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Samsung One UI (Android 9 Pie) review: Samsung's best software yet

Galaxy Note9 One UI
(Image: © Android Central)

The update to Android 9 Pie with a new One UI interface is the biggest visual change Samsung has pushed to its phones in years. Alongside all of the requisite improvements you expect with any software update, Samsung's Pie release makes substantial changes to the look and operation of the entire software experience. But naturally, much of Samsung's legacy software is here to stay as well, making sure you'll never forget what kind of phone you're using.

This is how it all comes together in Samsung's latest software: One UI and Android 9 Pie.

Samsung One UI What I like

Samsung One UI (Android 9 Pie)

Every couple generations, Samsung makes a big step forward in software design and capabilities. I'd argue that Samsung's software got good starting with Android 5.0 Lollipop on the Galaxy S6; but it really only stepped up to being great with Android 7.0 Nougat on the Galaxy S8. One UI with Android 9 Pie is undoubtedly another major step forward.

One UI is effectively a complete redo of Samsung's interface, colors and iconography from top to bottom. Far more than a coat of paint. The software is even further flattened, and puts emphasis on whites and greys with liberal use of soft-radius corners and negative space. In many ways One UI follows Google's Material Design principles — take a look at a Pixel 3 alongside a Note 9 and there are striking similarities in the notification shade, settings, multitasking screen and menus. Visually, this is the best software Samsung has ever made. The consistency of design implementation across the interface and apps is near-perfect, and it feels light and modern both at a glance and with use.

The improvements aren't limited to style; they also have some substance. The biggest change in principles across the entirety of the interface is the move to bring interaction points further down on the screen so you don't have to reach to the top of the phone as often. Throughout the interface and Samsung's own apps, the main interaction points have effectively shifted down to only fill the bottom two-thirds of the screen — the top third, in return, is mostly for viewing rather than touching.

This leads to some awkward blank space at the top of many apps, but when you stop thinking about it and realize the benefits of not having to reach the top of the screen — on increasingly tall phones — it makes a ton of sense. The paradigm of course breaks down when you use third-party apps, but Samsung has done everything it can for its own software to make things a bit more one-handed friendly without having to jump into the dedicated one-handed mode as often.

This is also the first Samsung software to incorporate a full dark mode option, available at the tap of a button. It isn't as customizable as what OnePlus offers, nor is it dynamic like Google's, but it's miles ahead of having to apply a system-wide third-party theme as before. The dark mode is actually called "Night Mode" and is ostensibly designed to be used at night to reduce eye strain, but it's completely separate from the blue light filter and can be turned on manually or set to a schedule. And unlike the theme approach, night mode touches every part of the system and Samsung's apps for a complete black-out look. Not everyone is a fan of dark mode, but the contingent of dark mode fans is too big to ignore at this point.

Although conservative, Samsung's first step into the world of gesture-based navigation is successful. It (smartly) chose not to fully implement Google's navigation system, nor did it go its own way with something altogether new and elaborate — the result is a navigation system with copious options that help blend the best of Oreo and Pie. Critically, if you want to keep things exactly as they were you can hold onto three-button navigation (and yes, you can swap the back and recents buttons). But Samsung included Pie's home button left-to-right swipe gesture for quick multitasking, while also retaining the recents button. If you prefer to save some screen real estate, you can replace all three buttons with simple swipe-up gestures in their place. No complicated mix of multiple gestures or different lengths of swipes; just a straightforward replication of what you know from the buttons.

The entire interface looks better, is easier to use, and simply integrates Pie's gestures and multitasking.

No matter how you get there, the multitasking screen itself looks near-identical to Google's own, with horizontal cards and smartly predicted app suggestions at the bottom of the screen. Some decry the lower information density in this view compared to the old Rolodex-style interface. But this is far more user-friendly and provides quick access to the last three apps you used, plus suggested apps, which is what most people want most of the time. Samsung managed to incorporate gestures and many of Android 9 Pie's native multitasking features cleverly, while retaining the old options for those who update from Oreo — it's the best of both worlds.

One UI is filled with lots of little tweaks strewn about its apps, but these have far less impact on the daily experience that's so often dominated by third-party apps people often prefer over Samsung's built-in options. The camera app got some of the biggest user-facing changes, but for the most part all of the apps were simply redesigned to fit the new design language rather than dramatically change their function. But it shows that Samsung is continuing to focus on visual consistency across its apps — even if not everyone uses them.

