Phone makers like Samsung, HTC, and LG technically make Android phones, but what you see on their screens barely resembles the “clean” version of Android that Google develops.
That’s because phone makers add their own software features, or “skins,” on top of the pure version of Android so that they can differentiate themselves from other phone brands.
Unfortunately, while some skins add great features that you wouldn’t find on any other phone brand’s phone, it also means that you get a lot of extra apps from the phone maker and carrier.
And more often than not, apps made by phone makers and carriers tend to be poorly designed both aesthetically and functionally. It’s the reason why a lot of Android fans prefer Google’s version of Android over the bloated versions phone makers create.
Here’s a look at all the ways phone makers are changing Android compared to the clean version from Google’s own Nexus phones.
This is the pure version of Android with no skin layer on top, and this phone (the Nexus 5) was bought unlocked directly from Google. That means all the apps you see here are Google's own, and it results in a clean, simple interface that's not confusing. It also means no carrier apps. Even though LG made this particular phone, there are no LG apps, either.
The Galaxy S6 has Samsung's TouchWiz layer on top of Android. As you can see, it looks much different than pure Android, and there are many extra apps from Samsung and the carrier (AT&T in this case). There are several duplicate apps for messaging and emailing, for example, which can be confusing. There are also a bunch of apps, like Yellow Pages, Uber, and Facebook that come preinstalled, which is somewhat intrusive, as the user should chose which apps to install on their devices. Notice the sharing menu on the bottom right with so many apps that it's hard to find the one you want to share to.
HTC has a skin layer called Sense. It looks quite classy, but it still carries a lot of HTC's and carrier bloatware. (T-Mobile, in this case).
The G4 comes with LG's UX layer, which comes with a lot of LG and carrier bloatware. This from Verizon, which has a history of adding tons of extra apps to Android phones it sells.
Now onto the general look and feel of each layer. Each device has it's own flavour for telling the time and/or weather in their lock screens. Only the HTC and LG layers (bottom row) have a row of docked apps on the bottom, which let you swipe up from the app icons to open directly from the lock screen. Pure Android and Samsung TouchWiz (top row) only have shortcuts for phone and camera.
Each phone maker has its own take on the notification shade, which is the menu that appears when you swipe down from the top of the screen.
These are the useful 'hubs' that appear when you swipe right from your main home screen. You'll get Google Now in pure Android, Flipboard in Samsung's TouchWiz, BlinkFeed (a news app) in HTC's Sense, and Bulletin (another news app) in LG's UX.
Google's Android phone app isn't available in the Google Play Store, so you're stuck with whatever your phone's manufacturer thinks would be good for you when you want to find a contact to call. The result is a bunch of wildly different interfaces depending on which phone and carrier you choose.
This is the shortcut menu for changing your wallpaper, widgets, and settings. You get it when you press and hold an empty area of your home screen. LG's UX (bottom right) looks cluttered, but it's the most useful as it lets you choose where to put apps on your home screens while the others are merely shortcuts that lead you to different menus.
Every phone maker has a similar app manager as pure Android's, except for HTC's Sense, which shows you recently opened apps in multiple windows.
If you don't like your phone brand's apps, you can find most of Google's own versions in the Google Play app store. Or you can just get a Nexus device from Google, which has no bloatware from phone makers or carriers.
If you don't want a Nexus device, you can limit how much bloatware on your phone by buying an unlocked version directly from the phone maker, which eliminates any carrier bloatware.