This week, Apple announced iOS 14 and of course listed all of the devices which are going to get it, which is the worst image of the year for Android users and manufacturers alike because it reminds us of how absolutely horrendous long-term support is for most Android devices.
Unless you own a Pixel, you're lucky to see two years of Android system updates. Two years of security patches are just barely starting to become the norm — and even that has taken a lot of poking and prodding from Google to get manufacturers to comply with. While iPhones from 2015 are going to get iOS 14, there's only one 2015 Android device that even has a chance at seeing a manufacturer update to Android 11, and it's not an Android phone.
It's the original 2015 NVIDIA Shield Android TV, and not only do I still own mine, but I also use it every single day.
My NVIDIA Shield has been with me since my first apartment, so it's been through three moves — including my move from Texas to Florida — through two jobs, four and a half years, and truly countless hours of YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, Funimation, Crunchyroll and now Disney+. When the original controller gave out, I bought the upgraded 2017 model, which is now also starting to lose battery capacity because I've just used it so much in the last three years.
The Shield TV itself, though, is still going strong. I still get the app updates through Google Play, and every few months, a new system update comes down from NVIDIA with a smattering of new features, new apps, and of course, security patches. I use Ethernet to avoid a small Wi-Fi bug that cropped up several months ago, but otherwise, my Shield is even better today than it was the day I got it.
It's interesting that the longest-supported Android device is from a subset of Android devices that is something of an afterthought to most Android users. After all, if a TV or soundbar didn't come with Android TV already installed, the only standalone Android TV worth recommending is the current generation of the NVIDIA Shield TV. While Google may be unveiling its own Android TV dongle soon, I'll still recommend splurging for the NVIDIA precisely because of the long support life my 2015 model is still receiving.
NVIDIA's ability to update the Shield TV for so long is for exactly the same reason that Apple can update iPhones for so long after they release: they made the processor running the show. Manufacturers are reliant on chipset and component makers — like Qualcomm — to ensure that updates are compatible with the hardware inside your phone before it can even think of pushing it out to a user.
The NVIDIA Shield is a showcase device for the power and dependability of NVIDIA's X1 — and now X1+ — chipsets, and because NVIDIA develops, sells, and is in charge of supporting these chips, it makes it easier to ensure that Android updates won't break anything hardware-wise. And when things do end up broken after an update, NVIDIA's Shield TV team can reach out to the hardware teams to figure out what went wrong and fix it quickly, something we've seen them do after a few updates gone awry.
NVIDIA has a much higher degree of control over its components, and thus, NVIDIA controls its own update destiny. It also doesn't hurt that NVIDIA's been more strict about Android TV updates than Google, such as when NVIDIA refused to update to Android Oreo until it could work with Google to ensure that it would actually be beneficial to users. Speaking of, if the new interface leaked for the upcoming Google-made Android TV will be coming to all Android TVs, I hope NVIDIA shows the same dedication to ensuring the home screen remains useful to its users.
Do I wish more manufacturers had the same update history that NVIDIA does? Absolutely, but even if manufacturers took chipmaking into their hands — something that would take years to branch into and even then still might not work out well — it's still hard for companies to see the value in supporting 2-4-year-old phones over having you spend hundreds of dollars on a new one.
Then again, if a $200 Android TV from 2015 can still get updates, what the hell is stopping Samsung from giving its $1000 flagships 3-5 years of system updates?
Best for the long haul
NVIDIA Shield TV (2019)
Built to last and better supported than any Android phone.
I have a perfectly functional 2015 Shield TV, but I still spend entirely too much time staring at this newer, compact model. It's still a powerful Android TV that won't be outdated for years, and it comes with the newer, more intuitive remote and 4K support for far more apps, like Disney+.
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