Stock or skinned: How do you like your Android?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| Published: December 21, 2013

Something that every person who uses Android needs to figure out for themselves, come one point or another, is how they like to Android. Android is known for its extensive customization options, but some manufacturers choose to put their own custom skin over Android from the get-go. The user can still personalize Android even if a skin has been applied, but sometimes users will find they don't need to customize much further because the skin included was already something they liked. In a sense, some manufacturers do the hard work for you.

But a lot of the time consumers find that although they like the hardware aspect of a device, they're not exactly fond of the skin that comes with it. Skins like Samsung's TouchWiz, HTC's Sense, and LG's Optimus UI are all examples of what a skinning of Android looks like; each of them have lovers and haters alike. Like many things in the industry, it's a personal preference whether a person digs a skin or not. Fortunately for people who don't, there are phones out there like Google's Nexus line of devices that provide a stock Android experience.

Skinned or not, each option has their own set of perks.

I find myself personally leaning in favor to skins lately. At least, some skinned versions of Android. I've always been a pretty big fan of HTC's Sense. I don't know what it is about big gimmicky clocks and weather animations, but ever since I saw the beauty that was the HTC EVO 4G back in 2010 I fell in love with the way Sense looked. I always thought that Sense had some beautiful animations and aesthetics to the skin, especially in regards to integrating weather throughout the UI. 

As for TouchWiz, I happen to think it's not that bad, but it's not my first choice for a skinned Android. I think in that regard, Sense has always been my first love and TouchWiz will always be second best when it comes to how it looks - at least until something big changes, because TouchWiz really hasn't changed that much within the past couple of years. Between my phone, the HTC One, and my tablet, the Galaxy Note 8.0, I am still largely in favor of the way Sense looks and functions over TouchWiz. 

Any other custom UI that's been placed over Android I have limited experience with (currently), so I don't have a whole lot to comment on in regards to skins from manufacturers like LG or Sony. However, even from my limited experience I can say that I don't think there is a custom UI for Android out there right now that I actually don't like. I was not a big fan of Moto Blur, but those days are gone so it's a non-issue.

Aside from design, another important aspect of custom skin are features and functionality. These are most important because these are what make flagships so different from one another. Without the different features we would just have a bunch of phones running on the same software, doing the same things. That's no fun. Without the extra features, Samsung wouldn't have Air Gesture, Smart Pause, or any of the things that make Samsung phones so popular with consumers. The HTC One's UltraPixel camera wouldn't be nearly as optimized as it needs to be in order to actually work well. My One's camera takes notably lower quality photos when I'm running a stock ROM on the device rather than something Sense-based. Sometimes, features are important to have in a phone in order to optimize the hardware.

But you can take that same argument and spin it in a positive way for phones running on stock Android. Instead of having a ton of bloatware and features, you have more space and less clutter throughout your phone. When it comes to devices that ship with skins and depend on features to set themselves apart, you'll have to root your device and download an application that lets you delete all of the unwanted bloatware that you never use on your phone. Stock Android devices make it easy by giving you that benefit right out of the box.

Another thing to consider is that when it comes to stock Android devices, you're typically going to get new updates faster to these phones because not a whole lot has to be done to make it happen. Stock Android is stock Android, so when one version is ready not a whole lot of changes need to make in order to make that update happen for a phone running on stock. At least, not as much needs to happen as it would with a skinned UI that has a lot of features.

I think a few years ago I would have been more adamant about having a stock Android device, mostly because I distinctly remember it being faster and operated more smoothly than Androids with skins. However, using the One with Sense 5 and even TouchWiz has made me realize that lag within the Android software isn't nearly as prevalent as it used to be, so in that regard I'm not as picky about having bloatware or extra features stuffed inside of a device. Even if I was, there's always the option of rooting and installing a custom ROM. It's a lot easier to find a stock ROM for a device that normally features a skinned UI rather than the other way around.

Readers, how do you like your Android experience? Are you more interested in stock Android, or an Android device that's been skinned and has more features? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Images via Mobile Burn, Gizmodo