Samsung Could Be About to Fix Everything People Hate About Its Phones

While Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iPhones compete with numerous smartphones running Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Android, Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF  ) Galaxies stand out as Apple's biggest competition. Samsung's phones have been generally well-received, but certain design decisions have had tech critics favoring Apple's handsets.

Samsung is widely expected to unveil its next flagship later this month. In the process, it's fixing a few major issues that have long been the bane of reviewers. Both Apple and Google investors should follow the announcement closely, as it could have immense ramifications on the entire mobile space.

Ditching plastic
Unlike Apple, which has used a combination of glass and metal on its flagship iPhones since 2010, Samsung has stuck to lightweight plastic -- and has been heavily criticized for it. The Verge's David Pierce, reviewing Samsung's Galaxy S4, wrote that the phone "has [put] Samsung back in the land of cheap, plasticky handsets." CNet said much the same, remarking that "its plastic design gives it a cheap look."

Samsung hasn't ignored its critics completely; the Galaxy Note III, released last fall, is made of faux leather -- still plastic, but much different than the cheap-feeling, bendable backs of Samsung's prior phones.

Samsung is expected to take it a step further with the Galaxy S5. Samsung is expected to offer a version of the phone made out of metal, and if it does, its critics would have less one argument to make.

Improving Touchwiz
Besides build quality, the other issue that has long plagued Samsung is Touchwiz -- the modified version of Google's Android that ships on all of Samsung's mobile devices. With Touchwiz, Samsung doesn't alter Android fundamentally (all of Google's services are still there) but it does change the look and feel of Google's operating system, mostly to its detriment.

Farhad Manjoo, writing for Slate, called Samsung's take on the dialing app "hideous" and "less functional," characterizing it as "garish shock of mismatched colors." Manjoo, a loyal Apple customer, ultimately concluded that Samsung's poor decisions had him missing his iPhone.

Of course, it isn't just the dialing app -- Samsung does this to practically everything, from the messaging app to the browser -- and it goes beyond aesthetics: Samsung's Android skin is less optimized than Google's pure version, resulting an interface that occasionally stutters and bugs out.

According to Re/code, Samsung plans to tone down from its Android tweaks, sticking to a more pure version of Google's operating system. If that's the case, Samsung's next flagship might ship with an operating system that looks and runs better than ever before.

Fewer gimmicks
In addition to toning down the tweaks to Google's operating system, Samsung also plans to include fewer gimmicky features, according to The New York Times. In the past, Samsung's handsets have included a number of additional features other Android-powered phones lack.

Some, like running two apps side-by-side, are nice. Others -- like Air View and eye-tracking -- are largely useless. And while they can mostly be ignored, their presence has hampered Samsung's phones in a number of ways.

The settings menu in the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note III is nothing short of a nightmare, so complex it's almost impossible to navigate. With the Note III, Samsung went so far as to include a settings search bar, suggesting that the company is well aware of the complex, maze-like nature of its settings menu. And all that extra software takes up space -- the 16GB version of the Galaxy S4 includes just 8GB of usable storage.

All of this stands in stark contrast to Apple's more functional, easier-to-use operating system. Getting rid of all that bloat would bring Samsung's handsets closer to Apple's in terms of ease of use, and in the process, improve them immensely.

No glitz and glamour
Last year, Samsung made its Galaxy S4 announcement a spectacle, hosting a major press event at New York City's Radio City Music Hall. Samsung's next flagship won't receive the same flashy introduction, but ultimately could be a far more significant handset.

Samsung's Galaxy S5 is shaping up to be a major improvement from the company's prior phone, with a better body, a more streamlined version of Google's Android, and light on gimmicks.

If that proves to be the case, Apple's iPhone will see it's greatest competition yet.

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Read/Post Comments (17) | Recommend This Article (12)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 7:35 PM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    I predict that the S5 will turn out like the S4, including poor sales and reviews by most analysts. Why is Samsung in a rush to release less than a year after the S4?

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 8:06 PM, twolf2919 wrote:

    The S4 was released in March of last year, so the S5 isn't really being rushed. Both Samsung and Apple seem to have settled on a yearly release cycle.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 8:54 PM, WalterPidgeon wrote:

    I always laugh about the IPhone having it's greatest competition from Samsung S4, these articles are meant for just the US buying segment, when it comes to total sales of the S4 worldwide the S4 has no competition. It is hands down the best selling smartphone in the WORLD ! No other smartphone is even close. IPhone? IPhone who?.......

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 9:47 PM, RMengineer wrote:

    Part of Samsung's problem is the same faced by any business playing in a semi-commoditized market space. That is, when your product looks basically like anyone else's out there (Android in this case), how do you differentiate your product from the crowd to (a) stand out and get notice and (b) provide a "secret sauce" to get people to choose your's over the others.

    It's a blessing and a curse. And it's a fine line to walk. The problem is, as Samsung is finding out, what happens when customization to ostensibly give people a reason to choose your product turns out to be a reason people choose not to buy your product?

    But the flip side is that customization isn't inherently a bad thing - actually it's inherently a good thing. It's turns into a bad thing when it is customization purely for the sake of customization.

    But it's a good thing in the product evolution is also a numbers game. That is, the more things you can try out and get into consumers hands, the more rapidly you find out what moves the product evolution forward and what does not.

    For example, look at screen size. Apple was sticking with one screen size. They pretty much had to pick one and stick with it, for better or worse. But in the Android space, you had all these players trying out different size screen on different devices. Who know that people actually wanted phones with larger screens and tablets with smaller screens? If left to Apple, no one would. But because the Android space had a lot of companies trying out different sizes, now we know. And now Apple knows too. So even Apple benefits from the numbers game that is playing out in the Android space. But that is how Apple went from leader in product development to chasing leaders in the Android space. When it comes to moving product evolution forward, it's tough to beat a numbers game strategy.

