Vanilla Android, or Skinned Android?

Posted Aug 13, 2012 at 12:35 am in Threads > Smartphones & Tablets

Everyone seems to want pure Stock Vinilla Android, but after having the Galaxy S3 and going from an AOSP back to Samsung’s UX I am left wondering why anyone would want Vanilla if its not a Real Nexus.
Anyone with a SGS3 will admit that the little things throughout it’s interface are very handy e.g. Swiping a contact to call, toggle buttons in the pull down menue, and auto calling whoever you are texting simply by lifting the phone to your ear. I’m sure HTC’s Sense has similar attributes that make the UI an all around better experience as well. As for the one other OEM, as far as I can tell there is nothing good at all about Moto’s UI. Feel free to correct me if im wrong, but I had an OG Droid, Droid X, and Droid X2 so I feel pretty positive with my judgment on Moto.
The only real reason I can think of for wanting Pure Android is for faster updates, but that isn’t even the case unless its a Nexus. So below are my pros for both Vanilla, and skinned Android.

Vanilla Android Pros:
Faster Updates (Sometimes)
True Google Experience
Looks Better (IMO)

Skinned Android Pros:
UI Features

To me the usability of the features in the Skinned Androids outweighs the Vanilla Android looks and timely updates. If im missing something here please let me know.

So what’s your personal Preference?

Vinilla, or Skinned

  • LukeT32

    I personally like Vanilla…. I had the OG Droid and now a GNex. I like the features of vanilla android and also used CM on both phones (7 and now 10). I have personal spent time with a Samsung Continuim, Samsung Stratosphere, and a Droid RAZR. I personally find some the skins annoying. Many of the things you can do with vanilla android can not be done with the skinned UIs and they tend to add things that aren’t necessary IMO. All the Moto apps are stupid. The gallery app is worthless and unfortunately there is no way to use the stock gallery.

    The worst part is many people ask me: “Hey, how do i do such and such on my phone?” And my response generally is “O, that is easy you just do this….” Then come to find out there phone is skinned and the feature does not work like that on there phone.

    I am a fan of clean and simple. So all the skins tend to add extra frills that aren’t needed.

    • Jedediah Sweetser

      Stock is always going to be faster, cleaner and more open to modification. I ran hardcore stock since my G1, tried many launchers and such but they always slowed my phone down or ate battery. My preference is fast and efficient. Just this year after i got my Gnex I decided to take the ROOT/ROM plunge and I have NOT been dissapointed. I’m currently running Slimbean with Lean Kernel and have not regretted it. It’s fast, smooth, light weight, and has exactly what I want; where I want it (Useful toggles in the nav bar, fast charge, and SU tweaks with a governor).

      It is all preference, however this user prefers stock/root over ‘corporate UI’s’ and ‘overlay addon skins’

    • Ezy03

      me too! Couldnt agree more!

  • Laurel laurel25

    I guess I fall into the skinned camp, but only because I don’t use stock vanilla. I use Go Launcher on all my phones. I love the functionality it adds and I like that I can choose how I want the phone to look and act without having to root and flash all sorts of ROMs.

    • Roger Barnes

      So what you’re saying is, you’d rather have the faster stock experience because you’re just going to replace the launcher anyway.

      • Laurel laurel25

        Yeah, I guess so maybe. I’ve never actually had a vanilla phone though, so I guess I don’t know that for sure. I just know that I’ve come to love and rely on Go Launcher as my “skin of choice”.

  • Ironzey Lewis

    Personally, I prefer Stock. I prefer to add what I want.
    I don’t think skinned is that bad. For 99% of users it has more of what they want out of the box. Just turn on your new phone sign in and you up and running. For those same people the added features of skins makes it that much easier. Some of those features are really nice to have but I’ll be OK without them.

    • zerosix

      I prefer stock with removed pre-installed apps. For example, I don’t like default browser, I use Opera Mobile.
      A device with only Google Play pre-installed would be perfect.

  • mojeda

    I find that vanilla is good enough for me though some UI enhancements for me could be found in Sense, specifically being able to punch in the numbers resembling the letters for names in my contacts to have it bring up their name quickly at the dial pad.

