Android upgrades: Which manufacturers can you trust?

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Android Upgrades

For most smartphone users, Google's Android upgrades are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, each upgrade opens the door to exciting new features and functions for a phone. On the other hand, the updates don't arrive instantly -- and the wait to receive them can often be long and filled with uncertainty or disappointment.

The Android upgrade frustration has never been more evident than with the rollout of Google's Android 2.2 upgrade, best known as Froyo. Since being announced last June, Froyo has slowly made its way onto handsets around the world. Some phones got the software within a matter of days. Others, however, waited weeks or months, while others yet (cough, cough, Galaxy S) are still waiting for their turns. Then, of course, there are the phones that have been given the dreaded "no upgrade" stamp -- the Android equivalent of being forced into retirement from a game you're still itching to play.

So who can you trust to provide timely Android upgrades, and whose track record is less than impressive? I set out to find that answer. I compiled data on all Android phones released in the U.S. between 2009 and 2010. I looked at which phones were upgraded to Froyo by the end of 2010, and which were either still waiting or being left behind. I calculated exactly how many days it took for each phone to receive its upgrade, then used that data to generate overall upgrade reliability scores for all the major manufacturers and carriers.

Here's what I discovered.

Android Upgrades: Calculating the Scores

First, a few quick notes on my methodology: For the purposes of this analysis, I included only phones released by major manufacturers and tied to one of the four main U.S. carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon). As mentioned above, I looked at phones released in 2009 and 2010. The T-Mobile G1, while obviously a groundbreaking and important product in Android's development, was truly a different generation of device; given the advances made in hardware and software since its release, combined with its long-passed 2008 launch date, I opted not to include it in this comparison.

When calculating the time it took for each phone to receive the Froyo upgrade, I counted from the day Google released the Froyo source code -- June 23 -- for all devices that were on the market by that point. For devices that launched after June 23, when Froyo was already available, I used the phone's launch date as its starting point. I considered the first date that an over-the-air rollout was observed to be each device's "upgrade date." And finally, phones that launched with Froyo preinstalled were not included in this analysis, as the upgrade in question would not have been applicable to them (and we're looking here at upgrade reliability -- not launching-with-the-latest-version reliability).

There are a million ways you could analyze Android upgrades. Some phones, for example, were upgraded between June and December of 2010 -- but only to Android 2.1. Since those decisions were made despite the fact that Android 2.2 was readily available, I'm not factoring them into this analysis as full commitments to Android upgrading. Only phones that received Android 2.2 by the end of December 2010 -- six months after the software's release -- are considered "upgraded" in this report.

Android Upgrades: Grading the Manufacturers

Android Upgrades

All right -- ready to see how the manufacturers stack up? Click on the two charts at right to check out the breakdown. The first chart shows the percentage of Android phones upgraded by each manufacturer within 2010; the second chart shows how long, on average, each manufacturer took to deliver the software. You can also view the full set of raw data here.

Some conclusions:

  • Android Upgrades

    When it comes to sheer number of upgrades, HTC is the best by a long shot, with 50 percent of its Android phones having been bumped to Froyo within 2010. Its average upgrade time is also relatively impressive, at 56 days. 

  • Motorola comes in second for number of upgrades, with 15.4 percent of its Android phones having tasted Froyo before the end of 2010. While that number sounds low, especially compared to HTC, note that Moto had four handsets that weren't released until November, which means those devices had far less time on the market before the year's end. That said, those phones also launched several months after Froyo had been released, yet they didn't come with Froyo preinstalled -- so make of it what you will.

    Motorola's average upgrade time was the best of any manufacturer, at 54.5 days.

  • Samsung swings into third place in terms of both overall upgrade numbers and average upgrade time. Samsung so far has upgraded only one out of nine Android phones that fit the criteria for our comparison, giving it an upgrade score of 11.1 percent. That phone -- the Samsung Intercept -- was on the market for 159 days before getting its upgrade. Its rollout also encountered some serious problems -- so all together, this score is not one to be proud of.

  • Dell and LG are at the bottom of the barrel -- but while they certainly don't get points for timeliness, they're owed some level of credit for perseverance. Though neither company has managed to come through with a single upgrade as of yet, both manufacturers have confirmed that at least one their devices will see Froyo eventually. LG's Ally is currently scheduled to be upgraded in February; Dell's Streak, meanwhile, is set to "hopefully" receive its upgrade sometime this month (the company blames AT&T for the delay). The Aero, meanwhile, is still a wildcard; Dell has yet to issue any official word on its fate.

  • There's really no way to sugar coat it: Sony failed when it came to Android upgrades in 2010. It gets a big fat zero all around, and with confirmation that its Xperia X10 phones will never see Froyo, there's really no hope remaining. To be fair, Sony Ericsson execs have been quoted as saying they're now better prepared to make upgrades for their newer phones, such as the recently announced Xperia Arc -- so we can only hope the company is at least serious about making some serious improvements.

Android Power Twitter

Based on this data, we can conclude that HTC and Motorola -- our upgrade leaders -- tend to be far more reliable for updating handsets that are higher-end and higher-profile, such as the EVO 4G, Droid Incredible, and Droid X. Phones that are mid- to lower-range and less prominently marketed -- like the Droid Eris, Backflip, and Devour -- generally fared less well.

It seems safe to say, then -- no big surprise -- that aside from considering a phone's manufacturer, going with a higher profile, top-of-the-line device will improve your odds of receiving regular OS upgrades (see also: "The argument against entry-level Android phones").

Of course, manufacturers aren't the only ones involved in the Android upgrade process; carriers are also involved and can potentially play a role in how quickly updates are delivered. To see how the carriers performed, click forward to the second part of our Android upgrade series: Android upgrades: Which carriers can you trust?

And for the latest upgrade status on any Android device, be sure to visit our Android 2.2 upgrade list as well. It's always kept up-to-date with the latest Froyo info available for all phones.

NEXT PAGE: Android upgrades: Which carriers can you trust?

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway.

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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