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Will your HTC Sensation or Samsung Galaxy S II be updated to Android 4.0 before the Nexus S? Signs point to yes

Over the past few weeks, a quiet discomfiting murmur has been gaining in strength to a full-out roar. The Nexus S, Google’s second “developer” device and once the company’s flagship product for OS updates, has been languishing in Gingerbread obscurity since Android 4.0 was announced in October. Soon after the Galaxy Nexus was released in December, the Nexus S was supposed to be updated to Ice Cream Sandwich and all was to be right in the world.

But Android 4.0 never came — at least not to the majority of users — and four months later people are rightfully getting upset. As HTC and Samsung, along with other manufacturers like Sony, LG and Motorola, are preparing to roll out ICS updates to their flagship models, Nexus S owners are starting to wonder why they invested in a product that promised them the latest Android software straight from the source: Google.

In December, we reported that the update to Android 4.0.3 was beginning to roll out over the air to Nexus S owners, but it turns out the build was only for the 9020T AWS variant, sold by WIND Mobile and Mobilicity. The vast majority of Nexus S owners around the world use the 9020A variety, which works on Rogers, TELUS, Bell and their HSPA+ subsidiaries. Nonetheless, the Android 4.0.3 rollout for the Nexus S was abandoned soon after users began complaining of battery issues.

As we near the impending release of Ice Cream Sandwich for the Galaxy S II and Sensation, among others, it bears asking the question: what happened? Why hasn’t the rollout continued, and more importantly, why has Google been so silent on this issue? OEMs complain that they only see new Android builds when we do, and work around the clock to adapt their custom skins to Google’s latest code. So why is Google having so much trouble bringing that same unfettered code to the Nexus S?

The Galaxy Nexus was recently updated to Android 4.0.2, and with it came a number of issues around NFC and Android Market Google Play Store access. While the Play Store issues have been resolved, Google seems to have also stopped the OTA rollout for remaining customers in order to fix the NFC issues.

Suffice it to say Google is losing credibility by not only failing to issue updates in a timely manner, but ensuring that those updates are free from significant bugs. While we hope that this sad period in the Nexus program is temporary, we can’t help but wonder what happened within Google that has seen its number one priority devices being treated like virtual second class citizens.

Of course, there are options open to Nexus owners that (some) carrier-locked Androids don’t allow. You can always unlock the phone’s bootloader to load a custom ROM; the developer communities are very active on all three Nexus devices, and it would be disingenous to claim that one can’t very easily obtain Ice Cream Sandwich for the Nexus S. But if one has to void his or her warranty and potentially brick the device to do so, Google is not encouraging the average user to pick up a Nexus device. If that is their intention, they are even doing a good job of alienating their core base.

If you are interested in loading Android 4.0 onto your Nexus S, the folks at XDA-Developers can help you achieve that goal (but do this at your own risk).

  • SAM

    NO CONTEST SAMMIE WINS HANDS DOWN!!!
    IF YOU WANT GARBAGE YOU GET GARBAGE!!!
    IF YOU WANT THE BEST, YOU GET SAMMIE!!
    JUST LOOK AT THE NOTE!!! FROM SAMMIE!!!
    GO SAMMIE!!!

    • Cody

      Sammy makes the Nexus S FYI….

    • Rich

      Well, I have ICS on my Nexus S, so I’m happy. (official version)

    • Gr8Article

      I’ve been on the fence between the Optimus Black ($250 at Koodo next week) and the Nexus S ($300 at Koodo) the Black is cheaper, simple, light thin and beautiful, but Official Google 4 is not coming until June.
      Nexus S is thicker heavier $$50 more expensive and it feels one generation older BUT is getting Google 4 sooner (so I thought) after reading this article Im inclining towards the Black.

      As a side note both phones have unofficial Google 4 since last year through xda forums. By Google taking so long is losing the “perceived advantage” of promoter updates from Google.

  • Coldbones

    I am using my Nexus S as I type this. Let’s just say that with each paragraph I read the tears looked more and more likely to roll down.

    Like you said Daniel, Google’s silence and lack of action on this issue is severely discouraging.

  • Eric

    How has Android 4 been received? I’ve seen it at work on the Galaxy Nexus but I’m more than happy with my X IIS. Things I find odd about ICS are: no native file system app, Swype support, missing wi-fi sharing, among others.