    Something I could not find in vanilla android, at the time.

    • pectopah_dp

      Mojeda, try DialerOne – an excellent app that does just that. Used it on my Nexus One, and it was the first app I installed on my GN.

  • magnum80

    I’m all in for Vanilla. And not just because of the updates. I just like clean UIs without redundancy of apps/features. At least out of the box it should be clean. Everybody can install apps later on.


    • Ezy03

      me too!

  • redraider133

    I like stock for faster updates but my sgs3 I like the added features they stuck in. Plus my sgs3 with ics is every bit as fast and smooth as my galaxy nexus on jb was. I think Google with the next nexus needs to pack some real top of the line hardware to go along and show off how great the os is.

  • Nate B.

    It’s just a matter of time (most likely with the next Nexus) that the upcoming Nexus will have these features as well. I mean some of these features were just introduced with the recent devices released. So when Vanilla Android get’s these features embedded in it’s OS, what then? I will admit it would be nice to have Pure stock on a SGS 3 but still have some of their features. Like their software features. But these devices came out a year later so what do you expect? It’s just kind of an offset comparison. But everyone is entitled to their opinion.

  • Roger Barnes

    Seriously? Will anyone answer skinned? I’d venture a guess that maybe 1 in 10 people that visit the site Android and Me will vote for the skinned version.

    • Cleansweep

      Skinned? Why not just go buy an iPad and be done with it? :-)

    • Chris Lewis

      “I’d venture a guess that maybe” lol thats like the anchorman quote, “70% of the time it works, every time”. Anyways, I am always one to cheer for vanilla android, but after getting the sgs3 I am really enjoying the extra features. I do however have it rooted and running senergy 1.7 which is themed to look more like stock but still have the features i like from Samsungs UI.

  • QDOG8

    Skinned. I’ve always used stock Android (only had the T-Mobile G1 and G2), mainly because I liked the way it looked. But now, I’m tempted to try the new Sense skin on the One Series.

  • jian9007

    I prefer (vanilla) stock. I have used skins on different devices (my personal preference is Sense as far as OEM skins) but enjoy the basics of vanilla. That is to say, it’s lighter than skins, as they usually have more RAM/ROM usage, extraneous apps, etc. The issue is that there are always some aspects of a skinned phone that everyone doesn’t like, & they are built into the system kernel itself. This requires you to unlock and root the phone to remove these things, yet the average consumer isn’t comfortable doing this.

    On the other hand, the average consumer is comfortable with installing apps (and launcher apps) to get extra features that aren’t included. This is easy with a Nexus phone (GSM true unlocked, not the crap Verizon or Sprint ones). It would be nice if the major skin OEM’s (Samsung, Moto, HTC) just gave you the option to install the features that you desire instead of pushing everything that they want to put on it down your throat. We won’t even go into all the additional locking down and crapware that the carriers also install on top of everything else.

    Also, even if it’s not a Nexus, a pure android build from the OEM’s would get updated easier as Google could send an OTA out since there would be no other coding to be worried about conflicting with (except again, the stupid Verizon and Sprint CDMA bs). The reason the carriers have to test the updates is because between the skins and extra crap that is installed, they need to be sure there are no issues with it. So Nexus vanilla or just plain vanilla, it’ll be less hassle to update.

    • JayB95

      Carriers have to test updates regardless if they’re “skinned” or a stock build.

  • casey

    Skinned for me all the way. Its just those cool things that they can do that you won’t see in a stock android phone. I was once against ui’s but I think they are getting better. If they didn’t do the cool things then I would go with stock android. And I like the cool stuff enough that I want them and I find myself using them a lot more every day. I’ve tried the stock roms and within a few minutes I’m back to the ui and unrooted. I would love to see android look at these ui’s do some of the cool features that they do like add app shortcuts on the lock screen. I like to add what I want. Yes there are a bunch of apps that can let me do it but I want it to be part of the ui or the stock ROM. I think they work better when they are part of the ui. But both are good and that’s what’s good about android. You have choices unlike some other OS’s out there.

