Do you prefer the stock Android experience?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: June 3, 2013

When I owned Motorola's original DROID, I spent a lot of time rooting the device, and then subsequently adding plenty of custom ROMs to the device. I changed everything I could about the visual aesthetics of the handset's software, and tweaked everything I could. I spent a lot of time changing the way my phone behaved in certain situations, and I loved every minute of it. I was definitely on a custom ROM kick back then.

I did it with HTC's DROID Incredible, too, maybe even more so, in fact. There were certain aspects of that particular handset that I just wanted to change so bad, that I knew the only way it could be done was to go out of my way and do it myself. So, I did. And, overall, the experience was better. Why? Because it was an experience that I had to put together, through custom ROMs and other tweaks, before I landed on an experience that I was looking for.

It wasn't the one I got out of the box, so, I had to go to work and make it myself. Sure, it took work, there were some mistakes made and plenty of "holy crap" heart-stopping moments due to almost bricked devices, but in the end it was worth it. Rooting my Android phones has been something I've loved to do. Or, it's been something I've felt was necessary, due to the software available on the device from the start.

Our own Anna Scantlin, over the weekend, published a sort-of introduction to rooting your device, and in that article I realized why I had stopped rooting my own devices, or going that extra step to add custom ROMs. It was just too much work. I realized, a few years ago, that I want my phone to just work the way I think it should right out out of the box. More than that, I want the phone to work the way that manufacturers tell me it will, based on their ads or their promises at events.

The trouble is, it's almost impossible to say that a phone will work the same way for everyone that buys it. Sure, there's an "average" that manufacturers will point to based on their testing, but we all know that doesn't really work. Look at batteries, or just overall software experience from person to person. The results can be polar opposites, for seemingly no reason. After all, you're using the same phone, right?

But, Anna's article got me thinking. Her introduction to rooting and doing all that "fun stuff" was in-depth, and it showed exactly why I stopped doing it: too much work. And the truth is, I realized that I was getting excited about these phones, whether it had Sense or TouchWiz or whatever, and then I was buying it just to immediately get rid of it.

Times have changed drastically since then, though. The mobile landscape may not be all that different, but it has changed in some key areas. Specifically, "Google Edition" of phones is a thing now. Devices like Samsung's Galaxy S 4 and HTC's One have been "Editioned," and will be offered up as a stock Android experience soon through Google's Play Store. For a lot of people, this is a dream come true. Of course, the price tag will automatically keep it out of the hands of many people.

The truth is, I think Samsung and HTC, and whoever else does this later on down the line, are offering up these options just to show one thing: That their proprietary user interfaces offer up more features, and therefore are better options. Basically, the manufacturers are trying their best to stop the clamoring for "stock devices," because they know full well that their software is more "bang for your buck."

At least, that's what they think.

And the truth is, they might be onto something. But, it may be something they don't really get to prove simply due to pricing. A lot of people may want a stock HTC One, but the majority of those same people may not want to pay more than $600 to get it. The same goes for Samsung's Galaxy S 4.

I still hear people begging for stock Android experiences, and I understand where they are coming from. Stock Android is a great thing these days, so there's no reason not to want it. But the argument that TouchWiz or Sense still adds to the overall experience is still sound. It's still valid. That's why HTC and Samsung continue to push the software, add or take away, and tweak what they feel needs to be tweaked: to make sure that their software is different from the stock experience, and different from what other manufacturers are offering.

For me, personally, I think I still prefer the stock experience over anything else, but that's just because I really like stock Android 4.2. I like the overall look, and the features baked in. That isn't to say that I don't like the overall look and feel, along with the speed, of HTC's Sense 5, but I just like the stock experience more. I'm not willing to go out of my way to root and add custom ROMs to my Android devices anymore for that experience, though.

I want it out of the box, and as an option from manufacturers like HTC and Samsung more often. I think these "Google Editions" are a good first step, but I think it will be more interesting to see these handsets offered side-by-side their skinned counterparts right from the get-go. I don't want to have to look at my already purchased One and shake my head in sadness, because I can't have that stock version due to my early adopter problems.

But, do you prefer the stock Android experience? Do you go out of your way to get it? Or are you someone who has grown to like the proprietary software skins from our smartphone manufacturers? Let me know!