Why don’t new Chinese phones ship with the latest version of Android?


Each time a new phone is launched by a Chinese phone maker one of the most common complaints is “why does it not have the latest version of Android?”. There are numerous reasons for this and we are going to try and answer as many of them as we can now!

Why don’t new Chinese phones come with the latest version of Android?

So another Android phone has been launched by a Chinese phone maker. The hardware is fantastic, the design is beautiful, but hang on it has the last (or later) version of Android! Why?

Time schedules and deadlines

With very few exceptions most Android phone makers don’t know what Google have planned for the latest version of Android and don’t know when the new instalment will launch.

zopo zp998 review hero

When development of a phone begins the manufacturer has to develop the phone using the latest version of Android available to them. This might mean being 2 versions of Android behind by the time a phone launches!

For example Zopo claim the ZP998 took 10 months to develop, if they had switched to Android 4.3 when it launched and then again to Android 4.4 the ZP998 would still be months away from launch!

Identity

This is especially true of Android phone brands in China where most phones offer the same specifications at similar prices, the only area a phone company can really differentiate themselves from the rest is via a custom ROM.

miui 5.0

Xiaomi has MIUI (based on Android 4.1 and 4.2), Meizu has Flyme (based on Android 4.2), Gionee have Amigo (Android 4.2), then there are the smaller brands like Xiaocai and CaiOS, JiaYu with the 3rd party Lewa ROM etc.

Each of these companies offer a different ROM to help the standout from the crowd and often these ROMs have months and months of development time in them. It just wouldn’t be possible to move from one Android version to the next.

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Resources

umi x2s

Even huge phone brands such as Samsung don’t put the resources aside to update their phones, often dropping support for phones rather than spending money on programmers. Now think of a company the size of UMi, JiaYu etc they have a tiny team working on phones and firmware, once one phone is finished the whole team move to the next leaving no resource left for updates.

Competition

Chinese phone makers are in a constant state of war. If one company slows for a second there are thousands waiting to take their market share.

Having their team work on the latest version of Android would mean their next flagship phone would be delayed allowing other companies to launch first.

The latest version of Android isn’t really needed

In reality having the latest version of Android on your phone is nice, but when it comes to actual usage it makes very little difference.

In my case I run a Xiaomi Mi2 with the latest version of MIUI V5 based on Android 4.1.1 (3 versions out of date) but as MIUI is so heavily modified I actually have many of the same features and functions as someone running a Nexus 5 with Android 4.4.1!

The same can be said of other ROMs or even a stock Android install. The differences between Android 4.2 to 4.4 are negligible and in most cases aren’t necessary.

Do you agree?

Do you agree with these reasons? Would you prefer to see hardware development slow in favour of having the latest Android OS? Would you pay extra for the latest version of Android? Let us know in the comments below!

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62 Comments

  1. rene
    December 6, 2013

    who gives a rats ass about a company ROM bring the phone out with the base android ROM so you can always update to the newest edition, the company can than still provide there custom ROM for the people who want it, so you do not have to sit on a old brick after a few months because the company gives a rats ass about you and your old phone or do they do that so can can sell new phones like samsung

    • December 8, 2013

      The only issue is called “Mediatek”

      They are lazy as hell delivering newer versions to their chips.

      Manufacturers just follow…

    • Merlevandemadom
      February 14, 2014

      Which cheap Chinese manufacturers offer mobile phones with stock Android? So that you can update to stock Android 4.4 or whatever, whenever you like? Without having to wait for the manufacturer. Cheap phones are about $50 with Android 4.x and 512MB RAM.

  2. highwind
    December 6, 2013

    Especially the last point “The latest version of Android isn’t really needed” is so true!

    The last really important update came with 4.1 (project butter)…
    everything afterwards was -as you say- minior UI tweaks/addons (which you could get with apps/widgets even before) or “better implementation of google service” (aka tighter obligation to google so they can get more money and/or personal information from you).

    Android 4.4 brought more speed to 512MB devices but lets face it: even midrange devices from 2012 already had 1GB.

