Android is the most customisable of the major mobile platforms, with manufacturers and users alike able to make their own alterations to the software so that it suits their tastes and needs. The platform’s open-source nature means Google’s software is capable of acting as a foundation for mobile manufacturers and software developers to build on to as they see fit, often resulting in the OS’s appearance varying widely.
Many manufacturers of Android devices alter the look of the software to suit a specific identity, both enabling them to offer individual functions and distinguishing them from competitors. ‘Re-skinning’, as the practice has become known, is now commonplace and the way in which the appearance of a user interface has been changed can play a part when it comes to consumers choose an Android device.
In the latest poll to run on the Dialaphone blog, we’ve been asking our readers which of the major Android user interfaces they prefer, giving several different options to pick from. As we have found is sometimes the case in these polls, there was one runaway winner that gained far more votes than anything else.
HTC’s Sense user interface is arguably the most distinctive Android UI on the market and one that is generally very well thought of amongst users of the platform. Appearing on many of the Taiwanese firm’s leading devices, such as the One X andDesire X, Sense is a well designed skin which provides an excellent front-of-house option for the Android OS.
First introduced with the HTC Hero in 2009, the earliest version of Sense was built on top of Android 1.5 and offered connectivity with Facebook and Twitter. The UI went through several updates which eventually led to a redeveloped, faster version called Sense 4.0 which can be seen on HTC’s One series of devices.
While keeping the basic Android interface mix of homescreens and widgets, Sense has a distinctive colour scheme that runs through its graphics and wallpapers. However, the skin’s most prominent feature is its weather and clock widget which dominates the main homescreen and has almost become synonymous with HTC itself.
Other notable features are the way in which particular functions can be accessed directly from the lockscreen by sliding icons into a loop which appears at the bottom of the screen, as well as the Friend Stream widget which pulls together social network feeds.
Differing quite significantly from the oft-praised stock Android UI, Sense manages to pull off the feat of being a manufacturer-created user interface that that has become popular and well thought of amongst users of the platform.
Second in our poll was Samsung’s TouchWiz, a widely used user interface which appears in different versions across both smartphones and feature phones. Since Samsung recently took the title of the world’s biggest mobile manufacturer, its leading UI is something that is used by millions upon millions of people and is widely appreciated.
The latest nature-inspired version of the UX appeared on the Galaxy S III and is a truly impressive thing, packed full of subtle animations and toned-down graphics. Mostly distinctively, the device is unlocked by sliding a finger on the display, an action which prompts a rippling effect across the screen with an accompanying water splash sound effect.
However, TouchWiz is not limited to high-end Android devices and also serves as the interface for Samsung’s proprietary Bada platform which is seen on some low-end handsets such as the Samsung Wave series of devices. TouchWiz is an all-round UI that can be tailored to a variety of needs and it is admirable that the software is versatile enough to extend across the Korean firm’s entire range.
Third in the results was the stock version of Android, which is very well thought of amongst fans of the platform. The basic version of Google’s software comes with a fully functioning user interface which can be seen on the Nexus range of devices by the likes of HTC and Samsung.
Huawei has also made an interesting move with its latest smartphone, the Huawei Ascend P1, by giving user the option of selecting either one of the manufacturer’s own skins or the stock Android software, an excellent feature which we found to be very useful.
Bringing up the rear was Sony’s Timescape and the LG Optimus UI, with the former being seen on the Japanese manufacturer’s latest leading handsets such as the Xperia T and Xperia S and exhibiting a distinctive appearance based on dark, moody graphics.
LG’s Optimus UI doesn’t make massive alterations to the Android basics but has a large weather and clock widget at the top of the main homescreen, not dissimilar to that used by HTC. LG’s UI is used across its Optimus range, from high-end devices such as the 4X HD to the budget L3.
Once again, the same poll was run concurrently on the Dialaphone Facebook page and, also once again, it has produced different results. Samsung’s TouchWiz won on the social network, with Sony’s Timescape also proving popular.
HTC’s Sense didn’t fare as well, considering the number of votes it took in the main poll, and the stock version of Android also didn’t perform as well.
Overall, the poll suggests that while the stock version of Android has proved popular amongst critics and commentators, there are many consumers who like the alterations manufacturers make to the Android platform. The Nexus project, with its stripped-down version of Google’s OS, is certainly held in high esteem amongst reviewers but it seems that the adaptations that particular firms make to the user interfaces still very much have their place in the smartphone world.