Sat. May 18th, 2024

After trailing behind Apple in the software support department since the beginning of smartphones, Samsung and Google finally stepped up—both now promise seven years of Android updates. But what does that mean for you, and is it really as good as it sounds?

It feels great to buy a phone and know it’ll receive software upgrades and new features for years on end. That’s especially important these days, as phones don’t take the same huge leaps year over year, and each new release is more iterative than revolutionary. That said, many of us won’t use the same phone we have today in six–seven years, and software isn’t the only thing owners consider.

The 7-Year Update Promise

Samsung phone with Android 14 logo.
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Getting the latest software update each year is just as exciting as it is important. Once your Android device is too old to receive updates, you’ll need to start thinking about a replacement. It’s a situation many of us have faced, but it’s slowly getting better.

With the new Galaxy S24 launch, Samsung promised seven years of Android OS updates, matching Google’s efforts for the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. Before that announcement, many Samsung devices were only guaranteed three to five years of maintenance updates and even fewer major Android OS upgrades.

It should be noted that the countdown starts on release day, not when you activate the phone. So, If you get a Galaxy S24 series or one of Google’s new phones, it’ll be supported past 2030, and you’ll see Android 21. While that’s impressive, it’s a little too good to be true.

Temper Your Software Expectations

Person using Circle to Search AI feature on the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

While there are tremendous benefits from promising to support phones for that long, which we’ll discuss in a minute, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. You’ll absolutely need to temper your expectations regarding device performance, new features, and, more importantly, battery life.

For starters, while phones don’t see the same technological jumps as in the early days, things are still evolving, and you’ll most likely want a new phone long before your current model stops getting OS updates. Manufacturers themselves will handicap older models; you’ll miss out on new features and likely end up buying a new phone anyway.

A prime example is Samsung’s new suite of Galaxy AI features from the Galaxy S24. Galaxy AI delivers several exciting generative AI tools to our pocket computers, but you’re out of luck if you have the Galaxy S22. It won’t be seeing any of that goodness. Only the Fold/Flip 5 series and last year’s Galaxy S23 will get to enjoy Galaxy AI. Samsung’s Galaxy S22 is still a great phone and will get several more Android upgrades, but it won’t get everything that’s new, and that problem will compound over time.

Apple does the same thing with the latest versions of iOS, and even Google’s new AI tools, like Circle to Search, are only available on new phones. Just because you’re promised all these updates doesn’t mean you’ll get access to new features. It’s lip service, so temper your expectations.

Plus, when things get old, performance starts to suffer. Our vehicles get fewer miles per gallon, laptops slow down, phones lag slightly, and battery life quickly goes downhill. Every time you charge a phone, the battery degrades a little bit, which is why your older phone doesn’t last as long as it did when it was new. And that’s precisely why manufacturers don’t make phones with removable batteries. It’s planned obsolescence because they want to sell more phones, not see owners keep the same device for four–five years. That isn’t good for business. Remember Apple’s batterygate?

Promising seven years of updates is wonderful, but rest assured, manufacturers will limit features, improve the hardware, and come up with exciting new things to convince everyone to upgrade.

Timely Updates Are More Important

Lock screen on the Google Pixel 7a display
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

What’s more important than having a phone that gets software upgrades for nearly a decade? Timely software updates, maintenance releases, and bug fixes.

There’s a reason Google offers multiple Pixel Feature Drop updates throughout the year. It’s a way to improve phones easily, add new features, fix critical bugs or security exploits, and ensure proper performance. Samsung’s also pretty good at releasing monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly bug-fixing updates. On the other hand, we have Motorola, which is arguably one of the worst regarding timely Android updates.

We’ve all seen Google release a new version of Android, like Android 13, and then wait six months to a year before it comes to our phones. That’s a problem, and one I think is more important than offering seven years of OS upgrades.

Now that phones aren’t rapidly evolving each year when a new model arrives, most U.S. users keep a device for around 2.5 years, according to this study. We need faster updates for the first two–four years, not a phone that’ll get a paired-down limited version of Android 21 that’s missing critical features and has terrible battery life after seven years.

I don’t mean to sound negative, but promising to update a phone for seven years isn’t as big a deal as Samsung or Google make it sound. I’m not the only one who feels that way. OnePlus president and COO said something similar, claiming these new update policies miss the point.

Long Support Lifecycles Are Good for Everyone

It’s not all bad news, though. Vowing to keep flagship phones updated to Android’s latest and greatest version for seven years certainly has other benefits.

The second-hand market is absolutely massive, and millions of people everywhere buy lightly used, pre-owned, or refurbished phones. It’s an excellent way to save money, and many parents buy used or pass on older devices to their children. You don’t need to spend $1,300 on the latest iPhone Pro Max or Galaxy S24 Ultra when you can get a comparable model from yesteryear.

In 2026, the Google Pixel 8 will be an excellent option for those looking for a used phone. It’ll still be competent even though it’s three years old, run the latest software, receive critical updates and security patches, plus have a little skin left. Someone could buy it knowing it’ll still get three more years of updates from Google. That’s great!

Another thing to consider is electric waste and the environment. Landfills receive millions of tons of electronics every year, and the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Even though you can recycle old phones or gadgets, having products with longer lifecycles is good for everyone. It’s great for current owners, potential second-hand buyers, and the planet.

Google and Samsung are finally starting to support their devices for longer periods, and competition means others will likely follow. That’s great and a win for consumers everywhere, but just know that it’s not as amazing as it sounds.

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By John P.

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