Many a time I’ve had people ask me what in the world I’m blabbering about when I get onto the subject of tech. One of the biggest areas of confusion for average consumers is the subject of stock Android. Not many people have any idea what stock Android is, and even fewer know what the different skins on their phones are. Prime example: My mother upgraded from a Samsung Stratosphere (you can facepalm with me) to an HTC One and was convinced that they couldn’t be running the same operating system because they looked so different. That’s the beauty and curse of Android.
I presume that most of you reading this article know what stock Android is, but I’ll give a concise explanation for those who don’t know. Stock Android is simply what Android is without any additions over top of it. For example, Google’s Nexus devices run entirely stock Android. That’s all it is. Now, a custom UI or skin is something that a manufacturer or developer creates. This is what you’ll find on many of the devices from big manufacturers like Samsung and HTC. That’s why the software on those phones looks different than stock Android. The thing is, they’re both still Android.
Stock Android and custom skins are often very different. Many Android enthusiasts are big into the world of stock Android. It is the end all, be all of Android software. Manufacturer skins can go and jump in a lake because stock Android beats them.
But is stock Android really showing off your device’s best side?
That comes down to what phone you have. We discussed this briefly on the fourth Android and Me podcast (which you should listen to if you want to be one of the cool kids) and agreed that not every device should run stock Android. For example, a device like Samsung’s Galaxy Note III is designed to take advantage of the large size and unique elements of the S Pen. With that in mind, Samsung designed the software to use those features to the fullest.
If the Note III ran stock Android, say a Google Play edition came out, it would lose the features designed to take advantage of the giant screen. It would also lose the features and software that use the S Pen. In fact, it would lose everything Samsung added to improve the experience. Then the only appeal of the device is that it’s large and has good hardware. It loses the software advantage that it had with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI that took advantage of everything about the device.
The same goes for other devices. Anyone remember the difference in camera quality between the standard HTC One and the HTC One GPe? It was fairly significant and didn’t show off what the phone’s unique camera could actually do. Stock Android simply isn’t always the best option when it comes down to Android software. In some cases, the manufacturer’s software is actually better.
But hey, I’ve been wrong before. Could I be wrong another time? Or does this point ring true? Translate your thoughts into text down in the comments.