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How to update the software on your Android smartphone

Chances are you’re aware of the various sugar-coated alphabetical names given to each new version of Android; Google’s mobile operating system. Each year the company release a major update for Android bringing new features to the platform; the most recent being Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Significant updates are designed to offer additional features, but also to fix existing bugs found on an operating system and to generally improve the user experience.

Android update graphic

Why are Android updates so important?

If there’s an update available for your Android device, it’s worth downloading because it may include new functionality only available once your device is running the latest update.

Android updates are more convoluted than Apple’s, because there are dozens of phones and tablets which run on Google’s mobile OS. In contrast Apple has just a pair of tablets and three phones running iOS to keep updated; Android devices are manufactured by companies all over the globe such as: HTC, Samsung, LG and Motorola.

Not every device can run every version of Android, it depends on factors like price, network, time of release and device type.

What does Android’s name and number system mean?

Each significant iteration of Android released is endowed with a sugary treat-based codename progressing along the alphabet; Android Ice Cream Sandwich was launched in 2011, representing ‘I’ and 2012’s Android Jelly Bean represents ‘J’. These updates also make use of a numerical change.

  • Eclair = 2.1
  • Froyo = 2.2
  • Gingerbread = 2.3
  • Honeycomb = 3.1
  • Ice Cream Sandwich = 4.0
  • Jelly Bean = 4.1

The naming and numerical progression each year refers to the significant improvements added over the previous builds of Android.

Sometimes Google or other product manufacturers release smaller updates which are designed to fix known issues as opposed to adding new functionality. As an example, some Android Gingerbread devices have moved from version 2.3 to 2.3.3 or 2.3.7. 

Which version of Android am I using?

To find out which version of Android your device is currently running, simply head to Settings in your app drawer and scroll down the menu until you find ‘About Phone’ or in some cases ‘About Device’ or ‘About Tablet’ then look for a field marked ‘Android Version’ under which should be a number, anything starting with ‘2.3’ means you currently sport a Gingerbread device, anything starting with ‘4.0’ refers to Ice Cream Sandwich running on your Android device and anything with ‘4.1’ means you’re running the latest available release of Android, Jelly Bean.

Google introduces a new version of it’s operating system on a ‘Nexus’ branded phones or tablets. These devices are first to get future updates. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus was the first device to launch with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and has recently become the first phone to make the jump to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

Based on existing patterns, the Nexus will receive a second major update when the next significant iteration of Android arrives, likely in 2013. Nexus branded devices are some of the only Android phones or handsets to qualify for two significant releases of Android, as opposed to one.

How to do I check for updates?

If you’re sure your device is due an update and you haven’t yet received anything or you simply want to check, the process is simple. Head to Settings in your app drawer and press the ‘About Phone’, ‘About Tablet’ or ‘About Device’ section depending what appears and then press the ‘Check for updates’ option.

If you do find an available update for your device, ensure that you have at least 50% battery life or plug it into the mains. Unless you make use of an unlimited data tariff, download the update over a WiFi network.

Alternatively, if WiFi OTA (over-the-air) updates don’t appear to work or you prefer not to use them, most manufacturers provide computer software (such as Samsung Kies), which can be used for updating via USB. In some specific cases (as with Sony), you have to use software, as there is option to check for updates over the air.

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