What is One UI? The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide 
One UI is Samsung’s custom Android skin and – thanks to lots of R&D and spending – it is easily one of the best on the market. Here’s everything you need to know about One UI on Samsung phones.
SHORT ANSWER: Samsung One UI, succeeding TouchWiz and Samsung Experience, is the company’s custom Android interface designed to improve user experience. It aims for intuitive, one-handed usability, especially on large-screen devices, ensuring comfortable navigation for users.
Samsung One UI is perhaps the most well known Android skin on the market. Samsung is the number two phone brand in the world, so tens of millions of people interact with One UI every day.
Regardless of the Samsung phone you’re running, you’ll be rocking its One UI – unless it’s a REALLY old phone.
There are different versions of One UI, of course, depending on what version of Android you’re running.
But One UI is the software that Samsung phones (and tablets) run atop Android. It’s what makes them Samsung phones, really – underneath, its just Google’s Android OS. Skins are used by Android phone makers to make their phones unique.
Let’s dive in and find out..
What is Samsung One UI?
Samsung One UI is the South Korean tech giant’s custom Android skin, introduced as a replacement for its predecessors: TouchWiz and Samsung Experience.
The core idea behind One UI is simple: enhance user experience by making it more intuitive and tailored for one-handed use. Especially for those large screen devices, Samsung ensures that users can navigate comfortably.
And here’s the skinny from Samsung, back when it first announced One UI:
With a clean and easy-to-use interface, users will have minimized pop-ups, embedded loading indicators and will only be shown the buttons they need. The new One UI features a streamlined design where notifications take up less space, so users are kept up-to-date while being able to focus on the task at hand. You stay focused while enjoying your favorite content in full screen and never miss any essential information.
A new, smarter layout with animated icons and improved edge lighting provide a visually comfortable experience. An enhanced Dark Mode helps users at night by reducing the display brightness while viewing content while also providing battery saving benefits.
But before we dive deep, let’s journey through Samsung’s software evolution.
Tracing Back: From TouchWiz to Samsung Experience
Back in the days, if you had a Samsung device, you were likely familiar with TouchWiz, the early Samsung software. It was Samsung’s first attempt at creating a unique identity in the Android ecosystem.
Over time, the company refined this software, leading to the Samsung Experience. With the introduction of the Galaxy S8, users were introduced to a software overhaul, a middle ground between TouchWiz and what would soon become One UI.
Back around this time, Samsung took a lot of flack from users and critics alike for packing its phones with bloatware.
Plenty of users, myself included, weren’t too happy with the state of Samsung’s UX design or its usability. Google’s “stock Android” which it used on its Nexus phones was lighter and less intrusive (it also had zero bloatware).
Meanwhile, Apple’s iPhone, with its sleek and minimalist iOS platform, was growing in popularity and brands like Samsung and HTC were losing users hand over foot to Steve Jobs’ Apple.
With specs and hardware, Samsung phones were always brilliant, matching and (in most cases) running rings around Apple’s iPhone. Android phones – even back then – could do more, had more features, and were infinitely more customizable than iPhones.
But Samsung’s software, both TouchWiz and Samsung Experience, left quite a lot to be desired. Neither had the finesse or poise of iOS or stock Android, and Samsung knew it.
And this, ladies and gentleman, is how One UI came to be: Samsung knew it was going to be a contender in the market, a dominate one, and it knew a cohesive, engaging UX design for its phones was key to taking on Apple and its other Android-powered rivals.
Enter One UI: When Things Started Getting Better
Fast-forward to 2018, and Samsung flips the script with One UI. A design philosophy that wasn’t just about looks, but function. Designed with one hand in mind, it highlighted Samsung’s new approach to its phones’ UX design: user friendliness, aesthetic looks, and lots of useful features.
Basically, no fluff.
Of course, 2018 was many moons ago now. Back then, I was a mere pup, kid-free, without a care in the world. And like me, Samsung’s One UI has grown and matured to become one of the best Android skins on the market.
But this didn’t happen overnight. Samsung has been through A LOT of versions of One UI over the years, culminating in its latest build of One UI, One UI 6.
Let’s now take a look back at all the versions of One UI and see what they added and how they improved the general experience of using a Samsung phone (or tablet).
The History of Samsung’s One UI – From One UI 1.0 to 6.0
One UI 1.0: Making Waves Right Off the Bat
Launching with Android 9 Pie, Samsung’s One UI 1.0 brought a fresh and user-centric design approach to the Galaxy devices. Here are some highlighted features and advancements made across the One UI 1.0, 1.1, and 1.5 versions:
One UI 1.0:
- Visual Overhaul: A substantial makeover which was lauded as the most significant revamp Samsung’s UI had seen in years.
- Detailed Dark Mode: Making viewing in darker spaces easier on the user’s eyes.
- Revamped Always-On Display & Gesture Controls: These features contributed to a more intuitive user interaction experience.
