Back to Basics: Android skins explained

by: Adam KoueiderJune 19, 2013

Android Authority Back to Basics

This week’s edition is all about the skins that go on top of your Android device. If you missed last week’s article about Android versions, you can check it out by clicking here. Let’s first start by explaining what a skin is.

A skin is an overlay which runs on top of your Android device. Each manufacturer makes its own respective skin which adds features, or changes the appearance of your Android device. The reason manufacturers do this is to differentiate themselves from other device makers, and also to put their own services and apps, in addition to the regular Google apps.

Today we’ll be explaining the main features of the most popular skins. These include the two latest versions of TouchWiz, which are made by Samsung, the two latest versions of Sense, which are made by HTC, LG’s Optimus UI, Sony’s Xperia UI, and Huawei’s Emotion UI. We’ll also look at stock Android, just so we know what we compare to.

TouchWiz Nature UX 1.0 (On top of Android 4.0/Android 4.1) – Made by Samsung

First seen on the Samsung Galaxy S3 in 2012, this skin is designed to mimic nature. From the wallpaper, to the lock screen and even to the notification sounds, the whole UI is centered around nature. In fact the tagline for the Galaxy S3 is “Designed for humans, inspired by nature”.

TouchWiz is known for its feature rich and colorful user interface, but is sometimes criticised for its software slowing down the system and the fact that some features do not work as well as advertised. It also adds several Samsung apps like Music Hub, Samsung Apps, S Voice, S Memo and S Planner (See gallery below for the full list).

Some of the features that come with TouchWiz Nature UX are:

  • Smart stay: This feature tracks your eyes to keep the screen lit when you are looking at it.
  • Multiview: Multiview allows you to open two apps simultaneously on the screen, however it is only available on Samsung’s high-end devices. (See gallery below)
  • Pop up Play: Pop up Play gives you the ability to play a movie or video on top of whatever you are doing.
  • S-Beam: S-Beam allows you to share videos, music, photos or contacts, with other Samsung Galaxy S3’s, or Note 2’s.
  • Burst photo: Burst photo shot takes 20 pictures in quick succession, perfect for taking photos of diving at the pools.
  • S Voice: S Voice is Samsung’s answer to Siri. It is an assistant which can change settings and answer question
  • Direct Call: Direct call is a feature which automatically calls the person you are texting when you lift your phone to your head.
  • Air View (Only available on the Note range): Air View previews your photos or messages when you hover the S Pen over your gallery or messages.

Popular devices that run TouchWiz Nature UX 1.0: Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, Samsung Galaxy S3 mini, Samsung Galaxy Ace 2, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0 (On top of Android 4.2) – Made by Samsung

TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0 continues upon the basis laid by TouchWiz Nature UX 1.0, and was first seen on the Samsung Galaxy S4. Most of the design remained the same, however the lock screen and settings app were slightly tweaked, as well as well as some new features being added (see gallery below).

This version of TouchWiz was considered a refinement over previous versions, however it was still criticized for slowing down the system.

Some features that come with TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0 are:

  • Smart Pause and Smart Scroll: Smart Pause tracks your eyes so that when you look away it will pause the video that you are watching making sure you never miss a moment of your favourite videos. Smart Scroll allows you to scroll using only your eyes and also works by tracking your eyes.
  • Air View and Air Gestures (Only available on devices which support this feature): Air View is an extension of the feature seen on the Note range. However, it now works with just your fingers, allowing you to preview photos or emails, and even speed dial. Air Gestures allow you to answer your phone, scroll in the browser or gallery and change music.
  • S Translator: This feature allows you to type or dictate what you’d like to say and then it will read back the translation in the language of your choice, and it can also translate what others say to you. The feature currently supports the languages Portuguese, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish.
  • S Health: S Health monitors your daily calorie intake, weight and workouts, it can track your daily incidental exercise with the built-in pedometer (only available on devices with built-in pedometer). It can also be synced with accessories like a heart rate monitor and a body scale.
  • Dual Camera: Dual camera allows the user to take pictures or videos with both the subject and the photographer in the shot.

