This Sunday we won’t argue about different operating systems. We won’t even debate about why iOS trumps Android or why Android is better than iOS, as that’s not the part of our agenda today. Though, Android powers almost 75% of smartphones globally while iOS has close to 23% market share, the choice between these two mobile operating systems is very personal and depends a lot on the ecosystem you’re a part of. In fact, we will only focus on Android in this Sunday debate and will talk about stock Android and custom user interface powering our Android phones.
But one may wonder, what’s the point of discussion when it’s Android, after all? Does it really make a difference to the end user like us? Well the answer is yes. It does make a difference and to a large extent it determines how we use and interact with our phones.
What is stock Android?
Stock Android is the purest form of Android and comes as it is, the way Google cooks it for us. It is the unaltered form of Android which doesn’t have any added extra features, tweaks or extra applications, keeping it fast and light. Its biggest highlight is that the updates for phones running on Stock Android come directly from Google, hence these phones are first in the line to receive the latest Android software updates based on the eligibility, of course.
Stock Android can be found on smartphones like the Pixel series from Google or the good old Nexus line of phones, if you remember them. A slightly different version of this can be found on all new Nokia phones running on Android. This is Google’s service for manufacturers who just want to focus on making the best hardware and leaves the software part on Google. This near stock version of Android is called Android One. Apart from Nokia, brands like Lenovo, Motorola, Xiaomi etc. have time and again released Android One powered smartphones. Android Go is a further stripped-down version meant for entry level smartphones; for example, Redmi Go, Nokia 2.1 and Samsung Galaxy A2 core.
What is a custom UI?
When smartphone manufacturers take the source code for Android under the Android Open Source Project and fork out a layer on top of that to bake in features and apps which they believe will enhance the user experience, it is called Custom UI. Some popular examples of custom UI are Samsung’s OneUI, MIUI from Xiaomi, OxygenOS from OnePlus, EMUI on Huawei/Honor devices, Vivo’s Funtouch, ZenUI from Asus or Color OS that powers OPPO and Realme smartphones.
These branded interfaces are heavily customised and come with quite a few frequently used apps, preinstalled. It is through these UI’s that the brands control core Android features which are to be passed on to the users. We’ve seen quite a few instances where key features from these UI’s are adopted by Google and baked in Android as a core feature.
Xiaomi via MIUI ensures that even few generation old phones, which are not eligible to get the latest version of Android, get the latest and trendy Android features. Huawei’s EMUI for instance comes with a Health app to track your daily fitness activities, a system wide search which lets you search any contact, pre-installed app, messages or a feature, quite handy isn’t it! However, not all the customisations are good, at times brands like Xiaomi and Samsung use these UI’s to their benefit and display unwanted ads. They’ve been heavily criticised for this, time and again.
Ok! So, which one is better?
Coming back to the point of which one of these is better, Stock Android or the Custom version. While the purists have been long advocating Stock Android over custom UI, it totally depends on the users’ preferences. Both the versions have their pros and cons and while the vanilla or stock Android may be fast and feel buttery smooth, it lacks those extra built in features that make using the smartphone easier and more personalised. On the other hand, a poorly optimised branded or custom UI may cause issues like abnormal battery drain, frequent app crashes, multiple-preinstalled similar apps or bloatware, and the biggest of them all, advertisements as mentioned above.
With a lot of options available in both the variants of Android, it actually boils down to the features that you’d regularly use on your phone. If you prefer having options to customise your phone and frequent Android updates are a priority to you, then phones running on stock or near stock Android is the one for you. Smartphones running a custom UI offer a great a level of personalisation and come with machine learning capabilities. Personally, I’d any day pick a phone with custom UI that offers useful addon features, isn’t intrusive, lag free and offers regular security and software updates.
Again, that’s my personal choice and yours can be totally different.