If you are a Chinese smartphone enthusiast you will know that most of these Chinese smartphones (particularly MediaTek ones) only receive up to about 2 OTA updates before they are discontinued, or left outdated. If you use a mainstream device though, you will not experience this, at least, most of the time. So how is it like living without updates?
First of all, let’s start off with why these devices don’t receive Android OS updates. MediaTek has a policy, whereby OEMs have to buy the chipsets to receive sources, effectively meaning that to update one device, they’d have to keep buying chipsets in bulk, thus causing MediaTek to earn money, and the companies potentially losing money. This discourages Chinese OEMs with MediaTek devices to even update their devices, except maybe for a few bug fixes which their engineers can fix. Even if the sources are leaked, ports are usually extremely difficult.
Let’s then start off with how using a MediaTek device feels like, based on software alone. MediaTek devices usually (though not always) contain ROMs that are stable and well optimized for the devices. This is because MediaTek devices typically use MediaTek’s own proprietary hardware, such as sensors (thus the ‘MTK <sensor name>’ shown in Antutu Benchmark), which means drivers are not usually a problem. MediaTek devices also tend to have similar looking ROMs, unless the ROM is themed heavily. You will notice that things like ‘Scheduled power on & off’ is present on almost all MediaTek ROMs, alongside things like off-screen gestures, and sound profiles. Sometimes, custom hardware providers like AGold and BIRD (codenames) also provide custom proprietary software too. This is why the Ulefone Be Touch 2 and Bluboo Xtouch both have the same fingerprint sensor lockscreens – because they are in fact, the same thing. These usually don’t get updated, and a whole new version is just released for a new version of Android and the old one is scrapped (Elephone P2000 vs. Ulefone Be Touch 2, both use AGold proprietary fingerprint sensors but have completely different UI).
As for the general feel of the devices in daily usage, it cannot be said to be the same for every device. Each device has their own ups and downs, and assuming absolutely no updates, it would mean the crappiest devices stick to being the crappiest, while the best devices stick to being the best devices. It will also mean glaring UI bugs will never be fixed, and drivers are not updated to fix bugs (particularly in things like the touchscreen, sensors, etc).
Living without updates, for some, is completely okay, as there are people who do not want to go through the hassle of rebooting their devices, and waiting for their updates to install. Sometimes, OEMs provide updates that require tools such as SP Flash Tool to install, and with the fear of bricking their devices, people usually just pass on the updates. As an Android junkie though, having no updates means being left behind. As MediaTek’s policy goes, it’ll mean buying a new device whenever a new Android version comes out. Other than that, it’ll solely depend on the OEM’s capabilities to fix bugs and push updates (although it hardly ever happens).
Sometimes, updates do come, but they are minor or sometimes even add bloatware to the device. Most of these updates are just bug fixes or aesthetic changes to the ROM, and do not provide a major makeover for the device itself. OEMs sometimes make their own custom ROMs too for the users to try, but they hardly get out of beta, and sometimes are even empty promises. These things really irk users, and sometimes draw potential users away from these OEMs. With the limitations brought about by MediaTek though, it is highly unlikely that we will ever see MediaTek devices being actively updated to the latest Android versions with bug fixes (despite most of the older chips like the MT6582 being probably completely compatible with Android 6.0).