Stock Android

There's Nexus and Google Play editions and experiences ... Just what exactly is 'Stock Android' anymore? (And does it even matter?)

The term "Stock Android" gets thrown around quite a bit — particularly with the introduction of these Google Play edition devices — and has earned a level of reverence that's pretty unparalleled in the Android world. Even the words get a capital letter, so you know it's something that people care about. The (very vocal) minority of us have even forced HTC and Samsung's hand to release their latest and greatest with all their hard work removed and the mighty Stock Android in place. But Stock Android itself is a misnomer, and it's almost impossible to define.

Webster's tells us that "stock" is the original from which others derive. In that sense, it does describe Android as Google intended it. But we don't apply a direct definition to most things when they work their way into daily use, so Stock Android (with the capital S) needs some further explanation.

I'm not preaching from my virtual soapbox here; I'm every bit as guilty of muddling things as anyone else is. But that doesn't mean we can't discuss it, right? 

Let's do that, then.

What is Android?

Android

Since we're talking definitions here, let's start with the obvious: What is Android? For most of us, Android is an operating system that we use on mobile devices, and possibly our television or camera. But if we want to get technical (and we do), Android is a kernel mostly based on Linux, with its middleware, libraries and assorted APIs written in C, and uses an application framework that includes Java-compatible libraries. These libraries are based on Apache Harmony, and allow software to run inside the Dalvik virtual machine, using Dalvik dex-code that has been translated from Java bytecode. Technically, Android is not a Linux distribution because it doesn't natively support the full set of GNU tools and libraries, though many folks (guilty) feel differently about that point.

Confused yet? Don't be. All that tecnho-babble was designed to demonstrate that you can simply argue any point to death, and often the generally accepted definition isn't the best or right one. Nerds will argue what Android is, what it was designed to do, and what it will become forever, because as nerds we love to argue about this sort of thing.

To you, Android is what you think it is, and that's important.

I can hardly lay all this out without giving my own 2 cents worth, so here goes: To me, Android is an open-source computer operating system designed to be extensible and easy to write applications for. I consider it a Linux distro, but that's not really important. At it's core, Android is just a bunch of files that tick away under the user-facing software that we see when we turn our phone on. The user-facing software is the important part. That leads us to the real subject of this piece.

What is Stock Android?

Stock Android

Just like the nerds will never be able to agree what Android is, the users (that's you and me!) will probably never be able to agree what Stock Android is. I don't know Andy Rubin. I've never even had the pleasure of meeting him. But I'm pretty sure nobody is happier to see what most partners have done with his baby. Originally designed as the software and interface for digital cameras, Android has blossomed into an amazing family of software from vendors like Google, LG, HTC, Sony, Motorola and Samsung, to name but a few.

Grab the phone you have in front of you. Have you monkeyed around with the firmware, or is it still running the base system that it came with from the folks who built it? If it's the latter, it's running "stock." The OS it came with.

If you have dug in and flashed other ROMs, are you running "stock" CyanogenMod? Or maybe "stock" AOKP? Maybe you're even running a version of AOSP that you built yourself. Any of these scenarios are technically "stock." So why do we hold "Stock Android" (there's that capital S again) in such high regard?

There was a time when all of us here would tell users unhappy with their device to take things into their own hands and go "Stock." "Root your phone, Mickey!" was our standard answer, because at the time it was the best answer. If you had an older phone from HTC, Samsung or Motorola and got to use the Nexus One, you knew exactly what we were talking about. Google did it better, because it had more practice at it.

But things have changed.

Nexus user experience

Jelly Bean, the way Google creates it on the Nexus line, is beautiful. It's mostly bug-free, and with access to Google Play it's the perfect base to build your own set of those oh-so-important user-facing software features we talked about earlier. But you know what? So are the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. Vendors have gotten better at building Android, and their "stock" offerings are as good or better in many instances for many users. You can argue about button layout and placement, or perceived lag and smoothness, but across the board the Android partners are good at expanding on the Android code Google gives them, and "stock" Android-based phones can be as good as "Stock Android" phones. 

Those Google Play Edition phones that were released today sure are nice. They provide Google's version of Stock Android for those that don't want to dig in and void their warranties, and that's important -- we want people to be happy with their purchase, because we have a vested interested in Android and it's growth. But these phones aren't necessarily better than their original counterparts from HTC and Samsung, and are lacking some of the features that make either phone great while running their own "stock" software. They're not Nexus devices. Make no mistake about that.

