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TouchWiz UX: Skinning Honeycomb

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: A Second-Gen Android Tablet
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We dug deep into the Honeycomb UI when we reviewed Motorola's Xoom. If you're not familiar with Honeycomb, consider starting there. Everything from navigation, app installation, syncing, and screenshots are covered. Briefly, Honeycomb refers to Android version 3.x, a newer release of the operating system than what you'd find on an Android-based phone employing version 2.3 (Gingerbread).

TouchWiz UX: Home Screen

The Honeycomb experience on Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 is fundamentally different from what you get on other tablets. Last month, the company released a software update that applies a skin to its user interface. Dubbed TouchWiz UX, Samsung is the first vendor to offer a completely customized interface to a Honeycomb-based tablet.

Beyond the skin itself, TouchWiz UX differs from the standard Honeycomb interface in the following:

  • L!ve Panels: A set of custom widgets and panels similar to what's provided in Honeycomb 3.1 with added functionality for weather and social feeds.
  • Mini Apps Tray: A dock-like bar that provides quick access to a calculator, music player, clock, calendar, and task manager.
  • Social Hub: An integrated messaging and feed notification application for email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Exchange.
  • Reader's Hub: An ebook storefront that allows you to directly download digital books. Samsung claims that it will feature around 2 million books, 2000 newspapers in 49 languages, and 2300 magazines in 22 languages.
  • Media Hub: A video-on-demand service (US-only)
  • Music Hub: A music-on-demand service (available globally)
  • Quick Panel: A larger interface for settings and notifications.


Mini-AppsMini-App: Clock

Mini apps are similar to gadgets in Windows 7 and widgets in Mac OS X. The difference is that Android doesn't allow multitasking. So, you can't have the calendar open and continue to type in QuickOffice because each mini app is treated as a discrete program.

Interestingly, Samsung includes a task manager with its TouchWiz update. This lets you eject programs loaded in RAM. It's a feature sorely lacking in Honeycomb that we enjoy in iOS. While Samsung is on the right track, the Task Manager app needs a few tweaks. The program does allow you to close an app, but it doesn't clear the application's thumbnail in the multitasking switcher.

Social HubSocial HubSocial Hub

Currently, the Social Hub app supports POP/IMAP email, Exchange, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Once you add your accounts, social network updates are treated as RSS feeds. Meanwhile, message subjects appear in a single window, similar to Synergy in webOS.

The integrated social network feed is a convenient way to check, comment on, and provide status updates. However, professionals who are also responsible for managing a corporate social media presence are going to feel handicapped because the app is limited to one Facebook, one Twitter, and one LinkedIn account.

We like what Samsung did with the social network integration. But the messaging system needs a major overhaul. Communicating between Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn is completely integrated in a single interface, while email is not. For example, if I want to read the body of a particular message, clicking on a subject line opens it up in the email app. This is complicated by the fact that Android requires a Google account, which means the Gmail app automatically syncs Google email. If you add your Gmail account to Social Hub, your Gmail account exists in two applications: email and Gmail.

Music HubMedia HubMedia Hub

The Media Hub and Music Hub apps are nothing more than on-demand services that let you purchase music, movies, and TV shows in lieu of iTunes. Overall, the selection seems to be pretty darned current. Many of the TV episodes that aired last week were listed and available for purchase.

Personally, I tend to use my tablets to read more than play back video. That's why it was disappointing to find Reader's Hub missing from the TouchWiz update. Samsung couldn't tell us when an over-the-air (OTA) update might be provided, but we're hoping it happens before the end of the year.

Quick Panel

The biggest difference in TouchWiz UX is the operating system's notification area. Now everything is displayed in large icons and fonts. In our opinion, it's a more intuitive interface than Google's original take, which is why we hope other tablet manufacturers follow Samsung's footsteps with regard to UI customization. 

Understandably, some people prefer vanilla Honeycomb to the TouchWiz interface. Since Samsung provides TouchWiz as an OTA update, you have to disable updates if you want to keep Google's UI. Ideally, Google would provide open access to UI development. It'd be great if we had the freedom to pick and choose themes like we do in Windows 7 and Mac OS X.

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  • 2 Hide
    Martell77 , October 4, 2011 6:10 AM
    I'm going to be in the market to buy about 150 tablets soon and from this article it appears that the ASUS 3.2 is the best all around for price/performance/recharge. While it doesn't win alot, it appears to be a consistant performer and has a relativly short recharge time.

    Or am I missing something here?
  • 0 Hide
    dthx , October 4, 2011 8:37 AM
    The reason why Samsung doesn't want to lower it's price is easy to understand: there are many (stupid) persons who are convinced that the iPad is superior to any other tablet just because it's priced higher... Samsung wants to make sure they capture that part of the market.
    But the author is right: if there is one reason Apple should sue Samsung, it's for copying the price structure of the iPad!
  • 1 Hide
    Haserath , October 4, 2011 11:32 AM
    Samsung Galaxy Tab needs a split keyboard feature in portrait mode; it isn't comfortable enough to have to stretch to hit the virtual keys.

    The 10.1 is still too slow for certain browsing. Flash is good as long as you don't want to rewind or fast forward through it. It sometimes slows down when I try typing also.

    Since Apple produces both hardware and software, they can optimize their OS for the exact hardware they put out.

