5 smartphones running alternative versions of Android

Android smartphones

No two Android smartphones are alike. Thanks to lenient licensing rules, smartphone makers can add their own GUI or pre-installed apps to the Android OS. This customization can go even deeper with smartphones that use unofficial versions of Android as the device’s operating system. Here are five smartphones that have been, or will be, released this year running unofficial versions of Android.

Nokia X and X2

Nokia X and X2


One of the oddest rumors last year was that Nokia had been developing an Android phone. It was hard to believe at the time because the company had committed to the Windows Phone OS. Its Lumia line has been the premier smartphone showcasing Windows Phone 8.1. Yet the rumors turned out to be true. Although the Nokia X smartphones sport a tile UI similar to Window Phone 8.1, the underlying OS is all Android. Odder still is that despite the sale of Nokia’s mobile division to Microsoft, the Nokia X line hasn’t been discontinued by its new owner (for now).

Nokia X smartphones are available everywhere – except North America.

OnePlus One
OnePlus One

This smartphone comes pre-installed with CyanogenMod, a free OS built from the open-source release of Android that you install onto your smartphone to add or unlock features, such as hotspot tethering. The OnePlus One is the second officially licensed CyanogenMod smartphone. The OPPO N1 CyanogenMod Edition was released for the U.S. market toward the end of 2013, and sells for $599. The OnePlus One sells for $299 for a model with 16GB on-board storage. The OnePlus One’s hardware specs, design, and build quality compare favorably with other current top-model Android smartphones like the HTC One line or Nexus 5.

Blackphone
Blackphone

Running PrivatOS, a version of Android customized to harden the security of the OS, the Blackphone is a collaboration between security software firm Silent Circle and smartphone maker Geeksphone. Its management team includes Phil Zimmermann, creator of PGP. While this smartphone has decent hardware specs (4.7-inch display with 1920-by-720 pixels, and quad-core 2 GHz CPU), it sells for $629, which is a bit steep. It’s a little unclear what exactly PrivatOS provides in terms of greater security that you wouldn’t be able to add yourself by installing third-party apps to a current Android smartphone. But it’s being marketed as an out-of-the-box security solution catering to business and government customers, and the privacy conscious individual.

Fire Phone
Fire Phone

Amazon just revealed what many had been predicting: their own branded smartphone. The Fire Phone uses the Android OS, but modified to the point that it’s unrecognizable. Fire OS directs you toward buying and experiencing digital media from Amazon, as well as shopping for tangible products. The Fire Phone will have a tricked-out UI. Its so-called “3D” display implements a parallax effect similar to that of Apple’s iOS 7, but not only does the background wallpaper shift in viewer perspective as you move the phone, so do foreground graphical elements. This smartphone also has six cameras that track what areas of the screen you are looking at in order to move and manipulate GUI elements.


Boeing Black
Boeing Black

This smartphone runs a version of Android that’s been modified to make it more secure. But the Boeing Black has physical measures to prevent unauthorized persons from disassembling it. And data stored on this smartphone will be wiped out if someone does manage to crack it open. Essentially, this is the real-life self-destruct phone from out of a spy thriller. The Boeing Black’s hardware allows modules to be attached to the back of it, giving the device capabilities that include satellite communication or solar charging. Availability is unknown at this time, probably because Boeing is only selling it to government and defense contractors. The company submitted the Boeing Black for FCC approval in February, so these smartphones could be in use now.