Until recently, the words "Samsung" and "timely updates" were never uttered in the same sentence, unless you were emphasizing the contradiction between them. The Korean behemoth had a reliable, albeit very leisurely update schedule, pushing Android users who valued prompt access to security patches and new features away. With Android 10, things changed drastically, and Samsung has been impressing us more and more, with both major OTA rollouts and monthly security patches. Whether it's due to a different strategy, new team or leadership, Android's Project Treble, or some magical potion, Samsung is quickly becoming the OEM to beat for Android updates and we can't help but applaud its recent efforts.
Tangibly faster rollouts of new Android versions
To see where Samsung came from and how fast it turned around, it helps to look at the last three years of Android updates and compare how the company dealt with them. The changes will become much more apparent then.
Android 8.0 Oreo for the S8, Note8, S7
Android Oreo was officially released by Google on August 21, 2017. It took Samsung 72 days to release the first Oreo beta for the S8, its most recent flagship at the time. The stable version didn't roll out until much later, mid-February, and even extended to May for some operator variants.
As for the Note 8, which was announced just two days after Oreo and was thus first released with Nougat, we didn't get a stable Android Oreo build until March. Some operators took their sweet time with the update too, stretching it to May.
Should we dare raise the question of the previous flagship generation's update, we'd see that it took way, way, way longer for the S7 to get its sweet Oreo treat. The first signs showed up on May 1, 2018, but some variants didn't get it until July 24, nearly a full year after Android 8.0 was released.
As for the Note7, well, it didn't need to get updated — remember?
That excruciatingly slow update schedule is what many of us used to criticize Samsung for, but thankfully, things did change for the better.
Android 9.0 Pie for the S9, Note9, S8, Note8
For Android Pie, which was officially released on August 6, Samsung pressed the Fast-Forward button and accelerated most of its OTAs.
Its most recent flagship at the time, the Galaxy S9, took a bit longer to get its first beta on November 15, but everything sped up after that. The official update came on December 24, way ahead of the S8's February Oreo update the previous year.
The Note9 received a Pie beta on December 5 and a stable release on January 4. Even the most delayed Note9 variants didn't surpass March, which, if you scroll back up, is when the Note8 had just begun receiving Oreo in the preceding cycle.
Both the S8 and Note got invited into the Pie beta rather quickly, in January, and only had to wait a month until February for the stable update to roll out. This is a far cry from the May-June-July dates we saw the previous year.
However, despite the notable improvement with Pie, owners of Samsung's flagship phones were still looking at five to eight months of delay before getting a new version of Android on their devices. The Korean company could obviously do better.
Android 10 for the S10, Note10, S9, Note 9
If Pie's release was a Fast-Forward button press, Android 10's would be a nitro-boost mode. Samsung pushed the gas pedal and decimated its best numbers in recent months.
Google officially released Android 10 later than usual in the year, on September 3 to be precise. Still, it only took Samsung 41 days to offer the first beta for its flagship S10. That was released on October 24, followed by a series of quick updates until the stable version landed the next month on November 28. Compared to the years prior, this is when we'd still be in the first or second beta phase, at best.
So despite the late official Android 10 release, Samsung managed to get its two most recent flagships updated before the end of the year, with some room to spare. Even most US carrier and unlocked variants, which were always notably last to get the OTA have already received it, and we're barely in February.
Things have been even quicker for older flagships. The S9 and Note9 got their beta in November, then their stable in January and December, respectively — and that includes several carrier variants too.
Faster-than-Pixel monthly patches
It's a well-known fact that Google releases its Pixel security patches on the first Monday of every month. On certain months, that happens to be the first day, but on others it ends up being the seventh. Other Android OEMs are under no obligation to follow that self-imposed schedule, which means that they can roll monthly patches as soon as they have them, sometimes along with Google (like Essential) or even earlier. We've seen the latter happen a few times, but it's often been an exception rather than the rule.
In recent months, Samsung has lapped everyone, including the Pixels, on more than one occasion. I'm not saying this in a dig at Google, but as a testament to the Korean giant's valiant efforts.
Looking back at our Android Police tips inbox, I can see emails telling us the S10+ got the November patch on November 3 and the Note8 got the December patch on December 2. Even better, devices in the Android 10 beta got the November patch while we were still in October. The same happened for the December patch in November, and this at a time when Google was alarmingly struggling to push Pixel security patches.
Things didn't slow down in January, with Samsung starting its security patch rollout on the second day of the month, and we've seen a similar trend in February. We're still the fifth and have already spotted security patches for the S10, Note10, Note9, A50, and Tab S3 in various countries and on multiple operators.
This Samsung is unquestionably different from the company that used to roll out a December patch in March for my Galaxy S7 a few years ago. It's even on par if not faster than Essential, OnePlus, and Nokia, three companies we used to laud for their speedy updates. I'm not going to cry victory just yet, and I'd like to see more evidence over the next few months, but it's becoming increasingly easier to recommend Samsung devices, even to those who are sticklers about updates.
Three years of steady improvements
Samsung is the largest Android manufacturer, that is a fact. It releases dozens of new phones every year, including multiple variants of the same device with different RAM and storage configurations, dual-SIM or single-SIM, 5G and no 5G, and Exynos or Snapdragon processors. That's not to mention all the different operator certifications these devices have to pass through and all the countries they need to ship in. The task of keeping all of these up to date is gargantuan, and the company was poised to fail from the start, just under the sheer volume of the job.
And yet, it's beyond obvious that Samsung has done its homework and found an Android update formula that works, despite all the obstacles in its way. It took eleven months for the S7 to be updated to Oreo. With Android 10, that went down to four months for the S9. That's the only number you need to remember; it's a great indicator of the progress we've seen.
We suspect Project Treble had something to do with this magical turn-around, but it wouldn't have made a dent on its own if Samsung wasn't putting its best foot forward. Just look at LG or Motorola: We've heard their empty promises for faster updates for years, with no tangible improvement to speak of.
Things can still get better for Samsung though, and we're all rooting for it to keep speeding up its processes. Maybe with Android 11 we could see an official beta in under a month and all four flagships updated before the end of 2020. At the rate it's going, this doesn't seem too far-fetched.