    • GNexUser

      Swype works just fine on ICS

  • Paulo

    Yeah what google is doing is BS!!! I flashed 4.0.3 and am happy with it but needed juice defender for the battery issues and MMS still doesnt work!!

  • Al

    Im still at 4.0.1 with virgin :\

  • howitzer

    Now the only reason to buy a nexus is the 1-2 months of exclusivity you get on new android major release.

  • Sheldon

    I am upset about this also. With this “pure” Google experience one would expect the latest-greatest updates; this is definitely not the case!

    • Rob

      been using a custom ROM ICS equivalent for over a month;
      LOVE- folders, themes, Widgets, and many other things, including weekly updates.
      Hate- the odd FC…but they always fix it a week later.
      Got tired of waiting, and very disappointed that I will have to wait forever for ICS on my Xoom :-(

  • dave

    Yep. For sure they are doing one poor job.

    I’m lucky as I got the 4.0.3 update before it was pulled. No MMS on 3g but it’s nice.

    Perhaps Google requires some really smart people’ on the team.

  • Jay

    Thank you for posting about this. A nice clear article about what’s wrong with this situation.

  • Andy c

    Nexus fragmentation!

  • Mark

    Don’t get me wrong, ICS 4.0.1 on the Galaxy Nexus rocks. I’m perfectly content. But it is obvious that Google has ran into some fairly big issues with software that they though was ready three months ago. The updates will come eventually. It sure would be easier for the Nexus S owners to handle if Google would communicate.

  • andrew

    I upgraded my Galaxy S2 to ICS 4.0.3 (XXLPQ) ROM and loving it. :)

  • Novdeep Arora

    I have ICS on my Nexus S… There is a installation out already ..

  • Jude Brown

    Thank you for finally bringing this to light! Why Android Central and The Verge aren’t all over this I have no idea. Update is one thing but Google’s silence is BRUTAL. I am done with them.

  • ehoustoun

    As a Nexus S user I’m pretty much at my wits end. If the update comes to this after 3rd party models then I’m seriously going to consider going WP8 with my next phone choice…

    • skullan

      @ehoustoun:

      My thoughts exactly, WP8 will be my next phone. I like my Nexus S’s hardware, but the poor update frequency + the bug with the hotspot is driving me away.

  • Owl

    I hope they learn their lesson for future updates..

  • Disfordelaney

    This is easily explained. Youve just been samsung’d. The experience I had with my galaxy s was enough to teach me to know better. The second google let them near the nexus program it was a given that the s**t would hit the fan.

  • Tim G.

    Cyanogen9 ics 403 working great for the most part on sgs2.

  • briggs

    Dear god, Google. What are you doing? At this rate, WP8 will actually seem like a plausible idea to the phandroids.

  • Mike

    it would be nice if they just offer a GNex for trade in for those still under warranty.

  • Alanpaone

    This same thing happened with the nexus One’s gingerbread update, they delayed it rather than pushing out a ROM that reboots every time you try to make a call! The S2 and sensation are almost certainly going to have nasty ICS bugs (which will go un-fixed for months), while the nexus S will continue to be awesome. Google isn’t doing this to piss you off

  • anonymous

    Google clearly doesn’t give half a s**t about their “nexus” line. How long till my Gnex gets 0 support?
    I got $10 on “5″ months.

  • Jason

    I bought the Nexus S last April for this very reason, to get the latest updates without all the OEM delays. Google has seriously dropped the ball on this one. I’m not going to void any warranty to install an update I should have received months ago. Thanks Mobile Syrup for this article!

  • Anonymous

    Lol, Mike. It would be nice, but how would google do that? Give a bunch of free handsets out to each carrier just specifically for that?
    Nobody in the world can justify that. People would just buy a Nexus S and trade up for free.

  • Opaque

    So in conclusion, the Galaxy S2 > Galaxy Nexus, now that the whole exclusivity of updates is in question.

  • Jonathan

    Yeah I will echo a lot of what was said. In September I got my Nexus S understanding it would be one of the first to get the update. I sold off my iPhone 4 thinking I would like the features of the Android phone better.

    Instead performance has been buggy, force closing frequently, no updates and no actual contact from Google and Samsung make this three year contract seem like a total rip off.

