Android 5.0 Lollipop is the most sophisticated and consumer-friendly iteration of Android yet. Launched late in 2014, the roll-out to devices is underway, with the Samsung Galaxy S5 getting its sweet Lollipop update in February 2015.
Of all the Android manufacturers, Samsung has the biggest reputation for doing its own thing. Reports of spats between Samsung and Google over the handling of Android have circulated in the media, and with a new update, we get the chance to see how the Korean giant has handled it.
How well does Android's lovely Lollipop sit with TouchWiz? Does Samsung take full advantage of Google's latest advancements, or are those changes lost in Samsung's TouchWizardry? Here's a review of Android 5.0 Lollipop on the Samsung Galaxy S5.
The material design changes that go with Android 5.0 Lollipop are the first things that jump out on the pure Android version. Material design is about bolder use of colour, it's about bringing consistency across the user interface. This is an overhaul of the way the operating system looks.
On TouchWiz that is less obvious - the settings section, for example, is still colourful with the Samsung layout. Samsung has very much taken ownership of things like icons and made them its own, something it's been doing since the first Galaxy S.
One of the criticisms of Samsung is that things are a little cartoony. Lollipop is more basic, perhaps less exciting in some ways, but importantly TouchWiz doesn't lose its identity when moving to Lollipop. You'll note, however, the header bar, with two tones of blue in TouchWiz, which is very much in keeping with material design.
TouchWiz on Android 5.0 (left) vs stock Android 5.0 Lollipop
The dialer app has been re-skinned with slimmer fonts and a more minimalist white background to look more like Lollipop. The gallery has also changed with swipe functions for accessing albums and re-organising, more like Lollipop. The clock section has had a similar minimalist makeover.
So it's a mixture. Some of the Lollipop design nuances have been integrated into TouchWiz, but this still feels very much like the Samsung that we had before on KitKat.
Of course, a lot of material design comes through Google's native apps. If you use Gmail, Maps, Docs, Drive, then these now chime with the new Lollipop TouchWiz a little better than they did before, leading to a greater sense of cohesion.
One thing that's less obvious is Lollipop's animation, the motion and flow that we've enjoyed on the Nexus 9 and 6. Samsung seems to have muted much of this.
The lock screen
The lock screen appears largely as it was on KitKat, with the quick swipe access to the camera sat in the bottom right corner and the phone dialer in the bottom left plus notifications appearing on the screen's centre. But the font is now more clear-cut and there is a white background on the card-style notifications that appear, as they do in Lollipop.
It's not just the look that's improved but functionality too. You're now able to swipe down the notification cards and see them all laid out, without fully unlocking the phone. You can swipe away individual notifications or hit clear to get rid of the lot. There's more on this in the notifications section of this article.
The quick settings menu is now accessible from the lock screen allowing changes to connections settings and the like without unlocking the handset.
Home screen and launcher
When it comes to the launcher you're given a choice of TouchWiz Home and TouchWiz Easy Home, as previously. This doesn't feel hugely different from the pure Lollipop home screen - the weather and clock app is just a widget that can be removed should you want to.
A swipe to the left accesses the My Magazine section which pulls in information on topics you enjoy. This can be deleted like any widget on a screen though so it's not integral, again, as it was before.
Samsung has opted to leave the apps icon in the bottom right corner and this is locked in place. While four icons, including folders, can be lined up along the bottom, you can't pop the apps icon in the centre like on pure Lollipop.
Samsung is still invested in the Google experience with the Google Now just a long press of the home button away. This takes you into Google Now with all your cards listed below. Of course, saying "OK Google" when on any screen with a Google search widget lets you search Google.
If you don't like that Samsung look on the home screen, you can always install the Google Now Launcher from Google Play and get back to a visual experience that's much closer to stock Android. Then you'll be able to swipe to get to Google Now rather than Samsung's My Magazine.
Quick settings and notifications
Smart notifications are now an option from within the sound and notification menu. This allows you to select individual apps to turn on or off their notifications directly. This is a direct Lollipop feature that's carried over.
