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Smartphones can now last 7 years. Here's how to keep them going.| GuyWhoKnowsThings


Every smartphone has an expiration date. That day comes when software updates stop arriving and you start missing out on new apps and security protections. On most phones, this used to happen after only three years.

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

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

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

Both companies said they had expanded their 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 unveiled new devices that encouraged people to upgrade every two years. But in recent years, smartphone sales have slowed around the world as its improvements have become more marginal. Nowadays, people want their phones to last.

Samsung and Google, the two most influential Android device makers, are trying to catch up with Apple, which has traditionally provided iPhone software updates 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 had expanded its software commitment for the Pixel 8A because it wanted customers to feel confident about Pixel phones. And Samsung said it would offer seven years of software updates, which increase security and reliability, for all its flagship Galaxy phones going forward.

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

In the past, Android phone makers said that the technical process of providing software updates was too complicated, so to remain profitable, they stopped offering 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 it would step up law enforcement against technology companies that made it difficult to repair and maintain their products. That accelerated the “right to repair” movement, a proposed legislation that would require companies to provide parts, tools and software to extend the life of their products. In recent years, states such as California, New York, Minnesota and Oregon have enacted such laws.

Google announced its new bet on smartphones after it was pressured to make a similar move for its laptops. In September, the company agreed extend software support for your Chromebook to 10 yearscompared to eight years, in response to a grassroots campaign that highlighted how short-lived Google laptops were causing budget crises in schools.

Nathan Proctor, director of US PIRG, a nonprofit funded largely by small donors that spearheaded the Chromebook campaign, said the new seven-year standard of smartphone support would have a profound effect.

“It's a great victory for the environment,” he said. “I want to see more of that.”

Software updates are an important part of what keeps a phone running well, but there are other steps to extend the life of smartphones, similar to maintaining a car. They include:

Lithium-ion batteries in phones have a finite 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 is not easy, so it is best to seek help from a professional. To find repair shops that service Pixel and Galaxy phones, you can contact Google and Samsung on their websites. You can also find a trusted store nearby with a review site like Yelp or Google Reviews. It usually costs about $100 to replace a battery.

For iPhone, customers can make an appointment to have the battery replaced at an Apple retail store. through the company 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 the closest store that sold it was a 40-minute drive away.

This was frustratingly inefficient: Apple's site shouldn't have allowed me to book an appointment at a store that had no battery. Apple said in a statement that when a part needed for repair was not available, a retail employee would find the nearest store to complete the repair or order the replacement part and make the repair when the part arrived.

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

Smartphones are still mostly made of glass, so for a phone to last seven years, it's wise to invest in a high-quality case. A screen protector is additional protection, although many will not like how it distorts the image quality of the screen. Our sister product review site, Wirecutter, recommends cases from brands like Smartish, Spigen and Mujjo, or cases from the phone manufacturers themselves.

Unless you are very accident prone, I recommend that you do not purchase extended warranties because their costs may exceed the cost of a repair.

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

Over time, those holes become clogged with dirt, pocket lint, and makeup. That buildup can make a phone take longer to charge or make a call 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 electronics.

Fortunately, he added, a sophisticated tool is not needed. Simply use a toothpick to remove the dirt.

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 still buy a phone based on this principle.

Many people will choose to upgrade early for other reasons, such as getting a new feature such as a better camera or longer battery life.

But those who just want to buy a phone that will last as long as possible should choose one that is economical to repair when something breaks. Wiens said Google's Pixel phones, which have affordable parts, meet this criteria. Owners of those phones will now have more durable software to keep up with the hardware.


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