Since the release of Android on T-Mobiles G1, one of the greatest aspects of the operating system was the open source. Google released their source to manufacturers to allow them to make the Android OS their own. With each unique interpretation available to consumers, different features and flaws come. I will do a complete rundown of the three main Android skins out. Motorola’s Motoblur, HTC’s Sense, Samsung’s Touch Wiz. Each skin brings something different. Whether it’s UI changes or widgets, you definitely know it’s there. Compared to the basic “vanilla” Android OS, these skins usually provide better social networking integration, media controls, and contact management.
First let’s talk about HTC Sense.
HTC’s Sense UI is nothing new to users of Windows Mobile. It was implemented on the HD2 and the Hero after they dropped their old UI, TouchFLO 3D. HTC’s primary focus on their new UI was to change the way people use the device. They wanted to bring a unique experience to their phones that would aggregate all pertinent content to a specific widget. Widgets like Friend Stream, pulls data from Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook accounts to show status updates. The Android community’s preference over Sense UI is subjective. Some users like the widget based integration while other rather utilize the stand alone application. The option is still there, but now you have a choice. The Android OS is underneath HTC’s UI; As a result, most devices experience some lag issues. That’s mostly to the integration of a skin over an existing OS.
The Sense UI upgrades the real estate of the device with 7 home screens, 3 more than vanilla Android. Widgets like an RSS reader and Weather Forcasts are usually an application that would be downloaded from the Android market; however, HTC throws this in as a standard feature. With all the screens on Sense UI, sometimes it can become cumbersome to manage all your content; this is where HTC Leap comes in. Pinching your fingers together over the screen activates leap. Doing so reveals thumbnails of each home screen’s content.
HTC’s Sense UI is designed with grace and ingenuity in mind. While not for everyone, it definitely makes a smart phone easier to use. Power Android users may find it annoying but you cannot knock HTC’s effort to bring their ideas to a new OS and actually implement it well.
Next up. Motorola’s Motoblur.
Motoblur first initiation on Android was practically a joke. Not because of the UI but of the hardware it was on. T-Mobile’s Motorola Cliq was nothing comparable to the Grandfather G1 and as a result the consumer market didn’t receive it well. One thing the Cliq did do was make it easier put an Android device in a customers hands. Customers who had no idea what Android was could easily pick up the phone and not even know it was a “Smartphone.” Motoblur’s ability to put everything on your home screen was a real treat. Face book, Twitter, and MySpace updates were all streamed. All messages like texts, emails, and social networking messages were placed together as well.
Most of the features of Motoblur are really features of Android. Things like contact sync with social networking. App, Calendar, and Contacts are synced with Google’s servers just incase your phone is lost or stolen. Motoblur just makes things easier for the end-user. Who can blame them? They made the Razr, which is possibly one of the most known phones in the world. Worst thing they want to do is to adapt a new OS and lose their fan base.
Motorola’s latest version of motorblur, which is found on the Droid X and Droid 2 is arguably the most unobtrusive skin to date. There are a ton of helpful widgets that are not included with stock Android. Sticky Note and communication toggles are probably the most useful of them all. Most of the widgets like calendar and social networking are just more sophisticated versions of their Android counterpart.
Last but not least, Samsung’s TouchWiz
Most of us remember TouchWiz from Samsung’s earlier touch screen phones. Since Android wasn’t around then, TouchWiz was all you would see. There was no hint of an underlying OS. When the Galaxy S (pictured above) was announced to include a new version of TouchWiz, Android enthusiast everywhere cringed with hernias. After it’s launch, the tension died down, TouchWiz actually found ways to improve Android. Simple things like media controls in the notification bar had everyone scratching their heads as to why Google had not done that in the first place. With Android 3.0 Gingerbread coming soon, we can only hope Google had heard our cries.
TouchWiz does have some flaws. The cheesy iPhone-esque app drawer is just painful to look at. Thank God there are launchers available for download in the Android Market. Launchers like ADW and Launcher Pro are good substitutes. TouchWiz is a great skin, but even when a 1Ghz Hummingbird processor the TouchWiz interface shows signs of lag. Like I mentioned before that’s present in most skinned phones.
Google is currently working on their biggest Android OS release to date. The industry has grown weary of skins and their days may be numbered. If you are a fan of them, enjoy it now. After the release of Android 3.0 aka Gingerbread, Google’s mobile OS will have a unified look across the board.