The Galaxy S4 runs custom Samsung software based on Google's Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) operating system. Samsung has taken its typical "more is more" approach with the OS, trading the subdued visuals of Google's user interface for a loud and often gaudy mix of inconsistent colors and clashing elements.
Many of Samsung's UI changes are arbitrary -- swapping out a tastefully designed Android icon for a cartoony alternative or reskinning the Calendar app with tacky-looking colors -- and design deterioration aside, some of the company's modifications actually make the system less intuitive to use.
For example, on a stock Android device, you can create a folder on the home screen by simply dragging one icon on top of another. You can then remove the folder by dragging all of the icons out of it and back onto the home screen. Samsung has added extra steps into the creation process, requiring you to first drag an icon up to a "Create Folder" command, then name the folder, and then go back and drag a second icon on top of it. And easily removing a folder after you've created it? Fuhgeddaboutit.
Samsung has also tweaked the Android 4.2 lock screen widget feature with negative results. The company has effectively hidden the feature; instead of being able to swipe over on your home screen to add a widget, you first have to find and activate an option buried within the system settings to enable it. Worse yet, Samsung has made the feature completely unavailable if you use a pattern, PIN or any other level of security on your device. This is a shame, because there are plenty of lock screen widgets that enhance the user experience without compromising security -- and Galaxy S4 users who keep their devices protected won't be able to take advantage of them.
The list of changes that unnecessarily complicate things goes on and on. In the main system settings, Samsung has split things up into four categorized tabs: Connections, My Device, Accounts and More. The idea seems sensible enough in theory, but in practice, it ends up making it more difficult to find what you need. Want info about your phone's battery? Don't look under My Device; it's located under More. The same applies for the app manager and security options. Instead of scrolling through a single list to find what you want, you now have to scroll haphazardly through four.
Then there's the company's take on the Android 4.2-level Quick Settings panel: While stock Android software uses that space to provide you with quick access to commonly used commands, Samsung crams in four full rows of tiny, brightly colored buttons for every function you could imagine -- including toggles you likely won't need with any regularity, like screen mirroring, S Beam, NFC and Air Gesture.