Phones must now launch with Android 11 or they shouldn't launch at all

OnePlus Nord
OnePlus Nord (Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

I was pretty excited to see OnePlus expanding its budget offerings with the Nord line coming to the U.S. It comes at a time when people who need a phone right now might also need a cheap phone and we're seeing the company's prices rise for its premium line of phones like the OnePlus 8T. Better inexpensive phones are always a good thing.

Inexpensive phones are great. Keeping them updated makes them better.

Then my excitement faded a good bit when I found out that the Nord N10 5G and N100 would ship with Android 10 and only get one Android version update. When you ship a phone that's already a version behind, is getting on the current platform really an update?

Of course, OnePlus isn't alone here. Plenty of cheaper Android phones only get one update and the very cheapest might not get updated at all. And OnePlus is promising two years' worth of security updates which are more important than platform updates even if they aren't as glamorous. But it still rubs me wrong.

Though not as well known these days, Nokia can sell phones that are just as cheap and offer two updates along with three years of security updates. And those phones usually ship with the latest version already on board, just like OnePlus' most recent phone, the OnePlus 8T.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, even Samsung is getting good about updating its budget-minded phones with several Android versions. Samsung was the perennial laughing stock when it came to Android updates but the company has spun a full 180-degrees. Who would have thought that in 2021 we would want OnePlus to be as good as Samsung when it comes to platform updates?

Gather up every reason why a company does this and you see one thing: $.

There are a lot of reasons a company would make this decision, but chances are they all have something to do with money. Nobody is 100% sure of how agreements between phone makers and chip makers about platform updates are handled, but I am 100% sure that Qualcomm and the rest aren't doing it out of the goodness in their hearts. After that, it takes time and money to rebuild software on the new platform, then test it, then fix bugs, then start all over again. Building a full OS update for a large customer base is not easy.

But again, Nokia can do it. I don't even have to look to the Pixel 4a, one of the best budget Android phones you can buy, as a shining example of how a company can update cheap phones because Nokia can do it. And this isn't the mega-conglomerate dominating Nokia of the past — this is HMD global building and selling phones with the Nokia brand.

Pixel 4a Alex Google Launcher Assistant

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

I think the biggest reason I'm so salty about this is that I've been burned by a very similar scenario. TCL and the remnants of BlackBerry Mobile screwed every KEY2 user and that happened to be one of my favorite and easy to use phones. I know hearing a promise about future updates that's weak to begin with isn't going to turn out well. At this point, I just hope OnePlus comes through with quarterly security updates for the Nord line.

I want to love the new Nords, but I think you'd be better off with a Pixel 4a.

Every phone you buy today should get five full years of updates, both platform updates, and all relevant security patches. My mind is made up on this and nothing is going to change that. Excuses aside, Apple can update a $299 iPhone SE for five or more years, so OnePlus can do the same.

That's never going to happen. But still, Nokia can deliver multiple platform updates and three years of security updates for a $130 Nokia 2.3. OnePlus could do the same if it wanted to.

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.