Samsung Android: Better than Google's Android

Samsung Android: Better than Google's Android

Summary: Google is frequently blasted for letting Android become too fragmented, with different versions and OEM customizations. Samsung has customized Android extensively and it's now better than Google's version.

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Two apps in one!

Google left Android open to modifciation by OEMs by design, and that led to fragmenting the platform. New Android devices are as likely to be running old versions of the OS, and operation varies based on modifications by the OEMs to the base OS.

Samsung was frequently blasted in early Android days for bloated customization. Its TouchWiz interface was not as capable as that of stock Android, and it was often slow performing.

That's a thing of the past as Samsung has developed its own "version" of Android into a solid OS delivering a good UX. The latest version of Samsung Android shipping on the Galaxy Note 2 and S3 is better than Google's stock Jelly Bean currently shipping, in this writer's opinion.

The TouchWiz launcher is still the backbone of Samsung's version of Android, but it is better designed and performing than the TouchWiz of old. When the launcher is added to the many little features that Samsung has implemented throughout the operation it is an outstanding mobile platform.

The improvements Samsung has ingrained in its version of Android can be broken down into several key areas. Some of the features take advantage of special hardware in particular Samsung devices while others make common hardware components work better. The focus has obviously been to make the user experience (UX) better than that of the competition.

Display features

Samsung is always pushing the envelope by building both tablets and phones with different screen sizes. The Galaxy Note 2 I use is a good example of this with its 5.5-inch display.

Screen hardware aside, where Samsung's Android is better than other company's is in lots of little features baked into its UX that takes advantage of those big screens. Together these features work to make Samsung devices more useful than the competition.

Smart Rotation

One such feature that makes Samsung devices so good to use is the Smart Rotation feature. Most Android devices feature a display that auto-rotates between portrait and landscape orientation. Sometimes this rotation is jarring if it happens when the user is moving around and the phone is inadvertently tilted to the side. The display rotates even though the user didn't intend for it to do so, and then it must be tilted back to reorient the screen which brings a small delay in operation.

Smart Rotation uses the front camera now found on most devices to prevent this accidental rotation. When the phone is tilted sideways it "looks" at the user's face to see if it indicates an accidental tilting. If so it prevents the display from rotating, keeping it the way the user wants it even though tilted.

Smart Stay

This feature is one of the most useful on any mobile phone. Displays have a screen timeout setting to save the battery. If nothing happens on the touchscreen for a set time the display turns off. 

Unfortunately, many activities commonly done on a phone, like reading a long web page in the browser, don't trigger activity that prevents the screen from turning off. It's common for the user to be reading something and have the display turn off, interrupting the reading and forcing the need to turn it back on

Smart Stay uses the front camera to determine if the user is looking at the screen. Before turning the display off it looks for the user's face and eyes and if he/she is looking at the screen it won't turn off the display.

This is such a simple feature but it is fantastic. Never again will a user activity get interrupted by the unwanted turning off of the screen.

Page Buddy

Page Buddy settings
Page Buddy settings

The Page Buddy feature is activated (if configured to do so) when certain hardware features of the Samsung device are triggered. While the standard Android home screens are there for user customization, the Page Buddy opens specific pages to augment user customization based on a user action.

There are four special pages that make up Page Buddy: one that opens when you remove the S Pen from those devices that have one; one that opens when you plug in headphones; one when you drop your phone in a dock; and another that opens when you are roaming outside your home area. These pages are special home screens and the user can swipe to standard home scxreens.

The S Pen Page Buddy pops open when you take the pen out of the silo in a Galaxy Note device. It provides access to Samsung pen utilities at the top and puts common apps that use a pen in the dock. They only appear on a special home page indicated in the home screen indicator by a pen icon. When you put the pen back in the silo the special page goes away.

Headphones page buddy
Page activated with headphones connected

The headphones Page Buddy is another useful feature. Plug headphones in the jack and a page opens up with controls on the upper screen for both music and video players. Apps commonly used with headphones appear in the dock at the bottom. When you remove the headphones this page disappears.

The roaming Page Buddy pops up automatically when the phone detects you are out of your home network. It displays a dual clock, one showing current location time and the other your time back home. There's also a data counter to make you aware how much data you are using while roaming which is expensive on some data plans. As with all Page Buddy screens, when you are no longer roaming the page goes away.

The docked Page Buddy is activated when using a Samsung dock with your device. It shows your appointments for the day, a music player since you can plug speakers into the dock, and some apps commonly used while docked. 

What makes Page Buddy so useful is how they automatically appear when you need them. They make particular activities easier to do and then get out of your way when you are done. The improved UX is a common theme across all the features covered in this article.