I certainly want to get a crack at these Google Play edition phones. I'm curious how well Jelly Bean the way Google does it will run on newer hardware than what's inside the Nexus 4 or Nexus 10. But I'm also going to be very happy with my HTC One "stock" the way it came from HTC, because the features it offers are why I wanted it in the first place. Let's pull Stock Android off that pedestal, and realize that the choices we have when buying a new phone are what really makes Android great.

 
There are 109 comments

chrisharmful says:

Maybe instead of "stock", we can use the term vanilla?

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dcjose48 says:

+1

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daniel2744 says:

I agree +1

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mwara244 says:

On the D1 it was referred to as vanilla, then when all the skin software overlays came into existence the term stock was used more and more.

I hope there will be a way to download the Nexus edition software, since it is upgraded 4.2.2 with new camera software and other minor features, to the verizon unlocked developer editions that i will have to buy full price. Since verizon won't get Nexus Edition phones but will get unlocked dev phones.

mtmerrick says:

Or ASOP.....

dcdttu says:

+1

PrimozR says:

It's actually AOSP (Android Open Source Project), but i'm nitpicking.

the1m.polo says:

+1 agreed

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karrob says:

+1

I would agree with Vanilla, but that idea went out the door with 4.1. Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich sounds tasty, but Vanilla Jelly Bean? No thanks...

I would agree with Vanilla, but that idea went out the door with 4.1. Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich sounds tasty, but Vanilla Jelly Bean? No thanks...

I would agree with Vanilla, but that idea went out the door with 4.1. Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich sounds tasty, but Vanilla Jelly Bean? No thanks...

Masheen says:

TTTripple Post. 5,000 pts

outlooker says:

Till recently, I considered my Nexus 4 to have elite status when it comes to the real Android experience, I guess I'll have to give up that title to the HTC One Google Edition. *Sigh*

Posted from my Android device rocking version 4.2.2 via Android Central App

vansmack says:

That's a bit premature. Let's see what happens when the first Android 4.3/4.2.3/5.0 update comes out with these Google Editions before we pass the torch.

kurioskurion says:

+1

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TechZOnline says:

+1
I can't help but feel a bit 'but I have the Nexus phone, nobody else's should have this experience without buying one too!'

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user7618 says:

If it makes you feel better, for the price you would pay for one of these you could buy two Nexus 4's.

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Darth Spock says:

It's hard to choose between the One GE and the regular One, but on the S4 I see no reason you wouldn't buy the TouchWiz version and flash AOSP if you wanted to. Not sure why I see them differently.

MrStylz says:

1. Not everyone wants the headache of flashing
2. Not everyone is allowed to root...byod

neonworm says:

+1

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troyboytn says:

Jerry, no offense to the others, but consistently, your articles are always spot on, informative, in-depth, and just as important....unbiased. IMO, you're the best writer here at AC. Thanks for this and all your articles.

+1

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+1

Jerry has definitely been on a great run these last few months. Keep up the great work Jerry!

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Thanks. I have a lot of help from everyone here, though. Nothing we do here is from just one of us :)

The AC team is a very solid group. Hence why it is one of my favorite sites on the web.

Tough to have a functioning wheel if one of the spokes is weak. No weak spokes here!

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the1m.polo says:

+1 I love the Lebron D.Wade connection here. ...u figure out who is who...haha

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Xingularity says:

+1 also

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I agree with you completely. He's one of my favorite editors on here. One of few that understands the material to the point that he can break it down so that others are Blessed to understand. Many kudos to Jerry!

I agree with you completely. He's one of my favorite editors on here. One of few that understands the material to the point that he can break it down so that others are able to understand. Many kudos to Jerry!

littleemp says:

I personally don't agree with some of his views, but they are still well-written, well-informed, and unbiased, so I can definitely appreciate them (the articles) even if I happen to disagree with them.

Masheen says:

I agree. I love all the writers here @ AC but Jerry kills it when it comes down to practicality and technicality. Spot on.

verdana says:

Nice article Jerry. Good read.

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I am definitely thinking I'll have a tough time recommending these Google Edition devices to readers as they are.

It might be different if users could download what extra software they choose from the Play Store.

That is honestly what I would love to see device manufacturers do. Release their devices fairly bare bones and allow users the option to load their devices up as they see fit.

