Android: A look into TouchWiz

Published: December 29, 2010

One of the most notable things about Android is its unique ability to be customized. Manufacturers love to put their own spin on things and show users what their personal Android vision is. We've seen both MOTOBLUR and HTC's Sense UI and how they make the Android experience different. The only major one left is TouchWiz by Samsung.

If you can make it past the cheap-feeling, plastic build of Samsung's phones, you will find the user interface to actually be quite pleasing. My first round with it didn't lead to a lot of good things to say about TouchWiz, but after spending time with all of the others, experiencing TouchWiz on tablet form, and really giving it a fair chance, I had a change of heart.

My favorite thing about all of TouchWiz is, without a doubt, the lock screen. All of the information like the time and date can be located at the bottom of the screen and there isn't anything unusual about this part. What's unique is the way you unlock the device. Most devices these days you slide a lock bar down or across the page, but Samsung had a really cool idea. Fit the puzzle piece in the slot to unlock. If you get any messages or missed calls, those also pop up as puzzle pieces that you can drag to the slot and it will take you straight to the missed event. Pretty cool, huh?

After you unlock it, you see what the iPhone interface should have been. It has key elements of Apple's interface mixed with the widgets of Android and a touch of Samung's ideas and elements (in the widgets, color scheme, live wallpapers, etc.). The one thing I detest about TouchWiz is the application page. It's a horizontal scrolling page like that of the iPhone. It doesn't look terrible, but I constantly find myself trying to scroll up and down versus left and right – it just doesn't feel like Android. Also, the icons aren't in alphabetical order. The stock applications are, but anything you download after that just gets tagged on to the end of the list. Some people may like this though, as you can actually arrange your icons however you want, where in most versions of Android you can't. The bottom dock which holds three designated icons and an Application/Home button also strongly resembles the iPhone's bottom dock too. I'm not saying Samsung ripped Apple off, but it's pretty obvious where they got a lot of their inspiration from.

One of the coolest concepts added by Samsung is the ability to edit your homescreens. You can set from one to seven pages and you can rearrange them after you've already setup your widgets and the layout you want. The ability to rearrange homescreens isn't only found in TouchWiz though, you can also do this in the newest version of Sense.

One of the best additions in TouchWiz is Samsung's widgets. They are nothing extremely special, but they look nice and offer a wide range of frequently updated information available straight from the homescreen. For instance, the Daily Briefing widget offers weather, stocks, news, and agenda all in one widget. It only displays a little information at a time but a simple tap opens up an application that displays all of this info in more detail. The navy and brownish grays used in this widget could definitely stand a little updating though, as it doesn't really match anything else in the UI. TouchWiz is all about bright, hip colors that make their SAMOLED displays pop just a little more and the ugly brown used does it no justice.

The first utility use of the notification bar was introduced with TouchWiz, and it's undoubtedly on of the most notable things about the entire custom UI. I like the dark gray bar and all of the indicators that they use, but when you pull the notification bar down is when you really see the good work done by Samsung. Besides the fact that it looks pretty nice, you'll notice that you also have toggle switches for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and Airplane mode, much like the Power Control widget we've all grown to love. Minus a few changes, it's like they stuck that widget in the notification bar, for easy access from most applications and pages that you open.

It's also nice to see that Samsung recognizes that Google has some nice implementations with Android and that they didn't mask them all. For example, the stock Android Gallery is already nice with its 3D effects and its reactions to accelerometer movement. Every other custom UI masks that, which I find as one of the coolest things to show off about stock Android to my friends and family. Is it jaw-dropping? No. But it's pretty cool and perfect the way it is, and it's nice to see Samsung appreciating some of the things Android has to offer on its own.

One thing I've learned to expect out of Samsung's high-end devices is very good camera quality. Even though their Galaxy S devices only have 5 MP cameras (versus others with 8+ MP), the quality of the pictures (clarity, image stabilization, contrast, etc.) remains very high. Something else worth noting is that the interface for the camera application in TouchWiz makes some tasks a little easier for basic users to accomplish.

There are applications that can be found throughout the application list that are specific to TouchWiz, too, like Car Cradle, Task Manager, Memo, Desk Cradle, etc. Yes, similar applications can be found in the Market or with other custom UIs, but these in particular are very nice. The graphics are pleasing and to be honest, I think they should set some sort of standard for Android applications. One thing that can't be denied about Android is the low-quality graphics in applications. I think – and hope – with custom user interfaces and big companies like Samsung pushing out applications like these, eventually the bar will be raised for other developers to create better looking applications.

Over time, TouchWiz grew on me and I learned that it wasn't all bad. It took me a while to get past the toyish graphics and colors, but eventually I learned to like the UI and definitely prefer it over some others. Sense remains my favorite custom UI, but I would prefer to use stock Android over anything. These user interfaces are designed by manufacturers to make the Android experience easier for first-time users and still enjoyable for long-time fans. That's a hard line to ride and I still think HTC found a niche in the hearts of newcomers and veterans alike with Sense, but TouchWiz is right on their heels. If Samsung used less plastic in the build of their devices and the UI didn't seem so toyish at times, a lot of people would flock to their devices. But the plastic in combination with bright colored graphics really makes the device feel more like a toy than the actual $500 piece of equipment that it really is.

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