After Samsung, I crave Senselessness

After Samsung, I crave Senselessness

Summary: Two years of suckling at the teat of TouchWiz has left a sour taste that only pure Android can purge.


As a Galaxy S II owner in Australia, last Friday was a day of sweet relief. After a year of waiting, Telstra finally pushed out Android 4.1 Jelly Bean to S2 owners on its network.

Reaching this point was quite an exercise in patience. Since Jelly Bean was announced by Google in late June 2012, there have been a number of false starts by Telstra on deploying the update to its S2 customers.

It would be easy, and incorrect, to lay the blame for the delay at the feet of Telstra. In those false starts, the update would be submitted by Samsung to the telco, only for Telstra to find a bug in testing, declare said bug to be a large enough problem to prevent a rollout, and thus starting the waiting game all over again.

This cycle of bug and delay would shortly follow each device update announcement, and the anticipation and hope would dissipate yet again. Each time my patience would begin to reach its end, and I would consider flashing the device with CyanogenMod or an overseas Jelly Bean variant, a pending release announcement would be made and the hope train would start anew. As a customer, it was a frustrating and tantalising game, and did force me to wonder whether I was actually a donkey having a carrot dangled in front of me.

But now that the process is over, it's not Telstra that I feel aggrieved at; it's Samsung.

As the company had previously updated its Galaxy S3 handsets to accommodate Jelly Bean, it should have been familiar with the update process to avoid the sort of problems that were encountered.

For reasons I do not expect to ever fully understand, the Jelly Bean variant released for the S2 in Australia arrived with a version of Samsung's TouchWiz launcher that does not allow changing of programs that are placed in the dock. You want to replace the Android browser in the dock with Chrome? Forget it. Remove the message app from the dock? Forget that, too. Add in your favourite social media app? You're out of luck.

As it is a problem experienced across S2s on multiple telcos in Australia, the blame for this ridiculous shortcoming must fall at the feet of Samsung.

This issue was the last straw for me, and upon realising the limitation, I installed an alternative launcher. Had this limitation been announced when Android Jelly Bean started rolling out in January earlier this year, I would have updated the phone immediately with an overseas Jelly Bean, and saved myself an extra five months of pain.

The problem with Samsung isn't solely the amount of time that it took the S2 to be updated. It's the fact that the TouchWiz launcher that was included in the Samsung's Ice Cream Sandwich release had a taste for crashing and rebooting the phone. At least once every couple of days or so, a dialog would appear, asking whether closing "TwLauncher" was a good idea — it always was.

Were the constant rebooting a hardware problem, I would have expected Jelly Bean, and the original Gingerbread operating system that the handset came with, to have been as reset happy as Ice Cream Sandwich — they were not and are not. There was something amiss with the Samsung ICS release.

Having been burnt twice by Samsung's software decisions, this is the end of the line for my relationship with Samsung.

Besides the restart-happy ICS, I am actually still impressed with the S2 as a piece of hardware, two years on. I prefer the S2's size to the slightly larger S3 and S4 successor handsets, and it still handles the load of an updated operating system and new applications well — by this stage in my iPhone 3G's life, it was struggling under the weight of iOS releases that were aimed at the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4.

The only feature that I wish my S2 handset possessed is long-term evolution (LTE) support.

So when the Google I/O developers conference rolled around again this year, I waited expectantly for a Nexus 4 LTE announcement. But instead, we got an S4 with stock Android.

It's not a bad combination of hardware and software. But with the sting of Samsung still fresh, I do not want to purchase a Samsung handset, even if it is running stock Android. To be honest, I don't want to encourage it. By adding to Samsung's S4 hardware sales, I'd be funding the geniuses who decided to remove the ability to change a phone's dock icons. Those people shouldn't be funded.

What I really want is a high-quality handset loaded with pure Android that removes the need to wait for manufacturers' modifications. And this is where a variant of the HTC One without its Sense UI is sweet relief.

The HTC One has received rave reviews for its hardware and presentation as a handset, but more than one review has warned that BlinkFeed is a gimmick, and a non-desirable one at that.

While others may suggest that a pure Android experience would be worse than the Sense experience, I am far from convinced.

For whatever gimmick that a manufacturer may preload onto a handset, there is almost always an equivalent app to be found in Google Play. Often, the two equivalent apps will coexist on the one device. For instance, when my S2 was new, a Navigon navigation app was included, as was the omnipresent Google Maps. As Google Maps improved, it quickly became the only app I used for navigation. Similarly, even though the S2 came with a Memo application, it was not as good as Evernote, and now Google has added its own option in Google Keep to the note-taking mix.

Therefore, losing a feature such as BlinkFeed or Zoes from an HTC One is a small price to pay for faster operating system updates. This is especially so, given that the HTC One with Sense arrives with Jelly Bean in its 4.1 guise, not the latest 4.2 version. Were I a standard HTC One user, I'd be playing the waiting game for 4.2 already.

Regardless of the banter between zealots of Android and iOS, the following is true: Android gives the user more flexibility, whereas Apple provides the best upgrade experience. The Nexus 4 has been so popular because not only is it cheap, but it also provides the flexibility of Android, with an upgrade that emulates Apple's experience.

If the HTC One is truly the best Android phone hardware to have, why not pair it with the best software available as well?

To do otherwise would be nonsensical.

Topics: Mobility, HTC, Samsung, Telstra, Australia


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • Virgin

    I'm with Virgin (/Optus) and my S2 was upgraded at the start of the year to 4.2 - might even have been earlier than that, I can't remember. Shortly after I got the 4.2.1 and 4.2.2 upgrades, although I had to delete a few apps before I could get 4.2.2 to install.

