The recent release of the Samsung Galaxy Ultra is a head-turner for a number of reasons: the specs, the build, the (mixed) camera performance — and the insane $1,400 price tag. But like many Samsung devices, it will suffer due to a lack of major OS updates.
While the prices are eye-watering, it’s a trend that will no doubt continue. It makes sense when you realize that our smartphones have become a one-stop-shop for browsing, entertainment, gaming — and lest we forget — are our main portable communications hub.
Those that want the very best in the smartphone business will always pay a proportionate price tag. So because of that, it means the days of the sub-$1,000 flagship device are very steadily being eroded away.
Apple has long set the precedent for smartphone pricing, with the iPhone X being derided for becoming the first smartphone with a $1,000 price tag. At the time, Android wholesale felt like it was steadily shaking the “cheap and nasty” tag thanks to literal game-changing devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S8. The price of the S8 at launch, though? What now feels like a snip at just $720.
In my opinion, the Samsung Galaxy S8 still holds up in terms of design. However, the iPhone X, some six months its junior, has the very latest version of iOS — its core OS. The Galaxy S8 is running an 18-month-old build of Android — 2018’s Pie. And even more disappointingly, there are absolutely no plans to update to Android 10, despite the device being more than capable of running it. Conversely, Apple is likely to continue supporting the iPhone X for at least another two or three years.
You can point to the price disparity, which is a fair point. But when the two biggest players in the mobile space have such drastically different approaches to device software support after release, you can see why people laud Apple and in some cases denounce Samsung.
The OS update
So where does the Samsung Galaxy Ultra fit into this admittedly poor attempt at an equation? Well, barring some flagship foldable and experimental devices, it’s the most expensive smartphone on the market at $1,399 and will only give buyers two — yes, just two — guaranteed OS upgrades during its life cycle.
With the S20 Ultra shipping with Android 10, that means we’ll hopefully see Android 11 toward the latter half of this year, with Android 12 sometime within the next 36 months — based upon Samsung’s previous OS update track record. For reference, that previously mentioned 2017 iPhone X will likely have updates a year longer than the S20 Ultra.
Let that sink in for a moment. This is a device that costs literally double the entry price of the top-tier Galaxy model from 2017. I won’t say the pricing is wrong, as it’s a very, very stacked handset. The reasoning to essentially abandon keeping the latest OS updates on the most expensive mainline Samsung Galaxy phone to date is outright disgusting.
Think about it. Why bother paying full price now and losing access to the latest Android versions and, therefore, features when you can essentially buy two $700 devices over a four-year period — one new handset every two years — and get potentially four major OS updates for your $1,400? I know what I would suggest that you do with your money. It feels as though Samsung is deliberately undercutting itself with its growing array of solid mid-range smartphones that will offer “enough” to most people.
Samsung does chuck a lot of extra and added features into One UI, so the blow is softened somewhat when a new update rolls out, but the point still stands. You simply won’t get the very latest features and functions. That coincidentally does Samsung devices a major disservice on top.
Being completely fair and transparent, this issue isn’t allof Samsung’s making, though. Blame can partially be rested on the shoulders of the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset found in most North American Galaxy devices. The Korean firm could potentially update Exynos models for far longer than two years, but Qualcomm doesn’t tend to support SoCs for longer than three years. That means the Snapdragon 865 chip in the S20 has a real-term life expectancy of just over 24 months from now — November 2022.
Consumer choice — choose wisely
Ultimately, most people won’t fork out $1,400 cash to pick up the S20 Ultra or any other device at launch. It’s more likely to come at a discount or with a cell-phone contract. That doesn’t negate the cost that much, though. You’ll still end up seeing a large portion of your hard-earned money leaving your bank account for Samsung’s latest flagship.
As much as I hate the term “average consumer,” it’s likely that most people out there simply won’t even notice or care. Of course, you as a consumer have a choice. You’re not forced to upgrade or even pick up the latest Samsung smartphone. Naturally, they make the devices, so they can therefore set the prices.
The biggest problem here is that even Samsung understands that their own customers are holding on to their handsets for longer — an average of 26 months, and that’s only likely to increase. This has driven up pricing but doesn’t seem to have really driven Samsung to want to keep those devices updated.
There is no denying that Samsung makes compelling smartphones and have helped guide the industry over the past few years. It’s this that really compounds the update issue as if you are the frontrunner — and want to remain the frontrunner — then it almost goes without saying that you really should be setting an example for everyone else.