see an option for 'System updates'. Tapping on this will check if there are any updates available, and prompt you to download anything more recent than you have installed.
The above steps will work on a Pixel phone, but it may differ slightly depending on which device you use. For example, on Samsung's One UI there's a 'Software update' option straight from the Settings home screen.
Android Device Fragmentation
According to Android Developers, device fragmentation is still very much a thing in the Android market.
At its last count in April 2020, there were still devices running 2013's Android KitKat. While these older devices won't support the latest version of Android, it's highly like their software can be upgraded to some extent.
Even if you're running software that is no longer supported, missing some features and increasingly buggy, it makes little sense to bin an otherwise working smartphone. This is especially true if you're on a budget, although our chart proves you don't have to spend much these days to get a great Android phone.