One of the biggest advantages to Android is being able to choose your flavor, or customize the software to your liking – that is, when carriers don't stand in the way. If you buy a phone and learn with time that the software doesn't suit your needs, chances are that there is something out there that will. You can take control of your phone, gain root access and mold it to your liking.
But this choice in software begins prior to you ever purchasing your phone. Each major Android partner OEM has their own preference in custom skins. Some have garnered quite the following, while others have created an overall negative opinion. HTC's Sense UI is easily the most well-known of the bunch, getting its start back in the Windows Mobile days. It adds all sorts of smooth, rounded edges, transitions and other animations to give the arguably rough-cut Android some much-needed polish. TouchWiz is another popular custom skin that people have begun to love more here recently. And MOTOBLUR, more recently dubbed Motorola Applications Platform, is easily one of the least-liked interfaces to come about.
Sense UI was actually my first taste of Android, back when the CDMA HTC Hero launched on Sprint's network. It offered seven customizable home screens, Scenes for switching between work and play modes and even a polished UI back on Android 1.6. I loved almost everything about it, but nearly every version of Sense that I have ever used, albeit nice to look at, has been terrible on battery life.
Early versions of TouchWiz were a blatant iOS rip. Not only did I despise that, I hated the side-scrolling app drawer and the overall look of the UI. Since then, TouchWiz has undergone a major makeover and I personally feel it is the nicest of them all. It looks super clean-cut, performance is great and battery life is ... respectable.
The last of the standard Android flavors is Motorola Application Platform. I've used this since the birth of MOTOBLUR and not once have I ever liked it. Even after using the DROID 3 and BIONIC, I still have trouble coping with MAP. I detest the widgets, icons, color schemes and essentially everything about it. Not to mention, it was always sub-par to par in performance in my experience and battery life was more or less a joke. More recent versions have been much better, but nothing in comparison to stock Android.
If you're daring enough to explore the world of rooting and custom ROMs, there are endless options when it comes to preferences in appearance, performance and more – dependant upon your device and third-party development for said device, of course. Chances of it being supported – officially or unofficially – by CyanogenMod are fairly high. The world of custom ROMs allows you to test and tweak your device seven ways to Sunday, which is wonderful if you have the time and patience to work through bugs and glitches. Although a lot of custom ROMs can be ridden with bugs, not all of them are. CyanogenMod and MIUI (a derivative of CM7) are two of the most stable and polished Android ROMs around.
Although I've had some separation from Android as of late, I've always been a huge advocate for the little green robot. I've spent weeks and months with every different version of Android, from 1.5 to 3.1, and when 4.0 arrives, rest assured I will get my hands on it on day one.
When I first got my start in Androidland, I loved Sense UI. In fact, I refused to try pure stock Android for quite some time. Since then, however, I've made my rounds with different manufacturers and custom interfaces, only to find myself in a love/hate relationship with each one. I've also tried hundreds of different custom ROMs and enjoy the occasional ROM flashing addiction phase. But when it comes down to it, I love my Android most in purely stock flavor, rooted.
Gingerbread was never exactly my favorite – I never liked the look or feel, and I lost interest. But after the Galaxy Nexus event last week, I'm finally excited for Android again and I cannot wait to get a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich. I am interested in what OEM's custom skins will look like atop ICS and look forward to seeing what they can come up with. But even so, I think I will try to keep my Android as pure as I can get it moving forward.
What say you, folks? How do you like your Android served? Do you like any of the custom interfaces? Is there a version of Android (2.3, 3.1, 4.0, etc.) that you don't like the looks of? Are you ready of Ice Cream Sandwich? Let me know in the comments below!