Android security update tracker: Ranking the top smartphones


Major updates of Android don’t matter as much as they used to. Many components of the operating system are updated through the Play Store, so even if you’re on Android 8 or 9, you can still access most of the same apps and features as someone on the latest release of Android 10. However, the security updates that Google releases on a monthly basis are still critical to keeping your phone or tablet safe. Dozens of security flaws are discovered in components of Android each month, which is why Google releases monthly security patches.

Unlike app and API updates, the security patches can’t be delivered directly to devices — phone manufacturers have to integrate the changes into their own flavors of Android, and release them as system updates. It’s common knowledge that some companies are better than others when it comes to patching their phones, but making direct comparisons is somewhat difficult. It’s hard to track down information about when exactly updates are released, with carriers and staged rollouts only making matters more complicated.

The good news is that we’ve done all the hard work for you. This is our ultimate security update tracker, where we’re giving each recent flagship phone a simple score from 1-10, based on how long it takes for security updates to get from Google to device owners.

If you’re interested how we gather this data and assess it, we explain our methodology more on the second page. Here’s the short version:

  • We compiled a list of dates for security patches for most Android flagship phones, starting from when each phone was released.
  • The date for each security update is the first evidence we could find of a public rollout, either from an official announcement from the device maker, news coverage of the update, or confirmed reports from social media (whichever was earliest).
  • Each device’s score is calculated using a weighted average of the number of days between a security update’s availability and the device’s OTA being released, the resulting “score” being normalized into a number out of 10, and then a standard penalty being assessed for any given monthly update that is missed subtracting from that score.

Starting in January 2020, we’ve stopped tracking data for some older phones. The archived data can be found on Page 3.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Google’s flagships get perfect scores. Ever since the days of Nexus phones, Google has released security updates for its devices at the same time as the official security bulletins, effectively giving Pixel phones day-one updates.

Pixel phones are the only devices we’ve tracked that didn’t miss a single month. There are a few instances where a security bulletin comes out a day or two before the Pixels get their updates, and vice-versa, but on average the delay is still zero days.

If reliable and frequent security updates are your main concern when buying a phone, Pixels have historically been the best options. However, Samsung has started to become more competitive in this area, especially with the Galaxy S20 series.

Matching Google for first place is Samsung’s current flagship phone, the Galaxy S20. Granted, the phone has only been available to purchase for a few months, but Samsung has been extremely quick to update the phone so far.

The Galaxy S20 hasn’t missed a single month of updates so far, and in some cases, Samsung has rolled out patches before Google’s Pixels. The May 2020 update began rolling out on April 29th, and was widely available by the time the Pixel 4 was updated.

Only time will tell if Samsung can keep up its rapid release schedule, but if last year’s Galaxy S10 is any indication, you probably won’t ever have to worry about security patches with the S20.

Considering the high scores of Samsung’s other flagship phones, it’s probably not a surprise that the Note20 Ultra gets a perfect rating.

On average, the Note20 Ultra has received updates around the same time as the Galaxy S20 series. It hasn’t missed a single month since its debut earlier this year. Anything less than a perfect score would be a bit embarrassing at the phone’s $1,299 MSRP, so 10/10 is good news.

Samsung surprised everyone this year with the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition, a phone that packed nearly all of the S20’s features into a phone that has been as low as $550. Despite the low price, the Fan Edition is receiving updates at roughly the same times as the S20, Note20, and Pixel series.

Sony’s latest flagship is the Xperia 1 II, also known as the Xperia 1 Mark II. It became available in the United States in late July for a cool $1,198. For the moment, it has a higher score than last year’s Xperia 1.

The Xperia 1 II has only skipped one month of updates so far (the phone received Android 11 in January with a month-old security level), but the patches are still a bit late compared to Google Pixel phones and the Galaxy S20. Still, if Sony can maintain a monthly schedule, that will already be an improvement over the original Xperia 1.

LG’s newest mainstream phone is the Velvet 5G, and while it has a decent score for the moment, we expect it will fall over time like the company’s other phones. As with other LG phones, we’re using a combination of data from AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile to assess the Velvet, since LG doesn’t have easily-accessible information for the US unlocked models.

The LG Velvet arrived in the United States in mid-2020, and since then, it has only missed one month of updates. However, it has a somewhat-high average delay compared to other 2020 flagship phones.

The OnePlus 8 Pro hasn’t been out for very long, but it has already slipped to a score of 6.5 on our scale. That’s higher than last year’s OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T Pro, but it could still fall lower in the coming months.

