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How important is stock Android to you these days?

Is there any debate in the tech space more tiresome than Android versus iOS? Maybe Mac versus PC? If you're deeply entrenched in the Android world, there's one other argument you've probably heard and maybe even participated in dozens of times over the last decade — stock Android versus … pretty much everything else.

For years, stock Android essentially just meant whatever the operating system looked like on Google's own Nexus and Pixel phones — though these days even that's a bit of a loose definition, with the Pixel getting its own unique features like Now Playing and Active Edge. Still, what we see on the Pixel 2 and Android One phones can be roughly equated to stock Android; it's Google's pure vision of Android, devoid of any unnecessary software additions from your phone's carrier or manufacturer.

Depending on your stance, that barebones approach can either be stock Android's strongest or weakest point; with such a short list of pre-installed apps, you get a great-looking clean interface that would please any minimalist, but you also start to miss out on features and innovations that other manufacturers have built into their "forked" versions of Android.

Samsung has built a reputation over the years with its heavy-handed approach to software, and while it always runs the risk of overloading users with too many features (or doubling Google's services with redundant features in its own apps), it's also led to a number of great new features, some of which eventually made their way to stock Android — namely split-screen multitasking. Similarly, HTC's Edge Sense technology, first introduced on the U11, was integrated into the Pixel 2 and 2 XL.

Stock Android tends to be great if you live that Google-powered life.

A lot of the best features in various phones don't make it to stock Android at all, though. The LG V30 still has the uncontested best camera app for recording video, with a wide range of manual video controls and even the ability to shoot in Cine-Log. The BlackBerry KEY2 lets you selectively store photos in an encrypted locker that won't upload to cloud storage or appear in your gallery. The Galaxy S9 allows you to create a separate instance of certain apps like Snapchat for quickly and easily managing multiple accounts.

Stock Android is great; it remains my personal preference in most cases since I live a mostly Google-powered life. However, depending on your needs it isn't necessarily the complete package. As a video producer and enthusiast, I would love to be able to take advantage of the V30's video capabilities, but alas — stock Android's options are very limited when it comes to filming. Even if you operate exclusively on Google services, it's easy enough to disable or hide the majority of unwanted apps on a non-stock phone and still benefit from the additional features included.

That, of course, begs the question — is stock Android still important to you (assuming it ever was in the first place)? Has the smooth, clean experience of the Pixel won you over, or are you more interested in having as many useful features as possible, regardless of the resulting clutter? Let us know in the comments below!

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

99 Comments
  • zero, Samsung Android is 5 years ahead of Google Android in ergonomics... anyway Google is copying Samsung features all the time... even Android 6 from Samsung is more ergonomic than recent Android from Google
  • As a former Moto/Nexus/Pixel owner and current Galaxy S8 owner, I can say that I prefer Samsung's take. Stock is a little more smooth and updates rapidly, but it was comical to see how many small features that Samsung added to fill some of the gaps in stock Android. I used my brothers Pixel the other day and it felt like a brick wall without mortar between the bricks. Samsung has had a ton of features before Stock. Even things as simple as messaging back-up.
  • It's tough to argue with your assessment. I have an S8+ and I love it. Its kept up to date (usually a month or two within the latest patch) and runs very very well. With applications like Good Lock (and its subsequent apps that use Good Lock as a springboard) plus all the little cracks/crevices filled in by Samsung that stock lacks; I really really like it. Plus, IMHO, Hardware beats Software any day and Samsung easily has the best.
  • I agree as well. I have an S8 that also runs very well. I disagree with the author's take that any feature above and beyond stock is useless or bloat. The bloggers on this site go on and on (and on) about how great stock Android is (i.e. Pixel) to the point that feel that I should like it more than I do. I've played around with the display Pixel 2 XL at my local Best Buy a few times and although it's fast and smooth, it just feels lacking in features and settings for its price point. Not ruling out getting one when I replace my S8, however the stock experience isn't enough to lead me to make a switch now. Further, I haven't found that the OS updates really added features that Samsung wasn't already offering.
  • Software over hardware, so you like your software to lag and be full of useless gimmicks masquerading as "features" Google's software is better than Samsung's trash software.
  • Yeah? Well my daddy is stronger than yours!!
