Google's Nexus branded devices are supposed to get Android updates before anyone else. So why are Verizon and Sprint Galaxy Nexus subscribers still waiting for the latest of Android software introduced nearly two months ago?
This is a question that I address in this edition of Ask Maggie. I also clear up a lingering question about keeping your unlimited data plan if you're on Verizon Wireless.
Why doesn't my Verizon Galaxy Nexus have Jelly Bean yet?
I bought a Galaxy Nexus from Verizon Wireless thinking that it would get the latest updates of Google Android software. So how come it is taking so long for Verizon to push out the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update when the GSM version already got Jelly Bean earlier this summer? Is there anyway I could get the Jelly Bean update unofficially?
You have every reason to be frustrated.
The Nexus brand devices are the Google developer devices that are not only supposed to offer the best hardware, they're also supposed to offer developers access to the latest version of Android OS. The Nexus devices are free of any other software that could be layered onto a device from the phone manufacturer or carrier. This means that while other Samsung devices have TouchWiz software and HTC devices have Sense, the Nexus brand devices offer the pure Google experience, which should make testing and implementing software upgrades faster.
But as you stated in your question, some versions of the Nexus are slow to get the latest updates. The latest version of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean was introduced at the end of June at Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco. In early July, other Nexus devices, including the unlocked version of the Galaxy Nexus smartphone got the update. But a month and a half later, the Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel versions of the Galaxy Nexus smartphone are still awaiting their upgrade.
Meanwhile, there are rumors rumbling around that the unlocked version of the Samsung Galaxy S3, introduced earlier this summer, may be getting Jelly Bean as soon as next week. Of course, the Galaxy S3 devices in the U.S. won't likely see the Jelly Bean update for some time. But the unlocked version in Europe could very easily have the updated software before some U.S. versions of the Galaxy Nexus, which was specifically designed for developers.
So what's the hold-up with the Verizon and Sprint versions of the Nexus?
Some people have speculated that the slow upgrade may be because the Sprint and Verizon Nexus are CDMA devices, while the unlocked version is made for GSM networks. But the truth is that this fact alone doesn't explain the delay. There's no technical difference that would make it any harder to upgrade the CDMA version of the Nexus versus the GSM version.
The issue seems to be with the carriers. Verizon Wireless, in particular, is known for a slower upgrade process. The carrier has rigorous testing procedures which may delay the roll-out of new software. For example, not only does Verizon test the new software on devices on its network, but it also tests how the updates are pushed to the phones.
While Verizon's testing procedures are meant to ensure that customers get the best experience from their devices, the reality is that its glacially slow pace means that customers must wait. In fact, Verizon Wireless Nexus users have already had to wait for other updates. Subscribers waited about five months for a bug fix update after the phone was launched last year.
So when will Jelly Bean come to the Sprint or Verizon Nexus? Unfortunately I can't answer that question for you. Neither Google nor Verizon nor Samsung would give me an answer to that question. But it will come...eventually.
You can try. There are ROMs that you can download to update the phone. But I must warn you that rooting your phone and installing a new ROM is not a simple task. But if you are a developer or consider yourself technically savvy, you can do it. Otherwise, it might be worth waiting for the carrier to push the upgrade.
In the future, I'd recommend that Android smartphone customers, who want their devices upgraded as soon as new software is available, shouldn't buy an Android device on Verizon. As I said before the carrier is well-known for taking much longer than other carriers to upgrade all Android devices. In fact, it's almost always the last carrier to upgrade any particular device.
If you want to stay on top of the latest and greatest Android software updates, your best bet is to buy an unlocked Nexus device. These devices will always get the updates faster because they aren't beholden to a particular carrier. Because these devices are almost always GSM-based, you won't be able to use an unlocked Nexus phone on Sprint or Verizon. You also will have to pay full price for the device instead of a subsidized price from a carrier. Still, at $350 for the unlocked Galaxy Nexus, it seems like a good deal if you can use either AT&T or T-Mobile for your service.
Will I have to give up my unlimited data if I switch from a 3G phone to 4G?
I have the Verizon Wireless unlimited data plan for my 3G smartphone. I'm thinking about upgrading to a 4G device. But I want to keep my unlimited data plan, so I am thinking about paying full price for a new device. The only problem is I'm not entirely sure if I can keep my data plan even if I do that, because I want to buy a 4G phone and not a 3G phone. So now I don't know what to do. Should I buy the phone without the subsidy, or just accept the new contract and buy a subsidized 4G phone and lose my unlimited data plan. Please help.
If you buy a new phone at full price you will get to keep your unlimited data plan, regardless of whether that device is a 3G smartphone or a 4G smartphone. In fact, you'll probably be hard pressed to find any more 3G-only smartphones for sale on Verizon's network other than the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.
This means you can get any phone you like and keep the unlimited data plan so long as you do not take the subsidy and you pay full price for the device.
Whether you actually need the unlimited plan is another issue. You should take a look at your usage to see how much data you actually use each month. If you're not using much data, then it might not be worth it to buy the phone at full price. You may be able to save money if you get a tiered plan with a low amount of data that is sufficient for your usage and you also take the subsidy on the device.
But if you use a lot of data and you expect to use more since your device will have 4G access, then keep the unlimited data plan. Just remember that it doesn't matter if the device is 3G or 4G. The only thing that matters in terms of keeping your unlimited data plan is whether you've paid full price for your device.
Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.