Cheap Android phones shouldn't be disposable

We all know someone who has whatever phone was cheapest — or, let's face it, free — from their carrier. Not everyone is into smartphones and sometimes I envy people who can let go when it comes to pocket-sized tech. There's a good chance that person was also happy with it when they got it and as long as it still works the same way, still are. There's an equally good chance that they hate their phone because it's sluggish or won't do the things they thought it could do when they saw a commercial from the phone company.

Updates to fix bugs or patch security holes should be the norm, no matter the price.

Don't get me wrong, there is a place for very budget-orientated smartphones that never had any of the cool features we all like to talk about and never will. The idea of a "real" $50 smartphone is something nobody should ever forget about and a thing that needs to happen. But when that price jumps to $200, or $300, or even more, the way devices and the users who bought them are forgotten is ridiculous.

Most of the names we all know make a "cheap" smartphone. Hell, even Apple tried it, though the iPhone 5C wasn't exactly cheap and Apple quickly changed course. That's because there are a lot of people who don't want to spend $500 or $600 or even more on a phone. Service providers still want their business, so T-Mobile courts LG and Verizon talks with Samsung and freebies are made and delivered to carrier stores around the country, only to be left behind because somehow they aren't as worthy of customer support as the $800 phones are.

Not every phone should have animated emoji or depth-sensing cameras or built-in personal digital assistants. Just like not every car should have onboard computers or DVD players in the passenger headrest. Those are luxury additions that should be part of the price of luxury items. But just as every car should have anti-lock brakes, all smartphones should be able to benefit from progress in how we stay in touch during its normal lifetime.

That's why most people have a phone, to be able to talk or text or message the people they need to talk, text, or message with. When the phone you have paid for, and even "free" phones are paid for with outrageous service fees, has features that are broken or can give away your identity because you clicked a bad link in a message we have a serious problem.

We focus on the Pixels and Galaxy phones, but there are a lot of people satisfied with phones like the LG Stylo 3.

Don't scoff. Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean that your friend with the LG Stylo 3 that T-Mobile gave him for free when he got a postpaid account isn't at risk, and when he clicks to send a multimedia message the app should work as advertised. We all focus on the expensive phones when it comes to software updates. You see discussions about waiting for updates because that new feature is a thing we all want, but when looking at the bigger picture that's trivial. What's not so trivial is that when someone finds out the next easy way to siphon the money from another's bank account or use their name to rent a car or any other form of identity theft, the only recourse for your friend with his LG Stylo is to toss it and buy a new phone or to just risk it. Nobody deserves to have to risk anything when the solution has been found and is so easy to distribute.

It's money. It's always money. And it's time to remember just who values money over their customer's needs when there is such an easy alternative. In the U.S., almost every phone is bought from a carrier store. In our LG Stylo 3 example — which is not a terrible phone (CNET rightfully calls it a cheap Note 8 alternative) — T-Mobile bought a slew of them from LG and then resold them to customers. I'm not sure you can even buy an LG Stylo 3 unlocked directly from LG. It's now T-Mobile's responsibility to let its customers know that its phone places them at risk when they click a link in a message, and what they can do about it. LG can be held responsible when T-Mobile is willing to do what it takes to provide an acceptable level of service to its customers and asks it to patch the messaging client. That's the way the chain works and a lot of grief directed to the company that manufactured a phone should be pointed towards the company that took your money instead.

It's always about the money and always will be. We control the money.

I'm picking on the LG Stylo 3 (opens in new tab) for a reason. It's a new phone, released in the winter of 2017 with Android 7.0 for Boost Mobile, Cricket, Simple Mobile, Verizon (prepaid) and T-Mobile. Each version is heavily customized for the operator that ordered it from LG, and the Simple Mobile version is easily unlocked and ready for use on most carriers in Latin America. So far, it sounds like a standard cheap phone that carriers can give away or sell at a low price. But last week the T-Mobile version got updated (opens in new tab) with "bug fixes and security enhancements".

LG is willing and ready to do what they can to extend the life of the Stylo 3. Apparently, T-Mobile feels it is worth the money to provide this service to their customers. I was told that Verizon will be doing the same shortly, but that leaves a large number of people who are on a prepaid carrier or who unlocked a prepaid version without that important update. Boost or Simple Mobile is probably never going to update the Stylo 3, or if they do it will be once during the life of it and be missing some vital patches. We shouldn't be willing to accept this, and in the end, it's partially our own fault for continuing to buy products that companies treat as disposable.

