Samsung Touchwiz


TL:DR I finally tried Touchwiz, it sucks. It sucks really really hard. Please get a Nexus instead (but let me get my order in first).

This post is in a small way related to my feelings on why Android may be in trouble. This has nothing to do with Android as such (read: AOSP) but more the skins that OEM’s put over it.

Disclaimer: I have owned 3 Android handsets from 3 OEM’s and I have never used the skinned OEM version for more than 5 minutes before. I only turned the skinned version on to do the necessary steps to root and reflash the handset. Everything below is based on my initial impressions over a 2 day period.

At the start of summer I played around with the idea of trying to build Boot 2 Gecko (now Firefox OS) for my Galaxy S2, but at the time, I only had a Raspberry Pi running Linux and no matter how much swap space I gave it, it refused to build (I was prepared to wait a month or two to allow it to compile). More recently I got an HP micro-server and it has been happily building CyanogenMod 10 for me, which I have been running on my SGS2. In fact, it has been running CM since the day I got it. The only reason I initially booted the phone into the Samsung skin was because I didnt press the right buttons to get it into download mode to flash a new rom. I used CM9 (Ice Cream Sandwich) for about two months, then CM10 (Jelly Bean) came out and I jumped ship first chance I could. Part of the process for building FF OS is to have some binary blobs/kernel drivers/pre built libraries taken off the phone and put into the FF OS build. As I only had a CM10 build, I had to go and get a Samsung rom. I backed up all my CM files (FF OS isnt ready as a daily driver yet) and flashed a Samsung 4.0.3 ROM (XWLP7 to be exact) complete with Touchwiz. Touchwiz is Samsung’s own OEM skin, and it is all down hill after you boot.

The boot splash had an annoying jingle to it. In what world did they think it was a good idea to have your phone play a silly jingle every time you boot it. It isn’t just a “beep” but a full on 3 second jingle. After it had booted, it didnt seem to take any longer than CM takes to boot, you land on home screen that I guess just looks like any other home screen. A clock widget, weather widget, some app icons and a launcher. Oh, and there are 7 home screens. Maybe some people really do like and use that many, but I’m a 3 screen kind of guy, so they quickly got removed, which was easy enough to do. The app drawer does look like something from Steve Jobs’ design book, maybe not $1 billion similar, but it is enough to get Apple all pissy. I dont know why they did this, the row of 4 buttons at the bottom of the screen can be pressed from the home screen, so why they need to be persistent across the app drawer is beyond me. It wastes space and costs you a lot of money. That needs to go away. The app drawer is also filled with a massive amount of “crap” from Samsung. Social Hub, Music Hub, Readers Hub, Game Hub, My Files, Video Player, AllShare, Kies air (not sure why they didnt give air a A), Task, Voice command, Voice recorder, Voice talk, Photo editor, Video maker, Mini diary, Samsung Apps, Task Manager, FM radio, IM, Memo, Polaris Office, Archipelago, BBC iPlayer, Bunble Defense 2, Parachute Panic, Samsung Hub, Suggests and Videos.

Wow, 28 Samsung apps. There only are 52 apps on the phone, so Samsung has added over 100% of the normal number of apps. The only one that I can see being of any use is My Files. It is always nice to be able to browse the filesystem for files, but there are enough other apps there to be able to open files anyway, so it is slightly redundant on here. Memo and Tasks seem to be the exact same thing, just with different skins, both of which I am sure Steve Jobs’s put on a phone many many years ago. It didnt look nice then, and you can be sure that Samsung’s UI designers are no where near as good as Apple’s. They took something that didnt look great, and made it look really bad. Android doesnt need a task manager, especially with ICS’s swipe to close apps app switcher. Samsung Apps is another App store, apparently the Google Play store isnt enough for you. It is sort of encroaching Amazon Kindle territory here, with the OEM’s own store. Samsung Hub (which isnt positioned next to the rest of their “hubs”) open what seems to be another app store. This time clicking on an app from in here takes me to Google’s Market to download the app *cue slow clap*. The Games Hub within Samsung Hub, not the Games Hub itself, is another market browser, which this time takes me to a Samsung Mobile website to download a game from. The “Suggests” app is the worst thing I have ever clicked on. When you tap on the “Suggests” app, it opens up either the Google Market, or the weblink to Google Play and asks you to install the Samsung Hub. WTF. I cannot be more disapoint. A silly icon to take me to a different app store to ask me to install an app you shipped to me that allows me to download apps from a different store, or games from a web link. I almost wanted to stop here, but…

The Social Hub asks you to sign up for an account. The welcome screen says; “Once you set up your account, you will be able to manage all these features directly from your Samsung mobile phone.” These features include incoming messages and SNS updates. I’m not sure what an SNS update is, and I would like to think that wasnt a SMS typo. Music Hub is a music store. It is a bit laggy, but works fine. Reader Hub is a carbon copy of News Stand from Apple. Game Hub takes an age to open. After taking ages to open, it then asks me to update it, which takes me to Samsung Apps, and asks me to install a new app. There is a lot of clicks to do something simple. Then another lengthy wait to open, where I am asked to update and get taken to the Samsung Apps page and asked to update. It seems a bit like Deja Vu. I gave up. If anything takes that long to open, let alone then ask me to update, I won’t be opening it. AllShare is Samsung’s answer to Apple’s AirPlay. I have no other hardware to test this with. Kies Air is what Samsung deemed necessary to use since the Android OTA updater is broken (it most definitely is not broken). More hoops as you need a Samsung account. Voice command is a skinned version of Google’s voice search/commands and is presented in a “Siri” way. Not useful. Voice recorder is alright. Not sure if I or anyone would ever use it. Task manager is stupid. There is no need for it and there are many arguments that it may make battery life worse in Android. Then there are a couple of bloatware games.

All of these apps cannot be removed without rooting, which most people will not do, so they are stuck with this crap.

Then there is performance. This thing is choppy. I don’t remember how CM9 was, and coming from a pretty smooth CM10, I may be very biased. But this Touchwiz ROM is not nice. Pulling down the notification bar is not a nice experience. It lags and is not fluid. Swiping away notification is equally as choppy. There is almost a 1second delay every time I press the home button, from anywhere. That is not good enough. Pressing home should take you there instantly. It is unforgivable to have any sort of noticeable delay here. Even coming from the app drawer, there is a delay. Opening the recent apps list is choppy. The whole experience is not smooth. It is also themed like a nice looking Gingerbread 2.3 ROM. No matter what you did, Gingerbread did not look nearly as good as ICS. Maybe Samsung wanted to keep the GB feel to it so they didnt scare people when they upgraded to ICS. WRONG. People are not stupid, and they like a fresh feel to their device. It makes them feel cared about and loved. The lock screen is also awful. It is almost as bad as the one they had on GB, but not quite.

Overall this ROM echoes the reasons I said Samsung , and to a lesser extent, other OEM’s are killing Android. And this is on a high end device. Although fast approaching 2 years old, the SGS2 is still a powerful and capable device. I couldn’t use this ROM for more than 3 days. My iPhone has become my go to phone over the past day, and I cant wait to flash Firefox OS.

I won’t be buying another Samsung.