Samsung One UI What's not great

Samsung One UI (Android 9 Pie)

One thing that's remained constant through every revolutionary Samsung software update is that it's still undeniably "Samsung" software. It should come as no surprise that the prior statement kicks off the section of this review where I talk about things that aren't so great. The biggest issues with One UI have nothing to do with what Samsung did in this generation — the issues are completely rooted in Samsung's software legacy.

Samsung's Pie software still suffers from extreme amounts of cruft throughout the system.

Samsung's Pie software still suffers from extreme amounts of cruft throughout the system, with overly-complicated settings and duplicative apps. And while some basic functions have been lifted to the surface, changing many aspects of the phone still requires jumping through several layers of settings to tweak things how you want. Samsung's launcher still shows a few glimpses of the "old" Samsung, with folders that don't adhere to One UI design and a general aesthetic that feels stuck in the past. Throughout One UI, you see a lot of the experience that remains functionally unchanged from the previous version.

One UI and Pie also didn't address many bugs (or at least, issues) from Oreo; for example, Pie still offers poor auto brightness management in dark environments, often blasting the screen up near max brightness in a dark room. And multi-colored media notifications still clash heavily with the notification shade. Drill down through the software and you still find these little issues haven't been fixed, but are things that should be addressed in a platform update.

Despite many visual improvements, the always on display and lock screen feel stuck in the past.

Despite many of the visual improvements to the lock screen experience, Samsung hasn't really changed or improved the functionality of either the lock screen or always on display in years. What was once a strength now feels like an old take on the idea, with Google, OnePlus, Motorola and others all doing a better job of integrating the always-on (or ambient) display with the lock screen. Samsung's always on display, lock screen and home screen feel like distinctly different experiences layered on each other, rather than different parts of the same interface — the jump from one to the other is not visually seamless nor particularly useful, and the lock screen's disjointed take on "widgets" and displaying notifications is clunky at best.

And I know it's a small thing, but Samsung's suite of ringtones and notification sounds feel stuck in the Galaxy S5 era; it's time for a refresh. Some of the core system sounds have been updated, but the rest feel a bit too ... cartoonish for my taste. Samsung's software is no longer bright, colorful and playful as it once was, but the sounds it offers are very much stuck in that time period.

All of Samsung's best design ideas from 2018 can't escape over a decade of built-up Samsung cruft. Now I freely admit that the level of hack-and-slash gutting of Samsung's software that would be required to actually streamline it is probably impossible at this point; but it's important to recognize that just because One UI looks appreciably better doesn't mean that it's free from all of Samsung's years of baggage.

The future of Samsung's software

Samsung One UI (Android 9 Pie)

Samsung's Android 9 Pie release, with the new One UI interface and features, is something every Samsung phone owner should look forward to. Whether you have an older phone and will need to buy a Galaxy S10 to get it, or are patiently waiting for an update on the Galaxy S8 or Galaxy Note 8. One UI is easily Samsung's most cohesive and visually impressive version of its operating system, even if it is bogged down by the baggage of versions that came before it.

The software changes are more than skin deep with One UI. Yes it's beautiful, more modern feeling, and more consistent; but it's also functionally better for one-handed use and has little feature improvements sprinkled throughout. Its new navigation design perfectly integrates the best of Oreo and Pie. And aside from a few wonky icons that some people aren't fans of, the visual changes are a welcomed breath of fresh air that actually follows Google's own design guidelines. This is software you'll want on your phone, and it's a great sign of how far Samsung's come with its software design in over a decade of making high-end smartphones.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

