For years, as fans of Android smartphones, we’ve loved and maybe hated the visual differences between each manufacturer’s user interface (UI) or skin. Although Google develops Android, what consumers see in Pixel phones is something else entirely. With Android 12 and the Pixel 6 series, Google gave us the Material You skin. Samsung also has its own skin, and with the latest version of Android, it reached One UI 4.1.
Google made a significant change to its design language with Material You and it has been mostly well received. On the other hand, Samsung stayed true to its UI style by making very few changes to One UI 4.1 from the design language it started in 2018. The decision to stick with what works isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is coming. four years old, and Google’s new Material You is helping One UI show its age.
Setting the stage for my comparison here, I use the Pixel 6 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 to report my opinions. That said, my Z Fold 3 has not yet been updated to the new One UI 4.1. While there are some minor visual differences, they won’t affect the points I’ll mention below. Here are four ways the Pixel’s UI is better than Samsung’s.
Overall, Material You feels cooler
When the Pixel 6 series running Android 12 finally launched last October, it introduced a whole new feel to Google’s UI. Before the latest version of Android, the user interface was simply known as Material Design, and the addition of You makes all the difference. Given that One UI has remained basically the same since 2018, with only minor visual changes since then, it’s no wonder Google’s new Material You feels fresher.
While Samsung has long been one of the best Android phone makers, its user interface wasn’t always popular. The move to One UI was a big one and overall a great choice. The skin is starting to show its age though and that could be in part because Samsung found one that worked after years of being skewered because it used to be so bad.
Material You has taken on the idea that bigger is better for much of the user interface. The notification shade quick changes are oblong circles in two columns of the three columns of circles, similar to the current One UI in previous versions of Android. Samsung adopted much of the Material You color palette, which is a more muted pastel instead of the bolder colors used before. However, with Samsung, the palette change had much less of an impact.
When I asked Jitesh Ubrani, research manager at IDC’s global device tracker, why Google made such a big change to the Pixel UI, he told me, “In many ways, the Pixel 6 series is a rebirth of the Pixel line, and what better way to get consumers to notice it than by offering a completely new and highly customizable user interface to go along with it.”
Explaining a feeling can be difficult, but when using Android 12 on a Pixel, it feels new. The move to Android 12 for Google shows a major change in UI design, and perhaps that’s part of what makes it feel fresher. Because even though Samsung picked up the new version of Android, its skin, One UI, still feels outdated.
Material You feel more comfortable
When something is personable, it’s not about displaying personal information or how it looks on you physically. It’s about being approachable or even comforting. By making the elements within the Pixel Material You theme larger overall, it makes the interface feel easier and less complex to use. If you think of one thing iOS users say about Apple’s user interface, it’s that iPhones are easier to use.
When I asked what the benefits of the Pixel UI were compared to what Samsung has in One UI, Ubrani said, “Pixel seems to have a simpler interface and often puts Google Assistant front and rear. center, allowing Pixel phones to do things others can’t.
While some smartphone users prefer a more compact layout that displays more app icons and toggles, many find it overwhelming. Google went so far as to introduce a new system font that’s a bit bolder to make text easier to read throughout the interface. Buttons within Google apps that sport the new Material You theme, navigation pitch quick changes, and even the settings menu have larger icons, touchpoints, and fonts, for better overall usability.
Android 12 and Material You on a Pixel adapt to make the phone more, well, you. As Google would have you believe, the new user interface looks nicer due to the inclusion of the important You in Material You. This is mainly due to how the interface is designed around how you use your Pixel. This includes your interactions with Google Assistant, the apps you use frequently, the wallpaper you set, and more.
Yes, some of these features are in One user interface or something similar, but the way the interface displays the information and how it is displayed is a bit sterile.
In Google’s UI design overhaul with Android 12, it tried to improve the widgets, and while there was nothing inherently wrong before, the changes are nice. Let’s say there was one area of using widgets on a Pixel device that wasn’t great before: it was the flexibility to resize them. With Material You, not only was this improved, but Google added some really unique features.
When choosing a widget for your home screen, there will be some numbers that indicate the original size of the widget: 2×3, 4×1, 2×2, etc. That size is maintained if you place it on a blank home page. The great thing about Pixel Material You is that if you already have other widgets or apps on your home screen, it will automatically resize the widget if possible.
Let’s start with dynamic colors. Part of Material You is that the system will interpret colors from your phone’s wallpaper and provide options to set the system colors to match through a few color palettes. Those colors extend to widgets as well. When you place a widget on your home screen, the colors within it will change depending on where it is placed and the colors of the background.
Lastly, this might seem like a finicky sort of thing and not necessarily new to Material You, but the Pixel’s vertically scrolling app drawer is much better than what Samsung forces on users. Side-by-side paginated styling in One UI is just not good to use.
Yeah, I know a vertical scrolling app drawer isn’t unique to Pixel devices, but when I pick up my Pixel 6 Pro and Galaxy Z Fold 3, the last thing I want to do is swipe multiple times to get to the app I want. . . Sure, in both user interfaces there is the option to search within the app drawer. However, when you don’t have both hands free or can’t shuffle your phone in your hand so you can start typing, you don’t want to have to swipe to find your app.
If I need to open an app that I might not use so often that it needs to reside on my home screen, I want to be able to access it in my app drawer quickly and, with a flick of my finger, fly. through 100 apps or 20 apps and stop right where I need so I can open the app I need. Quick, easy, ready.
I’m sorry if this bothers some of you, but it’s true. I say this lightheartedly because I’m all for everyone having a choice and using what they like, and that extends to their app drawer style preference. Personally, I would like every user interface to offer both options.
The best feature of Android is the choice
Although many older phones will be updated to Android 12 and new ones that will be released in the future will certainly do so, we will not see the version of the Pixel operating system on them. However, this doesn’t mean that some OEMs won’t build the Material You feel into their devices. Ubrani said: “Smaller brands like Nokia, Moto and maybe OnePlus have had success offering a Pixel or Android-like UI out of the box, and again that strategy has worked well for them. That’s probably why OnePlus recently said that it would once again try to appeal to long-time users with the next OxygenOS.”
Do not misunderstand. Material You isn’t perfect, and Samsung’s One UI 4.1 isn’t terrible. In fact, I find things I love and hate about both interfaces, and isn’t that what we love about Android? The ability to use various devices from different manufacturers, each with the opportunity to find what you like – choice. So whether you’re Team Pixel or Team Samsung, we’re all Team Android.
Google Pixel 6
The Google Pixel 6 brings even more impressive photography skills than before, with the help of new sensors and Google’s own Tensor Chip processor, and making it all feel effortlessly yours is the Material You UI.