LG can't fix this. Google can't fix this. Individually, T-Mobile or Verizon can't fix this. It's indicative of a greater problem in the entire industry, where the goals are to move as much product as possible and never look back.

The LG Stylo 3 deserves better, and we deserve better.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

95 Comments
  • I disagree. As someone who works for a big carrier, I think that if the customer wants the updates and all the latest and greatest on their phone, pay for it, and get the top of the line expensive phone. If you can't (or simply don't want too), get what you can, and be happy with it, until you can afford the better. I can't afford a Maybach, so I don't complain about, I just buy and put my umbrella under the seat instead of expecting my Nissan to have one pop out of the door for me.
  • As if the useless carriers are keeping the so called expensive phones up-to-date. Unless it's Apple who knows how to deal with evil incompetent carriers or to some extent Google, carrier branded phones are just additional revenue stream for the greedy carriers by messing with the OEM firmware and loading partner apps.
  • Also a valid point! Some carriers simply suck when it comes to updates!
  • You don't understand updates.
  • Care to elaborate?
  • Uh, Apple IOS updates get pushed out... Yes... But Google an Apple IOS update history... For years Apple releases buggy, to significantly buggy, updates. I'll take slow, but correct, Android updates any day. It is so bad with Apple that smart consumers don't dare be an early adopter of an update until it is proven no harm will occur. IOS 11.2 and 11.2.1 , recent, were a disaster.... As was the IOS 6 or 7 with the one and only iPhone I owned... The 4S... (No, ii don't miss 2011 cell phones) Off topic... And not all info is correct... But here is the comparison... 2012 to 2018... https://www.gadgetsnow.com/compare-mobile-phones/apple-iphone-4s-8gb-vs-...
  • I have been happy with my security updates from Samsung. I really hate dealing with .1 updates, but version updates I am happy with. From 6 to 7 and 7 to 8. As an american I know we are kinda spoiled on our devices. I know I am.
  • Although I understand what you're saying, it's a bit more complicated than that. People don't know phones and, at least where I live, most sellers don't know the devices they sell. I've seen it through my relatives but in many different stores as well. So if my 55 years old uncle goes into a carrier and asks for a phone expecting something and no one explains what features comes at what price, or that the seller takes for granted that he's not going to use those features anyway, then we have a problem. You know what you're getting if you're buying a Ferrarri vs a Nissan Micra. That's not the case when you get a Samsung A8 vs an S8 for example. They don't know the compromise they're doing to get something at a lesser price. For those who do explain those things I've seen cases where the person would say "Oh I don't care for updates" because they don't know what those entail. All they know is that when updates happen, they have to wait for them to be finished without really knowing why they do them. And sometimes it changes stuff that they have to learn again and try to follow. You have to take into consideration that mobile phones and especially smart phones are a novelty in society and they taken the center stage. When you need a mobile phone, you can't get a dumbphone anumore. Not everyone follows or even understands thoses changes.
  • Does your Nissan have airbags? or crumple zones? How about seatbelts? If there was a manufacturing defect that made 30% of that model catch fire spontaneously or just stop working within a year or two, would Nissan recall and repair it, or expect you to deal with it? These are the automotive equivalents of security patches and bug fixes, not a bloody umbrella holder.
  • This ^
  • Exactly! Nobody is saying that budget phones should get new cool features. What they're saying is just bec you but a budget phone doesn't mean you should be open to security risks it use a phone with bugs that never get fixed.
    Flagships should get updates new Android versions and features as well as security patches,
    But budget phones should at least get the security patches and bug fixes
  • ERM... phone issuer are rarely life-threatening, and when they are, it is dealt with. Also, a non-updated device doesn't become non-functional. My 4.1 Galaxy Note 10.1 still does everything it did when I bought it, and a good deal.more. It's "only" unsecured, which is an issue, but not the same issue.
  • ^This X10
  • YESSS! Thank you!
  • Carriers bear the responsibility of maintaining devices supplied to their customers. Cable companies are responsible for maintaining the boxes, no difference here. Unless you bring your own. Carriers are paid by the manufacturing company to sell the phone, it is the carriers job to protect their customer and provide the best experience. Not the customers fault for taking a free handset. They got it from the dealer.
