Brace yourselves, Android fans: If you have a Samsung phone and are awaiting the Android 4.0 upgrade, you may be in for a disappointment.
With Samsung delivering Ice Cream Sandwich to its Galaxy S II phones this week, we're getting an up-close look at what exactly the company has done to the software. Let me put it this way: If you love your current Gingerbread setup, you're going to be pleased. But if you're looking forward to the new and improved Ice Cream Sandwich interface you've been reading about for the last few months, you aren't going to be a happy camper.
Here's the thing: In baking its proprietary TouchWiz skin into the software, Samsung has watered down the Ice Cream Sandwich experience and delivered a UI that's barely different from what you have now.
To be clear, I'm talking specifically about the user interface -- the look and feel of the platform. Most of the actual ICS features are present in Samsung's TouchWiz-modified Android 4.0: You will get things like the new multitasking menu, the revamped lock screen with optional facial recognition, and the improved system settings.
But perhaps the most sweeping change in Ice Cream Sandwich is its look -- the fresh "holographic" design that brings a sleek and polished new shell to the platform. And Samsung has evidently decided it doesn't want that on its devices.
Take a peek at some of the early videos that have popped up showing Android 4.0 in action on Samsung TouchWiz phones. At a glance, you wouldn't even know you're looking at anything new: Samsung has peeled away the freshness of ICS and made it look more or less exactly like the TouchWiz-modified Gingerbread that preceded it. Core ICS elements like Google's new blue-themed holographic design, smooth-looking Roboto system font, and unified app-widget drawer are all missing; instead, you get Samsung's familiar old 2.3-like setup.
For most people, moving from Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich has been a night-and-day change; particularly on a phone, ICS really is a whole new Android experience. Unfortunately, for owners of Samsung phones -- excluding Nexus devices, of course, which are controlled by Google and thus free from Sammy's modifications -- it's going to be more of an incremental upgrade. Still a significant upgrade, mind you, but more evolutionary than revolutionary. And that's a shame, because ICS as Google created it is pretty damn impressive.
If Samsung wants to water down Ice Cream Sandwich in such an extreme manner, it should at least have the decency to give its users the choice to revert to a more stock-like ICS experience. While I may not generally be a fan of baked-in manufacturer UIs in the first place, I can at least understand the value companies strive to create by adding interesting features into the software.
But stripping out the hallmarks of a reimagined user interface -- an interface that marks the start of a new era for the Android platform -- and sticking instead with a clunkier, outdated-feeling configuration? From a user's perspective, I'm just not sure what kind of value that provides.
(TouchWiz ICS screenshot courtesy XDA Developers forum)
Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.