Maybe these releases are a tiptoe sized step in that direction?

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A895 says:

Doubt it, manufacturers are having the hardest time getting rid of their skins as it is one of the only thing that really helps differentiate the experience among android devices.

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I fully agree. We can always hope though ;).

Wollombi says:

I think we would have an easier time getting them to ship with what they want, but with the option to remove the "enhancements" and extra apps or to change back to "vanilla" Android interface in the settings. Then, they can still differentiate, but those of us who still want a less "unique" experience (headache?) can still be happy with their expensive purchase.

demontooth says:

After the last few updates turned my galaxy nexus and nexus 7 into buggy turds, I'm done beta testing for Google. You can keep your timely updates.

MERCDROID says:

Have you tried factory resetting? The 4.2.2 update initially made my Galaxy Nexus slow. After a factory reset, it started running like a brand new device.

Wollombi says:

I experienced no bugs in my 4.2.2 update on my N7 that weren't there before, and some that were there before were fixed. That said, my speed did improve after a reset.

_X_ says:

Great article Jerry! These are the type of articles that makes this site so great to read.

To me the biggest advantage that is offered with these is they are unlocked an free from carrier lock in. Users are definitely giving up some key features when they go with main line (stock) Android. My in-law mentioned while she loked the Nexus 4 she did miss some key features her S3 had.

=X=

tigeryee says:

Is the only available color in white?

bprichard says:

Seems that way. As I prefer black, I guess it's time to buy a black HTC One with Sense and flash it.

razgri5 says:

I had a one x and loved it before I jumped ship to the nexus 4. I find "stock" (vanilla?) so much less buggy and more consistent than the version of sense running on my one x. I will say though that the new version of sense on the One is the first skin I really thought was at least as good if not better than vanilla. Touchwiz is still the suck in my opinion. It's all over the place. Meanwhile I wonder what LG and Sony have cooking these days...

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daniel2744 says:

I agree with this. I had a nexus 4 and Ioved it. I still do but I decided to give the HTC one a shot. I'm glad I did. Most of my phones I have had since coming to android have been from HTC. And whole earlier versions of sense of not been good, this version of sense on the HTC one is very good. I love it and have not flashed to CM or aosp rom. However, I still rooted it and got 4.2.2 on it and its just great

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Great read

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jrsharp70 says:

Good read... but perhaps it was missing one point.

It seems that "stock" android was never meant to be an end user experience. It is probably better to think of it as the frame and roof of a house, so that Google could give manufacturers a way to build their own structures around/in it.

In that sense, sure, you could live in it, but why would you want to? Why would Google want to introduce an operating system such that the manufacturer with the best hardware wins?

The only reason to buy "stock" is because you think that you (or someone else) can build a better house than the original manufacturer did. This is an entirely reasonable assumption... but in either case, you are still left with two options: live in a frame with a roof, or build a different house. I'd wager that the majority of those that buy these phones do not prefer the simplicity of barren walls, and opt for someone else to do it better. In that sense, people are not actually interested in stock; they are interested in making a device uniquely suited to their needs.

Modifying the software is simply the only way to do it. You can bet that if people could make their own hardware, there would be not 500 different android phone models, but 500,000,000.

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Craig King says:

It think you are mostly right, but not exactly.

Buying from Stock Android is like buying a house that is empty with no landscaping and then doing it yourself. Basically filling the house with wonderfull apps from the app store.

Buying a Skin'd android phone is like bying a house that is almost completely furnished except for a few thing here and there. The catch is everything is bolted to the floor or wall and can't be removed. You can certainly add to it from the store, but can't remove what was already there.

joebob2000 says:

If the app store has a version of Email for Exchange/activesync that is as good as the one that is built into TouchWiz, I will eat my hat.

Craig King says:

Please understand I wasn't exactly saying one is better then the other. Just making the analogy more accurate.

There is no doubt that the OEM's can bake in good functionality.

Stock Android is what ships on Nexus devices and after today, what ships on Nexus Experience devices

HTC Sense and Samsung TouchWiz etc cannot be considered stock android, it is stock for Samsung and Samsung devices or HTC and HTC devices, but it is not stock for Android as a WHOLE

It is pretty simple

matola1972 says:

+1 You hit the nail on the head, sir. It's not that complicated at all. Why does the question keep coming up?

