Every year there seem to be plenty of articles discussing how to make your new Samsung phone feel like a Pixel. I even wrote one, for those of you who do want a Pixel-like experience. I don't necessarily think it's a good idea, however — if you want your phone to be like a Pixel, you should've bought a Pixel in the first place. It also gives the impression that One UI is terrible, or at least worse than stock Android. While some might agree with that, I certainly don't. In my opinion, One UI is the best flavor of Android out there, and it has lots of features and tricks that deserve more attention. So, let's take a look at what One UI has to offer and why every other Android skin should take notice.
When Google released Android 9 Pie, they limited the number of visible notifications icons in the status bar to three, with an indicator telling you there are more that aren't displayed. This was likely due to the massive notch on the Pixel 3XL, but rather than implement it only for that phone it was forced on everyone.
In One UI, this isn't the case. If you pull down your quick settings panel, pressing the three-dot menu followed by "Status bar" will open a customization menu. Here you can elect to have no notification icons at all, limit them to three, have a little counter with the number of unread messages, or show all notifications. So, if you aren't a fan of the limited number Google tries to stick you with, Samsung could represent a better option for you.
I know, Bixby is probably the worst smart assistant out there — it's "smart" in the loosest sense of the word. Because of its deservedly poor reputation, it's natural to dismiss everything about it as awful and never try anything it has to offer. That would be a mistake because Bixby Routines is incredible.
Similar in concept to Assistant routines or rules, you can program Bixby to perform specific tasks when activated. Unlike Google's attempt, Samsung has nailed this experience.
There's a wide array of triggers, ranging from your morning alarm, arriving at a specific location, connecting headphones, plugging your phone into a charger, connecting a particular bluetooth device, opening an app, and much more. If you want manual control, you can create an on/off button for a routine on your home screen.
The actions that can be performed are also extensive, even interacting with your Galaxy Buds. My most used routine is simply called "Migraine" and is triggered whenever I press the toggle. When activated, my S20 activates do not disturb, the blue light filter, and dark mode, while also muting all sound. When I arrive to work, my phone will automatically reject phone calls and send a text to the number explaining that I will contact them when I return home.
That's just scratching the surface of what Bixby Routines is capable of — it's an exceptional tool, and I strongly recommend that you check it out for yourself.
Pop-up view allows you to open an app in a freeform window, which can be resized, pinned, and minimized. It's a similar feature to Bubbles, something Google is implementing in Android 11, or picture-in-picture for video. Pop-up works with any app that supports multi-window, not just messaging apps like Bubbles, so it's much more powerful. I often keep Spotify open in Pop-up view when I'm acting as the family DJ on a road trip, as well as Google Maps. Having the freedom to use this feature with almost any app makes it something I'm much more likely to use.
The introduction of proper iOS-style gesture navigation is perhaps what we'll remember most about Android 10, with Google going all-out to make it as fast and smooth as possible. As usual, Samsung has added a few tweaks to make it even better. My favorite is disabling the hide keyboard button that sits in an otherwise very empty row at the bottom. What particularly annoys me about this is that the bar is the same height as the old three-button navbar, ruining the immersion that gestures are supposed to bring.
Thankfully, Samsung allows you to turn this off so the keyboard reaches down to the bottom of the display. Now, you can simply use the back gesture from the side of the screen to hide the keyboard, which is much more intuitive if you ask me. You can also hide the gesture bar, or gesture "hints" as Samsung calls it, to push the immersion further. I leave this switched on, though, or the content of some apps becomes cut off by the rounded corners of the display.
The only downside is that you can only use these gestures with Samsung's default launcher, despite Google adding support for other launchers in its Pixel version of Android 10 last year. Samsung says that this will be addressed with One UI 2.5, which is probably going to be released with the Note20.
One Hand Operation+
Even though the S10+ was already the size of a small elephant, the S20 Ultra is a full-grown mammoth. With a phone this big, reaching down to the bottom bezel to swipe up for home can be a stretch, even for those of us with large hands. That's why I love One Hand Operation+ (in spite of the strange name). It's just one module in the Good Lock suite, which I'll discuss more later on, but One Hand is so good that it deserves its own mention on this list.
Allowing you to assign up to six different commands per side, there's almost no limit to how you can set this up. I like to keep the gestures the same on both sides of the phone, so I have six gestures from which to choose. As you'll see in the images above, I have the usual navigation options assigned to short swipes, with more advanced features accessed with long swipes. Swiping up and holding triggers Google Assitant, swiping right out shows Samsung's quick tools panel, and swiping down activates one-handed mode.
There are far too many other options to name, but something especially interesting is the inclusion of app activities, which work the same as shortcuts in Nova Launcher. With this, I can assign a gesture to anything from opening a specific conversation in messages to launching the selfie camera.
