MAY 22, 2024 /

Phone updates: When should you upgrade your software and hardware – and how?

Smartphones need a little refreshing every once in a while. That’s not just a matter of switching them off and then on again in classic tech support fashion – though it’s not the worst concept, really – but making sure that their software is up to date. Over time, it’s also worth considering whether it’s time to bite the bullet and upgrade your hardware in terms of a new phone. Here’s what you should consider in both scenarios.

Software updates: Upgrade when you can

We’re long past the point where a new smartphone OS introduced revolutionary “new” features as part of an upgrade. Typically, they’re mostly performance and security upgrades, with some interface changes often thrown in for good measure.

While for a desktop computer or laptop it’s usually wise to wait a while before upgrading so that bugs can be ironed out, it’s typically a lot safer to run a software upgrade when available on your smartphone. Smartphone operating systems are a lot more locked down than your Windows or Mac computer, and the full releases are typically a lot more stable. You also do tend to see some quick updates if there are identifiable problems after a major upgrade.

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How to know when a software upgrade is available?

For some phones they’ll handle the upgrade for you, often choosing overnight timeframes to do so for minimum disruption, so you may find your phone upgraded with zero input from you. Apple’s usually pretty good at this, for example.

Still, if you’re curious, you can easily check, whether you’ve got an iPhone or Android handset.

Apple iPhone

  • Open Settings
  • Tap on “General”
  • Tap on “Software Update”
  • Your phone will then check if there’s an update and offer to install it if there is.

Android Phone (Samsung, Google, etc)

  • Open Settings
  • Tap on the magnifying glass icon (or type in the search field if there is one) the words “Software update”
  • Software update should come up as one of the search choices.
  • Tap it and your phone should check if there’s an available update

Because Android phone makers can place Software Update in different places, it’s typically easier to search for it in the Settings app than try to describe it across the hundreds of available phones out there.

Upgrading your phone will involve downloading data, so it’s best to do so when you’re on your home or office Wi-Fi rather than using your mobile data to do so. The upgrade process typically takes less than five minutes on most phones, but you won’t be able to use your phone while it’s upgrading.

What if my phone says it’s up to date?

If it’s a newer phone – typically within the last two years or so – then it means you probably are up to date! For reference, right now Android is on version 12, while Apple’s iOS is on version 15.

What if you’re told you’re “up to date” but your version number is lower than those numbers? It means that your phone maker has stopped providing software updates to your handset, most likely due to age, although some budget phone makers are poor at providing anything more than the straight software version the phone originally shipped with.

One important distinction here for Android phones is that there’s actually two different types of updates to think about. Major OS upgrades (Android 11, 12, etc) typically only launch each year, but Google releases monthly security updates just for bugs in the software. It’s not uncommon to have a phone offer security upgrades for longer than it offers full OS upgrades.

Software updates shouldn’t be the only reason to look at upgrading your phone’s hardware – but it’s certainly part of the story, especially if you use your phone for sensitive tasks like online shopping, general banking or similar.

When should I buy a new phone?

There is no hard and fast rule here, and your own financial situation will obviously play a role here. Typically, most Australians tend to keep a phone for around 2-3 years, but it is quite feasible to run a phone for longer than that.

Again, though, if you’re well behind on software, you’re probably also using a phone with battery life that’s a fraction of what it used to be, and probably some wear and tear as well. On the software side, you may find some specific applications (especially those that rely on security, like some banking apps) aren’t available to you through your phone’s app store, because they’re no longer seen as secure device.

The good news here is that you’re no longer stuck with only the premium, $1,000+ models to pick from as the best choices. Smartphones are a really mature technology market and that means that even the mid-range phones are more than enough for everyday consumers.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a really pleasing phone for most people. The flagships are great – the effective supercars of the mobile world – but for between $300-$600 you can score a good phone these days. If you’re coming from a much older handset as well, you’ll get the most out of modern upgrades, with multi-lens cameras the standard rather than the exception, better battery life and of course upgraded software and app support.

If you’re in need of a new phone but stressed about getting it set up correctly, Geeks2U are here to help. We can help get your new phone working as intended, transfer data from your old device to your new device, install and update apps, insure it’s secure and protected from viruses, and more!

Photo of Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more.