Touchwiz 5: the interface
Just as in previous handsets, Samsung added its own TouchWiz interface to the Android operating system. In the instance of the Galaxy S3 we're talking about TouchWiz 5, which transforms Google's own Ice Cream Sandwich interface nearly beyond all recognition. As mentioned, Samsung does not make use of the option offered by ICS to enable onscreen buttons, which results in the entire screen being available to display applications. In that respect there is a marked difference from the Galaxy Nexus, where a small portion of the screen is in use by the buttons.
The first thing to notice in the new interface, are the shortcuts on the lock screen to launch often-used apps. In addition to the phone, browser and camera, Samsung provided one for its own Ch@tOn service, a WhatsApp competitor. Also it is possible to launch the camera app right away by holding the phone vertically and then rotate to landscape mode while keeping one finger pressed to the screen. The need for this addition is beyond us: using the camera button shortcut on the lock screen is easier and faster.
The homescreen has seven pages, the middle one of which now is the homepage. In earlier Galaxy handsets, the leftmost page used to be the home screen. Samsung equips the desktop by default with a number of widgets; the buttons at the bottom of the screen refer by default to phone, contacts, messages, internet and apps. Of course both these buttons and the entire desktop can be customised to your own taste. Also, it is possible to create folders to group applications.
The status menu at the top of the screen has been renewed as well and now offers more direct shortcuts. In addition to the well-known ones to enable or disable Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth, sound and automatic screen orientation, we also see buttons to quickly enable or disable power saving, automatic synchronisation, 3G data use, notifications and the drive mode. None of these are terribly shocking improvements, but useful additions nonetheless.
The overview pages with apps are mostly similar to the way these were rendered in earlier Samsung Galaxy S handsets. Scrolling between pages is still horizontal. The most important innovation is a tab on every page showing an overview of all available widgets. Additionally, it is now finally possible to easily display apps in alphabetic order.
Nearly all apps got a small facelift in the Galaxy S III, but it would require too much time and space to discuss all of these. One however we do want to focus on a moment: the video player now offers the option to display videos in a small thumbnail above other applications during playback. This way you can send a text message while watching a video, without pausing or stopping playback. Whether this function is one you will use a lot in practice remains to be seen, but most of all it neatly demonstrates the new Exynos 4412 processor is easily fast enough for real multitasking.