I just got a brand-new Galaxy S III. It’s a beautiful device, except for one big flaw: Samsung TouchWiz. This is a layer of customization and “added value” Samsung slaps on the custom Android interface… and it looks simply horrid. I mean, it manages to make a gorgeous, powerful piece of hardware feel like a cheap toy – quite an accomplishment, when you think about it.
My first instinct was to wipe the device clean and install a stock Android ROM, similar to the ICS Rom I installed on my Galaxy S II. But before doing anything rash, I decided to give Samsung’s interface the benefit of the doubt… and found some truly excellent features.
What I Ended Up Doing
Here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t scrap the Samsung ROM for something like CyanogenMod (which you can easily install). Instead, I decided to go with a ROM that’s based on Samsung’s own ROM, with a heavy dose of customization thrown in. It’s called crDroid, and it’s just what I was looking for. However, this post isn’t about the ROM, but more about a surprising discovery: When you eliminate the ugly looks, it turns out TouchWiz actually does add value! If you’re running a stock Android ROM on your Galaxy S III, or considering replacing Samsung’s ROM with something like Cyanogen, wait a moment: Samsung offers a few features that are well worth keeping, and here are just a few.
Motion and Gesture Controls
Samsung’s gestures combine the touchscreen and device sensors in interesting ways that Android doesn’t include by default. For example, you can look at a contact’s name in your phonebook and just lift the phone up to your ear to make a call:
That’s admittedly gimmicky, but still, it feels like the future. Other motions are more useful: You can take a screenshot by swiping your hand (not one finger) across the screen, for example. The zoom and pan gestures let you manipulate photos by moving the phone itself, rather than your hands, making the phone feel like a window into the image. The Motion settings menu lets you individually toggle each of these gestures, and learn how to make them.
Fonts, Smart Stay, and Smart Rotation
The Galaxy S III can look at you using the front-facing camera while you’re using the phone. That’s creepy. It’s also useful: “Smart stay” is a feature that keeps the screen on for as long as you’re looking at it (so it will never turn off while you’re reading an article!), and “Smart rotation” is a feature that turns the display only if your face is actually in the wrong direction. In other words, if you’re lying in bed on your side and holding the phone, the screen won’t rotate (ever had this happen to you?). And if you’re standing up and flipping the phone horizontally, it will rotate. Nothing to toggle manually, and it works quite well (as long as the phone can see you, that is).
Last but certainly not least in this department, Samsung lets you specify your own font for the interface. Here’s a 100% crop of a screenshot I took:
If you compare this to the font on your own Android phone, you’ll find that it’s subtly different: It’s HelveticaNeue, a lovely Sans Serif that sadly costs $1 to use. But honestly, I preferred shelling out a buck for it than use any of the unfortunate fonts Samsung bundled with the device:
“Choco cooky?” What were you thinking, Samsung? Why not throw in Comic Sans MS while you’re at it?
Poor font choices aside, the ability to set your own font for the device is a great feature, and can actually improve readability and usability, and just makes the whole thing feel a bit better.
Power Saving Mode
This is a modest one, but it’s still nice: Power Saving Mode is a bunch of preferences you can set, and then toggle all at once, to eke a bit more battery life out of your device. It’s a bit like JuiceDefender (reviewed here), but built right into the phone.
Multiple Window Control
Depending on your use, this may either be Samsung’s greatest innovation, or just a crazy gimmick. I hadn’t made up my own mind yet, but I must say I am thoroughly impressed: The screenshot speaks for itself. Multi Window Mode lets you put two apps on the Galaxy S III’s generous screen at the same time, and it’s amazingly well integrated into the UI. Just long-press Backspace to pop open the side-panel, and then drag out an app to either the top or bottom of the screen:
I don’t know if I’ll be using this feature routinely, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by how deeply Samsung integrated it into Android. You can also toggle it off completely if you don’t like it.
A great product is composed of both aesthetics and functionality. Sometimes the two go hand in hand, yielding beautiful products that are a joy to use (or horrible-looking, frustrating gadgets). Samsung has somehow managed to decouple them, ending up with a really ugly interface that actually works well. Thanks to the magic of Android, you can ditch the ugly and keep the good stuff. Are there any other neat Galaxy III tricks I missed? Let me know below, and I might write a follow-up!