First Impressions of Samsung Galaxy S4 – The Home Screen & Keyboard

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Samsung S4 - First Impression

I spent the weekend toying with my new Samsung Galaxy S4, and I have it fairly configured and ready to go. My initial experiences match almost exactly what I expected – more powerful, much more configurable, but with a few core usability issues. It can be quite disruptive to have a phone that you have to learn all over again, especially when habits have formed. For power business users, it starts with configuring the device and adapting to the new keyboard.

Before I get into details, it’s important for non-Android users to know that each Android Device Manufacturer has their own custom user interface, or ‘skin’. For example, Samsung has TouchWiz, while HTC has Sense UI. Further, each device has its own apps for calendaring, photo editing, voice control, on-screen keyboard, etc. So my thoughts on some of the interface elements of the Samsung Galaxy S4 may not apply to other Android devices. Further, Google recently announced they are shipping the S4 and HTC phones with the original Android software (no custom interface elements). I know – it’s confusing.

Common to (almost?) all new Android devices, there are “home screens” – a configurable set of screens for apps and widgets. These home screens are a significant upgrade over the iPhone because of those widgets.

Initial Experience & the Home Screens

Quick Tip: Take the time to configure your home screens

The unboxing and initial startup of the Samsung S4 was fine. The first real experience is with the home screens in the Samsung TouchWiz interface. It is a configurable series of screens that support both app icons as well as ‘widgets’. These are specific to Samsung devices. They include widgets for weather, the Samsung Hub, Daily Brief, and others. I went to the Google Play Store and downloaded all my favourite apps, then got to work configuring the series of home screens.

Another quick tip: the Apps section will always show all of your apps, and the series of home screens are essentially favourite bookmarks, along with the widgets.

Here are some additional notes on configuring the home screens:

  • When you are moving apps around, you may find it easier to move entire screens or add/remove screens.  I couldn’t figure it out – but I finally realized that all I had to do was pinch the screen.  To move apps around, tap and hold, just like iOS.
  • The daily brief app is loaded with bugs. It froze my screen every 30 seconds. I had to disable it in Setup-Application Manager and now I can’t find it to restore it.
  • Don’t go overboard on Widgets – they will affect performance.
  • Google Now ‘cards’ seem pretty cool – they are personalized cards tied to various events. For instance, it integrates with Maps to show how long your drive home will be. Or news on your favourite sports team. And weather of course. It’s hard to explain Google Now – but I’m quite excited about the future of this technology.

Here are my home screens right now – I’m sure they will evolve over time.

samsung-screen1 samsung-screen4 samsung-screen3 samsung-screen6 samsung-screen2

I moved the “home” screen to the far left (default is the middle one, of a total of five). I have weather, and my core apps. The second screen has Google Now, showing my drive home and weather (again), as well as secondary key apps.  The third screen is the rest of my top, though less used, apps.  Fourth screen is Google Search, the Samsung Walking Mate widget, and the Flipboard widget; and the fifth screen is Evernote and the Alarm widget. I plan to start creating folders and putting apps inside – when I do this, I can cut this down to 4 home screens. And finally – yes, I should change the default wallpaper.

The Keyboard – What to Change to Realize How Great It Is

Quick Tip: By default, the Samsung has auto-correct turned off – I highly recommend you turn it on!

The keyboard that comes with the Samsung S4 is not the Android one, it is an app that comes with the device. A huge problem with this keyboard is that it does not auto-correct out of the box. It doesn’t fix your mistakes as you type, it predicts which word you are typing, and expects you to tap the word before you have finished. As a long time iPhone user, I couldn’t handle this. I found it disruptive and not conducive to the flow of typing.

I Googled around and asked some colleagues about this. As it turns out, there is a confusing setting called “Continuous Input” that you really want to turn on. It can be found in Setup – My device – Language and Input – Samsung Keyboard (click the wrench). Continuous input is likely de-selected. Select it, and head out. Now you have access to an arguably better keyboard than the iPhone. And, you have an “advanced flow input method” where you draw lines to letters and form the words. It’s actually quite effective once you get used to it.

However, it appears that if you type the letters rather than ‘draw’ them, the autocorrect doesn’t work.  So there is another solution for those who are interested – I found this post that talked about how to fix the auto-correct issue.  Namely, go download and install a free app called “Jelly Bean Keyboard.”

Default Samsung Keyboard – if you don’t tap the word “test” in blue before hitting the space bar, you’re out of luck.  Hit that backspace key.

Default Samsung Keyboard – if you don’t tap the word “test” in blue before hitting the space bar, you’re out of luck. Hit that backspace key.

The Swiftkey keyboard – connect the letters to form the word.  Not a gimmick – it actually works.

The Swiftkey keyboard – connect the letters to form the word. Not a gimmick – it actually works.

JellyBean Keyboard app – if you hit space right now, it will automatically change “tesy” to “test”.

JellyBean Keyboard app – if you hit space right now, it will automatically change “tesy” to “test”.

That’s all for my first impressions post, but that’s not all of my early impressions.  Coming in my next post, I will talk about browsing the internet with Chrome on the S4, the confusing calendaring setup, and the difficultly adapting to a physical back button and menu button!

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  • Chris Hamoen

    Update: So the samsung default keyboard can actually do auto-correct if you turn it on – instructions are below. The confusing part is tapping the line in setup which has a toggle on it. Why can’t they just say “turn on auto-correct”?

    2.My device (tab, at the top)
    3.Language and Input
    4.Select the set up icon beside Samsung Keyboard
    5.Now, touch Predictive text, don’t touch/select the green toggle switch
    6.Finally select Auto replacement tick box

    Thanks to William Ng for the tip.

  • Hoepla

    I have a galaxy s4 mini. When texting is it possible to back space without deleting the previous characters like you can on a computer?

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