    Six more months then I can flip the phone pay my get out of jail card and move on but lesson learned. Meanwhile I love my Samsung galaxy tab 10.1 as Honeycomb has been really nice after Gingerbread.

  • Tablet

    Wow, look at all the happy Android customers. I hope Google is paying attention.

  • Me

    Meanwhile, my iPhone 3GS is running iOS 5.1 since last week…

    • joseph Niagara

      Update my 3GS last night. Battery seems better, holds a better signal now than previous versions of iOS. They can all keep their fragmented Android phones….

  • Turbo

    Hasn’t there been ics update since late December ? I’ve been running ics since late December .i got e notification by ota. And I’ve been using custom roms since then…..
    And I’m using galaxy nexus now as the nexus s is sitting there collecting dust.

  • Colin

    Sadly we Nexus S owners got the exact same silent treatment from Google with the capacitive Search button bug (still happens sometimes BTW.) Nice to see an article pointing out the area where Google needs the most work: Customer Service.

    • Jay

      yup, still have the search bug problem sometimes on 2.3.6

  • Domingo

    I’m so done with Google anything. I won’t give my money to the fascist, so that leave me Windows. Hope they have good phones. I don’t know who the douche bags at Google are that are responsible for this but the message is clear, they respect their customers even less than apple does. F U back a-wipes.

  • Haipa

    Do not rush up for ICS.
    I had it on my Nexus S for few days then I put back the Gingerbread .
    I thought that the issues are because it was a CM version.
    Then I got a Galaxy Nexus and I stil do not like ICS compared with Gingerbread .
    What I do not like:
    - Galaxy Nexus size, design and fill are 10years behind Nexus S. The should have keep the shape and size like Nexus S and change only the hardware inside.
    -The capacitive buttons have better functionality on Nexus S
    - no more +/- zoom function auto formatting for web pages(the double tap zoom is still there)
    - the graphic (operator interface – skin) for ICS screens is ugly and looks like it is unfinished).
    - 4G function does not work propery.
    ETC.

  • Mike

    Being new to Android i think it is a complete joke with this update or should i say lack update fiasco.. I have lost All respect for Android.. Great hard ware but Mickey mouse operation system… I hope windows picks up the slack.. Hell even RIM would do a better job..

  • Jay

    Big thanks to MobileSyrup for having the cojones to shed some light on this issue. If you ask me, the lack of ICS on the nexus s is a BIG deal that should be much much more newsworthy then its being received as. I will never by another Nexus device again. There is no point. The only reason I bought this was for fast, and FIRST crack at new OS updates.

    Could you imagine the s**t people would have if, with no explanation at all, Apple just said Ah !@#$ it, no new iOS updates for the iPhone 4?!

    Again, thanks MobileSyrup. This is what impartial journalism is all about.

  • Milpool

    Finally. I was wondering when someone would bring this up.

    My Nexus S had an OTA software update last week and all that happened was 2.3.4 to 2.3.6!!

  • Zia

    Thanks mobile syrup for finally pointing towards this issue. Guess what Google will still be silent no matter how much nexus s customers cry here… do you still not get it??? I am so mad at google that I am going WP no matter what and this is my answer to google.. you lost my business.
    Do not know about others but crying for three months and complete silence from google is rude and more than enough for me

  • JC

    That’s why at this time, I’m staying with my trusty Nexus One and holding off new phone purchases at this time.

    And I agree with some of the folks here – if Google couldn’t get their acts together, my next phone could very well be a Windows Phone.

  • Khristopher

    Really wish they would fix the MMS issue for those of us with 4.0.3. My battery also drains really fast it seems.
    Also, where is face unlocking?

  • shaggyskunk

    Daniel! Great article!

  • Drae

    LMAO!

    It’s a DEVELOPER PHONE. Why’d you buy it if your afraid of custom firmware? Both my Tab 10.1 and my GNex (obv) are running ICS (AOKP) as is my GF’s Galaxy S fascinate (teamhacksung). It’s easy (Seriously drag and drop the right files into ODIN and press start!) & better then stock in every way (less bugs, faster updates, more features, better battery life & better support).

    Voiding warranty is red herring on all devices but Note and SGS2 (flash counter boo) because you can flash Stock firmware back on and no-one knows the difference.

