How to Update Your Android OS

Depending your device, updating the OS can be a simple task or a tedious one

Close up shot of hands using handphone
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Whether you’re finally ready to update your Android device to Lollipop (5.0) or getting ready for the imminent Marshmallow (6.0) release, there are a few things you need to know before taking the leap. How you can access OS updates will vary, and you should prepare your phone or tablet in a few ways before you start downloading. The newer your phone is, the sooner you'll receive updates from your carrier, while Google issues updates directly to its Nexus line of Android devices.

Those with phones running on older OS versions will have to jump through a few hoops first.

Check your version

First, you should check which version of Android your device is running, by going into settings; for most smartphones, you'll find this under "About phone." The latest version, as of September 2015, is 5.1.1, also known as Lollipop. (​Android has a full list of OS names and version numbers online.)

Also in the "About phone" section of settings is your phone's model number, which can also help you figure out how to update your device. Check the manufacturer and carrier websites to find out how software updates work for your specific device.

If you own a Google Nexus device, you probably already know that your device receives updates directly from Google with no carrier intervention. In this case, you will be alerted to updates within the first few days of an OS release.

Otherwise, if you own a newer non-Nexus device, you'll be first in line when your carrier starts rolling out OS updates.

The older your device, the longer you'll have to wait. And if it's particularly old, you may not receive updates at all. The same applies if you have a lower-end device; again, check with your manufacturer and carrier to find out their policy. For most Android smartphones, you can check for system updates by going into settings.

This includes both OS releases and security updates, such as the recent Stagefright fix.

Back up back up back up

Before you proceed, be sure to backup all of your data, just in case something goes wrong with the update. You should be backing up your information regularly. There is a multitude of backup apps available out there from carriers, manufacturers, and third parties. Download and use one now.

Check your space

While you're backing up your phone's data, check to see how much space is available on your device. You may have to offload some of your apps, pictures, and other files to make room. Android outlines how much space you need in order to download an update, which you'll probably want to do over Wi-Fi if you don't have an unlimited data plan.

Rooting is always an option

If you want the latest OS as soon as it's available, you can always choose to root your phone, which enables you to access updates when you want them. That's just one of the many benefits of rooting your Android device. You'll also be able to access features not yet available to unrooted Android smartphones and tablets, and you'll have more control over your device to boot.

I'm very excited about Android Marshmallow and can't wait to get it on my own phone.

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