Samsung’s update policy doesn’t always make it better than Google

If we had a dime for every time we have talked about and praised how Samsung’s software update policy left everyone else in the Android space in the dust, we would, well, have a lot of dimes.

And can you blame us? In addition to promising four years of OS upgrades for some devices, Samsung has also been channeling its inner Usain Bolt this year with the rollout of the Android 13 and One UI 5.0 update. It’s all been mighty impressive and made us wonder where Samsung could go from here.

Forget third-party manufacturers – Samsung has a stronger update policy than even Google, which makes the core operating system. Google only guarantees three major Android OS updates for Pixel smartphones while Samsung guarantees four, and on paper, the latter is the clear winner.

But is Samsung’s update policy always stronger than Google’s, especially when it comes to both companies’ flagship smartphones? Well, the answer is no, at least for flagship Galaxy smartphones launched in the second half of each year.

Since the Galaxy Note series got canned, Samsung has been launching the new Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip flagships in the second half of each year. And since the four years of OS upgrades only apply to flagship Galaxy phones (and some mid-rangers) launched in 2021 and later, Samsung’s just getting started.

But as it stands right now, Google’s Pixel smartphones don’t exactly fall behind just because the company promises one less year of major Android updates. And the reason is simple: Google’s Pixel flagships launch with the latest version of Android each year, while Samsung launches its foldable flagships with an year-old version of the operating system.

Pixel phones launch with the latest Android version, which is an important detail

The Pixel 7 and the Galaxy Z Fold 4, for example, will both end their lives on Android 16. Why? Because the Pixel 7 comes with Android 13 out of the box and the Galaxy Z Fold 4 comes with Android 12. The former will get three major OS updates and the latter will get four, and you don’t need advanced math skills to realize that the end result will be the fact that both smartphones will be running Android 16 once proper software support for them ends.

It basically boils down to something we’ve complained about before: Samsung needs to start putting the latest version of Android on flagships launched in the back half of the year, instead of the same version that it uses in the first half.

Right now, that isn’t the case. Only the Galaxy S line properly benefits from Samsung’s update policy when compared to the latest high-end Pixel smartphone available on the market when a new Galaxy S flagship is introduced. The foldables, or whatever Samsung decides to launch in the final few months, end up getting the same level of support, even though Samsung’s policy sounds better on paper.

In fact, one could argue that depending on when you buy a new smartphone, the difference in long-term software support between Galaxy S and Pixel devices as well. For example, the Galaxy S23 will come running Android 13 out of the box while the next Pixel lineup will be running Android 14 on day one, so all of them will have the same Android version once they stop getting major OS updates.

Thankfully, Samsung’s feature count is generally a step ahead of stock Android

There is, however, a bright side: Samsung phones may not technically get more OS updates than Google’s Pixel devices, but the additions the Korean giant makes to Android through its One UI skin mean that Galaxy flagships always have more features the user can take advantage of of.

Many features even debut on Samsung devices first. Take the system-wide dark mode, for example. Samsung introduced it to Galaxy smartphones and tablets with Android 9 Pie; Google, on the other hand, brought a system-wide dark mode with Android 10.

So, yeah, Samsung’s got a clear advantage when it comes to the number of built-in software features. And let’s not forget that while Samsung may not beat Google with regards to updates, it does have a lead against other Android phone manufacturers, and I would say that’s triumph enough.