Top five Samsung TouchWiz features you might be missing on Android

April 10, 2014
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Samsung's customized Android has received a lot of flack, and not without good reason. But throwing the baby out with the bath water isn't exactly a good idea either and Android, especially the vanilla one, sometimes leave some things to be desired. Here are five rather unique features that may make you think twice about thinking that nothing good can come out of TouchWiz.

TouchWiz Home

Let's start with something that's easily replaceable, the homescreen. On AOSP Android or even the Google Now Launcher you have a very simple launcher. Perhaps too simple, offering just the below the basics. While you may not have the extreme configurability of launchers like Themer, with TouchWiz you just have enough to personalize your screens without getting bogged down with too much options. You can create folders, arrange icons in a custom order and hide apps, all without having to install another launcher. For aesthetics, you can separately change the home screen wallpaper and the lock screen wallpaper easily.

touchwiz-homescreen-1

The lock screen is a less unique part of the experience and exhibits pretty much the same features as stock Android. It's only advantage is how well it integrates with the rest of TouchWiz, including things like Action Memo, which we'll meet later, and accessories like S-View cover. These two parts of TouchWiz are, of course, easily changed, but their greatest benefit is offering those basic features without the need for third-party solutions.

Motion Control

Our smartphones are increasingly laden with sensors, and Samsung makes good use of them. The Galaxy S 4 debuted with a lot of fancy sensor-based controls, but even some lowly budget device with only an accelerometer benefit from TouchWiz enhancement. The simple act of turning over the phone to mute an incoming call is a very convenient gesture. More recently, Air View let's you conveniently preview content without having to open it up. Direct Call lets you automatically call the number that is currently shown in a call log, message or contact by simply picking up the phone and bringing it up to your face, without having to tap that call button.

These bits and pieces are most definitely non-essential features but they provide enough convenience that, after some time, you begin to wonder how you lived without them.

Notification panel and Quick Settings

One of the biggest and immediately obvious ways Samsung differentiates from stock Android is the way it presents notifications. Instead of the split notificaiton and quick settings setup, TouchWiz uses a unified panel. It definitely does not sit well with many Android fans, but it does have its own fair share of conveniences.

First is that there is really one location and one way to get to things. Instead of having to keep in mind two distinct areas, you only have to learn one.

Second, the quick settings in TouchWiz are presented in a single scrollable row instead of a grid that takes up a good amount of screen space. Given how TouchWiz implements the unified notification panel, one might say Samsung couldn't have done otherwise. But a single row of icons is still a neater way to organize your most used settings.

touchwiz-quicksettings-1

And when it comes to customizing those, TouchWiz makes it even a lot easier. Right there from the notification panel or via a two-finger swipe, you can get access to the set of quick setting buttons. With a single tap, you can jump to edit mode to rearrange which ones are immediately visible in the panel. In contrast, doing this via stock Android requires users to dig deeper into the Settings app, which, as we will soon see, is a whole different monster.

Search in Settings

Android currently has dozens of buttons, knobs, and options available to the user and we can expect that number to grow even more. While Android developers and designers do their best to keep the Settings app neat and tidy, they can only either make the list longer or make it deeper. Either way, looking for the right setting might be a hassle, and this is where Samsung's latest TouchWiz version comes in.

Given that Samsung has added a ton of extra settings, it is perhaps only natural that they provide an easier way to look for them. The new tabbed interface might be debatable, but having a Search feature there is genius. Simply type in a setting you're interested in and it will show you all possible hits. Even the most advanced Android user will most likely forget some feature or setting, so this Search bar in Settings is definitely heaven sent.

touchwiz-settings-1

Unfortunately, this feature isn't available on all Samsung devices, and here you see fragmentation rearing its ugly head again. One can only hope that as devices converge towards Android 4.4, we will see less and less of these wildly varying versions.

Multi-Window

Here's one feature that is both contentious and also not present on all TouchWiz devices. It also needs no introduction. TouchWiz multi-window brings Android multitasking to the extreme, allowing users to have two, or in the case of the Galaxy Note Pro and Tab Pro tablets, up to four "windows" side by side at the same time. You can watch a video while chatting, take notes while browsing, chat with two contacts at the same time, and even drag and drop supported content between apps.

Multi-Window is, of course, possible with some third-party add-ons, but as in the features mentioned above, Samsung takes an extra step to provide convenice. Starting with the Galaxy Note 3, users can create custom pairs of frequently used apps and with the Galaxy S5, they can even run two instances of the same app at the same time.

Unfortunately, neither Samsung's nor others' implementations cover the entire gamut of Android apps. Google has been said to be vehemently against such features and it is unlikely that we will see a universal way to support multi-windowing across all of Android.

Bonus: Air Command

Here is yet another niche TouchWiz feature, but one that has so far not been implemented by third-party developers, leaving S-Pen users such as this author stuck with a pure Samsung experience. In the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung introduced some new features that are exclusive to TouchWiz and the S-Pen that goes beyond simple pen input and pressure sensitivity.

Action Memo gives you the convenience of that iconic Post-it note, letting you quickly scribble words or numbers and then turn them into actions (hence the name) like making a call, adding a contact, or searching the web. Pen Window, on the other hand, lets you draw a rectangle that can be transformed into one of a few supported apps, putting yet another multitasking feature under TouchWiz's belt.

Wrap-Up

TouchWiz is by no means perfect. The colorful and cartoon-like icons have hurt many users' aesthetic taste buds. Its bloat and sluggishness bemoaned by some have sacrificed many a hair to the deities of frustration and anguish. But TouchWiz isn't without its silver lining and, like any software, there is hope for change.

