Five Reasons I Switched From Nexus to TouchWiz

One of the reasons I absolutely love Android is because of the developer community. They’re creating and editing custom ROMs and apps all the time, and the update rate is pretty frequent.

As I mentioned previously, my first entrance into the custom ROM world was with Peter Alfonso’s Bugless Beast, after which I switched to CyanogenMod. I loved it, not just because it got me to the latest Android release (4.2.2, Jelly Bean) on my Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but because they added some nifty features and it was constantly being updated. Plus it had this simple, clean look to it.

Fast-forward to my recent smartphone upgrade situation when I switched to the Samsung Galaxy Note II and the question invariably comes up: why? Why did I switch from something developer-driven that I loved to a company-driven UI model? Add to that the fact that I have no plans to flash CyanogenMod to my Note II and this becomes an even deeper question. I’d say there are five reasons why I switched.

 

Reason #1: Manageability

 

Honestly, I got tired of managing the OS. I’m trying to simplify my digital life (only one step left!), and it takes at least a little extra time to manage a custom ROM. At the very least, you have to spend time at the beginning to flash your phone (~2-6 hours depending on experience), then you have to set up all your apps and settings again (~2-8 hours depending on the amount; unless you use TitaniumBackup, then it’s ~1 hour or less), and then if you want to be up-to-date on the nightlies or even stable releases you have to set that up and then flash the updates. It’s not the most time consuming thing in the world, but it does take a little extra effort.

Contrast that with Samsung’s TouchWiz (their UI overlay), where I don’t have to do jack squat except install the updates every so often. It had an update ready when I first turned on the phone and connected it to Wi-Fi, and the next one’s hopefully coming in the next month or two.

Of course, there’s a downside to this: more than ever my OS updates are tied to the manufacturer and carrier, something that invariably causes delays in comparison to the developer community. I gain time but lose early access to features.

 

Reason #2: Look and feel

 

I’m a fan of both the CyanogenMod and TouchWiz UIs, for different reasons. CyanogenMod is much simpler and cleaner, but TouchWiz is more interesting and engaging. In my experience, when you use the stock Android build (which CyanogenMod is pretty close to) for long periods of time, eventually the UI begins to feel uninviting. It never looks “bad” per say, but TouchWiz looks much more inviting by comparison.

Then we have the argument that TouchWiz looks childish and outdated compared to CyanogenMod. I understand where that’s coming from, but I would (mostly) disagree. Yes, TouchWiz uses bright colors slightly too much (specifically mentioned the settings in the notification panel in my review), but it’s definitely not childish looking. I could see one of two arguments being true: either it’s a different take on a modern UI, or it’s not quite as blocky and simplified as most modern UIs. I think either would be a valid point.

Whichever it is, I’ve landed on it, and I’ve enjoyed it so far. I’m not sure what TouchWiz enhancements will come with Android 4.2, but I’m mostly satisfied with the look and feel so far.

 

Reason #3: Features

 

CyanogenMod relies on developer-driven features for their releases, and it’s worked out great for them so far. You have built-in rooting, tethering, and more.

However, TouchWiz-enabled devices have built-in features as well – the difference is that they’re company-driven. That’s not an inherently bad thing, it’s just a different mode of development. While a look at my review of the Note II will be the best way to check out the features I enjoy, here’s a quick summary of my favorite TouchWiz features:

