Now is arguably the best time in the history of the platform for Android users—the OS is getting better, updates are getting (slightly) quicker, and there are several excellent handsetS to choose from. If you’re not into the whole “manufacturer skin” that most are offering these days, however, it can be slightly less exciting to buy a non-Nexus phone. But giving your phone a “stock Android” look and feel isn’t as hard as you think.
If you’re rooted, of course, you could just flash a custom ROM based on stock Android, but most people don’t want to go through that hassle these days. If you have a Samsung phone, we recommend checking out our Samsung-specific guide–there are a few extra things Samsung has in place that let you make your phone feel like stock. For all other phones, read on.
Change Your Launcher
This is the first thing that I do on any phone, because it easily makes the biggest different right out of the gate. With Android, basically everything is managed through the launcher—the app that handles your home screens—so it’s one of the most dramatic changes you can make to your phone’s look and feel.
Even better, there are several really good launcher replacements out there. If you’re looking for a one hundred percent stock experience, you can get that on the home screen with the Google Now Launcher—the same one that you’ll find on stock Android devices.
However, if you’re looking for an experience that’s more customizable and still very close to a stock look and feel, I vote for Nova Launcher. It’s powerful, insanely customizable, and fast—what more could you possibly want? You can even change your icons in Nova to match those of stock Android, so you’re not stuck looking at Google’s Launcher with LG or Samsung’s icons. It’s a win-win all around.
Switch to Google Keyboard
Touch keyboards on Android have come a long way over the last few years, and Google’s own offering is now one of the best out there. Like most other things Android, it’s clean and minimal, not full of “fluff” features that no one ever uses, but rather has a focus on accuracy and meaningful settings.
Like Now Launcher, this is the same keyboard that you’ll find on stock Android devices out of the box. Grab it from the Play Store, install it, and enjoy your next step toward stock.
Use Google Camera
There’s a good chance that the stock camera app that comes with your phone is robust and full-featured, which is nice, but sometimes you just don’t need all that. If you want something simple and easy to use, Google Camera is the app for you. It does a good job of keeping the picture taking process a clean one, as it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that you’ll find on most other cameras—just hit the button and snap the picture. The idea here is that Google Camera will do most of the heavy lifting for you, automatically setting exposure, ISO, shutter speed, and all that other good stuff.
But there’s one catch: it’s not available directly from Google Play. If you want to install the official Google Camera, you’ll have to grab it from APK Mirror and sideload it. Keep in mind that there are two different versions of Google Camera—one for 64-bit phones, and one for 32-bit phones—and you’ll also have to enable “Unknown Sources” in your phone’s Security menu. Honestly, your phone’s default camera app is probably just as good, if not better–but if you want a truly stock experience, grabbing Google Camera is worth the extra work.
Drop the Stock SMS App and Switch to Messenger
There is no shortage of messaging apps in Google Play, and even Google now has a bunch to choose from. But I think Google really got it right with Messenger, the new(ish) stock SMS app for Nexus devices. It uses Google’s Material Design user interface for a clean, sharp look, but it’s not just a pretty face—it works exceptionally well, too.
But really, I just mostly love how good it looks. I don’t understand why so many other messaging apps can’t seem to get this right. Messenger is my jam.
Give Google’s Other Apps a Shot
Your phone probably ships with the manufacturer’s choice of various apps—Calendar, Gallery, Clock, etc. The thing is, Google’s stock offerings are probably better (or at least a lot cleaner), and you can use those instead:
While that won’t get you a perfectly stock phone, it’s definitely several steps in the right direction. Switching to Google’s own apps will give your phone a much more stock-like look and feel, which can be a big improvement on many handsets out there. And really, if you don’t like it, you can always switch back. That’s the power of choice, baby.