Bazza1 says:

I'm a comparatively recent user of Android, having only picked up a Nexus 7 in the last couple of months. I have, of course, loaded onto it a selection of apps, but it remains as 'Stock' as Google/Asus intended it.
As my cell phone plan comes up for renewal soon, I have been exploring the Android experience there too, but I've been less-than-enamoured by some of the bells and whistles that have been built-into some of these devices - and the subsequent drop in storage space and speed that goes along with that. I'd rather I was responsible for loading crap onto my device, rather than find out it already (and fairly permanently) embedded in the OS.

joebob2000 says:

As someone who owns a Nexus 7 and a Galaxy S3, and has loaded them both with pretty much the same apps, I can confidently say the experience on the S3 is WAAAAY better than on the Nexus 7. I don't know if it's the extra RAM, or some other tweak that Samsung put into it, but there is a big difference in how fast the S3 responds compared to the N7. If you are OK with the experience on the N7, you will be OK with a branded android handset.

ScottJ says:

The very definition of anecdotal evidence.

MERCDROID says:

Thanks, for the great read, Jerry!!!

Connor Mason says:

All phones should ship with vanilla, and then the manufacturers would give you choices on the play store for launchers, lockscreens, widgets/apps, and other features. They could even charge for it. And ideally, carriers wouldn't have a hand in anything except providing service and maybe data usage monitoring apps.

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Unfortunately it's not that simple. The amount of changes made to the software on any given manufacturer's phone are far far deeper baked into the system than just a set of apps. While it may seem like its just a lot of chrome and user-facing features, things like the launcher, system animations, sound enhancements and camera functions are deeply integrated with the firmware (and even hardware, think ImageSense on HTC phones) of these phones. There's a reason why we shy away from calling these "skins" of Android -- the changes are far more involved than that.

Simply put, there's no way that any number of apps would be able to recreate the experience that a complete Sense or TouchWiz firmware can.

Insp_Gadget says:

As HTC and Samsung have built their systems, you are correct; however, given enough effort, they could make the necessary changes and decouple Sense and Touchwiz to the degree that users could install it on top of Google's distribution of Android.

The reason those experiences/interfaces haven't been completely reproduced by 3rd-party developers isn't because it HAS to be at firmware level. It's because the code isn't openly available and developers would probably be sued if they fully recreated HTC's and Samsung's distributions of Android via apps.

The deep integration with the respective hardware would present a compatibility issue with other hardware, so care would need to be taken to either disable incompatible features (a la Apple's iOS upgrades to older devices) or restrict the download to HTC or Samsung devices.

Craig King says:

I don' realy buy that, especially when you talk about carrier apps.

I would add that by integrateing it deeper into the OS they are able to make it function much more effecient.

Wollombi says:

And yet, there are at least a dozen or so good launchers already available in the app store, many of which provide better or more functionality than the OEMs' versions, and they aren't "deeply embedded" into the system. It IS possible, and apparently not even technically difficult. It's just that the OEMs have chosen that route to make it difficult (near impossible for the average joe) to remove their "vision" from YOUR device (you paid for it, it's yours).

cobrakon says:

As a GNex user, and coming from HTC phones I can tell you I am ridof this thing aat the first opportunity. I need no less than 15 apps to replace lost functionality from Sense and some things I haven't found a replacement for.

That's one thing. On the other, I want to discus this phone at least 10 times a day. The reboots during calls, screen sleep freezes, failure to get a data signal after wifi, weak wifi reception, etc., etc. They can take "Stock Jellybean" and stick it you know where.

Wollombi says:

Your issues you describe sound more like a faulty unit than anything that would be "normal" on a Nexus device. It certainly isn't caused by Jelly Bean in my experience with a Nexus 7 and Galaxy S4.

joramteusink says:

My Gnex runs like smooth butter. No issues at all. Faulty unit indeed, I guess.

