I recently purchased a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. It’s a brilliant piece of hardware let down by its software. Samsung does not, it seems, give much of a shit about their software. My guess is they would rather not bother with software at all, but because no fool will buy amazing hardware if it doesn’t actually do anything, they put in the minimum effort to sell a few units.
For whatever reason, no one at Samsung uses their own hardware. If they did, they might notice the daft choices and daily, constant irritations and things that Just Plain Suck, and maybe, just maybe, they’d fix them. Or, equally likely, the people who know it’s broken and the people who can actually make things better aren’t the same. Probably there’s management between ’em. Honestly I don’t know what their fucking problem is, but I know for sure other people can take Samsung hardware and make it awesomer.
With my Galaxy S2 (and my LG Nexus 4) I ran Slim ROM, an alternative OS that’s basically Android tweaked like crazy to make it as slick and fast as possible. It’s not available for my Note 4, and I’m not sure I want to give up some of the good Samsung features if and when it does become available. I honestly don’t know how many of the following things are fixed on other phones, I just know that, for several years, Samsung has sucked at the easy things, like:
Time and Date – When you pull the notification slider down from the top of the screen, there’s the date. In Slim it was the time instead, but sure, maybe you want to know the date. And you can click on it, which you might do if you wanted to do something with the date/time, like, say, set an alarm. On the Samsung, touching the date takes you to the time/date settings screen. How many times do you need to do this in a year, twice for daylight savings, maybe once or twice more when you travel to a different time zone? It’d make heaps more sense for it to take the user to the alarm screen where you set or cancel alarms, use the stopwatch or timer, etc. These are functions many of us use daily.
Software Updates – I have a Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, and I love the stylus. It’s why I bought the Note 4: stylus, in a phone! It’s great. But the two aren’t compatible: notes I write using Samsung’s S-Note app on the Note 4 won’t run on the 10.1. Samsung doesn’t want to support old hardware, it doesn’t help them sell new gear, but (perhaps surprisingly considering the shitty build quality) my Note 10.1 works, and I’d think a lot more highly of Samsung as a manufacturer of things I want to buy if they didn’t make my shit obsolete at the first opportunity. Every single other note-taking app in the Play store is compatible across all devices, and if they make a new version that obsoletes the old, you can upgrade. Not with Samsung, my Note 10.1 can’t access new versions of S-Note.
Serious Software – Samsung doesn’t seem to care that people use their hardware for serious stuff. Sure, they’re courting the enterprise market with ironclad security with things like KNOX, but S-Note doesn’t even have a backup facility. If you’re taking Serious Notes and want to make sure they’re not lost when your phone is stolen, misplaced or dropped onto anything harder than your lawn, you need to look up how and where S-Note stores your shit, back it up yer damn self (which may require rooting your phone, depending on things) and hope that your precious data will work on whatever your next device is. Because maybe it won’t be compatible with the version you have now.
Designed to spec: ugly, difficult, now with ads!
Included Software – The Note 4 comes with an IR blaster, a little infrared emitter that, with the right software, can be used to control your TV or other devices. The included app is made by Peel, who can’t write intuitive, user-friendly software to save their lives. It’s poorly designed, doesn’t update often because the devs are just like Samsung, they’ll only do just enough to get paid. And when it does update it’ll throw ads at you, because they want to get paid twice. And who doesn’t love ads on an app you paid for that can’t be uninstalled?
Wasted Space – And speaking of things you can’t get rid of, if you never use S Finder (whatever that is) or the Quick Connect feature that lets Samsung devices talk to each other, you’d sure better learn to love hearing about them because you’ll never get them off your notification screen. They’re permanent features, just little reminders that Samsung also makes other stuff that maybe you’d want to buy, and if not here’s another reminder that they exist. Oh by the way, S-Finder. Quick Connect! All! The! Time!
Those things you don’t use? Never going away.
Task Switching – The idea that Samsung doesn’t give a shit about hardware is hard to shake once it takes hold, because there’s all this circumstantial evidence that keeps on piling up. You know what happens when you press the App Switcher button on the Note 4? Not much, not for a second or two, while it sits and thinks about maybe doing something in response to your request. If you wanted your six-month old Note 4 to react immediately you’d buy the Galaxy S6 phone, stupid user. It’s basically the same hardware but they fixed that bug and aren’t in a hurry to fix it on your antiquated device.
