And its not just the interface alone. Manufacturers will load up their own apps that are different from Googles stock Android experience, which youll find on the Nexus series. So heres how you can get as close as possible to pure Android on your phone.
Install A New Launcher, Lock Screen and Icons
A launcher is the core of the Android interfaceits what gives you home screens and an app drawer. There are several third-party launchers available on the Play Store, but Nova Launcher and Apex Launcher stand out for being close to the plain Android look, work well on older phones, and can also be customised with new icons. Of the two, Nova Launcher would be my pick. Install it, choose it as your default home screen when prompted, and youre good to go.
Next, its time to get the best icons for a plain Android look. For that, Holo Icons covers most of the apps you will use on a regular basis and its completely free. Download it, go to Nova Launchers settings and choose it as your icon pack.
Finally, you need to change the Lock Screen. Holo Locker is the best choice for a simple, no-nonsense option.
Install Googles Apps
Google has released several of its default apps as easy downloads on the Play Store, so just click this link and start downloading the apps you need, like Android keyboard, Google camera, QuickOffice and more. Again, these are all completely free!
One app that you wont find on that page but need to run several of Googles apps is Google Play Services. Click this link and download it to your phone so that all Google apps work smoothly.
The Non-Google Exceptions: Contacts+ & Omega Status Bar
Google has plenty of great apps but it doesnt offer the default Phone/Dialer app, the Messaging app and the status bar or notifications bar for download. In a way, thats actually a good thing because third-party apps do a far better job of these.
Contacts+ is a free, all-in-one solution for your phone book, dialer and messaging app, complete with support for pop-up floating messages and the ability to get your contacts info on non-Google social networks like Facebook, Twitter and more.
Omega StatusBar wont only make your phone look like stock Android, itll make it better! Apart from supporting all the features of the stock notifications bar, it lets you customise it to your liking and shows number counts for notifications too. If you like the free app, the Pro version might be worth it!
What You Cant Change
While most of your phones look will be transformed with these apps, there are a few things that cant be changed unless you root your device or run Xposed Module, like the default theme.
Still, with all of the above changes, you should already have a phone that resembles stock Android more than whatever it initially looked like!