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TouchWiz speed test: Does Samsung's interface really lag?

TouchWiz speed test: Does Samsung's interface really lag?


Intro


Does Samsung's Android-based TouchWiz interface lag? Given how the electronics giant is always at the forefront of technology and is rarely second to the finish line when it comes to packing the latest with its flagships, this might sound like an unfounded question. But the reality is that its proprietary TouchWiz skin is a controversial topic that has the community divided in two – those who worship Samsung for including as many extras and perks in it, and those that can't stand it. No middle ground – either black, or white.

But why are some among us so visibly dismissive, even mad, at TouchWiz? If you ask, they'll probably answer that it's simply a matter of responsiveness and speed of navigation – two qualities that, according to them, TouchWiz lacks. At PhoneArena, we're not neutral either, seeing as it's our job to evaluate devices that often happen to carry Samsung's name, and then feed those findings back to you. Objectively, our general feeling has always been that while improvements have taken place, TouchWiz still had a way to go before we could call it completely smooth. Stock Android smooth. 

Trouble is, when you have no tangible proof other than your own experience to offer, it's usually hard work convincing Samsung loyalists that there's, indeed, a problem. The issue, then, is that an Android launcher is not something that you can easily benchmark. Quite frankly, until recently, we didn't think it possible at all. But it's also true that we've been after an appropriate methodology for a while, and a little over a week ago, our persistence paid off.

Methodology


So why is it so hard to benchmark an Android launcher? Put frankly, the tools simply don't exist. That is, there's no app dedicated to measuring the performance of the various aspects of a launcher – like the homescreen, lockscreen, app drawer, and the like – as most apps are generally confined to their own sandbox. But we came up with a way to do it, though we had to re-purpose two quite niche pieces of genius software to do it, and we weren't without help.

TouchWiz speed test: Does Samsung's interface really lag?
TouchWiz speed test: Does Samsung's interface really lag?
Back in the summer of '14, we blogged about a new benchmark entrant – GameBench – that claimed to be 'uncheatable'. To draw a parallel, just think of how a typical test of a computer GPU goes, and you're bound to think of frame rates (granted that you follow that stuff). GameBench does exactly that – it measures the frame rate of apps and games and then combines the median frame rate achieved by all same-model phones before arriving at a final performance score for that device. It addresses a fundamental flaw with synthetic benchmarks by making it considerably harder to game it, at least in broader terms.

But since Samsung's TouchWiz launcher isn't an app, we had to re-purpose GameBench so that it continues tracking frame rates even when simply navigating through the interface. Thankfully, the devs behind the tool were kind enough to do that for us, and voilà – we were in game.

At this point, some of you might be wondering what a frame rate is and why it's a valid way of benchmarking performance. For the sake of brevity, we won't go into specifics as far as the term is involved, and just plug this in: the more of it that you have, the smoother motion appears and the better your device is performing. That is, at lower frame rates (say, 15 frames per second, or FPS), even a layman would notice that the image is choppy, while a value like 60 FPS and above is considered ideal and near impossible for the eye to discern. 

But we needed a baseline, as otherwise you'd be looking at a bunch of numbers that make insufficient sense on their own. And what better candidate than the one launcher that the geekier of us have sworn fealty to long ago – Google's stock Android. It is the cleanest, most bare-bones incarnation of Android that, anecdotes have it, is by far the most lightweight of all. But for this to be a valid comparison, we'd need to perform the exact same motions (scrolling, panning, etc) whilst using both, and that's too impossible a task for any human. Thankfully, an ingenious little app called RepetiTouch allowed us to do exactly that.

RepetiTouch is an automation tool – you record 'scripts' during which the app tracks things like taps and swipes. Since cross-device usage isn't supported, we had to reach out to the developer behind it, who was more than happy to convert said scripts so that they work on both devices. Sleeves rolled, we went ahead and recorded a number of scenarios that make up the typical (essential, even) kind of usage that your launcher and apps go through – scrolling on your homescreen and app drawer, navigating through apps like the Gallery and browser, and even replicating the use of your phone dialer. All of this with the idea that GameBench is tracking the entire time, keeping count of the frame rate.

