Will T-Mobile’s Fast New 4G Phone Be Slowed by Samsung?

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T-Mobile officially introduced the Samsung Galaxy S 4G smartphone Thursday, the first handset able to take full advantage of the operator’s current 21 Mbps mobile broadband network. The phone will use a large Super AMOLED display like its Galaxy S predecessor, of which Samsung sold 10 million last year and will ship with Android 2.2. That brings up a bit of a sore spot among Android power-users; Samsung devices are often the last to see Android updates, so will this fast phone be slow to gain new features over time?

Two recent studies illustrate the issue, which to be fair, is complicated not just by handset manufacturers but by the carriers too, who have to test them, integrate their own services, then push them out to handsets. Having said that, all handset makers have to deal with the carriers, and several manufacturers are far faster than Samsung.

Take this Computerworld research from last week, for example. Motorola’s Android phones have waited 54.5 days on average for an upgrade to Android 2.2, or Froyo. HTC handsets fare just slightly worse at a wait of 56 days. And then there are Samsung phones, which on average, wait 159 days. And some are still waiting, even as Gingerbread, or Android 2.3 has launched: Samsung’s Galaxy S devices have faced a “coming next month” upgrade path each month since September of last year.

If statistical analysis of the calendar doesn’t sway you, perhaps some basic facts will. Yesterday, PC Magazine created a chart of the top Android phones, what version of Android they shipped with, and what version of Android they currently run. It’s easy to spot which handset manufacturer is behind the others: Samsung’s entire line of Galaxy S devices is behind the curve and in a big way. The jump from Android 2.1 to 2.2 is far more significant than the next jump after that; I’m running Gingerbread (2.3) currently, and aside from a little more polish and shine, most users won’t see a difference from the prior version until developers take advantage of new under-the-hood features.

Back to T-Mobile and the new Galaxy S 4G then: If the slow Android update cycle for Samsung devices is recognized by consumers, will that play a part in the success of T-Mobile’s newest handset? I posed that question to my Twitter followers this afternoon, and here are some of the responses:

There were other insightful tweets, but rather than list them all, here’s a summary for you: Early adopters and power users are leery of Samsung’s track record, but purchase decisions by newer smartphone owners won’t likely be impacted, which would be good news for T-Mobile by attracting more consumers to its fast HSPA+ network.

That’s a fair answer to the question, which may even be helped by T-Mobile announcing Thursday that its current Samsung Galaxy S phone, the Vibrant, will finally begin to see the Android 2.2 update starting tomorrow. Such news follows recent reports that Samsung was holding back the upgrade to gain more support dollars from U.S. carriers. Not so, said T-Mobile today to PC Mag, indicating that Samsung provided the update back in late November. It’s just taken until now for the operator to test and get its carrier-branded bits in the update.

Does Samsung’s history with Android updates have any impact on your decision to buy a Samsung smartphone on Google’s platform, or do you simply hope they’ll come through in the future?

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