Smartphones Can Now Last 7 Years. Here’s How To Keep Them Working.

Every smartphone has an expiry date. That day comes when the software updates stop coming and you start missing out on new apps and security protections. For most phones, this has only been about three years.

But things are finally starting to change. Seven is the new number.

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

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

Both companies said they extended their software support to make their phones last longer. This is a change from how companies have been talking about phones. Not long ago, tech giants unveiled new devices that encouraged people to upgrade every two years. But in recent years, smartphone sales around the world have slowed as their improvements have improved. Today, people want their phones to last.

Samsung and Google, the two most influential Android device makers, are playing catch-up with Apple, which has traditionally provided software updates for iPhones for about seven years. These measures 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 extended its software commitment to the Pixel 8A because it wanted customers to feel confident in Pixel phones. And Samsung said it would deliver seven years of software updates, which increase security and reliability, to all its flagship Galaxy phones from now on.

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

Why is this happening?

In the past, Android phone makers said the technical process of providing software updates was complicated, so to stay profitable, they dropped support after a few years. But technology companies are now under intense external pressure to invest in making their devices last longer.

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

Google announced its new commitment to smartphones after being pressured to make a similar move for its laptops.

In September, the company agreed to extend software support for its Chromebook to 10 years, up from eight years, in response to a grassroots campaign that highlighted how short-lived Google laptops were causing budget crunches in schools.

Nathan Proctor, director at US PIRG, a non-profit funded largely by small donors that led the Chromebook campaign, said the new seven-year support standard for smartphones would have a profound effect.

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

What else do I need to do?

Software updates are one big part of keeping a phone working well, but there are other steps to extending the life of a smartphone, like maintaining a car. They include:

Replace the phone battery every two years

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

Replacing a smartphone battery is not easy, so it is 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 search for a reputable store nearby with a review site such as Yelp or Google Reviews. It usually costs about $100 to replace a battery.

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

I recently booked an appointment to have my iPhone 14 battery replaced at the Apple Store in Emeryville, California. When I arrived, the employee said the battery was out of stock, and that the nearest store that carried it was 40 minutes away.

This was frustratingly inefficient; the apple site wouldn’t 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 a repair was not available, a retail 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.

Protect it

Smartphones are still mostly 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 an added protection, although many people won’t enjoy how it distorts the screen’s picture quality. The New York Times’ sister product review site, Wirecutter, recommends cases from brands like Smartish, Spigen and Mujjo, or cases from the phone makers themselves.

If you are not very prone to an accident, I recommend not buying extended warranties as their costs may be higher than the cost of repairs.

Clear it

Smartphones don’t have many moving parts, so we don’t have to do much to physically maintain them. But most of us neglect to clean the parts we rarely look at: charging ports and speaker holes.

Over time, those holes are clogged with dirt, pocket lint and makeup. That debris may make a phone take longer to load or make it harder to hear a phone call.

“Lint is the belly button of cell phones,” said Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, a site that publishes instructions and sells parts for repairing electronics.

Fortunately, he said, you don’t need a fancy tool. Use a toothpick to dig out the gun.

Should this change how I buy phones?

I always recommend buying a product based on today – what it can do for you today, versus 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 earlier for other reasons, such as getting a new feature like a better camera or a longer battery life.

But those who want to buy a phone that will last as long as possible should choose one that is economical to repair when things break. Wiens said Google’s Pixel phones, whose parts are affordable, fit this criteria. Owners of those phones will now have longer-lasting software to keep up with the hardware.

c.2024 The New York Times Company

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