The first thing you notice on any phone you’re using is the standby screen, and this is the area where the Samsung i8910 HD first attempts to distinguish itself from other S60 5th edition phones. Sure the regular S60 options are present and correct with one standby screen being completely blank and another showing a few application shortcuts and a basic calendar for the day, but it’s the third option that makes all the difference.
Touchwiz is Samsung’s way of making their touchscreen phones more user-friendly as well as providing a user interface that is similar across all handsets. You may have come to this phone from a Windows Mobile handset or a Samsung feature phone but, if they were recent enough to have Touchwiz, you’ll feel right at home here.
Put simply the Touchwiz UI is a collection of widgets that you can place on the the screen wherever you want (dragging them around with your finger until they’re just so) and creating the active standby screen that you want. Samsung has actually provided three Touchwiz screens in this model, which can easily be swapped between by clicking an icon at the top right corner of the screen.
An unobtrusive arrow on the left of the screen (so unobtrusive in fact that I couldn’t find it at first glance) is actually the “handle” to a tray containing all of the available widgets for use with the Touchwiz standby screens. Simply clicking on the arrow and pulling to the right pulls out the tray to cover about a quarter of the left hand side of the screen, and then you can scroll up and down within the tray to view the widgets. When you’ve found a widget you want, you just place your finger on it and drag it across to the main part of the screen where it will resize itself accordingly and allow you to move it around to your heart’s desire. Clicking the padlock icon at the bottom of the screen locks widgets in place, hides the screen changer and closes the tray.
After playing around with this system for a while I found it to be quite intuitive, with the three screens allowing me to set up my standby screen the way I want it quite easily as well as set up a screen for quick access to profile and theme settings and another left over ready to be set up with widgets I might need in an upcoming situation (I believe I discussed a holiday screen with travel related widgets in a discussion of a similar UI on the HTC Hero a while back). I especially liked the photo widget that would let me scroll through thumbnails of my images, click on them for full size viewing or click a dedicated “button” on the widget to set that image as the background for the Touchwiz screens. If there’s one thing I would change about this it’s that the interface doesn’t interact fully with the Symbian OS. I’d love to drag some of my downloaded applications onto the Touchwiz screens for easier access from the start screen, yet I’m restricted to the provided widgets and whatever widgets Samsung provides for download (via a dedicated widget in the tray which currently allows 15 new alternatives to be downloaded).
The Touchwiz interface extends just beyond the standby screen, allowing you a slick (read this as “good to show off to friends and family wondering why you spent between five and six hundred quid on a phone”) way to access contacts and the menu. Sliding your finger from right to left from the standby screen flips it over to reveal the main menu. Sliding from left to right opens the photo contacts application. This application shows selected contacts as a pile of polaroid style photographs. Flicking through them you can soon find who you’re looking for and tap on that to bring up their details and a quick way to contact them (basically a groovy looking speed-dial). Personally I found it to be a pain going through my contacts that way, but I’ve got way over a hundred with multiple details for each and barely any photos used in their descriptions.
At the bottom of the screen are four “buttons” or graphical representations of buttons anyway. From left to right these provide one touch access to the dialler, contacts, messaging and home (this one brings you back to the home screen from anywhere). These buttons are shown at the bottom of most parts of the user interface and, maybe I’m old fashioned but, I found them a much better way to access the menu and contacts. In the end I suppose it all comes down to personal choice. Some people will prefer the eye candy sliding way to access these features, others will prefer to use the buttons. Neither way is right or wrong, they’re just how you prefer to use it. While I prefer to use the buttons I’m glad the sliding way was included too, as it gives users more choice and me an easy way to piss off iPhone users.
All in all, I’m pretty impressed with Touchwiz. It’s quick, easy to use and really shows off the touch interface in a way that will appeal to those being lured by the highly graphical UIs that are showing up on lesser phone recently. Whether it’s enough to make me continue to use it every day is another matter and one that only the future will answer. The lack of the more detailed calendar view from the standard S60 active standby screen is something that may well drive me back sooner rather than later, despite all the admittedly impressive eye candy on display here. Only time will tell.