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Android Headliner: AOSP Purists Will Be Interested In The Galaxy S7

March 8, 2016 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Samsung is currently the largest smartphone maker in the world, even larger than Apple. Which makes their overlay or “skin” as many call it, the most used overlay in all of Android. Touchwiz, a name that Samsung hasn’t used for marketing their devices since the Galaxy S3, is the name of their overlay and it’s a pretty decent overlay actually, even though it does get a lot of hate these days. Many wonder, what’s the point in having an overlay over the  top of Android? There’s actually a few reasons. The largest one is to make their product stand out in the sea of Android devices available out there. Imagine walking into a carrier store and seeing Android smartphones from Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG and Sony – something that actually happens quite often – and seeing what looks like the same software on all five smartphones. For most consumers, the only differences would be in the hardware, and how the device looks. With Google having open sourced Android, it allows manufacturers to create their own skins or overlays that go over top of Android, to differentiate themselves from their competitors. It also allows them to show Google what kind of features they and their customers would like to see in Android.

The other major reason for having a skin over Android is the added features and benefits that the skin adds. Now Touchwiz has had a pretty storied past. Touchwiz was once known for being bloated and full of features that most people didn’t use. That was back in the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4 days (2012 and 2013), however in the past two years Samsung has been working to make Touchwiz lean and also killing some of the “features” that many of their users weren’t using – at least according to their research. This is a big reason why many customers prefer Samsung devices over any of their competitors. Due to the features that are available when compared to other smartphones. Touchwiz, and other skins do help out Android actually. A number of features from Touchwiz, Optimus UI, Sense and others have made their way into stock Android or AOSP. Including the quick settings you see on Nexus devices today. That actually started in Touchwiz and Sense, and others added them as well. Google finally decided to bring those into their AOSP version of Android with Jelly Bean.

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One of the more requested features is multi-window mode, allowing you to use two apps side-by-side at the same time. However that isn’t officially available just yet for devices outside of Samsung’s camp, we do know that Google is working on it, as it was in one of the Android M developer previews released last summer, and should be coming soon. Google’s engineers have said that they wanted it ready for the release of the Pixel C last fall. Another feature that started out on Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and made it to their competitors devices was Smart Stay. It was a pretty simple feature, but something that was more than a tad bit useful. What Smart Stay did was utilize the front-facing camera to see if you’re still looking at the screen once the screen timeout was about to happen. If you were still looking at the screen, it would keep it on until you looked away. This is something that Motorola added into their devices in 2014 with the Moto X 2014 and Moto G 2014.

Now when it comes to Android Purists, many of them prefer stock Android and will opt for a Nexus device – or recently, OnePlus or Motorola – as they offer a somewhat stock Android experience, with a few additions that don’t change how the software looks on the device. Over the years, Android Purists have had a pretty strong hatred towards Touchwiz. However, in the past couple of years, it has really changed and gotten much better. In fact, when the Galaxy S6 was announced last year, Touchwiz got nicer looking and was much faster. With Samsung having rebuilt part of their skin to get rid of relying on the old resources from the Gingerbread era, it made battery life much better as well as getting rid of the lag or the “jank” as some might say. Samsung also got rid of a number of apps that replicated Google’s own services, and thus competed with Google’s services. So that not only did you have less features taking up space, but also less pre-installed apps on the device when you take it out of the box.

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While Samsung’s quick settings aren’t as great as stock Android or AOSP’s quick settings, they still serve the same purpose. Allowing you to pull down the notification shade and toggling WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, and many other features of the device you’re using. Touchwiz actually got a bit of a makeover this year. Getting rid of some of the pastel colors, and opting for more grays, blacks, whites and blue colors. Many would say that it looks a bit more grown up, when compared to the previous version of Touchwiz. Also, for those Android purists that didn’t like the way Touchwiz looked, Samsung has catered to you in that regard as well. Adding themes to their skin, which isn’t new as it was added last year with the Galaxy S6. There are a good number of themes available, and a number of them are material design as well. Which look quite good on the Galaxy S7. Now it won’t make you mistake the Galaxy S7 for running stock Android, but it’s better than the regular Touchwiz look. The themes for the Galaxy S7 and other Samsung devices, will theme the settings app, the launcher, dialer, contacts, and the notification shade. So while it won’t completely get rid of the Touchwiz look, it will get rid of most of it. Definitely more than installing Action Launcher or Nova Launcher would do.

Samsung has done a lot in the past few years to change the look and feel of Touchwiz, as well as change the perception of their overlay. Now it may not change everyone’s mind about Touchwiz, but it is a major improvement. Arguably, Touchwiz does add some very nifty features. One of the more popular features is the multi-window feature that debuted quite a few years ago on the Galaxy Note series. Android Purists definitely won’t love everything about Touchwiz, especially with things like S Voice and S Health included on the device. Luckily those can be uninstalled or disabled and replaced with things like Google Fit which will work with Android Wear.

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The Galaxy S7 has a lot more going for it than just Touchwiz, though. While Android purists probably don’t care as much about it having a microSD card slot this year – seeing as Google removed it after the Nexus One in 2010 and purists have lived without it ever since – the 5.1-inch QHD AMOLED display will definitely turn your head. Or the 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED display on the larger Galaxy S7 Edge. Here in the US, both models are shipping with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, while other markets are getting the Exynos 8890 SoC. All benchmarks, reports and rumors show that the Snapdragon 820 is pretty fast, and it looks like Touchwiz has been optimized a bit for the Snapdragon 820, as well as Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which is what is underneath this version of Touchwiz.

Touchwiz may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it likely never will be but that is the great thing about Android is that not everyone has to use the same device, unlike iOS. But it’s clear that Samsung did a lot of growing up with the Galaxy S6 last year and now the Galaxy S7 in 2016. Touchwiz is much more bearable than it used to be, especially in the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 days, that’s coming from an Android purist too.