Call me conventional but I’ve always loved the stock Android experience instead of the altered user interface that can be found on some HTC, Samsung or Motorola devices. The simple nature of Google’s mobile UI is beautiful and usually the fastest, but what happens when that privilege is denied on your brand new smartphone? Well, there are some means of replicating the stock experience on most Android devices, a trick which can be done with or even without rooting.
Depending on the weapon of choice, users can tweak their handsets to look and react pretty much like a Nexus device just by using several Google Play applications. Those who wish to get even more in touch with the core experience may resort to rooting and installing a custom ROM which permanently removes the skinned interface applied by various manufacturers. We’re going to tackle both ways, so pick the one most suited to your preferences.
Getting stock without Rooting
Probably the most straight-forward method of the reverting to Android stock experience is through the use of several applications, which include launchers, keyboards, lockscreens, default apps and more. Although this is a method which might consume more time, it’s surely the safest way of achieving the purpose and for some, the simplest.
Step 1: Applying a launcher
The launcher is perhaps the most visible part of Android, being the main navigation tool for most tasks. It appears when users press the home button on most cellphones and it gives you access to home screen icons, widgets and the app drawer. This component is also the part where most of the skinning occurs, so replacing the launcher should create quite the impact.
While there are several variants on the market capable of offering a great experience, we’ve selected the best in one of our previous posts. At that time we mentioned Nova Launcher, Apex, Go Launcher EX or Holo as viable options, but for today’s scope we’re going to stick with Holo.
The main purpose of the Holo Launcher is to bring the stock Android 4.0 interface on older phones or, on those with a skinned interface. It comes with the complete suite of Android icons, folders, outlines and drawer tabs, alongside other interesting tweaks like infinite scrolling and pre-defined gestures. The amount of customization given in Holo Launcher is kept at its bottom limit, only to preserve the classic Android experience.
Easy to set-up and quick to use, Holo uses only 20 MB of RAM memory and it’s free to install for every type of phone. A paid version also exists and extends the feature set with overlapping widgets and multiple configurable drawer tabs.
Besides Holo, a good variant would also be Nova Launcher but this is an option not so close to Google’s experience. You see, by resorting to any other launcher instead of Holo, you would be actually trading one tweaked interface over another, because each and every launcher comes with its own interface, icons and customization icons, options which usually extend beyond the simple scope of Android. Nevertheless, they can still be seen as ways of ditching Samsung TouchWiz or HTC Sense.
Once a launcher has been installed, you can apply it by pressing the home button and responding to the dialog that appears. The system usually asks how should the action be completed, and by selecting the newly installed launcher and pressing on “Always”, the launcher will be set as default.
One more thing. Some launchers come without the stock Android icons and require an additional package for that. If you are using Nova for instance, you will have to go to Nova Settings -> Look and Feel and then set the Icon Theme to “Stock Jelly Bean”. We’ve listed below the icon links for two other popular launchers:
- GoLauncher EX
Step 2: Picking the lock
The next step would be to replace the lock screen on your Android handset with a stock one. The lock screen is simply a Google Play application which can be applied as the default screen whenever the user locks the smartphone. While we have a list of the best options available, the one that replicates the Jelly Bean experience in full is Holo Locker. Once installed, Holo Locker must be enabled simply by opening the application and by ticking the first checkbox.
Afterwards, Holo Locker can be tweaked to support a few extra options like an emergency unlock feature or the possibility of hiding the status bar completely (in Jelly Bean, the notifications bar can be previewed right from the launcher, a feature which has yet to be implemented by many 3rd party options).
Step 3: Replacing the keyboard
There’s a clear advantage for those wishing to change their Android keyboard and enjoy stock experience, as Google recently released their very own official variant right on Google Play; with a catch, of course. The package can only be installed on Android 4.0+ platforms and it’s available only for a limited range of countries and languages.
Complete with Skype-borrowed concepts, the package can truly be installed on other handsets as well, by manually downloading the APK. Of course, this will limit the experience by denying updates and may not work perfectly on some models.
Besides the stock, Android users can also rely on two other interesting alternatives: SwiftKey or Swype. Both of them are highly appreciated and come with a wide range of features which are not usually found in the stock variant. The bad part is that you’ll have to pay for the privilege.
Step 4: Missing Google apps
Each and every Nexus phone comes with a small range of Google applications pre-installed. Manufacturers like Samsung and HTC also include these applications in their devices but usually, they come with a modified interface and functionality. In order to get even closer to a stock Android experience is recommended to install the original package of the following services:
- Google Chrome – the default browser in newer devices
- Messaging – although not available officially, the APK linked in the source works perfectly for text messages. The bad part is that when pairing the application with Google Voice messages will it will cost the user money.
Unfortunately, some features like the dialer, People, Camera and Gallery applications cannot be ported without rooting but alternatives can be found.
Step 5: Wallpaper
Now that most important elements have been installed, a last small step would be to apply classic the Android wallpaper on the entire package. Those interested can resort to an XDA thread for a Jelly Bean edition. Things become complicated when it comes to live wallpapers, but a good place to start is here.
Rooted? Install a Custom ROM
My personal choice would be to root the device and then install a custom ROM, which comes pre-loaded with all those elements presented above. While a bit insecure, this option is a straight-forward method and cuts down complications with manually choosing a keyboard, a launcher and so on.
Unfortunately, a simple, Nexus-like custom ROM is hard to be found and virtually any option out there contains some extra features and changes which might not seem appealing for everyone. On the other hand, the amount of functionality gained through these ROMs is a precious thing and in the end, users get a good bargain.
With so many devices out there, we can’t simply list custom ROMs for each one. A good variant would be CyanogenMod, which usually serves most Android devices out there with the latest OS version available. Besides that, cutting-edge features have been added which include but are not limited to custom theme support, advanced sound equalizer, quick-settings menu and even more. It’s a very popular package, updated frequently by contributors from all around the word.
Those who tend to believe that CyanogenMod became a bit old-fashioned can search manually for an alternative, using the ROM Manager developed by ClockworkMod. The package allows users to search and manage ROMs through a handy UI, while installing can be done right from the SD card or, over-the-air. The XDA-Developers forum can also be considered a great alternative for new and amazing Android ROMs, but deep searching has to be done first.