  • Sorry, this has nothing to do with extras, it's about security. You bring up cars, fine. My parents have a 2002 Dodge Durango with 175k. It recently had an issue where the shifter lockout went bad, turns out it's a safety issue, Dodge replaced it no problem. Think only an 8 series BMW deserves this? Try dealing with Mercedes when there is a warranty problem. It's like saying rich people pay more in taxes so they should have their own special lanes to drive faster.
  • Although I agree with the principle, smartphone security and car security are two very different things. But I get what you mean.
  • Very different
  • Try being stuck in the middle of nowhere and not being able to get your vehicle in gear. Makes that January security update not important.
    In reality, all corporations should make sure that safety and security are primary, to a point. Just because someone doesn't want, need or can't afford a top end device doesn't mean they should be treated like a Samsung tablet.
  • What I mean though is car safety can actually kill someone. Not getting a phone update can at the very worst brick your phone or get your data hacked but you're still alive. Unless we're talking about the Note 7 but a software update wouldn't have fixed that :P
  • Wasn't sure exactly what you meant so I clarified my side
  • Until your Mom clicks on the wrong link and malware steals her info and then her bank account gets drained.
  • All phones sold through carriers should get all updates the manufacturer provide for at least 12-18 months regardless price of phone. Why I buy unlocked, carriers suck....
  • Doesn't necessarily work that way. The cashier contracts with the manufacturer as to how they want the handset built, whether it will have firmware updates and security patches, and so forth. Carrier A and Carrier B might contract for a similar handset with similar specs, but each carrier will determine exactly how they want their device built. Any updates and security patches are OTA'd by the carrier, the manufacturer has nothing to do with it. If the user gets the device unlocked from the original carrier's network, they won't be able to get any OTAs unless they have an active account on the original carrier's network. At least, that's how it worked with the devices I supported
  • Yet you would likely expect Nissan to fix a design flaw that showed up a few years down the road. Say a flawed bolt on the driver's side seat that can crack and have the seat come away from the floor of the car. It's not unreasonable to expect that something you've paid money for is going to be reasonably secure for the lifetime of the item, whether it's a car or a cell phone. If I get a 'free' phone, I'm not expecting dual cameras that take Pixel level pictures, but security updates should not be held hostage behind a higher price tag. That is ignoring the fact that the carriers seem to lock those behind annualy upgraded devices as it is.
  • Terrible analogy w Maybach.
    Here is a better, more accurate one.
    I don't have 100k + to spend on a car and my budget is in the 20s. I have a lot of assurances that no matter what I chose I'll have as safe and reliable car to drive (Subaru, Toyota, Hyundai, etc). Actually some will give me even better assurances and warranty than Mercedes - Hyundai. All the mid range and even super cheap cars are as reliable and in most cases more reliable than 100k + cars. That's a fact.
  • I love the logic behind "if you're poor and can't afford a better phone then you deserve to be robbed"
  • a phone is not a car, but if you want to put it into those terms, its not okay for a manufacturer to not fix bugs and security holes modding android from aosp can introduce, just like its not okay for a manufacturer to allow cars they made with a universal defect detriment to the operator's safety. An exploit or bug in a mobile os can put peoples sensitive info like banking info and passwords at risk. They both perform tasks integral to the users life, and if not working properly can cause irreparable harm.
  • So people without as much money don't deserve security online? I see.....
  • I know! The world is such a harsh place
  • This is a ridiculous comment. No matter how cheap a Chromebook you buy, it is still supported for 5 years, monthly. Same should go for phones when they cost even more.
  • I agree to the article, and disagree to @Sbeezy22 . His example gives the reason: we are talking about devices storing sensible informations about their users which are also used for banking and such, which are no longer just luxury items since society relies on them more and more. So, why giving away trash to the people in the first place to do sensible work with it just to forsake them in the next moment and expose them to danger? That is the point here. If I cannot buy the best car available, I have to cut on luxury stuff but usually not on important stuff to guarantee safe driving.
  • You should be ashamed of yourself
  • And the whole point of the article just went flying over your head. The updates expected for all phones are related to security and bug fixes.
  • Look at this bullshit reply.
