Android’s biggest challenge has always been getting manufacturers to keep their devices updated. New versions of the operating system are released, and security patches are issued, but the time it takes to reach phones takes anywhere from a few weeks to never.
Despite Google’s best efforts, it just doesn’t happen. A year after release, Android Nougat has less than 20 percent market share — less than even Lollipop from 2014. Oreo achieved a paltry 0.2 percent in its first month, and you won’t be able to use the best features of Android Pie for a while.
If having the latest version of Android is important to you, and flashing a custom ROM isn’t an option, you can at least be more savvy when shopping for phones.
Not every manufacturer has a stated policy on updates. But by seeing how they treated their past devices, we can discern how likely they are to deliver the goods in future. Read on to find out which manufacturers are most likely to keep your phone up to date.
Unsurprisingly, Google is the best manufacturer for supplying operating system and security updates.
The company’s policy has traditionally been two years of Android updates, and three years of security fixes. This means that the Nexus 5X and 6P, from 2015, have both received Android Oreo, while the Pixel and Pixel XL will also receive Android P.
However, Google has now improved this further. The website for the Pixel 2 devices says they will receive a “minimum 3 years operating system and security updates.” So not only will they get Android P and Q, but should get Android R in 2020 as well.
Better yet, Google devices are the first to receive updates to new versions of Android. Plus, they always have a beta program you can opt into. If you’re an early adopter you can test out the new version before anyone else.
Samsung is the biggest Android manufacturer, and its two best selling ranges have solid update support.
The Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series are good for two major Android updates. Yet since both models are launched mid-year, this actually amounts to about 18 months of coverage. This means that the S7’s Oreo update is likely to be its last one, while the S8 should get Android P.
The updates don’t arrive as quickly as Google’s do — the second one in particular may take a good six months. You can test them early, though, through Samsung’s beta program.
Away from the flagships, the picture is a little murkier. Samsung’s mid range Galaxy A phones typically receive two operating system updates, and the lower end C and J ranges may get one. However, there seems to be no guarantees for these models.
The Note, S, and A models get monthly security updates for 3 years while other models and tablets get quarterly updates. Check Samsung’s security page for information on which devices are currently supported.
Android updates from LG focus on the flagship G and V ranges, although some lower end models may also receive some kind of attention.
The flagships get two major new versions of Android. But if being on the latest version at the earliest possible time is important to you, then you might want to look elsewhere.
The second update in particular can be very tardy: the LG G4 received the Nougat update barely a month before Oreo started hitting Google’s phones. The rollout also seems to vary a lot from one part of the world to another.
As far as security updates are concerned, support is limited to G, V, Q, and X series devices released within the last two years. The LG security site shows which models are currently supported.
Sony updates are also geared mainly towards the higher end phones, including the Compact versions of the flagships. They will normally get two major Android updates, and the company is good at outlining its plans on the Sony Mobile blog. Mid-range phones are also usually covered, but not the entry level models.
The schedule on which the updates are released is inconsistent. Sometimes they can be pushed out very quickly (e.g. the XZ Premium was the first non-Google phone to receive the Oreo update), but other times it can be many months or more. Where you are in the world seems to have a big impact on this, too.
Security updates are released regularly for most devices, including the budget models. Support for this lasts for a couple of years.
OnePlus provides two major Android updates to its devices. But they should also get additional system and security updates for a longer period of time, a fact that was confirmed in a recent blog post by a OnePlus employee.
Some OnePlus users are cautious, though. The OnePlus 2 was originally slated to receive Android Nougat, but in the end it never happened.
HTC provides two years of support and updates to its flagship phones. It also provides a website where you can track which version of Android is available for each device (and on each carrier). The devices should also receive at least two years of security updates, although they may not appear on a monthly schedule.
Motorola has for several years been among the best manufacturers for providing Android updates to its devices. The pace of the rollouts has slowed in recent times — it can now take several months to receive them — but you can still expect solid support.
The Moto Z and Moto X ranges get two major Android updates. The affordable mid-range Moto G series gets one major update. The low end E and C series phones do not get operating system updates.
Best of all, there’s a website where you can track the status of updates, what version devices are currently running, and when you can expect upgrades.
The Nokia brand is still finding its place back in the market after a several year hiatus. It’s worth singling out because the early signs of a proactive update policy are promising.
HMD Global, the owner of the Nokia brand, quickly confirmed that all current Nokia Android phones would be updated to Oreo. Unusually, this includes the entry-level Nokia 3.
In fact, the marketing for Nokia phones includes the slogan: “Pure, secure, and up to date.” We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out in the long term, but it sounds encouraging. With a largely stock version of Android on board too, these Nokia phones could prove to be the logical replacement for Google’s now-defunct Nexus range.
The picture from other manufacturers is more patchy and less predictable. Some perform better than others.
Essential, the new company from Android’s creator Andy Rubin, has promised two years of operating system updates and three years of security patches. For Huawei, you should only expect updates for the current flagship, with the Mate series tending to be better served than the P range. Security updates can also be slow. BlackBerry has a strong reputation for providing monthly security updates, but less so for new versions of Android.
- Google devices get 2-3 major updates, and they’re the first to receive them.
- Flagships from the other main manufacturers should get two major Android updates.
- The first update should hopefully arrive within three months of the new version of Android being launched.
- The second takes longer, six months or more. In some cases, there’s a small chance it’ll drop off the schedule entirely.
- Mid-range phones might get one or two major updates (Samsung, Motorola, Nokia), or none at all (most of the others).
- Don’t count on getting anything for budget and entry level phones.
The picture for Android updates is every bit as inconsistent as you might have expected. There’s no guaranteed timeframe for updates, which mean they frequently take months. And some companies could be better at communicating their plans.
It’s debatable whether two major updates is good enough when the new era of flagships are costing up to $1,000, especially when Apple updates the iPhones for as long as technically possible. An even bigger concern is the low-end phones that are quickly abandoned, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Take a look at the Android Security Rewards program to see those manufacturers that are performing well with security updates.
Despite the debate over the frequency and consistency of updates, Android phones are much more popular than iPhones, given that there are so many manufacturers and types of devices to choose from for every budget. As long as you stick with a manufacturer known for timely updates, it’s easier to keep your phone in good shape. You might also enjoy our guide on new budget phones versus old flagships for choosing your next device.
Wondering if it’s worth replacing your phone right now? Watch out for these warning signs that definitely call for a new Android phone! And before you buy that new phone, learn more about cellular frequency bands to ensure maximum compatibility across carriers.