(Photo credits: Pocket-lint)
So the Samsung Galaxy S4 has just been released and it’s specifications are as superlative as everyone was expecting. It’s fast, it’s beautiful and it has pretty much everything that you’d expect from such a high-end phone. But apart from the supreme hardware specs, there is a big problem with the Galaxy S4.
TouchWiz — It’s the most hideous and the most gimmicky user interface you’ll find in the current generation smartphones.
As a person who has previously owned all the first three Galaxy S phones (S, S2 and S3) and eventually switched to the Nexus 4, I find the level of Gingerbread-ish modifications done by Samsung in TouchWiz on top of vanilla Android completely baffling.
Design wise, TouchWiz still looks the same as it did on my old Samsung Galaxy S2, which was then running Gingerbread at the time of its release. It would have looked great if we were still living in 2011 i.e., the year when 2.3 Gingerbread was the newest version of Android. But it’s 2013 now, Samsung.
Being an old customer, I was pretty aware of Samsung’s if it ain’t broke don’t fix it strategy, but was still hoping against hope for a better user interface than the dated TouchWiz. But Samsung, once again, showed that gimmicks mean more to the company (for which practical usages are too hard to find) than evolving their skin with the course of time to match Android’s design aesthetics.
While other manufacturers have been doing their best to match the vanilla Android profile by keeping their modifications as minimal as possible, Samsung, like a small child, simply refuses to tone down TouchWiz despite receiving so much hammering from the tech blogosphere.
BUT HOW BAD IT REALLY IS?
To get an idea, think of the second version of TouchWiz that shipped with the Samsung Galaxy S II and combine its design with the newest version of Android. What you get as the result is how the newest TouchWiz in the Samsung Galaxy S4 looks like. New phone, same old, shoddy design.
Here are a few photos and screenshots comparing TouchWiz with vanilla Android. I’ll add more photos here as I’m able to find them.
Google Search Widget:
That’s the year and a half old Google Search widget which Samsung is using in the newest TouchWiz!
(The above photo is blurry, yes, but it was the best I could find after going through several videos. Basically, it looks like almost the same as it did in the Samsung Galaxy S3. Screenshot here.)
It’s confusing to see how hard Samsung is trying to disconcert the simplicity of Android’s aesthetics by wasting both time and human resources on designing stuff that look similar to old glossy Web 2.0 websites.
Moreover, it’s not just the visual experience of Android that Samsung is ruining with TouchWiz, but the phone’s responsiveness as well.
Let’s take the previous Galaxy for example. The Samsung Galaxy S3, which was released last year packing in a quad-core CPU, shows more stutters when compared with the dual-core Galaxy Nexus, thanks to the poorly designed TouchWiz (or the Nature UX). I haven’t personally used the Samsung Galaxy S4 yet, but after watching various review videos on the internet, I can safely assume that Samsung hasn’t been able to achieve ‘that buttery’ level of smoothness yet even after punching in eight (4 + 4) CPU cores.
Watch this video if you don’t believe me. You can find more on the internet.
And I’m not the only one who’s complaining about Samsung’s desperation of differentiating its phone from others by adding gimmicks to it. Ron Amadeo of AndroidPolice too agrees that:
TouchWiz still looks similar to how it looked back in the Gingerbread days on the Galaxy S2, with minor improvements.
He further adds that:
The two worst parts of the Galaxy S 3 were the plasticky outsides and ugly, dated skin, and it seems like Samsung has done very little to remedy these issues.
Brent Rose of Gizmodo also found the Samsung Galaxy S4 to be laggy:
When flicking between screens, opening apps, and taking photos there was clear lag on the Galaxy S IV… …Truthfully, there are too many modifications to go into, and most of them aren’t things you’ll ever use. Which is really the S IV’s biggest problem.
Innovation or Gimmicks?
The title of this section has been blatantly copied inspired from Ben Woods (ZDNet)’s article, because it hits the nail right on the point.
I’ll say it honestly: the Group Play feature of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is amazing. It lets you create a mesh network of Galaxy S4 phones using NFC for sharing photos, listening to music and gaming together. But that’s it.
Smart Scroll, Air View, Smart Pause and other ‘Smart’ features, which although sound impressive at first, will rarely find place in your daily smartphone usage. You’ll still prefer using your fingers for scrolling web-pages instead of tilting it. And since it relies on the front camera, it’s pretty much useless at low light. And also not to forget, these features will only work in ‘certain’ apps including the the default web browser and ChatON (Samsung’s version of WhatsApp).
Pardon me for again quoting Gizmodo for their views about the Smart Scroll feature:
The S IV that we played with seemed to have trouble setting the base angle, so it would scroll up or down even when you didn’t want to. When it worked it was fine, but more often than not it was a frustrating mess.
Summing it up, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a nice device. It’s a great device, actually, but the UI is a matter of frustration. They could have easily spent more time on fixing the lags and other design related issues instead of wasting their time on all those smart features.
The real problem, however, is that Samsung will be least bothered with our complaints. It is again going to spend truckloads of money on marketing and again helping its latest handset to sell in massive figures, shadowing other (and better phones (my personal view*)) like the HTC One. * – brackets inside brackets. Yep.