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How Do I Upgrade the Version of Android on My Tablet? – HowStuffWorks

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By: Chris Pollette & Eric Seeger  | 
The T-Mobile G1, launched in October 2008, was the first major mobile device to use the Android operating system. Only four years later Android had the largest mobile operating system market share, a distinction it continues to hold as of this writing. True, more of those installations are on phones. There are still more tablets using Apple’s iPadOS, but Android is making up ground there, too.
Each operating system developer has its own method of distinguishing revisions of its operating systems so that users and developers know what system they’re using. Sometimes that can be a little confusing. Microsoft’s Windows began with version 1.0 in 1985, but 10 years later started using years to identify versions with Windows 95. After Windows 2000 and ME (Millennial Edition), Microsoft switched to Windows XP, then Vista. In 2009 the company moved back to numbers with Windows 7 and is sticking with it through Windows 11. For now.
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Apple used numbers for the Macintosh operating system too. Then the company purchased NeXT, the firm Apple co-founder Steve Jobs started after he left Apple. The Nextstep operating system became Mac OS X (as in the Roman numeral 10). After that, releases got a code name with the number, starting with man-eating felines (Mountain Lion, Snow Leopard). Suddenly with version 10.9 Apple switched its code names to places in California (Mavericks, Catalina). Big Sur was the first version of macOS 11, but so far Apple’s still sticking to locations for code names. It still uses plain old numbers for its iOS releases.
Although multiple organizations release distributions of the free and open-source software platform Linux, it’s something of a tradition to give new versions code names in alphabetical order. Ubuntu Linux uses animal names (Jammy Jellyfish, Bionic Beaver). Linux Mint uses women’s names (Debbie, Elsie). Not all Linux distributions use that scheme, but many do.
Android, which uses the Linux kernel at its core, followed a similar path using confectionary delights: Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. In late 2019, however, Google announced that version 9 – Pie – would be the last in the chain and the next version would simply be named Android 10 (what is it with computer companies and the number 10, anyway?). In 2022, Google removed its sugary-styled Android release statues from its campus, perhaps signaling a permanent departure from the style.
Back to Android tablets, before we even talk about upgrading anything, take a few minutes to back up your entire tablet using Android’s built-in tools. On many most Android devices, begin by opening the Settings app. Then, choose Backup from the Google menu.
For other Android-based devices you may find the backup controls elsewhere within your settings app. You may also find that this online backup uses the manufacturer’s own cloud-based storage instead of Google’s. It’s a good idea to back up to the cloud anyway, but especially before an upgrade. This way, if things go badly and you have to reset your device, at least your data will be saved off your tablet.
Now that we have that formality out of the way, we’re ready to talk about upgrading your Android software.
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Before we get into upgrades, it’s important to know that some manufacturers are in the habit of making modifications to whichever version of Android they’ve selected for their device. As a result, even based on the same version of Android, a Samsung tablet isn’t going to look or act the same as an Amazon Kindle Fire. A manufacturer may tweak the operating system to work with a tablet’s cameras or interface with a cellular digital service. That’s what you get with an open source system. (But let it be said that there’s spirited debate among the Android community about whether all this customization is necessary or just plain ridiculous.)
In short, when Google releases a new version of Android, it’s a very basic platform. By the time it gets installed on your new tablet, it becomes an extremely proprietary operating system.
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If you want to see which operating system you’re running, go to the settings app and tap on "System Update." It should display the current version of Android on your tablet.
You’ll discover three common ways to update your Android OS:
Using manufacturer-approved OS upgrades will also help you keep your warranty intact. This is the smart, safe way to go. Now, let’s look at some of the other options for upgrading your tablet.
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The downside to manufacturer-approved OS updates is that they’re often more conservative than some advanced users would prefer. Manufacturers need time to make changes and make sure everything runs smoothly before they update the operating system on their devices. And sometimes they won’t advance to a newer version if the tablet’s hardware isn’t up to the task. That’s when many users start to take matters into their own hands.
You may have heard of "jailbreaking" for iPhones and iPads. The same thing is called "rooting" by the Android crowd. This is where users unlock the manufacturer-supplied firmware to install their own updates, customized OSes and apps that factory-supplied operating systems won’t accept. There are plenty of tutorials online to walk users through this process, and some apps you can sideload, or install via your computer, that can help.
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That doesn’t mean that rooting your tablet is safe and easy. Before you start, do some homework to make sure that the tablet and the intended version of Android will play nicely. Processing power and available memory are important issues here. Google provides the minimum requirements for each release, and hopefully so will any modified version of Android. Also, ask around the user forums for your device to see if anyone has already successfully attempted a similar installation with the same type of tablet.
Of course, the downside to rooting is the inherent risk. First of all, it voids the warranty on your device. If rooted improperly, a tablet can be rendered inoperable and the machine can develop security weaknesses.. And again, before installing a new OS, make sure that your tablet’s technical specs are up to par for the new Android platform; having a deficient tablet trying to run a pumped-up operating system could leave it running worse than it did before. "Running worse" can range anywhere from excruciatingly slow performance to getting "bricked." Dabbling with rooting on an old device is one thing, but if this is your one and only tablet, be very sure you’re OK with the possible consequences.
In short, rooting should be left up to advanced users, and even that’s no guarantee that everything will go smoothly.
Are you thinking about rooting your device? The folks behind Android Central keep a running list of directions for rooting different tablets and smartphones. You can find it at http://www.androidcentral.com/root.
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Originally Published: Oct 8, 2012
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She has spent the past eight years playing the role of an infrastructure consultant, and has now joined Inferse.com as a full time blogger. Her current profession is a result of her deep interest in computer gadgets, laptops, gaming accessories and other tech happenings.