  • Gesture and motion controls: While some don’t work very well (swipe screen to take a screenshot), others have been a lot of fun. Tilt to zoom, pan to move icon, pan to browse images, and double-tap to move to the top of lists have worked very well for me.
  • S Pen: While the idea of a stylus is not new, using the Note II’s stylus has been nothing short of innovative for me. From handwriting recognition to drawing out article ideas, it’s been my favorite feature, hands-down.
  • Built-in apps: I hate bloatware with a passion – it’s essentially the main reason I got into rooting and custom ROMs in the first place. However, I liked TouchWiz and enough of the built-in apps to keep them around (I did root the Note II to get rid of some; couldn’t help it!). Specifically, I like Kies Air, S Note, S Voice, Samsung Link, and Samsung’s Keyboard:
    • Kies Air allows you to almost completely manage your phone from a web browser. Haven’t found anything like it with CyanogenMod, at least built-in.
    • S Note is a little superfluous in that you don’t have to use it for handwriting recognition. However, it does have a few different modes that are useful, including Idea Note for drawing ideas.
    • S Voice has been fun to play around with and compare to Google Voice Search. There are a few additional features it has that Google Voice doesn’t, including saying “Cheese” to make the Camera app take a picture.
    • While I haven’t used Samsung Link a lot, the concept is nice – sharing content between your devices (including between your phone and the computer). Again, haven’t seen anything similar in CyanogenMod that’s built-in.
    • The Samsung Keyboard is becoming my favorite keyboard. While some features are pretty generic across keyboard apps (swiping), the extra number row is nice, and the option to switch to handwriting recognition mode with the stylus is extremely useful.

 

Reason #4: Cost

 

If I were to buy a Nexus-style device – say the Google Editions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the HTC One (Huawei phone soon to be added to the mix) – I would have to buy it outright (especially since I’m on Verizon). The HTC One is $599, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 is $649. The only other option would be the LG Nexus 4, selling for $299 on the Google Play Store. Compare any of those to the price at Best Buy for the Note II ($199.99). Plus, I was able to price match it for $169.99 from a Dell site, then trade in my Galaxy Nexus for credit, bringing it down to ~$120 (would have been ~$40 if it was in slightly better condition). For a guy who can’t spend $500-600 all at once, that’s a pretty great deal. And I tend to upgrade pretty regularly, so I’m not losing as much from the carrier subsidies (plus, Samsung devices require more subsidies than most).

 

Reason #5: Availability

 

Both Google Edition phones show the next ship date as July 9, and the Nexus 4 ships in ~1-2 business days. I was able to walk into a Best Buy Mobile store and walk out that same day with a phone. This isn’t as big a deal to me because I can wait a few weeks for a phone, but it’s still something worth noting.

 

Conclusion

 

I have absolutely nothing against Google Edition or Nexus-style phones. I used one for over a year and loved it. But then it came time to switch, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the TouchWiz experience. I don’t think TouchWiz is for everyone, but at this point in my smartphone timeline it’s definitely for me.

If you’re in the market for a new phone, I’d encourage you to at least consider it.

Nate Humphries

Nate Humphries

My two personal passions in life are technology and theology. If you sneaked a peek at my life you'd see me hanging out with my wife, our Dachshund Bella, and our snake Phoenix; playing Skyrim/Civ:BE/F3/FNV/BL/Rage/GW2/SRIV; watching movies; reading on my Kindle (sci-fi or theology research); or playing on my Moto 360/Samsung Galaxy Note II.

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  • Steve Smith

    Your price argument completely sidesteps that you are comparing on-contract price with off-contract price. For an off-contract phone, the Nexus 4 is a steal. Given the versatility of not being locked to a carrier for 2 years is probably worth the extra $100 or so (given you will save at least $15/month by switching to a non-contract carrier). The difference would be recouped in under 7 months, and you won’t be stuck with a carrier! Other than that, interesting take! I’m personally not a fan of the ‘Wiz; it’s a bit too busy for me. I prefer to start with the basics and customize, but I realize that isn’t for everyone. Quite honestly, running a custom ROM is only as complicated as you make it. I’ve been on AOKP JB-MR1 Milestone 1 since mid-April (it’s the most recent “stable” build), and it’s been fantastic. Haven’t felt a need to update to a nightly. I know that Milestone 2 is due down the pipe soon, and that 4.3 is slowly but surely coming. Honestly, until 4.3, I don’t have a reason to update.

    • http://culturemass.com/tech-science Nate Humphries

      I partially agree that I would’ve saved money going no-contract (I mentioned carrier subsidies), but the cost was a big factor to me this time. Paying only $120 for a phone originally $200 is essentially the only reason I was able to get it. In general, yes, no-contract would’ve saved me a TON long-term, and it’d be nice to get to that point someday. However, it could be argued that especially with the Note II, going no-contract wouldn’t have been as wise as with other phones. In general, the Note II carries a higher no-contract price than other phones, so the cost recoup would’ve been minimal or nonexistent. $15 x 24 months = $360, and the no-contract Note II’s I found were ~$450 (used, Swappa)-500 (new, eBay)-699.99 (new, Amazon)-759.99 (new, Wirefly/Dell)-799.99 (new, Best Buy).

