How to Check for Updates on Your Android Phone

Check for Android updates
Marziah Karch

The Android operating system for smartphones and tablets gets periodic system updates just like Apple's iOS for the iPhone and iPad. These updates are also called firmware updates, since they operate on a deeper system level than normal software (app) updates and are designed to control the hardware. Firmware updates on your phone require permission, time and a device restart. It's usually also a good idea to leave your phone in a charger during a firmware update so there's less of a chance that you accidentally run out of batteries mid-upgrade and potentially break your phone.

Google periodically pushes out upgrades to the firmware on your Android phone by sending the updated information directly through your cellular or Wi-Fi connection. You turn on your phone and it tells you that an update is available. These updates are rolled out in waves by device and carrier, so they don't become available for everyone at once. That's because firmware updates need to be specifically compatible with the hardware on your phone rather than apps, which work with a wide variety of devices. Sometimes it's hard to be patient, so here's how you can check to see if your update is available now.

How to Check for Android Updates

This approach works on most recent versions of Android, although some versions may have some slight variations in where the put the options. 

  1. Turn on your phone and drag your finger from the top of the screen downward in order to pull the settings menu down. (You may need to scroll down twice in order to get to the correct menu.) 
  1. Tap the gear icon on the top of the screen to open Settings

  2. Scroll to About phone and tap it. 

  3. Tap System updates.

  4. You should see the screen showing whether your system is up to date and when the update server was last checked. You can optionally select Check for update if you want to immediately check again. 

  1. If an update is available, tap to start installing it. 

Considerations

Because Android is a fragmented operating system—that is, different device manufacturers and cellular carriers configure it separately—updates roll out at different times to different customers. The fastest recipients of any new upgrade are Google Pixel users, because updates are pushed directly by Google without being reviewed or modified by a carrier.

Users who have rooted their phones (i.e., modified the device on a very basic operating-system level) may not be eligible for over-the-air carrier updates and will have to re-flash their phones to update to the newest image of Android optimized for their device. Most phone manufacturers warn against rooting.

A firmware upgrade is completely unrelated to normal app upgrades pushed through the Google Play Store. App updates do not require vetting by device manufacturers or cellular carriers.