S Pen page buddy
Page activated with pen removed from silo

Pop up apps

Several apps Samsung has included in its version of Android include windowed versions that pop up when desired. These include the web browser, video player, and the S Note app. They take advantage of the larger displays on many Samsung devices by using a floating window that is visible while using other apps.

Multi-view

The ability to work with two apps side-by-side is wonderful and the multi-view is heavily used on my Note 2 phone. The two displayed apps often work together, such as hitting a link in one windows opens the web page in the other if the browser is running there.

Next page: Using motion to improve UX; Putting users first

Topics: Mobility, Android, Samsung

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67 comments
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  • Touchwiz is buggy

    Samsung hasn't good engineers and UX-specialists. Touchwiz on Galaxy Note II is laggy, works slow, looks awful (Korean sh*t), so I prefer stock Holo UI from AOSP or Moto BLUR on RAZR HD.
    Adanedhil
    • I haven't played with TouchWiz in a year

      But that version was buggy and IMHE HTC's Sense UI is/was far superior. These seem like really killer features that Samsung has baked into TouchWiz - not enough to bring me back to Android and Samsung though.
      athynz
  • Features wise, very true..

    Yes, Samsung's version of Android now is amazing when you look at the features they've added, both gimmicky and useful ones, specially things like multi-view. Other manufacturers aren't adding any such useful features yet are also taking more time releasing updates for their flagship, which is funny considering they have lesser things to port over to a new Android version. They also add little things that Google doesn't have on stock Android, and even major ones like an FM radio or even a self-timer option in the camera (which all manufacturers are doing, really). While I love and will use only stock Android and Nexus devices, I totally understand that stock Android isn't the best when it comes to value added features.

    However, TouchWiz has to be the ugliest UI overlay out there. Stock Android isn't perfect, but it's miles ahead of the cartoon fest that is TouchWiz. Also, all that bloat and added features also result in the SGS3 or Note 2 not being as smooth as my GNex, though I hear that's more because of Samsung's messed up implementation of project butter than the bloat.

    But good points in the article, for majority of the customers I'd never recommend a Nexus device thanks to its barebones nature and lack of some basic features. I myself will stick to Nexus for the fast updates and the ability to install custom ROMs for unsupported Android versions without any issues.

    Samsung is doing great in my books - adding great features, pushing out fast software updates (at least for flagship devices), and having awesome pricing as well here in India.
    addicted2088
    • TouchWiz runs smoothly

      I've used it on the S3 Mini and it runs very smoothly. I imagine it runs even better on a Quad Core chip.

      TouchWiz used to look ugly on the S2 but S3 Mini again it looks almost as good as HTC Sense. Which is still the best looking Android UI (better than stock).

      HTC too add features end users want but it's got lazy over the past 2 years and innovation has slowed down greatly.
      bradavon
      • It does run well..

        .. but you still feel Android is smoother on a Nexus device. I've used both the S3 and Note 2 along with my GNex and my Gnex simply feels better to use.

        TouchWiz is still ugly IMO, the icons are cartoon-ish, apps like the messaging app also look very bad. I find Sony's skin to be the least ugly, then HTC, then Samsung's.
        addicted2088
        • I agree

          I agree with you addicted2088; even tho Samsung add a couple of features to make their device better (some of their ideas was out there already) I still like Vanilla/AOSP Roms, with these feature added in.
          Marty K
    • Bloat

      I have a Samsung GT-P6800 International Tablet/Phone with 4.0.4 that was NOT customized by a phone company and there is no "bloat". No AOL. No ESPN. No Facebook. No Stock tracker. No proprietary weather app. No twitter. No Zunyga. No Lynklin. No anything that I can't either uninstall or freeze so it doesn't burn unecessary data or slow the performance.
      I also have almost all the neat things the author writes about.
      The chances are EXCELENT that any bloat that is loaded onto any Samsung phone is required by the carrier, not Samsung.
      CutRightSharpening
  • Clearly?

    "Google is frequently blasted", mainly by the enemies.
    Say it often enough and mud sticks though.