- Content and Settings Reorganization: Reorganizing content, settings, and other information to keep users focused on the task at hand.
One UI 1.1:
- Bixby Routines: This feature allows users to automate certain tasks on their phones through a simple if-this-then-that interface.
- Bixby Voice Activation via Power Button: Especially useful for devices that didn’t have a dedicated Bixby key.
- Google’s Digital Wellbeing Integration: Helps in setting limits on app usage and starts blocking notifications as bedtime approaches, also turns the screen to black and white to assist in reducing screen time before bed.
One UI 1.5:
- Enhanced Battery Power Mode: Introduced a high-performance mode for better system speed, albeit at the cost of some battery life.
- Native Screen Recorder: A welcomed feature for content creators and general users alike.
- Exclusive Early-Access Link to Windows Support: This feature was rolled out in cooperation with Microsoft, making the integration between the phone and Windows-operated devices smoother.
- Updates for Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Watch Active: One UI 1.5 also rolled out to smartwatches bringing many new features.
One UI 2.0: Upgrading the Game
With Android 10 as its foundation, Samsung’s One UI 2.0 and 2.5 brought a plethora of new and refined features to enhance user experience on Galaxy devices. Here’s a breakdown of the core and new features in these versions:
One UI 2.0:
- Native Screen Recorder: A full-featured screen recorder was introduced, allowing users to capture system audio, draw on the screen, and include front camera footage during recording.
- Quick Settings Changes: Adjustments to the Quick Settings panel improved information density and usability, including a ‘Quick panel layout’ option to toggle the media/devices panel and multi-SIM information.
- Enhanced Dark Mode: Building on the dark mode from One UI 1.0, the version integrated Android 10’s system-wide dark mode, extending dark mode support to many more apps.
- Navigation Gestures: Introduced new navigation gesture options in line with Android 10’s gestures, although support for third-party launchers wasn’t initially included.
- Incoming Call Display Options: Provided different display options for incoming calls such as full-screen alerts, pop-ups, or tiny floating pop-ups.
- Lockscreen Shortcuts: Allowed for toggling torch and activating ‘Do Not Disturb’ straight from the lockscreen shortcuts.
- One Hand Operation+: A significant update was made to this feature, offering extensive customization to gesture navigation.
One UI 2.5:
- Wireless DeX Support: This feature mirrors the phone screen to a supported TV and allows the phone to be used as a touchpad to control the TV.
- Enhanced Cinematic Video Recording: Pro video mode now supports cinematic frame rate of 24 fps across various resolutions and introduced a 21:9 aspect ratio for a more cinematic feel except in 720p video recording.
- Zoom Slider Control: A new zoom slider in Pro Video mode improves precision when adjusting zoom.
- Improved Microphone Control: New microphone controls in Pro Video mode allow for better audio capture management, even enabling the use of Galaxy Buds as a microphone.
- Android 10 Gesture Support with Third-Party Launchers: One UI 2.5 finally brought the ability to use Android 10 gestures with third-party home screen launchers without needing to force them using ADB.
- YouTube Link Sharing via Samsung Keyboard: Direct YouTube search and link sharing from the Samsung keyboard was introduced, enhancing the sharing experience.
One UI 3.0: Sleek, Streamlined, Superior
December 2020 gave us One UI 3.0, anchored in Android 11. A revamped notification panel, the content-rich Samsung Free, and spruced up animations? Just a few nuggets from this release, signaling Samsung’s obsession with form and function.
- Revamped Notification Panel:
- The Quick Settings and Notifications panel saw a major redesign, now featuring a semi-transparent blurred background that enhances the overall visual experience and highlights the quick setting buttons better.
- Adjustments include the relocation of Media and Devices options above the buttons, while the search, power button, settings, and more menu icons have been moved to the top right corner of the screen. Additionally, the date is now centered, and the edit button option has seen some changes.
- Enhanced Accessibility & UI Changes:
- Significant UI changes are noticeable across the Quick Settings panel, settings menu, app drawer, and other parts of the UI that enhance user accessibility.
- The lock screen now has a smoother fingerprint animation and a new lock icon, among other changes like a refined UI for the unlock method such as the PIN UI, which now comes with a dialer with round backgrounds. There are also new animations for the shortcuts on the left and the right side of the lock screen.
- Home Screen, App Drawer, Folders, Finder, and Recent Apps Revamp:
- Subtle yet impactful effect changes in the user interface improve user experience.
- A new transparent background similar to the notification background is now visible when opening the App Drawer and Recent Apps, aiding in better visibility of apps and the recent apps section.
- New functionality has been added to the finder, including displaying recent apps, suggests, files in storage, and recent searches in different cards.
- Samsung Free:
- Though not detailed in the sources, Samsung Free seems to be a notable feature providing content-rich offerings to users.
