Battlemodo: HTC, Motorola And Samsung Android Skins Compared

Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) is the prettiest, most intuitive version of Google's mobile OS yet, but hardware manufacturers still insist on dirtying it up. Android skins are inevitable, but who does it best? See for yourself.

In each of the comparisons, below, HTC will be on the left with its Sense 4.0 skin; Motorola will be in the middle, with an unnamed skin (previously MotoBLUR); Samsung will be on the right with its latest implementation of TouchWiz.

Home Screens

At the top of this post is the Android 4.0 home screen, as interpreted by HTC, Motorola and Samsung. Each of them has a bottom row of four icons, and they're all swappable (thank jeebus). All of them also support scrollable widgets, which is very handy. The only major difference among them, really, is that Samsung puts the Apps icon on the far right instead of middle by default. Samsung and HTC let you pinch to see all homescreens, however, and Moto doesn't. Between that and aesthetically pleasant time/weather widget that's been Sense's hallmark, HTC gets the win.

Lock Screens

All three skins offer lockscreen shortcuts to jump straight to different apps, and music controls are available without the need for a password. Both handy features. HTC requires that you drag the unlock icon down to a circle below, which rises up to meet you, which isn't totally intuitive. Its four shortcuts are mirrored from the shortcuts on your homescreen, which is either convenient or not depending on personal preference. Motorola doesn't let you choose which shortcuts you have at the lockscreen, which is lame. Samsung is nice and clean-looking, but you have to go deep into the settings to set your shortcuts. Also, because a swipe in any direction unlocks your phone, TouchWiz is prone to more accidental unlocks. Or maybe just use a PIN! We're calling this one a tie between Samsung and HTC.

App Drawers

Each skin gives you multiple options for sorting your content, though with slightly different takes. HTC's is apps-only; if you want to sift through widgets, you have long-press the homescreen. Motorola leaves ICS pretty well alone here, including both apps and widgets, plus sorting. Samsung includes apps and widgets, though with fewer sorting options. Also, TouchWiz doesn't include a shortcut to Google Play for downloading more apps. Moto and Sense both do. Point: Motorola.

Contacts

Samsung takes the win here. Why? HTC is a bit bright, and more importantly, doesn't include a shortcut to favourites. Motorola's got its own problems; if you want to open the dialler, it switches you over to a separate app. Samsung has everything in one place, plus the neat trick automatically dialling a selected contact just by lifting your phone to your ear. Noice.

Diallers

Speaking of dialers, Samsung wins this one too, for the exact same reasons it won Contacts.

Camera Apps

HTC's native camera app is not only intuitive and easy to use, but it's also highly customisable; that can be a difficult line to walk. Motorola's is nicely laid out, but also very intuitive; it's just a bit more bare-bones. Samsung (which wouldn't let me screencap while the camera was open for some reason) has a customisable layout, which is nice, but the menu is actually a bit more cumbersome to navigate. They're all good, but HTC gets the nod for being the best of both worlds.

Calendars

HTC's calendar app is head-scratchingly bad. Not only does the monthly view show no information, but there's no weekly view option at all. What the hell were they thinking? Moto's calendar app is quite good. Easy to navigate, easy to change which calendars are displayed. Samsung surpasses them both, though. As you can see, the information density is just way, way higher than on Sense or Moto. Not only can you see more info on the individual days, the little itinerary at the bottom is rather useful.

Notifications

HTC and Moto are pretty much identical, and very close to stock, which is just dandy. Samsung, though, has a handy set of toggles (which it's been implementing since the early days of TouchWiz). Need more info? Swipe right. Simple, clean, efficient. We love that, but we wish they were customisable, as you'll never use most of them, and it's missing a few options — like screen brightness — that seem like they would've been no-brainers. Still we'll give Samsung the edge.

So Which Is Best?

To be honest, it really all boils down to personal preference. HTC has the edge on looks and intuitiveness. Samsung packs in more functionality, but holy crap is it busy. Motorola is very sparse and simple, but there's a lot to be said for sticking close to stock ICS.

For your reference, here's a gallery of the same screens running stock Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).


Comments

    miui is best

      MIUI (from the developer) is neither a manufacturer's "skin" nor is it available without loading MIUI's own ROM to your phone. The purpose of the article was to compare the top three Android manufacturers' skins.

      All of which makes your point null and void.

        miui is still best

    For the android novice like myself, is there any way to disable these custom UI's on phones? So you can enjoy vanilla android.

      To an extent yes. Home screens, dock and app drawer are all part of the "Launcher" apk.

      The easiest way of getting the "stock" look is to download and install a launcher (such as Nova Launcher) from Google Play, hit the home button on your phone and when prompted to select your app - choose your newly installed launcher.

