Proper support from Android manufacturers, especially software support, has long been a heated topic for Android enthusiasts. To be fair, at this point, there’s very little Google can do to fix this without directly impacting the openness of Android as an operating system. That’s not to say that they aren’t doing anything about it, however. In the business space, at least some degree of software support is pretty much a necessity, especially when it comes to security. Vulnerabilities in a company’s infrastructure can potentially cause a big headache, even on something as small as a worker’s phone. In theory, this is where Google’s Android Enterprise Recommended Initiative comes in with phone recommendations.
In the past, we’ve talked about Android Enterprise Recommended devices. But what most people don’t know is the rigorous process that goes behind a device getting an Enterprise Recommendation. In this article, we’re going to talk about what these phones are, what’s behind the AER badge, what Google asks from these phones, zero-touch enrollment, why they’re important for businesses — and why they might or might not, be relevant to you.
What is the Android Enterprise Recommended Program?
The Android Enterprise program itself is nothing new. Google’s Android Enterprise program enables the use of Android devices and applications in the workplace. The program has existed since 2014 when Android Lollipop launched, and from the start, the program has provided APIs and other tools that developers can use to add Android support to their enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions.
With the launch of Android 6.0 Marshmallow in 2015, supporting these Android Enterprise APIs became mandatory in order to even get GMS certification, which greatly boosted their adoption across the Android ecosystem.
This brings us then, to Android Enterprise Recommended devices. These are pretty much devices that have gotten a seal of approval over from the folks at Google for several factors, the most notable being reliable and regularly scheduled security updates, particularly if they’re meant to fix critical vulnerabilities. Phones in this program are supposed to be best-in-class when it comes to reliability and security, two factors that are important in a work environment. After all, these phones are meant to be “ideal” to work with the APIs and EMM services we mentioned before for being used in a work environment.
Should I care about Android Enterprise Recommended phones if I’m not a business?
Even if you’re not getting a device with this seal of approval for a work environment (these phones can be managed through an EMM console), there are reasons why regular users could also find some value in these badges. Android Enterprise Recommended phones are supposed to have semi-regular security updates, although Google relaxed this requirement somewhat in the past few months.
Still, OEMs are still required to roll out prompt security fixes whenever critical issues arise. Smartphones in the program are also expected to provide, at the very least, one major Android update, and OEMs are expected to be transparent with updates and publish information about the guaranteed Android updates these phones will receive, both major and security ones.
Transparency is also needed when it comes to security updates. OEMs are required to publish a security bulletin disclosing all CVE vulnerabilities that they fixed on their phones. You might think most OEMs don’t often do this, but as a part of this program, a lot of them actually do, including Samsung, Motorola, and OPPO. Any update rolling out to these phones must also be compliant with the program’s requirements and will need to get revalidated.
For a phone to get an Android Enterprise Recommended badge, it also needs to meet a series of minimum system requirements, to ensure an experience in the workplace that doesn’t suck. Devices in the “Knowledge Worker” category must meet internal specifications including 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, a CPU with a clock speed of 1.4GHz, Android 11, and 64-bit architecture. Rugged devices can sit a tad lower in specs with requirements of at least 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, and a CPU with a clock speed of 1.1GHz. They’re also allowed to be 32-bit based, but they’re also required to feature a MIL-STD-810G or an IEC 62-2-32 certification at the very least.
Zero-touch Enrollment is one of the best aspects of the Android Enterprise Recommended program. It does exactly what it says — enroll devices into the program without a single touch of the user or your IT team. It brings down the time required to deploy devices to users in an organization and also removes the need for the manual setup of each individual device. If you have hundreds or thousands of employees, zero-touch enrollment is an efficient way to go about distributing Android Enterprise recommended smartphones.
Using zero-touch enrollment, organizations can directly order large quantities of eligible devices from zero-touch carriers or resellers and then use an online portal to assign each device to a user. All this is done without opening the box of the phones or manually setting them up. Once the devices are assigned, you can configure the Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solution as per your needs. Once you do this, all devices will automatically enroll with the policies set by your EMM. Now, all you have to do is ship the device to the user and when they power it on for the first time, a setup process with all the regulations and policies will be right in place.
