One of the biggest debates in the smartphone world is which is better, Android or iOS? The answer to that question is very dependent on which side you lean on. However, things take a different tone when you pit Android against itself – the world of Android is torn into two, those who like it pure and naked and those who prefer the extras that manufacturers such as Samsung and LG cram into their device’s software. Which is better, stock Android or Skinned Android?
Personally, I am a purist and for the longest time ever I have disliked what manufacturers have always done to their specific version of Androids that run on their devices but I realized that I was lying to myself. One, Napier Lopez, was like me but he saw the light (kinda) and is now convinced that stock Android is no longer the best version of Android, well, because “devices [have] become more powerful and manufacturers [have gotten] better at optimization,” so OEM skins are not the big bad wolf that they once were.
Unlike Napier, I am not swayed just by how smooth, skinned Android has become due to the improvements that manufacturers have put in place in both hardware and their software optimizations, but I realized stock Android is just too plain for me. Android is meant to be a customization powerhouse and stock Android is not that, functionality wise, there’s little to differentiate stock Android and iOS and that is where OEM skins take the win, kinda.
SamSUNG’S TouchWiz made a name for itself AS bEING one of the laggiest skins out there
Before you start throwing rotten tomatoes at me, I know you will say that skinned versions of Android are laggy, slow to get updates and have more than enough bloatware to go around and you’re right. Skins such as Samsung’s TouchWiz made a name for itself as being one of the laggiest skins out there, before Samsung pulled the plug on it. Other skins like Xiaomi’s MIUI and OPPO’s Color OS just make Android more complicated than it already is, by removing the app drawer and adopting an iOS-like UI. Reasons not to love OEM skins span across the board, my biggest ache is the bloatware that you find on devices, duplicate apps (Samsung and HTC were notorious on this), slow updates as I had mentioned above and more often than not, endless bugs, especially after the long-awaited updates. However, when you look closely, these OEM skins actually bring genuinely useful features that not only differentiate the Samsungs from the Huaweis but also make it worth gloating that Android is indeed a better operating system as compared to iOS.
A Case for OEM Skins…
I discovered that I really didn’t love stock Android when I used the Nokia 6 after coming from a OnePlus 3. Features that I was used to were not available in stock Android. Dark mode? lol. Navigation buttons customization? What’s that? Change font and icons? Nope. Performance tweaks? Keep dreaming.
Admittedly, OEM skins have had cool features that have later made in onto stock Android. Things like split screen and floating windows have been on Samsung’s TouchWiz and LG’s GUI for years now but only made it to stock Android recently. The hammer to the nail is, Google itself realized that stock Android is not the best version of Android. When Google released its first smartphone, the Pixel, it came as a surprise that the device was running a tweaked version of Android. The launcher was different, the navigation buttons were unique, it had Pixel-exclusive features that we never saw in the Nexus days.
manufacturers just didn’t know when to stop
In the past, I would totally switch off if anyone tried to convince me that I should try anything else apart from Stock Android, my biggest complaint was that manufacturers would throw everything onto their skins, they just didn’t know when to stop but that seems to have changed in 2017.
Samsung ditched TouchWiz for a more subtle UI dubbed Samsung Experience that I must admit is a welcome change, LG also did away with a lot of their “in your face” features that users never really used, HTC even partnered with Google to get rid of their duplicate apps and make Sense UI more sensible and company’s such as OnePlus have very light customizations on top of their software that you can hardly tell if it is stock Android or not.
Striking a balance
The hardest job for OEMs is striking the right balance between adding useful unique customizations to differentiate themselves and letting the user have a seamless, Android experience. Companies such as OPPO, Xiaomi and Meizu still have heavily skinned UIs and there are quite a number of people who love them, however, if a company like Huawei was willing to change its ways, maybe they too will be touched.
In conclusion, as Napier Lopez put it, “the best version of Android is what works best for you.”