Android Skin Shootout: Motorola ICS vs HTC Sense and Samsung TouchWiz

Motorola’s Droid Razr Maxx has finally received an update to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), making it the first Motorola smartphone to run the software. Just as with other ICS phones, the Maxx now supports the recent apps menu for multitasking, drag-and-drop folder creation and the People app. But Motorola has added a few of its own tweaks, including new lock screen shortcuts, an enhanced browser, and a better camera app. 

So how does Motorola’s implementation of Ice Cream Sandwich stand up to HTC’s Sense and Samsung’s TouchWiz 5.0? Read on to find out.

Lock Screen

Similar to Acer and ASUS devices with ICS, the Motorola Razr Maxx lock screen now sports a ring with a set of shortcuts on the display. Summoned by long pressing the prominent white key icon, users can access Phone, Text, Camera or Homescreen by dragging your onto the shortcut. In addition, the Maxx also offers Face Unlock, which uses facial recognition to unlock the device.

We liked having the ability to cycle through our music (skip, forward, play and pause) via the lockscreen, which eliminated the hassle of navigating through multiple screens. However, we wish that we could swap out shortcuts and notifications similar to the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X. 

HTC  goes further with its themed lock screens, including the Stocks theme for those following the market and Friend Stream, which lets you follow your social networking streams without the hassle of unlocking your phone. The S III lets you put a news ticker at the bottom of its lock screen.

Winner: HTC’s lockscreens allows users to see the information that matters most, without the hassle of unlocking the phone.

Home Screen

The Razr Maxx’s home screens have undergone a few cosmetic changes, including a new battery life indicator. The new indicator delivers a lot more information than the previous version with icons to mark power usage in groups of 10 (100%, 90%, etc.).

The small panel markers along the bottom of the screen have been moved above the My Favorites bar and turned into a sleek gray line that quickly turns blue as we cycled through screens.  The My Favorites bar has also been updated to allow users to switch out four shortcuts in the bar. We’re not really fans of the omnipresent gray My Favorites bar on the EVO 4G LTE. We prefer the free-floating look sported by Motorola and Samsung.

Keeping in line with other ICS devices, adding widgets and apps begins in the Apps page. Once an app or widget has been chosen, long-pressing the program takes it to the home screen where it is dragged to its desired position on the home screen. We found positioning apps and widgets to be nice and fluid.

Winner: Motorola’s updated apps and icons create a cleaner, sleeker look that edges out HTC and Samsung.

Apps and Widgets

Speaking of apps and widgets, many of them have received a much needed cosmetic update resulting in a more visually appealing presentation. Overall, App icons have a cleaner, more engaging look than on the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC EVO 4G LTE. Icons and buttons have also received a fresh coat of paint, switching to the uniform light gray icons familiar on other ICS devices.

In terms of widgets, Motorola shares a number of choices with its Samsung and HTC brethren, such as Analog Clock, Google Play Books and YouTube. However, each phone does have unique carrier and OEM-branded widgets such Motorola’s My MotoCast media widget, Samsung’s S Memo and HTC’s Watch.

Accessing the Widgets page on Motorola and Samsung are pretty straightforward, simply go to the Apps page and select the Widgets tab. HTC made us work a little harder, forcing us to look in the Settings menu under Personalize and from there Homescreen.

Winner: While TouchWiz shares common widgets with HTC and Motorola, Samsung-branded widgets are simultaneously pretty and useful.

Multitasking

Long-pressing the capacitive Home button on the Razr Maxx summons a Recent Apps overlay similar to the S III while holding down the search button launches voice search. Long-pressing the menu button will call up a list of options dependent on the current location. For example, on the homescreen the menu will display options to change the wallpaper, manage apps or access System Settings. On the SIII, holding the Menu button launches search.

In general, we prefer the way HTC Sense phones handle multitasking to the S III and Droid RAZR Maxx because there’s a dedicated button for this purpose. In addition, devices like the One X features a vertical 3D menu that makes it easier to determine which apps are what when scrolling through the thumbnails.

