It seems that not all OEM’s like the stock look of Android very much, be it because of profitability or contempt, and this led them to create their own custom skins. Almost all mainstream OEM’s have their own skins, from Samsung’s cluttered Touchwiz to HTC’s minimalist Sense UI.
We all know much about them, from their features to their “gimmicks”, but what can these skins change to bring forth a better Android experience?
The ultimate goal of a custom user interface is to market proprietary features and to also make their device stand out among the other flagships. Skins, then, play a vital role in a consumer’s user experience and it ultimately acts as yet another deciding factor in a user’s preference towards a device. There have already been discussions about the flaws of the phones hosting these ROMs and UIs, but what we really want to know is,
Which side are you on? Let us know!
Samsung’s own Touch interface was launched back in 2010 and is currently known as the TouchWiz Nature UX (5.0). Originally launched with the Samsung Galaxy S, the UI had many extra features up its sleeves. Some were gimmicky, like some odd ways to zoom in and out of a picture through unconventional gestures. Another signature feature of the Touchwiz UI is the ability to move the icons and widgets by tapping holding the icon or widget and “panning” the device slightly to the left or right side.
With the Galaxy S III TouchWiz (4.0) Samsung began introducing motion-based gestures, which it has progressively removed since. The most hated part about TouchWiz is the amount of pre-loaded apps which take up plenty of memory. To make it even worse, Samsung typically does not allow the user to uninstall these apps and they are set to run in the background, which eats up the phone’s performance and thus provides a laggy experience for the user. But since the launch of the new Nature UX, Samsung has learned a lot, and they are trying to keep things minimal while still giveing consumers the best added features. Even though Samsung was able to finally keep their UI as minimal as possible, it still retains performance instabilities and big offenders such as the infamous RAM management issues in their latest flagships.
Another criticized element of TouchWiz is the overall look which is deemed“Cartoonish” by many users. Thanks to the new minimal nature UI, TouchWiz users now have a new theming feature which allows the user to personalize the look and feel of the overall device. Nature UX (5.0) on the Galaxy S6 series is by far the most minimal and best-looking TouchWiz, which means that Samsung is at least learning from some of their mistakes.
HTC sense was released back in 2009 as a skin on their HTC Hero device. Considered as one of the most beautiful and simple Custom UIs out there, it brought minimal bloatware and also maintained the original Android-feel. HTC’s Sense UI 6.0 nicknamed “Sixth Sense” based on KitKat 4.4 brought in new features such as Blinkfeed, Zoe and more. The latest version of Sense UI is 7.0 which can be found in devices such as the HTC M8/M9/M9+/E9+.
Even HTC Sense stepped into the theming game by implementing its own theme engine, where the users is able to personalize their UI with many custom themes. One of the special features which was implemented on devices from and after the release of M8 is the ability to unlock the device by double-tapping, swiping up or by even swiping left to enter Blinkfeed all when the device is in sleep. The UI feels almost perfect to most users due to the fact that it is snappy and generally performs great on HTC flagships.
HTC’s minimal Interface shines on their M8 device which packs an SD801 and 2 GB RAM — yet it feels fast and smooth, unlike other devices with the same specs which contain a custom UI and do not perform nearly as well. The few added features do not affect the praise for this UI due to its looks and overall experience, which benefits from its minimalism.
LG’s Optimus UI, currently known as the LG UI, was released along with their LG Optimus back in 2010. The Optimus UI did not have a great track record until everything was changed with their release of the LG G2 and the Optimus UI 3.5. This UI packs a lot of features as well as customization to make the device look the way you want in the homescreen through theming, and customizable navigation keys. Even though the final revamped UI on LG G3 felt laggy, performance was later on fixed with an OTA update. (to 5.1)
LG UI also offers users interesting security features such as the Knock Code where you get to knock a specific pattern on the screen to unlock the device. LG’s UI is well known for its bright colors and flat icons. The UI feels as cartoonish as Samsung’s Touchwiz and even though there is an added feature to theme the device, it mostly allows the user to change the icons, animations and the overlaying theme rather providing deeper system-wide customization.
When it comes to UI changes, Sony has made dramatic improvements. From their Timelapse UI to the current commonly-known Xperia UI, Sony’s main intention has been to link the user with social media to be constantly updated.
Xperia UI has its own set of features custom-made for their Xperia devices. A few of their well-known features are the Walkman App (Currently Sony Music) which is popular among XDA users as it gets ported to earlier Sony devices and non-Sony devices too. Sony’s camera also has features such as AR (Artificial Reality) which projects 3D objects (Scenes) on a flat surface creating 3D Experience to their users.
Sony also provides other sets of features along with their UI such as small apps, Play Station integration, and a brilliant “Stamina” power saving mode. Xperia UI is among the closest to stock custom UIs out there as it barely looks like a theme and not like an entire, revamped user-Interface like TouchWiz or LG UI.
The beloved Stock Android UI provides a base to all skins out there, but stock ROMs are still far behind when it comes giving stock Android users (particularly Nexus owners) some added features (in-depth UI customizations, etc). Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) was one of the biggest UI changes that Google ever did to Android and till now the concept remains mostly similar but the design aesthetics gets updated to match current trends.
Stock Android is known for its simplicity and minimalistic look that even though it lacks behind in added features consumers prefer the stock look and feel over heavily blotted custom interfaces and ROMs. A huge plus point of having stock Android is the amount of space that it takes up in your device. Whereas custom skins can take up almost half of your memory (in certain instances) in this “SD cardless Smartphone Age”, Stock Android is the way to go for people who want that extra bit of storage and available RAM in their devices. Android makes the user experience smoother with each and every update and makes the almost every properly-supported device perform better.
Current Android’s Material Design eliminates the Holo bare-bone look and gives a sleeker visual style that adds to the overall usability. But other than the purity of the OS, you can’t expect a lot of exclusive features nor fancy gimmicks — yet many argue that not having them makes Stock Android better, even unique. Currently Nexus and Motorola some of the best devices that give Stock Android experiences (Motorola has some great added features like Moto Assist). On the other hand, there are many devices that run on custom ROMs that are much closer to Stock than other OEM offerings, such as OnePlus’ Oxygen OS.
As we said, it’s a brief look at the major OEM ROM & Skins and how they have evolved. Personally, even though Google’s Android UI is plain and simple with no added features, it is the best when it comes to delivering a pure Android experience which you can’t find in any other skinned devices that manage to mess up the design and general performance.
It would obviously be great if all manufactures released a Stock Variant (like the deceased Google Play edition phones) of their flagships for those Android fans who want to experience pure Android, or at least an option to disable their custom skin (aesthetics) in case the customer does not prefer the modified UI’s look and feel. Sadly, this is probably not happening anytime soon. Luckily, XDA exists for those willing to get closer Stock Android on their devices through custom ROMs or through various themes and mods!
Which side are you on regarding Stock and Custom UIs?
Let us know in the comments below and vote for your favorite interface!