    And if you look at the statistics published by google most people dont care for their version anyway:
    Android 4.4 runs on about 1% of all devices which entered the playstore in the last months while 4.3 is under 5%
    Android 4.2 (which most chinese phones have nowadays) is about 13% but “king of the hill” is still the even older 4.1 with about 38%

  3. Allanitomwesh
    December 6, 2013

    Well,I don’t give a damn about decimal places but I do care about a phone getting updated to a fairly recent version of Android. Abandoning a phone is just outright wrong. This is why people scramble for Nexus devices or Samsung’s Galaxy and Note flagships[they don’t give the same attention to cheaper devices],for the security that it’ll get updates [at least for two years or so] and why some manufacturers are broke [HTC with Sense 5 really pissed off a lot of Sensation owners,look at their finances…]so yeah,not so much being on the latest and greatest version as to being regularly updated so its not light years behind on Gingerbread or the ICS it launched with.

    • highwind
      December 6, 2013

      Just not true…

      Nexus devices have a negliable share of the total market and people dont buy samsung because of updates.
      HTC is broke because they spent redicolous amounts of money in advertising (check out the costs of their last european campaign).

      As said before: of all android devices currently only ~1% has 4.4 and <5% has 4.3 while nearly 40% still run 4.1… so please stop spreading false statements!
      Just because YOU care for updates, doesnt mean everybody else has to and numbers/statistics clearly indicate that most of the customers DONT care for android version numbers at all!

      • tweetycontrabajo
        December 6, 2013

        Some people prefers 4.1 because later versions doesn’t allow to use some hacked apps, like gameloft games.

        • highwind
          December 6, 2013

          Might be…
          >90% care about hacked gameloft games as much as they do care about their android version – not at all!

        • Ulysses Geist
          December 8, 2013

          And some people DESPISE 4.1 because google incompetently tried to establish DRM for apps and broke the default on paid launchers and keyboards and NEVER fixed it in 4.1. “Fixing” it in 4.2, a version that most will never get on their phones is NOT fixing it. It is abandoning their current users on a broken version. This is the true fragmentation.

      • Barry
        December 6, 2013

        Ok dude so 40% stin run 4.1 What percentage of that 40 arefrom Chinese manufacturers that too lazy to update their phones to a more current version?

      • Allanitomwesh
        December 7, 2013

        Yeah i had an LG Optimus Black conveniently abandoned by LG,and I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who notices my “last years flagship” device doesn’t have the cool new features of the new phone by the company. The point of Nexus is not to gain market share by Google,otherwise the’d push for wider availability. But ask yourself,how many Android phone makers have customers crashing their servers and Amazon’s? Again,customers might appear not to care,but really that goes with how customers “complain” about such issues. If Whatsapp and other popular apps were to completely drop support for Gingerbread and declare 4.0+ like some other new apps do,you’d see a lot of phones getting updated due to the uproar.

      • Ulysses Geist
        December 8, 2013

        Care for updates and being able to receive updates are two VERY DIFFERENT things.

  4. Dare
    December 6, 2013

    Actual reason is that very few Chinese companies has PDA agreement with Google to get latest OS source code for porting. Chinese vendors get OS source code from MTK/Qualcomm which comes after 3-6 months after Google source code release.

    • December 8, 2013

      They promised kitkat…

      Let’s pray then.

      I’m waiting delivery of a Jiake MT6592 octacore thanks to Pandawill trial experience and I can’t wait to start making a Kitkat ROM for it.

      😉

  5. Faisal
    December 6, 2013

    my question is if i have android phone with version 2.3 uptill when i will be able to use my current applications as i am not rich to change my phone every year and people like me buy phone when they are cheap enough to afforad.So the phone i bought in december 2012 should be used 3 years with me but now i am afraid when google will drop support of gingerbread and i will not be able to use google play to download applications. which already happened with the phones running on android 2.1 users. In this case nokia used to be champ before adopting windows.

  6. Mike
    December 6, 2013

    I don’t give a damn if it’s the latest Android or a custom ROM. It has to be smooth and bug free. Preferably no Chinese app. I buy it because of decent hardware and low price.

  7. Jobayer
    December 6, 2013

    The differences between Android 4.2 to 4.4 are negligible ? Are you trolling or something ? Its ok if you said 4.1 to 4.3 are negligible but not 4.4 -_-

    • December 6, 2013

      Agreed. But more fundamentally, if the Chinese manufacturers would post their code to AOSP, then the phones would be supported buy CM, PA, PACman, OmniROM and others.

