Generations: Using Older Hardware In A 2016 World
The smartphone and tablet industry is used to a two year product cycle, although there are signs that this is slowly changing. Many plans are based around a two year cycle and because of this, most manufacturers support their products for two years after launch. The plan here is that after two years, customers go ahead and buy a new device: but what if customers keep their original smartphone or tablet? For some people, discarding a perfectly serviceable device after two years is wasteful and expensive: it’s bad for the environment and it’s bad for our pockets. Do we really need to replace our devices? Let’s take a look.
Keeping The Operating System Updated
One of the main reasons why consumers may wish to upgrade their device is to keep their operating system up to date. There are two main reasons for this: one is to benefit from any new features that arrive in later versions and the second is to benefit from important security fixes.
The two dominant smartphone operating system platforms, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, have annual major releases. Because these mobile operating systems are still being advanced at a rapid rate, we haven’t reached the point where a given version of an operating system will be with us for a few years as we’ve seen with Windows. Because software engineers are adding more and more features to the operating system, this means that major updates may simply not be compatible on older hardware. We saw this with the release of Android Nougat, which was not compatible with the older Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 and Snapdragon 801 chipsets, which power devices such as the HTC One (M8).
Applications and Internal Storage
Applications in 2016 are larger and more sophisticated than ever before and this means more precious storage is used. In 2015, Google increased the maximum application size on the Google Play Store, which means today’s applications can do more and can also need more space. For space purposes, devices with 8 GB and now 16 GB of internal space are usually seriously compromised in the number of applications that can be installed.
Another aspect is how older chipsets are simply less capable and efficient. Adding more demanding applications can slow the entire platform down. This is more of an issue on devices with many applications installed but it can impact on all devices.
Another aspect is that older versions of the operating system will no longer be able to run a modern application. Fortunately, Google Play Services helps mitigate some of this problem.
Case Study One: The 2012 Google Nexus 7
Google released the original Nexus 7 in mid-2012, originally running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and has subsequently been updated to Android 5.1.1 Lollipop by Google. Unfortunately, Android 5.0 Lollipop was not a great user experience for 2012 Nexus 7 customers. Devices became very sluggish: everything from tapping the screen to pop up the keyboard to rotating the device to or from landscape mode, to launching an application could result in long delays. There are improvements following the update to Android 5.1.1, but unfortunately the 2012 Nexus 7 is still very sluggish running Android Lollipop compared with Android KitKat and older.
The original Nexus 7 is not a great advert for trying to use a modern operating system on an older device. Many Nexus 7 customers either felt forced to upgrade to a newer tablet, unofficially downgrade the software to Android KitKat, or limit what they try to do on the tablet.
Case Study Two: The 2013 Motorola Moto X
Motorola’s 2013 Moto X was released a little over a year after the original Nexus 7 and has a much higher core specification. Motorola originally released the Moto X running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean but officially updated it to Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. The good news here is that the Moto X runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop much better than the first generation Nexus 7. It’s smooth and fluid, launches applications well and zips between running tasks quickly and seamlessly. There are occasional slowdowns when moving between heavyweight applications, but for the most part the Moto X makes a very good account of itself. It remains a great handset and runs Android Lollipop very well.
It’s a shame that Motorola didn’t update the Moto X to Android Marshmallow, as the device has a similar (but not identical) chipset to the 2013 Nexus 7, which runs Marshmallow well. The hardware is almost certainly capable of running the newer version of Android.
Case Study Three: The 2014 HTC One M8
Sony released the HTC One M8 in 2014 running Android 4.4 KitKat. HTC updated the device first to Android 5.0 Lollipop and subsequently to Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The device runs HTC Sense over Android Marshmallow well, with no slowdowns to report, but unfortunately regular security patches is not as strong. The device offered stellar battery life with the original 4.4 software, which was reduced running Android 5.0 Lollipop. Android 6.0 Marshmallow improved battery life but it was still not the same as the original software. However, in every other respect the One M8 shows that two year old hardware can run a modern operating system with no qualms.
Pick Your Device
There are many other devices new in the last two to three years that give a good account of themselves when it comes to running a more modern version of Android compared to the one they shipped with. Newer versions of Android are more demanding of the hardware compared with older versions but have important benefits, such as regular security patches. The more powerful the device, the greater the chances are that it can run newer operating systems well.