On the Evo 4G LTE, holding down the Home button gave us access to a homescreen panel where we could add or remove homescreens. The Menu button also took us to another view where we could view all of our recently opened apps.

Winner: HTC Sense’s scrollable vertical 3D menu makes multitasking between apps slightly easier than than Motorola and Samsung. The ability to choose a home screen after holding down the home button also saves time.

Creating Folders

One of our favorite ICS features is filing our apps away in a nice neat folder that clears up space for the rest of our many apps. Both Motorola and HTC allowed us to simply long press an app on the homescreen and slide it over to the other app, creating a folder. We easily named the folder by tapping the Unnamed Folder bar and entering text. From there, we could add more apps by sliding them over to the folder

Samsung handles folders a little differently, limiting folder creation to the Apps page. From there, we long-pressed an app and dragged it down to the bottom of the screen to a Create New Folder icon. Once the new folder was created and named, we easily slid the apps into the new folder. Overall, we prefer HTC’s and Motorola’s approaches.

Winner: Although Motorola and Sense have similar functionality, HTC Sense’s rounded gray box presents a more palatable interface than Motorola’s black square.

Web Browser

While all three devices delivered quick page loading, offline viewing, and desktop mode, there was one noticeable difference. We were able to sync Bookmarks created on our Samsung and Motorola devices to our desktop Google Chrome browser. However Chrome did not possess the same functionality.

The process is fairly simple, just click Save Bookmark and select your email address in the Folder category. On the desktop computer simply sign into Google Chrome, go to Advanced Sync Settings in the Settings menu and check the Bookmarks option and hit the OK button.

Winner: Tie. The steps for syncing bookmarks on your Android smartphone to your desktop Google Chrome web browser are identical on all three versions of Android.

Camera

The camera app on the Droid RAZR Maxx now lets you snap photos while video recording, as you can with the Galaxy S III and HTC One series. However, you can also set the volume keys to double as the camera shutter button or to control the zoom. 

Again, Samsung goes much further than the Maxx with features like Best Shot for the S III and Share Shot for sharing photos with other S III owners over Wi-Fi. HTC’s One Series is also more robust, with rapid-fire shooting, though that’s more a function of the dedicated ImageChip.

Winner: Samsung’s added features such as Best Shot, Buddy Photo Share and Share Shot makes TouchWiz the preferred choice for snapping photos and recording video.

Verdict

While the Motorola iteration of Android 4.0 delivers a similar user experience to Samsung’s TouchWiz, Samsung goes a lot further with some of the capabilities it offers on the Galaxy S III, such as S Voice, S Beam and Buddy Photo Share. HTC does a better job with multitasking than the others and offers a lot of camera filters, but Samsung’s photo software was best overall.

Samsung’s combination of appealing and fairly intuitive functionality and innovative features makes TouchWiz the best of the Android 4.0 skins by a narrow margin.

Overall Winner: Samsung TouchWiz



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  1. Annoyingmouse Says:

    So Samsung has the best skin? Just like syphilis is the best venereal disease, and of all the glasses of battery acid, the one with splenda is the best…

  2. Daniel Golightly Says:

    Outright lies about several key HTC components (such as being “forced” to go to the settings, personalization, etc. to change widgets and about the “usefulness” of HTC’s widgets). Grey is not the only color that “favorites” bar can be and it can also contain any favorites at all or quick folders for access to more frequented folders from any screen. Got the camera screenshots messed up. The HTC is the one with chrome buttons and outright lied saying that “best shot, buddy share, etc.” are Samsung only. New HTCs and past HTCs that are capable feature lagless shutter and can take up to as many photos as will fit on your SD card and the first thing to load is a “best shot” page, sharing from there is a matter of clicking the share button, the app or place to share to, and then the share destination… three quick clicks that are butter smooth and lightning quick. Also, as for browser, syncing may be the same, but the actual chrome browser is faster in terms of measurable speed and is far more usable with unlimited tabs, incognito mode, etc etc etc etc. That is a lie that you cannot sync them to browser, you simply sign into Google chrome. I’ve done it.

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