  • 100% true,,that s where Pixel Rocks
  • This is simply not the case my S8 doesn't lag and we all know but most of these features Google will Steal later on
  • Are you absolutely sure that Google is copying Samsung and it isn't just that you don't understand how open-source codebase contribution works?
  • That's why they are using Samsung over Pixel. Because Pixel software is buggy and slow
  • Nope that would be Samsung's trash software that's buggy and slow.
  • Samsung is good at Bloatware
  • Um... no. Samsung is slow and buggy with their bloatware. LMAO last time someone gave me their Samsung crap
  • Samsung's software is trash, bloated and full of useless gimmicks that cause the phone to lag, Google has fewer features than Samsung but the features it has are far better executed than Samsung's half baked offerings Samsung is nowhere near Google in AI with Bixby a complete joke against Google Assistant.
  • It's only a gimmick if you don't use it.
  • Don't forget we have Google assistant on our Samsung phones you really should relax a little bit.
  • I typically install nova launcher on any Samsung device. I prefer a cleaner experience.
  • I have an S8+, S9+ and a Pixel xl 2. The Samsung screens are second to none but other than that, they don't compare to the Pixel experience. Android runs sooooo much smoother on the Pixel line. The Samsung Experience feels bloated and slow in comparison. Then there is the camera. S8+ is good, s9+ is better and the Pixel 2 is the best. From my experience, the Samsung experience is terrible.
  • Samsung gives us Bixby and other crapware we do not want.
  • Yup
  • It's no about stock android or not, it's about "can i customize everything the way i want to" . My first Android Phone was a BlackBerry PRIV. Then i had an u11 for some weeks (while the priv got repaired). The difference that got me off getting an HTC was the apps they force me to use. First of all FB and the worst Phone app ever (htc's). So i bought a pixel 2 XL. And google let me KI there Cloud and use my nextcloud for calendar, and backup and contacts and keep... And i could even choose another launcher. In HTC the news app alone is a reason to torture some devsbecause you can only get rid of it by rooting your phone... And Samsung is even worse.
  • What apps do Samsung force you to use? I can't think of one Samsung app on my phone that I can't use an alternative of, or that can't be turned off.
  • Turning off apps is not the answer,Uninstall Samsung useless apps is the answer.
    Besides Samsung is not great at making apps period.
  • You know how they counter this problem on Samsung phones Samsung gives you plenty of storage and expandable storage.
  • Meh, I must want a phone that I can customize. Not a huge fan of stock Android.... Now beno in 3.2.1....
  • But you can customize stock Android and not have to worry about having bloat ware aside from Google apps
  • I didn't say you couldn't
  • You can customise stock Android by slapping on Nova launcher and I'll get back 90% of what Samsung has without the lag and bloat. Stock Android all day long over Samsung's bloated mess.
  • Ok and?
  • Okay we get it you don't like Samsung go away
  • I'll go with stock anytime.
    It's smooth, nice to look at, and gets fast updates with for a long period of time.
    What's not to like?! 😇
  • Yup. That's my primary factor when choosing a new phone. I panicked a bit when the Nexus brand was retired because I was not going to fork over Pixel money. Huzzah for Android One!
  • Toss up for me. Either or, I make it work. That's the great thing about Android.
  • Not important at all. ZERO, ZILCH. I never had a stock android device until the original pixel. I was using a samsung galaxy S7 edge at the time. So, like many others, I fell for thr hype and pulled the trigger. The pixel turned out to be the biggest dissapointment ever. It was ugly, no faster than my S7 edge, the edge took much better pictures too. I sold it after 3 weeks.
  • I use Nova Prime and the same 3rd party apps (like Textra, etc) on pretty much every phone. So as long as the hardware is fast, it doesn't matter too much to me
  • My first Android phone (and still my current phone) was/is the Nexus 5x. The timely updated and lack of bloatware has sold stock to me.
    I will actively avoid Samsung for all the sh*t they put on their phones, including trying to force you to use Bixby. I'm also invested in the Google echosystem (chromecast, google homes etc) so i'd prefer to stick to Google and their stock products for compatibility reasons.
