Another year, another Samsung smartphone, and in Australia, our version seems to come with its fair share of issues. A shortcut dock you can’t change, a lockscreen that won’t open an app, and a camera that won’t shut up.
But thanks to how modular Android is, you can make all of these problems go away, more or less, “just like that.”
Another locked dock
Seriously, Samsung? We’re still doing this?
Last year’s Australian Galaxy S4 did come with a slight flaw to it, with no Aussie able to change the dock of their Galaxy smartphone.
We hope you like using the stock phone, contacts, messages, and internet browser, because in 2014, the same is true, and Samsung is blocking the ability to let you change the dock, a frustrating issue when you consider that pretty much every manufacturer lets you change this.
Is it a problem with the phone? Not from a hardware point of view, that’s for sure, and if you run a different homescreen on the S5, often called a homescreen replacement, you’ll be able to — yes, you guessed it — change the dock.
These apps are also called “launchers,” and as such, if you search for either, you’ll find a plethora of options out there, many which make it possible to retain the look of what Google envisioned, make Samsung’s TouchWiz more usable, or even offer a totally different way of viewing your smartphone that few companies would attempt.
There are loads of options out there, and no single one is “right,” but we’re listing our favourites, with each of these letting you change the dock to match your life, which Samsung still can’t seem to get right on the Australian phones.
Price: Free, though a more feature-filled version costs $5
One of the easiest ways to transform the S5 into one that looks like it was developed by Google, the KK Launcher brings the look and feel of Android 4.4 “KitKat” without needing to hack the phone and install Google’s Android OS without the Samsung touches.
Price: Free, though a more feature-filled version costs around $5
Not ready for that total departure from Samsung’s look? No worries. Apex is one of the more popular launchers out there, and it combines the look of Android 4.1-4.3 with one that can be easily modified. There is even a way to apply themes to Apex, complete with a TouchWiz inspired theme for Apex, making it possible to retain that Samsung look but still fix that dock uber-quick.
Price: Free, though an invite code is required
A different experience, Aviate is one of the more playful ways to change the look of Android, with ten of your favourite apps available in the user editable dock, and then either basic widgets or a picture or two that you love. Perhaps the best part about Aviate is that it’s aware of where you are, and will provide information about locations near you, such as restaurant reviews of nearby eateries, as well as possible points of interest, and useful information about your personal and work life at different times of the day.
Interested in a phone unlike any out there? Themer is an unusual homescreen replacement tool that makes it possible to go with a very designer-ly phone. You can pick from a number of unique styles out there, or even totally design your own, and these will look nothing like your conventional launcher.
A basic lockscreen
A new one for Samsung, the lockscreen for the S5 is about as uncomplicated as it gets. We’re sure for many users, this will be totally fine, with either the option of a simple finger swipe, PIN code, password, pattern, or even that new shiny fingerprint match providing a way of unlocking the S5.
But if you want to launch an app from Samsung’s built-in lockscreen, well, too bloody bad, as that’s just not one of the things Samsung has catered for.
Camera access from the lockscreen? No way, even if Apple, HTC, and Sony all cater for it.
There is a fix, though, and that comes from a lockscreen replacement.
WidgetLocker Lockscreen is one of the most popular ones, but it can be a little finicky to setup, so we’d recommend Cover, a beta lockscreen that offers you multiple apps to launch from the lockscreen, and even learns from you, working out when to provide your favourite apps based on how you use your device.
Beyond these two, you’ll find plenty of other lockscreen replacements, with many emulating the way iOS work, while others pretend to be from other operating systems.
Like homescreen replacements, there are many to test, and we’re just listing our favourites, but feel free to search “lockscreen” or “lock screen” on Google Play to see what you can use, and once you’ve found the one you like, keep that and uninstall the rest.
One of the better lockscreens out there, Cover lets you load up the most used app shortcuts on your lockscreen dependent on where you are at the time.
Cover will even take your home and work address into consideration, working out what to offer based on your location, which makes it a little bit more useful than Samsung’s basic unlock, which doesn’t offer much more than unlocking your phone to whatever screen it was locked on in the first place.
Silence the camera
Another one that Samsung refuses to change, the camera on the S5 is — like its brothers — very noisy. What do we mean by that? Well, good luck firing a shot with a silent shutter.
