New Homescreen, less alien blue, more awesome

Samsung recently confirmed that its Touchwiz UX update would start rolling out to early adopters after a special launch event on Aug. 3 in New York City. For those of us who already purchased a tablet, this is the "optional" update that Samsung told us about when they launched the Tab 10.1 back in June. If you don't have a Tab yet but plan on purchasing one in the coming months, expect this to be the software your device ships with.

While the normal update isn't available yet, Calkulin over at XDA developers was able to compile a stable ROM using the Touchwiz leak that appeared long enough to be nabbed by t3rabyte before Samsung pulled it again.  The ROM appears to be completely stock (all files, including "bundled software" appear to be present) so I thought it would be a good time to preview the changes you should expect, and why you just might want to accept the update when it comes.  Join me after the break as I go over what you can expect.

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ROM Source: XDA

TouchWiz UX

TouchWiz Settings

The first thing you'll notice is that Samsung has cleaned up the Honeycomb menus considerably.  The "holographic" look of stock honeycomb isn't bad, but it's also not the most intuitive look, and can be very confusing for "normal" users.  ASUS was the first company to tweak its UI by changing the way the home, back, and multitasking buttons appeared, but as you can see from the screenshot above, Samsung took the idea a bit further.

The persistent black navigation bar is now a more neutral gray, but the biggest change is how Samsung customized the quick-settings menu.  Instead of a blue on black vertical list of toggles, Samsung uses a more convenient horizontal toggle that should be instantly familiar to anyone running TouchWiz on their phone (or if they are using a custom ROM like CyanogenMod).  Overall, I think this makes the quick-settings menu a lot more functional and easier to use.

You'll notice a fourth persistent button located next to the multitasking window.  That's for screenshots.  Samsung did the right thing and allowed you to take screenshots without resorting to root or downloading the SDK.  I expect this update to make our "Post your homescreens" thread in the forums very popular.

The Dashboard Goes Mobile

The last change to the notification bar is the tiny arrow you see in the middle of the menu bar.  Tap the arrow, and you're presented with six miniature applications that you can use without backing out of the screen you're currently viewing.  This makes taking down a quick note, or adding some figures up really easy and helps give the Tab more of a "computer" feel.

Samsung updated the main settings menu as well, going with a more readable dark text on white background over the stock white text on dark background. It's a small, not noticeable change.  All the standard settings are there alongside some new TouchWiz-specific settings. 

When you first boot up the browser or gallery, you're asked if you want to enable "motion control." This will allow you to zoom in on a website/picture simply by tilting your screen. I found the default setting to be overly sensitive, but after I adjusted it in the settings menu, I found it quite useful.

Another useful new feature is the "power saving mode" which you can configure to automatically kick in once your battery hits a certain level.  You can tell the device to automatically toggle Wifi, Bluetooth, gps, and several other settings and define exactly when this mode will activate itself.    With my usage I typically get two full days of use out of the device anyway, but if you're a power user you should find this a welcome feature.

Several other changes are buried in sub menus, but they're worth seeking out.  In screen settings, you can change the "mode" of the display, toggling through three different color saturation levels.  The difference is noticeable when you're holding the device, but it doesn't translate well to screenshots.  From the display setting you can also set the font your system will use, and easily change your lockscreen and homescreen wallpapers.  The final major change is found under wireless settings, where you can wirelessly connect  to your Samsung Kies program on your computer.  I wasn't able to get this feature to work, but this could be because I'm using a ROM and not the official OTA .

Color Mode SelectionTouchwiz SettingsPower Saver modeWallpaper Selection, Simplified

New/Updated Applications

In addition to the UI changes, Samsung also bundled a few new apps with this update in addition to customizing a couple stock apps (notably the browser and calendar.)


 Touchwiz BrowserBrowser Settings

Samsung made a few cosmetic changes to the browser to make it consistent with the rest of Touchwiz, but most of the changes seem to be under the hood.  The updated browser is fast. The stock browser was no slouch on its own, but I found that it would start lagging on HTML5 heavy sites like Google+ or when I wrote comments on our forums.  This lag is gone.

One feature that I would've liked to see in the updated browser is the ability to define the browser's user agent without going into the debug menu.  This isn't a feature of stock honeycomb, but other manufacturers, like Asus, made sure to include it in their browser.


Calendar month view

Samsung made some significant cosmetic changes to the calendar app as well.  As you can see from the screenshot above, they changed the color scheme to match the rest of Touchwiz, but they also gave the app itself a different look and feel.

Compared to the stock honeycomb application, I much prefer the look and feel of Samsung's version.  Not only are the colors easier on the eyes, but the layout gives you your information in a better format as well.

Day ViewAdding a new event

Additional Software:

Samsung also included its own ebook reader/store, its media hub (a movie/tv show rental service), a photo editor, a social hub that acts as a all-in-one facebook/email/twitter client, a memo pad, and a weather app powered by Accuweather.

While all of these applications are serviceable and great additions for beginning users, there are much better alternatives in the market, often for free.  The one advantage of the bundled ebook reader is that it will allow you to import your own ebooks, and the process of doing so is pretty simple as opposed to how Barnes and Noble's Nook handles the same service.  The memo pad is kinda neat, and it displays your notes like post-it notes on a cork board, but as an avid user of springpad, I can't see myself switching away from that functionality anytime soon.

Samsung's Bundled Ebook ReaderThe Taxi is yellow

Photo EditorSocial Hub

Touchwiz Memo PadAccuweather App

The update also adds Polaris Office (you still keep QuickOffice), A tablet optimized Words With Friends, the tablet version of Swype (as seen in the memo screenshot), and the Google Video's Application (though the market doesn't yet have a video tab).


One of the biggest complaints about manufacturer customizations is that they tend to slow an otherwise fast device down to something aspiring to be a crawl.  Thankfully, this doesn't seem to be the case with Samsung's TouchWiz update.  The new browser seems to be a lot faster than the stock experience, and this largely carries over into the rest of the device.

The screen feels more responsive to the touch, and I didn't notice any slowdown when flicking through my homescreens.  Samsung also tweaked the look of screen changes slightly, making them more noticeable.  This makes switching between apps, or closing out of one feel even faster than it really is, which is a nice touch.

The wrap-up

They kept the lockscreen.  This is a very good thing

Overall, I'm very pleased with how TouchWiz works.  It makes some welcome changes to the UI, improves the browsing speed, and the included applications are (largely) useful.  TouchWiz UX doesn't have the same cartoon feel and over saturated colors that previous versions had, and some of the features that first looked like gimmicks (such as the tilt to zoom feature) are actually quite functional.

If you already have a Galaxy Tab, this will be an optional update for you, but it's an option I'd seriously consider.  Up 'til now, I've considered myself an android purist, but Touchwiz adds enough functionality on top of the improved eye candy to make me want it on my Tab, and that's saying something.