    • Chris Lewis

      What phone do you have? If its the SGS3 for vzw you should check out this senergy rom i have been using. It has everything great about the samsung ui, but its optimized and themed to look more like stock ICS.

      • cwjones4

        can you link that file? i have a sprint galaxy s3 and would love to try it out. I never thought I would be a fan of touchwiz, but i enjoy almost all of the functionality that samsung added, especially smart stay. that function alone has kept me from installing a new rom thus far.

        • Chris Lewis

          Dont want to link anything without permission from the dev, and the one I am using is specifically for the vzw. I am not sure if whats being developed on the sprint version. If you are comfortable with odin, rooting, and flashing on your s3 then search around the forums at xda. Also, if you haven’t already they have Google Now from jelly bean fully working on a ton of devices including all the s3 variants!

        • jonstle

          I have one for sprint as well. Have not found a good ROM to flash yet. But I am hoping. Be careful when doing so I have heard that with the GS3 you need to be sure and have a ROM for your specific carrier or you could soft brick your phone.

  • auronblue

    Having gone from a Droid 2 to a Gnex, i would rather have the stock experience and add what I want on top of it.

    • Chris Lewis

      I hear ya on that on, I had a lot of moto devices and was always flashing roms to give them more of a stock experience rather than motos horrible ui. But, after using the SGS3 I have changed my opinion on skins. They are not as bad as I once thought them to be and actually add quit a bit of functionality to the already great Android OS.

  • mallikarjun

    skins are for noobs…

    • Chris Lewis

      Says the guest….

  • dvice19

    Skins suck!!! Vanilla all the way!! Nexus forever ever since Nexus One!!!

  • Peter

    Sense 4 anytime. Best looking, intelligent and best social integration. All what vanilla should have been!

  • sknoslo

    Going from a G1, to a N1, to the T-Mobile variant of the GSII (I was going to hold on to my N1 till Google released another Nexus device made out of metal, but alas, my N1 finally gave out), I don’t have much experience with skinned android versions. The few days I spent having my GSII without CM were miserable. The interface is hideous, and didn’t blend with any apps following the Android design guidelines. The contacts app took everything that is great about Google Contacts and threw it out the window. The interface is a blatant rip-off of iOS, and a poorly done rip-off at that. The four seconds that I had the TouchWiz launcher while ADW was downloading were awful, staring at the beautiful android icons wrapped in a stupid fucking box to make it look like iOS icons, really Samsung? All of the default apps, especially SMS, made life so much harder than the corresponding app in AOSP. Plus the bloatware (not talking carrier bloat, Samsung adds their own too) makes the experience even more annoying. If I wanted a company to tell me how to use my device that I paid for, I would just by an Apple product, because at least they have some good designers. *shudder*. Wow, I’m ranting. Feels good. I apologize for any grammar/spelling errors, and this wall of text.

  • Alex Belko

    Well, touchwiz really have some useful features, also I like their memo app, calendar, and few other
    apps, but now I am on stable Cm9 and it looks gorgeous, works faster and I don’t really miss tw

    • Chris Lewis

      The ICS Touchwiz is a huge improvement over the last version. For anything but the S3 I would have to agree that CM9/10 is a way better option.

      • Alex Belko

        I had ICS touchwiz before the CM9 on sgs2, on sgs3 touchwiz looks and works much better)

  • Deveti Putnik

    I like Sense. I can’t see why I should follow Google experience, sounds like Google is some kind of deity. I prefer HTC experience with their little features which I use a lot.

  • CJ LaFleur

    On my GS3, the AT&T apps and most of the samsung apps were irritating and useless. they just take up space. Since switching to CM10, I’ve not missed a single bit of touchwiz. I liked touchwiz a lot, but after using AOSP Jelly Bean, i don’t know how I survived. Google now beats the hell out of S voice and Siri. I never used pop up play or any of the built in features. I love CM10, and I am now a loyal Cyanogenmodder.

  • MoSDeeb

    In my experience I have not come across a skinned android device that I thought actually enhanced the OS. I would find the quickest route to rooting and flashing Cyanogenmod as soon as possible.

