It wasn’t long after the thinner, lighter, better Galaxy Tab 10.1 was announced that we heard Samsung would bring its TouchWiz skin to Android’s tablet OS, Honeycomb. After much debate over whether Honeycomb was truly ‘open,’ and not a closed iOS like environment, here we are. Starting today, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 owners will start to see OTA updates pushed to their devices, offering the first skinned Honeycomb experience. We’ve got it now, and this is more than just a few widgets. Was it worth the wait, or will users avoid this optional update as long as they can? 


Skins are Evil/Great

Let’s go over a few things that this update is not. This update is not Android 3.2; however, we did receive assurances that the heavy lifting for TouchWiz has already been done so there should be no delay in rolling out 3.2 and it’s graphics and UI enhancements. This update is not a cure for all the bugs that continue to ail Honeycomb; the occasional sluggishness and random Force Close events persist. This update is not a lag inducing crime against Android users; any enhancement that burdens the CPU or GPU at all will inherently result in some worsening lag, either in the UI or in opening, closing or using apps. But the lag we’ve seen is nothing too jarring, nor is it so far off from what’s normally found on Honeycomb. So, what is this update? Samsung described three key areas they wanted to enhance with what’s known now as TouchWiz UX; Ease of Use, Fun and Entertainment, Open for Business. By far, the most outward of these enhancements is Ease of Use, so we will start there.


Widgets and Apps

TouchWiz introduces three major enhancements, LivePanels, MiniApps and the Quick Panel. The last is the simplest of the lot and the easiest to dispense with; the same set of toggles we’ve seen stuffed into most skinned UI’s on Android is now present within the Notification shade, allowing users to manipulate all the devices radios, volume, screen brightness and vibrate functions with just a press. Hardly revolutionary but a good way to bring up some settings that were previously buried in menus. 

The MiniApps may be one of the more compelling additions. Tucked in a hidden OS X style dock are six applications that are unique and redundant at once. The applications are a task manager, calculator, calendar, world clock, music player and finger or stylus driven memo pad. None of these apps are terribly novel but they are each blessed with something not seen in Android yet. When the app is pulled up it appears as an overlay atop the screen, any apps previously on the screen will remain open below the MiniApp. The app will then remain overlaid until closed manually, meaning you can continue working on other apps and even change home screens and the MiniApp will be there, it even takes on a transparency affect when focus is moved from it so you can see what’s behind it.

The Task Manager MiniApp alone on one homescreen [above], and then overlaid over another homescreen with populated widgets [below].

The best use case for MiniApps is writing in the memo app. On a PC it’s easy to keep a text window open along side or over a browser window opened to a relevant item and switch between them. Previously on smartphones and tablets this sort of work flow was dreadful because of the jarring and often slow transition from one app to the next and back. This enhancement solves this problem for these six apps. If you have little use for any of these apps (certainly the World Clock’s utility is beyond me) then you’ll have little use for MiniApps; we’re inquiring whether this technique will be accessible to devs and eventually grant the ability to add or delete apps from the Dock bar. 
Live Panels and Hubs
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  • fforblack - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

    you think iOS is very ugly? Have you seen the devices called honeycomb tablets? Just because an operating system doesn't have widgets doesn't mean its winnows 98. No one is going to be staring at widgets all day after they buy a tablet. People want applications. People want something that's fast and responsive. People want something that's pretty. That's what the iPad offers. Animations? Have you ever used an iOS device? I feel like you don't even understand what you are saying. If anything acts like old software, go and study Android's operating system. Study the methods it uses for rendering. Study how it was rushed out for mass release. Personally, I think that for how it was rushed, google did a very good job. But that didn't stop it from being laggy and slow, not to mention the broken UI. I understand you like android, but don't without valid points, criticise an OS you haven't experienced because of a bias you have.
  • kc77 - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    I'm still trying to figure out about when this sluggishness is supposed to occur. I've got the 10.1 and at no time am I locked waiting for the tablet to perform. Same goes for forced closes. From the core apps.... sorry it just doesn't happen.
  • JasonInofuentes - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    I'm glad you've had a flawless experience with the 10.1, and there's a reason we generally recommend it over other tablets. Samsung spent a lot of time trying to refine the experience so that there was less of the sluggishness and bugginess seen on other Honeycomb tablets. Our review sample has been a joy to use, both before and after the update. But we have experienced FC's and sluggish behavior. For me the most consistent FC was when deleting lots of e-mails in the Gmail app, thankfully that behavior's gone since the update. If you manage to get through the year without an FC or ever feeling like your device is sluggish, please send it our way for a teardown and some analysis. We'd love to see how they managed to cram a horseshoe in there.