Popular devices that run TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0: Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy Mega 5.8, Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3, Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, Samsung Galaxy S4 Active.

Sense 4 (On top of Android 4.0/4.1) – Made by HTC

HTC’s Sense UI is very different to Samsung’s approach at skins. While Samsung tries to add as many features as possible HTC attempts to create a great user experience without adding many features. It’s a different approach, but if you wouldn’t use any of the features on TouchWiz anyways then there is nothing to worry about.

The unlocking ring from yesteryear is still there, and the famous HTC Sense clock remains, but the whole design overall was simplified to become more attractive, and the over the top 3D animations which plagued older versions were reduced.

Overall the newer version provided a lighter, snappier experience, however some people criticized it for the way it strayed from stock Android, especially in multitasking.


Popular devices running HTC Sense 4: HTC One X, HTC One X+, HTC Droid DNA, HTC One S, HTC Desire X.

  • SeraZR™

    Stock FTW! :D :D :D

  • Mvrcel Lgt

    I provide a list of launchers in the market in “some app-finding app” which tells me: LOADS of people must use launchers on top of their default UI since there are soo freaking many different launchers + so many look-alikes.

    I personally go for stock-android + Launcher since i love to decide whatever i want on my phone without the bloatware. Nearly every software provided by companies which they say is an “extra” to their UI can be found in the play store. So it’s an easy choice: pick whatever phone you like -> get rid of all bloatware (root) -> make it look like YOU want it -> happiness

  • MasterMuffin

    Skin was needed back in Froyo days because admit it, Android was ugly! Now it’s not so needed anymore because Android has grown to a beautiful Os, but it’s still a nice way of making your phone stand out UNLESS it’s over bloated like that Emotion UI. TW could also loose some of its features (read: pointless gimmicky poop :D)

  • Bone

    Does anyone know how to uninstall McAfee AntiVirus?

    • YoungHermit

      Settings—>Apps…Search for McAfee and select it—–> Uninstall App

  • ani

    I still think touchwiz is an amazing skin scoring well beyond the rest.. with true multitask like property that I use almost all the time.. I guess the person who wrote this article hates samsung but I personally feel touchwiz nature is one main reason why samsung phones are irresistible. .. and if ur phone has enough power for it then I dont think its a crime to have touch wiz..

    • Adam Koueider

      I don’t hate Samsung, in fact all of those screenshots are from my very own Galaxy S3. A lot of skins have multitasking now, and it is a known fact that TouchWiz isn’t the fastest skin in the world. No doubt the features are good if you use them, but if you don’t then there is no use of them. Case in point the GS4 has half of its storage taken up by TouchWiz features.

  • Nanaoallen

    So skin is different from launchers? But launchers can change the “looks” and “feel” of your phone right? Sorry for asking this noob question…

    • Adam Koueider

      There are a few differences. Technically both change the look and feel of your device as they all start with stock Android.

      The difference here is that a launcher is an app usually found in the Play Store, which can change the look and functionality of your device. However, it simply runs on top of your skin or even stock Android and doesn’t remove it.

      A skin is something that comes pre-installed on your device which can not be easily removed (it’s possible through a root and custom ROM approach).

      In short if you buy, say, a TouchWiz phone and don’t like the look of the skin, then you can chuck on a launcher and change the look, however TouchWiz is still there and the apps Samsung puts on it are still there.

      Hope this helped.

  • Chino Kairo Serrano

    I want my Galaxy S3 to run the stock android interface but I don’t wanna lose some of the features that Touchwiz brought. (eg. Camera Features.) Can I do that? Touchwiz seems so laggy.

    • Adam Koueider

      There are ways, for example you could use a launcher and that won’t get rid of the features, but will make it look like Stock Android. Otherwise you could root your device and put a custom ROM on it, however you will lose the TouchWiz features.

      If you’d like to learn how to make your device appear like stock Android, but don’t want to root your device, check out this article:

      Hope this helped!