Finally, we did some good ol' app load time testing and measured the time it takes the two devices (the Galaxy Note 4 for team TouchWiz, and the Nexus 6 for team Stock Android, both running the 5.0.1 Lollipop build) to open them under identical conditions. We did that by recording the tests on camera, and then splitting the frames of the footage to pinpoint the exact app launch time, and the precise moment it fully visualized on the screen.

Enough talk, it's results time!


Let's start off with the performance of both launchers in terms of frame rate. A few disclaimers first, though – keep in mind that the values in the table below will tell you more about the comparative performance of the two contestants than the exact frame rate you can expect from them to achieve (which is capped at 60 FPS, since their screens' refresh rate is 60Hz). That is because whenever the script loops, all motion stops for a second or so, and GameBench starts measuring 0 FPS, dragging down the median and the frame rate stability. Since the scripts are identical, the scores are still valid in relative terms.

Also, do keep in mind that median FPS is different than average FPS (read). As for the FPS stability tab, it simply indicates what percentage of all captured frame rates were identical to the mean. The lower the stability, the bigger the chance that you notice those small hiccups, as your device will have gone from a high frame rate to a lower one and back again, drawing your attention to the drop. 

TouchWiz (Note 4) scores seen left, stock Android (Nexus 6) scores seen right. "HOT" means that the tested area had already been loaded into the device's memory, while "COLD" indicates that the test was performed after a reboot.

TouchWiz speed test: Does Samsung's interface really lag?
* All scrips were ran on both devices for approximately 150 seconds; higher is better
* Both devices were factory reset before running the tests
* Both devices had the same number of apps on-board, most of which identical
* Both devices had the same wallpaper and homescreen layout (widgets, icons, folders)


As you can see for yourself, while there are some exceptions in which the Note 4's TouchWiz software is up to snuff and rivals the performance of stock Android on the Nexus 6, the overall scores match our more subjective impressions during the test. Namely, all is well with TouchWiz when talking lighter operations, but when relatively heavier apps such as the Gallery and the built-in browser are involved, the image sometimes gets choppy and less fluid than on the Nexus 6.

Load time test


Next up, we'll look at how both devices performed in our load time test in which we measure how long it takes them to open and close an essential app. We broke down the test in 2 categories with 2 respective subcategories – cold/hot loads (app loaded for the first time since reboot/app loaded after it was cached into the memory) and the time needed to close them and return to your homescreen.

TouchWiz speed test: Does Samsung's interface really lag?
* All scores in milliseconds (ms), lower is better 
* All scores have been rounded

We began this test almost assured that TouchWiz would struggle significantly to keep pace with stock Android, but after a while, it was obvious that Samsung has done some serious optimizations with the Android 5.0 Lollipop build of its UI. The results speak for themselves, of course, and though TouchWiz lost in the end, it's worth pointing out that when talking cold load speeds, it is actually 23% faster (overall) than stock Android across tested apps.

Unfortunately, cold loads are arguably an unimportant metric for the most part, as you usually have your apps loaded in the cache so that your phone can access them quicker. This (hot loads) is an area in which TouchWiz struggled visibly – compared to stock Android, TouchWiz loads apps 34% slower and is up to 58% lazier when exiting them. That's a non-trivial lead for stock Android, even though we're still talking about differences that are measured as fractions of a second.

Moral of the story


We'll admit that walking in, we were expecting to finally have proof of just how much TouchWiz needs a de-bloating session. However, throughout all the testing (which took more hours to complete than you'd care to know), we were consistently surprised to see that Samsung's software isn't quite as bad as some members of the community were painting it, especially considering all that's packed in it. Still, facts are facts – it is slower than stock Android.