74 Comments
  • Night mode can be set on a schedule on the US Unlocked beta software. Was it removed in the final release?
  • Yes it was but the second update (just released in Germany and Poland today.......software version G960FXXU2CSB3 and G965FXXU2CSB3) brings it back. Also Feb security patch, improvements to Wifi stability, NFC, email, and gesture stability.
  • I don't have a problem with Samsung's software. As a matter of fact I enjoy it. I like the night mode on my s9+ & I like my pie & eat it too! Yikes......
  • I have an unlocked 9 plus and am on Sprint and I am still waiting for the update! I'm getting a 10 plus but hope to be able to check this out before I get it.
  • Is there any way to have the old slim beautiful quick setting icons instead of the ridiculous and ugly looking huge bubbles I see in the pictures? If the quick settings look like this I won't update or get a different phone!
  • Aren't they based on stock Pie's new aesthetic? If so, you might have a tough search going forward.
  • Indeed they are. But that doesn't make them less ugly! The first time I saw them on a Pixel I almost screamed!
  • Then sorry but you won't actually be able to get around this issue then... It'll be on every phone unless you get one of the outdated ones which never get Pie...
  • Yeah, they are rather cartoonish.
  • This has bothered me to no end, and I'm always accidentally toggling something on or off
  • Guess I have to disable automatic update then and wait what they look and feel like on my wife's phone! 😂😂
  • You can change the look of the buttons and shade with a theme, but no you can't change their size or style.
  • I've been looking. Apparently you can have the old non circle quick setting toggle. But you will have to find a theme. I found a couple of designers in the Galaxy app store that have some of their themes like that. I'm sorry I don't remember their name.
  • Night mode / dark mode says that it only affects Samsung apps, but that's not quite true -- it forces Android Auto in to night mode as well, which isn't great, as I find viewing Google maps night mode during the day to be quite difficult on my head unit. Before the Pie update, it was based on whether my car lights were on or off.
  • The loss of video Pro mode means I'm keeping Oreo for at least another six months.
  • I wish that I had never updated my phone.
  • Please explain. I'm genuinely curious about this. Really think in gonna ditch the Note 9 and go back to the iPhone in a month or so. This is like removing a major feature that may have gotten people to buy the phone. Even worse with how Samsung doesn't implement the full Camera2 API. So you can't really replace the stock camera with a third party app. The 3rd party apps are crippled on Samsung phones...
  • It's not really because of the camera, but the update adds a couple of improvements and a number of meh or worse features. OneUI wastes space in apps that I would prefer it didn't. Dark mode won't work with themes and the theme store is broken now anyway.
  • Pro sucked. The stock cam app fisheyed everything, so I've have to snapseed just to match a DSLR lens and white balance. There are better apps.
  • I wish they'd give the option to move the clock back. It's like the one change I would want from Google's skin of Android. Edit- How dare AC takes away one of the spaces after the period in my sentence.
  • https://forum.xda-developers.com/galaxy-note-9/help/downgrade-to-android...
  • https://www.reddit.com/r/GalaxyNote9/comments/aly92b/with_pie_can_we_mov...
  • What I wanna know... is how the gesture navigation screws with the 'swipe up' for the Samsung Pay app thing.... I use that alot... If the 'swipe up for home' messes up the Samsung Pay thing, then I'll just leave that disabled....
  • you know what ??? i wanna know this too as i also use samsung pay all the time .....i swear to go its like samsung just wants to troll me every year about something FFS
  • It totally messes with it... I've gone to just leaving that enabled on the lock screen and screen off modes and have disabled it on the home screen. I use it plenty, but I've decided I want the additional screen real estate i get with no buttons more than I want the swipe up to pay. Most of the time I use that directly out of my pocket (in which case the screen off and lock screen still give me that), and for those other times, an icon is fine.
  • It doesn't really, but I also use the gesture for that
  • I've found that you don't even have to swipe to use it for Samsung pay. Just go to the home screen and set your phone against the NFC reader, and it automatically pulls up your card as if you swiped. Tap your finger to the reader, and you're good to go.
  • I have an unlocked s9+ on straight talk and haven't received the update yet
  • None of the unlocked versions have it yet. The unlocked phones are almost always dead last.
  • In the US.
    Not anywhere else in the World.
  • Why is Samsung like this? Is it long after the carriers get it or within a week or 2?
  • Unlocked Note 9 being used on Verizon. No update for me, yet. Patiently (not really) waiting...
