Android vs Pure Android – What’s the difference?

Android is not iOS. Of course, but the point I want to make here is that there is no single latest version or ‘flavour’ of Android. Being an Open Source project, anyone can create their own version of Android. This has so many advantages, but also some disadvantages as well. Let’s see.

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Galaxy S running a modded Android KitKat 4.4.4

I think one of the primary disadvantages is that people dislike Android without knowing Android! What? If you have used a Samsung Galaxy (or any ‘impure’ version of Android for that matter) and promised never to buy an Android device again, you already know what I am talking about.

Custom Android

Google is not known as a hardware manufacturer. Thus, it created the Android OS and allowed OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) to customize the OS and use it on their own devices. The phone manufacturers change certain things on the phone to distinguish themselves and to gain a competitive edge. This has obvious advantages but disadvantages too.

There are benefits of allowing OEMs to customize Android such as taking better advantage of the hardware components like camera and other sensors. At the same time, we get unwanted ‘bloatware’ or gimmicks which try to be useful. However, it doesn’t work for all. Not everyone wants smart scrolling (by tracking your eye movements) or Beauty mode in the Camera App or voice assistants that don’t work half the time.

The purpose here is to not put down phone manufacturers from customizing the OS. Rather, what I am saying is to ask yourself if you really need them. If you are comfortable with using TouchWiz or Sense etc. then that’s completely fine.

Then there’s the thing of updates. My first Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S i9003 in the above image) came with version 2.2 Froyo pre-installed. After waiting for several months in the hope that Samsung will update it to 2.3 Gingerbread, I was considering other options. XDA Developers came to the rescue with many developers supporting this phone. Fortunately. the latest version then, KitKat was available in the form of a customized CyanogenMod. I readily rooted the phone and got it installed. This significantly boosted performance and gave so many new features (of course, when you move from 2.2 Froyo to 4.4 KitKat). However, along with it came many stability issues which would slowly get fixed by the generous Devs.

Then we have the performance issues when the OEMs’ features are present. Which also take up precious storage space. Don’t even get me started on that.

Pure Android aka Stock Android

Think of Nexus. You get to experience Android as it was supposed to be experienced, like how Google intended it to be. Efficient, clean and understated.

What’s more? You are among the first in line to get the newest update of Android. I would have bragged about how cheap they are if I was writing this about 3 years back.

Okay, enough with the marketing material. The drawbacks of having Pure Android (although I can’t think of many) are that you won’t get OEM specific features (those that are actually useful) and all versions of Android looks the same (but, isn’t that what you want).

How do I experience this Stock Android

Fortunately, there are more and more manufactures who are interested in moving towards this direction.

Buy the ‘right’ phone

The easiest way to experience it is to buy a phone that comes with Stock Android (Nexus) or get one which is very close to it. Here are some phones you can  consider based on your budget.

  1. Android One (my previous phone) – get this if your budget is around $100. Fortunately there are many manufacturers (Micromax, Karbonn, Spice etc.) making phones for this spec. If you are living in the Indian subcontinent (or any country which sells Android Ones), consider yourself fortunate!
  2. Moto G3 (my present phone) – one of the awesome budget smartphones ever made (I am not the only one who thinks this way). Excellent battery life, LTE, a decent 720p display, 64 bit processor and of course Stock Android. FOr $229 with 2GB RAM and 16GB internal storage. Not bad at all. (Don’t get the 8 GB version)
  3. Nexus (es) and Moto X (es) – These are among the better contenders who are in the upper-mid and flagship range. Again, there are a few options (2 each) in the market currently for anyone who wants to go this way. Nexus started as a phone which shows where Android is heading, how Google wants  Android to be. Moto X’s on the other hand are stylish phones with premium build and specs, while having a near stock Android and a competitive price tag.

Then there other options which are customized but also have a clean interface. OnePlus and their Oxygen OS is one.

If you already have a non-stock Android

Install the Google Now launcher. This is the safest and simplest option. Also the fastest. You get Nexus like experience on your non-Nexus phone.

If you are feeling adventurous, you could try rooting the phone and getting a Nexus-like ROM. Like what I did with my Galaxy. Keep in mind it comes with risks. For instance, it can brick (like a coma stage) your phone.

Conclusion

Finally, not everyone will be a fan of Stock Android. Yes, there are many alternatives Android phones from Samsung, HTC, LG and so on.

To be fair, both Google and the OEMs have realised this and are favoring a cleaner, efficient Android. But we are still getting there.

Yes, I agree I am biased on this topic. Hopefully, this bias will help you make a more informed decision.

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