There are two major classes of Android smartphones: those with heavily modified software and those that run stock or near stock software. Underneath all their differences, all Android smartphones run Android OS underneath, but those differences are significant. Sometimes, smartphones running a heavily customised version of Android sometimes do not feel or look anything like Android at all. Some of them even look like their grand, arch-opponent across the pond, iOS.
Just the way bezel-less does not mean being 100% without a bezel, stock Android smartphones are hardly ever running 100% pure Android OS. Some are 99.9% pure and others are 90% pure. Even Google’s Pixel devices have some custom features integrated – a camera here, some other app there. But the idea is that the core OS is largely not tampered with, compared to other devices that have the OS and user interface heavily modified.
Advantages Of Devices Running Stock Android OS
- Timely software updates. Brands that use custom skins on their devices deliver software updates slower than devices running stock Android. This is because those customisations take time to implement on every new version of the operating system.
- Security. Stock Android devices get security updates in a timely manner too. Again, the reason for this is the same as for point one above.
- Less bloatware, less duplication of apps, more internal storage. Because customisations use up some of the device’s internal storage, you often have a phone marketed as having 32GB internal storage having only 25GB usable. The “lost” space has been used up by the custom software and duplicate apps. Have you seen some phones with two email apps – Gmail by Google and then another email app by the manufacturer? They use up more space.
- Better performance. Because custom skins and other integrations use up some extra resources, Android phones with heavily modified software tend to not be as snappy as their contemporaries. This difference in performance usually is not a big deal on high-end devices, but with lower-end hardware, they are very significant.
So, those are the issues involved. If you are an Android purist and wanting to use a device that is as close to 100% stock as possible, here are a few brands that offer you the best tastes of the holy grail of Android OS.
Of course, Google is a champion of Android purity. Their Pixel line-up offer the best Android experience. The line-up includes: Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL. And they get major and security updates the fastest.
Nokia is late to the Android party but they have smartly chosen to go the purist way, offering a near stock version of ANdroid OS on their smartphones. Current devices include Nokia 8, 6, 5, 3, 2. New models have been announced and are on the way. Nokia says all their Android smartphones – including the budget models – will get major software updates, as well as security updates. if you cannot afford a Pixel, yet want a near stock experience, Nokia is where to look.
The Essential Phone runs stock Android too and gets software updates speedily. It is pricey though and chances are that if you can afford a Pixel, you can afford one.
Motorola phones have offered stock Android for years, but if you want guaranteed software updates, make sure you go for the flagship devices. Even their mid-rangers are not guaranteed updates and there is no hope for the budget models.
As for Lenovo, they have announced in mid-2017 that all future Lenovo models will run stock Android OS. We are yet to see how they will fare with software updates in this new push, but if the track record with Moto phones is anything to go by, do not get too excited.
Android One Smartphones
A honorary mention of Google’s Android One programme is necessary. Android One devices run stock Android OS too, but are scattered across a wide range of manufacturers. Note though that software updates for these set of devices have not been as fast as users would love. In that light, Android One smartphones have largely not lived up to the programme’s promise.
Here is a constantly updated list of Android One smartphones for you to bookmark and check up regularly.