What Exactly Is Stock Android?

Stock Android, also called “vanilla” Android, is the most basic version of the Android operating system available. Stock Android devices run the core kernel of Android as designed and developed by Google. It’s typically distinguished by the lack of carrier-installed programs. For example, a stock Android phone on Verizon’s network will not include Verizon-installed apps. For many users removing this bloatware is a huge incentive, allowing them to regain control over their devices.

Stock Android is also typically not reskinned or redesigned by the phone’s manufacturer (OEM). For example, Sony runs a close-to-stock version of Android on most of their phones but reskins the OS to meet their design specifications. For an example of a heavily-reskinned OS, check out Samsung’s modified version of Android, called TouchWiz, or HTC’s own customized version of Android. It’s a huge departure from stock Android’s design language which may or may not be a turnoff.

Because Android is open source, OEMs and carriers can take huge liberties with core functionalities of the operating system. This is both a strength and a weakness. Android’s customization is a huge appeal for many users. Cheaply-licensed versions of the OS allow for cheap, powerful handsets. But it also means that carriers and manufacturers can make decisions that consumers don’t like and have no power to change. Stock Android frees you from all of that. You can experience Android the way it was “meant to be” without carrier or OEM interference.

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Running a stock or close-to-stock version of Android can accrue a number of benefits to the user.

  • Reclaimed storage space: stock Android removes carrier-installed apps from your device. As a result, you’ll reclaim some storage space for your own use.
  • Greater control over your device: removing bloatware provides greater control over what is on your device and what your device does.
  • Improved performance (maybe): carriers don’t always do a great job writing their apps. Poorly-written software slows your phone down and drains your battery.
  • Faster OS updates: most stock Android phones will get access to Android updates more quickly than their carrier counterparts. Mobile carriers have developed a well-deserved reputation for slow-rolling Android phone owners on OS updates. This often means long delays between official release of a new Android version and availability on carrier devices. Stock Android users don’t need to wait for carriers to modify and reskin Android for their phones. As a result the update can often be installed as soon as its available. This is especially true of Google’s Nexus devices¬†and Google Play edition handsets, which are sold around the premise of immediate updates to their stock Android OS.
  • Consistent design: designers build stock Android to be visually consistent. When carriers reskin or modify a comportment of the operating system, it often breaks that consistent design language. This can lead to a cluttered, messy feel.
  • Greater customization: it’s often easier for users running stock Android to root and customize their devices. Without carrier-imposed hurdles to leap, developers and modders have a little more freedom. One of Android’s biggest appeals is deep capability for customization, especially when compared to iOS’ locked-down ecosystem. Stock Android devices allow for more of that, and ROMs and launchers can be more powerful and easier to install.

If you want more control over your device’s functionality and update cycle, stock Android is amazing. You might forgo some unique carrier features or designs, but on balance you’ll be getting a phone with more storage space and faster operation.

Image credit: Android

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