Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, which the company introduced with the Galaxy S-line was heavily criticized for a number of different reasons. In 2016, Samsung debuted Experience UI as a part of Android Nougat update for the Galaxy S7 and since then it has been seen on other Samsung smartphones. But now, with smartphone form factor changing, and tall displays becoming common, there was a need for a refreshed interface, and Samsung’s One UI is all about that.
Announced at Samsung Developer Conference 2019, the new One UI is built on top of Android Pie. The new UI will be available for Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9+, Galaxy Note 9, Galaxy Note 8, Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ smartphones. Of course, the upcoming Galaxy S10-series will ship with Android Pie OS with One UI out of the box. The official rollout has already started for Galaxy S9 smartphones in Europe, and other regions should get it soon. I had been using the One UI beta on the Galaxy Note 9 for over two weeks and here’s my take on it.
Watch: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 First Look
The design philosophy behind One UI
With One UI, Samsung is trying to reimagine how software and hardware can work together. In the case of today’s smartphones, the screen size is getting bigger, and devices are getting taller, making it difficult for the thumb to reach all four corners of the screen. One UI aims to make one-handed usage easier, by changing the way we interact with smartphones having tall displays. And to do this, Samsung has taken a different approach to display the controls and content.
Essentially, the display is split into two sections – the upper half is the viewing area, whereas the interaction area is at the bottom where all controls have been moved. The idea behind doing this is to enable users to use the smartphone with one hand. However, these design elements will only work systemwide through the UI, and with Samsung apps. These apps include Clock, Messages, Dialer, Contacts, and Calendar, among others.
Take the quick settings panel, for instance, two swipes down bring up quick toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and Mobile Data among other showing in the bottom portion, whereas on the top, has date and time. Besides making the app look cleaner, it also makes icons easier to reach, especially for one-handed use.
Is One UI a novel concept? Nope, to me, it feels more like reachability feature on iOS. The only difference is, in the case of reachability, the user interface moves down towards the bottom of the screen, making it easier for single-handed use. In the case of One UI, the top half has blank space, whereas bottom half has interactive elements.
One UI: New Features
Cleaner Settings Menu
Over the years, I have seen a lot of people (me too) complain about Samsung’s confusing layout for the settings menu, and with the One UI interface, the company is fixing it. All related settings are now grouped together into subheadings. For instance, Connections has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, Airplane Mode, and Hotspot options.
Lock screen subhead has an always-on display, clock styles, whereas Device Care has options like Battery, Storage, Memory and Security options. Advanced features include S Pen, Motion and Gestures, and more.
Undoubtedly, this is my most favorite feature that comes as a part of One UI. Just a simple flip on the toggle and night mode (or dark mode) gets activated. Basically, it is a system-wide dark theme. It works with system apps, settings, Messages, Dialer and more. There are two reasons why I love dark mode, and I’m sure a lot of people will love it too.
Firstly, it takes advantage of the Super AMOLED screen to display true black color, causing less strain on your eyes. Secondly, dark mode also helps in conserving a considerable amount of battery. Over the past couple of weeks, I tried both dark and light themes, and with the same amount of usage, dark mode actually increased the screen on time by up to 40 minutes.
With full-screen displays now the new trend for smartphones, there is no need for capacitive or on-screen navigation buttons. Apple added gesture controls to iPhone X, and its successors, and with Android Pie, even Google introduced gesture control feature. However, it still adds a capsule-shaped button at the bottom bar, and which consumes that space.
Samsung has added gesture navigation which lets you use swipe actions to perform different functions. You can customize the left and right actions based on your preferences. Swiping up from center brings up the home screen, whereas swiping up from left or right (based on customization), acts as back or task switcher.
Swipe gestures are offered by other OEMs like Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus, and Xiaomi among others, but they didn’t feel too smooth. That isn’t the same with One UI, as Samsung has very well optimized it, and the transition also looks butter smooth. Plus, unlike stock Android gestures, here you get the entire screen real estate from top to bottom, offering the full-screen experience.
Always-on display, lift to wake
Samsung added always-on display with the Galaxy S7-series, and since then it has been a part of most smartphones. It shows time, date, and notification icons, without having you to unlock your device. And while the battery consumption on AMOLED screens is negligible, Samsung wants to offer more juice between charges, and it has changed the way always-on display works.
After the update, the ambient display will show up for a few seconds and turn off, enough for you to see the time and other notification alerts. And when you want to see it again, just touch the screen once, and it will light up again. You can also control the brightness of the always-on display, which is a welcome change.
Next, Samsung has also added raise to wake feature, something that Apple added to iOS a couple of years back, and other Android OEMs followed. You may consider it as just another feature, but it is a helpful one. Every time I took the phone out of my pocket, I had to press the power button, or the virtual home button to wake the phone, and then swipe up to get the security screen or iris scanner.
That’s no longer the case now. Simply raise the smartphone to wake it, which takes you straight to the lock screen. Next, authenticate using your passcode / pattern / fingerprint or iris, and it will jump right to the home screen, making things simpler and easier.
Redesigned camera and gallery apps
Samsung has also redesigned the camera app. The modes to switch between camera, video, panorama, selfie and more, have now been moved to the bottom of the screen. The zoom icon, which was earlier on the bottom right corner, has also been moved to the bottom center, just above the camera shutter button, making it easier to access. Features like AR Emoji, Bixby Vision, along with controls for flash, timer, and filters have been moved to the top, as it makes sense as you hardly use them.
The Gallery app has been redesigned too. You can sort photos based on pictures, albums, stories and more. When you tap on albums, each folder has a big block with rounded corners, making easier to tap. And just like Google Photos, Samsung has also introduced ‘trash’ option. After deleting photos, they will end up in the trash bin for 15 days before permanently deleting them.
Samsung introduced Bixby, its AI-based personal voice assistant, with the launch of Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. However, the voice functionality was only enabled after the launch of Galaxy Note 8. The initial version was interesting as it would do things that other assistants like Siri and Google Assistants couldn’t. For instance, it could post a photo on Instagram with a caption, based on your voice command. It could post a status on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter. Bixby could also download apps after giving a command, “Hi Bixby, download WhatsApp from Play Store.”
With the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung introduced Bixby 2.0 with an improved interface, new features, and functionalities. But, instead of getting better, the voice assistant just got worst. To begin with, you have to say “Hi Bixby” two or three times to invoke the assistant. And then, the commands that Bixby on Galaxy S9, Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 9 would understand, the latest version doesn’t. I don’t see how this is an upgrade.
Overall, I’m impressed with the new One UI. Samsung has finally got quite a few things right. I like the approach; the design elements are refreshing. It does make me feel a little old seeing those big icons and large size text, but the overall visual look takes that feeling away. Samsung is preparing for future phones with tall displays, knowing that the aspect ratio won’t go below 18:9 aspect ratio. The company is also gearing up to launch a phone with foldable display soon, and One UI is scalable, from usual smartphones to the foldable ones.
I’ve used the TouchWiz UI on older phones, and have been using the Galaxy S8 followed by Note 8, and now Note 9 as my daily drivers for the past two years. With One UI, Samsung has make the interface smoother. Although I have been using a beta build, it does feel like a final finished product. Yes, there are a few bugs, but I believe they will get squashed when the official One UI starts rolling out.
Also, while the Adaptive Battery feature is integrated with the Android Pie update in One UI, Google’s Digital Wellbeing isn’t compatible with it yet. However, I believe it will become available once the final rollout takes place. I’m sure, like me, you’ll be impressed with the One UI too. If you have given One UI a try, do let us know what you feel in the comments section below.