I'll show you how the big cell phone companies leave their mark on Android by altering the design of Google's mobile operating system. Editors' note, November 10, This article was original published on August 13, It has been updated to include details about Android Lollipop. Put almost any two Android smartphones from different brands next to each other, and you can easily notice they don't look alike. I'm not just talking about the obvious external design features; turn on the screens and you'll see that each operating system has its own style too.
What you're seeing is a custom "skin" that original equipment manufacturers OEMs create to run on top of the Android operating system. This skin alters many aspects of the phone's user interface UI , from the menu design to the home screen shortcuts. That said, each Android skin has its fans while some users prefer to avoid them completely for the stock UI. So, to help you find the best skin for you, I'm going to tell you all you need to know about each UI, and point out the best and worst of each.
Example devices: Nexus 6 and Nexus 9. Stock Android, also called "pure Android" or "vanilla Android," is the unaltered operating system created by Google. Android's design has evolved significantly through the years, from version 1. Holo first appeared on the tablet-only Android 3. The most defining characteristic of Material is its bright, colorful design -- the app drawer, notification shade, and settings menu have either white or transparent backgrounds with color icons. Nearly everything about Material is meant to be sleek, yet playful from the subtle animations with you unlock the screen, open the app drawer and unveil the notification shade.
There are also bright colors throughout the UI; in the settings menu, in the app icons and in many preinstalled applications. Transparency is a big theme in Material, with a transparent menu bar, lock screen and notification shade. There's plenty of white space, too, which makes text look more prominent. Stock Android can vary between devices, depending on the version of the operating system. Newer phones, that are either currently or soon to be running Lollipop, feature Material Design.
The most prominent feature in stock Android is Google Search. There's a persistent Google search bar at the top of each home screen that you can't easily remove and you can swipe up from the bottom of any screen to launch Google Now. That's really it, since the point of stock Android is to not clutter the phone with too many features. It's up to you to add the extras you want by downloading apps, or adding widgets to your home screen. What you need to know: Stock Android is the top choice among Android devotees because it gives them exactly what Google created.
The design is uncluttered, and all of the latest features that Google unveils with new versions of Android usually work just as advertised. Also, devices that ship with stock Android, such as the Nexus phones and tablets, more often than not are the among the first to get upgrades to the latest versions.
Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy S4. One of the most distinguishable UIs, Samsung TouchWiz has matured a bit over the years, but it's still one of the brightest and most cartoon-like designs out there. The interface dates back to with the release of the Samsung Galaxy S. TouchWiz is best known for its bright colors, whimsical animations, and a feature-rich design. There are elements of KitKat scattered through the UI, including the transparent app drawer and status bar, but Samsung hasn't hesitated to make its mark.
Icons are large, so they're easy to see and press. They've gotten flatter in the latest iteration, but they still have a bit of a skeuomorphic look designed to look like real-world items. The notification shade on the Galaxy S5 has a blue heading and navy background, with a row of settings shortcuts at the top that you can customize.
That blue accent color also pops up in the pre-installed Samsung apps, such as the phone dialer and the photo gallery. A big part of TouchWiz is that you can't customize the design or color scheme; you get to pick your wallpaper and change the font, but that's about it. Samsung does this partly to help make the phone easy to use for everyone, from Android veterans to first-time smartphone buyers. Continuing the theme of simplicity, many of the extras you get with TouchWiz are meant to make the phone easier to use.
First up is the aptly named Easy Mode, which puts extra-large icons and widgets on the home screen, simplifies the settings menu so you only see the most common options, and gives you an entire page for your favorite contacts. Multi Window is a feature that lets you view two apps at once, stacked on top of each other, so you can check out a webpage in one window and text your friend in the other. There's also Toolbox, a small circle that floats over most of your screens with shortcuts to any app on your phone.
You tap it to open a tray of apps, and when you're done, the circle becomes transparent so it almost disappears. Some additional features are available only on select devices, such as the Galaxy S5 or Galaxy Note 3 , including a health app, the "My Magazine" news feed, screen mirroring, gestures, and Air View. With its bright and simple layout, Samsung TouchWiz is one of the easiest UIs to use and it's great for anyone who's just getting started with a smartphone.
Part of why that's true is that Samsung sprinkles helpful features throughout that give you quick access to the apps and information you want. However, the bright and restricted design is polarizing -- some like it, others loathe it.
Also, Samsung's tendency to pack so many features into its phones can be overwhelming. Today we're up to version 6. Sense is centered around a sleek and elegant design, which keeps the home screen and menus tidy.
You get a little bit of control over the design, as you can pick your own system font and choose the color scheme for your phone. There are from four brightly colored themes and a black and white option. The notification shade is very much like stock Android -- simple, black, and has two panels. You swipe with one finger for your list of notifications, or swipe with two fingers for a grid of quick settings which you can customize.
One thing that sets Sense apart from other UIs is the app drawer. It has pages that scroll vertically, and you can adjust how many apps appear on each page. You can even make it your default home screen if you choose. To view it, you swipe all the way to the right.
You can change the color of Blinkfeed by picking different themes for your phone. Though they blur the lines between software and hardware, the Motion launch gestures are another key part of Sense. Using them you can do simple tasks with your phone by picking it, and tapping or swiping on the screen. For example, when the screen is off, tap it twice to wake it, with another you pick up your phone and swipe right to launch Blinkfeed.
HTC Sense is the most social UIs of this bunch, and I appreciate that it gives you some freedom to personalize your device. With Blinkfeed, all of your social updates are organized into a pretty menu, but if you don't want to use it, you can easily turn it off. While Sense doesn't offer as many customization options as other UIs on this list, I don't really miss them, because the design doesn't get in the way.
Example device: LG G3. The first version of the company's custom UI popped up on the Optimus Vu.
I'll be using that phone as my primary example here. Aviate , by Yahoo, adds some behind-the-scenes smarts to your Android home screens, grouping related apps together and aiming to surface what you need when you need it without any manual interaction. Open kinja-labs. The A. Filed to: Android Filed to: Android Android mobile smartphones Google launchers apps. Share This Story. About the author David Nield.
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