Here’s how to keep them working

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Every smartphone has an expiration date. There comes that day when software updates stop arriving and you start missing out on new apps and security protections. With most phones, this happened after just three years.

But things are finally starting to change. The new number is seven.

I first noticed this change when I reviewed Google’s $700 Pixel 8 smartphone in October. Google told me that it was committed to providing software updates for the phone for seven years, compared to the previous three years for the Pixels, because it was the right thing to do.

I was skeptical that this could become a trend. But this year Samsung, the most profitable Android phone maker, has set a similar software timeline for its $800 Galaxy S24 smartphone. Then Google said it would do the same for its $500 Pixel 8A, the budget version of the Pixel 8, which arrived in stores this week.

Both companies said they have expanded software support to make their phones last longer. This is a change from the way companies used to talk about phones. Not long ago, tech giants introduced new devices that encouraged people to upgrade them every couple of years. But in recent years, smartphone sales have slowed around the world as their improvements have become more marginal. Nowadays, people want their phones to last.

Samsung and Google, the two most influential makers of Android devices, are trying to catch up with Apple, which has traditionally provided software updates for iPhones for about seven years. These moves will make phones last much longer and give people more flexibility in deciding when it’s time to upgrade.

Google said in a statement that it expanded its software commitment to the Pixel 8A because it wanted customers to feel confident in Pixel phones. And Samsung said it will now provide seven years of software updates, which will increase security and reliability, for all of its Galaxy flagship phones.

Here’s what to know about why this happens and what you can do to make your phone last longer.

In the past, Android phone makers claimed that the technical process for providing software updates was very complicated, so in order to remain profitable, they dropped support after a few years. But tech companies are now under strong external pressure to invest in making their devices last longer.

In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it would step up enforcement against tech companies that made it difficult to repair and maintain their products. This accelerated the “right to repair” movement, a legislative proposal that required companies to provide parts, tools and software to extend the life of their products. In recent years, states including California, New York, Minnesota and Oregon have passed such legislation.

Google announced its new commitment to smartphones after facing pressure to make a similar move for its laptops. In September, the company agreed to extend software support for its Chromebooks to 10 years, up from eight years earlier, in response to a grassroots campaign highlighting how short-lived Google laptops were causing budget constraints in schools.

Nathan Proctor, director of the U.S. PIRG, a nonprofit funded largely by small donors that spearheaded the Chromebook campaign, said the new standard of seven years of support for smartphones would have a profound effect.

“It’s a big win for the environment,” he said. “I want to see more.”

Software updates are a big part of what makes a phone work well, but there are other steps to extending the life of smartphones, similar to maintaining a car. They include:

Lithium-ion batteries in phones have a limited life. After about two years the amount of charge they can hold decreases and it is advisable to replace the battery.

Replacing a smartphone battery isn’t easy, so it’s best to get help from a professional. To find repair shops that service Pixel and Galaxy phones, you can contact Google and Samsung on their websites. You could also look for a reputable store nearby with a review site like Yelp or Google Reviews. Replacing a battery typically costs around $100.

For iPhones, customers can schedule a battery replacement appointment at an Apple store via the company’s website. But in my experience, Apple Store repair centers are a gamble.

I recently booked an appointment to replace my iPhone 14 battery at the Apple Store in Emeryville, California. When I arrived, the employee said the battery was dead and that the nearest store that carried it was a 40-minute drive away.

This was frustratingly inefficient: Apple’s site shouldn’t have let me book an appointment at a store that didn’t have the battery. Apple said in a statement that when a part needed for repair was unavailable, a retail store employee would find the nearest store to complete the repair or order the replacement part and perform the repair when the part arrived.

Instead, I booked an appointment at a local repair shop.

Smartphones are still largely made of glass, so to make a phone last seven years, it’s wise to invest in a high-quality case. A screen protector is additional protection, although many won’t like the way it distorts the image quality of the screen. Our product review sister site, Wirecutter, recommends cases from brands like Smartish, Spigen, and Mujjo, or cases from the phone makers themselves.

Unless you are very accident prone, I advise against purchasing extended warranties because their costs can exceed the cost of a repair.

Smartphones have very few moving parts, so there is little that needs to be done to physically maintain them. But most of us neglect cleaning the parts we rarely look at: charging ports and speaker holes.

Over time, these holes become clogged with dirt, lint, and makeup. Accumulated debris can cause your phone to take longer to charge or a phone call to be harder to hear.

“It’s cell phone belly button lint,” said Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, a site that posts instructions and sells parts for repairing electronic devices.

Fortunately, he added, a sophisticated tool isn’t necessary. Just use a toothpick to remove the gunk.

I always recommend buying a product based on the here and now: what it can do for you today, as opposed to what companies say it will do in the future. You should continue to buy a phone based on this principle.

Many people will choose to upgrade first for other reasons, such as getting a new feature like a better camera or a longer-lasting battery.

But those who simply want to buy a phone that will last as long as possible should choose one that is cheap to repair if it breaks. Wiens said Google’s Pixel phones, whose components are affordable, meet this criterion. Owners of these phones will now have more durable software to keep up with the hardware.

The post Here’s How to Keep Them Working appeared first on Generic English.

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