A core strength of Google’s hardware lies in its fast and reliable software support. Pixel devices always get new Android releases ahead of the competition, and until recently, Pixels received these updates longer than other Android devices. The mobile landscape is changing and the software benefits of the Pixel aren’t as significant as they used to be. Some might even suggest what was once unthinkable – Pixels are no longer the best Android phones to buy for long-term software support.
If we look to the past, we can see how Google’s phones and tablets have built a strong reputation for software support. Android 9.0 “Pie” was made available for Pixel in August 2018. Samsung’s 2018 flagship; the Galaxy S9 only got the update in January 2019. Google also offered more updates than other Android manufacturers; Pixels received three years of software and security updates, while Samsung and many other competitors only offered two operating system upgrades.
Samsung started bridging the gap in 2019. Monthly security patches became more consistent and timely. The gap between Google releasing new versions of Android and Samsung pushing the updates to many of its phones has shrunk. Galaxy S9 owners had to wait five months for Android 9.0. Galaxy S10 owners snagged the Android 10 update just two and a half months after it was released. Android 12 came to the Galaxy S21 less than a month after its Pixel debut.
Google doesn’t do much to improve its reputation. It’s normal for new products to suffer from bugs upon release, but the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro have been plagued by persistent issues that have lasted for months. Some issues were so severe that the Pixel 6 series received monthly security patches weeks later than its older siblings. Most bugs were eventually fixed, but some still persist today, more than six months after the phones went on sale.
When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note 20 in August 2020, it made a bold commitment to long-term software support. Most upcoming Galaxy devices would get three years of Android upgrades and four years of security patches; The range has also expanded to include a handful of premium devices from 2019. Google had lost its long-term software support lead – Samsung not only fulfilled Google’s commitment to OS upgrades, but also added an extra year of security patches.
Google temporarily changed the math when it announced the Pixel 6; Its first true flagships would receive security upgrades for five years. It would continue with three years of software updates, like older Pixel models. The security update offer has not been extended to older Pixel models. It has a half-hearted victory and one that didn’t last.
When Samsung announced the Galaxy S22 series in February 2022, it surpassed Google again.
Most of the upcoming Galaxy A and S series phones would be eligible for four years of operating system upgrades as well as five years of security patches. Again, Samsung expanded the offering to a select few 2021 devices, and again it eclipsed Google’s software commitments.
Google’s Android devices have always served as a model for other manufacturers, showing how Google should approach Android and how long devices should be supported. If you bought Google’s $900 Pixel 6 Pro, Android 15 is your last update. If you bought the $450 Galaxy A53 5G, your latest update is Android 16.
Google still has a clear advantage in the development space, and other manufacturers have not been able to close the gap. The Android 13 beta program has begun and is available on a handful of Android phones, but the Pixel is the best way to enjoy it. Joining the beta program on a Pixel means fewer hurdles to jump through, and the stable release will arrive sooner than other phones.
With that in mind, it’s harder than ever to buy a Pixel based on its software experience. The Pixel benefits from exclusive software features like Call Screen, Live Translate and Now Playing, which might be enough to keep some customers. However, some would argue that they pale in comparison to the number of features packed into competing phones, which are now being updated almost as quickly and for longer.
A few years ago, the question “which Android phone has the best software” was easy to answer. Google’s devices were reliable, updated quickly, and received updates longer than any other Android phone. Today the answer is less clear. Is it worth getting an update a month early to put up with the bugs and software quirks that come with being first? Should you sacrifice this small benefit in exchange for a device that’s supported longer?
The Pixel is no longer the best phone for long-term software support. Samsung has closed the gap in most areas, beating Google in the most important one – device longevity. That might not be enough to distract Pixel fans from the brand, but it should be a wake-up call for Google.