It seems like there are tons of articles every year discussing how to make your new Samsung phone look like a Pixel. I even wrote one last year for those of you who really want a Pixel-like experience. However, I don’t think this is a good idea – if you want your phone to look 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 may agree with this, I certainly don’t. In my opinion, One UI is the best flavor of Android, and it has a lot of features and tricks that deserve more attention. Let’s take a look at what One UI has to offer and why every Android shell needs to pay attention to it.
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 that there are others that are not showing. This was likely due to the massive notch on the Pixel 3XL, but it was made for everyone, not just this phone.
This is not the case in One UI. If you open the Quick Settings panel, pressing the three-dot button and then “Status Bar” will open the setup menu. Here you can choose to have no notification icons, limit them to three, have a small counter with the number of unread messages, or show all notifications. So, if you’re not a fan of the limited number that Google is trying to hold you back, Samsung might be the best option for you.
I know that Bixby is probably the worst smart assistant – he is “smart” in the broadest sense of the word. Because of his deservedly bad reputation, it’s natural to dismiss everything in him as terrible and never try anything he has to offer. This would be a mistake, because Bixby Routines are truly incredible.
Similar to the procedures or rules of the Assistant, you can program Bixby to perform specific tasks when activated. Unlike Google’s attempt, Samsung has resorted to this experience.
There is a wide variety of triggers to choose from, including arriving at a specific location, plugging in headphones, plugging your phone into a charger, and more. If you need manual control, you can create an on / off button for the procedure on the main screen.
The actions you can take are vast as well – even when interacting with your Galaxy Buds. My favorite program is the one I created to extend the life of my battery. I leave my S21 on the wireless charger overnight and I don’t need it for fast charging while I sleep. From 12:30 to 7:00, all fast charging is disabled. Now my phone can charge slowly on the tablet without getting hot and minimizes the time it spends in a seated position by 100%.
This is just a small part of what Bixby Routines is capable of – it is an exceptional tool, and I highly recommend you check it out for yourself.
A pop-up window allows you to open an application in a free-form window that can be resized, docked, and collapsed. This is similar to the bubbles found in Android 11 or the picture-in-picture feature for videos. The popup works with any app that supports multi-window mode, not just messaging apps like Bubbles, so it’s much more powerful. I often keep Spotify open in a pop-up window when acting as a family DJ on a trip, as well as on Google Maps. The ability to use this feature with just about any application makes it something that I’m much more likely to use.
Left: Navigation settings, Right: Smaller bottom bezel for keyboard
Introducing proper iOS-style gesture navigation is perhaps what we will remember the most in Android 10, and Google has gone to great lengths to make it as fast and fluid as possible. As usual, Samsung has added a few tweaks to make it even better, and my favorite is disabling the hide keyboard button, which sits in a very blank line at the bottom. What annoys me especially is that the bar is the same height as the old three-button navigation bar, which spoils the immersive feel that gestures are supposed to bring.
Fortunately, Samsung allows this to be disabled so that the keyboard reaches the bottom of the display. You can now use the back gesture on 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 prompts, as Samsung calls it, to take your immersion even further. I leave this on, otherwise the content of some applications will be clipped due to the rounded corners of the display.
One-handed operation +
The S21 Ultra is a big phone, so reaching for the bottom bezel to swipe up to home can be tricky, even for those of us with big hands. This is why I love One Hand Operation + (despite the weird name). This is just one module from the Good Lock kit, which I will talk about later, but One Hand is so good that it deserves a separate mention on this list.
By allowing you to assign up to six different teams to each side, there is virtually no limit to how you can set this up. I like to keep the same gestures on both sides of the phone, so I have six gestures to choose from. As you can see in the images above, I have the usual navigation options assigned to short swipes, with more advanced features available through long swipes. Swiping up and holding launches Google Assistant, swiping to the right reveals the Samsung Quick Toolbar, and swiping down to activate one-handed mode.
There are too many other options to name, but what’s particularly interesting is the inclusion of home screen shortcuts that work just like the shortcuts in Nova Launcher. With it, I can assign a gesture to anything from opening a specific conversation in messages to triggering a selfie camera.
This module works in unison with standard Android gestures as well as Samsung’s own gestures. Another useful feature is to change the activation area so that it does not take up the entire length of the screen. I have it set so that the back gesture is activated when swiping in the bottom half of the screen, but not on the top, making it easier to use slide-out apps.
Edge Panel is one of Samsung’s most controversial features: most people either love it or hate it. I am in the first 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 need to take a lot of screenshots for this to work. I usually only need to take a screenshot of a certain part of the screen, and I crop screenshots almost all the time. At least that was until I started using Smart select. It allows you to crop your screenshot before taking it, saving you the hassle of opening the photo editor later.
Left: Nice lock menu, Middle: QuickStar, Right: Sound assistant
I know that I have talked a lot about Good Lock in my time, but this article would not be complete without enabling it. If you want a complete rundown of everything it can do, my Good Lock 2021 hands-on experience has everything you need. However, two of my favorite modules are worth mentioning here in addition to the aforementioned One Hand Operation +.
QuickStar allows customization of the status bar and quick settings. Back at Marshmallow, Google introduced SystemUI Tuner, which, among other things, lets you toggle various icons on and off in the status bar. In recent versions of Android, this menu has been removed, so Samsung decided to embed it in Good Lock. I don’t like clutter, especially in the status bar, so disabling icons that I don’t want to see is invaluable. I don’t need to see the Bluetooth 24/7 indicator because my watch is connected and I don’t want to see the Wi-Fi calling symbol. When setting up a new phone, the first thing I do is open Good Lock and turn them off.
As the name suggests, SoundAssistant offers many options for sound settings beyond what you’re used to seeing. Apart from setting individual volume for specific applications – great for mobile apps that like loud ads – you can adjust the equalizer settings and switch the volume keys from ringer volume to media volume.
Lock screen shortcuts
Before switching to Samsung, I didn’t care about lock screen shortcuts. This was mainly because they were limited to launching the camera or Google Assistant, which were more accessible through other means. As with most of One UI, they are customizable, allowing you to select any installed app to launch from here, or assign a pair of system switches instead. Quickly accessing the flashlight with a simple swipe is something I take for granted.
Direct Share does not always work as expected. It is for guessing which contact you want to share with and which app you want to use to do so. His guesses are often wrong, but luckily Good Lock has a solution for this. The Home Up module allows you to customize the shared sheet, including Direct Share shortcuts. Instead of letting the system guess, you can designate four favorites to stay there forever.
Link to Windows
The Windows link is what I have been using every day since I started working at AP. The ability to check my notifications without picking up my phone, control my S21 from my PC with my keyboard and mouse, and transfer photos without plugging it in are features that I now depend on, especially the latter. As I mentioned earlier, I take a lot of screen shots for articles, and transferring them to my computer used to be a problem. All I need to do to transfer photos is open the gallery in the Your Phone app and right-click the images I want. It is so simple.
If you have a headset with microphone connected to your computer, you can even make and receive calls through your computer, saving you the hassle of taking out your headphones and pausing your music.
Installing Link to Windows is incredibly easy. Install the Your Phone app on your computer through the Microsoft Store and sign in. Once the app shows the QR code, open Link to Windows on your phone and follow the instructions. In a few minutes, your phone and computer will become the powerhouse of productivity.
One UI really has a lot to offer, more than I could adequately cover in an article like this. These are some of my favorites, but I suggest you dig into One UI and explore all of its many useful features.