Sunday 27 August 2023

The Android Vanilla Club

I do realise that this title for my unofficial, informal group of Android devices doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny as all OEMs (even Google with Pixels) go their own way to some degree these days. I think that the closest we get to AOSP is probably with the Nokia devices now (and maybe FairPhone) - but I won’t let this bunch of technicalities put me off my stride! Pretty much everyone includes their own Camera app/software, so we’ll give that a pass. So here’s my list of devices (in roughly ‘distance away’ order) that I consider to be ‘vanilla’ enough to at least retain the feel of the AndroidOne Programme in 2023…

Very, very clean and as Google intended, back a few years ago. Depending on the model, they do add some stuff (like the Red Button on the XR20) but otherwise the experience is as close as it gets.

A very close second, though by definition, the hardware has to meander off in order to make it ‘modular’. But beyond that, the software experience is very close to AndroidOne/AOSP.

Probably a close-ish third, though we do now start to get ‘padding’ - in a Nokia Red Button kind of way, here with the whole Glyph thing. The UI in software is also fairly heavily skinned with their so-called NothingOS, but look beyond that and it doesn’t stray too far and does indeed somehow retain the look and feel. It’s also kind-of British!

Depending on the model, Moto tends to leave much of the Vanilla intact. There’s a very consistent bunch of stuff they do add, which somehow doesn’t feel like it gets in the way of the feel of the pure experience. MyUI adds functions which are generally useful and helpful rather than toys or bloat. Like Ready For, the Peek Display, three-finger screenshot, chop-chop for torch and twist-twist for camera.

Sony Xperia
A little further away, Sony tinkers with the experience more - but usually with, like Moto, very useful functions and ability. We know the oft’ quoted list of the camera, video and music apps, 3.5mm audio-out socket, microSD Card support and HDMI-Out, but there’s also the fact that FaceBook and LinkedIn continue to be stuck in ROM, AlbumArt on the AoD is great (at least for now), LED Notification Light (at least for now), some of the ways in which Settings are offered - and little things like using Samsung’s 10 minute screen time-out maximum rather than the ‘standard’ 30 minutes. So yes, Xperia phones do retain the look/feel to a large degree - but we are meandering further away now.

Google’s Pixels
Surprisingly far down my list is, yes, what Google offers. It is ‘clean’ in the sense that it’s what the original developers of Android are currently doing, but there are loads of bells and whistles, Pixel-only exclusive functions, apps and services which move it away. There’s also the whole UI which has ‘stuck in place’ elements (like Search and At A Glance) which is really not in keeping with the original idea of Android, forcing the discontent to install 3rd party launchers. But most Pixel users (other than me) consider all this to pale into insignificance as they focus on the camera and AI-driven photographic capabilities, clearly Google’s main USP.

The Prices
The big question then is what price are users prepared to pay (in terms of distance from Vanilla) in order to get the cool bells and whistles offered by other manufacturers. Edge Panels and Galaxy Stores, GoodLocks, super-zoom lenses, Ready For and DeX, price (as in money this time) with BBK Group and other far-east challengers cutting price and corners (in some cases) to get stuff out there into people’s hands. For the open-minded user willing to compromise, embrace, enjoy and make the most of these embellishments (and much more), well, perhaps they consider the view at the destination worth the bus-fare. The obvious contender, in this case, seems to be Samsung - for those willing to dwell in their world and make the most of the amazing functions and capabilities.

Now, there probably are some outliers which I have not got in my list (after all this was only a lazy Sunday afternoon thought experiment) - like maybe ZenPhones and OnePlus (though that get’s more ColorOS by the minute rather than Cyanogen). I wonder what you think.

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