Stock Android vs manufacturer skins

by: Bogdan PetrovanMay 31, 2013

We are all mobile geeks, here at Android Authority. We love everything with a power button. We like to comment the latest news and endlessly argue over which phone is better. On the Friday Debate, we pick a hot issue and proceed to discuss it. Join us!

Since Google unveiled the Galaxy S4 with the Nexus user experience (colloquially known as the Google Edition), followed yesterday by the HTC One, the Android community has been debating the virtues and the sins of stock Android on one side, and of the so-called skins, such as TouchWiz, Sense, or Optimus UI on the other. Each camp has some good arguments, but ultimately it may be just a question of taste. Still, that probably won’t stop anyone from arguing.

In this Friday Debate, we try to answer the age old question – which is better, stock or skins? Join us in the comments.

Darcy LaCouvee

No skin or UI is fundamentally perfect; Android allows for us to change quite a bit without the need for root and reflashing of a new ROM.

That being said, I can’t stand HTC’s Sense. Terrible font selection. Samsung’s Touchwiz isn’t perfect, but it’s still very functional, and there’s numerous ways to accomplish tasks. It’s pretty fugly though.

Good ‘ol vanilla Android reigns supreme for its clean and refined aesthetic, but I still feel it’s lacking.

I’ve played with a lot of devices, and I’m most impressed by ASUS’ compliments to an otherwise squeaky clean build of Android. Huawei’s UI is very, very flexible, and their latest version really allows you to make it your own. LG has come a long way as well, and they should be commended.

Bottom line – each and every user needs to be given a choice. They should be offered this from the moment they boot their device from the first time. Imposing what you think is ‘best’ on anyone is never a wise course of action. It has to be a collaborative process, and I don’t think it would be particularly difficult for manufacturers to collaborate with Google to create such a system. Give the choice to the people!

htc one google edition

Alex Serban

I’ve always liked Vanilla Android. I’ve been a Nexus fan right from the begging and I still own a Nexus device, even though it’s a bit old. I like the idea of a phone that comes with a clean, powerful interface which allows the handset to perform at its very best.

When it comes to skins, there is no better way to customize a smartphone than starting from something clean. For instance, the stock Android experience can be peppered with a 3rd party launcher, lock screen, application icons, wallpaper and so on. Once you start searching the market, you’ll find several tools that can transform a global phone and truly make it yours.

The idea of a manufacturer made interface may seem appealing for some, but I do not agree with the amount of unnecessary clutter and useless applications. For those reasons, I personally dislike Samsung’s and HTC’s work.

Furthermore, Google’s intervention to release clean versions of the Samsung Galaxy SIV and HTC One is a first good step into liberating the Android world and giving people an option.

Bogdan Bele

Even if along the way I came across some pretty useful skins, that I like – Samsung’s TouchWiz is the first one that comes to my mind – I still like vanilla Android better.

I like the fact that I can do whatever I want to it, apply my own vision, if you will, and make it my own.
More than that, stock Android makes me somehow feel closer to Google’s initial intentions. I get the feeling that I’m using Android the way it was meant to be used (if that makes any sense).

Even if that’s my preference, I totally support the idea of device manufacturers putting their own skins on top of Android. Choice is one of the most important parts of Android’s beauty and I most certainly wouldn’t want that side of it spoiled.

Google-IO-Galaxy S4 Google Edition price 1600 aa

Adam Koueider

I’ve thought about this long and hard and I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to analyze the Stock vs Skins debate is through the use of an analogy. Guys I’m warning you from here, I’m either going to sound like a genius, or a complete idiot, but I’m hoping for the former, so here it goes.

There are two houses on a street, one is up for rent, while the other is up for sale, and from the outside they are seemingly identical, but on the inside they are very different.

Let’s start with the one up for rent (aka the skinned device), it comes with all the necessities, a bathroom, a kitchen, even some furniture, in fact if you had to, you could actually live in the house without any additions. Sure you can move the furniture around, perhaps you can add a bit of furniture, maybe even put up a family portrait, but it never is actually “yours”.

Then there is the home up for sale. This house has only the basic necessities in it, the plumbing, electricity and gas lines are in, and the walls are up, but apart from that, you’re on your own. This is for the people who like to create a unique home, people who are happy to choose the color themes, what tiles they’d like, the style of the doors and everything in between.