    Sorry there’s bugs holding up your release for NS, stop b!tching and DO SOMETHING about it if your that impatient. Should have done your research; then you’d know that gingerbread was released last November and the N1 got their update in Feb.- Mar. Nexus S update time frame is PAR FOR THE COURSE. Sorry.

    Ignorance is a scary thing. Especially when people fan the flames. Do you really think Google doesn’t care about their customer base? If they didn’t care they’d have pushed out buggy firmware that drains your battery in 3 hours (hi iOS 5). They’re fixing their bugs so YOU have the best user experience… how is that not caring?

    • Drae

      Will that’s so nice that you didn’t use the caps lock button. Good on you. Glad to see people are so srs on the interwebz.

      Your quote indicates that new software and apps will be first rolled out to nexus owners is accurate. Of course Google rolled out the update Dec. 16, so technically it’s true. It’s your choice not to flash it. They don’t say the handsets will get them via OTA do they? (yes a technicality)

      Are there any other phones besides the GNex with ICS on them officially? I honestly don’t know because I never pay attention to OEM releases for upgrades. (Moto killed it for me with the Milestone. thank god for CM7)

  • zor

    I agree with the sentiments on this board. I bought the Nexus S last April, and have been cursing the move ever since. I LOVE how open Android is, but I suffered through the search bug for 8 MONTHS before a fix (with next to zero communication from Google during this time), and now we miss out on the ICS update (I know the Nexus will get it eventually, but who knows when as Google is not talking). The whole point of a Nexus phone is to get updates in a timely manner… otherwise what’s the point?

    Anyways, I decided to jump ship and head to the iPhone 4S. There are things I do not appreciate with Apple (the reason I switched to the Nexus in the first place), however when it comes to updates and bug fixes, they are second to none.

    • l1

      I didn’t get a Nexus S, but had I known that this sort of thing would be happening, it would’ve made me reconsider my Galaxy Nexus purchase.

      My Galaxy Nexus has been a love-hate relationship for the last two months where all sorts of issues either need a workaround (ex: restart the phone) or requires custom firmware. This *all* should have worked properly _stock_. It is unacceptable to require a custom firmware to fix functionality that should have worked correctly out of the box. Then now this.

      I don’t like Apple either and swore off Apple when they started patent-litigating everyone, but at least their stuff gets fixed and in a timely fashion.

      At the end of the day, I need a working phone. If Google can’t provide this on their flagship phone, I’ll be forced to go elsewhere for my next phone.

  • Mathieu

    I don’t understand how Google was releasing 4.0.3 to some Nexus S owners months ago and since then, nothing.
    Meanwhile, the Android ‘hackers’ have managed to port 4.0.3 on the Nexus S themselves.

    I hope Google will fix this soon.

  • Drae

    “The whole point of a Nexus phone is to get updates in a timely manner… otherwise what’s the point?”

    The update is out there, what’s the point of buying a dev phone if you won’t go get the ROM and load the firmware yourself?

  • Brunswick

    Been rocking ICS on my Nexus S since it was first ported. Honestly people if you want ICS just go get it. Its out there.

  • Dylan K

    Bonus points if other major phones from Sammy + HTC get the updates before the Nexus S, as well. C’mon HTC EVO!

  • jaylen

    Yeah, this is a big issue. Google f****d up!

  • Zor

    Saying it is a dev phone and thus rooting and loading custom roms is a requirement is total BS. Please show me where the nexus s is promoted as a dev phone. That may have been the case with the nexus one, but never the nexus s.

    I actually have rooted my phone ages ago, but that is not the point. Samsung/google are selling these phones to the general public, and as such it should not be expected that they root and load custom roms. Can you imagine apple telling customers that they need to jailbreak their phone to ensure they have the latest software?? Absolutely not.

  • B

    The official update was a problem for them because there were intermitant bugs. Perhaps they still don’t know how to reproduce them. I downloaded the “official” update and took the “risk” of applying it to my Nexus in January. I figured, though it was tricky, I could flash back to 2.3 if I needed. I didn’t my phone works great on 4.0, I had a few battery issues at first, so I did a factory reset (as recommended) and it was smooth sailing after that. If you are on the fence about it I’d go for it.

