Slow Android updates are one of the worst things about smartphones running the Android operating system. Fragmentation is a notoriously big problem for Android, and Google’s update system for Android is famously broken. Many Android users need to wait months to get the latest version of Android and, even if their phones are only a year or two old, find themselves wondering whether they’ll ever get critical Android updates.
The big problem with this situation is that Android updates do more than just add new features and refine the way the operating system looks and works (though that’s a pretty major benefit to miss out on). Android updates also carry critical fixes for major security vulnerabilities, integrate patches for bugs, and add code that will improve devices’ performance. And since many new apps require a recent version of Android, it’s Android updates that enable users with older phones to run new apps and keep the apps they’ve been using for years stable.
Some phone makers are better at providing timely Android updates than others. So what can you do if you’re a big Android fan searching for a new phone, but don’t want to end up with one that the OEM doesn’t update? You should find out which phone makers are good at offering fast Android updates, and which ones aren’t so great at it. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to tell which OEMs you should consider based on how phone makers handled the update to Android 6.0. Read on to check out which phone makers have the best record of providing fast Android updates, and which ones you should steer clear of when you purchase your next smartphone.
1. Google: Fastest Android updates
If fast Android updates are a top priority for you, then purchasing a Google Nexus device is a no-brainer. Nexus devices always receive the latest Android updates on the day that they’re released, and they offer the “purest” form of Android without the bloatware and custom skins that phone makers and carriers introduce. Nexus phones are the first devices to receive Android updates, and aren’t subject to the same lengthy approval processes that stretch on between carriers and OEMs.
As JR Raphael reported for Computerworld in the publication’s “Android Update Report Card” for Marshmallow, “Goole isn’t technically an Android smartphone manufacturer, but as the driving force behind the Nexus line of devices and the sole provider of upgrades for those devices, it serves the same practical role” for users concerned about when they’ll get Android updates. The Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P shipped with Marshmallow already installed, and some owners of the Nexus 6 received the update the same day that the software was officially released.
Nonetheless, Raphael notes that Google’s communication could be better, since the company left those users who didn’t get the update in the first wave of rollouts in the dark as to when they’d be able to upgrade to Marshmallow. Nonetheless, choosing a Nexus device is “still without question the most reliable way to receive ongoing updates in a timely, if not always immediate, manner.”
2. Motorola: Fast Android updates
According to a 2016 report from Apteligent (PDF), summarizing the group comparison of the time it took to upgrade from Android 5.x Lollipop to Android 6.0 Marshmallow on a variety of different smartphones in the United States, Motorola was the first phone maker to issue Marshmallow updates after the operating system’s release in early October 2015. It was also quick to offer upgrades to Android Nougat for some of its Moto Z line.
“Our data shows that the device manufacturers clustered into two groups: those that pushed the update three months after the release and those that wait longer – a little over five months.” Motorola was the first to issue Android updates for Marshmallow, and tried the update first on a small set of devices including the Moto X Pure Edition and Moto X Style for about two months before rolling them out more widely. Apteligent recommends that users who want to “optimize for stability and update speed” should consider a Motorola smartphone as their next purchase.
Computerworld, on the other hand, criticized Motorola for going from “being the shining example of what an Android device-maker should be to being a bitter disappointment Android fans won’t soon forgive.” The problem? “While it did do a reasonably decent (though nowhere near the standard it had maintained in the past) job at getting Android 6.0 out to its current and previous-gen flagships, it did so with one major asterisk: the outright abandonment of all U.S. carrier models of its barely-one-year-old 2014 device.” Worse yet, the company offered no explanation for the choice, and made no apology to users who trusted its promise of ongoing and reliable Android updates.
3. LG: Fast Android updates
LG is another phone maker that has been quick to release Android updates, and came in second behind Motorola in getting Marshmallow updates out the door. The company took the same approach as Motorola in rolling out updates to Android Marshmallow. It tested the update first on the LG G4 for around a month before releasing the update for other models. Apteligent notes that “LG has a history of getting OS releases out the door quickly,” and the group recommends choosing an LG smartphone if you want to be one of the first users of a new version of Android.
