Google may be the driving force behind the Android OS and each of its upgrades – the latest being Android 4.4 KitKat which was released and available to manufacturers of smartphones and other devices on October 31, 2013…over three months ago – but it is those manufacturers that are ultimately responsible for that upgrade to make it on our devices. Android is an "open" system and once released, each individual manufacturer takes that release and then "does their own thing" with the release – whether it be adding their own "skin" or User Interface, adding and deleting features – then it must be approved by the carriers, and they always have to add their own bloatware as well. By the time it actually gets put on a device, Google would hardly recognize the OS as the one they handed the OEM in the first place. This entire process, along with all of the testing involved takes time, and in fact, sometimes an OEM will simply skip one and jump to the next one to save time.
When Apple releases an upgrade, it goes out to all current devices at once, no questions asked, because Apple has a tight grip on their closed system. There is no tinkering by other OEMs, because there are none. There is no tinkering by the carriers, because Apple does not allow it. That is the glory of having a closed system, but everything else about it sucks – there is no customizations, no individuality, and no swapping launchers, keyboards, live wallpapers, etc., but at least all of the devices are running the most current OS.
We thought we would take a look at each of the Android OEMs and give them a grade on how fast the Google Android upgrade gets to their devices. Let's see which ones are slow and dragging their feet and which OEMs are making an effort to keep their devices upgraded – how far back do their upgrades go and how fast are they getting them to our devices. The guidelines are the OEM's current flagship devices, going back that 18 month window of promised upgrades and no Google Play Editions, because they are in an entirely different category and receive updates fast.
Motorola – A+
People can say what they want, but Motorola was a better company after Google acquired them – device wise and they were certainly more customer service oriented. Android is a Google creation, so naturally, Google wanted their new "babies" to get their KitKat upgrade quickly, and so they did, in fact, many of the Moto X's received their upgrade before some Nexus devices. Moto rolled out KitKat to the Moto X less than three weeks after it was announced, the Moto G owners got theirs a month later, and even its 2013 Droid devices sold by Verizon, received their updates a month after the Moto G's. It has a terrific upgrade support site to keep their customers in the loop regarding upgrades, and they have certainly made, and in some cases, beat their projected dates.
With Lenovo's purchase we can only hope that this upgrade process continues, and I think it will – Lenovo showed us a good track record when they purchased the IBM ThinkPad series and I think they will be a good fit with Motorola.
Google – A-
Yes, we know that Google is not a manufacturer; however, they are responsible for upgrading their Nexus devices, which are farmed out to other OEMs. You would think that Google would be an A+++, but some non-Nexus devices, such as Motorola, received their update before the Nexus device. Nexus devices come with the expectation of upgrades within days of the official release and they were not this last time around – close, but still a little disappointing for Nexus owners.
HTC – B-
One thing we will say about HTC is that they have made a real effort this time around to update their devices – they realized that if they want to be a real contender, customers were tired of buying a HTC device and never getting updates in a timely manner. That being said, they get a B- for effort – they did get KitKat on their unlocked HTC One and One Developer Edition in late November and then on the regular HTC One in Europe and Canada in January.
HTC made the fatal mistake of promising to deliver KitKat to all of its HTC One devices by the end of January and customers on AT&T and T-Mobile models are still waiting. The company has kept the customers in the loop and at this point, it seems like the carriers are really the ones holding up the final upgrades. Another deduction in their grade is the fact that they announced that the HTC One X+, launched in November 2012, would not be receiving the KitKat upgrade, which has to be disappointing for those users.
Samsung – D+
Samsung has not been quick with this KitKat upgrade at all – after skipping Android 4.2 and going straight to 4.3 on few models, it was a longer wait, but not bad going from 4.1 to 4.3. Then they put Android 4.3 out of the box on its Galaxy Note 3, but after more than three-months, we are still waiting for some KitKat loving. The Samsung Galaxy S4's Google Play Edition (GPE) received their updates in December, and a limited number of Galaxy Note 3s in Europe just this month and there is word that Sprint is starting its Galaxy S4 KitKat update.
A Samsung insider reported said that the Galaxy S3, S4, Galaxy Note 2 and Note 3 will receive their KitKat update sometime in March – which would be five months since it was released. This is unacceptable for any manufacturer, but for the number one seller of Android phones it is inexcusable, especially when Samsung has left us in the dark about when the updates will be forthcoming – all we get is rumors from an inside source.
LG – D
LG has never had a very good record of accomplishment when it comes to updating the OS and this trend has continued with Android's 4.4 KitKat. Some users have reported that Korea started to receive their upgrade this month, but that is an extremely limited number of devices. LG has not given us any official details about when to expect the KitKat upgrade on a G2 anywhere else. In Canada, LG reps hinted at the first quarter of 2014, but when our source reached out to U.S. reps from LG, they were unable to confirm anything. Another bad sign is that LG just released the new LG G Flex and it is running Android 4.2 from 2012, not even 4.3!
Sony – D-
When KitKat was first released, it was nice of Sony to announce in their blog detailing its plans to upgrade five of its flagship devices to Android 4.4 KitKat – but with no actual dates or even a loose timeline given, along with the fact that no updates have yet to be delivered, their grade would have been an "F." Since they at least acknowledged the upgrade, we will give them a "D-."
ASUS – F
It is a shame that ASUS has fallen so far – once fairly reliable with their updates, but like others, with this KitKat update, they have completely dropped the ball. They told our source in early December that it would have details on their KitKat upgrades within a couple of weeks, but so far, they have not made any announcements. They told him that we should expect "several devices" to receive the upgrade in the first quarter of 2104, but talk is cheap, especially when there has been no word or updates.
Acer – F
Acer is certainly not a big player in the Android world, but they make quite a few tablets. They have indicated that existing tablets would receive maintenance upgrades for Jelly Bean and from this point on, any new devices manufactured in 2014 would include Android KitKat 4.4. So much for their "A."
Grading on a Curve
These grades can certainly change all of a sudden if any real progress is made – after all, if the manufacturer would come out with a semi-definite timetable, they could jump their grade from a "D" to a "C" or even a "B," but ignoring the users is simply not acceptable – at the very least, make a feeble attempt. Keeping the User Interfaces simple would go a long way to speeding up the upgrade process, as witnessed with Motorola's devices and upgrades. Possibly Samsung is including their new TouchWiz UI in their update and they ran into difficulties – then tells us. There is no excuse for a company with the resources that these manufacturers employ that they should not have a firm plan on Android upgrades.