      Other aspects of the OS, such as lockscreen, camera app, and notifications drawer are governed by system apps - and there's no immediately easy way to change these for the average novice.

        Yeah, switching to a pure vanilla version will require rooting and flashing the appropriate rom, which, while easy on some handsets, can be problematic for others (tutorials for flashing the HTC Incredible S, for example, caution that the changes are permanent, so I've been hesitant to try with mine...)

        As Sam said though, with a bit of work, you can replicate most of the functionality using a launcher... Still won't get rid of the annoying vendor crapware though...

          The change might be permanent but you can usually always go back though because you can generally find a version of your phone's original ROM complete with the manufacturer skin and without the crap put on by your service provider.

      Not that I'm aware of, but I prefer ADW launcher, it's free and removed my niggles of both the LG and Samsung UI that I don't like. You hear that Samsung, I like my app drawer alphanumerically sorted!

      Buy a Galaxy Nexus would be the easiest way to make sure you're enjoying the vanilla ICS experience.

        And massively inferior hardware these days.

    The Google play icon is on the samsung App Drawer home page. Top Right!!!
    Same place it has been for the last few releases

      Not on the S3. You have to push the menu button in the app draw. Top right icon is your downloaded apps.

    Sorry mate, like to point out a few errors here regarding to HTC's skin:
    Lock Screen: HTC's lock screen has different "modes" to choose from, including weather, productivity and etc. I currently use productivity and there are 2 text box's that shows upcoming events and new emails. The text boxes can be swiped across to reveal the next message. Drag the box into the ring open's up the agenda. Just thought as a review, you should mention this.

    App draw: As a review you should probably say why you'd preferred Motorola, simply saying that widgets can be added from App draw and that it's closer to stock doesn't really justify it. To start with, I personally think having widget in App draw is annoying.

    Dialler: There is a "favourite" in HTC's dialler, it's just buried under the Group tab. However, it's probably worth mentioning that "Favourite" can be dialled on home screen (via widgets) and lock screen.

    Calenders: There is a weekly tab. The thing is, HTC's skin offers customizable tabs. Most of the tabs can be hidden and all can be rearranged. The phone which you have tested on has the weekly tab hidden. Perhaps you have only based your review on your colleague's phone? On a side note, HTC's calender offers quick switch between weekly, monthly, agenda and etc, does Samsung and Moto offer this?

    I agree on your conclusion that it's a personal preference thing, but as a public speaker and "reviewer" perhaps more thoughts can be put into this. PS: I sense bias, but that's another matter for another time

    "Vanilla" is not the absolute best possible user experience, contrary to this silly urban myth that's going around. It is neither the best looking, most intuitive, or fastest. It's simply Google's take on their own OS.

    The comparison on display is not entirely accurate either. Implementations of manufacturer skins are often slightly different across different phone models. For example, ICS on the HTC Sensation and Sensation XL involves many subtle differences, especially the notification screen which has a "quick settings" tab- giving quick and easy access to very useful settings like Mobile Network, Wifi hotspot, Memory and so on.

    In the past I've found TouchWiz rather lame. It's pretty good on the S3 though now. Sense is almost as good as it's ever been, even on the HTC One. Motorola is better than it has been. Stock is too bare bones.

      I'm inclined to agree with you - I love my Nexus S not for the "pure Google" user experience; but for the fact the Nexus line is best supported by third party developers.

      Even though my ROM runs Nova, without any real skin per se - both my dock and desktop icons have been individually personalised, the notification tray contains settings toggles, and the lock screen has shortcuts to my most commonly used apps.

      Using the stock launcher on a stock ROM would result in constantly having to access the settings menu, and digging deeper for mere simple tasks like en/dis-abling WiFi.

      Having said that, all these changes (sans icons and dock) are predominantly functionality changes; I have no issues with the visual styling of the ICS interface.

    On the Motorola ICS, it irks me that I can't change the unlock options, but there is the slightest level of customization available. I noticed this after disabling the stock messaging app, it replaced the shortcut with GO SMS, which is obviously what I use. Just an interesting tidbit.

    After reading through these individual points, it's saddening that my GNex does all these things better. Why must carriers and OEMs insist on shoving these skins down our throats? ICS is fine the way it is. They're actively working at making it worse. It's bizarre.

    Im using a Samsung with ICS and it looks nothing like that, I guess you reviewed the S3 version and not the S2 version. In the S2, if you don't like the screen brightness you can just run your fingere back and fourth on the notification bar to adjust the brightness without having to go into settings.

    This article needed the stock android to be included as reference

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