Android upgrades are a never-ending saga: Which devices will get upgraded? Which will get left behind? And when, for the love of sweet desserts, will my damn phone get its turn?
We can talk endlessly about which devices should get upgrades, but in the end, the manufacturers' promises are the only things we can hold accountable. Android device-makers love to make promises for when their phones and tablets will get OS upgrades. Unfortunately, as we've seen over the years, they aren't always so good at sticking to their word.
With the third quarter now behind us, it's time to check up on the past three months' promises to see who's followed through and who's let us down. Based on their own publicly shared plans, here's how the major Android manufacturers performed in the third quarter of 2012.
Android Upgrade Report Card: Acer
Acer has performed consistently well in my upgrade report card analyses: It got a straight "A" in Q1 and a commendable "A-" in Q2. The company's streak continues in Q3: Having finished all of its promised Ice Cream Sandwich upgrades more or less on schedule, Acer quietly moved onto Jelly Bean last month. Though the company has yet to announce any formal timeline, it's already ahead of the curve, having rolled out Android 4.1 to users of its Iconia Tab A700 in late September.
FINAL GRADE: A
Android Upgrade Report Card: Asus
Asus is another consistently strong performer when it comes to Android upgrades -- and for the third quarter, the company scores its third consecutive "A." With all of its ICS upgrades finished either on time or early, Asus started delivering Jelly Bean to its tablets ahead of every other manufacturer (Google-managed devices notwithstanding). The company has already upgraded four tablets to Android 4.1, fulfilling all of its current upgrade promises.
FINAL GRADE: A
Android Upgrade Report Card: HTC
There's no gentle way to say it: HTC's had a rough quarter with its Android upgrades. The company promised a June-to-July Android 4.0 upgrade for its HTC Desire S phone, then provided it only in the form of a do-it-yourself upgrade kit geared toward developers -- and, adding insult to injury, provided that in August. It provided only a similar pseudo-upgrade for its HTC Rhyme phone and was a full month behind schedule with that one as well.
The list goes on: HTC promised an ICS upgrade for its Evo 3D phone toward the start of 2012 and didn't deliver it until late June to late July; it promised "early 2012" upgrades for its Evo Design 4G and Rezound phones and then didn't complete those rollouts until late in the summer; and it promised a "May to June" upgrade for its Evo 4G+ phone and a "July to August" upgrade for its Thunderbolt phone and has yet to deliver either. The company also said it would announce timing details for the Droid Incredible 2's ICS upgrade by the end of August; owners of that phone are still waiting for the upgrade or any news on its status.
Then there's the Desire HD: Way back in February, HTC said the phone would see ICS; it even went on to promise a "July to August" upgrade window for the phone. After denying rumors that the Desire HD's upgrade had been cancelled, HTC finally came forward and said the phone's upgrade wouldn't take place.
HTC made a few vague Jelly Bean upgrade promises during Q3 -- for its One S, One X, and One XL phones -- but left the timing open-ended throughout the third quarter. Just today, HTC stated it would start at least two of its Jelly Bean rollouts within the month of October. Maybe Q4 will be a chance for HTC to turn things back around.
For now, though, it isn't exactly a pretty picture -- and the successful 4.0 upgrade of the Incredible S in Q3 isn't enough to erase all the glaringly bad marks.
FINAL GRADE: D-
Android Upgrade Report Card: LG
LG, oh LG. Following its embarrassing "F" in my second-quarter report card, I really hoped these guys would get their act together. But alas, no suck luck: The company still hasn't completed Android 4.0 upgrades for a bunch of phones promised second quarter upgrades -- the LG Eclipse, MyTouch Q, and Optimus Sol -- and has also failed to complete ICS upgrades for most of the phones promised third quarter upgrades: the LG Optimus 3D, Optimus Big, Optimus Black, Optimus EX, and Optimus Q2.
LG did complete partial ICS rollouts for a few devices, releasing the software to Optimus 2X users in South Korea in late August; to Optimus LTE users in Korea and Canada between June and August; and to Prada users in Germany and Italy in July. All of those phones were promised second-quarter upgrades (and still aren't finished).
Worst of all, LG hasn't said a word to its customers about what the hell is going on or whether any of these pending upgrades will ever be delivered. It makes me wonder: Is anyone over there actually still alive and/or awake?
FINAL GRADE: F
Android Upgrade Report Card: Motorola
Motorola's first full quarter under Google's wing won't be one the company will want to remember. Just last week, Motorola decided to cancel plans to upgrade its Atrix 4G and Photon 4G to Android 4.0; both devices had originally been promised third-quarter ICS upgrades.
Moto also missed its third-quarter promise for the Droid Bionic and Atrix 2, pushing those phones' rollouts back to the fourth quarter. It missed third-quarter deadlines for the Xoom 2 and Xoom 2 Media Edition, too, and has yet to provide an update on either tablet's status. And it missed its upgrade promise for the Xoom Family Edition for the second time; Moto initially said that device would get ICS in Q2, then bumped it back to Q3, and just recently bumped it back to Q4.
On the plus side, Motorola did upgrade its Droid 4 to Android 4.0 in the third quarter, as promised. It also upgraded its original Droid Razr to ICS in early July, but that phone had been introduced with an "early 2012" upgrade promise way back last year, so there's not much to celebrate there. The same goes for the international Motorola Razr, which received ICS over the summer after having been promised an upgrade in the "early" part of the year.
