Most people in the market for a new Android device don’t really know the difference between the stock Android version and the skinned varieties generally publicized. While you may be inclined to believe that a manufacturer skin is nothing more than just that – a skin – it is certainly not the case anymore.
The Samsung Galaxy line is one strong case in point, along with the HTC One. While people are swarming to get these devices, they are not generally aware that the features they so covet are not actually part of the original Android operating system.The original operating system, or the stock version, is typically bare and includes only the basic functionality (something that is changing now with recent updates). Features such as the BlinkFeed (HTC One) and Air Gesture (S4) are actually developed by the manufacturers (HTC and Samsung in this case) and are custom modifications made to the stock Android OS.
This effectively means that every manufacturer is able to offer unique features, developed in-house, in order to make your use of an Android device more convenient. This also means most people out there don’t know what the real Android OS looks like (it can be very bland compared to the fancy manufacturer skins). However, the downside to manufacturer customized Android versions is that you ultimately have to depend on the manufacturer for future updates (since Google has no control over custom versions) and most of the times, manufacturers play their updates keeping commercial factors in mind (we can’t blame them really).
Moreover, manufacturer customized versions are generally much larger in size (due to the additional features) and take up more space on your device’s internal memory compared to stock Android (check out the free internal memory on an S4). The additional features often also mean more RAM and processor consumption, which ultimately leads to more battery drainage as well.
Most power users (with rooted devices) opt to uninstall or freeze manufacturer installed software and features, but a general user is typically stuck with a manufacturer skin. There are free launchers available on the Play Store that can help you change the user interface somewhat, but they don’t effectively remove or modify the custom software installed on your device. One way out is to install custom ROMs provided for free by the developer community, but that again requires you to have root on your device.
On the other hand, stock Android is supported directly by Google, and is generally available on the Nexus line of devices (however, recently the S4 and HTC One stock Android editions were also released). In this case, Google has direct control over software updates, and Nexus devices are generally the first to receive new Android versions. This is actually a very important point for people who like to keep their devices up to date and not depend on manufacturers, who often stop supporting last generation devices in favor of recent entries.
In the end, the decision to go with stock Android or manufacturer skin depends on your own preferences. If you are attracted by the features advertised by manufacturers and don’t intend to get into modifying your device or rooting it, you should stick to purchasing manufacturer modified devices. However, if you are a power user looking to sport the latest Android version and customizing it yourself, you will love the stock Android experience.