Stock Android – I still don’t miss it
Three months, ago, I wrote a post titled, "Stock Android - No Longer Mandatory". This post was based on my experience with the HTC One after having owned it for a month or two. I found Sense refreshing because it was different, but it added lots of features such as a more useful lockscreen (shortcuts to apps), a better camera interface, BlinkFeed, Sense Keyboard (still my favorite keyboard), and even Power Saver. My full thoughts on Sense 5/HTC One can be found here: http://www.theverge.com/2013/7/12/4518570/stock-android-no-longer-mandatory
1 week ago today, I bought a Galaxy Note 3 on a whim. I never owned a Note device, but thought it would be an interesting device for my smartphone collection. After my enjoyable experience with the HTC One on Sense 5 and Android 4.1.2, I wasn't sure how I'd adjust to TouchWiz. Long story short - I've adjusted just fine.
Before I go on about TouchWiz, I want to make a general statement about Android; after it hit v.4.1.2 and moreso, 4.2.2, I found Android itself to offer essentially everything I want and need in a smartphone. That is of course, until the next big idea comes around, whether that's from Android, iOS, or WP8. Android is now a very mature and stable platform; yes, there are still bugs, it still isn't as smooth as iOS or WP8, and I'm sure there are features in custom ROMs that would be nice to have. But that's the point; a lot of stuff is in the "nice to have", not in the "must-haves" or even the "I really want X feature" categories.
With that said, skins no longer mean a hard decision because it still runs Android. I understand the arguments about aesthetics and design choices, along with discussions on hardware decisions (e.g. the button decisions like the format of the HTC One and the menu button on the Galaxy devices), but those are all subjective, so I'll leave it at that. One thing I will say is that having a Home button makes it incredibly easy to wake the phone when it's sitting on my table or desk without having to reach to the side or top to find the power button; this alone is a huge feature for me, but I digress.
With Android, I'm able to do everything I want and need to do with ease and customizability is still the best of every mobile OS out there. That means less boredom, and more utility. But skins like Touchwiz add a lot to the equation; I'm really enjoying the S-Pen on the Galaxy Note, and features like Multi-Window really do stand out as features that make the whole mobile experience better. For example, before I got the Note 3, I had a Nexus 7 and an HTC One. If I was watching YouTube videos and chatting, I would use the Nexus 7 for the video, then pick up the HTC One in order to chat through SMS, Hangouts, or Facebook Messenger. The ability to dock a YouTube video up top and continue on with my chats, browse Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and the web, all without having to switch apps, is amazing.
The one thing that DOES bother me is that it's more difficult to access Now; I installed a free shortcut app called Home2 that allows me to double tap Home to get to Now, but I shouldn't have to do that. A long press on the Home button does show a Google shortcut, and long pressing menu sometimes works to launch Now (it launches S Finder if I hold the button for a second too long), but it shouldn't be that hard. But I do have to say that I find that this is really the only nuisance I've come across.
As many of you, I eagerly anticipate the launch of 4.4 and the 2013 revisions to the Nexus lineup, and perhaps a new device (Google SmartWatch?). But even so, this one-time Nexus and Stock Android warrior has found peace with manufacturer skins. I'd even give LG's skin/UI a shot!