Stock Android vs manufacturer skins

May 31, 2013
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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.

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