  • Um you don't have to use Bixby you know and my S8 work perfectly with all of my cast devices no compatibility issues here
  • I prefer it for the design, but more functionality offered by other manufacturers would be nice. A bit like what OnePlus and Lenovorola are doing. However, I think it is more important in low to mid-range phones. They are usual neglected by manufacturers in regards to timely security updates. This is where "Stock" Android One should make a big difference.
  • I used to see"stock" Android as a canvas I could build on myself... But Google doesn't seem to like user customisation anymore. I don't mind a skin that actually adds to the experience, but so few of them actually do.
  • Perhaps just a smaller list of apps that cant be uninstalled.
    The first thing I do with a new phone is to remove pretty much every app or game the phone will allow me to. Then I get what I want. So less is more imo.
  • The things that are important to me are timely updates and no bloat, and most manufacturers fail to deliver on both counts. I know how to find and install the apps I want. I get it that carriers and manufacturers get paid to include them, but why prevent people from uninstalling them? If I go in and attempt to uninstall an app, it's a pretty clear indication that I don't want it, so why stand in my way and force me to keep it, unless I'm willing to root my phone? And don't even get me started on updates. If Samsung wants me to pay Apple prices, then they need to be just as timely with their updates. And they also need to tell the carriers to take a hike with their bloat. Again, they're charging premium prices, so I expect a device free from that junk. So, no, I'm not married to the idea of stock, but, at this point, stock is the only version that gives me what I want.
  • I'm a fan of stock android. I don't need a plethora of extra features that i'm never going to use and i like the fact that phones with stock or nearly stock android tend to get more frequent security updates. (And if any features are missing that i want then i can always find something in the play store)
  • Prompt security updates are the key. Which phones get the most timely updates? I think that will tell you whether or not stock Android is important.
  • I prefer "stock" (we need to a better term, since the original meaning has changed over time), but I don't think it's for everyone. The way I use technology, I want my UX to emphasize freedom and simplicity.
  • I don't care if it is stock or not. I just have found the Pixel and Nexus phones to have a much smoother UI experience. I use Google services and don't need another browser, email client, messaging app, photo app, calendar app, etc. And I definitely don't want a phone to get slow after 6 months like I experienced with Samsung S6.
  • I had all the Samsung devices and swtiched to Pixel XL 2. I'll never go back. Sick of waiting a year for the latest Android OS to finally become available. Case closed on that point alone. Also hate all the Samsung bloat. I don't want bixby. I won't use Samsung apps. Beautiful devices. Horrible SW. Pixel is always running the latest OS and none of the garbage polluting my Samsung.
  • Comes down to personal preference. For me I don't want stock. I enjoy Samsung's version of android and all that comes with it. Don't give me that bloat, sluggish performance, updates BS either. Today's Samsung is not your father's Samsung. I enjoy the features that Samsung has that stock doesn't. 3-4 years ago I wouldn't have said this. Everyone is different and it comes down to you. Choose what you like.
  • 👏👏👏👏👏👏
  • It is second only to good battery life. I left the Samsung S line after many years of continuing bloat, abysmal OS updates ,and ridiculous over saturation of colors in the display.. I do like some Sammy features but not enough to go ever back. I'm anxiously awaiting the Pixel 3 this October. I'm still rocking the Pixel XL and my only complaint is the battery is starting to slow down. But after almost 2 years of daily use, I can't really complain much. I was lucky to get the S line batteries to last a year before they started wearing out.
  • Hear hear
  • I like the Samsung S line in principle, but I still see too much slowdown setting in after 3-6 months of regular usage. My last personal straw was the S7Edge I had that went from hero to zero in the same time period.....just silly amounts of lag setting in. Maybe they've found a way to lick it. After that, I tried the basically stock Essential PH1 and loved the simplicity. But the bad T-Mobile reception, inconsistent charging and mediocre camera caused me to seek another option, and now I'm on an HTC U11. HATE the HTC Sense stuff I cannot get rid of, but I've mostly replaced the dialer, calendar, mail etc. to what I like. Hasn't slowed down in 5 months of usage. Super stable. I'm kinda looking at the US B/C versions of the Asus Zenfone 5Z for my next....hoping it'll be the best of both these worlds.
  • Going from a 3T to a Pixel 2XL I miss the 3T like crazy. 3T had just the right amount of customization and nice improvements without straying much from stock.