Overall Speed – This phone is fast, blazing fast, except when dumbass bugs slow it down. Like that task switching thing, or the camera, which is slower than its sister phone, the Galaxy S6. And if you’re taking photos and want to quickly review that last shot, that’s gonna cost two seconds of your life.
Sound Control – Why, for the love of everything electronic, is every volume slider distinct from the rest? Every other phone I’ve ever seen except Samsung locks the ringer and notification volume together. It was a checkbox in Slim ROM, and it was checked by default because no one in the history of ever thought that app notifications and ringtones should be at different volumes. And what even are system sounds and why are they on another separate volume slider? I had to root my phone and damn near learn to program (ie: install Tasker which is bastard tricky to use) so that my volume sliders would work as one. C’mon Samsung, this is fucking daft.
Speaking of sound control, why can’t I use my volume up/down buttons to skip tracks like many other alternative operating systems do?
Speaking of sound control, why the fuck do my volume buttons reverse their function (+ becomes -, and vice versa) when I switch to a horizontal orientation? The button closest to the corner is UP, don’t fuck with my reflexes just because some idiot thought led a focus group that said the right-side button should be volume up in landscape mode. In Queensland they write some road warnings bottom-to-top, so when you’re driving you encounter the words in the right order. Only access site! Ahead school crossing! Idea stupid fucking! We know how things work, don’t go fucking with them because you don’t.
Security – Slim ROM allows me to prevent specific apps from accessing certain features. I really don’t want Snapchat to know where I am, and it’s enough of a data hog already without also attacking by battery life with a GPS update every time I load it up. This would be a great feature, so great that it looks like stock Android is going to do it, maybe, finally catching up to two years ago.
Apple Worship – Samsung got the idea in their heads that they wanted to be just like Apple. Apple did a lot of things right, but one thing they fucked up was getting rid of all external accoutrements. Like the little strap loop that Japanese consumers have relied on to keep from dropping their expensive gear for, oh, several decades. The Galaxy S2 had one, I picked up these great little attached-finger-rings that saved my precious device dozens of times. Wrist straps, keychains, neck straps – a thousand and one uses, but Samsung thinks a beautifully made phone only needs to look good in the showroom. Once you get it home, fuck you, put a big ugly case on it or something, geez.
Customer Discovery – Samsung wants customers to work shit out for themselves. If Apple doesn’t need a manual, neither does Samsung. To be sure, their phones are a real breeze to figure out, if you’re clever or technically inclined or patient enough to push everything three different ways to see what it does. But did you know the Note 4 has a Torch function, to find your way to bed when the lights go out? I didn’t. It’s hidden, it’s a fucking widget, which means you long-press the ‘desktop’, select widgets, browse to the thing, long-press it, and release it on the desktop. Why isn’t it an app? Why is there no external button or lock-screen option for such a basic function? I’ll tell you why – because Samsung doesn’t use their own gear. Or, one of the other reasons in paragraph 2 (above).
And do you really need your own damn app store, Samsung? Like I want to sign up for another fucking thing just so you can track your customers, get a bigger cut of the app market action, and serve up a limited supply of low-quality rubbish. Who even moderates this thing, unpaid interns?
I love this phone, I love it to bits. I want to use it all the damn time (even though Samsung’s beautiful AMOLED screens suffer serious burn-in effects in a about a year) but I have to buy a case for it, drill holes in this case and hang my straps from that. I have to root the thing before I can copy files to my SD card (yeah yeah, it’s Android’s fault). I have to back my own shit up, I have to split my workload onto two machines that cannot share data if I use Samsung’s own software (which is pretty solid, if slow).
I like Samsung. I like their gear. But their software is pretty crap. Ask me about my Samsung plasma TV, which is really great and didn’t cost much but takes up to 30 seconds to scan the channels when I ask for the program guide, and then can’t remember what they are ten seconds later and loads some of them again, in 5 second increments. My previous Panasonic never, ever loaded them in front of me. It did it when the TV was off, so when I wanted to use it, it was ready. Always. Someone at Panasonic used the thing and went “Hey, it’d be better if…” while the same guy at Samsung had his manager tell him to fuck off, the software worked well enough, go sell some fucking TVs. Narida.
* Some serious issues here, some basic whinging, but a lot of love for my Note 4. If Samsung would just make it all it could be, instead of just better enough than Apple, I’d be happier.
** And look, Samsung, try to keep in mind that your hardware is not the whole point of your existence. Making the users happy is the point. You do that with amazing hardware (box: checked!) and software. Box conspiciously unchecked.