      Unfortunately, I became a freak with the CM nightlies, especially when I had my ASUS TF300T. That one was really at the beginning stages of CM development when I got it – most of the keyboard function keys weren’t usable until ~1 month after I got it – so the nightlies meant more with it than other models. Because of that, I ended up being partially obsessed with Galaxy Nexus nightlies because I wanted the slightly added benefits, but that ending eating up some of my time. Closer to when I switched phones I concentrated on stable releases, but by then it was too late. Nightlies had sucked some of my life away! Like you, if I ever switch back to CM, I’d have to leave it to stable releases, just to save time.

      • Steve Smith

        Yes, not really saying that off-contract would have saved you money (though it probably would), but that it’s just not a fair comparison to say that the Note costs less than a “Nexus” experience device. There are so many other factors making it hardly a black and white comparison. For instance, you would HAVE to switch carriers if you wanted one of those (Verizon doesn’t have one, and possibly never will given its history). Also, you can install CyanogenMod on pretty much any Android device under the sun – including your Verizon Note 2. Even though I think no-contract is probably the better way to go, the fact of the matter is I’m still locked into my contract for another 10 months. I honestly don’t know what device I’ll get at that time, or what carrier I’ll want to be with. The carrier/mobile landscape can (and likely will) change a LOT in 10 months. Honestly, I love having unlimited 4G data on the VZW network, and if I want to keep that, I’ll have to buy a phone outright. I just feel that “price” is not really an argument for switching to TouchWiz from “stock” Android, as you can go back anytime you want.

        • http://culturemass.com/tech-science Nate Humphries

          True story with the changing landscape – what with Verizon “dropping” unlimited data (I’m glad we’ve been able to keep ours!), Share Everything plans being added, and there’s no telling what’s next – things are changing pretty rapidly with carriers.

          I see what you’re saying with price not being as important seeing how I can make my Note II Nexus-style anytime I want, and I think it’s a valid point. In my case I think it’s slightly different however – I only had 2 possibilities in mind: an out-of-the-box Nexus device, or a Touch-Wiz device (technically I only had the Note II in mind after reviewing it, but this is just a general discussion). For me, buying a Note II and then flashing it with a custom ROM would be near-sacrilege. Why go through the effort of getting a phone with a specific feel, configuration, and features, only to blast them away? (I should admit, I don’t know if CM keeps any of those features, didn’t look into it.) For me it was either all or nothing. I settled on TouchWiz, which ended up netting me a price benefit, since it’s most likely I would’ve tried for the Nexus-style S4 otherwise.

          All that to say: I think you’re right in general, I just had a unique situation where cost ended up being an issue.

  • Steve Smith

    Your price argument completely sidesteps that you are comparing on-contract price with off-contract price. For an off-contract phone, the Nexus 4 is a steal. Given the versatility of not being locked to a carrier for 2 years is probably worth the extra $100 or so (given you will save at least $15/month by switching to a non-contract carrier). The difference would be recouped in under 7 months, and you won’t be stuck with a carrier! Other than that, interesting take! I’m personally not a fan of the ‘Wiz; it’s a bit too busy for me. I prefer to start with the basics and customize, but I realize that isn’t for everyone. Quite honestly, running a custom ROM is only as complicated as you make it. I’ve been on AOKP JB-MR1 Milestone 1 since mid-April (it’s the most recent “stable” build), and it’s been fantastic. Haven’t felt a need to update to a nightly. I know that Milestone 2 is due down the pipe soon, and that 4.3 is slowly but surely coming. Honestly, until 4.3, I don’t have a reason to update.

