One UI 4 Beta Overview: Hands-on with every feature in Samsung’s Android 12 update!

One UI 4 Beta Overview: Hands-on with every feature in Samsung’s Android 12 update!

Samsung released its first One UI 4 Beta update based on Android 12 earlier this week. If you have a Galaxy S21, S21+, or S21 Ultra in the U.S., South Korea, India, Germany, Poland, the U.K., or China, you should be able to join the beta from within the Samsung Members app. Updating your daily driver device to beta software is a risk not everyone is willing to take, but if you’re wondering what the new Android 12 update is like, I’ve been running it on my own Galaxy S21 Ultra to document all the new features.

When Samsung first announced the One UI 4 Beta on Monday, they only mentioned a handful of new features in their press release. However, once the update started rolling out to beta enrollees, we learned that the One UI 4 Beta changelog is actually quite extensive. Samsung clearly packed in a ton of new features in its Android 12 update, with everything from multitasking improvements to animated emoji in the Samsung Keyboard. In this post, I’ll share screenshots of all the key changes, discuss the overall stability of the beta, and mention some minor annoyances I’ve found while running the One UI 4 Beta on my Galaxy S21 Ultra. Let’s get to it.

One UI 4 Beta version info (Galaxy S21 Ultra – U.S. unlocked)

    • Software version: G991NKSU3ZUID/G991NOKR3ZUID/G991NKOU3BU18
    • Update size: 2422.17 MB
    • Android Security Patch Level (SPL): September 1, 2021

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New features in One UI 4 Beta

Home screen/Lock Screen/Always on display

Home screen widgets have been redesigned in One UI 4 to give you more information at a glance while also making your Home screen more stylish. You’ll also get recommendations for widgets that may be useful for you. You can see an example of a redesigned widget below with the dual-city clock, now including a weather icon in the top right corner. This particular widget also now shows as light or dark depending on the time in the chosen city.

On the lock screen, you can now change the audio output to a different device, such as headphones or a speaker. This media output button was actually added to Android in Android 11, but it’s nice to see it appear in Samsung’s Android 12 update. You’ll also get customized controls depending on which music app you’re using. In the example below, I did a quick test with Youtube Music and Spotify. You can clearly see that with Youtube Music, you get enhanced controls for a like or dislike button on either side of the track forward and backward icons. On the other hand, Spotify has a heart button on the left side of the track backward icon.

You can now add a Voice Recorder widget to the lock screen that lets you record voice memos without unlocking your phone. When you double tap the time, you get a monthly calendar view as well as your daily agenda, to help you better visualize your schedule.

As for the Always on Display, there’s a new option that’s proven quite useful so far. You can now choose to turn on the AOD only when receiving new notifications. This is a feature I’ve wanted for a long time, so I’m happy to finally see it arrive in One UI 4. There’s also a number of new stickers for use in decorating your AOD, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Quick Settings panel redesign

The quick panel has been redesigned with more compact notifications and an enhanced layout. There’s also separation for silent notifications and alert notifications, to make it easier for you to triage information as it arrives. The panel still retains Samsung’s design language rather than the UI seen in Google’s Android 12 update for Pixel phones.

The brightness bar in the quick settings panel is larger so it’s easier to see and adjust. The notification shade is less transparent and looks like an overabundance of empty space when you don’t have any notifications to view. It’s much more noticeable when using light mode, but you can still notice the difference in dark mode. I’m still not sure I’m a huge fan of this choice, but perhaps it will grow on me over time as I continue to play around with the One UI 4 Beta.

Dark mode

I use Dark mode virtually 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Like many other people, I just think it looks better when navigating around the UI. In the Android 12 update, Samsung made a subtle, but very nice improvement to the behavior of dark mode. Wallpapers, icons, and illustrations are now darkened automatically to provide a more consistent look across One UI 4 as well as more comfort for your eyes.

It’s a bit difficult to notice at first, but if you stare carefully at the two images above, you’ll notice the image on the right has a darker tint to it. This is a screenshot of the new dark mode in action. Icons are subtly tinted so that you get a more consistent feel, which I really like quite a bit.

Charging effects

There’s not much to say about this one, but basically, you get a new animation when you plug in your phone to charge. If you want to see what it looks like, check out the picture below. The effects are supposed to help you quickly check how fast the device is charging. Since it’s a Samsung phone, we know the answer is not very fast at all. We’ll have to wait for the Galaxy S22 for that.
One UI 4.0 new charging animation

Samsung keyboard

The Samsung keyboard app gains quite a few new features in One UI 4.Get to your emojis, GIFs, and stickers directly from the keyboard, now with a single button. Self-expression is a tap away. There are several third-party add-ons joining the party this time around, including Grammarly for keeping your spelling and punctuation on point. You also have Bitmoji, mojitos, giphy, as well as Spotify.

