It’s funny how much a popular narrative can differ from reality once you start bringing cold, hard data into the equation.
Over the past couple years, Samsung has worked hard to improve its reputation as a reliable provider of software updates in the Android arena. And to be sure, it’s made some meaningful strides along the way.
But when you go beyond the broad impressions and objectively measure the company’s commitment to timely Android operating system rollouts — well, the story gets a teensy bit more complicated.
That’s precisely why I started doing these Android Upgrade Report Cards way back in the platform’s prehistoric ages. From the get-go, we’ve seen some wild variance in how well different device-makers support their products after you’ve finished paying for ’em — and as an average phone-owner, there’s no great way to know what’s gonna happens six months or a year after you shell out your dollars for a top-of-the-line phone.
It’s in part just par for the course with the nature of Android as a platform. The operating system is open source, and that means each device-maker can modify it how they want (for better or sometimes for worse). And consequently, that means the responsibility falls on each company’s shoulders to process every new incoming Android version and get it out to its customers.
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While we can’t control the level of care and commitment each company puts into that process, we can control our own knowledge about how much different device-makers prioritize post-sales support. That way, you can at least have the context you need to make an educated decision about which phone is right for you — not just for the first few weeks that you own it but for the entire two-, three-, or maybe even four-year period that you’re likely to carry it around.
Now that we’re six months past the launch of Android 13, it’s time to step back and look at who’s making upgrades a priority and who’s treating ’em as an afterthought. Only you can decide how much this info matters to you (hint: It oughta matter — a lot), but whether you find post-sales software support to be a top priority or an irrelevant asterisk, you deserve to be armed with all the data that empowers you to make fully informed future buying decisions.
Want the full nitty-gritty on how these grades were calculated? You can find a detailed breakdown of the formula and every element taken into account at the very end of this article.
- Length of time for upgrade to reach current flagships: 0 days (50/50 points)
- Length of time for upgrade to reach previous-gen flagships: 0 days (25/25 points)
- Length of time for upgrade to reach two-cycles-back flagships: 0 days (15/15 points)
- Communication: Excellent (10/10 points)
Perhaps the least surprising part of this year’s analysis is the part that’s almost always consistent: Google’s at the tippity-top of the pack with its unmatched commitment to providing timely and reliable Android updates on its own self-made Pixel phones — and for actually following through on that promise.
Following an unusual slight delay with the start of its rollout last year, Google was back to its typical habit of sending out the latest Android update to Pixels on the very same day the software was released.
(For the purposes of this analysis, by the way, it’s the start of a rollout — to a flagship phone model in the US — that counts, as you can read about in more detail here.)
What’s most impressive, though, is the fact that Google treats all of its phones as equals — meaning even if you own a previous-gen device or a lower-priced Pixel “a” model, you still get major updates like Android 13 at the same time as the current-gen flagship phone owners. That’s a sharp contrast to the way every other device-maker handles its lineup, and it’s the way things very much ought to be.
And while Google’s usual “rolling out in waves” asterisk always applies to a certain degree, with some Pixel owners not receiving the software on that very first day, Android 13 made its way to all supported Pixel devices within a reasonable amount of time and without the need for any extra communication beyond the company’s initial announcement.
For the standard caveat here: Sure, we could argue that Google has a unique advantage in that it’s both the manufacturer of the devices and the maker of the software — but guess what? That’s part of the Pixel package. And as a person purchasing a phone, the only thing that really matters is the experience you receive.
And as usual, the results tell you all there is to know: Google’s phones are without a doubt the most reliable way to receive ongoing updates in a timely manner on Android. The company could (and most certainly should) start supporting its phones for longer, especially as other players in the ecosystem extend to four full years of operating system updates in comparison to Google’s three — but in terms of timeliness, Google’s the only company that makes an explicit guarantee about upgrade deliveries as a part of its devices’ purchasing package, and it’s absolutely the only one that consistently delivers on that front, every single year.
- Length of time for upgrade to reach current flagships: 38 days (46/50 points)
- Length of time for upgrade to reach previous-gen flagships: 120 days (19/25 points)
- Length of time for upgrade to reach two-cycles-back flagships: 88 days (12/15 points)
- Communication: Poor (0/10 points)
Expecting to see someone else in this second place spot? Or maybe expecting to see a slightly stronger score in our silver-medal position? Well, surprise — times two!
If there’s one constant with OnePlus, it’s a complete lack of consistency when it comes to its Android upgrade performance. The company did admirably well for a while, then it had an embarrassingly bad flop of a year with Android 11 in 2020.
Last year, it recovered and started to move back in the right direction with its Android 12 efforts — though it still came into only solid “C” territory and didn’t come close to matching its earlier success.
Now, with Android 13, the company’s flipping and flopping a little but ending up in the same general range of mediocrity as what we saw in the last upgrade cycle. OnePlus actually did decently well with its current-gen flagship, the OnePlus 10 Pro (which, confusingly, does not have a non-Pro equivalent). Owners of that device got Android 13 in their hands just over a month after the software’s release, which isn’t bad at all and is a significant step forward from what happened with OnePlus’s current-gen model last time.
But where the company fell flat was in its handling of previous-gen flagship phones — a frustratingly common challenge for OnePlus as of late. Its most recent previous-gen phone, the OnePlus 10T, waited a whopping 120 days to get its Android 13 update, while the two-cycles-back flagships in the OnePlus 9 series waited for a weirdly less bad but still not spectacular 88 days to see the software.
All in all, it’s just not a great result — and adding insult to injury is the fact that OnePlus provided virtually no communication along the way and no manner of guidance to its top-paying customers about what was going on and when they could expect Android 13 to arrive.
Most surprising of all, though, is the fact that this middling effort came in ahead of the next phone-maker on our list.
- Length of time for upgrade to reach current flagships: 86 days (41/50 points)
- Length of time for upgrade to reach previous-gen flagships: 105 days (20/25 points)
- Length of time for upgrade to reach two-cycles-back flagships: 104 days (12/15 points)
- Communication: Poor (0/10 points)
So here it is: If you read much tech news, you’re probably under the impression that Samsung is absolutely killing it when it comes to Android upgrade deliveries. And to be fair, that’s not entirely wrong.
The company is doing an admirable job of supporting its sprawling lineup of Android devices for longer than ever, with most flagships now receiving a full four years of operating system updates — a year more than even Google is guaranteeing with its Pixel products.
But when it comes to timeliness, Samsung isn’t such a shining star.
The company actually slipped a bit from last year in its delivery time for its current-gen flagships (which, for the purpose of this analysis, are considered to be the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy Z Fold 4, since Samsung has made it clear that it’s been viewing those two device lines as equal-footing flagship products since 2021). It did worse with its most previous-gen devices, too, falling to 105 days with its 2021 phone pair and coming in at 104 days for its top two 2020 phones (the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20, in that final year before Samsung switched its primary emphasis from the Note line to the Fold line as a co-flagship product).
Between that substantial drop in performance — particularly on the current flagship front — and the company’s unfortunate return to its typical approach of keeping customers completely in the dark about its progress along the way, Samsung slipped back from its brief flirtation with a “B” grade last year into firm “C” territory and a firmly middling result for its Android 13 efforts.
It’s easy to score a positive headline with one token rollout, but once you start looking at a company’s complete performance, across the board, the story isn’t always so simple.
And — exasperated sigh — things only get worse from here.
NEXT PAGE: How the mighty have fallen