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I'm in the market for a new Smartphone. Except for iPhone's, I'm new in the field and probably have some misconceptions.

My first choice was the Google Nexus S, but I was offered a great deal on the Samsung S Galaxy II (i9100). The only issue is that I read that it came with an "enhanced" version of Android. Being familiar with PC's, I know that these enhancements are almost always bloatware: I always do a clean install of Windows to get rid of it.

My question is fairly simple: is this possible to use the stock Google Android OS on the Samsung S Galaxy II (i9100)? That was the killer feature of the Nexus S for me: coming directly from Google, easily upgradable. Would that be possible and if yes, how?

Thank you for enlightening me.

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...? Can you please be more specific about your question? You talk about Samsung graphic customizations? –  Pitto May 4 '11 at 8:24
    
Basically all I want is to use the unmodified Android firmware, just as they do on the Nexus S. Moreover, the Nexus S has guaranteed software updates (2.3.4 is out for it right now, who knows when it will be available for the Galaxy II). –  Jean-François May 4 '11 at 8:59
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@Pitto The Galaxy S II comes with Samsung's TouchWiz 4 interface and app customizations, this has its own launcher and modifications to various apps including the Contacts, Music and Video apps. This is similar to how HTC's phones come with their Sense UI and heavily customized apps. –  GAThrawn May 4 '11 at 9:41
    
Oh thank you for giving info! So a cooked rom sounds like what you need, right? –  Pitto May 4 '11 at 10:07
    
Yeah it does. But is this 'official' or is this like jailbreaking an iPhone? I know how to jailbreak or root a phone, but I don't like the idea that for it to be 100% usable, one has to 'hack' it. –  Jean-François May 4 '11 at 13:07

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It is very unlikely that Samsung will ever release an unmodified Android firmware for the Galaxy S II. They've never released one for their Galaxy S family of phones without their TouchWiz "enhancements".

Historically the only Android devices that have run the stock OS have been the very early phones released by each manufacturer (before they'd written their own customizations) and the Google Nexus series of phones. If you stray away from that you are going to get modified firmwares, interfaces and apps.

One of the big downsides to using a phone that has extensive manufacturer customizations is that this means that they will generally be a lot slower in pushing out updated versions of the Android OS to you. Phones with manufacturer customized OS's are normally updated months after the Nexus devices, if ever. This is because the manufacturers have to do lots of work and testing to re-integrate all of their changes and customizations back into the OS every time the base OS changes. Factor in the fact that phone companies often drag their feet in certifying the updated OS's on their networks and you have a huge set of delays before the updates reach your phone.

The big upsides to a customized OS is that the manufacturer will often add a lot of features that aren't available to stock OS phones, eg Samsung's TouchWiz offered built-in wireless tethering well before it was added to the stock OS in Froyo, both HTC Sense and Samsung TouchWiz add remote phone tracking and wiping features to the phones (in most geographic regions), their media players can generally play more formats, and the interfaces often look "nicer".

Your main option for "clean" firmwares running the stock OS for non-Nexus phones is to use unofficial custom ROMs. Many of these use the stock Android interface and apps, with only minimal changes to either. See these questions for more on custom ROMs: What is the difference between: Rooting, Jailbreak, ROM, Mod, etc, and What is the meaning of “flashing a custom ROM”?

Also see this previous question: Android phones without custom UIs

UPDATE: Since this answer was written one things has changed. In mid-2013 Google started offering "Google Play Edition" phones for sale on the Play Store in certain regions in addition to their own Nexus line of devices. These "Google Play Edition" phones tend to be some of the more popular, higher-end GSM phones and are offered with the plain Android OS with Google Apps, and without any manufacturer or carrier modifications, just like Nexus phones. So far these phones have been getting OS updates much faster than their manufacturer modified brethren.

So far the phones available on there in "Pure Google" versions include the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, LG G Pad 8.3, Sony Z Ultra, and Motorola Moto G.

As these are generally the exact same hardware as their manufacturer branded siblings there are often fairly simple ways to apply these "clean" OSs to branded phones (but do check that you really do have the same hardware, some of these phones have variations with the same name, but different hardware in them, eg they may be available in GSM, CDMA, LTE versions with totally different radio hardware and SoC CPUs).

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Great answer. I'd just like to add that as an original Galaxy S owner, I prefer TouchWiz to the default Android interface. They're mostly the same anyways, and TouchWiz is much less bloated that MotoBLUR or Sense. –  Matthew Read May 4 '11 at 14:00
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@Matthew good point, there's no way I could use a Sense phone, it's a much heavier customization and (to my mind) they've messed up a lot of things with their messaging apps, when stock Android works perfectly anyway. –  GAThrawn May 4 '11 at 14:42
    
OK, thanks for clarifying the issue. I'll order two Nexus S i9023. I like being up to date and hate vendor customizations. Let's hope for an unification in the future (or at least official options to use the stock firmware). –  Jean-François May 4 '11 at 18:44

If what you are looking for is an “official” way of having a clean Android installation in a Samsung Galaxy S II, then I have to tell you that this is not possible. Samsung provides some added functions in his firmware (proprietary launcher, mail app, synchronization app with the PC, etc…)

There is the possibility to install custom ROMs on the Samsung Galaxy S so probably this will be possible for the Galaxy S II too, but this void the warranty.

If what you want is a powerful phone which will be the first to update to every new version of android with no added software or modifications, you are looking for a Nexus S.

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