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extremenet says:

I always equate "stock" with whatever the device manufacturer installed on the device for purchase and "vanilla" with the base OS that Google installs on the Nexus devices and releases to AOSP (even if the Nexus code and AOSP code aren't identical).

twatts723 says:

I would say every android phone, be Samsung or HTC or whomever, should have the option of uninstalling any bloatware, and or choosing to opt out of touchwiz or sense. They kinda catch you by the "balls" with their big beautiful screens, super processors, and mega-megapixel cameras. If you want all that you have to accept their overlay, which is why so many people choose, and thank god its so easy, to root these devices and flash whatever custom ROMs, kernels, and apks they choose. This should be an option you get right from the start without having to void your warranty. After all, isn't that why we all chose android over iOS to begin with? Freedom of customization?

jec11718 says:

Your comment on the easy part about rooting....obviously you didn't have a bootloader locked droid DNA from vzw....they locked down the bl so tight that we had to wait a long time for the "moonshine" to s-off. I used the moonshine method to root and then Rom my DNA. Was so excited to finally try out stock, and vanilla and sense 5....I didn't care what ...just no more vzw bloat and overlording from big red.

sent from my Nos M7 DNA

Dapovi says:

That's what I'm talking about. ..HTC butterfly NOS M7+ KILLX 3.4.7 and waiting for the butterfly S

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the1m.polo says:

Thats not the product they sold u, htc or samsung sells sense/touch wiz like Nike sells the /swoosh/jordan/lebron symbol .. if u want a plain shoe made in china ..buy a plain shoe made in china ..aka Nexus or now a Google play edition... I cant ask Chevy to make me a chevy w/o any branding ...but I can paint it and pop of the emblems after I buy one.

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Wollombi says:

Your Chevy analogy doesn't apply, since you can't simply "pop off" the OEM bloat/overlays on a phone without voiding your warranty, like you can pop emblems off and paint a Chevy without voiding your car's warranty.

Green_Laser says:

Very nice write-up Jerry.
Some places I'll see something to read shorter than this, but my eyes and mind look away. You and the AC crew seem to have a good rhythm (is that the word?), keeping us (at least me) interested, wanting to read more. And this was even a subject/topic most su's are familiar with, but still, was pleasant to read.

Keep up the great work guys! I'm speaking not only about this piece, but many others too, including the advancements made with the AC app as well!

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Xingularity says:

Very nicely written. Just like anything in life, things change and evolve, hopefully for better. Once you get used to one thing it changes. If you don't adapt, you get left behind.

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KM217 says:

I don't think I have ever used "Stock Android" as a term before. That said, I always have and continue to argue that the Nexus line of devices are the highest class of Android devices. I have used many devices that friends have had from Motorola and Samsung. I stop in to wireless providers shops to see what is new. Every time I find something they don't do as well as the Nexus counterparts(On the software side).

Lastly, I consider the T-Mobile G1(HTC Dream) to be an honorary Nexus device.

craZDude says:

While I like Jerry's style of writing, I thought this piece wasn't very focused. He starts by trying to define "Stock Android", but proceeds to preach the benefits of OEM customizations, as if that was the point all along.

I don't mean to say that I dislike customized versions of Android like sense and touchwiz, and I have actually questioned why it is people hold "Stock Android" on such a high pedestal, when customizations can add a lot to the user experience.

I do appreciate Jerry bringing this topic to the attention of the masses (at least the masses of Android fans).

skinja99 says:

Bloatware

Jerry,
All true. I just wish you would have discussed the bloatware/crapware that is loaded onto OUR phones and what, if anything, we have to do to remove it.

-s

Bravo! It was a pleasure to have read this article. Being a mobile geek I'm always having these fundamental arguments that always end with the truth being in the eye of the mobile user. I just bought my galaxy s4 recently and I've had a nexus 7 for a while now and I must say that I like the Touchwiz interface in my phone as much as I like the stock Google experience on my nexus 7 and I wouldn't change a thing on either. Both devices supply me with one important thing. Options, and having those options allows me to tailor these devices to cater to me.

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mcook1670 says:

I like vanilla android on the nexus4. I think the Google edition HTC One and GS4 take away from the user experience. The phones were designed to run Sense or Touchwiz. I wish they would do away with some of the bloat ware. I personally don't see the point of the GE phones. Is HTC and Samsung going to do this with every top of the line phone? I wouldn't spend the extra money for a GE phone, root it if you want vanilla android or buy a nexus phone.