That’s what stock Android is, Google gives us the basic necessities of a smartphone and then sets us on a treasure hunt to find what works for us. A person who is looking to customize their device to the max, won’t settle for a petty “renovation”, no, they want to start with a clean slate. They’ll knock it all down and build it from the ground up.

So here’s the part where you expect me to give you a definitive answer. “Stock Android is better, because blah, blah, blah…”, or perhaps “TouchWiz is just too good to pass on…”, but the answer is that it depends. If you’re a person who wants to turn their brand new device on and from the get go, be able to use the device, then buy a skinned device form your manufacturer of choice. But if you want to pick and choose, each and every aspect of your smartphone, then you’d probably be better off with a stock device.

The Stock vs Skins debate has been raging on for years now, and it will probably rage on for the many eons to come (and that’s a good thing guys, it’s called progress). So how about we make everybody happy (Gasp! Yes it is possible). I ended my last addition to the Friday Debate calling for an option to use either Stock Android or your respective skin, so I’ll end this week’s addition with the same request.

“Would you like to use TouchWiz or Stock Android as your launcher?” Is that too much to ask for?

samsung galaxy s4 vs galaxy s3 s4 touchwiz aa

Robert Triggs

I’m a man who loves customization for the simple reason that I’m easily bored.

I’m one of those types who changes their wallpaper weekly and constantly tweaks the look of their device with widgets like UCCW. There’s also five themes constantly installed on my device to switch between once I’m sick of the old color scheme.

Vanilla Android is the perfect blank canvass in my opinion, inoffensive to look at, there’s plenty of functionality, and it’s easy to customize. Not to mention the plethora of themes available for stock Android based ROMs.

Feature wise, again I’ve never been a huge fan of Touchwiz or Sense. They’re functional but a little bloated, I much prefer third party launchers like Nova Prime. Despite Samsung’s best attempts to innovate, I’ve found that it’s always packing in features that I simply don’t use. Nova, on the other hand, keeps it simple yet throws in small functions that now I can’t live without.

Of course, it all boils down to personal preference. I have nothing against Touchwiz or Sense specifically, they’re perfectly functional, but I’m just too easily bored with them.

To be honest my handset doesn’t resemble stock Android or any other launcher, it’s a unique blend of features, widgets, and themes that suit my aesthetic and functional preferences. But that’s one of the reasons why I love Android, customization is king.

David Gonzales

I agree with Darcy LaCouvée about stock or un-skinned Android to be pretty much perfect, but unlike him, I don’t necessarily think it’s lacking.

I much prefer the barebones Android experience, so to speak. I liken it to being able to take scrap materials and build an entire PC. I just need the basics.

Less is more, at least for me. And the fewer customizations laid on top of my user interface, the better I can operate my devices.

  • turdbogls

    while i can appreciate the skins and customizations companies place on devices, i also prefer my android experience untouched. starting from a bare bones experience is what i have always loved. this gives me the cleanest, smoothest and fastest experience around. it also lets me customize what i want to customize instead of throwing features at me that i probably wont use (I’m looking at you blinkfeed, Zoe, Hover gestures, and smart scroll;) )

    i just wish these companies would release their camera software to the play store…its the only place stock android lack (hoping this changes soon)

  • chaos67731

    Im someone who tends to keep coming back to CM ROMs on my N7 and Evo LTE, but at the same time I love Sense from HTC.

    There is a LOT of cool things it can do and while I like stock/AOSP roms, they often lack some (a lot) of the cool factor that stock ROMs offer..

    What does HTC have that I like? The camera app is amazing and pushing and holding the camera button to take 20 or so pics at once it cool.

    Alos, syncing social media profile images with the contacts I have along with all new contacts is a must have. I cant count how many times its been nice to have my friends latest phone number and email address synced to my phone.

    I think the apps can to them its self but with HTC is ask me if I want to merge 3 or 4 contacts that are all the same person so I dont have to do that myself. . .

    So why do I keep a stock ROM? Space and speed is about the only reasons I have, but as we come to the next gen of spart phones I am seeing that gap less and less.

    With 2GB of ram and a 4 core processor I think I would rather have Sense for all it offers and just over do it with programs I use anyways. . . Like ADW, 1Weather, Handcent and Minimalistic Text.

    • lil bit

      So only htc merges contacts now? Lol, pls, gtfo.

      • chaos67731

        I sure I did not say they are the only one, but I do like how they do it vs how others do.

