Android is a fascinating platform. You can customize your device to your liking right out of the box, and can do even more customization if you know how to root. One of the coolest things about Android is the ability to create custom skins over the interface to make it look different. It's still Android underneath, but on top it looks like something completely different. The ability to create and use skins on Android is arguably one of the most important aspects of the platform.
As of late, consumers in the mobile industry have been fawning over the release of what's called "Google Edition" devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One. You've probably already heard about the Galaxy S 4, which runs on Samsung's TouchWiz interface, or the HTC One, which runs on HTC's Sense 5. But what are these devices without Sense or TouchWiz included on them? That's what the Google Edition of these devices do. Google Edition essentially means that these devices will be stripped of their custom skins, and instead come with what is commonly referred to as "vanilla" or "stock" Android - no extra customizations, no extra skins, no extra apps, and no extra tweaks. The appeal to a Google Edition device is just that - you don't have to deal with custom skins like TouchWiz or Sense, and can enjoy stock Android running on a superior piece of hardware.
But in some ways the user is missing out on what the device was optimized for. Sometimes, skins on Androids hold tweaks that are designed to make the phone unique and more useful. Although I think Google Editions are a good way to incorporate options for people who want something with better specs than the Nexus 4 while still running on stock Android, there's also plenty of room to appreciate the skins that these manufacturers have created for us.
I myself am a Sense fan. I have always loved HTC Sense. I think the main thing that drew me to it was the iconic Sense clock. It was big, but in my opinion it was very well-designed. You never didn't know what time it was. More important, I found the overall interface to be very pleasing to the eye. Little features that changed throughout time only seemed to make the features function better, like when the traditional 'Slide Down to Unlock' became a customizable 'Pull Ring to Unlock' It was nice to be able to access text messages or my phone straight from the lock screen if I chose to make it that way. Widget designs and functions always went over well with me, like when HTC introduced animated weather on the Sense Clock. I practically lived for rainy days just to see the windshield wipers drag across my screen. In more modern times, HTC Sense is essential for making devices like the HTC One stand out with features like Blinkfeed, and more importantly Zoe - which helps justify HTC's decision to use the 4-megapixel "UltraPixel" camera.
Another popular skin comes from Samsung, who make the popular Galaxy Note and Galaxy S lines of products. Samsung's TouchWiz isn't my favorite, but it is necessary to have on a Note device if you want the ability to use the S Pen (which is what kind of makes a Note a Note). TouchWiz is also important for features on the Galaxy S devices like Smart Pause, Smart Stay, Smart Scrolling, and any other Smart features you can think of incorporating. And I'm probably in the minority here, but I also think that TouchWiz doesn't look half bad. Regardless, a lot of the features that are in TouchWiz are absoutely necessary to make the device as "unique" as it is.
There are a lot of other skins that manufacturers use on their devices, and for once I think it's time we give them some proper lovin'. Is vanilla Android great? Yes, yes it is! But sometimes we overlook the fact that the skins that are provided for us aren't half bad either, and often hold the key to the reasons why we love the device so much.
So readers, with that being said, it's time to discuss: Which skin is your favorite when it comes to Android devices? Do you like the S Pen functionality of the Note devices, the intriguing features of HTC's Zoe, or something else completely? Share your favorites with me in the comments below!
Images via GSMNation, Samsung