Galaxy S8: How the Developer Community Radically Improved My Experience (Without Root)
Sometimes it needs a little help to make it truly yours… again
Last week I wrote about why I felt the Galaxy S8’s software was a major letdown in comparison to its hardware, but despite its faults it is still my go-to phone, for the moment. So how do I deal with software I admittedly hate, and performance that is subpar in contrast to other major flagships? Along the same lines of last year’s thread (which ironically was nearly one year ago), here is how the developer community helped me radically improve my S8+ experience, this time with no root!
This article contains zero paid or otherwise reimbursed endorsements, these are just the apps I use day to day.
So like I mentioned earlier, the S8’s software needs work and a lot of it. The first thing I am going to tackle is bloat. Now this is a topic that draws a lot of arguments because as the old phrase goes, “One man’s trash is another’s treasure” and this applies to Samsung’s software as well as anything. Do not follow this part of the guide verbatim, instead you can use it to help shape your decisions as to what you can safely debloat.
The first thing to look at is running services. Now, my preferred debloating application is BK Disabler. This is in no way an endorsement for them, use whichever you like the most. In BK you can sort by running processes and packages, which makes things helpful. Once you start sorting by these parameters be very careful as you can easily get yourself into trouble by disabling things like SystemUI (duh) or other important packages. It took me a solid 5 to 7 runthroughs to disable everything I did not want and I have linked a screenshot on Google Drive of my list. In this list you will see a lot of things that are “Samsung Features” that, like the old adage referenced above says, I feel are trash and I rarely, if ever, use them. Some of the major ones I disabled were those related to the entire edge panel — I never actually use it and it does cause some UI lag. I also disabled Bixby entirely, for obvious reasons. I disabled the Clipboard UI service as well. An issue is when I copy and paste passwords from my password manager, Keepass, they get stored in the clipboard and there is no method to blacklisting an app — major security issue for me so I killed it. Device Maintenance is an annoying one, this is preinstalled on some models (not Verizon) and is heavy, it tries to monitor app power, RAM usage, and storage and then recommends fixes. It uses a lot of system resources and just is not really needed. The issue though is that you lose the whole area in settings as well, so to access the stock Battery graph and Storage manager I just used Nova actions and set it to a folder on my desktop… over 100mb of constant RAM usage saved.
Some other things I disabled are the entire Game Service suite, GearVR services, and the Themes service. These are easy enough to enable when necessary, and parts of them are always running, for absolutely zero reason. Next up is Knox. Now know this, if you disable Knox, Samsung Pay ceases to function along with the Secure Folder and anything else that could be managed by it and likely breaks Exchange support, especially with MDM’s, so do approach with caution. That being said I noticed the largest change in performance by disabling the Knox suite of services.
So with all that disabled, what actually still works? Well, everything that needs to work. Calls work with the stock dialer, SMS, MMS, Wifi Calling, VoLTE, Camera, the ability to stretch apps to 18.5:9 and Multi-Window, the screenshot enhancements like scroll capture and cropping, the fingerprint sensor (although I disabled Iris and face unlock), and a lot more. Basically, you are looking at what you get with a stock’ish build of Android with minimal additions and the essentials for the phone to still work. I also do not get any force closures due to my disabled applications. The only side effects are when opening settings, as so many major things are disabled, that it causes the menu to hesitate when loading the main settings and the security menu. Other than that, and since those are rarely used anyways, my setup has been 100% stable for me but your mileage will absolutely vary. Take time, it may take a few days to really iron out your build to perfection, but it is absolutely worth it.
A note about using a Bixby Remapper – If you want to use one of these applications you can disable all Bixby related packages except “Hello Bixby” and “Bixby”. I don’t know about other disablers allow this, but BK disabler allows you to disable services. You can tap into the Bixby app, tap services, and disable all except the last one “Wink Service”. Then go into “Hello Bixby” and disable all services but SpageService. As to if disabling individual services really impacts performance, who knows, but in an effort to disable all but what is needed, those are the steps to do so and still retain the remapping features.
Getting the Look You Want
The second thing is the interface. While I give Samsung a lot of crap for their software, the themes engine and UI is surprisingly excellent. I do wish the theme manager gave me more granular controls, but you can’t have everything. Go and find a good theme you enjoy and set it up — I recommend doing this prior to debloating since the Themes engine is something I remove, and it needs to be setup prior to installing a new theme. Also the Samsung Account manager needs to be enabled to download a theme, but not to install one. So download any theme you want, and then you can switch between them by only enabling the Theme app after debloating. Like most of us, I also use Nova Launcher and an icon pack. My icon pack today is Urmun and I traditionally use Backdrops for my wallpapers and Gracerial for the system theme, although that one is a paid theme.
The second part of the system theme I wanted to change is the navigation icons, they are just straight up ugly, and needed to change. Well thankfully the developer community found a way to install overlays that work perfectly to change the icons, check this thread for the instructions and icons list. I also made my navbar smaller at 30points and my dpi is set to 470, the smallest I have found that does not kick certain apps into weird scaling. Finally, I use the SystemUI Tuner app I talk about below to disable a lot of system tray icons I do not care to see. After all my changes, I am left with a super clean and very personalized phone that is very me, and very little Samsung, just the way I like it.
Finally, we have what’s probably my largest gripe and is likely something that is bothering you without even realizing it: notifications. Have you noticed that most apps are not notifying you like they should on the S7 and S8 on Nougat? Well, Samsung pretty much saw what Google has offered with Nougat and decided to just destroy it all by totally breaking notification control for their own crap. Many of us likely use the SystemUI Tuner option on stock builds of Android to enable fine grain controls of notifications that allow you the user to set exactly how an app notifies you with Heads-up control, DND bypassing, and more. That same tuner and subsequent options have been totally removed on the Samsung’s Nougat, and up until today I could not find a way to enable it. Enter System UI Tuner by Zacharee1 an excellent application still in development that enables most of what Samsung, and others, disable. With this application you can toggle the Status Bar icons and use the demo mode, both are features Samsung ditched. More importantly for this right now though, is the ability to get the fine tuning Notification Control back, though it takes some work. This is the method I have found to set any apps’ importance (aside from those Samsung locks out) to whatever I need, there may be other methods but this works 100% of the time with no irregularity.
- Go into settings and disable notifications for whatever applications you want to tune. Prior to disabling the notifications set the options you want for lock screen notifications and priority. I do not know if this carries through, but it doesn’t hurt and once you turn on the enhance settings these are not togglable. For me these apps were Inbox, IFTTT, Facebook Messenger, and Google Hangouts all for not having Heads-Up notifications.
- Go into the SystemUI Tuner and set it up with ADB permissions (this requires a PC with ADB running)
- Go to the Miscellaneous menu and turn on the slider for Heads-up Notifications and then scroll down to Power Notification Controls and enable this.
- Go back to the settings for the application you are fixing and hit the back button to go back a menu, and then re-enter the notification controls — you will see the new slider. You can only tap this once, although people say spamming it works but it did not for me, so make sure you know what you want to set it to. If you mishit, or want to change it just do Step 3 and 4 again.
Now your notifications can be granularly controlled just like it is on Stock Android, and the way it should be.
The Galaxy S8 is not a bad phone, in fact it is very likely one of the best phones on the market in terms of the total experience — it just needs some fine tuning and attention that Samsung’s reluctant to give it.
This article is not an all encompassing rule book to be followed to the letter, but more of a guide to help you to make the S8 truly yours, and to hopefully help it perform better. Please share more thoughts below as to how you make the phone yours and things I may have missed. If you have questions feel free to leave them in the comments section, or contact me on Twitter!