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dwboston says:

Sick and tired of hearing "root if you want vanilla android". Guess what? I can't root, because I have an app for work (Good) that will not run on a rooted device. And there are no Nexus devices with 5" screens and expanadable memory. The Google editions are welcome options for those who want nice hardware without the overlay. My current phone is an imported Galaxy Note N7000. It's a great device, except for the laggy crap that is Touchwiz on JB. I like Samsung's hardware, but could do completely without Touchwiz, as I rarely, if ever, use Samsung's software "enhancements". I'm happy to have the option of a vanilla Android device with Samsung's hardware. Looks like it's time to sell the N7000, use my upgrade on an AT&T Galaxy S4 and sell that as well, then buy the Google Edition S4.

scottyhifi says:

Kept thinking of this while reading this great reminder.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2y8Sx4B2Sk

Thanks Inigo Montoya. While I cannot stand Sense or Touchwiz "skins" I do realize that those are the stock version for their phones. The stock version of my GNex was just much more pleasant to use than the stock version of my GS3. At least I had a choice...I guess.

toddjy says:

Google should have had 3 versions of the OS. Android would have been the Google experience version. Maybe Robot would have been the open source, that anyone could use without Google's permission (without Google's apps like maps). And Cyborg would be the basis for all licensed vendors flavors. (MotoBlur, built on Google Cyborg. Etc.)

But I hate whatever is running on the HTC One S (that must stand for sucks or ****). Should be called Nonsense.

mark.m.moran says:

So well said Jerry!!

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jian9007 says:

For me, a stock build is one that works exactly as Google intended it. That includes the on screen buttons, etc. It's why I have the Nexus 4. However the Google experience phones are also running Build JDQ39, just like the Nexus 4. So yes, I suppose that they are running the stock software as well. I just like to have the on screen buttons as Google intended it.

These phones also have some extra software in them, as Phil has said that the One has about 24.5GB usable space out of 32GB, while the S4 has 11.3GB out of 16GB (which is closer to what the stock Nexus 4 ships with. By that I mean that only 4.7GB is used by the OS compared to 7.5GB on the One). So Samsung seems to have come closer to having less extra software. I doubt Beats takes up that much space on the One so I don't what else is on it. It remains to be seen how well stock Android (including future updates) works on the Google experience devices in the long run.

So are they stock since they have the same Build # as the Nexus line? Like Jerry said, that's up to you. For me, I prefer the full Nexus experience and consider it to be true stock Android because it works exactly like Google intended, on screen buttons and all. Seems minor, but again, it's just my opinion. Stock or not, all I know is that I'm not about to pay almost double the price for a phone with the same software build as my Nexus 4.

bigdaddytee says:

Thanks for making complex tech stuff more understandable for fairly casual users like me.
This is why I frequent AC.

Posted from the (4.2 updated) redheaded stepchild of the Nexii

stock Android is what Google makes Android to be. And it should be on all Android devices as default .

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google now is different from device to device. software is fragmentation that why need to be the same or I may just go back to IPhone.

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griff7774 says:

In summary, "... "stock" Android-based phones can be as good as "Stock Android" phones. "

Good article and nice read.

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UNZICKER says:

There is a very simple way that root users and custom ROM runners define "Stock Android." NO 3RD PARTY SKINS OR BLOAT FROM MANUFACTURERS OR CARRIERS. Problem solved.

oldtimer42 says:

Very nice summary and comments.

I've been an IOS user for about 5 years and this is my first experience with a Google "Stock Android" aka Vanilla device with the Nexus 4. I've found it fast, easy to use and provides all of the features I personally need at a price point that was very attractive. It has its h/w issues (glass, battery, memory size) but has been and still is a great phone. This article is about Android and not H/W....

The Vanilla Android with the Nexus 4 has been great. No random reboots, fast, easy to add apps etc. This may in the past have been a developer tool to be rooted etc however I have no intention to do so as Vanilla works for me.

Have you ever thought about Vanilla and Jelly Bean are an interesting mix of terms?

I hope Google stays with the Nexus family as it provides useful devices with good software at compelling prices.

Cheers

JobiWan144 says:

After reading this article (a great read, mind you), I can't help but think you really didn't answer your own question, "what is Stock Android?" You had a good discussion of its value, but I'm still left wondering what you think that term means.

To me, "Stock" or "vanilla" Android is defined by the user experience and not by underlying code. There's got to be under-the-hood differences between AOSP Android as found on the Nexus 4 and the "Nexus user experience" found on the GE One and Galaxy S4 to account for hardware differences, buttons, etc. Ignoring the button layout, however, the UX on all three phones should be pretty much the same. Thus, Nexus devices and Google Edition devices run Stock Android. Additionally, compiling Android from source and sticking it on any device such that the UX is the same as on a Nexus or GE device also qualifies as Stock Android.

