Samsung is offering Galaxy S23 series fans a chance to try out its next One UI 6 in a public beta program, confirming news that seemed to have been posted accidentally a few days ago. While a beta can be risky to use on a phone you rely on heavily, a public beta is often reliable enough that it won't leave you stranded or delete your photo library (backup everything, of course).
Samsung's next version of One UI will be based on Android 14, and Google already has a public beta of its next Android update, but it frankly seemed less inspiring than what Samsung is previewing for Galaxy S23 users. The details in the Samsung news seem minor, but looking at the scant visuals they provide and reading between the lines, it's clear that this is going to be a big update for One UI.
The Quick Panel, a major part of the Android system, has a greatly improved look and new behaviors in One UI 6 Beta. The buttons look smoother, and it takes less swipes to see all of them, if you so choose. The brightness slider is now always visible in the Quick Panel.
Nothing major, but if you follow Samsung, you notice constant iteration and improvement at both the macro and micro levels.
There is a new default system font, and new emojis as well. Samsung is promising a lot more personalization and enhanced aesthetics, which is good to see, as One UI has been lagging a bit behind Google's own version of Android that it ships on Pixel devices like the Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel Tablet. Samsung phones are packed with features, but design has never been a strength.
There will also be a new custom camera widget that will let you set a preset mode as well as a destination for those photos. So I can set a widget to jump into the Food mode, then save all of my savory photos of baked goods in a separate folder, ready for Instagram.
Samsung will also offer customized lock screens according to specific Modes and Routines, so you can have a very dark star scene, for instance, in theater mode to keep disruption to a minimum.
Analysis: Samsung's Android is more exciting than Google's Android
It's been kind of a bland year in phone hardware, so it's good to get more excitement on the software side. Perhaps that's not a coincidence. While the iPhone hasn't seen a major hardware change in a long while, and this year's Galaxy S23 looks a lot like last year's Galaxy S22, the look and feel of those phones is going to get a lot better in the next few months.
Apple has been previewing iOS 17 in a public beta, and it's a lot of fun. There are tons of new features to try, and most of them require other people with iPhones who want to join in. You'll share your new Contact Poster, and use SharePlay to synchronize a music playlist between multiple iPhones.
Samsung, on the other hand, looks to be giving its user interface a much-needed modernization. Samsung software tends to improve in creeps not leaps, so a major design change is a big deal for Samsung fans.
That leaves Google. Google's Android 14 is going to give us, um, better lockscreens? Also emoji wallpapers, live wallpapers, and wallpapers made by AI. Plus, Google is trying to catch up to Apple's AirTag with better Find My support for devices across the board.
None of this sounds major. None of this sounds like more than you'd get from some app updates, let alone a major OS upgrade. Remember, every manufacturer tags your device with a lifespan rated in the number of OS upgrades you'll get. Google can't squander them. Most only get three, or less! They need to all be great.
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Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.
Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.