Samsung has combined the latest version of Android, 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, with a much needed overhaul of its own user interface. They are terming this skin “TouchWiz Nature UX”.
The user experience of TouchWiz is largely positive. It is by far the smoothest Android user interface I have encountered in a long time and for once is truly iOS smooth. Looking past raw performance, the interface reminds me a bit of Windows in the fact that menus and customisation options run deep.
The ‘nature’ branding begins with the lockscreen, dragging your finger across the screen will cause waves to ripple across the screen. This function can be disabled in the settings and you’ll be presented with a more traditional stock Android 4.0 look, but why would you want to get rid of it?
You can also add up to four application shortcuts at the base of the lockscreen. As is expected of newer Androids the ability to access the notification area from the lockscreen is present.
Other additions to the lockscreen include an interactive stock and news ticker, weather widget, dual clock for roaming and an owner’s information string. There is also a gesture ability to launch the camera from the lockscreen by holding the display and rotating the phone. It works just fine, but it feels slightly awkward with such a large phone.
Personally, I prefer having the camera linked to one of the lockscreen shortcuts.
Security wise there is the standard PIN, password, pattern and face unlock options but what Samsung has added is another gesture based option called motion. This works just fine but like the camera gesture, it feels a bit awkward. Since I’m not a security fanatic the default swipe to unlock function was active the majority of the time.
On to the homescreens now, you can have up to seven or as few as one. Limitless scrolling is present which is a nice touch, however the wallpaper remains static. There is room for four shortcuts or folders across the bottom, alongside the application drawer link which is located in the right corner.
Pinch zooming outwards reveals all of the homescreens. From here you can change the default or main homescreen or rearrange the order of them.
The notification area on TouchWiz is one of the most functional I have witnessed in a while. It includes quick toggles for a massive array of functions, ten if I have to be precise. In case you forget what carrier you’re on that information is included as well as the date and a link to the settings menu.
Below that are all of your notifications that can be cleared at once using the provided shortcut or by swiping them to the left or right.
What makes it truly awesome is the fact that the notification area is accessible in fullscreen applications. Ever wondered what that notification ringtone was related to but didn’t want to exit your game? No worries – just drag down on the bezel and the notification preview area will appear, dragging down on that will reveal the entire notification area.
The homescreen wallpaper follows you to the application drawer; a welcome feature compared to the bland grey background I’m used to on HTC’s phones of late.
You can sort applications by an alphabetical 4×5 grid, personalised grid or alphabetical list. I personally preferred the alphabetic grid layout just because I don’t like the randomness or unneeded lengthiness of the others.
Up top are separate tabs for widgets and downloaded applications. Somewhat annoyingly the applications here are sorted from oldest to newest.
Hitting the menu key brings up the ability to head to Google’s Play Store, mass uninstall applications and hide applications. This last option is still useful even under Android 4.0 as Samsung has prevented some applications from being disabled.
Multitasking works just like you would expect on the Galaxy S III – for the most part very nicely, Samsung is not as aggressive with their memory management as other phones. The multitasking overlay is 90% identical to stock Android 4.0. You can either tap windows to switch to that application or swipe them to the left or right to clear them.