Why all Android phones (even Samsung’s) should run stock Android

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Why all Android phones (even Samsung’s) should run stock Android

Why all Android phones (even Samsung's) should run stock Android

Back in Android’s early days, the system’s open-source generosity offered a huge advantage to phone manufacturers. In the Android Eclair and Froyo eras, there was palatable whimsy in interface design. Owning an Android phone was fun, and manufacturers developed identity by interpreting the system in their own special ways.

But the modern Android experience is a mess of unnecessary customizations, ugly designs, and bloated app drawers. In short, Android’s biggest problem in 2018 may be Android itself.

But it never had to be that way. For years, Google has been trying to show phone makers that its pure vision of Android is best (anyone remember Google Play edition phones?), even going so far as to demonstrate stock Android’s superiority on its own Nexus and Pixel handsets. Yet still, nearly every Android phone uses a version of Android that is dramatically different than the one Google provides in the Android Open Source Project. And for the most part, that means slow updates, wonky performance, and an overall lousy experience.

galaxy s9 flatChristopher Hebert/IDG

The Samsung Experience on the Galaxy S9 is a far cry from stock Android.

Google’s ambitious Android One experience was never supposed to solve that particular problem, but it just might. When the platform was unveiled at I/O in 2014, it was squarely targeted at emerging markets. With a mission to “bring high-quality smartphones to as many people as possible,” Android One was meant to bring a clean, unadulterated KitKit experience (the current version at the time), to handsets short on specs and storage.

Nokia has taken a different approach with Android One. Earlier this year parent company HMD made the bold decision to switch to Android One for its entire family of phones, from the budget-minded Nokia 3.1 to the Snapdragon 835-powered Nokia 8 Sirocco. That means when you buy a Nokia phone you’re getting the peace of mind that you’ll get updates, and timely ones at that, for at least two years, and security patches for three years.

Or, as Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer at parent company HMD Global puts it, “pure and secure and up to date.” That’s something that can’t be said for for than 90 percent of Android phones, based on the latest Oreo adoption numbers. And it’s time the leading Android phone makers start closing the gap.

Premium feel in a budget phone

Under normal circumstances, a phone like the Nokia 6.1 would be just another sub-$300 Android phone in a veritable sea of them. With a Snapdragon 630 processor, Full HD display, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage, there’s nothing about it that’s particularly unique for its price, but Android One makes all the difference.

nokia 6.1 home screen Christopher Hebert/IDG

Oreo’s home screen is beautiful, minimal, and functional, but most Android users never see it.

It’s not just the interface, which is as clean and minimal as it gets. Without the extra layer of a skin or the intrinsic bloat of a fork, the Nokia 6.1 feels just as premium as the LG G7 or Galaxy S9. Battery life is stellar. Pages scroll smoothly, apps launch in an instant, and the application drawer is only filled with the apps you need. You won’t find a non-removable Facebook app, unwanted notifications, or superfluous settings to slow you down, and the launcher is actually purer Android than the Pixel (which uses a proprietary launcher on top of stock Oreo).

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