One Hand fully integrates with Android 10's default gestures, as well as Samsung's own. By far the best part of this app is the ability to adjust the activation area. Unlike Google's side gesture, which observes the height of the entire screen, these can be tweaked to only go part of the way up or down. That's especially useful in apps like the Play Store so you can slide out the side menu without triggering any gestures. That alone makes this app worthwhile, and it's what I missed most when I had to use a Pixel for a few days recently.
Edge Panel is one of Samsung's more divisive features — most people either love it or hate it. I'm in the former group and I use it several times a day. There are dozens of "panels" to choose from, and you can even download third-party options from the Galaxy Store.
As you can imagine, I have to take a lot of screenshots for this job. Usually, I only need to capture a specific part of what's on my screen and I find myself cropping screenshots almost constantly. At least, I did until I started using Smart select. It lets you crop a screenshot before it's taken, saving you the effort of opening a photo editor later.
Tools is a collection of various, well, tools that you'd typically need to download separately from the Play Store. Admittedly, these aren't something that I need too often, but when I do, having them only a swipe away is perfect. I had to relevel my oven the other day and realized that my spirit-level was on loan to somebody else. Throwing my S20 onto the hob may not have given the most accurate reading in the world, but my cakes aren't all tilted anymore, so it was close enough.
Left: Good Lock menu, Middle: QuickStar, Right: Sound Assistant
I know, I've covered Good Lock a lot in my time here, but this article wouldn't be complete without its inclusion. If you want a full rundown of everything it's capable of, my Good Lock 2020 hands-on has everything you need. It's worth mentioning my two favorite modules here, though, in addition to the aforementioned One Hand Operation+.
QuickStar allows you to modify everything about your quick settings page, although the theming options have been made redundant by Theme Park. The remaining options are incredibly powerful, especially the indicator elements menu. Back in Marshmallow, Google introduced the SystemUI Tuner, which let you toggle different status bar icons on and off, among other things. Recent releases of Android have removed this menu, so Samsung decided to bake it into Good Lock. I don't like clutter, especially in my status bar, so turning off icons that I don't want to see is invaluable. I don't need to see the Bluetooth indicator 24/7 because my watch is connected, nor do I care to see the Wi-Fi calling symbol. The first thing I do when setting up a new phone is to open Good Lock and switch them off.
Sound Assistant, as the name suggests, offers plenty of options for sound settings beyond what you'll be used to seeing. As well as setting individual volumes for specific apps — great for mobile apps that love loud ads — you can adjust EQ settings and switch the volume keys from adjusting ringer volume to media volume. As useful as that is, I want to talk about the themes. By default, Samsung has sadly decided to stick with a horizontal volume bar at the top of the screen, rather than the compact vertical slider Google introduced a while back. Thankfully, you can switch to this design in the Sound Assistant themes menu. I'd call this an essential for anyone using a Samsung device, especially if you've switched from a Pixel as I did last year. With phones as large as they are these days, having your volume slider within easy reach is a must.
Before switching to Samsung last year, I didn't care about lockscreen shortcuts. This was mainly because they were restricted to launching the camera or Google Assistant, both of which were more easily accessible via other means. As is the case with most of One UI, these are now customizable. As is the case with many custom ROMs, you can choose any installed app to be launched from here, or assign a couple of system toggles instead. I'm hoping these will be expanded in future releases, but for now, you can only toggle do not disturb and the torch. Having quick access to the torch via a simple swipe is something I've come to take for granted.
Direct share is a mess, as far as I'm concerned. Not only does it make the share sheet take longer to load, but the suggestions are mostly utter garbage too. I honestly don't think it's ever suggested the right person or app for what I want to share. If you feel the same as I do, then you'll be pleased to know that it can easily be disabled in One UI. Head over to Settings > Advanced features and you'll find a toggle for it. It's a simple little tweak, but boy does it make a difference.
Link to Windows
Link to Windows is something I've come to use every day since I started working here. Being able to check my notifications without picking up my phone, control my S20 from my PC using my keyboard and mouse, and transfer photos without plugging it in are features I now depend on, especially the latter. As I mentioned earlier, I take a lot of screenshots for articles and transferring them to my PC used to be a hassle. All I have to do to transfer photos is open the gallery in the Windows app, and right-click on the images I need. It's as simple as that.
If you have a headset with a mic connected to your PC, you can even make and receive calls through your computer, saving you from the hassle of taking out your earbuds and pausing your music.
Getting Link to Windows set up is incredibly easy. Install the Your Phone app on your PC via the Microsoft Store and sign in. Once the app shows a QR code, open Link to Windows on your phone and follow the instructions. Within minutes your phone and computer will be working together as a productivity powerhouse.
One UI truly has a lot to offer, more than I could hope to adequately cover in an article such as this. These are a few of my favorites, but I suggest you dig through One UI for yourself and explore all of its many useful features.