  • While I prefer "stock" (or rather Pixel's) Android, not having it isn't a deal-breaker by itself, since a lot can be done with launchers. For me the problem is what usually comes along with heavy customization: a lot of apps that I won't use, including duplicates from Google apps that I do use, a general sluggishness in the interface when compared to the Pixel, software quirks like the recent Huawei/VLC situation and, worst of all, the lack of timely updates. I have no problem admitting that Samsung, Huawei or Asus, for example, have better (and arguably better looking) hardware than my Pixel 2 XL, but their software still isn't ideal for me. I hope Project Treble starts addressing the updates part, but the fact that no Samsung or Huawei phones were part of the Android P beta was a red flag for me. Also, right now, what is even "stock" anymore? Some of my favorite Pixel features, like "always playing", the "at a glance" info, the fingerprint sensor gestures, the squeeze to call assistant, the Google bar below the app dock and the gestures on the P beta, are either part of the Pixel Launcher or specific hardware features.
  • It's extremely important, that it not be in my phone.
  • It is not that important to me. In fact, like many others stated, I preferred my Samsung experience over the Pixel experience, just because of so much more it could do. Personally, I would rather have more options that I can turn off or not use than to never have the option at all.
  • It's not important at all. I was a Nexus guy forever but always had to add Gravity Box and a million other things to get back the features I didn't have with the Google Experience. While I loved it for the faster updates, I actually preferred USING my other phones. The camera app on my G6 is what every phone should have. What is the point in having fantastic hardware if you dumb down the way you interact with it. It's almost like they go out of their way to give the bare minimum when it comes to options.
  • Stock Android is like buying a car with manual steering, manual brakes, manual windows and only an AM radio. I want features in my car and on my phone. No thanks to stock Android. It's the peasant's choice.
  • Samsung's bloated and lagged software is for the peasents and Samsung fanboys are as bad as Apple fanboys, no scratch that, they're WORSE, they're the cancer of Android.
  • Dude, you are out of control. Your Pixel love and bashing everything that's not, is tired. You are a boring person. If you're going to call someone a peasant, spell it correctly. Don't edit your post either and say you spelled it right. It's ant not ent. Get a life.
  • I'm not bashing everything that's no a Pixel, just software that's not, no go and call out all the Samsheep that troll Pixel threads it's you that's the boring one, good luck getting Android P in 2019 if you're lucky lol.
  • Hahahahahahahah... ok your not bashing anything that's not google...hahahahahahahahah..ok I am sorry you just wrote your not bas....hahahahahahahahah
  • He doesn't realize all the tripe he spouts. It borders on ridiculous.
  • The only real stock Android is Pixel. So by bashing all software that's not Pixel, you're bashing all other phones.
  • Err Android One is also stock Android, get your facts right, who's spouting tripe now?
  • I didn't forget about Android One. It is currently a version of stock Android for non-Google phones. Android, or better phrased Google's take on stock Android is on Pixel phones. PERIOD.
  • You forgot about ALL Nokia phones as they are stock android and get Google Updates first also.
  • Yeah but the Pixel gets the updates before even the Nokia phones with Android One.
  • Still fairly new to Android from Windows Phone (So don't rake me over the coals for this...) but since I use a launcher, what's the biggest difference between using a launcher on a Samsung device vs a launcher on a Pixel? Is it just the little extras the phone has that make the difference (OnePlus reading mode for example) or are there other things?
  • Stock Android is extremely important to me, I'm not interested in any bloated OEM skins ruining Android and making the hardware lag, I have all I'll ever need with my Pixel with the fastest, smoothest, bloat free and best Android experience with consistent monthly security updates and getting the latest version of Android way before everyone else.
  • I get you about bloatware, I have a phone that came with Chrome and Gmail app that I would like to remove because I don't like but I can't. So you see what sometimes you think is great, to someone else it's just an irritating bloatware. What happened to tolerance. Android is supposed to offer choice. All people who have hatred for any other Android distribution other than the Nexus|Pixel Android are no different to people who only prefer iOS, because both groups don't believe in the capability to choose.
  • I respect what the likes of Samsung bring to Android but I don't want Samsung copies of Google apps on my phone and gimmicks masquerading as "features" on my phone and I care about platform updates and consistent security updates which Samsung cannon match along with Bixby being a poor man's Google Assistant. Why not be critical of those who have an irrational hatred of the Pixel? I made my choice of the Pixel because it has what I want and is the most secure Android phone you can get and I can always slap on Nova launcher to get 90% of the features of a Samsung, LG or Sony, etc.