The Razr Maxx, meanwhile, received a successful third-quarter upgrade; that phone had been vaguely promised ICS with no definite time frame. And the Droid Xyboard is 50/50: The 10.1-inch model got ICS in last August, meeting Motorola's not-so-ambitious promise of a third-quarter upgrade for the device, while the 8.2-inch model just received its upgrade this week.
On the Jelly Bean front, Motorola's made some vague promises -- saying that "most" of its devices released since 2011 will be upgraded "very soon" -- but thus far, it hasn't progressed past the noncommittal talk.
One thing's for sure: There's plenty of room here for improvement. I can only hope that as Google's influence starts to show up -- remember, the merger was approved only in late May -- Moto's performance will start to improve.
FINAL GRADE: D
Samsung has earned a bit of a reputation for sucking at upgrades -- a reputation that dates back to the early days of Android -- and the company seems to know it. Sammy has stopped even making specific upgrade promises for most of its devices lately, providing only vague lists of products it plans to upgrade with not so much as broad quarter-based estimates for when any of the upgrades could occur. Hey, if you don't make any real promises, it's much harder to fail at fulfilling 'em.
For the third quarter, then, Samsung gets a bit tricky to grade. The company delivered a host of long-overdue ICS upgrades over the past few months -- to its Captivate Glide, Galaxy Exhilarate, Galaxy S II Skyrocket, Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, Galaxy Tab 7.7, Galaxy Tab 8.9, and Galaxy Tab 10.1 -- and caught up on some of its remaining Galaxy S II ICS upgrades as well. It also provided the Android 4.0 upgrade to its original Galaxy Note a quarter after it promised to do so.
So what do we say? I wish Samsung would work as hard at actually delivering timely upgrades as it does at trying to avoid getting called out on its lackluster performance. Given the nature of the situation, though, there's little I can do other than issue Samsung an "incomplete" grade for its efforts. Failing to provide your customers with any meaningful information about upgrades and then still taking an inexcusably long time to deliver them doesn't mean you're winning the game; it just means you aren't really playing.
FINAL GRADE: INCOMPLETE
Android Upgrade Report Card: Sony
Sony's in a similar boat to Samsung this go-round: The company rolled out a handful of ICS upgrades in the third quarter -- to its Xperia Go, Xperia Ion, Xperia P, Xperia Sola, and Xperia U devices -- but never actually gave owners of those devices any information beforehand as to when their upgrades might arrive. And despite having approximately 47 bazillion Xperia-this-or-that devices on the market right now, the company has yet to make a peep about any specific plans for Jelly Bean.
A little communication goes a long way, folks.
FINAL GRADE: INCOMPLETE
Android Upgrade Report Card: Toshiba
Toshiba doesn't have many tablets, which makes its struggle to keep up with upgrades all the more vexing. The company's Thrive tablet had originally been promised an "end of spring" ICS upgrade, but engineers failed to meet that goal. And while the 10-inch Thrive did finally get its ICS in early August, the 8-inch model is still waiting in the cold with no word on what's up.
FINAL GRADE: D-
Android Upgrade Report Card: And then there's Google...
While it isn't technically a manufacturer, Google maintains responsibility for upgrading a small subset of Android devices -- the ones known as Nexus or "Google experience" devices. One of the key selling points of the Nexus-branded devices is the fact that they get upgrades early and often, straight from Google, with no manufacturer or carrier interference.
Google has excelled at keeping up with promises for the unlocked models of its Nexus devices: The unlocked Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S, and Motorola Xoom all received Android 4.1 upgrades in July, within weeks of the platform's launch and long before any other products were upgraded.
But then there are the various carrier-connected Nexus and Google experience devices -- the Verizon Galaxy Nexus, for example, as well as the Sprint Nexus S and Verizon Xoom. These devices are all branded and sold as Nexus or Google experience products, but as we've consistently seen, they aren't treated accordingly; many of the devices have waited months to get the upgrades they should have gotten instantly, and some are still waiting for long-overdue rollouts to begin.
It's easy to play the blame game in these situations -- the carriers undoubtedly cause much of the added delays -- but regardless of how you look at it, Google released the devices as Nexus or Google experience devices. Those brandings come with certain promises, and those promises have not been fulfilled.
If Google can't treat the devices as Nexus products -- even if that's completely at the fault of the carriers -- it shouldn't brand them as such, plain and simple. As things stand, despite its impressive successes on one side of the spectrum, the company's letting an awful lot of people down on the other.
FINAL GRADE: C
Android Upgrade Report Card: Final thoughts and future steps
While some devices are still stuck waiting for Ice Cream Sandwich, much of the world is looking forward to Jelly Bean. At long last, we're starting to see some momentum with Android 4.1 upgrades -- and with any luck, that momentum will only pick up as the weeks move on.
In the big picture, upgrade inconsistency is an unfortunate but inevitable side effect of Android's open source model. The platform's open setup allows us to have a ton of diversity in products, which means you can find a phone or tablet with practically any hardware and software setup you like. Beyond that, you can even swap out the operating system to someone else's interpretation of the software if you're so inspired.
As part of that diversity -- for better and sometimes for worse -- different devices come with different features. Some phones have awesome displays; others have standout cameras. Others have top-notch upgrade experiences.
Fast and frequent upgrades are a feature of Google's Nexus devices -- the unlocked versions, specifically -- and if reliable ongoing software upgrades are a priority to you, that's something you have to take into account when selecting a new device. (Carriers play a role in the process, too, of course, which is why the unlocked Nexus models are the best options for a fully unadulterated fast-and-frequent upgrade experience.)
I'll sum it up by quoting an extraordinarily handsome writer I know: