BARCELONA—I was initially overwhelmed when I heard Samsung's CEO, Jong-Kyun Shin, list off all of the new software features that come standard with the Galaxy S5. Samsung's TouchWiz UI has a bit of a tattered past, and the Galaxy S4 was filled to the brim with extra apps and features that no one really asked for, like Air View and a Samsung-branded app store.
But after spending some time with some of the features that come standard with the new version of TouchWiz, I'm beginning to believe that it's not all bloatware.
For instance, the Galaxy S5's camera application features a new mode called Shot & More. It was introduced to help you actually get some use out of all those various camera modes Samsung packed into its camera app, without worrying about which of them to use before you actually take the photo.
After you snap a photo, Shot & More will store several variants of it in the photo gallery. When you're ready, you can go in and choose whether you wanted the burst action shot that it took, or perhaps something else like a nice HDR image to share with your social networks.
There's also a Focus select mode that lets you adjust the focus of a photo after the fact. I like that it offers various focus points rather than asking me to think about where I want to focus before I take the photo, and it adds real credence to the idea of using the Galaxy S5 as a point and shoot device.
Other features, like Samsung's Emergency Mode, is great when you need to preserve battery life but you still need your phone to act as your main communication device. The feature dims the screen into a "faux e-ink" mode and keeps only the most essential functions engaged. You can make phone calls, send text messages, browse the web, or turn on the flashlight, but all 4G LTE and Wi-Fi connections are shut off to save those precious milliamps.
Now with more Google
There's been plenty of talk of how Samsung's been pressured by Google to go back to its roots. The folder devoted specifically to Google's core apps is now front and center on the Home screen, and while I didn't try this myself, Brian Klug at AnandTech mentions that when he rebooted the device, it displayed a "powered by Android" stamp.
Did anyone else but me try rebooting the SGS5 to see the boot splash? “powered by android” as opposed to… http://t.co/zzDveIwK54— Brian Klug (@nerdtalker) February 25, 2014
The "menu" key on the Galaxy S5 now also functions as Google intended. On Samsung's older flagship devices, like the Galaxy S III and S4, pressing the button brought up a menu, forcing you to choose from a list of actions before venturing forward. Now, it actually brings up the Recents screen, like on Android 4.4. KitKat.
Samsung didn't totally stick with all of Android's standards, however. The Settings menu has received yet another overhaul, and everything has been broken out into individual icons, collected into groups. The settings for the Galaxy S5's core applications are now available at the very bottom of the Settings list, which confused me at first. Fortunately, you can switch between three different orientations, and while I can see the worth in having iconography guide the user toward the settings they're reaching for, it's a big departure from stock Android's list-oriented Settings menu.
I'm excited to get the Galaxy S5 in-house and really check out what Samsung packed into TouchWiz. The flatter UI is more aesthetically appealing, too, and with Google's influence we could be seeing Samsung slow down the transition into its own massive ecosystem.