Samsung's Galaxy S6 and Edge smartphones, which arrive in stores Friday, have received mostly positive reviews from critics, largely for superior styling and their metal and glass construction.
Still, there has been criticism about the bloatware pre-installed on the devices. At one point, before review units were widely distributed, reports based on XDA Developers Forum posts indicated many pre-installed apps could be removed.
The question then arose as to whether "removed" meant Samsung would allow the apps to be completely uninstalled so that they weren't taking up storage space or other phone resources.
On Monday, a Samsung spokeswoman clarified in an email to Computerworld that Samsung's pre-installed apps can be disabled on both the S6 and the Edge but cannot be uninstalled. She clarified that "disabled" did not mean the apps can be uninstalled or otherwise totally removed, but can only be "hidden from view."
Earlier, Samsung had given Gizmodo a different statement that said, "some apps can be uninstalled while some can be disabled" on both devices. Samsung didn't explain why it modified its later description for Computerworld. (Both fuller statements are at the end of this story.)
Even though Samsung's own pre-installed apps cannot be uninstalled, at least one U.S. carrier, Sprint, will allow a dozen apps pre-installed on phones sold by Sprint to be uninstalled, according to a spokesman and confirmed in an informal independent test by Computerworld on a Sprint version of the Edge. Those apps that can be uninstalled include Sprint Music Plus, Sprint TV & Movies and Sprint-Featured Apps, the spokesman said.
On the Edge phone supplied by Sprint, a Computerworld reporter was easily able to uninstall the Sprint TV & Movies app by going to the application manager in settings and clicking "uninstall." The overall size of that app was listed at 50.43 MB, and after clicking uninstall, the smartphone's overall "used space" (separate from the 6.75 GB for system memory) in the 32 GB smartphone was reduced from 2.53 GB to 2.49 GB, a reduction of 40 MB, not the full 50.43 MB listed for the app. (Why that's possible: There were likely stored photos related to the app that didn't get removed during the uninstall. Or, it's possible the size of the app was smaller than listed or the "used space" counter in the smartphone was off. There are other possible explanations for the variation.)
Uninstall also worked for a smaller Sprint pre-installed Nascar Mobile app that was just 24 KB in size.
Other major U.S. carriers were asked to describe whether their own pre-installed apps could be uninstalled entirely from the two smartphones, but didn't immediately respond.
A review by JR Raphael in Computerworld based on a T-Mobile version of the Galaxy S6 noted that third-party bloatware was "not easily removed," but can be disabled "so you don't have to see them, but they'll still take up space on your device." Raphael also blogged that it is standard for most Android manufacturers to allow apps to be disabled, but not easily removed entirely.
There are, of course, workarounds published on the Web to uninstall apps, but using them could void a device warranty.
The concern about bloatware is especially acute for developers and smartphone aficionados who want a pure Nexus-like experience. Apps don't just take up storage space, they also can potentially sap resources. For example, over-the-air updates can take up part of a monthly data allowance.
For average users, bloatware might be just an inconvenience that clutters an on-screen display of apps. In some cases, Samsung or a carrier will double up on similar apps that Google provides with Android.
A carrier's incentive to provide custom and carrier-branded apps is to sell additional in-app services, provide advertising revenue and to increase revenues for data that is carried wirelessly. Carriers defend these apps as a way to build customer loyalty and to answer customer requests for specific services.
Sprint's version of the Edge has a number of pre-loaded apps, some that cannot be uninstalled and others that can be. In addition to Sprint TV & Movies and Nascar Mobile, Sprint has pre-loaded these 10 additional apps that can be uninstalled: 1Weather, Messaging +, NBA Game Time, Sprint Music Plus, Scout, FamilyWall for Sprint, Sprint Music Plus, Sprint Family Locator, Sprint Fun & Games and Sprint Worldwide.
Sprint has also installed these six apps than cannot be removed: Connections Optimizer, Lookout, Sprint ID, Sprint Zone (for tracking a user's wireless account), Visual Voicemail and Wi-Fi Calling.
Separately, Samsung has installed OneNote and OneDrive from Microsoft in the Edge and Galaxy S6, which can both be "disabled" but not uninstalled. There is, however, an option to uninstall any updates to these apps.
Samsung emailed Computerworld this explanation of its treatment of pre-installed apps and a follow-up clarification to Computerworld:
"Samsung is committed to providing the best possible mobile experience to customers. The pre-installed applications on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge devices are intended to provide an enriched mobile experience while enhancing the functionality for our users. Functions and settings for each application have been reviewed in detail and were carefully selected based on customer feedback. Pre-installed applications can be disabled on both devices; however, the number of applications that can be disabled will vary by region and mobile carriers."
When asked how Samsung defines "disabled," the response from Samsung's spokeswoman was that pre-installed apps "can't be totally removed; they can be hidden from view. This is why we did not say they could be removed but disabled."
Gizmodo had received this different explanation from Samsung according to a story posted on March 26:
"Simplicity is critical for usability and functionality, so Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge offer a refined and optimized user experience and the offering of core and preloaded apps has been streamlined. Some apps can be uninstalled while some can be disabled, and this varies by region and carrier. Further, 40% of the features and steps have been deleted compared to previous models."