This post contains a bunch of criteria for beta testers and software testers on how to choose an Android phone for the next year. I will also suggest some options to pick from and describe why you should consider them. The beginning of November is the perfect time for a buyer's guide because Black Friday will happen very soon. I will also update this post as soon as there will be any good deal on Amazon so don't forget to check it again later!
Who buys a phone for testing?
Two types of testers should be reading this:
- Beta testers who are testing new features as soon as they become available (Android firmware beta testers for example).
- Software testers who are working for the company or testers who are freelancing (as crowdtesters for example).
Let's dive deeper into the first case! 🔥
How to choose a phone for beta testing?
The first question I want to address is why would anyone want to be a beta tester when it comes to the OEM software? The answer is simple - a new user experience! Being able to access new features earlier gives you a possibility to influence the development process and puts you in the position where you can make your decisions faster than others.
Eventually, most use cases of your phone will come down to productivity. Let's imagine that you use your phone for 3 hours per day (US average) and a new feature will make you 1% more productive. This improvement will save you 1.8 minutes a day which is 54 minutes a month in total. And what if another feature will make you 5% more productive?
Secondly, everyone has its workflow when it comes to day to day phone usage. Only you know how to make your phone experience better and this is why having a micro impact on the development process becomes even more beneficial. Most companies have a way to collect your phone usage data which can be used later for product improvements.
What is the difference between different OEM firmware?
There are different mobile phone manufactures and they put different efforts into their products. These differences can be reflected in:
- Hardware lineup. Some brands release one device a year and some release a lineup of 5 or 10 different models. If the brand has a wide hardware lineup it means that they make different models for different segments (flagships or budget models for example). And this also affects the firmware updates plan.
- Updates plan. Some phones will continue to receive updates in 2 years and some will not receive any. This is important because if the hardware manufacturer doesn't plan to release new updates it means that there will be no beta firmware to test at all.
- Development speed. There is firmware that is getting updated every week and there is firmware that is getting updated once a year. You may want to choose what fits best for your needs.
- Community support. This point is different from brand to brand and it determents the level of influence you will have on the development process. Additionally, as a tester of beta software, you may face the situation when you will need to get support from devs to fix your issue.
There are also a couple of other things you will need to consider. One of them will be an "adoption rate" or "popularity" of the device. As more popular the phone is, the bigger users community will be. The bigger community may drive a higher development activity on the manufacturer side. This also determents the activity of custom ROM development as soon as you plan to try them out too.
Along with all these points above, you should always consider your personal preferences to choose a phone for beta testing.
What usually comes along with OEM firmware?
System apps - your default launcher, camera, settings and other system apps that your phone manufacturer pre-installed to your device. Google apps - they either exist or they don't and in case if they don't, you will need to take extra effort to get them installed.
Let's simply walk through the list of OEMs available for beta testing.
1. Stock Android Beta by Google
Since Google released their first device, we got a possibility to participate in the official beta test of the stock Android. Google usually announces a new Android version before Google I/O event. As soon as it becomes available, you will have a possibility to install a beta build on your phone via the OTA update. For a certain period after, you will continue receiving new updates with stability, performance improvements and other fixes. They also release new apps and features in stages which makes it even more interesting. For example, Android Q was announced on March and the final beta version was released in August.
Google publishes a lot of posts describing the beta testing process and you will be also a part of a huge community so it won't be a problem for you to find all necessary info. In most cases, you will be able to solve your problems quite quickly. The downside of this will be a low chance to make a significant impact on the development process. Your device usage data will probably be collected in the background and all-important feature/design decisions have been probably already made.
One extra advantage of being an Android beta tester will be access to some system Google apps which are not available on other devices.
The default choice for this case will be the latest Pixel phone. You will be able to participate in the Android beta test for the next couple of years as it also comes with a long term updates plan. You may also get modded apps such as Google Camera from future Pixel phone releases (I got almost all camera features from Pixel 4 on my Pixel 2 with a modded app). As a budget variant, you can always get a Pixel phone from a previous year with a huge discount.