  • Stock Android is not important to me. I prefer variety and freedom of choice. I can always use a launcher and widgets to provide a consistent experience.
  • Even tho I LOVE stock Android , I still have to go with Samsung on this one it's just so much more feature rich and runs just as good
  • Stock baby! Buying an unlocked Pixel 2 straight from Google has been like a breath of fresh air since owning a Samsung G S6. My heart was never content with the color scheme choices of Samsung's UI nor the redundancy of apps! The S6 felt like a data bloated brick because of all the things that needed to be tweaked to become a closer version of (Stock Android.) 4-5 Months later of owning the Pixel 2 I still haven't found myself missing any of Samsung's gimmicky features. My phone feels seamless and whole lacking the unessential and unnecessary. (G) PHONE 4 LIFE!!! Last upside is that I can customize from a blank canvas if I feel led to do so.
  • Stock Android to me is the best OS I have ever used on any type of hardware. The biggest thing that makes it so good to me is that it is the fastest OS I have ever used and it never slows down over time (unlike Iphones, non stock Android phones, Windows computers, etc.).
  • I think Android and open source is about choice, so the very idea of this question tries to defeat the giving people choice.
  • Very important to me. Pure Stock Android is the only way to go.
  • Stock. That's why I've always used Moto phones and more recently the Pixels. If I want to customize it, I can do that on my own, but I have no need to be 6-9 months behind on updates, and have multiple apps for the same thing. Stock is my preference.
  • It's not about looking the same, it's not about having the same amount features or the lack there of.
    1. Google has a design language called Material Design. Almost all apps use that language. If a phone OS create their own design language, it will look different from the apps it runs.
    2. Google use very good practice and consistent graphic api to render the apps and OS UI. Some company use their own graphic library, namely Samsung and such. They first of all don't work that well with the apps, secondly no company can write better code than Google, and certainly won't work better with all android app. This reason alone is exactly why Samsung S7/Edge lag so much and why Samsung phones have such short battery life despite their big battery.
    3. Certain apps that works with the OS assume the OS use certain APIs. Such as pinning apps to the home screen or changing wallpapers. Not all launcher or OS use the standard APIs. The result? wallpaper display off space, operation fail or behave weirdly. Lack some feature at all due to not being able to implement new Android platform feature quick enough into the OS. Such as action/slice, shortcuts, dots, splitscreen, just to name a few.
  • I prefer Google's view of Android, and how it should look and operate on a phone released by the originator of the Android system.
  • Stock Android is the worst version of Android possible. If a phone has it, I don't buy it. I'm not interested in having a Maserati with the motor of a Ford Fiesta.
  • Waits for beno *gets popcorn* one over the top zealot for google. And one over the top zealot that hates google Djcbs.....
  • Give it a rest, DJCBS, Samsung's software is the ABOMINATION of Android, the worst of the worst, I'm not interested in anything that's not stock Android, or Pixel in particular, I so need or want the extra "features" or gimmicks that I won't use and that I have to turn off and disable that with slow down the phone in a few months, I like my phone to be bloat free, fast, fluid and pure Google (Pixel) and nothing else.
  • Stock Android doesn't sell. Why do you think Samsung and Huawei are at the top of the heap? Consumers want features. Only the tech media and nerds who visit these sites will argue about skins and calling things bloatware or gimmicks. (Which is funny because when Google implements that "gimmick" or adds what was once called "bloat" to the next version of Android, it's all cool). I've bought phones that ran stock android or had a skin on them and I've all set them up the same way. Install Nova Launcher disable the apps I don't need (even on Google phones) and now my phone looks the same. And hey, maybe I get a couple of extra features here and there. As far as the update situation, all you should care about is getting monthly security patches. On ANY phone. The hysteria of "Oh your phone is not running the latest version Android" is hogwash. The next version of Android is just a version number. Most of the "features" or "gimmicks" that are added, is probably on the skinned phone you already have.
  • Stock Android is still selling well, just not at the levels of Samsung and Huawei, but I wouldn't change my Pixel 2 XL for any bloated Samsung or Huawei who's ugly UI is just a poor copy of iOS.
