Late or never Android updates remain a problem

Here’s yet another unintentional benefit of my shattering my Pixel 5a’s screen last weekend: an opportunity to reacquaint myself with how slowly many Android smartphone manufacturers still ooze out Google’s system updates.

This is not a new problem, as I can see from re-reading a piece I wrote almost 10 years ago that’s aged a little too well. I had thought that architectural changes Google made to Android starting back in 2017 would have put a dent into this problem by removing much of the recoding work from manufacturers. But dusting off the budget-priced Android phones I reviewed for CNN Underscored early this year (most of which I had not yet returned to the companies responsible, because my desk is a mess) revealed the error of that thought.

Photo shows Android phones stacked on a wooden floor, each showing their software-information screen. The Samsung Galaxy A13's screen is most visible, showing it's running Android 12 with the July 1 security patch.

After multiple cycles of checking for updates on these six phones, installing these updates, rebooting these phones, and checking for updates again until every device reported it was current, here’s where they wound up:

  • Moto G Power: Android 11, August 1 security update
  • Nokia X100: Android 11, August 1 security update
  • OnePlus Nord N200 5G: Android 12, September 5 security update
  • Samsung Galaxy A13 5G: Android 12, July 1security update
  • TCL 20 SE: Android 11, August 1 security update
  • TCL 20 Pro 5G: Android 11, April security update

The current month is October and the current Android version is 13, so the problem should be immediately obvious. And not only did none of these devices have the Android release that I installed on my beloved, now battered Pixel 5a in the middle of August, only one of these devices had Google’s latest security fixes–and only two had the Android release that Google shipped a year ago.

The good news, such as it may be, is that a low price doesn’t condem an Android phone to obsolescence. The A13 sells for $250 and the N200 $240, but both have aged better, software-wise, than the pricier Android devices in that review. You may want to consider that a factor in favor of OnePlus and Samsung if you’re shopping for a low-cost Android phone–while the lagging performance of those other vendors should rate as a serious strike against them.

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