    I suspect others aren’t reporting on it because most Nexus S owners either took the risk, upgraded to a galaxy, or, like my others I know, have no idea that they can upgrade.

  • Megahertz

    My thing is if you so mad them why are you complaining on this site? Why not send your complaints over to Google and Samsung?

    You think they monitor this site everyday to see that your feelings are hurt?

  • prufrock

    The phone is a developer phone, yes.

    Pointing to Wikipedia is stupid, however. Point to where on the sites of Koodo, etc. it saya anything of the sort.

    It has been marketed and sold as a mainstream product, completely differenty from the Nexus One.

  • Zor

    Your really going to link me to a wiki entry to show that the nexus s was promoted as a dev phone?? Sorry but that doesn’t mean a thing. I agree that the nexus line is the best dev platform as it is stock android and is Googles “vision” for android phones, but again the nexus s was not PROMOTED to the general public as a dev phone.

  • Caldera

    The Nexus series are NOT developer phones; they are consumer phones that also cater to developers.

    Where in ANY advertising in ANY country from ANY carrier (Verizon, Bell, Orange, etc.) was there mention of this being a “developer” phone?

    There has been a big push to sell this phone to the general public. See the TV adverts for face recognition? Targeted towards average consumers, not developers.

    Probably 90% of the market base is consumers. Consumers like decent customer service and have no intereste in custom ROMS.

  • will

    Great article thank you!!!

    I had a htc hero, got fed up with no updates so moved to a nexus s. Now fed up with no updates again.

    Apple, windows… no I couldn’t or could I?

  • Drae

    Regardless of your opinion on the Nexus line-up as a development platform the heart of the matter remains the same; the update is available, you just have to flash it yourself. Otherwise be patient and await the OTA. Whining that the update is unavailable, when in fact it is; is ridiculous. Google said in it’s promotional material that updates will be available quickly, not that they’d push them OTA and install them for you.

    Accept it or don’t, it makes no difference to me. I’ll continue to enjoy ICS on my devices and giggle every time someone complains their hand isn’t being held.

    Thanks and have a great day.

  • Turbo

    Colin: for your endless search button problem, you need to flash to a different baseband file. I had the some problems and when i flashed to a different basement and it never came back again! refer to xda and check :)

  • Todd

    The search button bug is probably a hardware problem, maybe interference or lack of shielding in the cables. It’s just masked by flashing a different baseband, which might change some of the EM emissions, for example.

    The way Google handled the search button bug mirrors the same way they are handling the Nexus S ICS update. They said it would be fixed via software, then silence for months, then a fix that didn’t work, then more silence.

    I’m not surprised that the Nexus S continues to be neglected. One of the main reasons for buying Nexus phones – that Google supports them directly – has been nothing more than a pipedream.

    I too considered getting a Nexus S last year but after seeing Google’s response to the search bug, I passed on it. I am glad I did.

    My next phone will likely be a Windows Phone.

  • Q

    I already have 4.0.3 on my nexus since December lol

  • Brad

    Its reasons like this that make me nervous to switch to Droid. Its great that they have more selection(of not only style and specs but brands as well…(as opposed to iPhone where you have a choice of one phone with more or less memory)

    Still, they seem really fickle with their product support

  • TomeOne

    Yeah, my honeymoon with Nexus S – and Android – is over. I’ll be switching back to iPhone when Apple releases the new one this year.

  • Terry

    The silence we’re getting from Google on the Nexus S update is frighteningly similar to the same silence we got from Motorola on the Milestone 2.2 update. It makes me sick to think that Google might be taking that same path.

    Google, just say something, even if it’s that the update will take another 6 months!

  • petrochemicals

    At least some sites have the guts to run an article on this issue. I have been asking Android Central to run an article about this for months. Head editor Phil Nickinson even went so far as to reply to one of my e-mails telling me that this is not news. Google failing to update their own hardware with their own software is not news on an Android News blog? Now he is even deleting my comments asking the site as to why they are not reporting this. AC is a joke for Android news. Thank god some place still have some integrity.

  • Garfield

    It looks like the Nexus S will be getting ICS within the next couple of weeks after all, as confirmed by engadget.com website. I can’t wait to see this update on my Nexus S.

  • Richard

    F**k the Google Android team. iPhone 5 anyone???

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