    I flashed CM10 on the T-Mobile S3 and wow that device is blazing fast and a pleasure to use with vanilla android.

  • Fugu

    After listening to a podcast where they debated this I’ve changed how I look at “skins”. Really they’re “experience”. It’s not just the look of the UI but OEMs change a lot more under the hood then that. So Samsung produces a certain experience in UI options, menus, core functionality and the likes.

    Personally I prefer the Google experience. It’s cleaner, lighter, and faster to update. I run a series of CM(X) versions on multiple devices depending on support, and really CM isn’t “vanilla” either, it’s a CM experience.

    With JB I think the Google experience has finally caught up with just about everything the CM experience brings you, which is great, since it means less hacking for me for other people’s phones and an easier time to recommend Nexus devices past just about anything else.

    • Chris Lewis

      totally agree. with JB android seems like its finally a good user friendly experience just the way it comes.

  • jonstle

    I have been using a rooted sprint Galaxy s3 for a while. I rooted to remove bloat which is a must for me. I have been looking at several roms to see if any would be worth flashing but so far I have not.

    I am sure this will change when they stop updating the GS3. I had the Epic 4g running Cyanogen for a long time to keep getting all the new bells a whistles that come with the new android flavors.

  • redraider133

    I think with some skins such as samsung’s what they have added really enhance and add to android. For example the multi window, pop up play all are things that people can/will actually use on their phones and not just there to be another bullet point when selling the phone. Quick updates are nice and everything but with how smooth and bug free my s3 was always having to be on the latest update was no longer a driving factor for me.

    • jonstle

      I agree Samsung with the S3 has made a phone system that runs smooth and is very usable. Lots of nice shortcuts to get things done quickly.

  • heynomi4u

    Stock Vanilla Android for me as well. I have tried different launchers and different manufacturer’s UI but I like vanilla android, especially post ICS.

  • TheVoodoo

    Vanilla Android does miss some refinement, albeit less and less as the versions progress.

    But skinned versions can sometimes be overburdened with thick layers of makeup and sometimes useful functionality that is limited to few devices with little hope of propagating to a majority of Android devices. Getting used to such features will lock the consumers to the manufacturer e.g. Samsung.

    So what to do?
    My answer for years has been CyanogenMod. With its recent versions, CyanogenMod has become “a refined version of vanilla AOSP ROM, without any heavy modification. An example is the improved settings drawer in Android 4.2+, by allowing toggle functionality, as well as extra tiles and sorting of the same.

    And so far, I’ve run it as a daily driver on several devices successfully:

    Evo 4G, Evo 4G LTE, Nook Tablet, Nexus 4, SGS 2, SGS 3, HTC One S, HTC One X, etc.

    • Chris Lewis

      I am a huge fan of CM as they keep many devices updated that lose support form their manufactures. I did recently flash my SGS3 from CM back to a custom jb touchwiz rom and themed it to look more like stock and less like samsung’s UI. It runs sooth and has some great features I really like.

      • TheVoodoo

        I understand the enticing features in TouchWiz and some other manufacturer ROMs, but my main hesitation to get used to them stems in the fact that I don’t want to not try devices from other manufacturers that would not support the original ROM I got used to.

        Thankfully, CM provides me with the peace of mind that most of its features will be available on a wide array of new and old devices, which allows me to comfortably and confidently get used to them.

  • celo175

    Stock is awesome!!! I know many will disagree but I’m partial to sense! :)

  • dino13

    I’m pretty happy with my LG skinned Android. Just the look of folders could be nicer.

  • w5t1h7

    I”ve used the lg and htc UI and although i dont dislike them, i always end up flashing a stock rom, custom UI’s are too fancy, i like my dark themed holo android :)

  • SGB101

    I’m torn, i love the clean and uncluttered look of vanilla, but i also like some of the added features of sense and touchwiz, and the steps pen stuff, and i also love the total customisability of CM roms.

    At the moment I’m sticking with stock TW on my note2,but you never know what the future holds.