Samsung also added new features for creating and animating emoji. This is helpful if you want to combine two emotions or emphasize a single emotion with two similar emojis. If you love stickers, which Samsung obviously does, there are a number of new stickers available for download as well. I still prefer Gboard myself, but Samsung has done a lot of work improving their keyboard the past few years.

Sharing

The Sharing menu gets a much-needed clean up in the Android 12 update. For starters, the interface now scrolls horizontally so it’s a bit easier to find the app you’re looking for. You can also now customize the list of additional apps that appear in the sharing menu. This makes it quite a bit easier to clean up the total number of apps for sharing and not clutter up your screen with an unsightly mess each time you want to share a photo or link.

When you try to share pictures that have problems like poor focus or framing, you’ll even get suggestions for fixing them, so your pictures always look their best.

Camera and Gallery

The basic Camera UI gets a simpler, clearer layout in the Android 12 update, with a preview that shows only the information you need. The scene optimizer button will only appear in Photo mode if there’s low light or you’re scanning a document. This is in contrast to One UI 3, where the scene optimize button appears in all lighting conditions. Settings for Portrait and Night modes are now more intuitive, so you can choose the correct amount of bokeh or adjust lighting at night more easily.

Pro mode settings are simplified and have been reorganized for a cleaner look. When grid lines are on, horizontal level indicators help you line up a shot with better symmetry. You can now see the zoom level on the lens icons for easier zooming, even in modes that only support the primary lens. Video is also improved, as recordings now start when you press the record button, instead of after you release it. This is a small issue, but it’s something that annoyed me in prior versions of Samsung’s software.

With Single Take, you can now add extra time while recording so you don’t miss important moments. After the recording is finished, the content selection menu has been improved to help you easily choose the perfect shots.

One strange removal from the Camera settings menu is the option to automatically use the wide-angle lens for group selfies. This option is available on my Galaxy Z Fold 3 running One UI 3.1, but it’s not available in the One UI 4 Beta. Scanning QR codes is more robust in One UI 4, with more options available based on the content of the code scanned.

Along with the Camera app, Gallery also gets a number of useful tweaks in One UI 4. Stories now show a video preview on the cover and a highlight video inside. You can also see where each picture in a story was taken on a map, similar to Google Photos. Definitely a cool feature for those that like to relive memories through Samsung’s curated stories.

Search has been improved in the Gallery, with more useful suggestions and recent searches included. Albums now have more options for sorting, including by shot type. You can also now edit the date, time, and location of a photo. I’m not sure exactly why you’d want to do this, other than for nefarious reasons, but maybe I’m wrong. If you edit or remaster a photo with filters, you can revert it back to the original even after saving.

Photo and video editor

You can now add emojis and stickers to your photos in the editor, something I’m sure everyone wanted in the Android 12 update. On the more practical side of photo editing, the new Light balance option lets you edit the overall tone of your photos more efficiently. The Highlight reel editor has all been enhanced for finer control.

As with photos, you can also revert an edited video back to its original form, even after saving it. The editor will also let you cut and paste an object from one photo or video and paste it into another one.

AR Emoji

I almost forgot that AR emoji were a thing, but I can tell you Samsung certainly hasn’t. Perhaps the biggest new feature is that you can now use an AR emoji as your profile picture in Contacts and Samsung account. You can choose from over 10 poses or create your own expressions. In case you don’t like your real face, you can now have a slightly scary, but idealized version as your contact photo instead.

If AR emoji as your contact photo isn’t enough, you can now make cool dance videos with them in One UI 4. There are templates from 10 different categories, including #Fun, #Cute, and #Party. Not really my cup of tea, but I’m sure there are lots of people that will enjoy this feature. You can even use your own hand-drawn sketches to create custom clothing for your AR emoji. Cool.

Multitasking

On to something that definitely is my cup of tea, multitasking. Samsung actually added some very nice improvements for multitasking with pop-up windows and picture-in-picture. I frequently find myself opening the window options menu when multitasking in previous versions of One UI. That issue has been resolved in One UI 4.0. You can pin the window options to the top of a floating window for easier access. In addition, picture-in-picture windows can now be easily resized using a pinch to zoom gesture, a feature inherited from Google’s Android 12 update.

Using multiple windows with edge panels used to be quite difficult, but in the Android 12 update, you can keep your current app in view while using edge panels. Blurring has been removed to help you see more at once. Overall, the multitasking improvements are one of the better additions to One UI 4 for me personally.

