Android is everywhere, but sometimes it’s a little hard to tell. Samsung’s Android is not the same as HTC’s which is not the same as Alcatel’s. Every OEM pours a little of their own flavor into its version of Android. Some for the better, others…well, not so much. But in a world where 80% of the market is using the same platform and you have no less than two dozen competitors all touting the same OS, what can you do to make your product stand out and shine? Skin it of course!
Which leaves us, the consumer, in an odd and sometimes confusing place. Android is Android is Android right? Wrong. So, we decided to give you our take on the various skins that are residing of Android phones out there and let you know where we stand in that department.
So, Pocketnow, what is your OEM skin of choice on your Android phone?
“It’s not a choice, but a lack of options.”
I don’t know whether this is fortunate or not, but I don’t really have much experience in the skin department. I’ve had a lot of webOS phones, and a bunch-but-not-as-many Windows Phone phones, but I’ve only ever owned two Android phones – the Samsung GS3 and the Nexus 5 I’ve reviewed an Alcatel phone or two, but as far as using a daily driver, my experience it very limited. In some ways, I preferred the GS3 skin over stock Android, but the phone became a laggy mess after a time. It is my understanding that that has not improved with age.
I’ve heard really good things about LG’s iteration of Android but my colleague here at Pocketnow and elsewhere all seem to agree that Sense is really the way to go – if you can’t have stock. So if I was forced to use a skin, I would probably go with that, but that’s with very little actual hands-on experience. If forced to choose between what I’ve used, I’d probably go with stock, but not by much over Touchwiz.
Anton D. Nagy
“I can live with anything, but HTC and Sony do it best.”
I am a little torn between HTC’s Sense skin (the latest iteration that comes on 2014 devices), and Sony’s own user interface that graces the Xperia Z3, Z3 Compact, and Z2 (though the Z2 has a slightly older version). What they both have in common is the fact that they are both snappy, and they both dig deep in the operating system. However, the similarities stop there, as design-wise, they couldn’t be any more different. We all know how they look and feel, so I won’t go into details. Why these two? While I can live with basically anything, including Samsung’s TouchWiz or LG’s own take on user interfaces, I find HTC’s and Sony’s to be the most elegant for my tastes.
“Long time fan of HTC. Hasn’t let me down yet.”
My favorite Android skin so far is HTC Sense 6. I’ve been a fan of HTC Sense since the time it was called TouchFLO 3D on the HTC Touch Diamond. It really wasn’t just about the added elegance, but really because it made the UI more useful. A contact card wasn’t just a contact card, but a door to social media, interactions, etc. That same added value is found today on Sense, but with a lot of simplicity. In my opinion, this is the most balanced experience, and one that I miss every time I need to switch away from the One M8.
“Stock Android for me. If you need a skin, I pick Google’s.”
“Skins” are something interesting and confusing at the same time. A true “skin” is something that an end user can put on and take off, much like changing your clothing to suit the circumstances and your shifting interests. T-Mobile forged ahead in that arena, only to throw in the towel. Fortunately, the carrier ended up releasing its code to the public, allowing others to pick it up and run with it. Various custom ROMs built in that functionality, including CyanogenMod.
Android, however, doesn’t lend itself to skinning. Since OEMs and carriers both want to brand the experience that you “endure” while using “their” hardware, the term “skins” has been applied to this practice as well. One cannot easily change between skins, however, thereby confusing the name and the concept.
All that aside, I’m an Android Purist. I like the way Google makes Android look. It’s generally consistent, easy to navigate, and has virtually no learning curve – anyone can pick up an Android-powered phone or tablet and instinctively know how to use it.
The newer versions of HTC’s Sense UI are getting lighter and less “proprietary”. They look very close to stock Android. LG and Samsung, not so much. I really don’t like using either of their products because they are so different from one another, and from Android-proper. Asus and Motorola have been pretty conservative when modifying the stock Android experience. I’d prefer to use a device built by either of those two than LG, Samsung, or HTC.
At the end of the day, when I’m done reviewing, testing, sampling, and reporting, I’m happy to go back to my Nexus smartphone or Nexus tablet. I don’t have to think about how the OEM wants me to use its device (and gets in the way), I just sit down and use it.
“Sense makes too much…sense.”
If I’m gonna be locked in to a third-party UI on my Android smartphone, my first choice is HTC’s Sense skin. It’s not perfect –its multitasking view could be smarter and the vertically scrolling app tray is a real chore to get used to– but it’s also got a lot to offer that other skins don’t. Sense features cool modern typefaces and a spacious layout that blends ease-of-use with a hip, attractive look. The software keyboard is so good I rarely change it back to Google’s stock solution, as I do on other devices. Little details like sound effects are just as present as they need to be, and no more. Most importantly, Sense is ultra-smooth: the One M7 and M8 are some of the most responsive devices I’ve used on a day-to-day basis despite the UI touching every corner of the software experience. If you ask me, manufacturers looking to improve their own third-party Android UIs need look no further than Sense, and the leaks we’re seeing for the next version have me excited to see what HTC has in store for Android Lollipop.
“Sense is a pleasure to use.”
I’m usually an Android purist. I used to kick and scream when I jumped the gun and bought a new phone, only to learn I couldn’t load stock Android (or, at the very least, CyanogenMod) on it. And, yes, I still prefer stock Android over any other version of Android I’ve ever tried to date, but that doesn’t mean I have to hate them all.
I used to despise Sense. It was bloaty, slow, and a rather terrible eyesore. I found out how to disable it on the HTC Hero back in the day and shed a few tears when HTC decided to evolve Sense to be more than just a pre-installed launcher. Now Sense is present across every inch of the UI. Two years ago, I still hated it, but Sense 5 and Sense 6 are, dare I say, a pleasure to use.
In fact, I installed stock Android on my One M8 after having some trouble with a Bluetooth issue with my car stereo which put the phone in an infinite boot loop. But after just a few weeks, I found myself actually missing Sense. I wanted the viewfinder software back, BlinkFeed, and the quick settings panel in the notification shade.
Sense has come a long way and it shows HTC’s dedication to great user experience, even as it struggles to stay afloat. If Samsung only put half that effort into TouchWiz, it would be unstoppable.
“What skin works for you?”
So, HTC pretty much runs the board with our editors. What say you? Got a think for TouchWiz? Loving that Sense? What OEM skin works for you? Sound off below!