Almost every Android device bought today, apart from the Nexus models, will be a little way behind the current Android version. This is because of the way updates are written and approved by manufacturers and carriers. Should we dismiss a device just because it is one or two points behind the current version of Android? No, absolutely not and here's why. A golden rule of buying technology is to always buy based on what it does right now rather than what it might do after a software update or two in the future. For most computer products, this means ensuring that the hardware has both the features that you need and will run the software that you plan to use. One would not buy a device with a 5 Mpixel camera running on an older version of Android and expect it to be replaced with an 8 Mpixel camera following a software update! As Android users, we are very lucky in that many features included in later versions of Android are enabled in older versions thanks to installing applications. For the more adventurous, it's also possible to install a customized version of Android offering features that are not included as standard, but this is beyond the scope of this article.
Let me illustrate with a couple of examples. Let us suppose you like the look of the new keyboard that comes with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, but your handset is not going to be officially updated beyond 2.3 Gingerbread. You can either find a way to install Android 4.2 onto the device, invalidating the warranty and potentially breaking something that already works. Or you can go into the Google Play Store and download one of many third party keyboards that are based on the Android 4.2 version. With my productivity hat on I'd recommend doing with the latter. It's much quicker and easier to reverse if you don't like the change. Conversely, you are considering buying a new device that ships on an older version of Android. You've read the reviews, you've talked to users and the consensus is that battery life is poor. The manufacturer is promising that there is an update “coming soon,” which will improve battery life; do you buy? My advice is to wait, because software release schedules slip and promises may not be kept. I'd comment that it's a harder decision because you might be able to buy a larger battery that may see you through the day.