    Google shouldn't try to quash "fragmentation" but should encourage it - albeit in a more "targeted" approach rather than random doing different things simply for the sake of doing something different. The Android space (and arguably the entire smart phone and tablet space) has benefited from Android "fragmentation" more than it has been a negative.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 10:24 PM, Dvoraak wrote:

    Always kind of amazed at how much I can disagree with reviewers. There's no arguing that the plastic backs have an overall "cheap" look but there's also no arguing that IT ALLOWS REPLACEABLE BATTERIES. To put that in perspective, I don't just mean you can pull the battery for a fresh one.... I mean you can replace the 2800mAh battery that the S4 is equipped with, with a 7500mAh monster that will give you 3 days of medium use without looking for an outlet. Try that with an aluminum unibody design. And Samsung outsells all other Androids.

    Complaining about the dialer skin shocked me. Do reviewers really think that Google's stock dialer which is simply numbers over a plain colored backround looks better than Samsung's dialer? Or any other skinned dialer for that matter? Honestly, the dialer is one of the things that's kept me from buying a Nexus.

    I've never met a Samsung user (I know many S3, S4, Note 2 and Note 3 users) who had a problem with the plastic design. The only people who seem to have a problem with it are the iPhone faithful.... WHY DO THEY CARE? Personally I thought the Note 3 faux leather back was a nice compromise. It feels nice, looks nice and is still removable. Shame that reviewers who aren't going to like Samsung anyway are pushing an agenda the users don't care about.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 11:01 PM, wsteinhauer wrote:

    Here's an idea...make a phone that can actually make a reliable phone call connection. The smarter the phone, the worse the connection.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 11:02 PM, Crod12345 wrote:

    I have an IPhone 5 for personal use and a Samsung s4 for work purpose, been using the iPhone since 2nd generation, everything I upgrade I have been selling it for $300, I invest $199 the very first time and after that every 2 years I get a newer version and still turn a 50% profit of my investment, not bad, and for replaceable batteries? Until today there has not been 1, yes not 1 problem at all, with my iPhone's, now for the galaxy, very first day I got it I had problems, and it's not a better phone than an iPhone. Just think like every time we use the sentence " it's like" we know its the the good stuff.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 11:16 PM, puppybone69 wrote:

    The only thing wrong with Touchwiz now is Samsung disabled home screen scrolling and rotation, for no reason but to render most live wallpapers useless. It wasn't broken, so they fixed it by breaking it on purpose.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 3:32 AM, StockgeniusII wrote:

    Looks like Samsung wants to catch up on Apple's iPhone franchise and finally make a high end smartphone that can compete with the iPhone. I don't think Samsung has any experience using metal cases for smartphones so this will be interesting. It might look like the HTC One!

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 4:55 AM, davidclk wrote:

    Why don't we all just wait for the release of the new iPhone 6 and then make our comments. Most people are not running out to buy the new Samsung until the release of the iPhone 6, of course the die hard android users will line up, and most probably be sorry they did.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 6:06 AM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    @twolf2919: The S4 was announced in March but not released until late April and probably didn't start selling until May. Less than a year is still less than a year.

    @WalterPidgeon: Sorry but your data is well off. S4 sold a total of 40 million worldwide in the 1st 6 months it was offered. iPhone 5s/5c/4s sold 51 million just in the 4th QTR last year. Looks like a 25% lag for the Koreans.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 9:40 AM, dratsaB wrote:

    I had a Samsung S4. Unfortunately I dropped it in a lake...but thats another story.

    The q

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 12:05 PM, alanjason wrote:

    So, to make the phone better, they have to make it more like the iPhone. Ha Ha Ha Ha.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 12:07 PM, alanjason wrote:

    God, when will people realize that without the iPhone, the Galaxy wouldn't even exist. They take the best features of the iPhone to make the Galaxy.

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 2:36 AM, ratmazter wrote:

    What a bunch of iPhone fools in this commentary.

    You've been drinking the same old criticism kool-aid and can't get past circa 2007-2008 (fragmentation, apps, user-experience, blah blah blah, boring!). Android has matured exponentially by dominating the world since then. Let's face the fact that Samsung will be better than boring locked-in CrApple, and the seeds of this impending domination started with the S3 in 2012, scaring the metal panties off of Cupertino.

    Talk to the hand...

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 3:59 PM, BKKaty wrote:

    After S3 screen broke two times within 6 months and its repair cost, my daughter who is die hard Samsmung fan decided to switch to applie 5S ! Hoping the phone being bit small and sturdy will not nreak its screen easily. In general repair cost of iphone is much less compare to Samsung or LG.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 12:54 PM, nate99 wrote:

    This review is a complete joke. It sounds like it is written by an obvious apple supporter.

    I have literally never heard anyone that has actually used a galaxy phone say, "I don't like galaxy phones because there are just too many features!" Well, besides apple supporters. I don't use 50% of the features that my note 3 has, but it doesn't make me dislike the phone for having them there. Ridiculous notion.

    Non-metal body. Who cares? After I put a protective case on it, I don't even think about the body. And doesn't the non-metal body make it easier to open the back and add more memory and another battery to galaxy phones? Well worth the trade off.

    Touchwiz? Yes, touchwiz is lame. But then we all just download a different launcher like Nova that allows us more customization. I can fit more apps on my screen and make it look how I want.

    There are benefits of getting an iPhone over a galaxy phone (smoothness of experience, syncing with iTunes, siri vs. s-voice, etc.), but the reviewer should actually choose legitimate points, not these ridiculous made up complaints from non-galaxy phone users.

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