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Android 12 doesn't have to be what you see on Google's Pixel phones

Google Pixel 6 Pro Lock Screen
Google Pixel 6 Pro Lock Screen (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

It seems like everyone hates the way Android 12 looks. OK, maybe not everyone but check out the comments on any article talking about Android 12's look and feel and you'll see that a heck of a lot of people dislike the changes Google has made.

That's bad news for Google, but it really isn't for almost every Android phone owner. That's because what you have seen on Google phones, like the Pixel 6, isn't how Android 12 has to look. Or will look, because the software on a Pixel phone is just as custom as the software on a Galaxy phone.

This is generally a good thing. Google and its partners create Android 12, but most of it isn't what you can see. There are a few rules in place that other companies need to follow if they want to include Google software like Gmail or the Play Store and some general rules about specific items as well as guidelines on how Google wants it to look, but for the most part, Google allows phone makers to do their own thing.

This is how it should be and what separates the various Android phone makers. If you would rather every company build Android exactly as written then you're out of luck because no phone maker does that. You'll need to install custom firmware yourself if you want what everyone calls "stock" Android. But even that doesn't exist and third-party development teams also make decisions about how Android will look and feel.

With that in mind, you have to remember that the development team at Google that works on the Pixel phone line are also phone makers who heavily customize Android. Confused yet? I don't really blame you if you are because this is complicated even though it shouldn't be.

Android 12 will look different depending on who made your phone just like Android 11 did.

The code that powers Android 12 is free to use and open-source. Google calls it the AOSP, which is short for the Android Open Source Project. But the AOSP isn't everything needed to power any device and the user interface — the things you see that you tap on or swipe — is very basic.

Phone makers need to take that free code and add a lot to it just to get a device to power up. Once that's done developers can get to work making it better looking and more functional. Have a look at what Samsung has done with Android. Samsung's One UI (the company's name for its phone software) is functional yet feature-rich and the company has done a lot of work to make it look great. Android 12, or One UI 4, is no different.

The thing is, it doesn't really look like the Android 12 you might have seen in any reviews. That's because those reviews were written when only the Pixel phones were running Android 12, so a lot of what was shown was actually Pixel-specific. Google isn't helping when it interchanges Pixel features with Android 12 features in the same blog post, and even we are guilty of not separating things enough. It's tough because we don't know exactly what Google forces phone makers to do until one of them does it, so we can't be 100% sure how any specific thing will look.

One UI Beta 4 Material You

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

This isn't just a Samsung thing either and all of the best Android phones run customized versions of Android. Samsung has a lot of pull with Google because the company, for all intents and purposes, is Android when it comes to market share. That's slowly changing but right now, Samsung is king/ But even the king has to follow the rules. Whatever company made the phone you're using or the one you're thinking of buying will be the decider when it comes to how Android 12 looks.

Android has always been different. Just embrace it.

It's a bit confusing to the consumer because most commercial operating systems, like Windows or iOS, are the same on every device no matter who made it. Settings are the same and in the same place, the things you love are on every other device running the software as are the things you hate. Android is just different.

The best part of it all is that if you like the software from a specific company now, it will likely be very similar once it's updated to Android 12. The second-best part is that none of us really has to worry about all this and we can buy the phone the looks and feels the way we want it to look and feel.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

