Samsung Advanced UI: This New TouchWiz UI is a Giant Leap Forward, Two Steps Back

Samsung Advanced UI: This New TouchWiz UI is a Giant Leap Forward, Two Steps Back

It feels like Samsung wants to make us scratch our heads and wonder what it is doing quite often and today is no different. Late last night a discovery on the Galaxy S7 subreddit led me to trying out a new application for the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. It is not quite “new” since it is actually an update to an already installed application – but particulars aside – how does it work and what does it do?

The app in question is called “Good Lock” from Samsung and only available from the Galaxy Apps store. Once you update the application you are prompted to reboot (for good reason) and once you are back to Android everything is slightly different, some for the better and some… well, some just makes us scratch our heads wondering why. There are 3 main areas of change – Lock Screen, Notification Pane, and Recent Apps menu – so let’s explore them.

Screenshot_20160329-114124The Lock Screen is fairly simple and is more of a hodgepodge of various versions of Android than anything. It has Lollipop style notifications, a bottom app list similar to the HTC and TouchWiz of old, and limited widget support like KitKat. It is very customizable with numerous clock widgets you can choose from (the clock is the default, you cannot have another widget be the primary one), colors can be changed, apps can be switched around and entire sections can be turned on and off. If you prefer a no clock lockscreen it can be done, as can one with no notification support. The wallpaper, oddly enough, cannot be changed to anything you want, you only have a choice of your primary wallpaper or a colored one based on your color settings. Swiping down on the clock widget opens the widgets view where you can add or remove widgets (I use the condensed DPI which causes the clipping of the Weather widget). Unlocking with your fingerprint is blazing fast and TouchWiz finally has the ability to open a notification by double tapping on it from the lockscreen. Finally.

The second area of change is the Notification Panel. Anyone who has used a Nexus device can feel right at home, but only if you like a horrible color pallette. I mean seriously, is it so hard to get a normal looking shade color?

Screenshot_20160329-113152You choose a primary color and the other colors are selected automatically based off it. Nothing looks normal, and all the selections have some sort of undesirable effect. But nitpicking aside they seem to be bringing more AOSP into the fold here then anywhere else: the status bar icons switch to AOSP variants, the quick toggle selection panel is very AOSP down to the animations when long pressing a toggle, and the general look and feel is just stock Android which is a welcome change. Things like the spinning settings button and the ability to tap the alarm icon all work exactly as they would on a Nexus or Motorola device (minus the System UI Tuner). 

Notifications get an overhaul too. There are two general filters “All” and “Keep”. It seems like this is Samsung’s approach to notification overload. Need to get to something something but cannot act on it immediately, just swipe it to the right and it ends up in “Keep” where the icon will disappear from the status bar but it is still actionable and easily viewable. Also new is the ability to sort your notifications into self titled “Groups”.

Screenshot_20160329-113156To expand or open a group just tap the title and it will expand anything it contains. The final big change is the ability to snooze a notification. Once a notification is snoozed it will disappear and come back once the time period expires. If you are like me and love the ability to snooze Inbox notifications this is a huge step in the right direction. All of these are fairly new approaches to notification overload and I really enjoy using them. Seeing something like this implemented into Android N would be a welcome addition considering the notification overhaul it is going to bring.

The final (and worst) change is to the Recent Apps view. There really isn’t much to say other than it is horrible. It is a totally broken implementation of an otherwise almost perfected interface. The list view is ugly, you lose the ability to see the image of the last app state, and the animations are just over the top. What Samsung was thinking when they left this in the application is beyond me, and I have no clue what direction they are heading towards with it. On the bottom of the recents menu are the same list of applications you have listed on your lockscreen.

The best feature is the ability to long press a recent application and have it open directly into the popup view, a feature that should have been implemented a while ago. Otherwise, please remove this Samsung.

Screenshot_20160329-113903Another notable thing is that it is heavily location oriented. I am a big fan of the “My Places” edge feature that will show recommended apps on the edge panel and change system settings depending on location or WiFi connection and it seems like they are aiming for a system level implementation of it. The colors, settings, and lock screen can all be adjusted based on your location. How could this be useful? Say you are at church and don’t want your editor spamming your lockscreen (this happens), simple, just set a Routine that hides the notification section of your lockscreen to be enabled automatically when you are there. Location aware features (love them or hate them) that adjust your experience based on your location with just a simple setup are just the next step in making our phones work better for us proactively. Seeing Samsung looking to implement this on a system level makes me very happy.

So how much of this should be taken with a grain of salt? Well, all of it. Samsung really hasn’t said much about this, but it is a publicly available application. It is in fairly early stages and there are bugs. But it is a very interesting direction for Samsung.

On one hand they are pulling fairly close to AOSP and just attempting to improve upon it as we can see from the change in the statusbar and quick toggles. On the other hand though we have the recent apps menu which follows no sort of material guidelines and is a huge step back in usability.

Personally, I’d say that if you are interested and have some time to try it out, I highly recommend it. You may like some of the features like the increased speed, AOSP statusbar icons or the quick app launcher on the lockscreen. Alternatively if you cannot stand the new recents menu you should probably stay far far away until that is changed. For me though, the new notification grouping support and the ability to double tap a notification are worth the downsides and it will be staying installed. Ill be sure to update you with any notable changes in the future.

Update – Any TouchWiz regular will recognize the big change on the first image of the gallery below. Lock screen album wallpaper! Also it appears that this is working on most devices running a Samsung Marshmallow build. YMMV.

In the meantime use the comments to let us know what you think Samsung is on the right track with on this new UI!

 

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