Settings and Digital Wellbeing

The Settings menu gets a few smaller changes in One UI 4, and Digital Wellbeing picks up a nifty mode to help reduce your screen time while driving. Search is faster in One UI 4, with improved suggestions. There’s also a new safety and emergency menu for storing medical information and emergency contact phone numbers, another feature inherited from the stock Android 12 update.

Driving Monitor now helps you focus on driving by helping you monitor your phone usage while connected to your car’s Bluetooth. You can exclude apps that should be in use, like Maps or Waze. I’m not quite sure how this works with Android Auto as I turned it on while driving and Driving Monitor didn’t appear to track any of my Android Auto usage, which I suppose makes sense.

Clock and Calendar

The dual clock widget now shows different background colors for each city depending on whether it’s day or night. It’s a nice looking widget and definitely lets you quickly check the relative time in both cities.

Calendar’s new layout lets you add events instantly. You can also find events more easily with improved search features. A new Home screen widget shows your monthly calendar along with today’s events. Create shared calendars and invite other Galaxy users to join. Unfortunately, shared calendars only work with other people that have a Samsung phone at this time.

Messages and My Files

If you use Samsung Messages, search has been improved in the One UI 4 version of the app. Results now include photos, videos, web links, and more. My Files gets similar improvements, with better search suggestions based on the type of file and time of day. The recent files view in My Files looks a lot better in the Android 12 update, with larger image previews for recently added photos at the very top.

Samsung Internet

While Chrome is still my go-to browser on my Samsung phones, the Samsung Internet browser has improved a lot over time and has a number of appealing features not found in Chrome. Like many other Samsung apps in One UI 4, search has improved in the browser with a new suggestions layout that claims to be more accurate and robust.

There’s also a new streamlined widget for Samsung Internet that lets you search the web for what you need, directly from your home screen. To protect your privacy, Samsung Internet now automatically starts in Secret mode if you were using it during your last browsing session.

Device Care

Battery issues are the main reason for checking out the Device Care menu, which now has a more intuitive interface to help you more quickly diagnose issues with your phone. The primary screen now highlights both battery life and security issues. Overall status of the phone is now displayed as an emoji, instead of just a raw score, making it easier to determine how things are going at a glance.

If you do notice any problems with your device, you can get right to Samsung Members diagnostics from Device Care. Try the diagnostic tests to find out what the problem is and get suggestions for solving it. The option to protect your battery by limiting maximum charge to 85% now appears in the Device Care menu. This option was added to the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3, which launched with One UI 3.1.1, so it makes sense to see it in One UI 4 for other devices.

Samsung Health

Samsung Health gets an all-new layout in the Android 12 update with tabs along the bottom for easier navigation. This idea keeps with Google’s goal of making Android 12 easier to navigate on larger devices. Samsung has also designed the gender menu to be more inclusive, with options for “Other” and “Prefer not to say.”

The My Page tab now shows all of your relevant Health data, including your profile, weekly summary, badges, and personal bests. New snack options and snack times have been added to the food options. If you enjoy challenging your friends in Health, you can now do so even easier by sending an invite link.

Bixby Routines

Although Google Assistant is better than Bixby for general information and smart home functionality, Bixby can do a lot to help you get things done on your Samsung phone. In the One UI 4 Beta, more conditions are available for your Bixby routines. You can start a routine during a call or when a certain notification arrives. You can also turn on Enhanced processing with a routine. There are also more options for connecting and disconnecting Bluetooth devices. To protect your battery, there are new fast charging toggles available, to help you delegate when to slow charge your battery if you have time.

If you want to chain together complex Bixby Routines, One UI 4 can help with that. Actions can be reordered by touching and holding actions on the edit page. Advanced options have also been added to let you wait before action starts, confirm actions, and more. Samsung lifted restrictions for some combinations of conditions and actions (mostly those involving Bluetooth devices) so you can do even more with your routines. To recognize your routines faster, you can now add a custom icon from Gallery for each routine.

Accessibility

Samsung has made a number of accessibility improvements in its Android 12 update, including the addition of a new floating accessibility button that can appear on top of apps, the ability to adjust the contrast and size simultaneously when using a custom display mode, quick actions when moving your mouse pointer to one of the 4 corners of the screen, setting the color of notifications on a per-app basis, and more.

Privacy

Some of the biggest upgrades in One UI 4 are privacy focused. The new Permission Usage History menu lets you view all of the permissions used by individual apps over time. You can easily deny permissions for Camera, Location, and Microphone directly within the menu. This feature is based on the privacy dashboard found in the Android 12 update for Pixel phones.

You also now get a pop-up in every app asking if you want to receive notifications. This can be a bit annoying, but I suppose it is better than turning notifications or or off for all apps by default.

