Are OEM Android interfaces bloated and filled with junk?

Today in Open Source: Stock Android or an OEM version with bloatware? Plus: Top Android 4.3 features, and Ubuntu versus Xubuntu

Android OEM Bloat and Clutter

Ars Technica has a very interesting article that compares stock Android with the OEM versions available from various Android hardware companies. Is it worth choosing the OEM version versus just using stock Android? Ars comes down on the side of stock Android, and I have to agree with them.

Here at Ars, we prefer the stock version of Android on a Google-backed handset like the Nexus 4 and Google Play editions. Even if they're not chock full of perks and applications, they'll receive the most timely updates from Android headquarters, and their interfaces are mostly free of the cruft you get from the OEMs. For many consumers, it might not matter when Google chooses to update the phone, but for us, we like to know that Google is pushing through the software updates without any setbacks.

In the end, choosing an OEM-branded version of Android means that you're a prisoner of that manufacturer's timeline—an especially unfortunate situation when that manufacturer decides to stop supporting software updates altogether. We've said it time and time again—in the end, it's really your experience that will determine which interface suits you best. So as far as the future of Android goes, it's not just in Google's hands.

More at Ars Technica

The biggest problems with OEM versions of Android seem to be bloatware and a lack of timely updates. You buy the phone or tablet, and then it takes forever to get your version of Android updates to the most current one after Google releases an update. In some cases, you might not get an update all (depending on who made your device).

This is where Apple has a huge advantage over Android. When Apple releases an update to iOS, it's quite simple and fast for iPhone, iPad or iPod users to upgrade to it. This really underscores that buying an Android device that runs stock Android is simple common sense. Why wait forever to get an update?

The other problem is bloatware. Yes, some OEM features are no doubt cool. But do you really need them? How much of your Android device's battery life is going to be drained by unnecessary features? How much storage space are they going to take up? And how much are they going to slow down your device as you use it?

Right now I'm using an iPhone that I've had for a while. I've considered switching to Android though (given how awful iOS 7 looks) and I've already decided that if I switch, I'll be running stock Android and not an OEM version. Most likely I'll go with one of Google's Nexus products if I make the jump.

What's your take on this? Are you running an OEM version or do you prefer stock Android? Tell me in the comments.

Top Android 4.3 Features

I mentioned the release of Android 4.3 yesterday, and today SJVN has a look at what he considers the top five features in Android 4.3.

Most people won't find a new version of Android to be as sexy as the latest Nexus 7 tablet, nor will they find it as entertaining as Google's answer to Apple TV, the Chromecast, but it will be bringing many new, strong features for both developers and end-users. Here's my list of the best of them.

1. Restricted Profiles

2. OpenGL ES 3.0

3. Bluetooth Smart Ready Support

4. Notification Access

5. Better Digital Rights Management

More at ZDNet

I don't have kids, so the restricted profiles thing doesn't do much for me. But I can see it being useful in other kinds of situations such as retail stores, etc.

Open GL ES 3.0 is going to be a big winner for Android users. Who doesn't want better looking and fast graphics? They are always in demand by gamers and others who use a lot of video and graphics heavy apps.

Bluetooth Smart Ready does like like it might spawn some cool apps. I work out regularly so having a heart rate monitor could be very useful. I can see a feature like that being a boon to users, once developers have implemented in their apps.

I hate getting a lot of notifications, but I can see how Notification Access might be useful for developers and then for the users who allow access to their notifications.

I can't say I'm excited about the Digital Rights Management stuff, but as Steven points out, it's a necessary evil on Google's part. Given that piracy is rampant on Android, I wonder if it will make much of a difference in the end though. A lot of users might not even notice any of these changes if they don't bother with DRM protected content in the first place.

Ubuntu or Xubuntu: Which is Better?

Gary Newell has a good comparison between Ubuntu and Xubuntu. Xubuntu uses the Xfce desktop environment, while Ubuntu obviously uses Unity.

So when should you use Xubuntu and when should you use Ubuntu? A simplistic view would be to say that if you want a lightweight operating system because you like to keep your system lean and clean or because you are running older hardware then Xubuntu is the way to go but if you want to use cutting edge applications on a cutting edge desktop then use Ubuntu. You might also consider using Xubuntu if you want to be able to customise your desktop experience beyond changing desktop wallpapers and deciding whether the launcher hides itself or not.

More at My Ubuntu Blog

I have to weigh in on the side of Xubuntu, all the way. I have never been able to warm up to Unity, it's just not my cup of tea. Xfce, on the other hand, is a more traditional desktop environment. It's also lighter and faster than other desktops, so it's fantastic if you have an older or slower computer.

I also like the way Xfce looks compared to Unity. Yes, some might consider this a shallow reason to choose a desktop in Linux, but I think it's quite valid. After all, when you pick a desktop you might as well like it since you'll be using it regularly.

What's your take on Ubuntu versus Xubuntu? Which one would you pick?

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