But there's also what I like to call "stockish" Android. If Stock Android is vanilla, then this is kinda like "butter pecan" Android.
CyanogenMod, AOKP, Paranoid Android, and other AOSP-based custom ROM's fall into this category. The UX is mostly the same as Stock Android, but user-facing modifications have been introduced, usually with the goal of improving customizability and optimizing for power users. Generally, custom ROM's built for Nexus devices fall into this category. One could argue that Motorola's new custom version of Android shipping on the new RAZR line (and sent to earlier devices in updates, if I'm not mistaken) belongs in this class as well. The design language remains the same, but a few features have been added or changed.

Bottom line (IMO): Nexus and GE devices run Stock/Vanilla Android, CyanogenMod and similar projects are stockish/butter pecan Android, and Sense, TouchWiz, and the like are Android-based.

Posted via Android Central App

Ry says:

Stock Android is whatever Google puts on a Nexus device.

Stock Android is not the best. Stock Android is just one of the options. This is the beauty of Android.

TouchWiz, MotoBLUR, Sense, etc. are very much in the spirit of Android and if you don't agree with that, CyanogenMOD is not in the spirit of Android either.

This is what happens when you're open.

Lurking_Grue says:

How about unmolested?

LavallavaL says:

It's about time someone spoke out on the ridicule of "vanilla" fanboy-ism. A lot of it is subjective preference for certain software tweaks on top of an abysmal penchant for hardware snobbery.

I'm very surprised about this turn-around coming from you, Jerry. Your writing has always kept me under the impression that you stood amongst the staunchest of "stock Googlites", because of your seemingly irrational love for phones with the "Nexus" branding even when if they lack external storage. I don't see a "plot" or conspiracy, but Google's slow but steady push for "clouding" Android users' data is the obvious goal. data mining is the origin of it's revenue stream, so it stands to reason they will do anything and everything to augment data available for mining.

Anyway, I don't want to hijack this comment thread to further discuss my perception of your work in general, but I did feel it was important to say that it is nice to "see your opinions" returning to a what I interpret as a "more balanced and well thought" point of view.

I'm sure he feels blessed to have your approval.

movielover76 says:

I've always used vanilla or AOSP to describe Google's version of Android, if you frequent XDA that definition pretty universally is held. I guess you could refer to vanilla or AOSP as Stock Android with a capital S, but I think vanilla or AOSP is clearer.

When it comes to stock, without a capital it always means as the device was shipped on XDA, whether it's a nexus or a Galaxy S4, it's the software as it was shipped with the device, or upgraded via OTA, I completely disagree with the idea of stock CM or AOKP, it's a third party firmware, no devices ship with it, it's never considered stock.

Wollombi says:

Good article, and makes very valid points. That said, I disagree that the 3rd parties such as HTC and Samsung *necessarily* are just as good or better with their "enhancements" than Google's offerings. Case in point, Samsung, while providing a beautiful camera app, has, IMO, cluttered the interface with TouchWiz. Now, some swipe enhancements, and a lot of other things added are nice. I like air gestures just because of the gee whiz factor (though I've had a bear of a time getting it to really work), but I don't need all this stuff they push permanently into the phone's memory, and if I'm not going to use it, I better damn well be given the option to get rid of it. After all, I can generally always install it later if I want it back. But, no. Second point, and this is a big deal to me, is that Sammy in their infinite wisdom has prevented you from using lock screen widgets if you have any kind of security set on your phone. In other words, you can have "lock screen" widgets, so long as your don't actually have a lock screen (a swipe to open is NOT a lock screen per se). Yet, on my Nexus 7, I can do this all the day long. Again, if customers *want* that feature, make it an option, so the rest of us can still enjoy the goodness Google baked in.

/nerd rage rant ;)

LavallavaL says:

(@ Wollombi)

The basic premise of making a purchase is filling a need. This need has to be identified, and well understood. If your widget was a more important "need" than the hardware itself, then you've simply made a bad purchase and should have exchanged it upon realizing it was not up to your subjective preferences.

New phone, new UI, and of course, different widgets and capabilities. With an open minded attitude, adaptation is not hard. One feature you liked being "crippled" on a different UI doesn't make it "Bad" nor does it mean it is ill-optimized. It just makes it less appealing to you.

I completely agree that a UI optimized for the hardware make sense. I also agree that they are a good thing. In my home, counting everyone's Android devices past and present (9 items), none are exactly the same, but all are excellent. I'm sorry to say, but your post does not come across as a proper argument for, or against customized UIs by hardware makers. It comes across as someone venting the frustration of having made a bad judgment call on a purchase.

