Samsung's One UI 4 update officially releases today. Here's what that means for you

Samsung's Galaxy S21 family of devices are first to receive Android 12 and One UI 4.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer
Image: Samsung

Samsung on Monday announced that One UI 4, which includes Android 12, is ready for the masses. Well, as long as you own a Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus or Galaxy S21 Ultra

The update will eventually make its way to more Galaxy phones and tablets (a complete list is at the bottom of this post), but as Samsung usually does with major software updates, the release is starting with the company's newest devices first. 

Prior to the launch of One UI 4, I had a chance to talk with Samsung's Hyesoon Sally Jeong, vice president and head of framework R&D team, and Hyun Kim, a head of the core UX group. We chatted about the update, the general approach that Samsung took to integrate the changes in Android 12 into the One UI 4 experience across their Galaxy lineup, and speeding up the development process for a mid-November launch. 

One UI 4 brings Android 12 features to Galaxy devices

Image: Samsung
Image: Samsung

Having used the Google Pixel 6 Pro for the last few weeks, and a Pixel 5 before that, both of which run Android 12 and fully adopt Google's new Material You design approach, I was curious how Samsung would handle integrating the drastically different user interface when I started testing One UI 4 on a Galaxy S20 during the open beta program -- which had "tens of thousands" of participants, according to Samsung. I'll be perfectly honest -- at first, I didn't notice any differences between One UI 3 and One UI 4. Material You seemed to be completely absent. 

It wasn't until I started to pay closer attention to smaller details, such as the new rounded corners on widgets, that I began to notice any changes. Samsung purposely took a more subtle approach than Google in order to align with Galaxy devices and Samsung's approach to One UI. 

Understandably, Samsung had to take into account its current user interface, along with the fact that the Galaxy Store has countless themes that Galaxy users can download for free or purchase and install on their phones. Galaxy themes and Material You are at odds with each other at times, and Samsung wanted to respect users' choices. 

Instead, you'll notice small changes, like the new-look widgets, or a new color palette feature that uses the device's wallpaper to provide color palette options. The option you pick when changing your wallpaper will be applied throughout the rest of the interface, changing the overall color of things like the notification shade or app drawer. 

One UI 4 brings more than just interface changes to Galaxy devices, though. For example, there's a new photo-sharing feature that allows you to edit the photo directly from the share sheet. There's also a new photo editing tool that allows you to remove an object from a picture just by drawing on top of it with your finger. 

The size of a picture-in-picture window can now be resized using pinch-to-zoom, and emoji pairs combine two different emojis into one animated image. 

Samsung also integrated Android 12's new privacy features, including an indicator when an app is accessing your camera or microphone. You can even use the new, more granular location controls that let you pick between sharing your exact location, or just the general area. 

How Samsung was able to speed up development

Samsung is known for releasing major Android updates long after the final build has been released by Google. To its credit, the company has gotten better about updating its phones in recent years. 

For example, last year Samsung officially released Android 11 and One UI 3 in early December for the Galaxy S20 lineup. Prior to that, the Android 10 update was released in the middle of December 2019, while the Android 9 update was released near the end of January 2018. 

Image: Samsung

This year, Samsung has sped up the process by a couple of weeks, with the official launch announcement taking place on Nov. 15. That's no small feat. 

According to Jeong and Kim, the primary reason for the improved development time is that Samsung broke the operating system up into modules, making it easier to implement changes for a specific section of the OS. Hopefully, the decision to modulize the operating system leads to even faster update cycles in the future, both for regular feature additions and major operating system updates. 

What about the rest of the Galaxy lineup?

According to Samsung's press release, the following Galaxy devices are slated to receive One UI 4. When it comes to the Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3, Samsung expects the foldables to receive the update by the end of the year. Exact timing of the update is up in the air, with wireless carriers often playing a big part in the specific release details, but the company reassured ZDNet it's working to release the update as fast as possible for all the devices listed below:

  • Galaxy S20
  • Galaxy S20 Plus
  • Galaxy S20 Ultra
  • Galaxy S20 FE
  • Galaxy Note 20
  • Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
  • Galaxy S10
  • Galaxy S10e
  • Galaxy S10 Plus
  • Galaxy S10 5G
  • Galaxy Note 10
  • Galaxy Note 10 Plus
  • Galaxy Fold
  • Galaxy Z Fold 3
  • Galaxy Z Flip 3
  • Galaxy A82 5G
  • Galaxy A72
  • Galaxy A52
  • Galaxy A52 5G
  • Galaxy A52s 5G
  • Galaxy A42 5G
  • Galaxy Tab S7
  • Galaxy Tab S7 Plus

If you want to see more of the features you can expect when One UI 4 and Android 12 reach your Galaxy device, Samsung published two introduction videos on YouTube that do a good job of walking you through the new features and what to expect. Here's part one, and part two

What do you think about One UI 4? Did Samsung integrate enough of what Google brought to Android 12, or not enough? Let us know in the comments below. 

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