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Businesses, beware: The Motorola ThinkPhone comes with a major caveat


Let me just preface this by saying: No, the saga we’re about to dive into isn’t in any way related to April Fools’ — as far as I can tell, anyway. After all, we’re at the start of May.

And yet, one of Android’s best-known phone-makers is putting out a new device with such eye-rollingly off-the-mark claims, I can’t help but wonder if maybe they got mixed up on months and meant this to be a joke. It’s so hilariously and obviously ironic, I’m just not sure what else to make of it.

So here it is: Motorola’s got a new business-aimed Android phone called the Motorola ThinkPhone. It’s the first time the company — which has been owned by Lenovo since 2014, when Google broke our hearts and pawned the brand off after a glorious 20 months of control — is bringing a classic Lenovo name into the Motorola and Android arena this prominently.

And speaking of prominence, Moto’s main messaging around the new ThinkPhone is that it’s “the best phone for cybersecurity” — with a “complete suite of security and support features that deliver seamless protection.” Oh, and let’s not forget about the “software and processes that ensure the security of the entire device,” too.

Pardon my cackling. I tried to keep a straight face while saying all of that — I swear.

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Don’t get me wrong: Motorola’s ThinkPhone looks perfectly nice on the outside. It’s certainly a uniquely designed Android device, and the implementation of the classic ThinkPad styling (including even a callback to the trademark red ThinkPad nubbin-thing, via the phone’s extra hardware button) really is an inspired touch.

Motorola ThinkPhone Motorola

The Motorola ThinkPhone and its trademark red ThinkPad nubbin-thing.

But Goog almighty, am I the only one who sees the gigantic white elephant in the room next to this thing?

The unavoidable Motorola-Android asterisk

In all the oohing and ahhing early reviewers are doing over the ThinkPhone, I’ve seen a near-total dearth of discussion around the big honkin’ asterisk any business — or even individual user — would be crazy not to consider with this device.

Plain and simple, Motorola is absolutely awful at providing post-sales software support to its Android products. Time and time again, for years now, it’s shown us that it simply doesn’t care about supporting its devices and putting in even the teensiest effort to get critical current software updates out in a reasonably timely manner.

This isn’t some off-the-cuff, subjective assessment, either. I’ve been carefully tracking Android upgrades for well over a decade now. And with absolutely no exaggeration, Motorola has been flailing and failing at sending important updates to its phones for ages.

And believe me, we’re not talkin’ slight delays. We’re talkin’ flat-out fails, with the company receiving single-digit “F” grades on all of my recent Android Upgrade Report Cards — for Android 13, Android 12, Android 11, Android 10, Android 9…the list just keeps going.

In each of those cases, the company failed to get a single software update into the hands of its highest paying customers well over six months after the update’s release.

With Android 13, we’re now a whopping eight-and-a-half months since that Android version’s arrival — 260 days! — and still, owners of flagship-level Moto phones in America are waiting in the dark, with a now-nearly-19-months-outdated version of the operating system on their phones and no meaningful info about when last year’s software might reach them. As happens every single time with this cycle, Moto’s forums are overflowing with angry inquiries and requests for refunds from customers who clearly don’t read this column or they wouldn’t have put themselves in that position in the first place.

Even Moto phones that somehow earned a place on Google’s wildly unreliable Android Enterprise Recommended list aren’t faring any better (but that’s another story for another day).

Now, look, I get it: To a casual Android user, all of this may seem like much ado about nothing. But anyone who studies Android closely or cares in the least about maintaining an optimal level of privacy and security protection on their phone knows that Android operating system updates absolutely matter for much more than their surface-level interface enhancements and feature additions.

The most important part of an Android update is almost always the under-the-hood improvements it provides in the areas of privacy, security, and also performance. Virtually every new Android version has a laundry list of advancements in those areas — critical changes that address weaknesses, strengthen the software’s ability to keep your data protected, and further restrict how apps are able to interact with all sorts of sensitive info.

Particularly in a business setting but even just in a regular ol’ consumer scenario, running a few months behind on system updates should be concerning. Running well over a year behind — with no clear end in sight — is completely unacceptable.

So when I see Motorola claim its new Android-based ThinkPhone is “the best phone for cybersecurity,” with “software and processes that ensure the security of the entire device,” I can’t help but giggle at the sheer absurdity and embarrassing lack of awareness surrounding that statement. Unless Motorola were to make a clear promise of timely ongoing software support for this phone and then actually show us that it’s willing and able to deliver — which, to be clear, it has not — the ThinkPhone is gonna be among the worst Android devices out there for optimal security and business use. And just like all of Motorola’s other Android products, it’s virtually impossible for anyone who actually understands Android to recommend it as an even remotely advisable purchase.

The whole thing may seem like a weirdly late April Fools’ joke, but you’d better believe Motorola is serious. And the people who buy this phone certainly aren’t gonna be laughing when we’re six, eight, 16 months after the launch of this year’s Android 14 update and they’re still waiting in the dark with no word on if or when it might reach them.

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Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.



This story originally appeared on Computerworld

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