- 📲 Google Pixel 4 - 799$
With this one, you will be able to participate in the Google Android Beta test for the next 3 years (or more). As an addition, you will continue to receive Google apps available from future Pixel phones. All this comes with high-end hardware from Google. The battery could be a concern but it should last at least for 2-3 years.
- 📲 Google Pixel 4 XL - 999$
Same as above but with a bigger screen.
Android One compatible phones are also an option for you in case you want to try the next Android version before others. These devices are manufactured by other brands than Google and they run on a stock Android as well.
- 📲 Nokia 9 PureView - 499$
All models in this category are budget versions. I am also quite happy to see Nokia coming back to the market with the best possible Android firmware (meaning Android One).
- 📲 Motorola One Vision - 297$
Android One solution by Motorola.
- 📲 Xiaomi Mi A3 - 183$ (save 11%)
Android One solution by Xiaomi. This is is probably the most interesting because I am pretty sure that it will be possible to install MIUI ROM on this device later on (See MIUI beta section below).
Google Android Beta program rating - 5/5 🔥
- New user experience - 5
- Support plan - 5
- Development and testing process - 4
- Community and support - 5
2. One UI Beta by Samsung
One UI is a relatively recent project which is developed by Samsung. The first version was based on Android 9 and the second one uses Android 10 underneath. Because it depends on the Android release schedule, the availability of this beta program is usually delayed until the time after the stable release date for the recent Android version. For example, One UI beta 2.0 was announced in October.
One UI affects core system apps such as the launcher, themes, camera and others. Plus it usually includes support for system features which come with the latest Android version (such as Dark Mode for example)
On the concerning part, the list of supported devices is not very big and it is limited to flagships. For example, only Galaxy S10 and Note 10 models are eligible for One UI beta 2.0 (at this moment). However, the list of supported devices and the beta period may vary per country. It is not yet clear if Samsung flagships from the previous year will receive support for One UI 2.0 but even if it will happen, there will be a significant time difference in the release schedule. This also means that in a year (if there will be a One UI beta 3.0) you might need to upgrade your device again if you want to participate into the beta test as soon it comes out.
Participation in One UI Beta Program requires a Samsung account. Create an account at https://account.samsung.com. The Beta Program is available only for certain devices, OS, and countries. (Galaxy S10e/S10/S10+/S10 5G and other devices with Android 10 OS) and the Beta Program period and compatible devices vary by country. One UI features may differ depending on the devices used.
Regardless of the support limitation - Samsung is quite good at software development and their UI solutions are always worth testing.
- 📲 Samasung Galaxy S10 - 659$
A classic flagship model by Samsung with which you should expect to receive updates for at least 2 years. There is a high chance that you will be eligible into at least one OneUI beta test and maybe one more next year with a bit of a delay. This model was released in spring of 2019 and if you prefer to stick to the latest device you can check Note 10 or just wait for S11 to be released.
- 📲 Samsung Galaxy S10+ - 730$
Same as above but with better hardware.
- 📲 Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ - 903$
The newest flagship by Samsung. Expectations regarding the beta test should be the same as for S10 but you may also get some additional Note specific features (for your S Pen for example).
- 📲 Samsung Galaxy Note 10 - 798$
Same as above but with better hardware. It is also important to mention that Samsung has it's own "Upgrade program" where you can simply upgrade to the newest Samsung device every year. You will have to use Samsung Financing (monthly payment model) in this case and it might be not available in some countries.
Samsung One UI beta program rating - 4/5 😎
- New user experience - 5
- Support plan - 3
- Development and testing process - 4
- Community and support - 4
3. MIUI Beta by Xiaomi
This one is a bit special and it mostly related to the MIUI development process in general. First of all, it is a super old project which existed almost since the beginning of Android history. Secondly, as MIUI user you can choose how often do you want to receive your updates - weekly (alpha track), monthly (beta track) or stable releases only. And last but not least, MIUI is available on many different devices (not just Xiaomi phones) because this project is supported by many ROM developers and can be ported to almost any device.