We suspect that Android 5.0 Lollipop had a lot to do with the Note 4's seemingly sudden boost in speed. We can't prove it though, as we don't have data from back in 2014, when it ran KitKat, though our gut tells us that Samsung did some good work with the latest build. Interestingly enough, the company is rumored to be working on slimming down TouchWiz with the Galaxy S6, which could push its highly controversial launcher into the hearts of more people. Whether that happens, however, is a question we'll only be able to answer come March 1st, when Samsung's next big thing is due to be announced.

81 Comments
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posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:03 41

1. fatexo (Posts: 221; Member since: 21 May 2010)


Isn't every other manufacturer launcher slower when compared to stock android launcher..??

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:14 1

6. JMartin22 (Posts: 1984; Member since: 30 Apr 2013)


Exactly, this is just another talking point piece in the form of an "informative editorial"

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:55 8

21. kalloud (Posts: 149; Member since: 21 Jun 2012)


Please PA do this test for the htc One m8 as it seems very very smooth.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 05:35 4

25. vincelongman (Posts: 4576; Member since: 10 Feb 2013)


PA should add the Nexus 5 & OnePlus One too
It would be funny to see the Nexus 5 & OPO beating out phones worth double their price

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 06:20 8

30. TyrionLannister (unregistered)


Yeah, they actually will. However, if you replace the Note 4 with the exynos variant, it beats the s**t out of any phone.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 11:41 1

62. Niva. (Posts: 426; Member since: 05 Jan 2015)


Yeah, and if you put stock Android on the enyxos variant it will stomp the TW bloated mess. It isn't even so much about frame rates (though that's a big deal) anymore, it's about apps you don't need, coming installed on the device and that you cannot rid yourself of them. Samsung/Touchwiz is the worst when it comes to this cr@p.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 12:09 2

64. TyrionLannister (unregistered)


Reportedly, the new TouchWiz comes with like 10 apps preinstalled ( on s6). And only 2-3 of these are Samsung apps. You can download the rest.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 08:08 7

40. Mittal (Posts: 493; Member since: 14 Dec 2011)


Yes, first of all kudos to PA folks for putting in the effort and since this is a time consuming activity, i request you to consider doing it for other Manufacturer launchers as well.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:16

7. Awalker (Posts: 1577; Member since: 15 Aug 2013)


Some people say Sense is faster than stock. I've never used a device with Sense.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:16 4

8. androiphone20 (Posts: 1654; Member since: 10 Jul 2013)


No brother, Motorola's is actually a tad better than stock Android (at least it feels like it) and Motorola did say they were able to make it perform at a consistent 60fps.

If the skin bogs down performance I'd rather they stick with stock Android.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:46 4

19. Awalker (Posts: 1577; Member since: 15 Aug 2013)


That's when it was running KitKat. The Moto X feels a little slower with Lollipop.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 05:46

27. androiphone20 (Posts: 1654; Member since: 10 Jul 2013)


Nope, that's Lollipop for you. They said it with Lollipop. Whether that's true you'll have to stick with Motorola's word, but in reality it almost feels like the new Moto X never slows down

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 09:18

47. BlueGoldAce (Posts: 30; Member since: 22 Nov 2012)


I have to agree. I own a nexus 6, and my wife owns a moto x 2014. Both have lollipop...but my nexus 6 has superior hardware.

Despite this, and despite that both look nearly identifcal in the interface...the moto x is consistently faster than my nexus 6. It loads and closes apps faster, animations are quicker, responds quicker to a home screen touch.

Not a major deal, and could be a result of moto's optimizations, or the encryption on the nexus 6. Both are really fast and smooth...but the moto x wins side by side for most operations.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:34

14. vincelongman (Posts: 4576; Member since: 10 Feb 2013)


Another problem is the encryption slows down the Nexus 6
The Nexus 6 doesn't have anything to hardware accelerate the encryption, unlike e.g. the iPhones or Nexus 9

Which is why the "old" Nexus 5 is faster than the Nexus 6 (I guess the Nexus 5 isn't really old, its still as fast as the iPhone 6+ and other flagships)

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 08:23

41. Mutation.X (banned) (Posts: 185; Member since: 09 Feb 2015)


The slow crappy Cpu is causing the lag.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 08:50

44. robocopvn (Posts: 436; Member since: 10 Mar 2010)


not really. Sony's recent launcher (4.4 launcher) is very customize-able and very fast at the same time !

