I have always been an advocate of smartphone purist software for Android; all other things being equal, I very much prefer stock Android to the numerous custom Android skins cooked by different smartphone brands. And I have embraced iOS too, which means iPhones, as Apple is the only brand that uses iOS. That means that my top preferences when it comes to smartphones are Apple iPhones and Google Pixels. HMD Global’s Android-powered Nokia phones run pure Android too, and so qualify. But for reasons I will state, they are not so attractive right now, especially the higher you go.
I have used Samsung Galaxy phones and their One UI interface, Xiaomi smartphones with MIUI, Huawei with EMUI, TECNO with HiOS, Infinix with XOS, OnePlus with OxygenOS, among others. Some of these custom user interfaces are good, and some annoy the heck out of me. But none of them matches the simplicity and beauty of stock Android, in my opinion. Android 12 is especially groundbreaking and beautiful to use.
By definition, I use the phrase smartphone purist software to refer to stock or pure mobile operating systems without a second layer of customisation imposed and without bloatware. Stock Android belongs in this group, and iOS belongs as well. Because there is no second layer of customisations for the device to push, cellphones with purist software tend to be able to squeeze out good performance without requiring cutting edge specs.
This is partly why an iPhone 13 Pro Max, for example, has only 6 GB of RAM, yet delivers better performance than a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra with twice that amount of RAM. Of course, the processor is a factor in this too, as are the operating systems in use, too. But you get the picture. As a rule, iOS requires less system resources to run smoothly than Android OS does. But back to the subject of smartphone purist software, the lack of bloatware and of a custom layer are the key attractions for me. Speedy software updates is another. I am an advocate of timely software updates.
Smartphone purist software and Nokia
I did say that Pixels and iPhones are the most attractive smartphones for me right now. Nokia smartphones used to be too. They run stock Android software, after all. That’s purist software. But certain developments from HMD’s product team has left someone like me out in the cold. First, software updates to Nokia smartphones have not been as fast as it should be, and a brand like Samsung is doing it much faster, despite their One UI custom interface. As a matter of fact, Samsung has been impressive in that area. Not only have the updates been fast, the Korean company is rolling them out for more years than any other Android brand is.
Second, HMD Global has been rolling out mid-range Nokia smartphones with chipsets and processors that are not competitive when you look at other brands. Google has been guilty of this too with a few models, but Nokia has taken it to new heights. An underpowered smartphone is just not attractive. Sadly, but understandably, HMD Global has said they are not interested in producing a premium flagship till further notice. I’m cool with that. TECNO, Infinix, and itel phones are selling like hot cakes without premium flagships (yes; TECNO is exploring the premium flagship territory now with the Phantom brand).
But HMD Global is missing that without a premium flagship on offer, they need to offer a compelling model in the upper mid-range. Not a smartphone with a Snapdragon 480 5G chipset. Put in at least a 750G chip and provide at least 33W fast charging instead of the uninspiring 18W charging we see. Come on, guys! Give us exciting phones.
Anyway, the above disappointments with Nokia’s upper mid-range smartphones is why the brand is no longer on my list of go-to brands for smartphone purist software. Till further notice, all other things being equal (and sometimes they are not), I will choose an Apple iPhone or a Google Pixel over any other smartphone out there. Google needs to work on that overheating issue that plagues many of their Pixel models though.
Nokia moves away from purist software to Pure UI
In March 2023, HMD Global announced a new custom user interface for Nokia products (including their smartphones). Called Pure UI, it was a shift away from pure Android for the Finnish brand. As it is, the only big brands left standing with purist software are Apple iPhone and Google Pixel.