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 are completely different. What’s the deal with that?

Android device makers love skins

Not all Android devices are the same, but we’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 unique.

There are a few things that you will need to understand about Android before delving into specific skins. We’ll explain what exactly skins are, why manufacturers are allowed to modify Android, and what it all means for the Android ecosystem as a whole.

What is Android “Stock”?

Before discussing skins, it’s important to understand the operating system within it. Android is an open source operating system developed by Google. The “open-source” part is what makes Android skins possible.

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 refer to as “standard” or “vanilla” Android because it is a very simple version.

stock android 11
Android 11 from AOSP. XDA

Manufacturers like Samsung, LG, OnePlus, and others start off with original Android. However, since Android’s code is open-source, they are free to modify it as they see fit. If they want to include Google apps and services on their devices, they need to meet a few requirements first.

When a new version of Android is released, it is up to the manufacturers to customize it and send it to their own devices. Google is not responsible for updating all Android devices. Android stock is simply the starting point that other businesses can build on.

What is an Android skin?

An Android skin is more easily described as a modified version of stock Android. Here are some of the most popular Android skins:

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

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

Here’s the thing, though: Android skins are really more than just “skins.” It is actually a single version of the Android operating system.

samsung one ui 2
Samsung One UI 2. Samsung

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

However, skins are more than just aesthetics. Samsung phones have a lot of software features you won’t find on other devices. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Fold has tons of custom features for its foldable display. Skins allow a manufacturer to not only customize the look but also add special features to differentiate their devices.

oneplus oxygenos
OnePlus OxygenOS 11. OnePlus

As we mentioned above, there are some requirements that manufacturers have to meet 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 across 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. It 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 advantage here is that an Android skin is simply a modified version of the Android operating system. Still, if an Android device is to include Google services, these changes can only go so far.

Does an Android skin slow down updates?

Skins are often a topic of debate when it comes to timely updates. Many Android devices don’t receive the latest updates until several months after they are released by Google. But are the skins responsible for this problem? Good type of.

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

11 pixel android user interface
The Google Pixel user interface. 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. Manufacturers like Samsung, however, still have work to do.

More than deep skin

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

For example, Amazon devices are behind many versions of Android, but no one cares. People care more about the latest version of Fire OS than the latest version of Android. It helps to think of One UI, OxygenOS, and other skins the same.

If you still need the latest version of Android ASAP, a Google Pixel phone is the way forward. All other devices will still lag a bit behind, but as we saw above for most people that won’t be a big deal.

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