      • tweetycontrabajo
        December 6, 2013

        But that is not against chinese manufacturers policy.
        Even some chinese phones comes factory rooted.

      • Guest
        December 6, 2013

        Totally Busted !!!

      • POY
        December 7, 2013

        They can’t because MTK are very strict in letting there hardware drivers out for fear of it being copied.

        So they can’t release 100% of the source.

        • December 7, 2013

          Yes, I realize that it’s mostly MTK’s fault. But as open source advocates, we should be shining a light on their bad behavior, not saying, “The latest version of Android isn’t needed”.

  8. Guest
    December 6, 2013

    who gives a rats ass about a company ROM bring the phone out with the base android ROM so you can always update to the newest edition, the company can than still provide there custom ROM for the people who want it, so you do not have to sit on a old brick after a few months because the company gives a rats ass about you and your old phone or do they do that so can can sell new phones like samsung

    • Yetimania
      December 8, 2013

      The only issue is called “Mediatek”

      They are lazy as hell delivering newer versions to their chips.

      Manufacturers just follow…

    • Merlevandemadom
      February 14, 2014

      Which cheap Chinese manufacturers offer mobile phones with stock Android? So that you can update to stock Android 4.4 or whatever, whenever you like? Without having to wait for the manufacturer. Cheap phones are about $50 with Android 4.x and 512MB RAM.

  9. provokanter Tabellenführer
    December 6, 2013

    Especially the last point “The latest version of Android isn’t really needed” is so true!

    The last really important update came with 4.1 (project butter)…
    everything afterwards was -as you say- minior UI tweaks/addons (which you could get with apps/widgets even before) or “better implementation of google service” (aka tighter obligation to google so they can get more money and/or personal information from you).

    Android 4.4 brought more speed to 512MB devices but lets face it: even midrange devices from 2012 already had 1GB.

    And if you look at the statistics published by google most people dont care for their version anyway:
    Android 4.4 runs on about 1% of all devices which entered the playstore in the last months while 4.3 is under 5%
    Android 4.2 (which most chinese phones have nowadays) is about 13% but “king of the hill” is still the even older 4.1 with about 38%

  10. December 6, 2013

    I don’t actually see how the design cycle times are any different than non-Chinese manufacturers. Everyone else seems to be able to switch to newer Android versions “mid-stream”, why can’t the Chinese vendors?

  11. Allanitomwesh
    December 6, 2013

    Well,I don’t give a damn about decimal places but I do care about a phone getting updated to a fairly recent version of Android. Abandoning a phone is just outright wrong. This is why people scramble for Nexus devices or Samsung’s Galaxy and Note flagships[they don’t give the same attention to cheaper devices],for the security that it’ll get updates [at least for two years or so] and why some manufacturers are broke [HTC with Sense 5 really pissed off a lot of Sensation owners,look at their finances…]so yeah,not so much being on the latest and greatest version as to being regularly updated so its not light years behind on Gingerbread or the ICS it launched with.

    • provokanter Tabellenführer
      December 6, 2013

      Just not true…

      Nexus devices have a negliable share of the total market and people dont buy samsung because of updates.
      HTC is broke because they spent redicolous amounts of money in advertising (check out the costs of their last european campaign).

      As said before: of all android devices currently only ~1% has 4.4 and <5% has 4.3 while nearly 40% still run 4.1… so please stop spreading false statements!
      Just because YOU care for updates, doesnt mean everybody else has to and numbers/statistics clearly indicate that most of the customers DONT care for android version numbers at all!

    • Guest
      December 6, 2013

      Some people prefers 4.1 because later versions doesn’t allow to use some hacked apps, like gameloft games.

    • provokanter Tabellenführer
      December 6, 2013

      Might be…
      >90% care about hacked gameloft games as much as they do care about their android version – not at all!

    • Guest
      December 7, 2013

      Ok dude so 40% stin run 4.1 What percentage of that 40 arefrom Chinese manufacturers that too lazy to update their phones to a more current version?

