How to Get Stock Android Without Rooting

By Chris Mills on at

So! You've got a Galaxy S4 or a HTC One or any of the long list of Android phones that have a third-party skin loosely blu-tacked on top. And, unsurprisingly, you don't like that skin, but you're not quite so desperate as to go root-crazy quite yet. Never fear: virtually stock Android is just a few downloads away.

 

Step 1: The Launcher

The app launcher is the spiritual heart of your phone -- where apps live and you spend most of your time. On custom skins like Sense or Touchwiz, this launcher is customised, and only vaguely resembles the stock 'Droid launcher.

The solution? Head to the app store, and take your pick of the excellent (and free!) Nova or Apex launchers. Not only do they strongly resemble stock Android, but they actually give you extra customisation features, like the grid layout, animation options and icons.

To install: just download one of the launchers mentioned above, tap the home button, and you'll get a menu that lets you choose which launcher you want to use from now on.

 

Step 2: Lock Screen

While we're on the front-facing apps, let's take care of the lock screen too. Holo Locker is once again not only free, but a fairly close mimick of what the stock Android lockscreen looks like.

 

Step 3: Keyboard

The most common bugbear with any Android skin is undoubtedly the keyboard. Some of them are the festering underbellies of half-assed software development; some are almost passable. But honestly, none are really as good as the freely available alternatives.

From the Play Store, you can download a whole bunch of replacement keyboards. Google Keyboard is just the stock Android keyboard experience -- obviously the one to go for if you're looking to get stock. Swiftkey and Swype, however, build on and enhance that experience, with worthwhile customisations and novel typing modes.

 

Step 4: Backgrounds

The stock Google look is more than just a launcher: you also need that faintly tie-dye Jelly Bean wallpaper to go with it. Once again, it's just a matter of heading to the Play Store: Jelly Bean Live Wallpapers is a perfect carbon copy of what comes with stock 'Droid.

 

Step 5: Google Apps

The stock Android experience isn't just about the home screen: it's about apps as well. Common ones that have been messed with by manufacturer skins: Chrome, Gmail and Calendar have often gone walkies; Maps is sometimes missing as well. Not to mention, the Google Search app is Google Now by another name. (Which, incidentally, is fifty-quadrillion times better than Samsung S-Voice.)

All are downloadable from the Play Store, and can be set as your default client with ease. Although you won't be able to banish the badly-skinned equivalents completely, you can at least remove them from the home screen. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

There's more good news on the horizon too: Google Hangouts is rumoured to be soon replacing Android's default text messaging app. Not only is that good news because it'll get rid of that one extra icon, but it also should mean that the Hangouts app you can download from the Play Store will soon be able to handle texts as well, making the built-in SMS program obsolete. Chalk up one more godforsaken ugly app you can get well shot of.

 

If You Need More, Root

The one big thing that you have to root to change, really, is the settings or other menus. The best (and, really, only) way to escape the truly godwaful settings menus that some custom skins are rocking is to root and flash a custom ROM -- something that's easily doable, but not quite for the fainthearted.

This week, we're expanding minds and dispensing some of Gizmodo UK's favourite tips, with a "how to" theme week, in association with O2 Guru TV. Bookmark this page for all related features.

 

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