    Surely any Fragmentation is better than the imposed Limitation on IOS devices?
    albionstreet
  • Got to agree with the author

    While I still like the simplicity of the stock android (N7), the additional features that samsung provide, make for a more rounded experience. For the tablet I have no problem with stock android but on the S3 the additions really do make me think it was a better choice than the HTC. The extras that they have provided for the camera alone really make you appreciate the work they have put in. In fact, I have changed the launcher on the N7 but left the S3 alone.
    All this and I don't notice any slowing of the UI. Put my S3 next to the N7 and they both fly.
    As for ugly, well, that's personal choice. I know exactly what the message icon means but don't spend any time squinting at it so I can critique it later. The rest of touchwiz UI is more than acceptable.
    The other thing to remember is that most of the additions aren't on by default. So the phones arrive with a very simple UI that can be customised as you find your way through the phone.
    Little Old Man
    • Multi view on tablet

      Your comment that the phone is OK with options such as multi view but the tablet is just fine with the stock UI, is puzzling to me. It seems that multi view is ideal for the large screen of a tablet which is just where I would use it the most.
      dachba
  • Just gimmicks, Samsung will move away from google

    People are not that excited about smart phones anymore, they have become commodity devices.
    I don't want multi-view in my phone.

    In the end what matters is that the phone must be capable of doing the basics, good call quality, battery life, smooth browsing, video , music, safety and security. Unfortunately most android phones fail to tick some of these basic boxes.
    Owlll1net
    • Still hating on Android as usual

      YOU were one of the biggest cheerleaders of Oracle's failed lawsuit attempt against Google over unproven copyright violations, so you hating Android still under whatever guise is at least consistent.

      Android isn't going away anytime soon. Apple's lawsuits have so far had a minimal effect, other than getting Florian Mueller hyped up since he is paid to hate on Google from his masters at Microsoft and Oracle, not that he's good at predicting anything of course.
      DonRupertBitByte
      • Android is a stolen product.

        How did Google put together Android??

        - They copied open source projects in the name of 'Open Source', The clown Schmidt stole Apple ideas until he was booted, and Google ripped Java

        Google is a thief and achieved its current status thru stealing others data and copyrighted materials and YouTube piracy.

        Like it or not that is the truth my friend.
        Owlll1net
        • No it isn't the truth

          It's a half-arsed pile of BS that anyone but you would have long ago got bored of repeating over and over and over again. Don't you get bored?
          Little Old Man
          • Truth hurts...

            Unfortunately, I will have to repeat things. I didn't bring it up, somebody else did.
            Owlll1net
          • BS is tired

            Sell it as truth but everyone can see thru it people are just getting tired that's all. No pain, just the same annoyance you get from mozzy's on summer evening.
            Little Old Man
        • The clown Schmidt

          Mr. Owlll1net,
          Notice the date, and Notice Schmidt name isn't mention.

          History----Android is a Linux-based operating system designed primarily for touchscreen mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. Initially developed by Android, Inc., which Google backed financially and later purchased in 2005, Android was unveiled in 2007 along with the founding of the Open Handset Alliance: a consortium of hardware, software, and telecommunication companies devoted to advancing open standards for mobile devices.The first Android-powered phone was sold in October 2008.
          Marty K
          • Well....

            I know a lot about smart phones and its history and was using it from the mid nineties...I also know how google created android... it was created using stolen intellectual property.
            Owlll1net
          • I usually disagree with Owlnet

            But in this case he has a point - the original Android was an OS that was designed to be run on older WM devices (such as the HTC Apache and Mogul) and very closely resembled the dominant smartphone OS of that time the Blackberry OS.

            You with me so far? Okay now there was a huge buildup over Android because quite frakly WM sucked out loud... And it was around this time Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google, was on Apple's Board of Directors.

            Still with me? Okay now here's where things get a bit hinky - Apple releases the iPhone 2G and completely rearranges the smartphone market paradigm. All these different things other OEMs were trying to do in a smartphone and appeal to the enterprise user Apple put in one device and marketed it to the mainstream.

            Google purchases Android Inc and a few months later releases Android 1.0 and now it resembles iPhone OS 1. Eric Schmidt then leaves Apple's Board of Directors. Coincidence? Perhaps but there are still issues here. Why make Android resemble iPhone OS rather than keep it as more of a BB clone?
            athynz
          • Schmidt didn't want to leave

            He was pressured to leave by the board due to what was conceived as Google's piggybacking.

            I'll give credit to Apple in that it did revolutionize the smartphone market, but that's where they have a problem. They seem to mix products or inventions with market creation. You can own or patent a product or innovation, but not the market. Although they have good designs, they still didn't created the basis for the smartphone. They existed before. What they did, however, was to give their competitors a strong motive (survival) to accelerate the advancement of their respective products.

            As for the alleged resemblance, that is still a contentious issue. I wouldn't say Android didn't take a little inspiration from iOS (just to give a benefit of a doubt), but then again there were instances where Android beat iPhone, like multitasking, widgets, drop-down notification bar, etc. Also, things like patenting rounded rectangles and trying to monopolize some icons' images (gear for "settings", musical notation for "music", etc) is ridiculous and a negative for Apple.
            JOB83