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Samsung packs a ton of new features into 'TouchWiz Nature UX' on Android 4.0 for the Galaxy S III

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Along with the next Galaxy, Samsung is touting some software improvements on top of Android 4.0. While the previous version of TouchWiz on Ice Cream Sandwich represented minor iterations over how it worked on Gingerbread, this new version seems to be better thought-out with regard to how ICS actually operates.

galaxy s iii camera face detect
galaxy s iii camera face detect

Along with the Galaxy S III announcement, Samsung is touting some software improvements on top of Android 4.0. While the previous version of TouchWiz on Ice Cream Sandwich represented minor iterations over how it worked on Gingerbread, this new take on an Android skin seems to be a little better integrated with ICS. Samsung calls the new version the "TouchWiz Nature UX," saying it's been inspired by nature. We're not sure exactly how, but if "Nature" is "a crazy large set of features," then Samsung nailed it.

Samsung has added crazy new natural interaction features like Smart Stay and S Voice, plus a "pop-up video" feature that allows you to view a video while doing other tasks. Smart Stay keeps the screen on when you're looking at the phone, so it won't just time out and turn off. There's also a Siri-like voice recognition feature, which allows you to launch apps and check information. When typing a text message, you can just lift the phone up to your ear to call that person.

In addition to those headline features, Samsung has added a slew of other bits to Android to enhance the experience. The first is "S Beam," which is built on top of the existing Android Beam NFC file sharing feature in Android 4.0. Samsung's additions allow a 1GB movie to shared within 3 minutes or a 10MB music file to share in two seconds between two Galaxy S III phones — all without Wi-Fi or cell signal. It uses Wi-Fi direct to share files and NFC to pair, so Samsung claims it's the fastest on a phone.

Samsung also uses Wi-Fi Direct in its AllShare feature, adding a bunch of sub-features like "AllShare Cast" for streaming video, "AllShare Play" for sharing files, and a "Group Cast" feature for sharing screens with multiple other devices on the same Wi-Fi network. There's also "Buddy Photo Share" for sharing photos directly to te people whose faces it's recognized after you take the shot, automatically. Samsung promises to release an SDK to application developers so they can plug into its AllShare ecosystem.

There's bevy of enhancements to the photo experience like "Social Tag," "Group Tag," "Face Slide Show.". The facial recognition feature on the Galaxy S III is connected to your social networks, so you can tap on a face and go directly to that user's profile. For photos, there's "intelligent camera" feature for getting pictures captured instantly with zero shutter lag.

Samsung says it takes less than 1 second to open the camera app. Shutter shot speed is as fast as 3.3 frames per second. Samsung also added a new feature called "Best Photo" which will automatically pick the "best" photo out of a burst of eight shots (HTC's version of this feature, by the way, picks the best out of 20).

More basic interactions have been updated as well. Samsung has taken the "Tap to top" feature form the iPhone and added it in, for quickly scrolling to the top of a list. There's also quicker camera access, for jumping directly into the app. For missed calls, Samsung added a Smart Alert feature which will point out any messages you may have from that caller more prominently. For during calls, there's an "in-call sound equalizer" (technically a hardware feature) that will optimize sound. For data, there's Wi-Fi channel bonding which should faster Wi-Fi access.

Samsung updated its Music Hub app with a scan and match feature for music in the cloud, supporting a library of 17 million songs. In your car, it's built-in support for Drive Link to mirror the phone to an in-dash head unit. It's even included a personal health app called S Health that's been customized for the Galaxy S III.

In all, it's a really large set of features in a wide variety of areas, and we suppose it means we shouldn't be calling TouchWiz a "skin" anymore. It's a different look and feel from stock Android, yes, but it's also just a gigantic set of features that are really clever but don't feel absolutely game-changing or essential. We'll have to wait until May 29th (the European launch date) to see if users will actually be able to discover and use all of this.