Everything the Samsung Themes engine still gets wrong on the Galaxy S9

When I came to Android, back in the Gingerbread era, the world was a dark and glorious place. Everything was black and blue and beautiful. Then the Material era came, and my darkness was stolen away and replaced with searing, sinister white and gray. I've begged for my dark theme to return to me ever since, even dabbling in the dark arts to get it back a time or two. But I always go back to stock and stark white, for better or worse. Luckily, I don't have to: Samsung Themes brought dark themes back to Android years ago, and they're actually pretty dang good.

It's just the rest of Samsung Themes that sucks.

Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled that Samsung realized that its awful old blue/green color scheme was horrible and allowed us all to ditch it for something a little more appealing. And Samsung Themes utilizing OMS themes like Substratum does (kinda) means that Samsung putting so much effort into its theme engine lays a bigger and better groundwork for all kinds of theming potential. It's just that there are three very glaring flaws in the Samsung Themes engine and its system, and each one of them is fixable, though some more easily than others.

Icon Packs

The first problem is the one that most Samsung users can recognize, even if they're not avid and meticulous themers: icon packs in Samsung Themes flat-out fail. They only include icons for a few dozen "standard" Samsung and system apps, and the rest? Well, they get an ugly backer slapped behind them, or worse, get no backer at all. Adaptive icons were supposed to fix the toxic hellstew that is the Android icon space, but they're slow to be implemented and they're still not nearly as consistent as desired.

ELEV8 on TouchWiz home launcher, ELEV8 on Nova Launcher

For better or worse, icon packs are still the best option for a consistent app drawer, and Samsung Themes' icon packs are pale shadows of their former selves, being vastly inferior to their Google Play versions. The solution to this is simple: allow Google Play icons packs to be used in the Samsung Themes engine. Yes, Samsung would lose some revenue here by not selling the packs themselves, but the icon packs on Samsung Themes are not worth paying for.

By allowing Google Play icon packs, this also means that users who are migrating from other devices and other launchers might be more inclined to give the TouchWiz Home launcher a try instead of immediately downloading their favorite launcher.

Standards and curation

The horribleness of the icon packs in Samsung Themes may stand out because there are no real winners in that category, but it's far from the only section of Samsung Themes that is overrun with terrible elements. Finding good themes and good wallpapers in Samsung Themes is a bit of a needle in a haystack because Samsung Themes is filled up with themes that are just bad. Even some of the highlighted and popular themes look like the work of a 7th grader who just got Photoshop, and I say that as someone who did some horrible things with Photoshop as a schoolgirl.

Samsung Themes needs to keep its numbers up, so it's against their interest to turn away themes or wallpapers for any reason, but without some standards of worthwhile theming content, it's hard to recommend users do any more than find a system theme they like and then switch to a launcher with better theming elements like Google Play icon packs and third-party wallpapers.

Right now, Samsung Themes has about 5% great themes, 5% good themes and 90% meh, and without some worthwhile curation to highlight and bolster the creation of more worthwhile theming content, Samsung's theme engine will languish.

Theme application and backups

If you've read our in-depth guide to theming a Samsung, you will remember than when applying themes in Samsung Themes, you have to go in a very specific order to avoid something overwriting another element you want. This is because when you apply a theme in Samsung Themes, it overwrites the entirety of your current theme, from your wallpaper to your icons to your system colors. So changing system themes involves setting that new system theme, and then setting your wallpapers, icons, and the rest of your theme back the way you wanted it.

We need the ability to set Samsung Themes in part rather than in whole, because most users aren't using the wallpaper that came with their system theme, and all of the icons in Samsung Themes are trash, so you'll probably be setting your icons back to Default after setting a theme.

On that same note, Samsung users need a way to back up both their currently set Samsung Themes settings and their home screen layout. Currently, you can transfer your layout from one phone to another via Samsung's transfer tools, but you cannot back them up in case you need to restore your phone and you cannot back them up in order to better facilitate switching between themes.