  • I have a Linux PC and I feel each skin or launcher on Android is like a DE(Desktop Environment) in Linux.

    I can have a default DE on my Linux to boot straight into, but at log in I can switch between all of the DE I have installed, I personally have Cinnamon, Gnome, XFCE all install and each on has its purpose. I use Cinnamon as my daily driver, XFCE when I am going to be running a intensive program and need as much resource available as possible and Gnome is when I just want to play around and have fun.

    On Android I’m gonna use GS4 since it has a lot of features for this example.

    When I buy a GS4 Touchwiz can be the default launcher(I wouldn’t expect anything less from an OEM), but I should be able to choose Stock Android or Touchwiz or be able to install a 3rd party launcher and set it as a launcher.

    I know you can do this now but some launcher only adjust certain aspects and don’t change the entire experience. On Linux everything is changed in each Desktop Environment including how settings look. I would like to turn a GS4 on and choose stock and still be able to use the software and sensors Samsung put in the device because what good is a GS4 if your OS cant speak to all of the sensors. That is the biggest complaint I have is you can buy a Stock GS4 but from what have read is that you won’t be able to use the sensors because stock Android can’t understand those sensors.

    So I buy a GS4 load it into stock and be able to still use the sensors because the software is still there to interact with the sensors. Because Samsung change the OS but still gives you the stock launcher. (Just like there is a lot of Linux distros that change the OS but can still run almost all the same DE) so in a sense this would a be a Samsung distro of Android called Galaxy, with a Touchwiz laucher. If I want a S4 then at least allow me to use stock launcher (or any launcher for that matter) that is allowed to changed everything all the way down to how the setting looks.

  • MasterMuffin

    I don’t hate skins, because I think they’re nice ways for manufacturers to differentitate from each other and you can always get rid of them. What I hate is over bloating (for example all the fancy new sensor stuff in TW) and stuff like Blinkfeed (in Sense) that doesn’t allow to delete itself without custom launcher or rooting. I think that light GUI changes are better than changing too much.

    BTW where’s Joe Hindy’s opinion, I saw his opinion (or as he called it, rant) on G+ and it would have been nice to put it here so that more people could have had a chance to read it :)

    • Jared Persinger

      Yeah I have the htc one and although I find blink feed to be useful and I actually I use it, it would be nice to give the end user the option to remove it

  • MSmith79

    I don’t mind skins because Android is built on openness and freedom. However, I do wish Google would set some more rules for device manufacturers. For instance, you can’t delete the stock launcher. They can make their own launcher and even make it the default, but the user has to have the ability to return to stock launcher if they want to. Also, they can’t delete the Play Store or create a new one of their own. This hurts Android in the long run and can ruin the user experience.

    • Forks of Linux is what help it thrive, and forking of android (Kindle) is what helps get android on more devices. Some guidelines should be set though, if advertise it android then it should have an Android experience and have the Play Store but if you advertise it as a something else like a Kindle then it shouldn’t not have an Android experience or have the Play Store. Google should define what the Android experience is, but I think forking or deleting some parts should be allowing it allows for Android to become a better through its own competition, let alone competition from other OSes.

  • Mikesphoneandtab

    I can appreciate the nexus appeal. I wouldn’t mind it at all, I’d even love to have it if I could get manufacturer features on it. I dont ever go deeper than a launcher when customizing my phone and I don’t like to experiment too. In my mind I’d rather start with a set of things I need and might need and take out or coverup a few things I don’t want. The problem with manufacturer’s experiences is that sometimes certain features aren’t integrated deeply enough. If manufacturers worked harder in making sure their features worked with all of the apps on the phone, they opened their APIs up for developers, so that you could get q more uniform experience there woulf be no need to feel like you have to uninstall it.

  • I have no problem with stock Android, but I prefer Touchwiz… Some people just like more gimmicky stuff to show off with. Lol. And i just like doing it, and hope all those things get better and will become more useful than gimmicky

    • lil bit

      Yeah, like me showing off when I was fresh proud owner of note 2 . Esp quick glance, had to end the show with “…but sometimes it work”. Also the voice controlled photo taking, where each keyword worked only one per session, when we are all sitting there like tards shouting the keywords. No, the only thing I managed to show off was that my badass overprized phone was not so reliable, sheets had to explain to people like this and that and “.. But I’m sure they will fix it soon with a software update”. Like that happened, didn’t work any better in 4.1.2 than in 4.1.1.