Speaking of pop-ups, you’ll also now get one each time an app requests to use your location. You can choose between precise or approximate location for each app. For apps that only need to know your general area, such as weather apps, you can allow access to your approximate location so they can’t determine exactly where you are. Again, this is another feature inherited from the Android 12 update you’ll see on Google devices.

A green dot will now appear in the upper righthand corner of the screen when any app is using the camera or microphone so you can see if an app is recording you without your consent. You can also use quick settings controls to temporarily block all apps from using the camera or microphone. When copying and pasting sensitive information like credit cards, you can now be notified if any app accesses the information stored on your clipboard. It seems like privacy was a huge focus for Google in its Android 12 update, which is why we’re seeing these great new privacy features extend to Samsung’s One UI 4 software.

Other features

There are a couple of other new features that didn’t fit into any of the above categories. First, you now have the option to use the eSIM in the U.S. Galaxy S21. This may not sound like a big deal to international users, but the U.S. has been left out of the eSIM party for the last few Samsung phone launches. That has finally changed with the Android 12 update. It’s super convenient to add an extra phone number by utilizing the eSIM capability.

For those that love customization, the Samsung Good Lock app now enables third-party icon pack support from the Google Play Store. With One UI 4, all you need to do is download the Theme Park add-on for Good Lock, pick your favorite icon pack from the Play Store, and use it with the One UI launcher. Interestingly enough, this feature also works with my Galaxy Z Fold 3 as well, so it looks like Samsung phones will have this capability going forward.

Bugs/stability discussion

Overall, One UI 4 is fairly stable despite being a beta release. I have noticed some force close issues with a few popular apps like Instagram and YouTube Studio. This is expected for a beta, so I can’t really complain too much. Still, you should be aware that the One UI 4 Beta won’t be as stable as One UI 3.01 or One UI 3.1.

Android Auto does work with One UI 4 so far, in my experience. I had quite a few issues using Android Auto with my Pixel 5a running Android 12 Beta 5, so I was happy to see that Samsung’s beta doesn’t have the same issues. I know a lot of people depend on Android Auto daily, so you shouldn’t worry about that if you want to try the beta.

Payment apps are also fully working in this first beta of One UI 4. I initially though Samsung Pay was broken, but it turns out it was just an issue with my American Express card. I was able to add a Visa and Mastercard to Samsung Pay as well as Google Pay, and use both for contactless payments at a vending machine.

Perhaps the most significant bug in the first One UI 4 Beta lies with the precise versus approximate location pop-up. If you choose approximate location in some apps (like Instagram), the pop-up will come back again if Instagram asks for your precise location again. The only way I’ve found to fix this is by turning location off entirely for Instagram. Even so, the pop-up notification still animates, but it closes itself before displaying fully on my phone. I’m assuming that One UI is remembering my choice to turn off location just after the pop-up window starts to animate. This is something that will hopefully be resolved in the second beta, but it’s quite annoying to use right now.

Battery life

I’ve only used the One UI 4 Beta on my Galaxy S21 Ultra for two days at this point, so saying much about battery life is impossible. During my preliminary use, I haven’t noticed a significant departure from the solid battery life I had before moving to the beta. I typically get about 8 hours of screen on time from my Galaxy S21 Ultra, and the beta seems to average around the same. If you want to give the early Android 12 update a try, I don’t think you have to be too worried about battery life taking a significant hit.

Final thoughts on the One UI 4 Beta

Unlike Google’s Android 12 update on Pixel devices, One UI 4 is a more subdued update in terms of UI changes. There are a number of useful new features, but they are primarily focused on privacy and general usability.

One key theme throughout One UI 4 is the improvement of search features in Samsung’s key first-party apps such as Gallery, Samsung Internet, My Files, and more. There are a lot of subtle changes that add up to be more than the sum of their parts. Overall, I really like the changes Samsung added to Dark Mode and controls on the lock screen for instance. Both of these small tweaks add value to the daily user experience.S21 Ultra home screen with OneUI 4.0

There’s still a chance that we will see more UI changes in a future One UI 4 Beta. Perhaps we might even see some integration of Material You theming. In my opinion, Material You in One UI 4 seems unlikely, primarily because Google seems poised to launch it as a Pixel exclusive with the Pixel 6 series. Samsung does offer a number of customization options already, not only in One UI itself but also through their Good Lock app.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Samsung’s Android 12 update. Does Samsung need to add Material You or overhaul the UI elements in future One UI 4 beta versions?

About author

Jeff Springer
Jeff Springer

Applied mathematician with a love for Android. I am interested in inverse problems for imaging and integration with camera software for mobile phones.