‘TouchWiz’ started as a UI for Samsung’s home-baked OS on feature phones such as Samsung Jet S8000 and then went on to become Samsung’s Skin for their Galaxy line-up of Android smartphones.
Heavily advertised with Samsung Galaxy S as ‘TouchWiz UI 3.0’, it had many add-on features which Android lacked at that time. Slowly, Samsung started ripping-off Apple’s UI design that resulted in many patent infringement cases from Apple. They even received bad reviews and rants for their copied design, buggy and stuttery performance.
With the release of Samsung Galaxy S3 though, Samsung released a new version of TouchWiz which is built on top of Android 4.0 ICS and renamed it to ‘TouchWiz Nature UX’.
This version of TouchWiz combines together many other apps and services that are supposedly ‘designed for humans’ and makes devices easier to use. Considering, Samsung Galaxy S3 price in India is INR 35,999 and is among the highest priced smartphone in India; is spending 36K on this phone is worth it?
So we will try to analyse if the TouchWiz Nature UX is any better than the previous versions and does it makes stock Android any better?
UI and Usability
Samsung has added many modifications to the usability of the OS through TouchWiz such as, when a message arrives, you can just need to lift the phone to your ears to call that person. Another feature which was heavily advertised in TV commercials was ‘Smart Stay’ which uses the front-camera to check if you are viewing the phone’s screen so that it can turn on or off the screen accordingly. It will make sure that the phone doesn’t irritate you by locking the screen when you are looking at the screen.
You can also view video while doing other things by just pinching the video that will ‘pop up’ the video and float it on top of other apps. You can take the screenshot of the phone screen by swiping your whole palm over it. The screen shot taking mechanism in stock Android is already very easy to use when compared to what Samsung has incorporated.
On the whole, the feature like ‘Smart Stay’ is useful but others like ‘Lift To Call’ and ‘Swype For Screenshot’ do not add any real value to usability.
Imaging & Multimedia
Samsung made some changes with Android in imaging and multimedia fronts as well. ‘Face Slideshow’ lets you automatically zoom onto the faces in a photo when you double tap the image. ‘Best Photo’ makes use of ‘Zero Shutter Lag’ in Android to snaps 8 consecutive images in quick succession of 1.5 seconds. It highlights the best photo among them by automatically judging the contrast, sharpness and subject’s expression.
Samsung also includes ‘Music Hub’ with Samsung Galaxy S3 where you can buy tracks from a collection of over 17 million tracks. It can also ‘Scan & Match’ the music you are listening, to give more information about it.
The feature ‘Best Photo’ improves multimedia feature in Android but others like ‘Face Slideshow’ and ‘Music hub’ are already present in Android by default.
Sharing & Connectivity
As Galaxy S3 is very strong in the connectivity hardware front, Samsung tried hard to use those in improvising the feature list. ‘S Beam’ can transfer data such as maps, URLs, YouTube videos and apps using an NFC chip. But unlike Android Beam, S Beam uses Wi-Fi to transfer data at a faster rate than default Android which uses Bluetooth.
It can even send photos and videos of file sizes of up to 1 GB, at the rate of 10 Mb/s. You can share images, music and videos from your phone to other compatible Samsung devices like TVs and smartphones through ‘All Share Cast’, ‘All Share Play’, and ‘Group Cast’ respectively.
‘Buddy Photo Share’ will automatically share photos to friends and family while ‘Social Tag’ overlays contact information of people present in photos. If you manage contacts in groups, ‘Group Tag’ creates photo albums for those groups in the gallery.
‘S-Voice’ is a total rip-off of Apple’s Siri which can do tasks like launching apps, saving reminders, send messages, calling people and some other things through a user’s voice. ‘S Health’ app can connect with health devices like heart-rate monitor, blood glucose meter and blood pressure monitors through Bluetooth and USB. This app will record health ups and downs to help you regulate what you eat and how much you need to exercise. This app is certainly an addition to an Android health freaks.
Default Android ICS helps you ‘Face Unlock’ the screen but it could be easily misled by using a photo of the phone owner instead of his real face. Samsung stops it by adding a ‘Liveliness Check’ to makes sure that screen can’t be unlocked using a photograph.
With a view of Google Now coming to Android 4.1 JB, which would surely be better than S Voice (because Google has more data than any other company), there was no need to create an Apple Siri clone. To me, except Smart Stay, Best Photo, S Beam and ‘Liveliness Check’ (which actually inspired Google to incorporate it in Android 4.1 JellyBean), no other additions by Samsung in the TouchWiz Nature UX are really useful or add any significant value to user and Android ecosystem.
By adding features like ‘All Share Cast’, ‘Buddy Photo Share’, ‘Social Tag’ and ‘Music Hub’, Samsung is reversing the simplifying effort which Google tried with Android 4.0 ICS onwards.
Back then, Android looked ugly and lacked features so manufacturers needed to make it look and work better using their own skins and apps. But now, Android is one of the most beautiful and functional OS. Custom UI and apps from manufacturers like Samsung, HTC and Sharp are definitely an overkill which makes using the OS complex without adding any real value.
They are mostly using custom skins like TouchWiz Nature UX and Sense UI as an extremely bad effort to make themselves stand out in the over-crowded Android platform. According to me, manufacturers should work on improving the performance of the devices and providing them latest OS updates as fast as possible rather than spending time, effort and resources with those custom UI.
[About the Author: Ashwin Sreekumar heads Marketing at MySmartprice and is an MS graduate from State University of New York, University at Buffalo. He has avid interest in eCommerce, marketing , technology and smartphones.]