The best of the worst

Themes are life

For all its warts, the Samsung Themes engine is still the best on the market, but only because it's the most comprehensive engine that doesn't make its users jump through a lot of hoops, look like complete trash, and isn't completely overrun with piracy. Is it sad that this is the bar when it comes to theming a mobile system that is renown for its customization? You bet your bits it is. But until Google gets a better theme engine that's available without taking your software and your warranty into your own hands, it's the best of the bunch.

Let's hope Samsung continues to do it better than the rest.

We can hope Google tries to outdo Samsung, but I've accepted that my wishing for a dark theme on my Pixel is about as useful as wishing to live at Walt Disney World: it would take a miracle.

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • My main complain about the Samsung Theme engine is that it doesn't go far enough. If it allowed me to theme third party apps as well (a-la Substratum) it would be perfect. Specially now with Google behaving like little c*nts and ruining Substratum for everyone without any good reason. But I have to agree, the theme store is filled with crap. And something I've noticed on the S9 compared to the S7: the theme selection is WAY less. Many of the themes I used on the S7 just aren't available on the S9 for some odd reason. On the other hand, there are TONS of PAID themes. Most of them complete crap and that haven't been updated since early 2017. Fortunately, MINU Black version is not amongst those so I got that one back and it was pretty much the first thing I did when I picked the phone (way before installing apps or putting all my services to run).
  • Miui theme center is better than Samsung thème. Because miui is consistent and adaptive icons
  • Pity MiUI is an iPhone rip-off. I wouldn't use that if I was paid to. Yuck :P
  • I belive the reason some themes are not showing up on the S9 is because the developer of the theme hasn't updated the theme for Oreo.If you go into
    the my page section in the theme store and click on purchased items you will find some of the themes you had on your S7
  • "...somehting overwriting another element you want."
    "For all its warts..."
  • The first one was an error. The second was intentional. Thanks.
  • Anything is better than stock Androids hideous white backgrounds and quick settings menus.
  • This. Very much this.
  • TLDR... What? There's a problem with Samsung's software? I'm shocked. (puts firesuit on) That said, if you find a good theme there usually isn't any issues but I always stuck with pretty basic dark themes.
  • Me too, when I got my Note 8 I downloaded "High contrast theme II". I kind of like current Samsung stock icons but I can't stand a full white UI on a gorgeous AMOLED screen so I went that route.
  • That's the theme I applied as soon as I got my Note 8. Great dark theme.
  • I'm really surprised how hard it appears to be for OEMs to build in any decent theme-ing engine. Xperia Themes have been with me for as long as I remember (definitely from Android 4.3, maybe even earlier), and honestly, I thought it's a standard by now. Because it should.
    Honestly, Sony should be getting more credit for what they do. Their lack of presence in US really downplays their significance for Android.
  • Sony has f*cked their own theme engine since 5.0. They had it done really well on 4.4 and before and with the Lollipop update they made the theme engine on Xperia phones nothing more than a wallpaper-changing engine. 'cause that's all it changes. Wallpapers. On and sometimes the navigation buttons. That's it.
  • No offense, but I think you haven't used it any recently? On top of the wallpapers and nav buttons, it changes colors of backgrounds and accents in Settings, notification bars, icons, I even saw some theme adjust the colors of notifications on the lock screen (although that could've been Oreo itself). Everything. I played for a while with their Theme Creator, and I was seriously impressed by how much you can change there. This is the stuff I've been doing in Xposed back in Holo era. I'll definitely try to make me my personal theme when I have some free time.
  • nokia hates everything. you have have to worry about offending it.
    he bashes everything about every phone and OS made. must be really angry at life i guess.
  • Theme it then put Nova launcher on, then run your favorite icon pack and you're done!
  • This.
  • Shhhhhhhh. If I said it that succinctly, I couldn't get paid for articles like this. :)
  • Lol. Oh, you.