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 11:20

60. datagrab (Posts: 32; Member since: 13 Feb 2015)


nope. My sis has a Note 4 and a is**t 5s and I have Vibe UI and mine's smoother compared to her Bloat 4. Even her 5s was better. K920 has both Vibe UI and Stock Android and both run smooth. Both K920 and Note 4 have 3 GB RAM but Note 4 UI lags most times. Sick back camera though (nights).

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 13:03

65. Rhinoface (Posts: 179; Member since: 05 Dec 2014)


Honestly I feel as though Sony's is faster... My T2 Ultra feels just as smooth, if not smoother than my Droid Turbo.

posted on 28 Feb 2015, 11:19

75. DaveElliott (Posts: 126; Member since: 20 Sep 2012)


Vanilla should be faster. Given the same hardware and core os, why wouldn't something with less be faster?

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:06 22

2. iushnt (Posts: 1785; Member since: 06 Feb 2013)


Touchwiz has never been a problem for me in s5

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:32 8

12. TheGunnyPT (Posts: 252; Member since: 12 Feb 2015)


Exactly my thoughts.

We knew TouchWiz would be slower by default due to be a skin.

But tbh like the article said 5.0 improves TW A LOT!.

Now i'm not defending TW or Stock Android (even though i use stock on my Note 4, I only dislike TW for it's bloatware and sometimes..browser lag)

But at the end of the day my favorite UI is stock android.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 09:20 2

48. cncrim (Posts: 854; Member since: 15 Aug 2011)


Of course TW is fine, when you havent try any other brand but Samesung.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 10:11 3

52. buccob (Posts: 2578; Member since: 19 Jun 2012)


I have tried a lot, and indeed stock android is smoother and more fluid, BUT I like skins better because of the added features they implement.

In my PERSONAL opinion Sony>Samsung>Stock/HTC/Moto/Asus

I wouln't trade Sony's Small Apps or Samsung's Multi-Window functionality for stock android, even when getting the latest update earlier... Often, manufacturers implement features in older firmware before they get out on Nexus...

For example, my Sony on 4.4.4 has USB DAC and Bluetooth Unlock, and that is only found after Android 5

1080p Recording came first to skinned android than to Stock.

and so on...

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 19:34 2

69. phichart (Posts: 286; Member since: 03 May 2014)


I think you never used any samsung device... Keep on barking hater!

posted on 27 Feb 2015, 03:26 1

73. iLovesarcasm (Posts: 567; Member since: 20 Oct 2014)


I use S5 and I find TW useful and efficient. That's why useless people hate Touch Wiz.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:09 4

3. RebelwithoutaClue (Posts: 3036; Member since: 05 Apr 2013)


I am wondering if you turn on encryption on the Note 4 how these tests would be, since it's on by default on the Nexus 6

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:21 6

10. vincelongman (Posts: 4576; Member since: 10 Feb 2013)


ARMv7 805 Note 4 - big performance decrease, like on the Nexus 6 with 805
ARMv8 5433 Note 4 - no difference, like on the Nexus 9 with its ARMv8 K1

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 04:11 12

4. Retrospective1 (Posts: 45; Member since: 24 Feb 2015)


People just like to use false propaganda about TW based on haters claiming it lags. TW has improved immensely, I use iPhone and Samsung's phone's.

Yes, you don't need to buy the brand......buy the item that satisfies your needs and best suits you.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 07:26 5

34. Supraman21 (Posts: 326; Member since: 09 Jun 2010)


Umm no.. Every iteration of touchwiz before the lollipop update has been horrendous. There are no "haters". Touchwiz was factually slow and laggy.

posted on 26 Feb 2015, 10:48 3

56. willard12 (Posts: 1723; Member since: 04 Jul 2012)


Where are these "facts" that you speak of?

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