To get the best performance and features from your Android smartphone or tablet you should make sure you're always running the very latest software available for it, not just in terms of apps but also the Android operating system. Here's how to update Android on your smartphone or tablet. For more Android tips and tricks see Android Advisor.
Android has been heavily criticised for its OS fragmentation - as of 7 July 2014, 13.5 percent of devices were still running Android 2.3.3-2.3.7 Gingerbread, 11.4 percent were still running 4.0.4-4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, and 56.5 percent were running 4.1-4.3 Jelly Bean. Given that we (or, at least, 17.9 percent of the Android-owning population) are now running Android 4.4 KitKat, with Android L expected this autumn, you can see why people might complain. Also see: 37 best smartphones 2014
It's not just about device stability and speed, either. New operating system updates bring new features, such as Jelly Bean's multiple user accounts and KitKat's improved Google Now and smarter Caller ID. Android L, when it launches in the next few months, will bring a new Material Design, enhanced notifications, as well as a huge improvement to battery life. Check out our Android KitKat vs Android L comparison review.
Upgrades for Android devices are generally available over-the-air (OTA), which avoids the need for cables and a desktop PC. They are also rolled out gradually and will depend on the manufacturer and mobile operator. Also see: 26 best tablets 2014
That last bit's important: it's up to your phone- or tablet maker whether it wants to release new operating system updates for your model, and it is under no obligation to do so. If you have a high-end, flagship phone such as the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 or LG G3, you can reasonably expect that your manufacturer will provide at least one operating system update. If you have a cheap or mid-range phone or tablet, you may find that what you've got is what you're stuck with - particularly if it's from a relatively unknown brand. Also see: 14 best budget smartphones 2014
There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, with Google's Nexus and forthcoming Android One (and potentially Android Silver) devices guaranteed to always get the latest Android updates. We explain what is Google Nexus, Android One and Android Silver and explain the difference between Google's three product line-ups here.
If an update is available for your phone or tablet, in general you'll receive a notification telling you as much. However, you can also manually check and upgrade your device.
The interface and process may vary between devices, but here's a one-size-fits-all guide to upgrading an Android smartphone or tablet.
How to check whether your Android device is up to date
Before you go trying to update your device, you should check which version of Android you are running. You might already be on the latest version. It's easy to check so follow the below guide up to step four. This screen will have a section called 'Android version'. If it doesn't, click 'Software information' to find out.
The latest version is Android 4.4 KitKat, with 4.3, 4.2 and 4.1 all coming under the name Jelly Bean.
How to update your Android smartphone or tablet
As a precautionary measure it's good practice to back up your data such as contacts and photos. The upgrade should not affect your data but there is no guarantee.
Navigate to the Setting menu of your device. On most Android devices this can be done via the app menu or notification bar. Typically the Setting app will have a cog or spanner logo.
Scroll down the Settings menu and click on 'About Phone' or 'About Tablet'. If you have a tabbed settings menu then this will appear in the 'general' section.
The menu can vary slightly from device to device but click the 'Software Update' or similar button. This section of the menu will also detail which version of Android your device is running.
Your phone or tablet will now search for an available update. If you are taken to another menu, select the 'Software update check' button or similar.
If an update is available your device then you will be asked whether you wish to install it. If you select yes then the system will download and install the new software and reboot.
Note: You device may require a Wi-Fi connection to search for an update. We also recommend downloading the software over Wi-Fi because the file size can be large.
If your device is a Nexus 4, Nexus 5 or Nexus 7, you don't need to wait for an Android update to become available. Follow our advice on how to install Android L now.