At one point, things really got out of hand. The beauty of Android was caked in so much makeup that Google’s vanilla vision was unrecognizable. There are merits to OEM skins, and in some cases software tweaks do add value to the experience. But, by and large, the main criticism against the top Android phones has been the unnecessary software bloat. Samsung is just one example.
Thankfully, manufacturers have dialed it back considerably over the past couple years. Just look at the difference between the LG G2 and LG G3. And HTC’s Sense? One of the nicest skins available. Even Samsung has made efforts to dial it back. Still, pure Android is top notch and now it’s better than it’s ever been with the release of Android 5.0 Lollipop. The best part? If you want a pure Android phone, you now have more options than ever before.
With the announcement of Google’s Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, the pure Android lineup is looking seriously powerful. Before, you maybe had a few mid- and low-end options, and never did you actually have an entire family lineup to choose from. Last year we saw signs the pure Android invasion was coming—we got devices like the Moto X, Moto G, Nexus 7 and Nexus 5. This year? The family has been expanded even further.
Now, fans can choose from a wide spectrum of handsets, spanning the affordable to the flagship. On the lowest end, emerging markets have Android One devices to choose from, which offer a pure Android experience at an incredibly affordable price. But look beyond that, and it really starts to get good. If you don’t want the messiness of OEM skins and the drawn out update process, you’ll be able to taste the sweetness of Lollipop on more hardware than ever before, no complicated flashing required. (Of course, you can simply download Google’s Launcher, but we’re talking about stock Android out of the box.)
If you don’t want something super powerful (and expensive) the Nexus 5 is still one of the best options available. It sports one of the most comfortable form factors on the market, and the consistent updates have improved upon the original experience compared to a year ago. Seriously, the camera is so much better on the Nexus 5 than it was when it originally came out, and the device is set to receive Lollipop in early November. Same goes for the Nexus 7 (2013), Nexus 4 and Nexus 10.
Just look at the lineup of pure Android devices you can purchase right now: Moto G, Moto X (or Moto X pure), Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 9, HTC One (M8) Google Play edition, SHIELD Tablet and I’d even throw the OnePlus One in there, though that runs CyanogenMod (based on Android). That’s seriously powerful, and all devices I’d recommend over anything running a heavy skin. And yes, we know some of those Motorola devices have slight changes made to the pure Android experience, but they’re pretty vanilla.
Pure Android enthusiasts are finding themselves in a situation they’ve never been in: buying the right pure Android device is actually a hard decision. As we said, the Moto X isn’t vanilla, there’s a Moto X Pure Edition for you, but there’s no skin on top, and you do get some really terrific software tweaks. Same goes for Nvidia’s SHIELD Tablet; not pure Android, though there’s no skin, and you get some great additional software. If pure, vanilla Android is what you’re after, the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 look to be the best Android devices to date.
Earlier this year, there were rumors suggesting Google was looking to kill off its Nexus lineup. In reality, it looks like the search giant is putting more resources behind the brand than ever before. When the Nexus 6 launches early next month, it’ll be available on a ton of carriers—before you could buy a Nexus on one or two carriers at the most. Not only that, but we’re seeing more companies embrace Google’s pure Android vision. That’s one trend I wouldn’t mind seeing in the future.
I won’t badger home the point of Android skins negatively affecting the experience any longer. The One (M8), G3, S5, and Note 4 are all terrific handsets. You can’t go wrong with any of them. But if a clean and unpolluted experience is what you’re after, the Nexus devices are now among the best you can buy, rather than just acting as developer toys.
Now it’s just a matter of actually choosing which device to get.