How to remap the buttons on the Galaxy Note 3 (or any Samsung phone)

If you've read any of my Note 3 coverage, you know that one of my beefs with the phone is its odd and dated hybrid button setup. It's something Samsung does on most of its devices, and it's one of the company's most vexing design decisions.

Remap Buttons Galaxy Note 3

Why? As I note in my Note 3 review, that setup results in some meaningful downsides when it comes to user experience -- ranging from hidden and hard-to-find options to an awkward contrast in button sensitivity, especially when using the S Pen. It also forces an almost comical number of inelegant workarounds and pushes excellent Google services into the background of the user experience (neither Android Voice Search nor Google Now has a system-wide shortcut on the new Note).

Here's the good news, though: While you can't completely eliminate the buttons, you can at least remap some of their functionality to make them a little less annoying. And this workaround should work on most Samsung devices -- not only the Note 3.

Let's start by remapping the Home button so that double-tapping it brings up Android Voice Search instead of S Voice, Samsung's embarrassingly inferior alternative. Here's what you need to do:

1. Double-tap your phone's Home button to open S Voice. Press the Menu button, select Settings, and then uncheck the option labeled "Open via the Home key."

2. Install Home2 Shortcut from the Google Play Store. It's free.

3. Open Home2 Shortcut. As advance warning, its user interface is a little confusing -- but once you get through the initial setup, it'll do what you need it to do and you'll never have to look at it again.

4. Under "Step 1," tap the button labeled "Choose Application," select "Installed Applications," and then select "Voice Search" from the list that appears.

5. Leave "Step 2" alone for now (you can go back and play with it later if you want to tweak the double-tap interval time). Under "Step 3," tap the button labeled "Choose Home Application." If you use the default Samsung launcher setup, select "TouchWiz home" from the list that appears. If you use a custom Android launcher, select it instead.

(If you don't know what you use, select "TouchWiz home.")

6. Scroll down and tap the button labeled "Close," then select "Home2 Shortcut" from the pop-up that appears and tap the button labeled "Always."

Want system-wide access to Google Now as well? Unfortunately, there's no easy way to remap the primary functions of the capacitive keys without rooting your device, but you can create an alternative shortcut using Home2 Shortcut; it'll let you load Google Now by tapping the Home key and then tapping the Menu key immediately after (kind of like a double-tap, only using a combination of two buttons).

To set that up, just go back into Home2 Shortcut and tap the button labeled "Other key settings." Next, tap the button under the header labeled "Home > Menu," select "Installed Applications," and select "Google" from the list that appears. Tap the "Back" button at the bottom of the screen, then scroll down and look for the "Close" button to save your settings and exit the app.

(As an alternative, you could also use an app like SwipePad or Swapps to create a system-wide gesture-activated menu on which you could place shortcuts for Google Now or anything else. It's an interesting option to consider, if you feel like experimenting.)

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This admittedly isn't the most ideal setup, but hey, it's better than nothing -- and if a device like the Note 3 is the right fit for you, it's the best way to make the most of an awkward button situation.

For a more detailed look at the Note 3 and what it's like to use in the real world, check out my in-depth review:

Galaxy Note 3 deep-dive review: A plus-sized phone with perks and quirks

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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