It’s all very well equipping phones with longer-lasting hardware, but it’s self defeating if the software can’t keep up. Do you agree brands should be doing more?
“What do you mean, I need a new phone? I’ve only had this for four years – it works absolutely fine.”
I hate having this conversation with people, and yet I have it all too often. It’s true that a four-year-old phone does a perfectly fine job: it still makes calls, runs apps, takes photos, plays music, and it seems incredibly wasteful to stop using it and buy a new phone.
The problem is that Android phones in particular are typically only supported for two or three years, which might include two new versions of Android. Usually they get two new versions of Android, plus another year of security updates. Some cheaper phones don’t even get that much. And that’s three years (or two years) from the launch date: if you buy a phone that was launched 18 months ago you’re only going to get at best 18 months before you need to replace it.
Google, which makes the Android operating system, has said it’s trying to guarantee new phones will be compatible with Android updates for at least four years – but in practice this will be slow to roll out, assuming it ever does.
Secure By Design
So I was very glad to hear the news that mobile phones will come into the scope of the Secure By Design rules announced at the end of last month, which will at least make it clear when you’re buying a new phone (or other device) how long you can expect to get security updates for.
However, while that transparency is welcome, it doesn’t solve the problem of the short support life for Android phones and tablets. That’s why we’ve made two decisions here at Which?.
The first is that we are now calling for all phones and tablets to be supported for a minimum of five years. iPhones and iPads do generally get at least five years of support, and we’d like to see Android manufacturers raise their game on this too.
Samsung recently picked up the baton and said it will support most of its Galaxy devices for a minimum of four years from first release. That means its devices launched since 2019 will still be getting updates next year, which is good news.
The other decision we’ve taken at Which? is that we will remove a Best Buy recommendation from any phone that has less than a year left before it stops getting updates, however brilliant it was when it was launched.
When will your phone stop getting updates?
If you’re thinking of buying a phone, one thing you can do is search the model number and its launch date. You should be able to find that quickly. And to help you choose when you’re looking for a new phone, we’ve built a tool that tells you how long a phone has before it’s out of support.
When I first looked at that tool, it was quite an eye-opener: the OnePlus Nord N100, for example, which was only released in October last year, has just 18 months left before it’s out of support. It’s priced around £130, but suddenly that seems rather less of a bargain.
What are the risks of an out-of-support phone?
You’re unlikely to be in any immediate danger, but the risk increases the longer a phone it goes without updates. Those updates patch new security holes in the operating system and apps, and the longer you leave it, the more likely you are to fall victim to malware sneaking on to your phone, which could in turn lead to data loss or identity theft.
Additionally, the longer you use an old phone, the more you’ll find that apps will stop working. Android app developers have to work with a huge range of phones, and it’s unsurprising that they don’t want to carry on supporting apps for devices that are long past their use-by date.
I’m glad that things are starting to improve with Android devices: sometimes I feel as though my gravestone will say “Here lies Kate, who tried to get Android manufacturers to improve their support for their devices.” If we do get to a place where more devices last for longer, it will be better for our pockets, better for the planet and I’ll feel that it was a life well lived.
How long do you keep your phones, and are you concerned about how long they last for? Let us know in the comments.