By Stephen Schenck | December 3, 2013 7:15 AM
There are few issues as contentious among Android users as the value of user interface “enhancements” baked-in by various OEMs. TouchWiz, Sense, Motoblur: most of the big players have released devices running their own skins at one point or another.
The intentions behind these software packages are usually honorable – OEMs want to make Android more accessible, more pleasant to use, or just want to help distinguish their offerings from the rest of the pack and really stand out.
Problem is, plenty of us see these changes as little more than unwanted tampering with the core Android experience. One need look no farther for proof of these frustrations than this year’s launch of the Google Play Edition lineup, giving users a chance to experience some of their favorite Android hardware without having to settle for the UI changes that otherwise come part and parcel with these companies’ offerings.
But why DO some users hate them so much? I want to take a closer look at one of the most prevalent UIs around, talk about some of its issues, and hear from you if all this vitriol is really deserved: are we being too hard on Samsung’s TouchWiz?
The argument’s been put forward that us smartphone-obsessive types are missing the big picture here: that we’re focused on the sort of usability issues that simply don’t concern your average smartphone owner. Regardless of just how married you are to the idea of stock Android, though, there are a more than a few issues we take with TouchWiz that seem like they should matter to all users – advanced or not.
One big problem with the TouchWiz user interface: it’s ugly. Color pairings are questionable at best, and they’re not even consistent throughout the experience: one screen’s dark, and then one bright white, without any hint of a reason for the juxtaposition. The use of textures can make on-screen elements less streamlined or attractive, and Samsung seems to have no sense of how large things should be – layout choices feel haphazard and made with little understanding of their ultimate on-screen appearance.
A lot of this could mitigated by a consistent look – just any kind of unified design language – but instead it feels like Samsung was just trying to squeeze in as many changes as possible, simply for the sake of making changes. That’s another issue – plenty of UI elements that were perfectly fine in stock Android, and gain no usability benefit in TouchWiz, are changed without rhyme or reason.
All these changes don’t come for free, either. I’m not talking about money, but space; TouchWiz makes system images and updates larger, and that’s before installation. While Samsung’s been OK about offering users devices with large amounts of internal storage, and still provides phones with microSD expansion, I’d still rather not see quite so much space taken up by system software alone.
That would all be bad enough, but then factor in the performance hit (lag, thy name is TouchWiz), and we start moving from “unwanted minor annoyance” territory to something with very real negative consequences on your smartphone experience.
Not everything about TouchWiz is capital-A awful, though. While many of the very specific “gimmicky” features like Smart Scroll are of limited use, others actually add something to the user experience. Sadly for most Samsung owners, the really neat ones are largely Note exclusives, relying on interactions with the S Pen.
Is that going to be enough to redeem TouchWiz, especially if you’re not rocking a Note? Now you see why we’re as down on the software as we often are.
But like I said earlier, we’re willing to entertain the idea that we’re simply being too hard on TouchWiz. So let’s have it! Is all this whining and moaning wholly uncalled-for, or is TouchWiz an outright plague that’s ruining Samsung phone after phone?