  • Not nearly as important as it used to be. As long as I have a quality camera, I'm golden. Back in the early days of android, when the Google apps were tied into the OS version, it was a huge deal to not have updates. You were truly missing out on functionality in Android. Now just about everything is split out, with most of Google's apps being available to everyone in the Play Store. Security updates keep phones secure (when manufacturers decide to push those updates out), and core android OS functionality has remained pretty consistent for a few versions now. Samsung implemented the split screen that Google eventually brought into Android.
  • Stock or light touch like OnePlus /Moto. Everything else is garbage
  • It's important enough that I won't buy a good device if it isn't stockish software.
  • Stock Android is not important to me. I believe Android is about freedom of choice and customization. I prefer some of the additional features included on my phone. To me it's easy to hide/disable/remove any apps I don't want or need. I can also customize my phone with a launcher, widgets, etc to create a unique but consistent experience.
  • Very Important to me.
  • I used to be in the stock android camp. Then I was tempted by the SPen and DeX features of the Note 8. Now I prefer the features of the Note 8 and regard the Google Apps, with the exception of Maps and YouTube, as bloatware. If only they could be uninstalled instead of disabled.
  • I have a moto z play droid (verizon) for work and my personal phone is a note 8 (unlocked).
    There are a lot to like about the moto, and it runs close to stock android, it is mostly smooth, superb battery that got way better with oreo, the gestures. But all the things that make this phone nice are all moto additions. twist for camera, shake for flashlight, moto mods.
    Stock android is great for minimalism. usually smooth, clean and unless you have a verizon phone minimal apps.
    Samsung on the other hand throws everything at you. Tons of options, lots of apps, most are better than googles. Yes, they are a bit heavy handed. But I have found the simplicity a bit to simple and Samsung goes the opposite.
    The integration Samsung does makes using it really nice, one handed mode, always on display, picture in picture, theme store, good lock, routines, and more, I even prefer the settings but I may just be used to it. The ability to modify the notification panel. Do I wish I could uninstall the apps I don't use, of course, but I can disable them and never think about them again. Samsungs integrations are really smooth and don't seem to be an after thought. There is one thing I prefer about the Pixel specifically is updates, Some other phone manufacturers are right there with them but Samsung needs to step up. Stock android is excellent for simplicity but many manufacturers have added extras, some good some bad, but the good ones google seems to put into android in future updates.
  • Samsung's apps are lame against Google's superior offerings, and Bixby is a joke against Google Assistant and Motorola is crap as well. I won't buy any phone that isn't a Pixel now.
  • I have a motorola. But, samsungs version is good too. Very modern looking and has many features. If only samsung produced good mid range phones, I would buy them instantly. And this is coming from a guy who hates the ICS and jelly bean days of samsung. So, stock or not doesn't matter to me.
  • It's essential for me to be as close as possible to stock/pixel Android.
    I already lowered my personal restriction, but it needs to be very similar to that. Some companies like Samsung are completely out of my focus and I'm not even considering buying such a phone for their wild and outrages modification of Android.
    Keep it simple. There's an app for all of the rest if you want it.
  • Despite the limitations, "pure" Android seems to be an essential to those who appreciate it and also depending on one's primary purpose for owning a phone! With the 'death' of GPE devices and since no one single phone can dualboot pure Android and customised Android presently, anyone who can afford can have a pure Android phone for a primary device and a secondary device with altered Android versions, also to stand as a backup phone.
    And yeasss Pure Android is still very important for its fluidity, timely updates, ergonomics and security, if any of those matter to u anyway!
  • These no limitations on pure Android, just slap on Nova launcher and hey presto, you get 90% of the customisation of a Samsung or LG without the unnecessary bloat and lag.
  • Stock is my only way to go. I had a hard time with different skins (e. g. LG UI looks to me like a cheap fusion of Windows and iOS, EMUI is just crap imo, Samsung's skin is way too heavy,...) but since I use LineageOS i'm just happy.
    Updates are a huge pain on OEM skins, too.
  • Google's version on Pixel devices is still a good definition of "stock", in that it still has the fastest, most robust, update schedule, and allows you to participate in developer previewsfor at least the next couple of major releases.