25 Comments
  • This is the type of article that ought to be pinned at the top of the site, for the benefit of most Android users.
  • "if you like the software from a specific company now, it will likely be very similar once it's updated to Android 12." Unless it's Samsung where OneUI went from great in OneUI 2.x (Android 10), to sh*t in OneUI 3.x (Android 11) to absolutely unusable in OneUI 4.x (Android 12).
  • I've got One UI 4.0 running on my S21 Ultra just curious what is unusable? I don't have any problems with it.
  • No problems here either on the beta on my Fold 3.
  • Speak for yourself
  • You really want to tell yourself that, don't you? OneUI 3 was THE best Android 11 alternative, by a mile. The bugs in OneUI 4 is mostly down to Google's terrible developers not knowing what to do without asking Samsung for help.
  • Why is it Google's fault when OneUI has bugs on Android 12? Google doesn't have any idea about anything OneUI, Samsung's developers are the ones assembling their new OneUI version on vanilla Android 12. If there is to blame about OneUI 4's bugs, which is still in beta test, then it's Samsung's developers.
  • The OneUI UX hasn't largely changed since OneUI 1.x. OneUI 2.x and 3.x are just as great. I'm expecting OneUI 4.x to be the same. Sounds like you're just unlucky and need to factort reset. It's not OneUI, it's a well respected launcher.
  • I have One UI 3 running on my Fold 3 and it is great, no problems at all and my Fold 3 is the best phone I have ever owed...
  • This guy just trolls Samsung all the time. Nothing to see here.
  • I have no problems with it running on a Pixel since the Nov update. As for the looks, can't please every one.
  • Pixel's Android 12 skin is definitely the best looking UI out there.
    I really can't believe some people actually think OneUI looks better, for example. It's just choppy and sluggish and all-over-the-place. But tastes are different, thankfully.
  • "I can't believe some people actually think One UI looks better"
    And it does. Android 12 looks like it was made a preschooler. Also One UI is in no way sluggish and choppy, maybe go use a modern day Samsung flagship before commenting something that isn't true
  • They both look great. OneUI is very polished though, lots of little touches for better one handed use. Samsung is killing it with software designed for one handed use compared to Google and especially Apple.
  • Google was just trying to showcase everything that Android OS 12 can do (especially with the new Widgets and Theming). The true aspect of Android OS 12 will be how it is available from each Android Device Manufacturer (who's going to run more of a stock Android vs a skinned Android?)
  • I've been scratching my head over the obsession with the Pixel's new UI look. It's hideous. From the widgets, to the icons, it's just boring. I replicated the look with Good Lock, and couldn't stand to look at it for more than an hour.
  • One of the great things about Android, customization! Get a launcher like lawn chair and icon packs and make it look the way you want it to. I have been using custom Aosp roms since 2012 and I use ad blockers, vanced YouTube... etc... etc.. Using DerpFest rom on my OnePlus 7 pro now and it's my fav because it has TONS of customization and that's what I love. If I had an app on my device I didn't use or install or an ad idk what id do. I probably wouldn't have a phone. 😁🤣 I remember years ago I had a Motorola device and I picked it up at my carrier, Metro.. As soon as I got it home I unlocked the bootloader and installed magisk and immediately started deleting all the crap that was preinstalled by the oem. Once I was done debloating it, deleting apps, I the phone was fast and didn't lag at all whereas before it was scrolling choppy due to the ram being used by the apps that came installed on it. For me there is but two choices when it comes to phones, I either use a Pixel or a OnePlus. They are the best phones for using custom roms and modding in my experience.. If something isn't open source then it's no good in my opinion and 9 outa 10 times probably spying on you , or collecting your data in some way. ✌️
  • Customization is fine for those who are tech savvy, but what about some of us older folks that are not. I have a pixel 4a and the update made it so I can only have two programs open and to switch between them, have to touch the bottom row square, then circle, then program icon a couple times before it switches. The square used to be so I could close programs. Not so anymore. All it does is display the only two that are open. Just answering the phone requires the same pattern described above. Very frustrating just to figure this much out.
    Any help would be appreciated.
  • Open settings and go to system and then gestures and click on system navigation and switch to gesture navigation, which you can edit by clicking little settings wheel in the right. Then you should be able to simply swipe up from any screen including in an app to see all open apps and scroll through them starting from right to left and you can close them all by scrolling all the way to left and clicking on clear all. This is how I have my pixel 5 (used to have 4a5G) and all other android devices as it's much better in so many ways than old PlayStation button setup.
  • You can still go back to having the three buttons at the bottom. It's in Gestures in Settings. It's how Samsung still sells all their phones out of the box, with the three buttons. I prefer it. I can't standard the gestures on Android phones.
  • This article is great to tell us about it, but I wish it could just link the code and maybe how to do it because I have no idea how to code
  • You can't really say Google Pixel is just as custom as others. Google provides the base version of Android and it looks like what's on the Pixel. Google also provides some APKs to enhance functionality. But the version on the Pixel is literally the one true version of Android released by Google. Android is made by a bunch of contributors but it is streamlined to work on Pixel. Everyone else patches Google's version to achieve their goals.
  • Not at all. This is a common misconception. The Pixel runs The Pixel Launcher. Use device running Android One (not to be confused with Android version 1) and you'll see stock Android is a lot more basic. A lot of the features in the Pixel are exclusive to the Pixel Launcher, and aren't made available to other companies.
  • If I wanted no choice in what the software was like on my phone I'd get an iPhone. The major benefit of Android it's given us The Pixel Launcher and the equally excellent Samsung OneUI. Now both companies are making decent phones you can decide based on software. How it should be. They now both offer Android updates for years to come. This Android fragmentation is a thing of the path. How it should be. p.s. I'm only talking about Google and Samsung, its still a wild west with the other brands from the likes of Huawei and OnePlus but I would only recommend people get Google or Samsung anyway.
  • I honestly don't think it's as confusing for consumers as tech articles make out. A very non-technical mate went from a Nokia 6 (2017) running Stock Android 9.0 to a Samsung Galaxy S20 FE running OneUI 3.1 with Android 11. He was absolutely fine, because how it works is the same.