    Just recently I got a touchwiz upgrade, which was a mistake to accept, because it seems to have killed my battery life.

    You can blame Samsumg for touchwiz, but it's more likely Telstra's fault for the Android upgrade.

    If it wasn't for Swype withdrawl symptoms, I'd be going WP8 for my next phone. I'll probably end up with a Note though.
  • After 2 years....

    Wouldn't you think, for a minute, for what is out there (Apple), and how fast they do stuff for their customers (everything just works), would you have a grain of even a hypothetical belief that Samsung never has and never will, respect their customers?...

    Like Apple respect...where they understand that the odd $700 you spent on an iDevice 2 years ago still represents the customer experience of the company..?!
    • Disrespect

      Got an example of Samsung disrespecting their customers?
    • Really !

      Apple does updates faster ... yeah!! coz there are no changes from the previous version. It's the same boring thing all over again and again. And those guys dont even give you their processor details/specs, let alone increasing more memory OR replacing the battery. (the list is too long..)
    • Everything just works?

      "Apple... everything just works" - didn't they release a phone that couldn't make phone calls if you held it in the wrong hand? That alone would bring down a less worshipped phone manufacturer.
  • Nexus 4 is a good choice

    Given you want to stay up to date with OS releases, why not consider a nexus 4?

    It's available at a very competitive outright price, and gets updates within days of release from Google. Hardware is almost as good at the S4, or the (beautiful but fragile) HTC One.

    Being vanilla android doesn't guarantee instant updates; the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is available as a google or samsung variant. The google version gets immediate updates, whilst the latter has significant delays (in the order of weeks).

    I've been using a (google) galaxy nexus for some time now, and it usually updates within 24 hours of google announcing a new version, much like the apple upgrade experience.
    • Nexus 4 - no 4G LTE

      I'd get a Nexus 4, but the best it'll do is 3G, which is a deal-breaker for me.

      (I currently have a Galaxy Note w/ATT, 4G LTE)
      Michael J. Tobler
  • On the other hand, though:

    Samsung's Series 5 Chromebook could use some of this "customization" of which you speak. Twice now I feel like I've bought into the wrong platform (both times I feel like I should of went with Android, too!) First Chrome OS needs some work, and second, Roku is a little too customized to be nothing more than a streamer, whereas Google TV actually looks like what the Samsung Chromebox SHOULD be.
    Richard Estes
  • Yep.

    Yep, that's how it is. I love the flexibility of Android and the features it offers. The updates could be more often on most phones though!

    That's why even leaving out price advantages, I tend to give extra weight when recommending phones to the Nexus line's updates.
  • You can only blame Samsung so much.

    GS-II owner in US, with T-Mo. Had the upgrade from 4.1.1 to 4.1.2 last month, via Kies. My dock is easily editable, so your issue seems to be with Australia or Telstra. I can say for sure, between T-Mo and Samsung, there's over a dozen apps that I didn't want.

    Hardware is awesome, though, especially the camera and LED flash light. Seriously, challenge any iPhone users to turn their LED light on as a flashlight.

    I'm still holding out for an upgraded Nexus 4 spec, or at least see what the HTC One with a clean Android install will cost, b'cause that clean Android on GS-IV is more expensive than the regular T-Mo GS-IV, and that's just weird.
    gork platter
  • Gripping

    What more can I say
  • Sayonara

    "Apple provides the best upgrade experience."
  • After reading this piece...

    ...I planted a big kiss right on my iPhone 4's little ol' 3.5-inch screen.
  • Leapfrog

    Yep, yet another Android user playing leapfrog just to stay content. I was an Android user on the power hungry HTC EVO, until I leaped right over to the iPhone 4S. Love that phone!
  • Supply and demand

    It's not necessarily about false starts or Samsung's QA department faltering.

    I see it mostly about the popularity of the device. The S3, a very popular device, saw the Jelly Bean update long before the Note 1 on AT&T (US). S3 owners (AT&T) got JB Dec 3 - I got the JB update on, I believe, May 10.
    Michael J. Tobler
  • Can't wait

    Was looking at getting a Nexus 4 when my contract was up. Then there was the pure S4. Love the S4, AND stock Android, but I just adore the HTC One's build quality and those speakers. If I can get the One Google edition (hopefully cheaper than the S4), I would seriously consider it over the Nexus 4. Higher-res display, LTE support, and BoomSound makes for a compelling Nexus.
  • What?

    An Android phone problem? Who cares if it's Samsung or the great god Google? It's an Android problem. That leaves the solutions as either sticking with dinosaur Apple or today's best - Nokia/WP8. No brainer really, just get a phone that works. I changed and the Lumia is simply in another, better, League to Android and Apple.
    • WP8 isn't even in the discussion

      Does it even get updates? Even patches? When I had a Windows phone, which predated both Apple and Android, the Windows you bought it with was the Windows you threw it away with.
      • Sorry

        to upset your prejudices, but I've already received two updates. How's that compare with Android or iOS?
  • Well yes it is now

    Hey Meski, yes you are right about Windows Mobile 6.5 , if that's what you're referring to, which I had a few incarnations ago. WM6.5 never got updated. However the new Lumia has been updated already. It was a simple process and much to the dismay of my cynical nature, it worked! Seriously, without trying to sway you one way or the other, WP8 is worth at least a look. It surprised me (pleasantly).