Google has been disappointing if you were expecting a major Android upgrade that addresses deep-seated issues, at least based on the details shared so far. The company didn’t spend much time discussing Android 13, and most of the updates announced were known, minor, or both. They have largely been defined by media and privacy controls. Release as is will not be a revelation unless you are a . While we may not have seen all the features of Android 13 yet, there are already some really useful improvements (e.g. the status quo will remain largely intact.
And that’s unfortunate. While Android is a very capable platform with exceptional hardware to match, there is no device that consistently performs well on every experience. Buy a powerful phone and you’re likely to be saddled with quirky software; Get your dream Android flavor and you may have to put up with mediocre cameras or chips. It’s time Google and manufacturers work together to create devices that you can more easily recommend to others.
Software: too much or too little?
To be fair, Google is only partially responsible for the current state of affairs. The real beauty of Android is the potential for providers to add their own spin – a uniformly Google-built experience would defeat the point.
However, the company still plays an important role, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that it can still do more. Use the odd phone with “Pure” and you’ll find that while the stock OS is visually cohesive and free of fluff, it’s still relatively insignificant. You don’t get an advanced camera app, extensive media integration, special browser features, or other clever tricks that you often get with customized Android experiences. The polish isn’t always there either – just . Apple has had its fair share of dodgy updates over the past few years, but it seems to have ironed out the glitches that Google occasionally leaves behind.
You can install apps, launchers, and other utilities to flesh things out, but that’s not realistic for some users. I wouldn’t give a Pixel to a newbie or someone who wants strong out-of-the-box features. Google could improve its functionality and quality to compete more directly with its partners beyond the usual few (usually) temporary Pixel exclusives. While the company has shifted more towards regular feature drops than mammoth OS revisions of late, Android 13 as we know it is still a bit disappointing on that front.
This should not let these partners off the hook. While phone makers aren’t overdoing customization as much as they have in years past, some out-of-stock Android experiences still include their share of arbitrary tweaks. Samsung is the classic example. While One UI is much cleaner and easier to use for third parties than , it still tends to duplicate Google features or push services that you probably won’t use. Do you really need two browsers or buy apps from the Galaxy Store? You’ll also see some over-the-top Android implementations from Chinese brands, although we’d like to note that Xiaomi has limited MIUI.
And the situation seems to be partially getting worse. OnePlus originally drew enthusiasts precisely because its customization options were limited and usually very helpful, but there’s evidence of the creeping influence of parent company Oppo’s top-heavy software design on devices like the . For example, the OnePlus shelf pop-up menu bothered us during our test. Update policies have also sometimes taken a step backwards, as Motorola still doesn’t guarantee more than a major OS upgrade for some phones. It would be great to see how OnePlus and other vendors would strike a finer balance, adding thoughtful touches without falling into excessive or restrictive software updates.
Hardware: fly in the ointment
Software hiccups wouldn’t be as problematic if the devices were more well-rounded. It’s all too common to find an Android phone that works great in most areas but has at least one weakness that spoils the experience or even proves to be a deal breaker.
A quick review of the top Android phones illustrates this all too well. The regular series is one of the best all-rounders out there today, but it has modest non-expandable storage, a 1080p screen (good, but not the 1440p some are craving), and stripped-down features in its smallest version. Pixel6? Excellent value for money, but the notoriously picky fingerprint reader and limited storage can quickly stifle interest. The OnePlus 10 Pro is only a slight improvement over its predecessor and still suffers from the lackluster camera quality. You can overcome some of these limitations with frugal flagships like the or Sony, but then you’re probably spending well over $1,000 for the privilege.
It becomes even more difficult with cheaper models. Motorola is gaining popularity among budget-conscious users, but its and lack of features (like NFC) pose serious problems for buyers. Samsung’s mid-tier phones can be sluggish or otherwise unexciting, and that even feels like a step backwards. Phones like the Poco F4 GT and beyond offer high-end processing power at a low price, but you can safely expect to make compromises in areas like camera tech. And let’s not start with companies that ship huge but low-resolution screens that can prove to be an eyesore.
To be clear, every phone has its compromises. It would be unrealistic to expect a perfect product from any brand, even those beyond Android. Apple is often conservative when it comes to iPhone design and has been slow to embrace mainstream Android features — 120Hz and USB-C, anyone? More often than not, however, you choose an Android device based on the major flaws you’re willing to tolerate, not because it’s clearly the best bang for your buck. Combine that with the previously mentioned software hiccups and a truly well-rounded Android phone can be very hard to find.
glimmer of hope
That’s not to say the Android phone industry is in a state of disrepair. The actual grips at the heart of this piece underscore just how far the platform has come. Android 12 (and soon 13) is decidedly more polished than previous iterations. Once obnoxious brands like Samsung have shown some reluctance, and it’s a lot easier to pick up a budget phone that will make you genuinely happy, even if there are clear flaws.
You can also point to some devices that point the way to the future. While Sony’s recent Xperia phones are increasingly expensive and aimed at niche audiences, they generally offer strong performance, decent cameras, top-of-the-line displays, and moderately customized software. And if that can fix some of the hiccups of its predecessor, it could be the Android phone to beat in the second half of the year.
Rather, the concern is that there is much more room to grow. Businesses should take a more holistic approach to phone design, with few if any obvious sacrifices in the name of price, bragging rights, memory upsells, or service peddling. Google could do more to lead by example, such as matching its allies’ more advanced software capabilities with vendors. It’s entirely possible to build a phone that excels simply by its lack of glaring weaknesses – it’s just a matter of finding the determination to make it happen.
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