Android, at its core, is an open-source operating system developed by Google and used by many companies to power their smartphones and tablets.
It is very likely that your Android smartphone is not running stock Android. Most manufacturers overlay their own software on the core Android operating system. This is a process called skinning.
If you have a Samsung, Oppo, OnePlus, Vivo, Xiaomi, or even a recent Google phone, chances are you are using an Android skin.
You may have read somewhere on the internet that a pure version of Android is better than these skinned versions. It’s quite a subjective opinion, but it may have stimulated your curiosity.
What exactly is Stock Android? Is it better than using an Android skin? How to get a phone with stock Android?
In this article, we address all of these questions!
What is Stock Android?
The purest version of Android is colloquially called AOSP (Android Open Source Project). This version of the O.S. is in the “default” state and has no pre-installed Google apps, customizations, or additional features. In general, all Android versions are based on this version. The operating system used in commercially available phones is built on top of the AOSP.
Now you can install the AOSP version of Android on your phone and call it stock. However, in most real-world cases, Stock Android is a step up from that. You can usually embed Google apps (or G-Apps), including the very important Google Play store and Google Play Services. However, like the AOSP version, Stock Android usually does not offer additional customization (or at least a very limited amount).
Google releases a new version of Android every year. All new O.S. features, fixes, and improvements will be available on Stock Android. Then it is up to the manufacturer to implement these changes in their skin.
For example, Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones have a custom operating system called OneUI. This operating system is based on Android but contains drivers, apps, and other software that are not included with standard Android.
Is Stock Android Better?
Many Android enthusiasts will say that pure Android is the best Android experience. However, it’s not just a matter of preference. There are real, tangible benefits to using Stock Android.
These are some of the key advantages of using Android instead of O.E.M. modified O.S. versions.
One of the biggest criticisms Android faces is its potential for security issues and malware. And while the platform isn’t exactly a malware reservoir, many security flaws have indeed been discovered in Android over the years.
While Google is rapidly developing fixes for these errors, these updates take longer to roll out to devices running the brand-specific version of Android. Manufacturers should customize updates for their particular O.S. iteration to ensure everything is compatible. This delay increases the security risk for affected users.
Google has taken steps in recent years to improve the deployment of security patches, including Project Mainline and Project Treble. However, the best way to get the latest security updates on time is to have a pure version of Android.
If you run Stock Android without Google services, you are shielded from tracking and analytics from Google and O.E.M.s.
Another problem with skinned versions of Android is that manufacturers are sometimes slow to roll out new versions of the operating system. Many customers spend years on the same version of Android, even though new versions are available.
Sometimes the only way to get the latest version of Android from specific manufacturers is to buy their latest device.
On the other hand, stock Android devices tend to receive updates as soon as Google releases them. Like security updates, manufacturers don’t need to customize new versions of Android for their phones if they’re running the standard operating system. This makes the update process a lot faster for users.
In a sense, stock Android guarantees the future of your device. Along with the latest operating system also comes the latest versions of Google apps, like the Google Assistant and its latest features. There are also U.I. and performance improvements in the new Android patches, many of which are missing by device manufacturers.
Something to note is that some manufacturers have learned from this and improved their update issues a lot in the past few years. Samsung, for instance, now provides 5 years of updates to their phones. Sometimes, my own Samsung phones get monthly updates sooner than even Google!
However, custom builds of Android often have more features available. For example, a native dark mode didn’t appear on Android until Android 10, when U.I. variants had the feature years before that.
Phone manufacturers modify pure Android in various ways to create their custom skins. A notable example is the inclusion of manufacturer-branded apps. The problem is that these different apps also come with pre-installed Google apps.
As a result, you will have a significant amount of application duplication. Google gives you Chrome, while the manufacturer provides you with its own Internet browser. Gmail often comes with the phone manufacturer’s own email client, while Google Play often comes with the brand’s own app store (like the Galaxy Store for Samsung devices).
This creates a lot of unnecessary clutter. You are not likely to use many of these duplicate apps, and sometimes there is no way to uninstall them.
Performance and Battery Life
Bloatware can affect your device’s performance if they keep running in the background.
Google has recently taken steps to improve Android’s performance, using Machine Learning and A.I.
But bloatware can get in the way of these improvements and eventually slow down your device.
One of the most frustrating consequences of a heavily branded version of Android is that the operating system takes up extra storage space. And since bloatware apps can’t be uninstalled in most cases, you’ll need to find alternatives to free up some more space.
If you have a phone that doesn’t have expandable storage, chances are you’ll miss out on that few G.B. of extra space.
Severe memory shortages can also slow down your device, creating a vicious cycle of poor performance.
How Can You Try Stock Android?
As we mentioned earlier, most manufacturers use a skinned version of Android, but if you want to use Stock Android, you don’t have a lot of options. These are the companies with an Android UI closest to Stock Android.
Previously, Google helped design the Nexus line for smartphones. All of these phones came with stock Android. However, in 2016, Google began manufacturing the phone itself and renamed it the Pixel line. These devices are technically equipped with a slightly modified version of stock android.
Pixel U.I. is very close to stock. Google has added a ton of Pixel-specific features and preloaded apps here and there, like Machine Learning, and Camera enhancements.
The best phone for stock android might just be your own phone. If your phone has an unlockable bootloader, you can probably install a community-built version of Stock Android, A.K.A. Custom ROMs.
A lot of Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, and Google have custom R.O.M.s like LineageOS, crDroid e.t.c which let you try stock android on your phone. You can visit X.D.A. forums and navigate to the section dedicated to your device to learn more.