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What are Android Skins?



Samsung One UI and Google Pixel UI
Samsung / Google

Have you ever noticed that Android on a Samsung phone doesn’t look like Android on a Google Pixel phone? Both use the same operating system, but look completely different. What is going on there?

Android device manufacturers love skins

Not all Android devices look the same, but we̵

7;re not just talking about the physical appearance of the hardware. Many manufacturers who produce Android devices use their own custom “skins” to make the operating system look unique.

There are a few things you should know about Android before we dive into skins specifically. We explain exactly what skins are, why manufacturers are allowed to tweak Android and what all this means for the Android ecosystem as a whole.

What is “Stock” Android?

Before we get to the skins, it’s important to understand the core operating system. Android is an open-source operating system developed by Google. The “open-source” part enables Android skins.

Google makes changes and updates to Android and then releases the source code to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). This original code is what many call “stock” or “vanilla” Android because it is a very bare-bones version.

stock android 11
Android 11 from AOSP. XDA

Manufacturers, such as Samsung, LG, OnePlus, and others, are starting with stock Android. However, since Android’s code is open-source, they can tweak it as they see fit. However, if they want to include Google apps and services on their devices, they have to meet a few requirements first.

When a new version of Android is released, it’s up to the manufacturers to tweak it and ship it to their own devices. Google is not responsible for updating all Android devices. Stock Android is simply the starting point that other companies can build on.

What is an Android skin?

An Android skin is easiest to describe as a modified version of stock Android. Here are some of the most popular Android skins:

  • Samsung One UI
  • Google Pixel UI
  • OnePlus OxygenOS
  • Xiaomi MIUI
  • LG UX
  • HTC Sense user interface

There are several levels of customization when it comes to Android skins. For example, Google Pixel devices don’t run stock Android, but Google’s user interface (UI) customizations are fairly minimal. Samsung Galaxy devices, on the other hand, run “One UI”, and they look a bit different from standard Android.

But here’s the thing: Android skins really are a lot more than just ‘skins’. They are actually all unique versions of the Android operating system.

Samsung an onion 2
Samsung One UI 2. Samsung

Samsung’s One UI is probably the most used Android skin. Everything from the Settings menu and lock screen to the notification shade has been customized in one way or another. This is the case with most Android skins – the most notable tweaks are on the surface.

However, skins are more than just aesthetics. Samsung phones have many software features that you won’t find on other devices. The Samsung Galaxy Fold, for example, has plenty of custom features for its foldable display. With skins, a manufacturer can not only customize the look, but also add special functions to distinguish its devices.

a plus oxygenos
OnePlus OxygenOS 11. OnePlus

As we mentioned above, manufacturers have to meet certain requirements if they want to include the Google Play Store and other Google services on their devices. Google sets these requirements so that Android apps work consistently on different skins.

This is why Android devices that come with Google services generally work the same. They may look very different, but for the most part, everything will be where you expect it to be. This also means that if you switch from a Samsung Galaxy phone with One UI to a OnePlus with OxygenOS, all your apps will still work.

The main takeaway here is that an Android skin is just a modified version of the Android operating system. But if an Android device is going to include Google services, those changes can only go so far.

Does an Android skin slow down updates?

Skins are often a topic of discussion when it comes to timely updates. Many Android devices don’t receive the latest updates until several months after Google released them. But is the skin responsible for this problem? Kind of.

As we explained above, the company will share source code with the Android Open Source Project when Google releases an Android update. It is then up to the device manufacturers to make their custom changes and send it to their devices.

android 11 pixel ui
The Google Pixel UI. Google

Google has an advantage here, as it makes Pixel devices and the software changes are minimal. It’s easy for Google to send the latest updates to Pixel devices as soon as they’re available. However, manufacturers like Samsung have more work to do.

More than skin deep

Android skins are more than just skins. Try not to think about the Android version number as much as the version of the “skin” you are using. Your Samsung device may not be on the latest version of Android, but chances are it has the latest version of Samsung’s One UI.

Amazon devices, for example, are far behind Android versions, but no one cares. People care more about using the latest version of Fire OS than the latest version of Android. It’s helpful to think of One UI, OxygenOS, and other skins in the same way.

If you always need the latest Android release ASAP, a Google Pixel phone is the way to go. All other devices will always lag a little bit, but, as we discussed above, that won’t be a problem for most people.

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