Unlocked Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge Get Slower Updates than Carrier Variants
Back when Android was still a fledgling OS trying to compete fiercely against a few other competitors, the issue of Android updates and their delay came up very frequently as an argument against the OS. The basic bone to pick was that Android updates would rarely be rolled out to devices in a timely fashion. The problem gets even worse when you add in carriers to the picture, as most of the big telecoms insist on every update passing through them.
So the process that already took months added on more time delay, with the end result that updates would already be outdated by the time they reached the end user. The Android update situation has slightly improved in a few regards. For one, OEM flagships do get increased attention and accelerated update timelines nowadays, as OEMs try to retain their competitive edge for a few months after the device has launched.
Further, with the introduction of Android security patches as a separate update cycle distinct from the Android OS update, OEMs can incorporate patches and fixes for security vulnerabilities without needing to update the OS for the most part. This gives them more flexibility on how they can incorporate updates as they need not wait for an OS update to be ready just to push forth security patches. With security becoming a recent focus point (not to mention a pressing issue), a dual-pronged approach has worked out very well in favor of Google and BlackBerry doing their best in pushing out regular and timely security updates to supported devices.
Samsung has been doing a good job too, for the most part. Samsung’s Mobile Security Blog is updated periodically to display the latest information such as the Security Patch Bulletin for every month, in addition to the supported devices as well as information on Samsung-specific patches too. The effort is commendable and sets a good standard for the rest of the smartphone industry to follow.
However, what does not set a good standard is Samsung’s partiality against unlocked flagship devices in the USA.
Internationally and generally speaking, all unlocked variants of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge receive regular security updates. Experiences vary with some regions and users getting updates a week or two later than others, but on a general level, most flagships devices from Samsung are on a recent Security Patch.
But in the USA, if you purchased the carrier unlocked phones in the form of the S7 G930U model or S7 Edge G935U model, security updates on your device will come long after carrier variants receive theirs. This time delay extends on to months, as it has come to light that Samsung follows a quarterly update cycle for unlocked Galaxy devices. Users are reporting that the security patch level on unlocked devices is as old as September 2016. In contrast, some US carriers have already pushed the December 2016 carrier update and are in the process of rolling out January 2017 security patches.
To make things worse, the unlocked variants were also left out of the Nougat Beta test.
A primary reason on why the update cycles between the USA variants and the International variants of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge differ is simply because of difference in internal hardware. The International S7 and S7 Edge utilize the Exynos 8890 Octa SoC, while the USA variants of the same make use of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC which has support for CDMA technology that US carriers continue to use. This creates a crucial difference between the two variants, and does not allow for easy comparison of update cycles.
On the other hand, there are no internal hardware differences between the carrier variants in the USA and the unlocked variants in the USA. So their update cycles are comparable due to similarity in hardware. Carrier variants would be expected to be updated slower because of the added middleman who needs to approve the update (i.e. add their own bloatware). But as mentioned, the scenario is quite the opposite!
It is unclear why exactly Samsung chooses to push security updates slower than carrier variants, while adopting a quarterly update cycle for unlocked variants elsewhere. One explanation could be carrier pressure or a collaboration arrangement, whereby Samsung promises to provide quicker updates at the insistence of the carrier. The other line of reasoning could be the low number of unlocked devices in the USA, which predominantly sees contract-based sales of smartphones across OEMs.
Either way, the end result is the same — users who purchased the phone at full retail are at a disadvantage against users who opted for a carrier-based contract. While unlocked users can enjoy their carrier-bloat free experience, they do so while staying on older Android versions and security patches.
With the upcoming Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, we hope Samsung clarifies on its security update policy. While they won’t give us our security update, they certainly can not take away our hope.
What are your thoughts on the update-lag between carrier and unlocked variants in the USA? What could be the reason behind it? Let us know in the comments below!