Zero-touch enrollment eliminates the need for any sort of instructions or training to be given to the IT department of a corporation since they don’t have to manually enroll every device. The entire process is done while the phones still sit inside the box. This saves a ton of time and effort while not compromising on security. Devices enrolled via this method will still retain the required policies set in place by the organization even if they are reset. End-users also do not require any sort of training since all they have to do is sign in with their respective accounts.
If a phone runs on Android 9.0+ and it is GMS certified, it’s automatically eligible for zero-touch enrollment. Though, keep in mind that purchases need to be done from zero-touch carriers and resellers.
Which phones are part of the Android Enterprise Recommended program?
The Android Enterprise Recommended program features 305 smartphones as of the time of writing, with 215 of them in the “Knowledge Worker” category and 90 of them belonging to the “Rugged” category. The list includes several devices from different manufacturers, a lot of them from relatively obscure OEMs. We’ve compiled a list of smartphones from some of the most notable manufacturers in the list:
List of smartphones in the Android Enterprise Recommended Program. Click to expand.
You can check out the full list here.
Should I get an Android Enterprise Recommended smartphone?
This program isn’t really the be-all and end-all when it comes to choosing a smartphone with stellar software support — which is what it’s meant to deliver or at least was at first. Companies like Motorola, which are pretty infamous when it comes to software support, especially in the long term, have phones with this certification. And Google doesn’t really enforce this policy that well, which is why we mentioned previously that they recently changed their policy from semi-regular updates to only asking OEMs to roll out prompt security updates if there’s a vulnerability that needs to be patched urgently. This program instead mostly goes after stability, reliability, and transparency on both updates, support, and laying down the terms for both, as well as targeting needs of businesses. In this respect, it does deliver well.
So if the question is whether you should choose a smartphone for your own personal use based solely on this list, the answer is probably no. While the stringent requirements of this program do ultimately deliver some value to users who care about having a secure, reliable smartphone, they don’t deliver enough value to be the sole, decisive factor to the average consumer. There are many other factors that are considerably more important at the time of choosing a smartphone that an average consumer would use as their personal device.
There’s also the fact that most flagship smartphones from major device manufacturers often already have this certification anyway, and even some mid-range and low-end ones as well. Phones from the likes of the Galaxy S21 lineup, or the Redmi Note 10 lineup, for one, are already certified. Your phone might already be certified without you knowing it. So looking up the full list might end up with you choosing the same smartphone you were going to choose anyway.
If you’re a business and you’re looking for Android smartphones to connect to your network and give to employees solely for work usage, then yes, Google’s device directory could be a pretty good starting point, since you actually want what the program is delivering in a phone you’re going to deploy on your network.
The bottom line
While Google could definitely do a way better job in enforcing its program’s policies on some of its partners, particularly on the update side, the program does end up delivering pretty good value to businesses in particular, as well as to people who are interested in transparency and promises of continued and consistent software support. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s as good as it gets in the existing framework.
It also does make us wonder whether more strict guidelines that actually mattered for consumers, at least for the updates part, could actually be rolled out by Google for Android partners. While several OEMs have started to take Android updates more seriously, there’s still a long way to go until we actually get to Pixel-like updates across a majority of the Android ecosystem. Even then, Apple still one-ups Android by offering several years of both iOS updates and security updates throughout their whole device lineup.
The iPhone 5s, for one, which launched in 2013 with iOS 7, got updated up to iOS 12 in 2018, and it’s still getting security updates to this very day — iOS 12.5.3, the latest update for the device, was released in May 3rd, 2021. That’s not a typo, that was a few weeks ago. A phone getting up to 8 years of software support is pretty much unheard of in the Android ecosystem. To give you some context, back in 2013, we were all drooling over the release of Android 4.4 KitKat, and a phone released back then could have gotten officially, at most, Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
While you can technically grab a phone from that era, like the Galaxy S4 or the Nexus 5, and install something like LineageOS 18.1 or some other custom ROM from our forums to get present-day Android running on it, it’s not an official solution. It might be usable performance-wise, but the newer software is not meant to run on hardware this old, and the old hardware has been deprecated for years.
As we mentioned before, while the Android Enterprise Recommended program might fall short when it comes to actually deliver timely security updates, it still makes OEMs be more transparent when it comes to software support, including timelines and what the update themselves brings. We would also love to see Google come out with a similar program for ensuring Android OEMs actually update their phones for longer — but that appears to be a far-fetched dream.