The OnePlus 8 Pro has only missed one month of updates so far, which is already an improvement from the bi-monthly schedule of other OnePlus devices. However, most patches are delivered several weeks after Pixels get them.

The LG V60 was released in April of this year, and for the moment, it’s a decent improvement from the LG G8’s dreadful score.

LG has usually been quick to release security patches for the V60, but the schedule has been inconsistent so far. The phone didn’t receive the May or June updates at all, but the following July update arrived right on time.

Motorola released its first flagship smartphone in years, the Edge+, in May 2020. The company hasn’t been great at delivering quick updates for a long time, so it’s not much of a surprise that the Edge+ ranks poorly.

The Edge+ shipped with the March 2020 security patch, and the first update with the April 2020 patch arrived over a month late on May 13th. Since then, the phone has mostly stuck to bi-monthly patches, though each update is around a month late.

The ROG Phone II has sat near (or at) the bottom of this list since it was released, and unfortunately, it looks like its successor isn’t going to fare much better. Even though the ROG Phone 3 has only been available for a few months, it’s already dropped to a 5/10 on our scale.

The ROG Phone 3 is mostly sticking to a monthly schedule, but just like most other phones from Asus, it is receiving those updates extremely late. It didn’t get the August 2020 patches until September 29th, for example.

Even though the Zenfone 6 doesn’t have an incredible score, it does narrowly beat out devices that are often perceived as providing more frequent updates, like phones from OnePlus.

The Zenfone 6 was something of a turning point for Asus’ mobile division when it was released last year. It great device in its own right, as we highlighted in our review, but Asus also made frequent updates a higher priority. It has since been succeeded by the Zenfone 7 and 7 Pro.

The OnePlus 8T was only released in October, but it already has a poor update track record. The phone only received its first security update on December 29th, which contained the November 1st patch level. In other words, the OP8T got the November patches 57 days after Google’s Pixel phones and the Galaxy S20.

We’ll have to wait and see if OnePlus can establish a more steady update schedule, like what we’ve (mostly) seen with the OP8 Pro.

Since its US release in early 2019, Sony’s Xperia 1 has skipped quite a few security updates. In general, updates are delivered on a bi-monthly basis, but the phone did go three months without an update during one period.

Sony skipped the July and August 2019 patches for the Xperia 1, but the phone finally was updated in September. Updates have been more consistent since then, but the delays are still not great. For example, the June 2020 update took 17 days, and the August 2020 release took 38 days.

OnePlus is typically praised for its quick updates, so this score for the company’s final 2019 flagship might come as a surprise to many of you. However, as the old saying goes, the data doesn’t lie.

The 7T Pro was released only a few months before the coronavirus outbreak began in China, where OnePlus and other Chinese OEMs functioned at limited capacity. The 7T Pro didn’t get its January security update until February 14th, for example. Since then, the update schedule has been more consistent, but still only bi-monthly (and usually 2-3 weeks after Pixels).

It’s worth noting that OnePlus does have an Open Beta program, where device owners can receive updates before they are ready for prime time, but that can come with bugs and other consequences.

The OnePlus 7 Pro has been available since mid-2019, but it gets the same dreadful score as the newer 7T Pro.

Like other phones from OnePlus, the 7 Pro typically skips every other month, and (on average) receives patches several weeks after they are released. For example, the May 2020 patch took 24 days to roll out, and the July patch didn’t appear on the OnePlus 7 Pro until August 4th.

Asus has offered frequent and quick updates for its main flagship, the ZenFone 6, but that same attention has not carried over to the company’s 2019 gaming phone. The ROG Phone 2 has the distinction of having the longest average delay between updates of any phone we’re tracking.

The phone had an extended gap in security updates while Asus was working on its Android 10 update. The ROG Phone 2 didn’t receive the October 2019 patch until November of that year, and it remained on that patch level until the Android 10 update rolled out in March 2020.

Since then, the ROG Phone 2 has typically gone two months between security updates, and they still usually show up very late. For example, the April 2020 patch wasn’t released until May 13th. It has been succeeded by the ROG Phone 3.

We plan to keep this guide updated as each new month passes. See the second page for info on how we’re dealing with factors like regions, staged rollouts, calculating dates, and more methodological info.

Special thanks to The Android Soul, Xperia Blog, SamMobile, and 9to5Google for covering some of the device updates we would have otherwise missed.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*