    • Allanitomwesh
      December 7, 2013

      Yeah i had an LG Optimus Black conveniently abandoned by LG,and I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who notices my “last years flagship” device doesn’t have the cool new features of the new phone by the company. The point of Nexus is not to gain market share by Google,otherwise the’d push for wider availability. But ask yourself,how many Android phone makers have customers crashing their servers and Amazon’s? Again,customers might appear not to care,but really that goes with how customers “complain” about such issues. If Whatsapp and other popular apps were to completely drop support for Gingerbread and declare 4.0+ like some other new apps do,you’d see a lot of phones getting updated due to the uproar.

    • Guest
      December 8, 2013

      Care for updates and being able to receive updates are two VERY DIFFERENT things.

    • Guest
      December 8, 2013

      And some people DESPISE 4.1 because google incompetently tried to establish DRM for apps and broke the default on paid launchers and keyboards and NEVER fixed it in 4.1. “Fixing” it in 4.2, a version that most will never get on their phones is NOT fixing it. It is abandoning their current users on a broken version. This is the true fragmentation.

  12. Guest
    December 6, 2013

    Actual reason is that very few Chinese companies has PDA agreement with Google to get latest OS source code for porting. Chinese vendors get OS source code from MTK/Qualcomm which comes after 3-6 months after Google source code release.

    • Yetimania
      December 8, 2013

      They promised kitkat…

      Let’s pray then.

      I’m waiting delivery of a Jiake MT6592 octacore thanks to Pandawill trial experience and I can’t wait to start making a Kitkat ROM for it.

      😉

  13. Guest
    December 6, 2013

    my question is if i have android phone with version 2.3 uptill when i will be able to use my current applications as i am not rich to change my phone every year and people like me buy phone when they are cheap enough to afforad.So the phone i bought in december 2012 should be used 3 years with me but now i am afraid when google will drop support of gingerbread and i will not be able to use google play to download applications. which already happened with the phones running on android 2.1 users. In this case nokia used to be champ before adopting windows.

  14. Guest
    December 6, 2013

    I don’t give a damn if it’s the latest Android or a custom ROM. It has to be smooth and bug free. Preferably no Chinese app. I buy it because of decent hardware and low price.

  15. Jobayer
    December 6, 2013

    The differences between Android 4.2 to 4.4 are negligible ? Are you trolling or something ? Its ok if you said 4.1 to 4.3 are negligible but not 4.4 -_-

    • Dave Weinstein
      December 6, 2013

      Agreed. But more fundamentally, if the Chinese manufacturers would post their code to AOSP, then the phones would be supported buy CM, PA, PACman, OmniROM and others.

    • Guest
      December 6, 2013

      But that is not against chinese manufacturers policy.
      Even some chinese phones comes factory rooted.

    • Guest
      December 6, 2013

      Totally Busted !!!

    • POY
      December 8, 2013

      They can’t because MTK are very strict in letting there hardware drivers out for fear of it being copied.

      So they can’t release 100% of the source.

    • Dave Weinstein
      December 8, 2013

      Yes, I realize that it’s mostly MTK’s fault. But as open source advocates, we should be shining a light on their bad behavior, not saying, “The latest version of Android isn’t needed”.

  16. Dave Weinstein
    December 6, 2013

    I don’t actually see how the design cycle times are any different than non-Chinese manufacturers. Everyone else seems to be able to switch to newer Android versions “mid-stream”, why can’t the Chinese vendors?

  17. Barry
    December 6, 2013

    The reason why the phones don’t ship with a more current (not latest) version is BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE TO. There is no competition from other countries for their marketshare. So why bother? The phones are selling anyway!!

  18. Guest
    December 7, 2013

    The reason why the phones don’t ship with a more current (not latest) version is BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE TO. There is no competition from other countries for their marketshare. So why bother? The phones are selling anyway!!

  19. דניאל בר-דגן
    December 8, 2013

    I disagrea…
    If the MTK will relese the kernal sorce and open the BL – It realy doesnt importent…
    but if it will be close like now, mabe the difrent betwen 2.2 – 2.4 it isnt big
    bug in the next ver’ it can be a magor update, what then?

  20. דניאל בר-דגן
    December 8, 2013

    I disagrea…
    If the MTK will relese the kernal sorce and open the BL – It realy doesnt importent…
    but if it will be close like now, mabe the difrent betwen 2.2 – 2.4 it isnt big
    bug in the next ver’ it can be a magor update, what then?

