While it's quite possible that we're still affected by the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 that took place just moments ago, we're going to say it anyway: past the bleeding edge hardware, the new functionality that is set to come with the TouchWiz version of Android loaded on the Note 3 has us intrigued. And we mean that in an honest, but cautious way.
Our weariness of the subject isn't something new or exclusive – the traditional TouchWiz skin that Samsung slaps on top of stock Android on each and every device carrying its logo has made a quite a few enemies. The reasons for that couldn't be more clear cut: it's absolutely bloated, containing over 250 apps in its entirety. And although it's extremely feature-rich, we think that many agree that most of these are gimmicks and sometimes even worse: a complicated spin-off of an otherwise simple and intuitive functionality.
So what prompted this rollercoaster of seemingly conflicting statements that you saw above? Well, we'd obviously like to reserve the privilege of modifying our view on this later on, pending a hands-on review. Needed disclaimers aside, what Samsung's presentation showed us in terms of new functionality may just be what the South Korean company needs to finally scale the gap between promising, but ultimately gimmicky features and useful real-world application.
We'll be obviously going through these a number of times in the weeks to come, and we're sure beyond a shadow of doubt that time will tweak away, or outright enforce, a new way of looking at the latest slew of new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 features. Namely, and to start this off, a quick hover over the Note 3's screen, along with a click of the button on the S Pen stylus will now introduce a sort of a quick menu that Sammy is dubbing Air Command. The circular ring allows for a swift access to five actions that Samsung has deemed most important and useful:
Action Memo: taking the torch from S Memo, Action Memos see your handwritten input as more than just a static image. Write down somebody's phone number, and you can quickly fire off a call to him right from the app.
Scrapbook: a Samsung spin-off of apps such as Google Keep and Pocket, Scrapbook allows you to organize and track down content that you've curated from various sources.
Screen Write: captures a full-screen image of what you're looking at the moment, allowing you to then add comments or simply scribble away on top of it.
S Finder: functions as implied by allowing you to perform powerful searches across numerous categories. For example, you can search (and find, it is implied) for hand-written content in your notes and memo apps, as well as symbols and formulas.
Pen Window: by far the most interesting of the five, it reminds us of Sony's so-called 'Small Apps' idea. Basically, it allows you to outline an area as big or as small as you like, and then launch an app of your choice within those exact confinements. Sounds and looks great for a number of uses.
Speaking of interesting concepts, we can't wait to see how the new and improved Group Play handles real-life scenarios. Previously all about turning a bunch of Galaxy S4's into a chorus by playing music and audio files simultaneously, the new version will also allow you to share video, and most impressively – join in several Galaxy Note 3's to form one giant display. As gimmicky as it may sound, we have a feeling a fair number of people will be immediately sold on the new phablet, should the feature work seamlessly and as described.
Another newcomer to the version of TouchWiz powering the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is a preloaded app called My Magazine, built in collaboration with the developers of Flipboard. Visually and functionally reminscent of the aforementioned stylish news aggregator, My Magazine has the added benefit of serving location-based, and therefore more relevant, content to users.
Other noteworthy features that we've heard about so far include:
Multi Window: improved over its predecessor, Multi Window is bound to increase productivity, or at least streamline the multitasking experience. It works by allowing you to have several windows up at once, even from the same type, meaning that you can chat with several people on your Samsung Galaxy Note 3 simultaneously, without having to tab out of anything. A very handy Drag and Drop command has also been incorporated into Multi Window, allowing you to copy and paste content, like text and images from one window to the other.
Samsung KNOX has dropped out of its mostly exclusive domain of business-to-business service, and is now available to your regular Joe, as well. Samsung KNOX provides system-level protection against malware, phishing and hacking attempts, making it a suitable BYOD to work (Bring Your Own Device). Moreover, the new and improved Find My Device service will let users completely disable their devices remotely, in cases of theft.
The Galaxy Note 3 will come preloaded with third-party applications, though its not exactly clear which, and how many, will make an appearance. Some of these include Evernote, Path, Line and eBay.
So are we headed towards a time when Samsung will finally manage to convince even the hardcore vanilla Android fans of the merits of its highly-customized TouchWiz? Unlikely, but if the slew of new functionality performs as well as they read on paper, then it'll certainly be a massive step forward for the in-house skin and Samsung, both.