    That is the joy of Android :o)

  • DrFaust

    If I’m not rooting, then definitely vanilla. If I’m rooting, I’ve had good experiences with AOKP.
    I’m using a Note 2 now, touchwiz is quite ugly imo, especially the notification shade, which I can’t fix with nova launcher. I have no idea what to expect ROM wise for the device.

  • bitbank

    Samsung touchwiz – unobtrusive and doesn’t bog down the machine. Doesn’t add any real value, but doesn’t mess up the machine either.

    HTC Sense – bloated set of code that caused constant “restarts” on my HTC Sensation due to lack of memory for other apps. Their widgets are pretty good, but overall it gets in the way.

    Pure Android 4.1 and up is very good and doesn’t need any skinning.

    • TheVoodoo

      Even Jelly Bean in its vanilla flavor misses some common sense options such as the ability to add more tiles to the quick settings drawer, te-ordering them or enabling toggle functionality on them.

      But I do agree that Jelly Bean is far more refined than any version before, which does make sense.

  • gh0st665

    My first Android phone was an EVO 4G (Wimax) and I hated the bloatware and the way that everything was laid out within their apps. (Twitter Client, Social Feeds, Calendar, almost all of them) I also hated Sense UI compared to other Android devices. So, I rooted and flashed CM 6 to my EVO and I then fell in love with Android. Without all of the crap from the carrier, and the bulk of the Sense UI and HTC apps, Android was a remarkable mobile platform and my Evo (at the time) was like a jet fighter without all of the garbage from Sprint & HTC on it.

    With vanilla Android you can truly customize it. I went from the above Evo to a Galaxy Nexus. I was shocked by the lack of apps and bloat that was on the device. With vanilla Android you can make it your device on your terms. Add sprinkles and chocolate syrup if you want or enjoy your vanilla Android straight. It’s completely up to you.

    tl;dr: Vanilla Android is better because you don’t have to deal with bloatware and can add sprinkles.

  • VerticalCobra

    First reason I go with mods is freedom – do what and how I want it.
    Second reason I avoid stock is bloatware/crapware coming with the phone.
    Third reason is that older phones are not updated by ATT/Verizon.
    Last reason – the older the phone the more benefits seen by modding.

  • wickedme

    Vanilla all the way!

  • Stig03


  • Ezy03

    Vanilla all the way!

  • sonicdeathmunky

    Vanilla UI 100%

    Let ME decide whether to bog down my phone with additional software.

  • decker

    I modify ROMs to my liking.

  • TheStig


  • Ezy03


  • cduran1983

    I just love the look of HTC phones have, I like that system experience. So it would be skinned. ;)

  • kelltrash14

    No strong preference actually. Skins are okay, but there are some rules:

    1) Should not remove/hide useful functionalities from vanilla (all are guilty of this a little bit)

    2) Should add some useful things, not just a different look

    • BrotherBloat

      I totally agree! There are few things that I miss about not having SenseUI on my Oxygen Desire, but some of the other skins do offer some sweet bonus functionality…

  • klcow92

    Vanila for me, I did not actually use many of the features that were on the skinned version of android. and oh boy the bloatware was horrible….mine was a original galaxy tab 7

  • Trean

    I wanted Vanilla. What I got was Verizon being Verizon and ruining the Google Nexus phone experience.

  • WlfHart

    I have yet to enjoy a vanilla experience, but I must say that I do dislike the bloat of skins. However… I also appreciate some of the extra features. Trade off I guess. Ultimately I’d go with vanilla simply because idealistically with vanilla you may a la carte your features (if there is an app for only that feature).

  • KingCrow02

    Love the taste of Vanilla Android

  • Michael Poole

    Bone stock vanilla Android for me. Faster, uncluttered elegance. The UI features on other phones seem cool at first when you get the device and are playing with it a lot but once its settled in and turns into an every day device all those little gimmicky things are rarely used. Samsung especially. There are so many frivolous functions and endless menus and options upon options that it gets to be a chore to do just about anything. And with a Nexus phone you are guaranteed an update to the new version as long as your hardware will support it. With most other makers its 50-50 at best and much lower for the lower end phones because if they update you they wont sell as many new units.

  • Kaote

    Vanilla only, I’ll add my own toppings.