  • fforblack - Monday, August 8, 2011 - link

  • kc77 - Sunday, August 14, 2011 - link

    Thank you for taking the time to include more information within your comment to me than the actual review itself. It's nice touch that I'm sure we can expect in the future.

    "I'm glad you've had a flawless experience with the 10.1, and there's a reason we generally recommend it over other tablets."

    Did I say it was flawless? Nope but it surely isn't the buggy sluggish nightmare you're trying to make this product out to be. Most of the issues with Honeycomb tablets have been around 3.0 not so much with 3.1.

    "Our review sample has been a joy to use, both before and after the update."

    Hmm really? I couldn't tell from your review. Maybe it needed more words.

    "For me the most consistent FC was when deleting lots of e-mails in the Gmail app, thankfully that behavior's gone since the update. "

    So that would be FC's within a specific application. Don't you think a review should have actually mentioned WHAT application it was? Since the OS is pretty good at telling you what crashed it would have been nice to know. Rather than saying a general statement on page 1 making it sound like it applies to everything, while not really mentioning it on page 2. On that page you've recognized that lots of apps running = sluggishness. Thanks for putting that epiphany to text.

    "If you manage to get through the year without an FC or ever feeling like your device is sluggish, please send it our way for a teardown and some analysis. We'd love to see how they managed to cram a horseshoe in there."

    Now why would I give you my unit when you can't bother to be more specific within a review with the hardware you have? That's a end user problem, and not so much a hardware problem. If you spent a little less time FUD'ing the article and a little more being specific as to what exact applications caused problems I'm sure sending you my unit wouldn't even be necessary.

    But thank you for responding and thank you for your hard work. It's been lovely seeing additional detail here that didn't make it in the three pages of the review. It's been eye opening.

  • MrSewerPickle - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    Just my two cents but I wouldnt describe the media hub apps UI as just "tolerable". In fact in my opinion its one of the smoothest, most qualiity media applications avaliable on Android right now. Was the author frustrated about having to write a review on TouchWiz? I know how I can be when asked to work on something that I could honestly care less about.....
  • JasonInofuentes - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    I'll be honest, the low bar for me in terms of the media software UI is iTunes and the peak is a searchable file system. Is this smooth and well organized? Yes. Is it comprehensive? As much as any of the others out there. But here's what I want? I want to type Battlestar Galactica into the search bar of a media software and get a list of options that includes the reborn series, the original series, the spin-off from the reborn series, the special features vignettes from the respective DVDs and at least three similar or otherwise related series. Yeah, I want to watch TV the same way that I search the web.

    So, was I frustrated about writing a review of TouchWiz? I have been reading technology websites for almost fifteen years and dreaming about writing for them for as long. I love new toys, I love software updates and I managed to produce over 1500 words over several hours about this one, a decent chunk more than the competition.

    That said, I'll kick this around and see if anyone else wants to give this a try. In the meanwhile, please send me your thoughts on what makes Media Hub better than the alternatives. Thanks.
  • MrSewerPickle - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    That is indeed a good point on content searching and aggregation and I do agree that most media applications do not contain the best of both worlds like having a very well done UI and excellent functional features.

    In actually and getting to my real disappointment with the review: Anandtech is quite possibly one of the last few truely untarnished tech websites. Not by reviewers opinions on this OS or that smartphone but by major sponsor manipulations. The articles written and read here at exceptionally well done and always cover a "different" aspect of a product.

    I would have very much liked to have seen an "Anandtech Review" of TouchWiz. One that covered what the overall performance increase/decrease was in regards to TouchWiz. One that included detailed and helpful benchmarks this site is known for in addition to the feature rundown that other sites covered.

    Its not about word count or length, its about being what makes AnandTech the best.

    Thank you for your initial response and to all of the authors responses to thr readers. It is yet another reason why Anandtech isnt just another Tech website unsuccessfully hidding their profit driven media conglomerate parent company.
  • JasonInofuentes - Saturday, August 6, 2011 - link

    Ok, well if it's data that you want, here you go.

    % delta of benchmarkable performance pre/post TouchWiz: 0.00%

    Believe me, I checked. If TouchWiz had any data driven performance deltas to report, we would have. We haven't, because there weren't any.

    I'm new to Anandtech, and this was my first chance to actually review something. In the two days that I had the update I played with every widget I could find and tried to cram as much of it into a reasonably easy to read piece as possible. Here's what I've learned: you can't please everyone. I hope we win you with the next one, and that you keep coming back for the one after that.
  • GTVic - Friday, August 5, 2011 - link

    I saw a smart phone commercial today that showed how I could use my smart phone while at a beach to tell me when it's going to rain. Then I could run and take shelter inside a giant Bell sign and the phone would tell me when it would turn sunny again so I could go back to the beach.

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