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Clean, Pure… But Is Stock Android A God Worth Worshipping?

If smartphones were people, iOS and Android would be their two religions. While iOS would be a relatively closed community that would take a special Apple pass to get into, Android on the other would be a more open religion that anyone could get into and make their own. While the core anatomy of the Android God will remain the same across different adaptations, it is the skin that would be different. And among all these different types of Android Gods and Goddesses, the one that would seemingly be the most powerful is (drum roll) the mighty stock Android.

 Why, you ask?

Well, stock Android or (as some call it) pure Android as the name suggests is the purest version of Android for consumers. It is Android in its most unadulterated form, just how Google makes it for smartphones. But that is not all. Having stock Android also means that in theory, you get an uncluttered and plain OS which is lighter than Android with any kind of skin on it. This means, the phone that runs stock Android will run more smoothly as compared to a smartphone that runs on a customised version of it.  Having a stock Android interface also means that you can customise your device as per your likes and wishes, unlike customised Android devices that are more or less like pre-cooked meals that you can only add garnishes to, to enhance their taste.  Finally, it is also believed that having stock Android on your phone makes it easier for the smartphone to get updates in the future – the manufacturer does not have to bother about updating the skin on top of Android, but only has to update Android, which seems easier (as Google updates Android, right?).

All these points make a really strong case for stock Android. It is clean, it is easier to update and as it is lighter, it should run faster than “skinned” versions. But then, why don’t we see as many followers of the OS as its preachers? The brands that push stock Android like Motorola, Nokia, ASUS and even Google itself have a very small portion of the global smartphone market.  Of the leading Android smartphone brands – Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, Vivo, OPPO – only Xiaomi has a notable stock Android device (the Mi A series). It is not as if stock Android is coming from unknown brands with very little publicity – most stock Android devices receive glowing reviews and brands like Nokia and Motorola are household names. Why then is stock Android not ruling the world?

Well, that may be because stock Android is kinda sorta overrated. Hear me out before you scream “sacrilege” and kill me…

Stock Android may look all precious and geeky from a distance but when you get a pure Android device, you are actually getting a bare phone that you get to dress up in the clothes you like. Now, this sounds great when you actually want to do so. But for the people who want to just pick up a phone and get on with using it? Well, to them, stock Android can be a bit of a nightmare, especially if you are someone who has used a smartphone with an extensive layer in the past. With a stock Android device, you have to start from scratch. Download multiple apps and tools, ranging from messengers to social networks, customise your phone bit by bit, and finally, you would get somewhat close to the experience that you are likely to be getting on a non-stock Android phone out of the box. Sounds like hard work, right? Well, it is, if you are not crazy about downloading apps and customising the interface.

Stock Android is also very basic and uncluttered in all its glory and while that is projected as the superpower of the OS, it can be a super problem when you want to do more with your smartphone.  Let me use a basic example: if you have a stock Android phone with a good camera, you get a super basic camera app, with a limited number of modes and editing options. This can be very limiting, and stop you from making the most of your camera. Sure you can download different apps from the Play Store and use them to get more options, but many people consider that to be a pain. If that sounds unfair, just check the camera apps for the Pixel 3 XL and the EMUI running Huawei P30 Pro – the latter lets you do so much more, as it offers a plethora of modes and editing options out of the box. Even something as basic (now) as Face Unlock is far more secure on Android devices running skins that add enhancements to the feature than on stock Android ones.  

It is also widely believed that having stock Android means you are assured of getting regular and timely updates of the OS. This means your phone will be up to speed with all new devices that launch later, at least in terms of software. But hear me and hear me well: NOT ALL STOCK ANDROID PHONES GET (QUICK) UPDATES. While many smartphone manufacturers may lead you to believe that once you buy their stock Android phone, you will most definitely get an update, the promise is often not followed, although some brands like Nokia are very timely with their updates. Unfortunately, however, most manufacturers make hollow promises that are never really kept. Yes, you would think that because it is plain and pure Android, you would get an update as soon as Google releases one, but that is often not the case. Simply because it is the manufacturer and not Google that updates your phone.  

Another thing that many tech pundits will have you believe is that having a stock Android device means your phone is going to be the Speedy Gonzales of smartphones as compared to the ones with a skin on them because the skin makes the UI heavy and cluttered. But that is myth in most cases. You see, the speed and performance of a smartphone depends on a lot of different variables like the processor it runs on, the amount of RAM it comes with and in general how well the software and hardware speak to each other. It is very much possible that a smartphone with a detailed skin may outperform a stock Android phone. For example a smartphone as heavily coated as the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 was much faster and smoother than Google’s very own rather buggy Pixel 3 XL. And well, the Pixel 3 XL would not be able to accommodate the sort of stylus that the Note can – so much for the power of stock Android, eh? 

Now, this does not mean that stock Android is completely useless. But it is not the cure-all-ills that many of its supporters would have you believe. It basically all boils down to what you want from your smartphone. It is like buying an apartment, and having it completely empty so that you can furnish it according to your taste or to have it completely furnished to avoid the hassle. On the one hand, you can have your clean and clutter free interface that lets you be the boss and allows you to customise the UI and apps your way, or you can select a smartphone that comes with a lot of that work done already. Both have their pros and cons. I suspect the geeks prefer the former because for them, control and customisation makes a big difference, but for mainstream users, well, core functionality comes first.    

I am not saying that stock Android is not an OS God. It is. But you certainly do not have to worship it (or any other Android UI, for that matter), just because its preachers say so.

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Nimish Dubey

Nimish Dubey has been writing on technology since 1999. He has contributed to a number of publications and websites including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Mint, Economic Times, Outlook, and India Today. He is currently the Editorial Mentor at TechPP.com and a regular contributor to Indian Express. When not writing, he loves to read and listen to classic rock.