You’ve seen people wax lyrical about “stock” Android online, but you’re not entirely sure what that means. The short answer is that it’s “pure” Android straight from Google, but that doesn’t explain why so many hardcore Android fans love it.
Stock Android Defined
It’s true that “stock Android” just means the version of Android that’s released by Google. Well, actually, it’s developed by the Open Handset Alliance. A consortium of 84 firms that work on developing open standards for mobile devices.
Most of the big players in the mobile space are members of the OHA, including Samsung, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Intel, and of course Google. Google is the primary commercial sponsor of Android development, but the operating system itself is open source and anyone is free to use it.
So it’s the approved release of Android by the OHA, sponsored and led by Google, that’s commonly referred to as stock Android.
Understanding the Android Phone Ecosystem
So, why isn’t all Android stock? Most Android phones you can buy today have a modified version of Android on it. At their core, it’s all the same basic operating system, but different phone makers modify or replace the user interface, add more features and preload their preferred set of apps.
Android is an open platform and so there’s heated competition between different brands of phones and tablets to stand out from one another. There’s a vibrant ecosystem of devices with radically different shapes, sizes, and features.
On paper, it sounds like a good thing for each phone maker to modify, expand and enhance the basic Android blueprint. For the most part, it is! However, there are distinct advantages that make the stock Android experience so appealing.
What’s So Great About Stock Android?
There are many reasons why someone would prefer stock Android over other options, but the first one most fans of frills-free Android usually bring up is that it’s, well, frills-free. Stock Android is relatively small, doesn’t require a powerful device to run well, and has a minimalist interface.
Perhaps more importantly, stock Android is free of bloatware: the applications and other content pre-loaded by Android phone makers that are often both annoying and difficult to get rid of.
Apart from cutting out all the bloat and offering a minimalist, snappy UI, stock Android also benefits from fast updates. If your device is running stock Android, you can update to the latest version of Android as soon as it’s released.
If you’re using a device that has a modified version of Android, you have to wait for the manufacturer to pop open the hood of the latest Android release and work its magic before releasing it to customers. That’s changed to a degree these days, with Android makers pushing out high-priority security and bug fixes almost immediately, decoupling them from major Android updates.
Stock Android is also completely Open Source, which means that (in principle) anyone can inspect the code and know exactly what’s on their device. It’s impractical to hide spyware or back doors in an Open Source software product. With modified Android phones, just about everything that’s bolted onto the core operating system is proprietary. So, to sum it all up when it comes to the good stuff in stock Android:
- It comes without bloatware.
- It offers a minimal UI.
- It’s open-source without proprietary bolt-ons.
There’s a lot to like about the simpler life offered by stock Android, but it’s not all pros and no cons!
What’s Not So Great About Stock Android
The main issue with stock Android is that it isn’t optimized for any one particular device. If you installed it on a random Android phone you’d lose access to any special hardware features of that phone without adding the proprietary drivers back in.
Stock Android is also not as feature-rich as the custom versions of the OS that are out in the market. For example, a native screen recording function has only become an official feature of stock Android in Android 11, yet phone makers such as Samsung have offered the functionality for years. If you care about the latest, cutting-edge hardware and software features, stock Android probably isn’t for you.
Likewise, stock Android has some catching up to do when it comes to multitasking and running multiple apps on-screen at the same time. Android 11 doesn’t yet offer an official “desktop mode” either, but Samsung phone users can use DeX.
How to Get Stock Android
So, if you want stock Android, how would you go about getting it? The simplest answer is to buy a phone with stock Android or near-Stock Android. “Near-stock” means that minimal modifications have been made to the OS and it retains the look, feel, and usability of stock Android.
There are a number of handsets you can buy that have the bloat-free Android experience out of the box. Google’s own Pixel phones are the prime example. You may also want to look for “Android One” phones, which are officially sanctioned by Google, and get at least two years of OS upgrades as they release.
If you want to load stock Android on your current phone, that’s far more complicated and it involves “rooting” your phone to get full administrator privileges and loading a custom modified operating system image on it, which can include stock Android. This is not something we’d advise a novel Android user should do, since if things go wrong there’s a real chance you’ll turn your phone into a paperweight. So be sure to do some serious homework on the process and its risks before you take the leap.