    After trying the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, I would say it's just a little too immature still. A good year or two and tablets will be perfect for browsing, gaming, and some other tasks while also being lightweight and easy to use even compared to laptops.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , October 4, 2011 12:22 PM
    Hmmm, many talk about iPad dominance but don't know all the facts. Just looking at a device in the store doesn't cut it folks. Android tablets are going to start cutting into market share, like it or not. For an IT person or true techie, most would choose an Android tablet. 4 core coming soon and they are going to rock the scene. Example: my Acer Iconia costs quite a bit less than iPad2.
    -Full USB port for mouse, keyboard, portable hard disks/thumb drives, cameras
    -Overclocked and stable dual core CPU @ 1.504 Ghz (big change in performance)
    -Customizable and open operating system (and it's going to get better with ICS)
    -Honeycomb 3.2
    -Netflix and Hulu working
    -Mount drives from Linux, Windows, and OSX
    -Websites with Flash that look the same as on a PC browser (now theres a concept)
    -Wide screen 16:9
    -5MP rear camera + front facing camera.
    -HDMI out
    -Charges back up in 1hr
  • 1 Hide
    dennisburke , October 4, 2011 4:35 PM
    Price, proprietary cable management, and lack of expandable storage all lead me to want to wait to see what happens after Windows 8 becomes available.
  • 0 Hide
    iceman1992 , October 5, 2011 4:05 AM
    Quote:
    PowerVR SGX545MP2 (dual-core)

    i think it's supposed to be SGX543MP2?
  • 1 Hide
    tacoslave , October 5, 2011 5:40 AM
    call me when Kal-el comes out
  • 0 Hide
    damric , October 5, 2011 11:09 AM
    I'll be getting this for $199 with my Sprint upgrade :D 
  • 1 Hide
    thrasher32 , October 5, 2011 2:28 PM
    Wake me up when someone does something innovative.
  • -1 Hide
    superbeast406 , October 6, 2011 12:42 AM
    Quote:
    While the iPad wasn’t particularly slick or slim (compared to today's standards, at least), it benefited from being the first tablet.

    The iPad wasn't the first tablet. They had been around for years before the iPad. Depending on what you're using for the definition of a tablet you could even say they were made as far back as in the 80's. We'll just say 2001 for functionality sake. iPad just crossed a tablet with the useful qaulities and good looks of an iPhone and marketed it right. I thought these articles were supposed to be written by techies? Not even gonna read the rest now.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 6, 2011 9:13 PM
    The comment about multitasking is dead wrong on this review.

    First, it states that Android does no multitasking, that's simply wrong. What Android doesn't allow is to have multiple apps showing at the same time on the screen, you can have an app doing some long job while you work on another, if that's not multitasking I don't know what is.

    Second, one paragraph later it tells the Galaxy task killer doesn't remove the thumbnail from the "multitasking switcher" (didn't the reviewer just said Android does no multitasking?). That switch is really an "app history" switcher rather than a multitask switcher, because even if the app is no longer in memory Android will reopen it for you, so no reason for Touchwiz task killer to remove the thumbnail from it.

    It is a good review, but I wish the reviewer had done his research on some topics like this one before alienating readers with wrong information.
  • 1 Hide
    the fong , October 7, 2011 3:22 AM
    The underlying issue with anyone knocking Apple off its throne is the 3rd party developer base and insane customer support Apple has. Until Android improves its model for the app store, they are never going to be a real contender against Apple in the general consumer market. Oh sure, tech heads and the like love android (myself among them), but Apple is shinier, simpler, with more apps, and more support, and the impressionable masses care little for native flash support as opposed to getting the latest angry birds update first.
  • 0 Hide
    sundragon , October 7, 2011 3:52 AM
    yawn...
  • 0 Hide
    in_the_loop , October 7, 2011 4:14 PM
    Totally misleading headline.
    This is by no way a "second generation" android tablet.
    It still has the Tegra 2 and the specs are identical to the other big names (Acer, Asus and the likes) and the performance is the same!

    No, the first "second gen" android tablet will probably be when the Asus transformer 2 is released.
    Or maybe ZTE will beat them all with the first Tegra 3 based (quad-core)tablet:
    http://www.androidauthority.com/zte-quad-core-tablet-leaks-26228/
  • 0 Hide
    invlem , October 8, 2011 4:31 AM
    after using an android device for a while I have to say the versatility is amazing compared to the iPad.

    I can browse my local Lan network with ease, copy files across the network, bridge any device to anything else (beam a youtube video from my 3g or wifi, via wifi, to my tv, etc)

    all feature which I can get for free from the market place.

    Not to mention standard USB and SD card support

    I'll admit the iPad has a nice interface and in general is a good tablet, but apple's death grip on what the developers are allowed to publish crushes the iPads capabilities... It could do so much more, and that's where the android market shines.
  • 0 Hide
    maltocro , October 8, 2011 6:47 PM
    My god, those specs are both in inches and in decimals?! Am I missing somthing (I am from Europe.)
  • 0 Hide
    husker , October 10, 2011 9:18 PM
    maltocroMy god, those specs are both in inches and in decimals?! Am I missing somthing (I am from Europe.)

    Here is what you are missing. All of these are the same thing:

    One tenth of an inch
    1/10 inch
    0.1 inch

    Is that really so hard to believe?
  • 0 Hide
    WyomingKnott , October 13, 2011 12:55 PM
    Quote:
    oogle and its hardware partners all seem focused on video content, based on the 16:10 displays on all of the competing tablets in the chart above. As a result, you'll feel compelled to hold the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in landscape mode.

    I always hold my 16:10 (why not 8:5?) eeePad Transformer in portrait mode. What's so hard about it? Or am I just weird?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 17, 2011 4:27 AM
    I have one, and the GALAXY tab having a different charger than my GALAXY S2 is unforgivable.
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