    • http://culturemass.com/tech-science Nate Humphries

      I partially agree that I would’ve saved money going no-contract (I mentioned carrier subsidies), but the cost was a big factor to me this time. Paying only $120 for a phone originally $200 is essentially the only reason I was able to get it. In general, yes, no-contract would’ve saved me a TON long-term, and it’d be nice to get to that point someday. However, it could be argued that especially with the Note II, going no-contract wouldn’t have been as wise as with other phones. In general, the Note II carries a higher no-contract price than other phones, so the cost recoup would’ve been minimal or nonexistent. $15 x 24 months = $360, and the no-contract Note II’s I found were ~$450 (used, Swappa)-500 (new, eBay)-699.99 (new, Amazon)-759.99 (new, Wirefly/Dell)-799.99 (new, Best Buy).

      Unfortunately, I became a freak with the CM nightlies, especially when I had my ASUS TF300T. That one was really at the beginning stages of CM development when I got it – most of the keyboard function keys weren’t usable until ~1 month after I got it – so the nightlies meant more with it than other models. Because of that, I ended up being partially obsessed with Galaxy Nexus nightlies because I wanted the slightly added benefits, but that ending eating up some of my time. Closer to when I switched phones I concentrated on stable releases, but by then it was too late. Nightlies had sucked some of my life away! Like you, if I ever switch back to CM, I’d have to leave it to stable releases, just to save time.

      • Steve Smith

        Yes, not really saying that off-contract would have saved you money (though it probably would), but that it’s just not a fair comparison to say that the Note costs less than a “Nexus” experience device. There are so many other factors making it hardly a black and white comparison. For instance, you would HAVE to switch carriers if you wanted one of those (Verizon doesn’t have one, and possibly never will given its history). Also, you can install CyanogenMod on pretty much any Android device under the sun – including your Verizon Note 2. Even though I think no-contract is probably the better way to go, the fact of the matter is I’m still locked into my contract for another 10 months. I honestly don’t know what device I’ll get at that time, or what carrier I’ll want to be with. The carrier/mobile landscape can (and likely will) change a LOT in 10 months. Honestly, I love having unlimited 4G data on the VZW network, and if I want to keep that, I’ll have to buy a phone outright. I just feel that “price” is not really an argument for switching to TouchWiz from “stock” Android, as you can go back anytime you want.

        • http://culturemass.com/tech-science Nate Humphries

          True story with the changing landscape – what with Verizon “dropping” unlimited data (I’m glad we’ve been able to keep ours!), Share Everything plans being added, and there’s no telling what’s next – things are changing pretty rapidly with carriers.

          I see what you’re saying with price not being as important seeing how I can make my Note II Nexus-style anytime I want, and I think it’s a valid point. In my case I think it’s slightly different however – I only had 2 possibilities in mind: an out-of-the-box Nexus device, or a Touch-Wiz device (technically I only had the Note II in mind after reviewing it, but this is just a general discussion). For me, buying a Note II and then flashing it with a custom ROM would be near-sacrilege. Why go through the effort of getting a phone with a specific feel, configuration, and features, only to blast them away? (I should admit, I don’t know if CM keeps any of those features, didn’t look into it.) For me it was either all or nothing. I settled on TouchWiz, which ended up netting me a price benefit, since it’s most likely I would’ve tried for the Nexus-style S4 otherwise.

          All that to say: I think you’re right in general, I just had a unique situation where cost ended up being an issue.

  • VN

    Do you get any benefits I.e money or freebies from Samsung?

    • http://culturemass.com/tech-science Nate Humphries

      Nope, no freebies, we just get temporary demo units from them. That’s where all this came from, actually – had a demo unit of the Note II to review and just fell in love with it and ended up buying one.

  • VN

    Do you get any benefits I.e money or freebies from Samsung?

    • http://culturemass.com/tech-science Nate Humphries

      Nope, no freebies, we just get temporary demo units from them. That’s where all this came from, actually – had a demo unit of the Note II to review and just fell in love with it and ended up buying one.

  • Pumpkin King

    I wish that there could be a full fuze of Touchwiz and cm.
    All the custom of cm and themeing, awesome modified kernel.
    Choice of ui and to have all the touchwiz features.

