Those of you who may have seen my musings here on Ausdroid, or heard my rants on the Ausdroid podcast, will know that I am not a fan of manufacturer skins. To say this is an understatement. In the past they have been ugly, slow, bloated, complicated and overall a pain in the neck to use. The manufacturers, in my opinion, in an effort to set themselves apart from other Android manufacturers tried to spice up the once drab Android UI ended up creating ugly user interfaces that lagged even with the best hardware around.
The All New and Improved TouchWiz?
Samsung were once the worst of all manufacturers. They always provided great hardware for their phones but once they had installed all their “value added software” (read bloatware here) the phone often ground to stuttering halt. How can this be? Surely the Samsung could optimise the software to the hardware they provided? Google’s Nexus devices often smoked the bloatware-ridden devices from Samsung in real world use, and did it with lower “specced” hardware. Whenever someone asked my opinion on what phone they should get my response was always “anything BUT a Samsung” such was my dislike for the abomination of pure Android that Samsung had produced.
That was 2014. Here we are in 2015 and it’s a whole new ball game. Samsung have redesigned TouchWiz on the Galaxy S6. Still being sceptical on a recent podcast I was challenged to try it out and that’s what I did with an S6 Edge. I went in with an open mind, having recently used an Asus ZenFone 2 and being impressed with their take on Google’s Lollipop, as well as their added apps/software. This Galaxy S6 was meant to be the best phone going around. It was apparently a total redesign, not just of the hardware but also the software.
First let’s talk about Samsung and their TouchWiz design. The Android world, for the last 12 months has been in love with Material Design. I have to admit that I have been too. I would often only choose apps to install that were Material Design such was my liking for it. On the other hand, Samsung have done very little in the way of design to TouchWiz for several years now, with their UI being offensive to many people’s eyes, including my own. I am happy to say that with their 2015 iteration of TouchWiz the cartoonish look associated with Samsung has been dispensed with. TouchWiz, although not quite Material Design is a lot more palatable and less offensive on the eye than in previous years. The colours are a more mature shade and not the super bright greens and blues as previously. TouchWiz design improved, check.
Next target on my hit list was the bloatware. Samsung have always been criticised for including so many gimmicks on their phones that it slowed the phone down. I’d like to say that it has improved as much as the TouchWiz interface has. If I did that I would be lying. There is still so much seemingly useless crap on there that even with the best Exynos processor available and 3GB of RAM onboard there are still quite a few moments of slow down or lag when using the SGS6. Samsung seem to have attempted to minimise this by freeing up RAM with an aggressive task manager. Sounds great in theory but the amount of times it stopped my music player while listening to music in the background (Google Play Music) or simply closed all chat heads for no reason was too numerable to count. It got extremely frustrating after a while.
I have said before that I use the hell out of my phones. I usually use nearly every possible feature so in the past this may have affected the smoothness of my experience, but this is 2015. Processors are faster, RAM has increased to crazy levels now and yet a phone can still lag? Why is that? Could it be the bajillion (which is more than a bazillion but less than a kajillion for those wondering) Samsung services running in the background? I counted 19 services at one stage. I know that Samsung did a deal with Microsoft to get their apps installed by default on the device but do we really need OneDrive running in the background? There are a lot of “features” with Samsung’s devices plus a lot of included apps. These take their toll on the everyday use of the device. While it may not affect a majority of users who only do the most rudimentary things with their phones it did affect me (and some other fellow Ausdroidians).
Decoupling is the answer I believe. Decouple all these “features” and add them in as a “layer” ala Sony’s layers (which has been merged into the AOSP). That way a user can have a minimal device if they require. Have them installed by default (as most users would not know one way or another how to install them) but allow them to be uninstalled by the user. This would also allow for faster updating as these features could be updated through the Play Store. Allow the user to free up space by uninstalling them. Google did a good thing a couple of years ago when they introduced the ability for the user to disable apps but it is difficult to know which can and can’t be disabled and the phone still run how it is meant to.Where to from here?
Samsung have done a great job improving the design of TouchWiz but the bloat is still there. There is so much superfluous material that you wonder what they are thinking. A good artist needs to know when they are done. To stop adding to the canvas. Samsung seem to live by the opposite theory and put everything they can think of in there.
When I started using the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge I was considering buying a non-Nexus (or more accurately a non-stock Android) device for the first time in a long long time (HTC Sensation was my last non-Nexus device). Now I’m not so sure. I don’t mind the theme of the interface these days but the sheer volume of apps and bloatware ruin the experience for me. Sure I could root it and improve it possibly that way but doing this may result in losing the advantages of choosing a Samsung Galaxy S6, the camera. This is meant to be the flagship of flagships. It shouldn’t lag. Samsung are halfway there with TouchWiz in my opinion but still not quite.
After the issues I’ve had with the S6 Edge I’m not as keen on getting an LG now, instead maybe waiting for the stock Android feel of a OnePlus 2. LG have promised a hugely improved UI but from what I seen and read it seems that is just lip service to the major criticism of all their flagship devices in the past. It seems to be as ugly as ever. Will it function at a high level or will it lag ala TouchWiz? Time will tell but the manufacturers have a chance to make a smooth beautiful interface and set themselves apart that way. One only needs to take a look at a few of the Material Design apps on the Play Store to see how beautiful Android can be.
I used to hate Samsung’s TouchWiz. They have applied a bit of make-up to it and is now not the “cartoony” experience that it once was. It does not make me want to gouge my eyes out anymore but in my experience is as laggy as ever. I’m used to the snappy, fast experience of a pure stock Android phone. I’ve decided there is nothing, not even possibly the best smartphone camera on the market, that will make me settle for using a TouchWiz device. You can put all the lipstick you want on a pig but in the end it is still a pig. I’m sorry Samsung, but I still hate your TouchWiz.