  21. Tyr
    December 8, 2013

    I agree for the most part, especially in the case of xiaomi where Mimi is so heavily optimized and it will have many of the same features. The exception however is with 4.4. It’s really more than just a minor update in quite a few ways. It almost could qualify as 5.0 but they wanted the number for KitKat. There are a few real and discernable features such as ART and the up coming camera API that will offer low level hardware access. This kind of stuff can’t always be handled in a custom Rom. In the end it is indeed smartest for them to optimize their priorities for their own markets and profits of course.

  22. Prem Sanaye
    December 8, 2013

    Absolutely right 4.1 , 4.2 or its 4.4 does not make any difference just normally some of the appearance is changed thats all
    but it should not be too old like ICS then you have to think

  23. Guest
    December 8, 2013

    I agree for the most part, especially in the case of xiaomi where Mimi is so heavily optimized and it will have many of the same features. The exception however is with 4.4. It’s really more than just a minor update in quite a few ways. It almost could qualify as 5.0 but they wanted the number for KitKat. There are a few real and discernable features such as ART and the up coming camera API that will offer low level hardware access. This kind of stuff can’t always be handled in a custom Rom. In the end it is indeed smartest for them to optimize their priorities for their own markets and profits of course.

  24. Web Consultant
    December 8, 2013

    Moto G will be popular cause of the almost stock Android experience and quick access to updates as well as the reasonable price, too bad Chinese phone manufacturers have missed the plot when it comes to selling more phones outside China.

    Instead of adding useful additions with OEM ROMS, most of the time you get gimmicky software and this also negatively impacts the time it takes to create a new ROM based on latest Google release.

    Why not invest development resources into creating an app that installs their specific changes onto any Android version like Google Experience Launcher in KitKat?

    Even though some people think the changes from android 4.1 to 4.4 are minor truth is things like support for Bluetooth Low Energy, Open GL 3.0 and upcoming ART in Kit Kat are not anything to be frowned upon as users may definitely benefit from these.

    On the other hand whether its MTKs fault or the phone manufacturer’s fault its quite clear looking at older Chinese phones, that they pretty much remain stuck on old versions and have no access to CM, PA or other custom ROMs for updates. In short you get less than what you pay for…

  25. Prem Sanaye
    December 8, 2013

    Absolutely right 4.1 , 4.2 or its 4.4 does not make any difference just normally some of the appearance is changed thats all
    but it should not be too old like ICS then you have to think

  26. Web Consultant
    December 8, 2013

    Moto G will be popular cause of the almost stock Android experience and quick access to updates as well as the reasonable price, too bad Chinese phone manufacturers have missed the plot when it comes to selling more phones outside China.

    Instead of adding useful additions with OEM ROMS, most of the time you get gimmicky software and this also negatively impacts the time it takes to create a new ROM based on latest Google release.

    Why not invest development resources into creating an app that installs their specific changes onto any Android version like Google Experience Launcher in KitKat?

    Even though some people think the changes from android 4.1 to 4.4 are minor truth is things like support for Bluetooth Low Energy, Open GL 3.0 and upcoming ART in Kit Kat are not anything to be frowned upon as users may definitely benefit from these.

    On the other hand whether its MTKs fault or the phone manufacturer’s fault its quite clear looking at older Chinese phones, that they pretty much remain stuck on old versions and have no access to CM, PA or other custom ROMs for updates. In short you get less than what you pay for…

  27. charles dexter ward
    December 9, 2013

    Ok, give me just android 4.1 or 4.2 for the release, but bring the phone fully functional and with a good level of optimization for its components. Reality? most of the chinese makers (actually i think xiaomi is the only one which doesn’t) release malfunctioning software which performs poorly with a somewhat decent hardware. Also i’d like to point out this fact: Chinese makers do not design processors, they are just designing SoC’s, they licence ip cores and then they build a SoC, which theoretically is able to perform as good as other brands doing the same (sony for instance) and they usually fall down cuz of the software support (back in hte past, when they would just licence instruction sets, their phones would perform just horrible, i had terrible experiences with some mtk phones with android 2.1 that had a horrible performance), so it would be nice to get a phone with software capable of fully using its own hardware. Also, what i’ve seen on chinese makers is this: “ok, software performs poorly due to terrible optimization?, lets release an update where we fix a bit of those performance issues, maybe update to the next version of android (if customers are lucky enough) and then we completely and utterly forget about that SoC and move to the next one”. This renders imposible to have more updates to most makers, since they usually do the same. Supporting the SoC updates is expensive and chinese makers are no longer making what enabled them to sell functioning stuff at low price; they now licence ip cores, they also have to sell a bit cheaper than big brands and since their production is not as big as theirs, they also have higher production costs, leading them to cut expenses where they can, and they cut it straight from the after sale support!