  • Yogesh Mandell

    Optimus UI and Sense have been growing on me, and I have always been rooting (geddit?) for stock, or atleast, ever since Google released ICS. Moto has UI very similar to stock as well, but other than those three skins, I plan on having to never look at a skinned device in my life, ever, or else I’ll sell the device (might not even have to be mine).

    • Charles Chambers

      I like what you did there. ;-)

  • Charles Chambers

    I agree with Robert, in that I’m easily bored and often changing up the look of my phone. I thought touch wiz looked god awful. But I like manufacturer skins. I see them in the store and they give me more ideas for customizing my phone. So far, the htc one has a gorgeous interface. First phone that I haven’t slapped a custom launcher on (Unless you count the original iPhone.)

  • On a Clear Day

    Question. If you for instance buy the Google S4 when it comes out with stock Android, how many of the features that Samsung built into it are going to be disabled – if any?

    Has Samsung integrated its interface and its “user experience” in a way that means that many of what are arguably useful proprietary features will be rendered inoperable – thus lessening the usefulness and functionality of the device. Or, even if that is the case, are you saying that being able to cut yourselves loose from pre-imposed strictures not of your original choosing is what you enjoy most about stock is that you can then seek and find apps of your choosing?

  • Oli72

    Having options is awesome.

  • IncCo

    I prefer the stock android look, but i do enjoy quite a lot of the features that touchwiz has implemented.

  • RaptorOO7

    I like the software features Samsung adds into their phones, but in so far as TW goes well I wish they would add the extra apps and leave TW out completely. Making the updates to their phones that much faster.

  • Lil bit

    Not a stock fanatic but touchwiz on note 2 was terrible, what Samsung is doing is throw shit in your face and see what sticks.

    Agree with one of the contributors about Asus, I like, and Xperia always had reasonable skins, they dont try to shuffle crap onto you. The ability to do extreme customization is not important to me, vanilla is not a requirement but I am thinking of trying out aosp on my Xperia Z.

    Sense has always been unstable and bloated, for a while I had an HTC and an Xperia with very similar chipsets and same android version, the Xperia was much faster, esp in the ui, and never needed reboot while the htc would frequently autokill and restart the ui and required battery removal almost daily to recover from a frozen state. Add blinkfeed to that and you have pretty much everything you do not want.

  • Ivan Budiutama

    I kinda prefer the stock android. it is a lot cleaner, and I happened to use many Google Services on the Calendar, Gmail, Stock Email, and Maps.

    Stock Android give me full control of what features I want, and not forced by OEM’s un-removable feature. The beauty of Android’s ecosystem is that there is always another workaround (or app) to compensate the lack of features. If I want another keyboard, you can try swype, swiftkey, go keyboard (currently use Swiftkey). If I want to have “sense” like clock widget you can either go to HD widget or Beautiful Widget, if you want blinkfeed, Flipboard and feedly can provide similar function.

    It doesn’t mean that OEM’s exclusive feature is bad. S-pen is hardly a bad move for G-Notes series (it is even one of the best unique features the OEM came by so far). But having a full control of what you want, what you don’t want to have is much much more preferred (at least for me, personally)

  • Alexandru Mihai

    Nova launcher prime and the nexus click widget are hiding enough of touchwiz to make my s3 bearable, but then again, I also use nova for my nexus 7. More features are sometimes useful. Also, flattened nexus icons are the way to go.

  • Emmanuel Pacamalan

    Stock gives you the smoothest most fluid Android experience you can get because chances are manufacturer skins could mess up the optimization that google has done in exchange for some useful features. With that said, manufacturer skins bring some useful additions too, stock android is fast but pretty much bare bones when it comes to add-on features.

  • Craig Jones

    Skins usually cost 3-4 hundred dollars more than my vanilla Nexus 4, lest we forget. And nevermind the camera and no slot thing. No phone camera is worth a dime and 16gb is plenty enough for a phone. I loved my Atrix’s 1 and 2, but vanilla wins for me. (Couldn’t fill my 32gb card) Just my thoughts.

  • The Dark Clown

    Both the options have their own advantages and disadvantages.

    Android Phones India

  • Aussie Android

    One thing all you techies are forgetting is the end-non-techie-consumer. For them, stock android would feel like having a skeleton phone and they’d never ever, the majority of them, try to change launcher. This is why manufacturer skins are so useful and important. It allows the phone to be sold to the mass market.