We’ve heard a few reasons why Samsung does this, and while none are official, the consensus seems to sit around that this is a legal requirement, due to the people out there rude enough to be taking pictures without telling people, in ways one might view as perverse, with a sound being the requirement.
Honestly, this isn’t something we’ve seen confirmed, but there are ways to shut the camera app, with the obvious one coming from a replacement camera.
Price: Free, but it does show ads
Proof that the S5 camera can be used without making a peep, Silent Camera will make it happen. The controls aren’t as good as what Samsung offers, and occasionally it crashes, but hey, this is one camera that will shut up.
Price: Around $3
Silent mode isn’t switched on until you go into settings and do it yourself, but once again, silence is possible from the camera, and this one is built the way Google imagined a camera to work in the previous version of Android. A newer version is possible from Camera KK, which has been inspired from KitKat, but this will cost you a little more.
Price: Around $5
A more complicated camera for people who like more control, we also found that on the Galaxy S5, this one won’t make a sound. We’re particularly happy that FV-5 also offers a lot of choice and control from its interpretation of how a camera app should work, so that’s awesome too!
Gallery lag and image rotation
Sigh. We’re honestly over this bug, which Samsung has never totally fixed, and tends to pop up when you have a few networked galleries.
The issue is this: when opening Samsung’s gallery app on the Galaxy phones, it takes minutes — not seconds, but rather a minute or more — to let you access your pictures. There have been times where we’ve given up, actually, when the gallery refused to load, and the interface would look broken, as if parts of it were running, but doing nothing.
We have no official reason why this happens, but our research seems to suggest it comes from loading from multiple gallery sources, such as Dropbox, Flickr, Picasa, and so on, with TouchWiz’s gallery seemingly having issues with this.
This seems to produce lag, and lots of it, slowing the gallery down and making it hard to view your files.
Unfortunately, the S5 still has this issue, and while the innards of this new phone seem to have sped everything up, dropping our minutes down to ten or twenty seconds, it’s still an annoying bug, and one that we wouldn’t be surprised to see go beyond the borders of Australia.
The other gallery bug that’s more than just an annoyance now is the automatic rotation, or the lack of one on Samsung phones. This rears its head whenever you rotate the phone to view a landscape image, and unfortunately, the picture won’t follow you, forcing you to press a button that rotates the image to match the view.
It’s weird, because the button only lights up for use when the accelerometer picks up that you’re rotating the phone, so why doesn’t the image just rotate regardless? We’re betting this has something to do with the lawsuits between Apple and Samsung, but other manufacturers don’t have this problem, so it’s still annoying.
Fortunately, there’s a fix for both of these issues, and that is to replace the gallery.
Now unlike the camera, launcher, and lockscreen, there are less gallery replacements on offer, so our choice is one of the only options out there, but it manages to replicate the gallery and make it the way Google wanted it to be.
Price: Free with ads, $1 to remove ads
Your online galleries won’t load, but everything else will with this one, and images will even rotate automatically for you when you change the orientation of the phone. Gallery KK also brings in easy editing tools, such as colour filtration and Instagram-like effects, as well as cropping, frames, and more processing options.
Anything else you come across
We’ve only had the S5 for a few days, and these are the issues we’ve come across that have fixes, but nearly everything that has a problem tends to be a result of the software, not the hardware.
That’s a good thing because it means not just that Samsung did a great job with the hardware — it usually does — but also that the bits of software you may be struggling with are easily fixed.
And that’s the thing about Android: it’s a fairly modular operating system, and if you don’t like an aspect of the software — default camera, default web browser, default phone dialer, default keyboard, default messaging app, default homescreen, and default anything else — you can replace it.
Android 4.4 “KitKat” seems to make this easier, and in the settings page of the Samsung Galaxy S5, you’ll even find a section specifically for “Default Applications” which will let you change these quickly, provided you have something installed.
So if you don’t like the Samsung’s choice of keyboard, grab something else from Google’s Play Store and change it. And if you don’t like the camera, change that too. And if you find anything else that you don’t like, don’t feel obligated to keep it there. Rather, search for a replacement in the Google Play Store, because it’s your phone, and it’s totally your right to make it work the way you want to.