Stock Android - No Longer Mandatory
After owning several Android devices, some skinned (e.g. Sense) and some stock/pure Android, I've come to the conclusion that having a stock Android device is no longer mandatory for me. I have come to this realization after owning all Nexus smartphones, and currently, the HTC One. Blasphemy! I can hear the Android Army exclaiming all at once...but allow me to explain.
I still love stock, pure, unadulterated Android. I believe that it looks great, is functional, and helps with faster updates. None of that has changed. I used to think that I would only purchase a Nexus device, direct from Google, and that I could never be happy with a skinned device from the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG, or beyond. I was even hesitant to give Motorola a shot after hearing that they would customize on stock Android.
But then I got an HTC One in all of its Sense 5 glory. I thought I would just take the 30 day window, ultimately find Sense 5 on top of an outdated 4.1.2 an egregious mistake, return it, and happily return to my Nexus 4.
I was wrong.
There are some tradeoffs, sure. But it's not as one-sided as I thought. Sure, I'm eagerly waiting for the 4.2.2 update on my Sensified HTC One, but because I really want one finger notification expansion (already on the Nexus 4, and the only real 4.2.2 feature I miss) and the stock battery percentage in the Notification bar. But I've grown to really like how my stock, unrooted, HTC One operates. I love the keyboard. I love the lockscreen with shortcuts to my 4 main apps I need to launch from the lockscreen (Flashlight, SMS, Google Now, Camera) that I use frequently. I use the photo lockscreen to show a curated selection of my own photos (I have a special "lockscreen" folder in my gallery for this that I move my favorite photos to). I like the Sense camera. Power Saver comes in handy. Even TouchWiz has a lot of features that I actually like and enjoy, but I won't get into those.
The main advantages of a Nexus device that I usually see are as follows: fast updates to the latest version, onscreen buttons, and Google's vision of Android. Fast updates is still key, and very important. But that's specific to Nexus devices, and not necessarily Stock Android. Onscreen buttons/keys - I like these, but don't need them. I'm fairly unopposed to capacitive buttons for the extra screen real estate (and for the ones who argue the point about the ugly black menu bar on HTC devices: well that menu bar only exists sometimes, whereas on a Nexus, that button bar is always there except when watching video). And Google's vision is still realized, it just looks a little bit different.
Android got to where it is because of innovation that was found elsewhere, built by Google's partners. A LOT has been done, but innovation doesn't stop. It continues. Innovation builds upon innovation. So I no longer feel that stock Android should be the only version of Android out there. I want to use other builds. I want to see what HTC, LG, Samsung, Sony, and others can do with Android.
Look at WP - look at how hard it is for Nokia to differentiate its products from a software perspective (it is killing it in the imaging department, however). Windows Phone on a Lumia 1020 looks exactly like WP on a Samsung Ativ, and exactly like it does on an HTC 8XT. Do you guys want that? I now am confident in knowing that choice is good, even if that means the continuation of skins.