As mentioned before the quick settings bar and notifications can now be accessed from the lock screen. So unless you need to respond to something it's easy enough to read new notifications and even change connection settings right from the lock screen.
A single swipe brings down the entire menu, unlike stock which is sectionalised into two for quick settings and notifications. A two-finger swipe, like on stock, brings down the entire quick settings button selection in one go. This is a handy shortcut that's been in Android for a while.
Samsung offers its own S Finder in the pull-down menu. This searches the entire phone including emails and also has sectional icons allowing you to refine that search say by time, location, tags or sections. This is also accessible right from the lock screen pull-down.
Samsung also offers a Quick Connect button in the pull-down menu. This will automatically connect the phone to compatible devices like TVs to fling media to or Bluetooth speakers. This isn't new to Lollipop but has been included showing Samsung still wants to be at the centre of your connected home.
Interestingly Samsung hasn't included the Cast button, for Chromecast, nor the flashlight quick button, but there's quite a lot crammed in here.
Multitasking with recent apps
The Rolodex style layout of the windows is clear and fast on the Galaxy S5, it allows you to jump between apps, close off using the X in the corner or clear all.
What's missing in TouchWiz that the pure Lollipop version offers is the Google search bar at the top. But since it's pretty much anywhere else you want it this isn't a big deal and actually creates more space on the screen for the Recent Apps, which is why you're in there anyway.
But we like the fact that Samsung has adopted this styling, it's one of Lollipop's more distinct features.
Smart lock was an extra added to Android 5.0 Lollipop. This allows users to set trusted places, faces and devices for fast access. Samsung offers its usual security options which include swipe access, pin, pattern or password usage and of course fingerprint. Facial recognition appears to have been ditched.
But you can still set certain Bluetooth devices as trusted so if you're using your Bluetooth speaker at home for example you won't need to unlock your phone as it knows it's home. The same can be said for places, you can set your office as a safe place where the lock isn't required, for example.
To set up the Smart Lock you need to set a password first, then go into the security part of settings and it should be at the bottom.
Lollipop has an awkward handling of volume. You can only change the volume of the ringer, if you want to change media or app volume you have to wait until it is open before you can turn it down. Not great for those surprise Facebook videos you tap on.
Samsung's handling is a little better, because when you hit the volume rocker, a tap of the settings button at the end of the volume slider gives you options for all your volume levels.
However, in the process of moving to Lollipop, Samsung appears to have made it fiddly to just mute your phone.
Volume controls, using the physical rocker, won't allow you to tap down beyond vibrate to enter truly silent mode. Neither will pressing and holding the power button as the menu previously found here is gone. And if you thought there might be an option to engage silent mode from the pull-down menu icons you'd be disappointed, even that vibrate icon only switches between vibrate and ringer.
To go into truly silent mode, without vibration, you need to go into settings > sounds and notifications > vibration intensity, and then manually drag the power of the vibration to the lowest level.
Android Lollipop offers multiple account access which is ideal for sharing a device with children that will only have access to certain areas. Samsung's nearest offering is Private Mode which allows you to place items, such as pictures, into private mode. Not quite so helpful here then.
At a glance there's very little visually different on the Samsung Galaxy S5 homescreen. Delve a little deeper and cleaner design can be found. Notifications have a much cleaner look, which work well, while being able to control app notifications is a welcome extra.
If you delve a little deeper there are stock Android treats to be founds on the Galaxy S5. The Easter egg for this version of Android has added another layer of fun with and Android style Flappy Bird game. Go to settings, select the version and tap until the Lollipop appears, you can tap this to change colours or hold to play the fun game.
Making the jump from KitKat to Lollipop on Samsung doesn't feel as bold a move moving from stock KitKat to Lollipop, where the changes across the design are much more pervasive.
Lollipop on Samsung brings the handsets up to date while keeping the TouchWiz visuals at the forefront.
While Samsung is hanging on to TouchWiz it's clear from the Lollipop changes that Android is coming into its own. Perhaps the need for skins is reaching an end. Dare we say it, skins may even be holding back the greatest of stock Android.
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