Samsung One UI: What about the software?

This week, Samsung is going
to announce the Galaxy S10 and the S10 Plus and also the
S10e and probably a 5G phone, and they’re probably going to
show off a foldable phone, too, and maybe some smartwatches. Yeah, it’s a lot. And I’m sure they’re all
going to have beautiful hardware and be fast and have good
cameras. But here’s a question: what about the software? Can Samsung make a good user interface? You know the story with
Samsung phones, right? Absolutely amazing hardware. This right here is the Galaxy
S9, and even a year after it’s been released, I
think you could still say it’s the nicest-looking
and feeling Android phone that you can get. But ever since, well,
forever, we’ve always just made fun of Samsung’s software. And it was easy to do, right? It just felt less elegant
than so-called “pure Android.” And literally every time we
review a Samsung phone, we say, “Hey, you know what? The
software is a little bit better but it’s still, you know, Samsung.” Now, though, Samsung is finally
releasing Android 9 Pie on the Galaxy S9. And it has this new
interface called One UI. And I have to tell you,
it’s pretty good. The core idea in One UI is
that we all have big phones now, and so it’s hard to reach
the top of the phone. So Samsung took an idea from
Apple and iterated on it and started putting these big headers here at the top of the app
when you first open them, like here in Messages. It
makes it easier to reach the stuff at the bottom of the screen. But then, when you start
scrolling, the header moves up, and your content takes
up the entire screen. You can actually see the whole progression just through the clock app. It starts with this try-hard
attempt to clean up Android, then they dial it back, then they go super neon try-hard here, then they dial it back again, and then, finally, with One UI,
they have an original idea and they execute it well. See, to me, there’s a
difference between a gimmick and a feature. When you see this big header thing, at first, it definitely
feels like a gimmick. But then you use it, and it
feels natural and normal, and you barely even notice it. And that’s the difference. A gimmick says, “Hey,
look at me, look at me. I’m the big new thing.” But a feature just makes your phone better without you having to think about it or even necessarily notice it. It wasn’t always this way
with Samsung software. In fact, it was almost
always bad and gimmicky. Which means that, friends, it’s
time to talk about TouchWiz. So, TouchWiz. You know it as an Android skin. It takes so-called “pure
Android,” and it muddies it up with all of this other crap on
it that you don’t really need or like or even want. But did you know that
it didn’t actually start on Android? It started
as a Windows Mobile skin. Yeah, it’s that old. So here’s the thing: I can’t
believe I’m doing this, but I’m going to kind of defend TouchWiz. Windows Mobile and the
early iterations of Android, they were just not that great. The interfaces were kind of bad, and you had to be a kind of computer dork to understand how they work. So Samsung just needed
to try to clean them up and make them a little bit easier to use and maybe prettier in the bargain. But well, it all went wrong in a hurry. For one thing, Samsung
didn’t really come up with its own ideas. It just sort of made bad Android versions of what it thought people
wanted, which was iPhones. So TouchWiz, made Samsung
phones into this weird Franken-not-quite-iPhone mess. Also — and I’m just going to say it — the design of TouchWiz lacked taste. It was just kind of ugly
and not very elegant. And on the Galaxy S3, guess
what it did by default? It made this bloop noise
every time you touched it. Bloop! Bloop! Come on. Bloop! Oh, and Samsung had heard
that you liked features, so it put features on
top of other features. It felt like it had to
differentiate its phone, so it just kept on cramming stuff in. Eye-tracking that didn’t
really work and bloatware and weird photo sharing
features that only worked with other Samsung phones. It was just a confusing mess. Yeah, this isn’t much of a defense, is it? The point is that
Samsung did have the right idea. It just did a horrible
job of executing on it. And while it was trying to fix all that, it attached a whole lot of other bad ideas on top of the first bad idea until it all became a bloated mess. TouchWiz was bad enough that
Samsung finally realized that people hated it and stopped
even calling it TouchWiz. They changed it to the Samsung Experience a little while ago — which, by the way, sounds like the worst band name ever. But now they have this new thing, which they’re calling One UI. Let’s talk about skins. One UI isn’t really a skin
because there’s no such thing as pure Android anymore,
not in a phone that you buy. The basics of AOSP Android,
they’re really, well, basic. So everybody has to customize on top of it to make a good phone these days. Yes, even Pixel phones. They
have the Google Experience on top of them. So, One UI is now Samsung Experience. And you know what? I kind of dig it. There’s still a million weird settings and features everywhere. There’s slide over here,
which I thought I’d hate, but I don’t. And Samsung lets you
change the main buttons to swipe up gestures, so
you can reclaim a little bit of screen real estate. Also, dark mode in Samsung
apps. They beat Google to it, and it’s really nice. I think the S10 software
is going to be a lot like the One UI experience on this S9 here. And again, I’m kind of into it. But there’s still a problem: software updates. It took Samsung four or five
months to get Android 9 Pie on the S9. And that’s bad, like really bad. Supposedly, Google’s new
Project Treble system was supposed to modularize
the OS to make updates come faster, but Samsung
just isn’t doing that. Also, Bixby. Oh, Bixby… you. If Samsung can fix that update problem, I could really get behind the One UI. For one, its aesthetic just looks better. It doesn’t look cheap
and like crap anymore, and that goes a long way. Second, I think Samsung
is starting to figure out how to include a million features without having them all be super annoying. Like here, in the camera app, it kind of progressively
shows you the new features as you need them, instead of confusing you with all of them right away. Although, I do have to say,
Samsung, you do have to chill out with the Samsung Health app. I don’t want it. Quit showing it to me. Anyway, most importantly,
Samsung seems to have its own ideas instead of just trying to copy everybody else’s or paper over the problems in Android. It has an identity that’s all
its own in its software. The software here, it
feels like a Samsung phone, and that is surprisingly
better than you might assume. But I just can’t get over the fact that part of Samsung’s identity is apparently making us
all wait way too long to get software updates. Hey everybody, thanks for watching. Have you checked out One UI?
Let me know what you think down in the comments. Also, stay tuned to The Verge. We’re going to have hands-ons
and live blogs and everything for Samsung’s Unpacked
event on February 20th.

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