I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: It’s important to keep your devices updated. Though even I’ll admit there are few exceptions to this rule. If Microsoft just launched a huge Windows update, you might want to give it a few days just in case something goes catastrophically wrong. If you have a super-old smartphone and are being asked to update to the latest version of its operating system, consider doing some research to make sure it’s not going to cripple your device’s performance.
But to hold off on all device updates because you’re concerned about what they might do to your hardware? I’m not sure I’m a fan of that idea, but that’s exactly what Lifehacker reader Valerie sent to me for this week’s Tech 911 advice column:
“I have a Samsung galaxy which I have had for less than 1 year.
I despise all the updates that are automatically performed on the phone.
My questions…1. is there a way to reverse the updates already performed and 2. Is there a way to stop automatic future updates from being performed?
I called Verizon who got me on the phone with Samsung. The Samsung rep I spoke to was rather condescending and told me there was no way to stop the updates. He told me to ‘Try it, you’ll like it.’
In the advanced world of technology….I’m thinking if they can put updates on the phone there must be a way of reversing or stopping them.”
I hear where you’re coming from. It can be jarring to receive an update to your device and feel like you’ve been cast into unfamiliar territory, especially if your device’s manufacturer made some sweeping changes to its operating system. Whenever Apple kicks off a new version of iOS each year—I use an iPhone as my primary carry device—I always feel like I have to do a little scrambling to understand everything that’s new: fun features, subtle changes, tweaked gestures, et cetera.
Does that stop me from upgrading to the new iOS? Never. It’s just a process I’ve come to accept, a learning curve that will vary in length for everyone depending on how much you use your device and how quick you are to catch on to new concepts and workflows. There’s no shame in feeling overwhelmed, or even downright hostile to change. It’s human.
I haven’t addressed your actual question yet, because I want to emphasize one more fact: Device updates aren’t just about new features. They’re also about fixing bugs in previously broken setups or, even more important, patching up vulnerabilities to make you and your data more secure. For that reason, above everything else, I would caution you to keep on receiving your smartphone’s updates—no matter the cost.
For you, specifically, consider what’s coming down the road with Android Q. As Florence Ion wrote for us back in May:
“Google claimed that nearly 50 features are coming to Android Q related to security and privacy. We won’t know the extent of those changes until Android Q goes live to everyone. However, Google hinted at some of the options you’ll be able to access in the Android settings panel, including a new front-and-center Privacy section, with a bevy of settings for controlling which apps and services have access to your data. There will also be a new Permissions option that will let you choose how and when data and other elements are shared with Google and other third-party apps.”
In addition to that, Android Q is going to make it a lot easier for manufacturers to deploy over-the-air updates to fix any issues they find with 14 different (critical) modules found within the Android operating system. You won’t even have to restart your device to receive them; they’ll just update, and that’ll be it. However, you’ll need to have Android Q to take advantage of this feature. Google isn’t planning to roll it out to older versions of the OS.
Blocking Android system updates
Hopefully I’ve convinced you about the importance of updating your Android device. If not, I can at least answer your question—as much as it pains me.
To block Android updates, I’d recommend exploring three options. First, pull up your Software Update screen—via Settings > Software Update—to see if there’s any kind of setting you can uncheck regarding the automatic download of software updates. (I don’t have a Galaxy device sitting in front of me, or else I’d screenshot this for you.)
You’ll probably need a little more than that to make sure that your device isn’t downloading and installing updates without your express permission. There’s another setting you should be able to toggle to disable automatic system updates, but it’s a little buried. Pull up Settings again and scroll down until you see the “About phone” section. Tap on that. Then, tap on the “Software Information” section, and scroll down until you see “Build Number.” Start tapping on that section until your device says that you’ve enabled “Developer mode.”
Then, head back to your primary Settings screen and scroll down. You should see a new “Developer options” section near “About phone.” Tap on it, and then look for the “Automatic system updates” option. Make sure it’s not enabled.
That should prevent your phone from receiving automatic updates. But to be super-super sure, you can also purchase and sideload the Package Disabler Proapp. You’ll then use this to disable your device’s Software Update feature, which will keep it on the current version of your operating system forevermore.
As for the part of your question about going back to an older version of your smartphone’s OS, it’s certainly possible, but it requires a good amount of effort and technical know-how that I wouldn’t recommend for an average user. That includes downgrading your device’s bootloader, if that’s even possible, and installing an older version of your device’s OS (if your manufacturer even makes those available / you can find one). As Android Central’s Jerry Hildenbrand puts it:
“Sometimes the hacks used to flash software to your model of Android are simple and not that hard to do correctly. But that’s not always the case and you’ll usually see a handful of people explaining how they ruined their phone when things took a turn for the worse.
I’m not trying to talk you out of it, but you need to know that the five minutes it takes to flash your phone back to an older version could have hours and hours of reading as a prerequisite.”
My advice? Master what you have now and disable device updates going forward —if you truly must. For the sake of your security, I still wouldn’t go this route, but I understand if you want to freeze your device’s features in time.