  • The only problem with this is the edge icons still use theme icons. But at least they can be changed independent of the theme. That wasn't always the case. The theme engine is way better now than when they first introduced it. That being said, this is exactly what I do.
  • The headline made me think Samsung themes must be the worst thing on earth. But while the points raised in the article are valid, the conclusion in the article is that its still the best theme engine. Seems everything about Samsung on ac is always with negative connotation. Had it been been about pixels probably the headline would have been more positive.
  • If you want to theme a Pixel you have to get into Substratum, root, or both. And I'm not bothering with that, nor are most users. And no, my opinion of theming on the Pixel is pretty sour considering I'm blinded every time I open a system app. #SoMuchWhite
  • Hell, I was thrilled during the Oreo beta to see they've allowed themes to change the nav buttons. And yes, there's a lot of horrible themes.
  • Samsung has long since been known for their ugly themes, OnePlus show how it should be done with their Oxygen OS on top of Android.
  • Great article! I very much agree with everything. However, I have been using my S9 for almost a week now. Usually I never go that long without installing Nova and doing a few tweaks. But I wanted to test Samsung experience 9 along with dark theme High_contast theme_ll. And I gotta say I love it! It's fast, responsive, and most importantly dark! Samsung is also doing a great job in allowing few tweaks like gestures on home screen for easy access to notifications and transparent notifications on lockscreen, it looks so elegant 👌👍
  • Black Onix. I'm loving it.
  • What theme is that in the top image?
  • "Right now, Samsung Themes has about 5% great themes, 5% good themes and 90% meh" Can someone recommend three "great" themes, please?
  • Black Onix
    Heavy Dark Matter
    High_Contrast_theme_ll Bonus one :
  • I can't find High_Contrast_theme_II anywhere. Can point me to the right direction?
  • You can search it under
    High Contrast Theme : Sky Black
  • Ahh ok. Thanks. Using it now
  • Always whining about the whites! I LOVE WHITE! As a matter of fact I'm running an all white theme with black icons (settings and QS). Otherwise a 3rd party launcher fully customized.
  • At least it's not like Substratum. Stuck layers, not working themes and ROM corruption was all my experience with it, on Resurrection Remix ROM, which is supposed to supports it with that "OMS-thing" or something that I don't record the name. Now, I'm relatively satisfied with Samsung Themes on my S7. I guess it's the second best engine I have used, losing only to the the CyanogenMod Theme Engine (Rest In Peace). At least it works! And without bugs...
  • Action Launcher with the "sd-black" theme
    . . on my Unlocked S7. .
    Nice uniform set of icons, that actually has a decent set of covered . .
    I did go back and set my own wallpapers but the "Hex-Black" gets in there and takes care of a majority of that blinding white..
  • The main problem with themes, especially dark, is bugs. One of the examples anybody can get is white strip in gallery app. To reproduce just set dark theme, go to stock gallery app and open any picture, then just press back and you'll get white stripe instead of a toolbar in main gallery activity. Strip will become dark again after animation ends. There are also more such kind of drawing issues here and there, but this one is noticeable and 100% reproducible.
  • Samsung needs to make the theme builder easily accessible and allow users to push their own themes. One awesome fix is a checkbox to enable/skip features in said theme. So if you don't want the wallpaper or font changed, you check/uncheck your selections. And yes most of Samsung themes are crap AND PAID! Just make the theme tool easy and available for all. (Yes I know the theme tool "CAN" be downloaded. But last time I checked you have to register and pay Samsung to be able to submit themes.)
  • Blue Glow theme (thanks Ara!) w/ the "speed" icons here, and loving the look!! Subtly classy and takes advantage of the screens great black levels and high color.
    And turned off the dreaded squircles! (though I've researched and found you cant turn them all off, ie Google apps. grrr.)
  • Wait... changing a theme can result in closed apps and lost data? Never had that experience, and I have to say there are some beautiful themes and icon packs for free in the HTC theme store. My biggest problem is that there's just too many themes and wallpapers, and the process is not consistent depending on where you start from. I love the glass icon pack :)