  • LG and Google can fix this given that T-Mobile, Verizon, etc, just get out of the way. The problem is that the carriers want a stranglehold on what gets to their customers, regardless of the consequences. I don't get my iPhone updates from AT&T, I get them from Apple. When I had my Windows Phone I got my updates from MS, though the carriers were the gate keepers. My MotoX4 gets updates from Google, not Motorola, not Fi. There is certainly some regulatory (or something) requirement for carriers to ensure that device updates/changes, don't bugger up the network, but that is highly unlikely with Google, Apple, MS produced updates. Certainly no more likely than with that same code after the carriers screw with it. Carriers, just get out of the way. If you do right by me, I'll stick with you. This s one way to do that.
  • If your Moto X4 is the Android One version, you get your updates from Google. I believe my Moto X4 system updates come from Motorola. But that is one of the main reasons that most of the Motorola changes to vanilla Android are separate apps. It improves the speed of getting updates & fixes.
  • LG would have to work on the update.
  • If you're getting the update via carrier spectrum, the carrier is delivering the update not Apple
  • Plus disposable means that it's more crap being thrown away, more metal (which is a non-renewable resources) being taken from mines and so on. It's sad that manufaturers abandon some devices in the hope of selling more and more. That cannot last forever, it's going to have to change soon.
  • So they should be recycled and not thrown in the trash..
  • Well that doesn't solve the resources problem. And for what actually gets recycled it's better if it's just never built in the first place.
  • Cheap phones could come with "stock" android.
    Then very little needs to be done to upgrade.
    In fact all phones should come with stock android then just add the features you want .
  • Even if it came with stock Android, the phone maker would still need to pour resources into working on the update.
  • Why just push out Google's update?
    As long as the hardware can handle the update no more needs to be added.
  • Because that's not how updates work.
  • No obviously but you are talking about 10 minutes work. Images are available for lots of phones and it's no big deal for someone like Samsung to run an update.
  • It's really not just ten minutes of work.
  • Partly because the components inside a phone are like the components in a computer. They need drivers to work and drivers are not automatically compatible with later versions of Android. Same with chipsets. So you can get the utmost purest stock version of Android, compile it yourself even, you still need to update drivers for the internal components of your device.
  • Not a lot of work in that. You can side load 8 onto most phones already.
  • Because Google doesn't make a piece of software for all phones.
    You can test it out, flash the Pixel stock rom onto any non Pixel phone, it's now dead.
  • Google: Be together, not the same.
    You: Be the same.
  • Bet my apps, launcher and just about everything else is different on my phone to yours.
    I just like to customise my phone myself...
  • Who's going to pay for the after support resources to update cheaper devices?
  • And that's the point. Companies won't spend money for no return and why should they?
    But a simple update to stock android wouldn't cost them much and would promote brand loyalty.
  • "wouldn't cost them much" is still a cost.
  • "Stock" Android still has to be tailored to run on a phone.
    Try this, take a stock rom of Android that's not built for your phone and flash your phone with it.
  • I've f**ked my phone flashing custom ROMs in the past so I know.
    But for any phone manufacturer worth the name this is a very simple task.
  • Just Google Android 8 custom ROMs and see how many phones are supported.
    If a bunch of amateurs can get these out within months why not Samsung and co?
  • A cost is still a cost.
  • I bought a cheap phone late last year for under $100. I got it for its beefy 5300mah battery that last for a couple of days of constant use but was shock that for under $100 I actually got a decent performer that I just switch to it for the more lighter tasks like browsing and social media(actually typing this comment on that phone) and lets be honest that those two are what most people do on their smartphone. Add to that that it has a metal body and GG3 for added durability and I'm seriously considering how much I actually need to spend for a good smartphone going forward.
  • Thank you Jerry!!! Thank you.... I love my Moto G5 Plus, wouldn't trade it for the world. Some of us don't use our phone for EVERYTHING... Some of us use our Chromebooks, tablets and small computers for the social and media stuff and just use our phones as they were made to do.. Call and text.
  • Love my unlocked mate 10 lite !
  • Xiaomi phones are amongst the cheapest AND amongst the best supported. Sucky OEMs suck, good OEMs rock.
