Google is now selling stock Android editions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One in addition to the Nexus 4, featuring Google’s software without the usual manufacturer customizations. You can get a more stock Android-like experience on your existing phone, too.
Most Android manufacturers take advantage of Android’s openness to replace the standard launcher and even other applications like the keyboard and calendar app. We’ll show you how to get the more Google-driven experience on your phone.
Replace Your Launcher
The “launcher” is the part of Android that handles your home screens and app drawer. Many manufacturers replace Android’s default launcher with their own. Unfortunately, they also strip Android’s standard launcher out of the phone so you can’t use it if you prefer it. Google doesn’t yet offer the stock Android launcher on Google Play, although they’ve recently been trying to make Android more modular, so Android’s launcher may be available from Google Play in the future.
While you can’t yet install Google’s official launcher, you can install third-party launchers. Some third-party launchers are very different, while others are very similar to Google’s stock Android launcher with only a few more configuration options. If you’re looking for one just like Android’s default launcher, install Nova Launcher. The standard version is free — the paid version just gets you some additional configuration features that aren’t found in Google’s default launcher, anyway.
After installing Nova Launcher — or any other launcher — just tap your home button and select Nova Launcher. Select Always and Nova Launcher will become your default launcher.
Install Google Keyboard
If your phone’s manufacturer has stripped out Android’s default keyboard and added their own, you can install Google’s official Android keyboard. Known as Google Keyboard on the Play Store, this keyboard is the same as the keyboard added in Android 4.2 and contains all the good the swiping and autocorrect features.
Best of all, it can be installed on Android 4.0 and up, so if you’re using a device that hasn’t yet been updated to Android 4.2, you’ll be able to install it and get a more advanced keyboard — assuming your device is using Android 4.0 or later.
Install Google Calendar
Some manufacturers replace Google’s official Calendar app with their own, inferior calendar app. If you’re an Android user and a user of Google’s services, you’ll probably want to use Google’s official Google Calendar app for the best experience and integration with Google Calendar.
Like Google Keyboard, this app was once only available if it was included on your device in your manufacturer’s skin. However, you can now install the Google Calendar app from Google Play to get Google’s official Calendar app on any device — as long as you’re using Android 4.0.3 or later.
Replace Your Lock Screen
Manufacturers love customizing their phone’s lock screens. Google doesn’t offer Android Jelly Bean’s default lock screen in Google Play, but you can get a very similar experience by installing Holo Locker. Just install the app, launch it, and enable it — your phone or tablet will now have a lock screen that looks and functions just like Android 4.1′s default lock screen.
Other Official Google Apps
Many of Google’s official apps are available on Google Play, although they may not come by default on all phones. For example, some phones ship with the Google Earth app, while some phones don’t. Either way, you can install it from Google Play. To browse a full list of Google’s apps, look through the Apps by Google page and install the apps you want.
Unofficial Ports of Stock Apps
Apps like the standard Gallery, Camera, Calculator, and Clock apps are not available from Google Play. However, some developers have gone out of their way to port unofficial versions and make them available in the Play Store. For example, Moblynx offers free, ported versions of the Gallery, Camera, Calculator and Clock apps from Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean versions of Android. If your phone includes your manufacturer’s versions of these apps and you’re not happy with them, you may want to install these unofficial ports of the official versions.
Flash a Custom ROM
Flashing a new ROM on your Android phone is the only way to get the complete stock Android, Nexus-like experience. There are certain things you just can’t change without installing a completely new build of Android. You can’t get rid of your manufacturer’s skin over Android and go back to the stock experience, nor can you install certain default Android apps, like the standard People app.
Most popular Android phones will be able to install something like the popular CyanogenMod, which has some tweaks but is very close to the stock Android-like experience. If you have a Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One, you’ll probably be able to install the Android ROM from the “Google Play Edition” versions of these phones to get a more official, Nexus-like experience — although installing these ROMs on the standard versions of these phones isn’t officially supported.
For more information, read our guide to flashing custom ROMs.
Installing these apps — or even installing a custom ROM like Cyanogenmod — won’t give you the complete Nexus experience with timely official updates. However, they can help smooth over the rough edges in your device manufacturer’s customized software and give you an experience more like the one Google’s Android designers envisioned.
Image Credit: Dru Kelly on Flickr
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 07/16/13