    • charles dexter ward
      December 9, 2013

      An example of this is when the rk3188 came out, 4 cortex A9 cores with a 28 nm fab proccess (vs the 40 nm of the tegra3) and the mali400mp which is also a good performer,when stuff based on this SoC came out its performance was horrible for the hardware and was far behind the tegra 3; then rockchip released a firmware update and well, performance went up a lot, ever since then, not rockchip or makers using that SoC have released any update (it has been about 6 months since then); rk is mostlikely glueing together an octo core SoC for 2014 or 2015, completely forgeting about its top tier current SoC, yea by the time their octo core is out, stuff based on that SoC will be $150 or so cheaper than nvdia, qualcomm or samsung octocores, but at the cost of support.
      I must point out this; i use to like a lot rockchip, back then when they use to license arm instruction sets and build cost efficient solutions which would perform just as they needed to (they also had embedded OS which were impressive imo), those days are apparently gone.

  28. Guest
    December 9, 2013

    Ok, give me just android 4.1 or 4.2 for the release, but bring the phone fully functional and with a good level of optimization for its components. Reality? most of the chinese makers (actually i think xiaomi is the only one which doesn’t) release malfunctioning software which performs poorly with a somewhat decent hardware. Also i’d like to point out this fact: Chinese makers do not design processors, they are just designing SoC’s, they licence ip cores and then they build a SoC, which theoretically is able to perform as good as other brands doing the same (sony for instance) and they usually fall down cuz of the software support (back in hte past, when they would just licence instruction sets, their phones would perform just horrible, i had terrible experiences with some mtk phones with android 2.1 that had a horrible performance), so it would be nice to get a phone with software capable of fully using its own hardware. Also, what i’ve seen on chinese makers is this: “ok, software performs poorly due to terrible optimization?, lets release an update where we fix a bit of those performance issues, maybe update to the next version of android (if customers are lucky enough) and then we completely and utterly forget about that SoC and move to the next one”. This renders imposible to have more updates to most makers, since they usually do the same. Supporting the SoC updates is expensive and chinese makers are no longer making what enabled them to sell functioning stuff at low price; they now licence ip cores, they also have to sell a bit cheaper than big brands and since their production is not as big as theirs, they also have higher production costs, leading them to cut expenses where they can, and they cut it straight from the after sale support!

    • Guest
      December 9, 2013

      An example of this is when the rk3188 came out, 4 cortex A9 cores with a 28 nm fab proccess (vs the 40 nm of the tegra3) and the mali400mp which is also a good performer,when stuff based on this SoC came out its performance was horrible for the hardware and was far behind the tegra 3; then rockchip released a firmware update and well, performance went up a lot, ever since then, not rockchip or makers using that SoC have released any update (it has been about 6 months since then); rk is mostlikely glueing together an octo core SoC for 2014 or 2015, completely forgeting about its top tier current SoC, yea by the time their octo core is out, stuff based on that SoC will be $150 or so cheaper than nvdia, qualcomm or samsung octocores, but at the cost of support.
      I must point out this; i use to like a lot rockchip, back then when they use to license arm instruction sets and build cost efficient solutions which would perform just as they needed to (they also had embedded OS which were impressive imo), those days are apparently gone.

  29. rightpath
    December 9, 2013

    “”Now think of a company the size of UMi, JiaYu etc they have a tiny team working on phones and firmware, once one phone is finished the whole team move to the next leaving no resource left for updates.””

    Thank you. You just helped me make up my mind on purchasing from these two brands.

  30. rightpath
    December 9, 2013

    “”Now think of a company the size of UMi, JiaYu etc they have a tiny team working on phones and firmware, once one phone is finished the whole team move to the next leaving no resource left for updates.””

    Thank you. You just helped me make up my mind on purchasing from these two brands.