- Spruced Up Animations:
- While the specifics on animations weren’t provided, it’s clear that enhancements have been made to the UI animations, adding to the refined user experience.
- Improved settings menu with a cleaner interface and redesigned icons.
- Refined Volume Controls now appearing vertically with a transparent and blurred background.
- Enhanced Always on Display (AoD), FaceWidgets, Double Tap To Sleep functionality, and more.
One UI 4.0: User-Centric Customization
One UI 4.0, embedded with Android 12, indeed pushed the boundaries in terms of customization and user-centric enhancements. Following are the core and new features across One UI 4.0 and its subsequent iteration, One UI 4.1:
One UI 4.0:
- Customization: One UI 4.0’s primary focus was on customization to ensure a seamless experience across Samsung Galaxy devices, making everyday use more intuitive, convenient, secure, and simpler
- Rounded Widget Designs: Although specific details on rounded widget designs weren’t provided, this feature likely adds to the overall aesthetic and user-friendly nature of the interface.
- Enhanced Location Services: The update might have included improvements in location services for better accuracy and user control, however, detailed features weren’t available in the sources.
- User-Focused Tweaks: Various user-focused tweaks were introduced, although the exact specifics weren’t detailed in the sources.
One UI 4.1:
- Smart Widgets: One UI 4.1 introduced Smart Widgets, allowing users to stack up to 7 Smart Widgets (including third-party apps) which can be viewed by swiping to the left or right
- RAM Plus Improvements: One of the notable features is the enhanced RAM Plus feature, which manages the amount of virtual RAM in a device
- Improved Material You Colour Palette Picker: This feature likely allows for better color customization across the UI
- Camera Enhancements and New Editing Tools: Camera enhancements were mentioned, alongside new editing tools that probably provide users with better control over their photos and videos
- Advanced Audio Balance Controls: Enhancements in audio balance controls were made for better audio management
- Grammarly-Powered Keyboard, Smart Suggestions, Shadow and Reflection Erasers, Quick Share, Google Duo Live Sharing, Expert RAW, and more: These features aim at enhancing the user’s experience, from typing to sharing and editing.
One UI 5.0: The Android 13 Update
The recent launch of One UI 5.0, aligned with Android 13, has indeed set new benchmarks, enhancing user personalization and usability through various features and tweaks. Following is a detailed breakdown of features in One UI 5.0 and 5.1:
One UI 5.0:
- Deep Material You Integration:
- An improved dynamic theming engine akin to Android 13 on Google Pixel phones, extending color support and offering up to 16 preset color themes to better match user preferences
- Enhanced Widget Stacking:
- While specifics weren’t provided, this feature likely facilitates better organization and access to widgets.
- Evolved Theming Engine:
- Although detailed specifics weren’t provided, the enhanced theming engine likely offers more customization and improved aesthetics.
- Multi-tasking Enhancements:
- Significant improvements in multitasking features, such as refined resizing of the pop-up view, enhancing user control over window sizing during multitasking operations
- Other Notable Features:
- No significant UI overhaul, but the inclusion of several new features like lock screen customization, taking a cue from iOS 16, which makes customizing the lock screen easier than ever
One UI 5.1:
- Smarter Gallery:
- Features like a shared family album, album customization, enhanced remastering for photo quality improvement, simpler info display, more powerful search functionality, and an all-new look for Stories in the gallery.
- Battery Widgets:
- Although specifics weren’t provided, this feature likely provides better battery management and visibility.
- Top-Tier RAW Mode:
- Quick access to Expert RAW for high-quality shots without processing or compression, ideal for users seeking full control and post-shot editing.
- Camera and Photo/Video Editor Enhancements:
- Easier color tone change for selfies, easy filter selection, helpful guides in Pro mode, histogram in Pro mode, easy zoom with one hand, adding watermarks to photos, telephoto lens in Food mode, keeping portrait mode effects even after editing, drawing perfect shapes on photos and videos, more sticker options, enhanced GIF editing, and creating stickers from any photo.
- Customization and Expression Improvements:
- Lock screen customization, more wallpaper choices, easy recognition with call background, and more options on the color palette for a tailored user experience
One UI 6 & Android 14
One UI 6 marks the latest iteration of Samsung’s custom Android interface, now poised to incorporate the features of Android 14. It is anticipated that most Samsung phones eligible for the One UI 6 upgrade will receive this update in the near future.
Samsung phones launched in the previous two years are slated to receive the One UI 6 update, affirming Samsung’s commitment to keeping recent models updated.
Older budget models may miss out on this upgrade. Conversely, premium Samsung smartphones will continue to receive support and updates for the foreseeable future.
One UI 6 is not yet out, however, though it should be launching soon. For a wider breakdown of what it’ll be like check out our guide to One UI 6’s new features and release date news.
Need more information on this topic? Check out our dedicated Samsung One UI hub.
Also, check out our review of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra to find out why it is easily one of the best phones on the market right now.