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Every year there seems to be plenty of articles discussing how to make your new Samsung phone feel like a Pixel. Last year 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 have 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. Let’s look at what One UI has to offer and why every Android skin should take notice.
When Google released Android 9 Pie, it limited the number of visible notification 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 it was forced upon everyone rather than being implemented only for that phone.
In One UI, this isn’t the case. If you pull down your quick settings panel, pressing the three-dot button 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 actually 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 to choose from, including arriving at a specific location, connecting headphones, plugging your phone into a charger, 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 favorite routine is one I created to preserve the longevity of my battery. I leave my S21 on a wireless charger overnight, and I don’t need it to fast charge while I’m asleep. Between the hours of 12:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., all fast charging is disabled. Now my phone can slowly charge on the pad without getting hot and minimizing the time it spends sitting on 100%.
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 free-form window, which can be resized, pinned, and minimized. It’s a similar feature to Bubbles from 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.
Left: Navigation settings, Right: Smaller bottom bar for the keyboard
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, and my favorite is disabling the hide-keyboard button that sits in an otherwise very empty row at the bottom. What particularly annoys me 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 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.
One Hand Operation+
The S21 Ultra is a big phone, so 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+ (despite 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 Assistant, 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 home screen shortcuts, 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.
This module works in unison with Android’s standard gestures, as well as Samsung’s own. Another useful feature is changing the activation area so that it doesn’t cover the length of the whole display. I have mine set so that the back gesture is activated when swiping in the bottom half of the screen but not the top, making apps with slide-out menus easier to use.
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 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.
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 2021 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 lets you customize the status bar and quick settings. Back in Marshmallow, Google introduced the SystemUI Tuner, which lets 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. When setting up a new phone, the first thing I do is to open Good Lock and switch them off.
As the name suggests, SoundAssistant 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.
Before switching to Samsung, I didn’t care about lockscreen shortcuts. This was mainly because they were restricted to launching the camera or Google Assistant, which were more easily accessible via other means. As is the case with most of One UI, these are customizable, letting you choose any installed app to be launched from here or assign a couple of system toggles instead. Having quick access to the flashlight via a simple swipe is something I’ve come to take for granted.
Direct Share doesn’t always work as it should. It’s meant to guess which contact you want to share something with and which app you want to use to do so. Its guesses are often wrong, but thankfully Good Lock has a solution for that. The Home Up module lets you customize the share sheet, including the Direct Share shortcuts. Rather than letting the system guess, you can assign four favorites that will stay there permanently.
Link to Windows
Link to Windows is something I’ve come to use every day since I started working at AP. Being able to check my notifications without picking up my phone, control my S21 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 Your Phone 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.