For the longest time, it was standard practice to buy a new phone every two years. Some companies even tried to make swapping out your phone once a year the norm. However, the phones of today don’t slow to a crawl after one or two years like they used to. Hardware has progressed to a point where a device can continue to function well for a long time — assuming as the company that makes it continues to support it with software updates. Assuming.
Consider Google’d decision to retire the Pixel 3a and 3a XL three years after their release. While these are midrange phones, they’re still capable devices, and many who enjoy using them likely wouldn’t feel the need to upgrade if Google would just keep issuing software updates. Alas.
If you want to feel like the tech you buy is made to last, choose a manufacturer that puts less of an emphasis on planned obsolescence. You do have some options, albeit not as many as you’d think.
For robust, long-lasting smartphone support, you can’t beat Apple
If you’re looking for a smartphone that will be supported for as long as possible, you have no choice but to go with Apple. The Android versus iPhone debate will likely rage on forever, but there’s no getting around the fact the iPhone is the undisputed champion when it comes to providing updates for comparatively ancient devices.
Unlike many Android phone makers, Apple doesn’t give an explicit timeline for software support for its products (whether iPhone, iPad, or Mac). But the company’s track record in this regard is fantastic. Apple’s current mobile operating system, iOS 15, supports a wide variety of iPhones, the oldest being the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, which came out way back in 2015 — nearly seven years ago. While rumours suggest the company will drop those phones with iOS 16, seven years of updates is untouchable in this industry.
That’s update support, too, by the way. Apple continues offering security patches for years after its iPhones stop receiving major iOS updates, while most companies only commit to one additional year. Right now, the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus still get security updates for iOS 12. While you can’t take advantage of the features included in iOS 13–15 with those phones, at least you know you can use them without worrying about your data security.
Samsung supports its phones longer than any other Android OEM
On the Android side, you’re not going to find a longer reign than Samsung. With the S22 lineup, the company announced it would be offering four years of software support, plus an additional year of security updates after that. It’s not just the S22 that benefits, however. Here’s the full list of Samsung phones that will receive five total years of support from their initial release date:
- Samsung Galaxy S22
- Samsung Galaxy S22+
- Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
- Samsung Galaxy S21
- Samsung Galaxy S21+
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
- Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
- Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
- Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
Unfortunately, Samsung is the only Android maker offering four years of software support. Other companies, well…
The “you’re lucky we offer software updates at all” alternatives
From here, we enter the “three-year club.” OnePlus last year announced its devices will received a guaranteed three years of support, in line with Nokia, Samsung’s old policy, and, unfortunately, Google’s current approach.
You might think Google would pull an Apple here: the company not only makes the Android OS itself, but also the Pixel line of devices, and its Pixel 6 and 6 Pro use Google-made processors rather than Qualcomm chips. Google has every opportunity, with its latest phones, to extend support for its customers beyond the three-year horizon, and yet it hasn’t done so, even for these expensive devices.
It’s true that three years of support is an improvement from how things used to be, or in some cases, how things are. Take Sony: Its Xperia 1 III smartphone, which retails for $US1,300 ($1,805), only gets two years of software support. Sony tends to be way behind in the U.S. smartphone marketplace, but that’s no excuse. If you price a phone this high, it shouldn’t be totally obsolete two years later. (The Xperia 1 III came out last year, so you have until 2023 before software updates go belly up.)
Before you buy a new phone, check out the roadmap for software support
I’m a big believer in holding onto your tech as long as possible, especially now: Modern phones are tiny computers capable of handling whatever you throw at them for years and years. If you care about the longevity of your devices, and want to avoid surprise software shut-offs, research the phone and the manufacturer before you buy.
Not all companies announce their intentions from the start, but many do. Before you drop $833, $1,111, $1,388 or more on a new phone, look into how many years you can expect it to receive updates. Apple’s iPhones are expensive, sure, but you can buy one today and know with a good level of certainty you can keep updating until 2029. Or you could spend $US1,300 ($1,805) every two years on a Sony equivalent. I know which I’d pick.