Samsung has been seen slowly trying to turn over a new art taste and rumors abound that it will be trying to rein in much of its divergent features. Of course, that's not saying that Samsung will suddenly stop trying to differentiate itself with unique and custom features. One can only hope there is some sense left in the Korean giant.

Do you have a favorite TouchWiz or Samsung feature? Or do you have a gripe about how Samsung has turned Android into something almost unidentifiable? Hit the comments below and share with the community your thoughts and experiences about one of Samsung's most disputed feature.


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  • Jason Williams

    All those “cool features” you mentioned I found completely unusable because they are all chained to stock Samsung apps which are the worst possible versions of those apps in whatever category they’re in.

    • hohopig

      :P haha, you do know that many of these features are in fact on other skin, including but not limited to sense 6? .. things like folder on app screen, search, notification, they are all present in one form or another.

      The only thing that really is tied to Samsung Skin (not apps) is the multi windows.

      Please verify your knowledge before your sprout such nonsense again

      • Andy_in_Indy

        There are several options for multiple apps on the screen at the same time, too. Some implementations are better than others.

      • StefanC

        There are quite a few useful apps in Multi-Window (ie Evernote, OfficeSuite, etc)

      • hohopig

        mmm when I said tied to Samsung Skin, in reply to Jason, I mean that it is something available in Samsung Touchwiz only.

  • Brandon Power

    Cue the haters

    • JeffColorado

      Ever asked yourself why touchwiz generates so much hate? Could it be because you are forbidden by Samsung to disable or uninstall it?

      • Brandon Power

        If you don’t like it why get it

      • JeffColorado

        Because their hardware is awesome. Samsung makes great hardware, but awful software.
        Fortunately, you can correct the software flaws.

      • hohopig

        .. you can replace it with a launcher you know? You might as well complaint about HTC not letting you disable their Sense UI as well.

  • Zheen

    Air Gesture, Smart Pause, some other motion techniques, and some TouchWiz apps like the video player are in fact very useful. Generally speaking, TouchWiz has its flaws, but some of us still find it better than vanilla Android.

  • JeffColorado

    The launcher is such a non-issue. Everyone I know with a Samsung phone uses a 3rd party launcher…precisely because Touchwiz is clunky and ugly.

    • tommy

      Hi. I’m Tommy. Now you know someone that uses touchwiz, suckaaaaaaaa

  • StefanC

    I am a recent Samsung owner and I am still learning the caveats of TouchWiz. I have also tried alternative launchers (I am using Active Launcher right now) but the one thing that I find PRICELESS in TouchWiz is the MultiWindow. I can not live without it. The ability to do research on the web and notate in Evernote is unlike any other device I have owned. It’s even better than using a PC. I chose Samsung products for flexibility and there is a ton of that in my Note 10.1 2014. People can bemoan “bloat” all they want but I am the most productive I have ever been with my new device and it’s features.

  • Kasey Clark

    I love TouchWiz. I have used almost every 3rd party launcher as well as Sense and MotoBlur. And of all of them I enjoy Samsung’s TouchWiz the best. To add to that I would say that following TW, I like the Sense UI second, followed by all the 3rd party launchers. I really don’t like MotoBlur or any of the other UIs that Moto has made.

  • gmaninvan

    TouchWhiz is an abomination. It looks horrible and cartoony, slows down the android experience proven by how much quicker the play editions are, and it attempts to further fragment the platform.

    HTC with the new version of sense has built something that compliments android and LG’s upcoming G3 UI also appears to be moving towards the simple elegance of design. Moto of course has moved to almost stock and, given how quickly their devices have received updates, it is pretty easy to see why.

    • hohopig

      :P you know that android’s look can be easily changed? What is these complaints about cartoony and horrible graphics.

      And slow down? well I am not sure about that, as my note 3 runs fast enough. Perhaps it is the number of things that you keep switching on at the same time? I have not have google play edition Note 3, so I can’t comment. But have you used a touchwiz and a google play samsung note 3 or S5 side by side before?

      And I have a nexus 7, and while it is good enough, when compared to the functions provided by my Note 3, the level of inconvenience on Nexus 7 is definitely much higher than Note 3.

      Now if only Google will learn the BEST features from each of the vendor’s modification and incorporate them into their basic android version, everything will be perfect.

  • JB

    As a Samsung guy, I don’t care much for the look of TouchWiz, but I do love a good deal of the features. One of them being able to create folders and drag and drop pictures in the gallery. It’s invaluable when you want to orginize your camera roll. :-)

    • maysider

      Yes, pure Android is boring and brings zero real innovations

  • 9n4ils

    I have a note 3 and ue buzz launcher. The multi window works so dose the air command. In fact all the features you talk about work with 3rd party launcher. U need a Samsung device to use smart stay (pretty useful in my opinion) but u are not stuck to touchwiz.
    Air command works from games and other apps so this feature like others it integrated in Samsung ROM not Samsung touchwiz.
    So if u don’t like the launcher u can change it and still use the other sensor features.

    • Juan Carlos Torres

      TouchWiz isn’t just the launcher though. It encompasses all the modifications Samsung puts inside its Android devices, including those motion controls, multi-window, air command. If it were only a launcher there wouldn’t be as much complaints about it since it can be easily changed.

  • fawad

    I love most of things in samsung , except mostly dark colors, I am happy with charging my phone more often that seeing all black colors .
    I love touchwhiz home , Love smart stay. Samsungmusic’s unique folder playing ( a lot of folder players could not give me that convenience when i had HTC device .
    And some nice features

  • samsung user since honeycomb.

    Basic yet convinient feature of touch wiz is brightness slider on quick setting. Easier to adjust your brightness if you don’t like the autobrightness feature.
    Sidesweep to capture screen is also nice.

  • caiboi

    You forget smartstay

  • julie

    How do I get touch wiz home back on my phone