MIUI is a bit different from other Android firmware because it has a flat launcher (no menu, all apps are on the home screen like on iOS) and all their system apps aligned to have the same style. One big addition that it is built based on user suggestions. Short development cycles and a huge testers community gives them a possibility to release new features very quickly.
Regarding the access to the beta version of MIUI, having a Xiaomi device will be almost essential because otherwise, you will have to wait more time until it will become available on your phone. On the concern side, if you want to take active participation in the development process you may encounter some issues with the Chinese language if you are not familiar with it.
One additional point here is that new versions of MIUI are usually available for different Android versions depending on the device. This means that some devices will run MIUI 11 on Android 10 and some will run MIUI 11 on Android 7.
- 📲 Xiaomi Mi 9 - 416$
Xiaomi "Mi" series is almost the same as "S" series for Samsung. You should expect to receive upgrades for at least 2 years and after that, you may receive more of them but probably not with the latest Android. Additionally, you can OPT-IN into weekly updates and receive new features in "development" state.
- 📲 Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro - 387$
Better hardware with the same updates forecast.
- 📲 Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 - 343$ (save 5%)
A bit different form-factor with the same updates forecast.
- 📲 Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro - 249$ (save 35%)
This is a more budget series but with the same level of update support. It might make sense to wait for a new device because Xiaomi supposes to upgrade Redmi lineup with a new device at some point. The variety of Xiaomi phones is quite big but regardless of that, it is safe to say that other models (not only flagships) will get updated.
This is one of the recent models released by Xiaomi and it is not available everywhere yet but it worth considering too.
MIUI beta program rating - 5/5 🔥
- New user experience - 4
- Support plan - 5
- Development and testing process - 5
- Community and support - 5
Are there any other options?
Yes! There are more Beta firmware OEMs developed by other brands. I will just name them here without giving detailed ratings. Mostly because they are relatively fresh and it is hard to judge but also because they are quite close to the top three I mentioned above in terms of UI and feature sets.
Quite close to MIUI. The big difference is that Huawei has bad relationships with Google and the existence of GAPPS on their devices is questionable (in terms of support and compatibility). But this is also what makes them different and I am very curious to see how this will evolve.
- 📲 Huawei P30 Pro - 707$
It just has such a good camera that you cannot ignore this option. As it is a flagship, you should expect at least one or two beta releases to come.
EMUI beta program rating - 3/5 🤔
Quite close to MIUI as well. They release beta versions for their top devices from time to time. It worth saying that new versions are usually bound to new Android versions. For example, the latest ColorOS 6 beta was also an upgrade to Android 10.
- 📲 Oppo A9
A flagship device by Oppo. Can be an option if you like ColorOS. It might be only available in a limited set of countries.
ColorOS beta program rating - 3/5 🤔
This one is a bit different because it has an Android One UI style. But in general, it is on the same level as others.
- 📲 OnePlus 7 Pro - 590$
This one can be considered as a budget alternative to the Pixel phone to some extent. As a flagship, it should get at least one or two beta releases.
OxygenOS beta program rating - 4/5 😎
Of course, there are even more firmware OEMs like Nokia Android beta program and maybe you will find some more in comments below mentioned by our users but their popularity is significantly less than the popularity of these six I mentioned above.
My Pixel 2XL is 2 years old already. It works okay but there are things which I am not happy about (mostly related to the battery) and most probably I will have to pick a new device very soon. For now, I am choosing between Google Pixel 4XL, Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ or one of the flagship devices by Xiaomi.
Dis you experience being a beta tester for any of these or maybe you know other programs worth mentioning? Drop us a comment below! 🤳