Google’s stock Android often gets a free ride from Android geeks who flock to Nexus and Google Play Edition devices, avoiding devices running Samsung’s TouchWiz, HTC’s Sense, and other manufacturer skins. But stock Android isn’t perfect.
Stock Android isn’t perfect. It has some big weak spots that are remedied by other versions of Android, both ones created by Android and ones created by the Android community.
Android’s multitasking is mostly useful for having multiple applications running in the background. Android has poor support for actually viewing two apps on screen at once.
This is not completely useless. Google sells their own 10-inch stock Android tablet, the Nexus 10, and it hasn’t found a solid toehold in the market. It’s a 10-inch device that you can only run one application at a time on. Android apps are already built to automatically adapt to different screen sizes, so surely it would be possible to view multiple Android apps on the Nexus 10’s screen at one time. This would give Android tablets a serious leg up in flexibility when it comes to Apple’s iPad and let them compete with Windows tablets and their multiple-application Snap feature.
Samsung offers a “Multi Window” feature on Galaxy Note and Galaxy S phones, as well as Galaxy Note and Galaxy Tab tablets. It doesn’t work with every Android app out there, but it’s a valiant effort from Samsung to make Android smartphones and tablets more flexible and powerful devices. Even on a consumption tablet, wouldn’t it be great to watch a video and browse the web at the same time?
Floating apps provide some multitasking, but they feel like a dirty hack as you’re forced to use the handful of apps specifically designed to float. Samsung’s TouchWiz does a better job of providing multi-app flexibility than stock Android.
Stock Android’s camera software is bad. This includes both the underlying camera layer and the Camera app itself. Every Nexus phone — from the Galaxy Nexus to the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 — has had a poorly reviewed and inconsistent camera. Google Play Edition phones that shed the manufacturer optimizations tend to have worse camera performance in reviews. The Camera app included with stock Android isn’t just feature-poor, it has a confusing and awkward interface.
This appears to be improving somewhat, as a recent update to the Nexus 5 improved its camera performance and made it more consistent. However, stock Android seems behind other Android skins when it comes to well-performing cameras and powerful, easy-to-use camera software.
Android manufacturers aren’t offering more powerful permissions systems, but community-developed ROMs like CyanogenMod are. While Google just ripped Android’s hidden permission manager out of the latest stock Android builds for Nexus devices, CyanogenMod has been developing their own permission manager for years.
Want to install a game without letting it scan your entire list of contacts and upload them to a advertisers’ server? You’ll either need to switch to an iPhone, root your device, or use an custom ROM like CyangenMod. Google seems like they want to restrict certain “power-user features” from stock Android, so users who choose stock Android because it’s not locked down may want to switch to a custom ROM like CyanogenMod.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of every little thing stock Android is missing. Samsung’s TouchWiz is notoriously packed to the gills with an ever-increasing list of gimmicky features that you may only use once or twice, but if you really like the idea of a smartphone that stays on when you look at it with your eyes, you’ll want TouchWiz and not stock Android.
Depending on the user, these other features can also be compelling. We’re sure there are some people out there who appreciate one of Samsung or HTC’s tweaks who wouldn’t be happy switching to a Nexus or Google Play Edition device with stock Android on it.