Project ‘Super S3’
The time had come that I became tired of Touchwiz on my Galaxy S3.
As a skin, it’s not very bad; especially if you consider features like palm swipe for screenshot, smart stay, swipe a message to call or send a message and many more. But the launcher part was pretty boring and rigid; almost no room for customization.
Experimenting with various launchers made me believe that the pure Android experience is the way to go. Unfortunately, I don’t want to root. Not right now. Warranty is a big thing for me as my phone initially did have a problem with the screen and I don’t want to take a risk. I know there are ways to to get back the stock ROM, un-rooting the phone and resetting the ROM counter but I’m still not game for the time being. Plus, the Cyanogenmod for the international S3 does not support WiFi tethering, yet.
This self imposed restriction forced me to look towards other ways to get the closest ‘pure android’ experience or the nexus experience, as some would say, and boy I was not disappointed! And only ended taking it a few notches further.
Here is a step by step way to get an improved S3 without rooting the phone and spending no money.
(all experiments done on International Galaxy S3 running Android 4.1.1 and would usually apply to any phone running 4.0+).
The launcher probably makes the biggest cosmetic impact on the phone but does not stop there. Usually, third party launchers take up less memory, are faster and in some cases increase the functionality.
I tried my hands on two launchers: Nova Launcher and Apex Launcher. Both are amazing, fast and efficient. Though, I found Apex launcher a little bit better as the free version supported more more options (like gestures and hide apps) compared to the free version of Nova Launcher. Hence, I decided upon Apex Launcher with the default (Jelly Bean) theme. Do note that on ICS both Nova and Apex launcher will display widgets only as a list and not like the way touchwiz or pure android does. While this problem has been resolved on Jelly Bean.
I use gestures to simplify the access to the notification bar and the recent apps menu by just swiping my thumb downwards or upwards, anywhere on the home screen, for the respective options. This prevents me to go all the way up to pull down the notification bar or long press the hard menu button to get access to the recent apps.
The touchwiz dialer and contacts are bad. They is slow, a little buggy and ugly. The best alternative on the store is exDialer. It’s fast; very fast, neat and supports themes which you can download separately from the play store. It’s similar to the stock android dialer but not exactly a replica. It supports swipe to call or message. Though, if one has to edit a contact, the dialer directs to the touchwiz’s ‘edit’ part. Which is not a big problem at all. I installed the Holo theme for exDialer which goes well with the launcher.
The day I bought this phone I switched over to Chrome. I absolutely love the browser for its syncing capabilities and neat UI, even though it crashes once in a blue moon.
I replaced the stock clock with two apps: Circle Alarm and Icy Time, the latter has stopwatch and countdown timer capabilities. Both are beautifully designed apps which follow the holo design guidelines.
Circle alarm has a unique and innovative way to set the alarm and you can disable all the alarms right from the notification bar.
The S Planner is another ugly app added on by Samsung. Though, it remains as functional as almost any other calendar app. So, as luck would have it, when I started my search for an alternative, Google released the stock android calendar app on the play store; only with a different icon. Before I installed this app I was using another third party app which was just like the stock one in both functionality and design.
There was nothing wrong with Samsung’s calculator except that it was not holo. So I installed the calculator which is used by Cyanogenmod ROM. It has huge buttons, is smooth and supports calculations of simple trigonometric functions, matrices and graphs.
7. Media Player
The only problem I had with Samsung’s stock media player was that it did not support a media control widget on the lock screen. So if I had to change the song or something (and was not using the earphones with button controls) I would have to unlock my screen, type in the pin and then go to the widget to change the song. I found several awesome media apps (poweramp being the best ever yet) I settled over the Google’s Play music; it’s clean, plays songs and most importantly has a widget on the lock screen. Poweramp is too good, but I was looking for something free and hence did not go for it.
8. Video Player
The Samsung stock video player is nice. It also supports pop up to play which was highly advertised in the S3’s marketing campaign. But the problem is that it supports very little video format and almost all the time you’ll have to convert the video to the supported format (which the phone does while transferring the video from your computer to the phone but this takes time). So, enter MX Player. It is beautiful and probably the most famous video player on the play store. It supports almost all the formats and has features like touch lock, slide fingers on one half of the of the screen to adjust the brightness and similarly adjust volume on the other half. Really intuitive.
The samsung keyboard is not good. It’s not very accurate when it comes to text prediction. So I switched over to Jelly Beam’s stock keyboard which is great for a free app. Only problem is that it has a horribly ugly icon. Swiftkey is probably the poweramp of keyboards but again, it’s a paid app.
10. Lock Screen
There are almost no decent free lock screens on the play store and I had almost given up until I came across Holo Locker. It’s just like the stock android locker with the options to add your own shortcuts if you chose to go for the paid version. It’s nice for the most part except that in some cases the lock screen does not appear (specially if you use the home button to wake up the phone) and I get directly directed to the security lock screen. Still, it is the best free locker around for now.
Samsung’s own gallery is very close to the stock gallery except that whenever I would want to edit a picture it would prompt me to download its own third party picture editor, except in the cases of some very basic editing. Now, Samsung’s own editing app is not bad but I there certainly are better ones on the store. So, I downloaded Gallery ICS, which is true to ICS’s stock gallery and has some pretty nifty editing features.
12. Power Toggles
Power Toggles is an app which lets you add more toggles on to your notification bar or in the form a widget. Touchwiz as it has lots of useful ones right on top of the notifications, but Power Toggles just adds more to them (not on the same position, though). I have toggles for NFC, Flight mode, turn off all media sound, sound control and wifi tethering; all of them otherwise had to be accessed through the setting menu.
13. Disabling all unwanted apps
Once I was done with installing the apps I went ahead and disabled all the apps I did not want but could also not uninstall because they are system apps. You can do this by going to the apps manager and going through all those apps you don’t want. Do note that some of them cannot be disabled at all and some can only be disabled after uninstalling all their updates.
Some apps I disabled are: S Voice, S Memo, S Planner, Allshare cast, Gallery, Chat On, Many samsung services, S Suggest, Samsung applications, game hub, some widgets and few more apps.
Disabling S Voice can save some battery juice as it is always running in the background, otherwise and also, Google Now is better.
14. Hiding unwanted apps
Some apps which cannot be disabled but are not needed will provide an unnecessary clutter in the app drawer. Use Apex launcher to hide such apps (like Samsung’s calculator and clock).
15. Icon pack
If you want a more uniform look among your app icons download and install SMPL Blue theme which has a HUGE collection of minimal icons and works with Apex, Nova and Go launcher.
There you go! A list to get the best out of your S3 and make it look better and similar to stock android. Of course, it will remain an ongoing process and improvements can/will be made as I will discover more apps. Also, as I type this, news has come that Samsung has started rolling out the 4.1.2 update for the S3 which will enable it have lots of Galaxy Note 2 features (like multi window)!! Never expected Samsung to roll them out so soon. This just makes me positive for the 4.2 update.