Computerworld notes that while LG “has traditionally been terrible when it comes to Android upgrade reliability,” the company has gradually improved in recent years. Just as it did with the update to Android 5.0, LG managed to release the update to Android 6.0 for some of its phones quite quickly. But Raphael reports that “rushing out Marshmallow in what was effectively a small-scale single-country soak test isn’t the same as actually getting it into the hands of most consumers,” which was especially aggravating for American consumers, who heard about LG rolling out the update in Poland and then had to wait months for it to arrive stateside. LG also failed to provide waiting users with much information during the update process, which didn’t make the wait any easier.
4. HTC: Fast Android updates
HTC released Android updates for Marshmallow right after LG, but much more quickly than many other phone manufacturers. Instead of following the gradual strategy employed by Motorola and LG, HTC took a different approach. Apteligent reports that HTC “basically just pushed the release out to all compatible devices from the beginning.” While HTC’s turnaround time when it comes to Android updates could get a little bit faster, it’s one of the best manufacturers in terms of keeping users in the loop about when they can expect an update for each model and variation.
In Raphael’s assessment, HTC is “doing pretty darn well and continuing to make impressive improvements to its upgrade delivery time.” Nonetheless, the speed with which HTC’s One M9 received the update to Android Marshmallow is a good demonstration of why it’s always better to go with the unlocked version of a phone rather than a carrier-locked model. The unlocked version of LG’s flagship received the update in December, while Android updates for the carrier-locked versions of the phone didn’t begin to roll out until February.
5. ZTE: Fast Android updates
HTC is the last carrier that you could consider “fast” at rolling out Android updates. The next carrier in line was ZTE, which released its first Marshmallow updates about two months after HTC’s updates. Even with the next version of Android right around the corner, ZTE has released the Android update to only a handful of devices. It began by releasing the update for its Axon line of devices in February 2016.
Android Police noted when the update was released that ZTE has spent the past few years building low-cost devices for carriers. But when it released the Axon Pro in 2015, it promised to keep the device up-to-date. While it took ZTE “a little longer than expected” to fulfill that promise, the manufacturer did deliver and manage to keep its flagship device updated.
6. Sony: Slow Android updates
Sony and Samsung got started on releasing Marshmallow updates shortly after ZTE. But by the time that Sony got started, it had waited more than five months after Marshmallow’s release to issue Android updates for its compatible devices. Along with Samsung, Sony is consistently among the slowest phone makers to begin rolling out Android updates.
Additionally, Sony Xperia users who were excited to hear that Android updates were on their way were subsequently disappointed by the realization that only specific variants of the manufacturer’s devices were set to receive the update in the initial rollout. Though Sony enabled some users to opt in to a Marshmallow Beta program, it was only models with specific model numbers that were eligible. Customers who were using any of Sony’s three flagship phones that had different product codes had to continue waiting, though Sony failed to provide any information as to how much longer users needed to wait.
7. Samsung: Slow Android updates
Like Sony, Samsung waited more than five months to release the update to compatible devices. Raphael notes that though Samsung has two smartphone lines that are about equal in flagship status — the Galaxy S and the Galaxy Note — it waited more than five months to roll out the update for either of its flagships at the time. Five months is “way too long for a current flagship to get a major OS upgrade.”
The situation was even worse if you were waiting for an update to Samsung’s previous generation flagship, and still wasn’t great even if you had an unlocked version of a current-generation flagship. And according to Computerworld, Samsung “seems to have a policy of keeping its customers completely in the dark about its upgrade plans and progress. Once upon a time, the company did actually provide detailed info about that stuff — but after it repeatedly failed to keep up with its promises … Samsung sealed its corporate lips firmly shut.”