Android 12 is here, and we’ve seen how all the OEMs put their own spin on the OS. Companies like Samsung, OnePlus, and others have slapped their UI on Android 12 to make it look, feel, and act the way they want. Meanwhile, Google had made a pretty drastic change to the Pixel UI with the latest version, focusing on more colors, unique widgets, and big buttons. I hadn’t owned a Pixel smartphone until very recently, and I have to say trying Android 12 on a Pixel is what makes me want to stick with Samsung and One UI.
I’ll start by saying that it was hard not to be excited about Google’s Android 12 UI when it first showed off. Thanks to Material You, this represented such a massive overhaul of the operating system compared to what we’ve seen on previous Google phones, which reflected the new Pixel 6 hardware. It’s much more colorful, more personal and, dare I I say, fun. But over time, I became increasingly concerned about some of the questionable choices Google made with its user interface and, frankly, hoped with all my might that other OEMs wouldn’t adopt them.
Bigger is not always better
My main complaint? Everything is so big on the Pixel UI that I feel like the Pixel has become a caricature of Android. Why on earth does Google have four big buttons in my Pixel 6 Pro’s Quick Settings menu, which opens up to show me only eight in the drop-down menu? Compare that to the six toggles I have access to in the Galaxy S22’s drop-down menu, which lets me see up to 12 toggles before I have to swipe for more.
The UI for notifications is also unnecessarily large on the Pixel. I keep coming back to my Samsung because everything is so compact, to the point that Samsung can squeeze the brightness bar into the drop-down menu and still take up less space than the Pixel, while still giving me quick access to the Settings app without getting swiped again like I have to on the Pixel. Samsung is also making its UI more accessible by including a huge banner for different screens in its UI and apps, which pushes everything down. This is probably the only case where it makes sense to waste space.
For one, it’s pretty easy to get into Pixel settings to dim the display, so some of those UI elements aren’t as noticeable, but the problem is that it makes everything else smaller UI, like app icons and text, and things end up looking weird and way too small. Also, it’s not like it solves my problem of having fewer quick settings toggles accessible.
Speaking of settings, the layout of the Settings app is another thing I like best about One UI. Everything is laid out in a way that seems to make sense. On the Pixel, Google combines Wi-Fi and data for the new internet tile, which I’m also not a fan of, but decides to give us a separate “Connected devices” option in the settings for Bluetooth and other connections. Samsung puts all of this in a “Connections” option in the settings menu. Plus, Samsung separates things out nicely so they’re less cluttered, and you can get a general idea of where a particular setting is. Google just seems to be throwing caution to the wind and splashing its settings all over the place.
I also like to like Samsung’s Edge panels, which basically give me another quick settings menu, but for apps and other functions. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a native equivalent on the Pixel yet (but if there is, please let me know).
If it’s not broken…
My colleague, Nick Sutrich, notes how Google made such a drastic change with the UI on its Pixel phones, but the jump from One UI 3 to One UI 4 on Galaxy devices hasn’t been so dramatic. He argues that Google is probably doing what it can to differentiate itself while trying to rival the iPhone with a visual (and unique) hardware and software overhaul. After all, the Pixel 6 series is probably Google’s first true flagship. Previous Pixels barely made much of a splash in terms of sales, but that’s slowly starting to change as Google pushes hard for these phones.
On the other hand, Samsung is one of the most successful Android OEMs in the world and consistently produces many of the best Android phones. It didn’t need a massive visual overhaul for One UI 4 to make it a success; it’s just. And as someone who now uses both, I can see why. Samsung’s user interface is clean, compact and consistent, something it has gone out of its way to ensure across all of its devices, from the Galaxy Watch 4 to its Windows Laptops.
Mishaal Rahman, senior tech writer at Esper and former managing editor at XDA Developers, says he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that Google made Android 12 such a big update for the Pixel. He notes how Google dictates the changes that go into the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), developing Android “mostly in secret” before “pushing the source code out of the walled garden they’ve been building to AOSP.”
“The reason it’s important to note is that it explains the decision making that goes into a lot of the features and UI changes that you see in Android 12, both in AOSP and on Pixel,” says Rahman. in an interview. “Google develops a lot of its own proprietary software additions, but what’s not fully proprietary in AOSP was likely influenced by the needs of the Pixel team. For example, Android 12 in AOSP added a user interface for setting up and using an under-display fingerprint sensor, as the Pixel team needed it for the Pixel 6.”
In one blog post in January, Rahman also noted that this is likely causing more issues for the Pixel series. “Android 12 was Google’s biggest operating system update in years, and given the roughly one-year time frame for its development, it’s no surprise that the initial release had a lot of bugs. and unresolved issues.” Meanwhile, Samsung’s Android 12 update went largely smoothly, again, likely due to the fact that Samsung didn’t need to do such a drastic UI overhaul. .
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to like about Google’s Pixel UI. On the Pixel it’s smooth, simple, and bloatware-free, which is unfortunately still a win in 2022. Vertical scrolling in the app drawer is a personal favorite and my colleague Chris Wedel points out as a reason why it prefer Pixel UI. Unfortunately, you can only achieve this on the Galaxy using Good Lock, but it’s pretty easy, even if it’s an imperfect solution. Plus, Pixel-exclusive apps and services like At a Glance definitely add to the experience. Unfortunately, that’s just not good enough for me, and I struggle to take the Pixel seriously with that UI. My troubles are why I often find myself recommending Samsung smartphones to my friends who are looking to upgrade their older Pixel phones.
Be together. Not the same.
Yes, I’ve spent this article nitpicking about the Pixel UI (and I could go on and on, but there’s not much space on the internet), but part of buying a phone is l experience and the feeling you get when you use it. I can’t help but feel like Google is wasting a lot of space with its UI choices by making everything comically large. But while the Pixel might not be my favorite phone, that’s okay because a lot of other people like what Google has done with Android 12 on the Pixel.
I might try to convince my friends to go to Galaxy, but some decided to upgrade to a newer Pixel because it’s familiar and they’ve come to love the new UI. Just as I’ve grown accustomed to Samsung’s – arguably better – user interface, other Android users like what they like from various OEMs. As our Jerry Hildenbrand points out, Android’s best feature is choice, so find a phone that makes you happy. For me, I will continue to stand on my soapbox telling everyone to stay away from the Pixel’s oversized buttons. But then again, it’s not like Samsung needs my help selling phones.