  • It's crazy to me how Samsung could do the exact opposite of what people buy their phones for: extra features built into the software. Yeah let's remove those, Note and S+ users really just want an experience closer to the Pixel right? Then why didn't we buy a Pixel? I'm staying on Oreo probably till I get a new phone at this point.
  • This update is trash i hate it taking away everything that makes the note 9 good for crappy gestures and dark mode isnt worth it im on atnt note 9 it broke my compass now its off 90 deg.and changed cam.no video pro mode took away pop up view by swiping from edge .edge lighting on music basically all the things that set it apart from Google and apple they say they listen to there customers far from it I'm soo pissed
  • Did they take away all your punctuation as well?
  • I want to hate Samsung's UI but I've been unable to do so for over two years now. I was a big fan of Nexus, then Google went all Pixelated and I tried a Moto G3 and a Galaxy again (yes I needed two phones :-) ). Remarkably, the Galaxy wasn't rubbish like before. Every UI, even a Pixelated one, has issues... all I know is Samsung UIs are completely tolerable nowadays and their Note has a pen which is bloody marvellous.
  • People won't jump off of that bandwagon. OEM wars within the Android ecosystem are as bad as iOS vs. Android in the platform wars. Samsung can replicate the Pixel UI in every way, and half these people will still find issue with it... cause #Samsung.
  • *laughs in beno51079*
  • The best is back!!
  • Ill be interested to try this out whenever i upgrade my note 5 to a note 8 or 9 (probably the note 8 its far more cheaper).
  • I've heard losing pro mode for video happened. That is a huge loss of functionality for many people. I've personally never used it but I'm sure others have. You can always use open camera (of course Footej and Cameraingo+ are good options too). But you shouldn't have to use third party apps to get the same functionality from before.
  • Samsung's software is still - and with OneUI becomes even more - the golden standard for Android software.
    It's light years ahead of stock Android and fanboys of Google know this even if they don't like to admit it.
    And Google knows it too, which is why it keeps copying things from Samsung's software into stock Android (well, in-between their sessions of iRipping). The one thing I must say AGAINST Samsung's OneUI (apart from the pre-installed apps but that's a problem with ANY phone, including stock Android phones that come plagued with Google's bloatware), is that they ruined split screen on Pie. For years Samsung's split screen view was the best one. And their Oreo version still is. But on Pie they stupidly went after Google's dumb implementation and made it unusable. Another thing I really dislike is the clock moved to the left. However, on a positive note, SystemUI tuner is now accessible via Nova Launcher on Samsung phones (it didn't work before Pie). Which means you can do what I did and simply completely remove the clock from the status bar.
  • Just because you think Samsung's bloated software is better than true Android (stock) doesn't mean it is, Samsheep.
  • so says you ....
  • If this is the gold standard, then I am not looking forward to the future of Android. If I try really, really hard, I MIGHT be able to think of 5 good things in Pie and OneUI.
  • Maybe one day the T-mobile Note 9 will be updated. Still on December Security patch
  • Yeah, same here and that's a shame. December 2018....it will probably be March before we get a 2019 update.
  • My auto brightness works perfectly fine.
  • One Ui is better than Google Pixel Ui
  • OnePlus UI is just as good as the Pixel UI. But I won't get OnePlus because I love being first for updates and having consistent security updates.
  • Unfortunately, I couldn't disagree with you more. The UI changes that have resulted in the waste of 1/3 of the screen is not a good thing in my opinion. I do have big hands, so I don't have a problem with reaching the top. Even if I didn't, I don't see how wasting valuable screen space for no reason is a good thing. The new UI also broke the theme store, unless they update their themes and even that doesn't work completely yet. Dark mode only works if you don't have a theme, so I haven't even turned it on yet. The new recent apps screen is actually not bad. Gestures is quaint, but I don't know if it is something that is solid for the long term.
  • They waste nothing, when you scroll up that section of the screen gets used. It literally does nothing except move some buttons down *UNTIL YOU SCROLL*
  • Except that I wouldn't have to scroll if the space was not being wasted on the word Settings or Messages. I consider that to be a waste, and a rather ugly one at that
  • Well boo-hoo. They traded half a thumb movement for actual functionally. Yeesh.
  • If only Samsung would get it's **** together and update my SM-G965U1. WTF Samsung?
  • I am really loving Pie so far. I'm enjoying the updated look. It looks more like pure Google than has in years. My first Note was the Note 2. Samsung has come a long way since then. I'm looking forward to what they have up their sleeve next!!!
  • The older rolderdex multitask window displayed four apps though, it's reduced functionality for the sake of making it looking like na iPhone :-/
