TouchWiz’s Current and Upcoming Theming Settings
TouchWiz has by far been the most controversial ROM to make it into a flagship. Since the early days of the S line-up, people have compared it to Stock Android, and the offerings of the competition, on a daily basis. While it is true that Samsung has often strayed from the path of Google’s original and personal vision for Android, some of these diversions have proven to be successful not just for Samsung’s revenue, but for the Android platform as a whole. Features we use every day like quick-toggles were originally popularized by Samsung, and I suspect things like the expanded power-menu and multi-window will probably soon arrive to AOSP as well, given that they seem long overdue at this point.
But with every thing that TouchWiz has done right in the past, they’ve done an equally worse mis-step. Many of the little bugs, glitches or inconsistencies that Samsung presents in its software can be overlooked, and while many of the features introduced don’t really add anything, they don’t necessarily subtract from the user experience… Right? Well, this probably isn’t the case. The insane addition of features that are either gimmicky or remarkably useless, specifically those that are faulty in their execution but quite complex in their code, can impact the user experience more so than many other additions of other competitors. And in fact, they do and, and (especially) did, on two main fronts:
TouchWiz has always been known to be one of the heaviest ROMs out there, bloated with not just features but applications that nobody asked for, and nobody seems to use. The devices do not just take space in the internal memory of the device, many applications or modules which cannot be uninstalled; they also take considerable amounts of RAM and some remain permanently cached in memory, with no option to turn off the services or disable the applications without rooting your device. This is a problem. When also given the fact that the TouchWiz launcher seems to be the laggiest of them all – and the system already taking up larger-than-normal amounts of memory to accomodate for all the features that the ROM supports, we can see one of the reasons as to why TouchWIz has performed so poorly in the past. There is hope, though, as early user reports and testing has proven that some of TouchWiz’s Lollipop ROMs improve on some of these aspects significantly. You can read more about it here on XDA.
Let’s put it this way: Samsung’s design is a mess, and not just aesthetically. I’ve used three Samsung devices in the past 3 years and I’ve always preferred my Stock devices (Nexus 5, Nexus 7) over them. And on many occasions, I find myself getting rid of TouchWiz altogether for this very reason. Now, the old look of TouchWiz hasn’t really seen many deviations or improvements over the past few years, not substantial ones that would be enough to shake off the stigma it gathered. While this look seems to be praised by Korean audiences, to western users their choices are clashing, to say the least. The colors are not pleasant to look at, the lines are mostly sharp, there’s unnecessary gradients in some places and the raw black background, while great for AMOLED screens, provides a bleak and pale contrast with the rest of the items. To put it simply, TouchWiz was and still is fugly when compared to some of the more elegant or well-rounded ROMs out there. And on the functionality side of the design, it suffers from an archaic and unintentionally confusing organization of drawer items, settings, and features.
Working around it
The beauty of Android is that, if you don’t like something, you can tweak it to your heart’s content. If you don’t like the default Messaging app, you can use Hangouts. If you don’t like the default Launcher, you can use Nova. If you don’t like the ROM itself, well, you can change that too. I think if you are on XDA, you probably already know this very well. But sometimes, things aren’t easy enough to change on OEM ROMs. And some things can’t be completely changed, or can’t be changed all the time. Samsung phones are like this, and while you can apply different themes to your device rather easily by flashing packages through custom recoveries, there’s a lack of freedom as to how much those themes can differ in aesthetics and design or functionality.
Samsung users that have avoided flashing a new ROM to change their themes have had other options. A very popular choice has been to use the Xposed Framework to tweak things like the notification bar, shade, and even multitasking and setting menus. While changing the design is mostly limited to adding or removing things, or changing colors and transparencies, you can end up with widely different – and better – aesthetics than TouchWiz. Below are some examples I’ve accomplished during my year of TouchWiz modding.
If you are interested in knowing how to mod your device, you can do either of the following here on XDA:
- Check out the previously linked Xposed framework. Some good modules to get your theming going would be the tweak-filled GravityBox or Wanam Xposed if you’ve got a Samsung phone. There’s a plethora of other modules that can offer individual mods to your user interface, like the previously shown Blurred System UI.
- Simply head over to your devices’ “Theme and Apps” subforum to find some themes and mods
- Do-it-yourself with the overwhelming amount of documentation and guides here on XDA, like the XML editing by Recognized XDA Themer Ticklefish that guide we shared earlier today.
What else can I do to change my UI’s look?
Well, it seems that if you are not willing to root your device, and install the recoveries or frameworks needed to get the most out of your theming possibilities, you might be able to simply wait. A few months ago reputed whistle-blower Sammobile reported that TouchWiz might adopt a theme engine, like that of CyanogenMod and other ROMs, although the stretches of its similarity were not confirmed. Early screenshots showed new possible themes, but it was not clear if it was a leak or a fake.
Later on, they showed us that new theme options would be present on the A3 and A5 models, but would be restricted to system icons, wallpaper, and color schemes. This disappointed many Samsung users who were expecting more customizability out of the dated and ugly default ROM. However, just a few hours ago the hopes were raised again when Sammobile had an exclusive detailing that future Samsung devices would bring forth enhanced themes support:
“According to information we’ve received, Samsung is making themes support a priority on all future devices, with the S6 to be among the first to offer enhanced themes customization.”
“The themes function will be similar to the one seen on the Galaxy A devices and will be called Themes Center (or something similar), but with a few additional options, such as changing system sounds, fonts, and something called Events.”
What’s more, the new devices will feature a Theme Store. While we are not sure if there will be third-party themes on it, or the option for developers to create their own and upload them, Samsung is known for actively releasing the necessary developer tools to utilize the exclusive Samsung functionality their phones usually feature, such as multi-window or the recent Galaxy Note Edge‘s side-display. So we are hoping that we’ll get to see more on this leading up to the Galaxy S6’s release, and we can’t wait to see what third-party theme support built into TouchWiz would allow for.
To wait or not to wait?
The options to customize your Samsung devices are available to you today. Perhaps Samsung will open fantastic opportunities for those who want to make their ROM their own with their own touch and style. But given this is Samsung, I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high… Although, if there’s something worth recognizing is that despite TouchWiz has been worse than the competition on many aspects for years, it seems they are turning it around. Let’s just hope they ditch their old design language and learn from Google and others as to what makes a good-looking interface.