The world of Android smartphones can often be chaotic and disorganized, but this year it seems to have settled on the month of April for the debut and availability of the widest range of attractive new devices. Six months after Google’s release of Android Marshmallow, all the hardware manufacturers are now ready to deliver a deluge of phones built around the latest version of the operating system. It’s already begun with handsets like the Xiaomi Mi 5 and Samsung Galaxy S7, but next month is when the choice and variety will explode.
Huawei’s P9 flagship and its dual-camera system are set to launch on April 6th, which is also when Meizu will unveil its M3 Note. A week later, HTC will pull the curtain back on its 2016 flagship, expected to be called the HTC 10, and Oppo will join the fun at around the same with the international release of its R9 and R9 Plus. Whether it’s the R9’s 16-megapixel selfie camera, the revival of HTC’s BoomSound, or the prospect of another Huawei smartphone with a monster (3,900mAh) battery, there’s going to be something to tantalize most Android fans. And for the ultimate spec extravagance, there’s also the Zopo Speed 8, which lays claim to the title of being the first deca-core smartphone.
Two major factors are driving the bumper crop of Android flagships this spring: the timing of Marshmallow’s release and the availability of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 chipset. The latter is simple: awesome new chips deserve awesome new phones to show off their capabilities, and the 820 has already proven itself a winner in our Mi 5 and Galaxy S7 reviews. The more intriguing aspect is Android itself. Multiple Android OEMs have told me that it takes upwards of four months to completely integrate their software with Google’s — and lest you think that a pointless endeavor, remember that this process includes the addition of better camera apps and superior image processing, as shown off by Samsung and LG in particular. This is why, in spite of being announced at Mobile World Congress in late February, LG’s G5 smartphone won’t be shipping until April 1st. Sony’s new Xperias are in the same boat, though the Japanese company doesn’t even have a firm date (aside from "some time this summer") for when you’ll be able to buy one.
Android manufacturers are roughly six months behind Google
For the past three years, Google has released the latest iteration of Android in October. This is in Google’s best interests, as the company endeavors to keep pace with (or keep ahead of, depending on your perspective) Apple’s iOS. New iPhones, replete with new software, typically arrive in September, and Google’s job is to counter them with a fresh serving of Android right away. Because of the time that device manufacturers need to capitalize on that latest software, the rhythm that’s developed in recent times is that February’s Mobile World Congress becomes the focal point for new announcements, and the weeks after it are the time when all the new Android devices trickle out. This year, most of them seem to be clustering around the first week of April, as a coincidence more than a deliberate plan. But if Google’s schedule continues as it’s been going, this might well become a normal and familiar cadence to the Android smartphone market.
Google’s hardware partners understand that its priority is to compete with iOS, not the iPhone. Android’s release pattern makes it hard for them to launch hot new flagship devices in time for the holiday shopping period, but at the same time it opens up the opportunity for them to develop a separate hype window in the spring. By this point next month, new smartphone buyers should be feeling overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of choice on offer from new Marshmallow devices.
This year, April is Android month
If you’re in the market for a new phone, you owe it to yourself to wait a couple of weeks to see exactly what everyone has in store. More devices will embrace USB-C, LG and Huawei will try to convince us that just one camera on the back of a phone isn't enough, and everyone will push the envelope on better and more efficient industrial design. Apple is also getting in on this particularly active launch period with the announcement of the cheaper and smaller iPhone SE, but April looks destined to be dominated by a succession of Android launches. You never know, maybe we’ll start referring to April as Android month. It'd make for fun alliteration while articulating the spring's importance as the critical time when all the manufacturers’ pieces start falling into place.
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