learn to track

7-Year Lifespans for Smartphones: How to Keep Your Device Working Longer

TLDR: Google and Samsung now offer 7 years of software updates for their smartphones, a significant increase from the previous 3-year standard. To keep your phone working longer, replace the battery every 2 years, protect it with a case, and clean the charging ports and speaker holes regularly.

Smartphones are finally breaking free from their short-lived existence, with Google and Samsung now offering software updates for up to seven years, a significant leap from the previous three-year standard.

A welcome change.

Why is this happening?

In the past, Android phone makers said the technical process of providing software updates was very complicated, so to stay profitable, they dropped support after a few years. But tech 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 ramp up law enforcement against tech companies that made it difficult to fix and maintain their products. That accelerated the “right to repair” movement, a piece of proposed legislation that required companies to provide the parts, tools, and software to extend the lives of their products. In the last few years, states including California, New York, Minnesota, and Oregon have enacted such legislation.

Google announced its new commitment for smartphones after it was pressured to make a similar move for its laptops. In September, the company agreed to expand software support for its Chromebook to 10 years, up from eight years, in response to a grass-roots campaign that highlighted how short-lived Google laptops were causing budget crunches in schools.

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

“It’s a huge 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 what keeps a phone working well, but there are other steps to lengthen smartphone lives, similar to maintaining a car. They include:

Replace the phone battery every two years
The lithium-ion batteries in phones have a finite life. After about two years, the amount of charge they can hold diminishes, and it’s wise 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 up a reputable shop nearby with a review site like Yelp or Google Reviews. It typically 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 replace my iPhone 14’s battery at the Apple Store in Emeryville, Calif. When I arrived, the employee said the battery was out of stock, and the nearest store that carried it was a 40-minute drive away.

This was frustratingly inefficient — the Apple site should not 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 not available, a retail employee would find the nearest store to complete the repair or order the replacement part and do 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 extra safeguard, though many won’t enjoy how it distorts the picture quality of the screen. Our sister site that reviews products, Wirecutter, recommends cases from brands like Smartish, Spigen, and Mujjo, or cases from the phone makers themselves.

Unless you’re very accident-prone, I recommend against buying extended warranties because their costs can exceed the cost of a repair.

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

Over time, those holes are clogged up with dirt, pocket lint, and makeup. That built-up debris can make a phone take longer to charge or a phone call more difficult to hear.

“It’s the belly button lint of cellphones,” said Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of iFixit, a site that publishes instructions and sells parts to repair electronics.

Fortunately, he added, you don’t need a fancy tool. Just use a toothpick to dig out the gunk.

Should this change how I buy phones?

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.

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

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


Add comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.