There’s been much made of the ‘fractured’ nature of Android, with many phones not getting updates to the latest version of Google's operating system until months after its release... or not at all.
This is in stark contrast to Apple’s iPhones, which often stay on the newest version of iOS several years after they were first released. So, which brands are the best for keeping their Android devices up to date?
Why don’t all Android phones get the latest version of the OS?
There are several reasons why some Android handsets get updates, while others are left out in the cold. The first thing to consider is how many different models each manufacturer offers. Every year, Apple only adds a maximum of around four iPhones to its lineup, so the overall number of devices iOS needs to support is quite low.
This isn’t the case with Android, where some of the biggest manufacturers release double that number or higher, making the entire marketplace swamped with devices, all of which need dedicated support. Some carriers also need tailored updates to push to their specific build of a device too, which can also cause delays (although this seems like less of an issue nowadays). Due to all this, some brands will often prioritise their flagship devices, with the cheaper models given short shrift.
In other cases, the ‘skins’ or interface overlays used by many brands need to be optimised and bug-checked to ensure they work with the newer OS releases, which is one reason for delays.
Google has addressed this in recent years, using the Google Play Services app as a way to introduce newer features without the need for an entire operating system update, but security patches still need to be applied at the OS level (though these are separate from Android version updates).
There are exceptions though, with the Android One program existing to help devices stay on the latest version of the OS, all while bringing a clean, stock interface that reflects Google’s ideal for Android.
Phones running Android One usually stay up to date for a guaranteed two years after release, so if you want the latest features, then those are models worth looking out for.
Which brands are the best for Android updates?
Here’s a selection of the manufacturers which release regular updates and support older models for longer.
It should be no great surprise that Google is at the top of the list, due to the fact that it creates each new version of Android. If you have one of its Pixel range of phones, then you are guaranteed three years of major updates, all of which usually come out on day one or not long afterwards.
Another brand that regularly finds itself top of the Android updates chart is OnePlus.
The company had managed to push Android 11 to all of its 2020 flagships (the OnePlus 8, 8 Pro and 8T - although the 8T actually launched running Android 11) before the year's end, with entries like the mid-range OnePlus Nord and older top-tier models, like the OnePlus 7 series all enjoying a bump up to the latest version of Android as of April 2021.
The OnePlus Nord N10 5G, Nord N100 and older OnePlus 6T and OnePlus 6 are all also expected to receive their OS updates in the near future.
While the Finnish company might not be the powerhouse it was back in the heyday of feature phones, it still has a good selection of devices at differing price points, pretty much all of which feature Android One. This means that they’re guaranteed two years of major updates, with the delivery times usually close to release.
The company hit a slight snag, delaying the first of its Android 11 updates - destined for the Nokia 8.3 5G - into 2021, but since then we've seen a steady stream of new firmware, affecting devices across the range.
Contrary to the roadmap HMD Global (who handles Nokia's phone business) shared last year (above), as of April 2021, the Nokia 8.3 5G, 8.1, 4.2, 2.3 and 2.2 have all now received an update to Android 11, with the Nokia 7.2, 6.2, 5.3, 3.4, 2.4, 1.3 and 1 Plus still waiting in the wings for their turn.
Market analysts Counterpoint Research had Nokia at number one for updates when it released its report in 2019, while AOSMark (which tracks security updates) currently has the company in the number four slot, behind the likes of Google and OnePlus.
Until recently Samsung was one of the worst offenders for keeping its Android devices up to date and that primarily stemmed from the fact that it releases so dang many of them. However, in a surprising and positive move in February 2021, the company vowed to offer four years of Android security updates to devices it'd launched from 2019 onwards, regardless of standing (Galaxy S Series, A Series, M Series and the like).
This comes on top of a promise to deliver three years of OS updates to numerous S, Note and even A Series devices, starting with entries like 2020's Galaxy A51 and even 2019's Galaxy A90 5G.
While security updates arrive on a monthly or quarterly basis, the question remains about how quickly these promised OS updates will reach supported devices. The fact that Samsung is promising such long-term support at all has raised its profile enormously, in regards to this particular feature, however.
Another problematic OEM for the longest time has been LG but considering the timing, its standing too is about to change.
Even though the company has now confirmed that it's shuttering its mobile business, in the same move it's also vowed to supply at least three years of Android OS (and security) updates to a number of its key devices, spanning as far back as 2019.
While the entirety of the company's mobile portfolio from the past two years isn't covered by this promise, it's a great move that benefits consumers and earns our respect.
While the company is still in the early stages of permeating new markets outside of its native China, Yujian Shi - Vivo's senior vice president and CTO - confirmed in early May that smartphones in its flagship X Series that launch after July 2021 will all come with the guarantee of at least three years of major Android OS updates and security updates.
"Featuring top of the line hardware, the X series flagship phones are built to last – and we want to make sure that our customers get software support that lives up to their expectations," said Shi.
This commitment affects Vivo devices in European, Australian and Indian markets at present.
Best of the rest
Alongside Google, OnePlus and Nokia, there are several brands that are working hard to ensure that the new updates arrive quickly and on a good selection of their devices. Among these are Xiaomi, Redmi, Oppo, Sony, Motorola and Realme.
In a conversation with Android Planet in May, Oppo spoke about its intentions to extend monthly Android security update support to its latest flagship phone line - the Oppo Find X3 series - by an additional year (bringing it to a total of three, up from two). In addition, Oppo stated that it's considering extending this to four years across a wider array of devices, although no official press release on the matter has yet been issued.
For more information on the newest iteration of Android, read our guide to Android 11 and be sure to check out our roundup to the best Android phones now that you know which ones are most likely to be updated in the years to come.