  • If you don't use Gmail as your main email address it makes little sense to use the Gmail app, which despite supporting third party emails it's not designed for it. For this reason the much decried Samsung Email makes sense. Samsung Gallery is arguably a better app for looking at photos stored in the phone to Google Photos. There's little need for the Samsung Internet app though. Chrome would work just as well in Ultra Power Saving Mode where you're mostly locked out of using non-Samsung apps.
  • Chrome doesn't have Content Blockers, so I'll never use it. Ever.
  • It's still a better browser, I never use Chrome on Android.
  • Samsung will NEVER be an option to me, and if according to DJBCS, Samsung is apparently "gold standard" for Android and the future, I don't think I'll stick around with Android and will go back to iPhone
  • There a point to this?
  • Oh my, seems Samsung strikes again. I wiped my hands of Sammy and left them behind in 2018 where they belong.
  • As long as the Pixel or even OnePlus exist then I'll stick with Android but if it comes down to only Samsung and their bloated software being the only choice along with Huawei and LG, then that's when I'll say goodbye to Android and go back to Apple, reluctantly of course.
  • You came back 3 hours later to again say nothing? Go troll somewhere else. People like you ruin the Internet.
  • Samsung IU is why ill never own another Samsung..
  • I got the update last night, so I haven't had a chance to explore everything. However, when I try to download new apps, or even just update the apps I already have, all I see is "download pending." What the hell does that mean? Do I just leave it and let them download whenever? What about 3rd party apps? I can't find where to allow them to download.
  • Since I updated my phone to UI it is not allowing notifications for the phone app- it says they are blocked. Anybody else having the same problem as I now don't see any missed calls on the home screen?
  • « But that's just fine for the dark mode die hards that want to run it 100% of the time«  But too bad for the others. It seems good for night time and dim environment but not to make ancautolatic option is a big miss in its implementation
  • I hate this update. No explanations for so many terrible changes. Changed my mind about android, never own another one. Just awful changes. Email notifications are off but I still get them, cannot even find the notifaction per app settings, the Settings have been smashed, the icons are different, the placements are different and what the heck are those 3 bars now where there were 2? And nothing works right anymore!
    I HATE IT! Zero stars.
  • Hi, after updated to pie. The icon date stamps and shapes not showing at my note 8 so I unable to add image. The portrait button dimm off too at the 3 dot button. Please advise. Thank you
  • I strongly dislike it. I hate even more that Samsung in their arrogance has decided for me what I need by forcing this interface on me, when all I wanted was the security patch. It is MY phone, it took me two weeks to get it exactly the way I want it to be. In the space of a few minutes, all that work was lost and no way to get back to the way it was. There is NO ROLLBACK option with this one. I like the way the menus were, it was logical and no problem moving around, I like buttons and likely will never use the Gesture nonsense. This interface was designed for kids getting their first phone, or adults too lazy to hit a simple button or think. They also have added to Bixby, when most of us would rather plant a kitchen knife in Bixby's back. Took a while to fully remove Bixby from my S9. One update, and now all that work is lost also. AArrgghh!
  • I think this is the only positive review I've read about android pie.
  • I and many many others have found this article misleading. Pie may have a few new good features. However they have removed many features that many use every day. You will find many do not like the new look. Many of us do not want our S9 after the forced update. I have many Samsung phones. Now after the update I hate using the most expensive of all, the S9. Eventually someone will create a fix for the look of the screens and icons. Our originals were removed by the upgrade. BUT more stressful are the functions that have been removed. Google several forums and you will see the thousands of complaints about missing camera functions, video player functions, clock, apps that stopped working, and more. The feature of the navigation bar to show always, or pull up when you want it is gone. Now you must dig down into settings and you have 2 choices. Always on. Or always hidden. When hidden you cannot pull the navigation bar up to see it. You must swipe up at the correct spot to get Home, or Back, or Active Apps. But see nothing. It is blind. (Often does not work). Or if locked it on you often cannot see the full content on the screen. Now you will have to go into settings each time you want it to show or hide. Before We could pull up the hidden bar. We could double click the left side of the bar to lock it or hide it. Was simple, easy and used often.
    This is only one example of many problems with Pie.