Really enjoyed this write-up Jerr-Bear, thank you. :)

I think "STOCK ANDROID" or "Vanilla Android" are exclusive to Google devices only. What I am saying is I noticed in the past years it seems that Google has decided that plain stock android - pure android would be exclusive to Google only. This became even more apparent after Google launched the new NEXUS line last year. Mobile makers like Samsung, HTC and the likes would have to skin all their android phones, they cannot use the stock os on their devices. That's my take on stock android. I have the NEXUS 4 and LOVE IT! In this case HTC and Samsung have made a deal with Google so their devices can feature Vanilla Android.

tokuzumi says:

These are awesome new devices, but I guess one will need to decide; are these phones worth the extra $300? That's a lot of coin. Yes they have the newest specs, and "better" screens, etc, but we probably won't see much difference in OS performance until a future update of Android, which will really require the muscle of the Snapdragon 600.

The N4 will get updates from Google...period. The Google Edition phones will get them from Samsung and HTC. With the minor changes that each carrier made to "Vanilla/Stock/ETC" Android (beats audio for HTC, and the clock thing with the samsung flip cover), I don't see them waiting long after the Nexus devices get the update. I have a feeling it would create a PR disaster from the modding community if they didn't update these phones in the quickest manner possible.

dwboston says:

It's not an "extra $300". The price of the phone is the same. With the unlocked device you pay it upfront (with no contract), while with a subsidized device it's baked into the 2-year contract and spread over the duration of the agreement. It's sad how little people understand the carrier subsidy model. I appreciate what Google is trying to do, both with the Nexus devices and the Google Edition devices, to try to change the phone purchasing model. The carriers need to be disintermediated.

Paul627g says:

Great read Jerry. You have always done a great job at explaining android in simple term.

Posted via Android Central App

someguy01234 says:

Stock Android is AOSP: source.android.com

The current Google Edition phones turn me off because they have capacitive buttons instead of on screen and cost more than the Nexus.

jazzbassist1 says:

I think that Stock Android (or vanilla, or whatever you want to call it) is held in such high regard because of one huge advantage: updates. I will be getting a new phone in a few weeks, and I am strongly considering going from a Galaxy Nexus, running 4.2.2, to an HTC One, which is running 4.1. HTC has said that the One will get 4.2, but what happens next year, when the company has a new flagship, and android 4.4 or possibly 5.0 is out? Will the One of 2013 have a prayer of ever getting these upgrades?

Raptor007 says:

So the slide (in the article) says "Prompt Updates" I recall Verizon said the same thing about the Galaxy Nexus and that was BS all around. It still took months to get something that was released and updated on the GSM variant without delay.

I for one will stick to custom ROM's that make the best use of open source. I have actually found that my HTC One Sense 5 is worth keeping over stock. The camera app has excellent features, the developer community is quite strong and awesome ROM's are available for Sense and Non-Sense (no pun) ROM's.

Chaos5 says:

I wouldn't say that Samsung and HTC have gotten better with their skins as far as speed goes, but rather that the technology has gotten better to help with handling the extra speed that running their skin on top of vanilla android needed. No doubt their functionality has gotten way better for both companies, but it stands apart that its the Samsung/HTC phones that have gotten better specs to handle what they put on it as well as what we put on it after the fact.

kurkosdr says:

Stock Android = A version/instance of Android which hasn't been mangled by third-party skins, apps and "mods" in general. Also known as "vanilla Android". Stock Android is different from "AOSP", because Stock Android has things like Google Play, Google Maps and other Google experience apps that AOSP doesn't have. AOSP is the open source parts of Android.

s2weden2000 says:

it is the 0nly way...

robnaj says:

It's a unicorn the word of the year before it was fragmentation

What people mean is ASAP based Android

And PURE Android Is the the UI that Google says is on the Nexus devices FYI

Posted via Android Central App

taitruong says:

Hi Jerry,

thanks for the insight. I think nowadays where many people are getting aware that most of the "private data" stored in a smartphone are not that private anymore mods like CM and AOKP are getting more momentum. I have also summed that up in my blog:
Look here: http://www.pointsoftware.ch/de/under-the-hood-botox-for-your-android-sma...

I tried to provide an overview for the "avarage Joe" to get a better understanding about all the Android possibilities.

Cheers, Tai