    With my S1 and some other phones I liked CM more than anything…..Now with Notes…..I’m torn.
    Most people saying anything bad about touchwiz are just butthurt internet trollers.
    I love the customizing of CM…But I love all the features of TW. Multi window, group play, s beam, spen, milk and so forth. There are some alternatives true.
    And the Galaxy keyboard on the notes is hands down my favorite.
    The number row up top, the ease of use, how well the letters type in, the swype. I’m hooked. I can’t stand any other keyboard. Stock or go keyboard or others. I don’t like the layout, I don’t the system weight, and they don’t seem to work as well.

    Plus the battery life and camera on TW are just way better generally. And I like the new TW even more on S5 that’s been ported. Just miss some things from CM and wish there was that level of themeing and customizing on TW.

    • http://culturemass.com/tech-science Nate Humphries

      Yeah, there’s a reason I do searches every so often for good third-party variations of Multi Window and S Pen functionality – if I ever flash CM on my Note II I HAVE to have those. And you’re right, the Samsung keyboard (especially on the Note series) does a good job of taking advantage of the extra screen size with the number row, and easy access to special characters is something I always miss when checking out the stock Google keyboard. And so far the only phone with a better battery life than my Note II is the Moto X (doesn’t last as long but does better on screen time; review coming in a 2-3 weeks!).

      The only area I’d disagree with you on is the camera – I’ve come to like the Google camera a little better (and, of course, the Lumia 1020’s camera is the best), mostly because I’ve had some issues with blur on my Note II.

      This feels like one of those neverending quests, doesn’t it? It’d be great to have the battery life, S Pen, and Multi Window of Samsung + the smoothness and simplicity of stock Android + the customizability of CM + the Active Notifications of Motorola + etc. Someday we’ll have it all. Someday…

      • Pumpkin King

        Right. If only it could all be combined.
        I do have some focus issues sometimes, but I don’t have the steadiest of hands. But I overall like the camera and set up on touchwiz. It’s all preference though. I have heard that google cam is better for outdoor shots in decent day light though.
        Of course non can out photograph the 1020 or 808.

  • Pumpkin King

    I wish that there could be a full fuze of Touchwiz and cm.
    All the custom of cm and themeing, awesome modified kernel.
    Choice of ui and to have all the touchwiz features.

    With my S1 and some other phones I liked CM more than anything…..Now with Notes…..I’m torn.
    Most people saying anything bad about touchwiz are just butthurt internet trollers.
    I love the customizing of CM…But I love all the features of TW. Multi window, group play, s beam, spen, milk and so forth. There are some alternatives true.
    And the Galaxy keyboard on the notes is hands down my favorite.
    The number row up top, the ease of use, how well the letters type in, the swype. I’m hooked. I can’t stand any other keyboard. Stock or go keyboard or others. I don’t like the layout, I don’t the system weight, and they don’t seem to work as well.

    Plus the battery life and camera on TW are just way better generally. And I like the new TW even more on S5 that’s been ported. Just miss some things from CM and wish there was that level of themeing and customizing on TW.

    • http://culturemass.com/tech-science Nate Humphries

      Yeah, there’s a reason I do searches every so often for good third-party variations of Multi Window and S Pen functionality – if I ever flash CM on my Note II I HAVE to have those. And you’re right, the Samsung keyboard (especially on the Note series) does a good job of taking advantage of the extra screen size with the number row, and easy access to special characters is something I always miss when checking out the stock Google keyboard. And so far the only phone with a better battery life than my Note II is the Moto X (doesn’t last as long but does better on screen time; review coming in a 2-3 weeks!).

      The only area I’d disagree with you on is the camera – I’ve come to like the Google camera a little better (and, of course, the Lumia 1020’s camera is the best), mostly because I’ve had some issues with blur on my Note II.

      This feels like one of those neverending quests, doesn’t it? It’d be great to have the battery life, S Pen, and Multi Window of Samsung + the smoothness and simplicity of stock Android + the customizability of CM + the Active Notifications of Motorola + etc. Someday we’ll have it all. Someday…

      • Pumpkin King

        Right. If only it could all be combined.
        I do have some focus issues sometimes, but I don’t have the steadiest of hands. But I overall like the camera and set up on touchwiz. It’s all preference though. I have heard that google cam is better for outdoor shots in decent day light though.
        Of course non can out photograph the 1020 or 808.