I have just read news that there is a HTC One ‘Google Edition’ with stock Android reportedly in the works. I see a handful of people all so excited about this news. Days ago, we also got to know that there will be a TouchWiz-less version of the Galaxy S4 with stock Android. There was some excitement surrounding that too in the geek community, same way the community gets excited over every Nexus smartphone and tablet. Honestly, I do not get what the excitement is all about. I know that smartphones running stock Android get firmware updates faster than others. But besides that, what else are the benefits of using a stock device?
Here are my observations in the stock versus customised Android debates:
Custom Android look better
I swear by my great grandfather’s beard! Stock Android is inelegant. Bland. Unexciting. I have used a few stock Android smartphones and then others with custom UIs, and in almost every single case, the custom UIs make Android look and feel better. TouchWiz, Sense UI, and Sony’s nameless touch are examples. They just make the phone look better. Yes; sometimes, they don’t look much better, but better is better. I hope.
Custom Android are more user friendly
With more shortcuts in the drop-down notification bar, and more tweaks to the home screen, custom Android versions lets the user get things done more conveniently. Faster too.
Custom Android provide more functionality
Usually, custom Android versions come with a bag of extra apps that are not available elsewhere thrown into the mix. Yes; I know that you can probably get replacements in the Play Store, but some of those custom apps are really superbly integrated into the OS and do a better job than 3rd party downloads. An example is Sony’s “edit music info” feature in their Walkman branded Android music player.
Now, to give a few downsides to custom Android versions. I am a nice guy, after all.
Custom Android hog resources
For one, those customization tend to hog available resources, especially RAM. I cannot forget how the HTC One was in this regard. Sense UI was alpha and omega, and everything else could go to blazes in between. Even the Sony Xperia P that I have here now is not free of the RAM hugging. It is evident in daily usage. Customized Android versions tend to hog battery power too, though that is changing fast of recent.
Custom Android updates are slower – or never come
Then, there is the issue of timely updates. stock edition users get the latest versions of Android OS immediately they are out, while customized users have to wait months – and sometimes a year (Ahem! Sony.. cough!) to get updates to their devices. I am yet to get the Jelly Bean update on my Xperia P till date. Sometimes, those devices get no updates at all. Abandoned! Forgotten!
Sigh. I’ve given you stock Android lovers the ammunition you need to take me on; right? Oh, well. Have fun. I still prefer customized Android versions to stock any day. And I really do think that it is sacrilege for anyone to strip the HTC One of Sense UI. Urgh!!! These guys at HTC need to go for confession. Why would anyone want to desecrate that beautiful package with vanilla Android? Why?! But then, perhaps both HTC and Samsung can see that there is enough demand to make the effort worth it. Perhaps. But Mo loves his Android highly flavoured. The less of stock Android I see, the better.
Meanwhile, at the recent Mobile Web West Africa conference, a Nigerian startup let me have a hands-on of their prototype Android smartphone. It has the sleekest and most elegant customization of Android that I have ever seen – and I have seen plenty, mind you. I had to ask the gentleman again and again if the phone was really running Android. Of course, the “About Phone” menu confirmed to me that it was Android. I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures or screenshots, but a unit is heading my way soon. If that phone sees the light of day, I am likely to use it as my primary smartphone. It is beautiful, powerful and most importantly does not look or smell Android. All the things that I like about Android without some of the things that I loathe. Nice? You bet!
So, you tell me: how do you prefer your Android – vanilla or flavoured? What are your reasons? Don’t worry, the reasons don’t have to make sense or anything. It is your life and your money that you are spending, after all. Comments, my friends!
Founder of MobilityArena. Yomi’s journey in mobile started in 2001. Besides obsessing over mobile phones, he also started creating WAP sites (early mobile-friendly websites created with WML). He began writing about phones in 2004 and has been at it since then. He has owned over 200 devices, from Symbian, Palm, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/BB10, webOS, Windows Phone, Firefox, Ubuntu Touch, to Android, iOS, and KaiOS operating systems.