  • In defense of LG I must say that i bought their X Charge phone about four months back for $129 dollars. It is a capable and dependable phone for me and what a battery life. Anyway in the short time I've had it it has received 2 security patch updates and probably another coming soon. Well I guess Cricket also deserves some credit. The phone has Nougat 7.0 and I doubt it will ever get Oreo but then I wouldnt expect it to.
  • This is more of a carrier problem than a manufacturer problem. That's why I used the Stylo 3 as an example — some carriers were willing to pay for the update(s) and some aren't or haven't yet. LG has done the hardest part already.
  • I'm calling shenanigans.
  • Cheap Android phones are cheap for a reason, that's why they're disposable, but I agree with what this article is saying, users that use cheap Android phones deserve updates as much as an $800 (£800 on my case).
  • The whole cell phone, carrier update stuff is the biggest load of inefficient, wasteful BS EVER played on consumers. Has anyone seen quarterly profits from any carrier? They are raping customers and profiting massively. A phone should be NO different than a computer. Whoever makes said computer or phone at whatever price point is responsible for security and updates. I have a 2011 HP laptop that shipped with Windows 7. I recently updated to the fall creator Windows 10. 7 year old hardware and it operates perfectly well and fine (and securely) with the new software for my daughter and her scholastic needs. The OEM device makers are responsible for this as well. Their "green" speak is just a bunch of hot air. All devices should have easily replaceable batteries as well OR replaced reasonably by the respective OEM.
  • ∆ This
  • I have a 3 month old $900 Sprint LGV30+.
    I do not have Oreo
    I do not have a security patch for January
    I haven't received one software update from LG.
    Seems to me it doesn't matter if I buy their latest and greatest or a basic product for $50 Its getting kind of old to be completely honest
  • Manufacturers really need to treat their Flagships with more care and support. Even the most expensive phones are barely getting updates (outside of the Pixel and iPhone obviously) and that's a shame. Every single Flagship should be getting consistent updates, no excuses.
  • I'm about to buy the LG Stylo 3 from Metro PCS on Wednesday I can't wait, I currently have the first LG Stylo which I had for going on 3 years!
  • LG Optimus Fuel - Tracphone - 3 years and still working... Has a micro SD card in it.. currently mounted on my nightstand and connected to PC speakers to be used as an alarm clock, internet radio streamer, ambient music and white noise generator.. helps me relax and sleep Only costed $25, has been very useful Moto E 2nd Gen Verizon - Paid $30 over 2 years ago.. has a 64GB micro SD card.. used as FM tuner and audio book player.. nice and small but very long battery life.. Listen to audio books and podcasts everyday with it... Very useful.
  • What I don't like is the fact that I bought a Lenovo P2 which was promised to get the update to Nougat. The update was issued to the Asian and some European markets but then Lenovo announced that they would not be bringing the update to the UK. It has not even received a single security update since the day I bought it. Like someone said in a previous post, I now use it for browsing the web , watching YouTube, posting on sites like this. Would I use it for Android Pay or ordering anything from the internet, not a chance.
  • Three stopped the UK update, not Lenovo . If you want 7.0 just download the file and install using the built-in recovery then you will receive OTA updates, the latest security patch level is November 17.
  • I need help with rooting my j3 emerge
    With out a
  • It's all about money, people. Software updates aren't free. The manufacturer needs to pay people to implement the coding and test it. LG isn't making much money selling these cheap phones to carriers, so expecting them to spend profit they didn't make updating them is a bit unrealistic. OTOH, they do make money when the sell a G6, and should (and do, to some extent) provide updates to those phones.r p Should the carrier pay to update these cheap phones? I can see both sides. Yes, the carriers make lots of money, but that's on the service. They don't make money giving away a phone, either. Let's face it, in life you generally get what you pay for. Whether it's a car, a lawn mower, or a meal. If you eat at Golden Corral, don't expect them the replace your steak if it's overcooked. Eat at Morton's, and that's exactly what they'll do.
  • Yes, yes, yes. These are my exact thoughts. Nailed it Jerry.
  • Mr. LG Stylo 3 should sue the mother loving crap out of his carrier and the OEM after contacting the consumer protection bureau. Class Action lawsuits are very popular right now.
  • I have an LG Stylo 3 on T-Mobile. I love my LG Stylo 3. I have no reservations about using it as a daily driver, even though I really don't anymore. I don't think it should be upgraded to Oreo; it would be nice, but I don't see it happening. At the very least, it should get timely security updates. Just because most of the people here aren't using pho