The Galaxy S and Galaxy Note are some of the best Android phones available right now. But TouchWiz has a bad rep for being ugly and “bulky” (especially with Android elitists). If this is the only thing holding you back from giving one of these otherwise excellent phones a shot, we’ve got you covered. It’s actually pretty easy to get a near-stock experience on most Samsung phones—you’ll just need to download and tweak a few things.
You could, of course, just flash a stock-based ROM to your phone, but that requires the hassle of unlocking and flashing a custom recovery–plus you’d miss out on a few nice features like Samsung’s great camera app. These tweaks will take you most of the way there, with a lot less work.
Change Your Launcher
This is one of the biggest changes you can make to get a stock-like experience from your Galaxy phone, but it’s also one of the simplest. Using a different home screen launcher will not only immediately make your phone look more like a stock device, but it will also make it react more like one, at least on the home screens.
For the launcher there are really two good options out there: Google Now Launcher and Nova Launcher. The Google Now Launcher is the Google’s own official launcher that ships with all Nexus devices, but it’s also pretty bare bones compared to Nova. Basically, if you want more of a Nexus-like experience, go with the Google Now Launcher, but if you want to further customize the home screen, Nova is the better choice. It still looks stock, which is the ultimate goal here anyway.
One of the primary benefits of Nova is that it supports icon packs. While the Google Now Launcher will give you a stock experience, you’ll still have to look at Samsung’s icons. Nova has a built-in pack that installs with the launcher that allows you to change the icons to the stock Android 6.0 pack, giving the overall look of a stock device. Clean.
Get a Stock-Like Theme
One thing Samsung has going for it is the option to theme the entire system—things that are generally untouchable without extensive modding on other phones are pretty easy to change on compatible phones (S6 and Note 5 series and later) thanks to Samsung’s theme library.
To give your handset a more stock Android feel, there are various “stock,” “Pixel,” and “Material Design” themes in the theme store. If you’ve never explored this option before, just head into the Settings menu, scroll down to “Themes,” then tap the “More Themes” button. On S8 and later phones, tap the “Samsung Themes” app in the launcher.
From there, just search for “Material Design” (More > Search), and various free and paid options should accommodate you. Once downloaded, just apply that to give the Quick Settings panel, Settings menu, dialer, and others a full Material makeover.
Alternatively, you can install Samsung’s Good Lock, which doesn’t look quite as much like stock Android, but acts a little more like stock Android. Unfortunately, the system theme doesn’t apply to Good Lock’s Quick Settings panel, so you’ll be stuck with an off color scheme. Basically, Good Lock will give you a more stock-like functionality and layout, but less of the look. Silly, I know.
Really, the main reason to install Good Lock is for the Quick Settings layout, which is nearly identical to stock Android phones. If you’d prefer to keep the Material Theme and the Samsung Quick Settings panel, however, that’s fine too. You can read more about Good Locks’ other useful features in this post.
Try Substratum Themes on the Play Store
Alternatively, there’s a new and more advanced theme engine on the market: Substratum. It’s designed to work with a series of installed apps that modify the look of a phone’s core systems without using root. The $2 paid add-on, “Sungstratum” (get it?), enables the system to work with Samsung’s more customized ROMs.
Search for Samsung-compatible Substratum themes on the Play Store, and you’ll find plenty that can be applied to Android Nougat-based systems. This is especially handy for Galaxy S8 and Note 8 phones, since Substratum themes support changes to the software navigation buttons and other elements that Samsung’s built-in theme engine doesn’t touch.
I recommend the Status Bar Icons for Samsung Substratum theme. It includes AOSP and “Pixel-style” options for the notification bar icons and the navigation bar.
Switch to Google’s Official Apps
Samsung includes a slew of its own apps on the Galaxy series, most of which are more complicated (and ugly) than their Google-specific counterparts. Fortunately, Google has released most of its stock apps to the Play Store, so it’s super easy to switch over. Here’s a quick list of the ones you’ll probably want to grab:
- Calendar (S Planner)
- Clock (Clock)
- Messenger (Messages)
- Keyboard (Keyboard)
- Photos (Gallery)
- Android Pay (Samsung Pay)
- Google Fit (S Health)
The only other Google App worth mentioning that you can install is the Camera. This is the one and only time I will say this: stick with the Samsung offering. My S7’s camera is excellent, and the included camera app is really nice, especially for advanced shooting. You can give Google’s Camera a shot, but you’ll likely find it much more lightweight and basic by comparison.
Once you’ve installed all the Google apps, you can even hide the Samsung apps from your app drawer with the aforementioned Nova Launcher, to reduce clutter.
There are a lot of other little things you can do to make the phone look and feel more like stock, too. Here’s a short list of some of the tweaks I’ve used, as well as what they do:
- Battery Percent Enabler: Samsung includes a way to show the battery percent in the status bar, but that puts the number beside the battery. In the System UI Tuner on stock phones, there’s an option to put the percent inside the battery. That’s what this app does. It’s cleaner. (Note: this doesn’t appear to work with S8 and Note 8 phones.)
- All in one Gestures: The Galaxy phones have the back and recents buttons swapped around from the stock Android layout, which can be extremely annoying. All in one Gestures lets you switch the function of these buttons (without root!)—just keep in mind that they’ll still look the same.
- Galaxy Button Lights: Remember that time I showed you how to switch the buttons on your Galaxy phone, but warned you that they’d still look the same? (You know, two sentences ago?) Here’s the good news: you can use Galaxy Button Lights to disable the button backlights. That means they’re basically invisible, so you don’t have to actually look at them. You know where they are and what they do, which is all that really matters.
- Better Open With: If you hate Samsung’s “Open with” dialog, which doesn’t give the option of using an app once and automatically sets it as the default, you’ll want to use this app. It basically mimics stock Android’s open dialog, giving you the choice of setting an app as default or just opening it once.
- SystemUI Tuner: Samsung hides Android’s new SystemUI tuner, which allows users to adjust which icons are shown in the notification bar. This app brings those options back in, no root required.
Getting over that “but it doesn’t look like stock Android!” hump can be tough. Many die-hard Android users live and die by stock phones, and the look is a huge part of that. Unfortunately, that also makes many users ignore what could potentially be an amazing phone, all because the look isn’t what they’re used to. But with a few tweaks here and there, getting a more stock look and feel out of the Galaxy phones is simple. You’re welcome.