Google’s Android operating system has certainly changed the way that a lot of users interact with the world and tech in general. Since its introduction in 2007, the mobile phone platform has paved the way for the development of modern software applications, in the quest of making everyday tasks more convenient, faster, and streamlined. Android’s “openness” has been a major part of its appeal, especially during its early days when developers and end-users were just getting to know the platform.
With that said, a lot of smartphone manufacturers were also quick to take advantage of Android’s open nature, taking essential elements of the OS and combining these with their own branding and proprietary software and hardware. Simply put, this is the reason why the software and interface on Samsung phones look different from what you’d see on Xiaomi phones, for example.
Companies want to offer customers reasons why they should pick their own specific version of Android, through special software features and branding – as a result, we have Android in the form of Samsung’s “One UI,” OnePlus’ “Oxygen OS,” Xiaomi’s “MIUI,” and a whole lot more. These are usually referred to as “skins” since they change the look of an otherwise plain Android interface.
On the other hand, devices like Google Pixels and Nokia phones for example offer a “cleaner” Android interface, which means you get the core Android apps and software experience, without a lot of additional and unnecessary apps (this actually leads to most people referring to them as ‘stock’ Android phones). If you’re a first-time buyer or are just curious as to whether or not custom Android software and UIs suit you, then we’ll cover some quick points to consider – let’s get started!
Exclusive Software Features
Perhaps one major aspect of custom Android user interfaces is that the software gives you access to certain features that you won’t get from other brands. For example, Samsung’s “Dex Mode” is a software feature that’s available on some of the company’s tablets, that lets you use your device as you would a desktop computer with resizable windows, mouse compatibility, and so on.
Another example is “Game Turbo,” which is found on a number of Xiaomi and POCO phones. Game Turbo is a special feature that you can activate while playing games on your phone, and this diverts all your phone’s hardware resources into making your game run smoother to get the best experience possible.
Another feature that is often limited to custom Android skins is the ability to “stretch” apps. For example, MIUI and One UI give you the option to make a game fill the entire screen in case it’s not optimized to do so. You won’t be able to do this on every Android phone – Nokia phones will oftentimes display a black bar on one side of the screen if the game isn’t compatible with certain aspect ratios.
While these are certainly great features, they’re exclusive to their respective brands, and as such will not be available for download on a Pixel phone, for example. This is one advantage that a custom UI has over more standardized versions of Android.
This isn’t to say that Pixels don’t have their own exclusives, however. One such example is the Google Pixel camera, which is exclusive to Pixel phones. While it has been “unoficially” ported over to work with other phones, a lot of the native features work best on Google’s own hardware (this is just one of many Pixel-exclusive features).
Another strength of using a custom Android skin is that oftentimes, there will be options to customize the look and overall visual style of your interface. Android skins like MIUI, One UI, and Oxygen OS are packed with various options to let you change nearly every visual aspect of your phone’s OS. Most of the time, they’ll let you change icons with “theme” packs, customize fonts, and in the case of Oxygen OS, you can even change how the signal bar and battery indicator look.
In comparison, phones which run on more standard versions of Android won’t have in-depth customization options. For example, while Google’s Pixel devices let you change wallpapers, colour accents, and a bit of icon customization through their “Material You” software, they’re somewhat limited in comparison to a Samsung phone, for example.
Of course, you can always download Launcher Apps to change the way Android looks on your device. However, these mostly affect the home screen and app drawer and are a bit limited in terms of system-wide visual customization.
When it comes to software updates, experiences can often be mixed depending on the phone’s brand or manufacturer. Pixel phones for example get monthly security updates and regular new software features, thanks to the mostly-clean version of Android installed in the phones. Google has made it a point to provide several years of software updates for its Pixel devices. Meanwhile, phones from Xiaomi tend to get less regular updates, unless you’re using one of the more expensive mid-range or flagship phones from the brand.
By comparison however, Samsung’s One UI-powered phones have been fortunate enough to receive regular software updates, as the company moves to provide its users with more timely software support. Even older Samsung flagships like the Note 9 and Galaxy S10 series occasionally receive software updates, which is a nice commitment on Samsung’s part.
If regular software and security updates are an important factor for you, then it would be best to research which Android brands provide the most consistent support for their phones.
One detriment to using a phone with a custom skin is that manufacturers like to add a lot of their own apps, and a lot of the times these are unnecessary duplicates of apps which already come with Android itself. Sometimes, a phone might have two different calculator apps, two different file management apps, and even some third-party apps which are barely used in daily smartphone operations.
While this isn’t inherently “bad” by itself, the fact is that a lot of users don’t need to use these additional apps, and they end up only taking space inside your phone, or collecting data for unwanted or unnecessary services. Fortunately, a lot of these apps can be disabled or uninstalled, but this does add more unnecessary steps to getting a desired smartphone experience.
This is where Pixel phones and “Android One” phones excel – they come with all the necessary core Google Android apps, and nothing more. This results in a straightforward user experience, uncomplicated by additional software and such.
As with most consumer electronics though, all of this boils down to personal preferences. Some users won’t mind having a custom Android UI, and some will even love the additional apps and software that come with the phones. On the other hand, some users might just want the basics and nothing more (personally I lean towards the latter).
What do you think? Do you prefer modified versions of Android, or just the essential software features? Stay tuned to our website, as well as our official YouTube channel for more Geeky Stuff on the internet!
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