In our series of looks at the HTC One prior to our full review, this time round we check out BlinkFeed - HTC's brand new homescreen concept.
So what is BlinkFeed? At the simplest level, BlinkFeed is HTC's new launcher. It's the thing you get to when you press the home button... and it's a little bit different to what went before. And a little bit the same. ;)
Before I get started - let me point out that, as with any Android device, you can install custom launchers on the HTC One (of course) and then HTC's launcher - with BlinkFeed - goes away, although by doing that you'll lose access to HTC's widgets. But don't think you are stuck with it if you don't like it... a great launcher like Nova will quickly bring back that 'stock Android' feel, but I suggest you give it a try - it might be better than you expect.
Let's start with what's included from a 'traditional launcher' point of view. As well as the BlinkFeed stuff (which we'll come to later), you get a conventional homescreen. Two homescreen panes were enabled by default on my device - HTC has moved away from providing lots of homescreens by default simply because their research showed that customers didn't use them. You can have up to 5 screens in total however if you do like swathes of real estate for lots of widgets. :)
The layout of the homescreens is conventional - sweep left and right to move between them, pinch-zoom to get a zoomed-out view from where you can drag and drop widgets, apps or shortcuts. This zoomed out view is also where you choose which page is your default when the home button is pressed. With that in mind it's where you switch between having BlinkFeed as the homescreen or the 'regular' view. You always have access to both - if you have BlinkFeed set as default, sweeping right will take you to the regular view. Conversely, sweeping left will show you BlinkFeed if you have the old style view as your home.
At the bottom of the screen, regardless of which page / view you are on, you have a bar consisting of 4 icons (which can be customised of course). These icons are the ones that also appear on the lockscreen, allowing you to launch applications by sweeping the icon upwards. Bear in mind that if you install a third party launcher, you'll need to launch the stock one should you want to change the lockscreen shortcuts!
In the middle of the 4 icons is a button that opens the app launcher - so far so normal. When you hit the button though, things look a little different to what you might be used to. Firstly, at the top of the page you'll see a big clock and weather display - this scrolls out of view as you move through the vertically arranged app drawer (my preference, I won't lament the loss of the horizontal layout!). The drawer can be laid out in a number of ways - with alphabetical sorting, most recent sorting or 'custom' sorting (the default). Choosing custom sorting allows you to put the icons in any order you want, as well as arranging them in groups, much like you would on the home screen itself. The default view is a 3x4 grid for the apps which, to be honest, feels like a bit of a waste of space - thankfully you can switch this to 4x5 in the settings menu. You can hit a search button to search for apps and you can also hide apps from the drawer, which is a nice touch for a stock launcher. One thing I did notice about the app drawer is that icons 'pinned' to the bottom bar disappear from the drawer. It makes sense (sic), but it's worth bearing in mind!
Personally, i'm using the alphabetical view initially in the 4x5 grid, but with a bit of housekeeping after I have all my usual apps installed, I think the custom view could be the way to go.
So that's the conventional homescreen and the app launcher... so far so good right? Let's talk about BlinkFeed itself.
The BlinkFeed screen also has the clock / weather at the top (which scroll out of view), and the shortcut bar at the bottom, but it also adds a button that lets you compose a post to any of your configured social networks (although you can't automatically cross-post to them, which I find a bit of an oversight) and instead of pages of widgets / shortcuts, you have a FlipBoard style view of content on your device. This can either be a 'highlights' stream which pulls in content from a number of services, or a specific stream (e.g. Facebook).
Feeds that you can add include Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and Twitter from a social perspective, Calendar, Zoe Share, Kid Mode, Best Deals and TV from the on device apps and a number of 'Featured Headlines' (content providers). My UK device has The Guardian, The Independent, Reuters, BANG Showbiz (who?), Vice, Clash, I Like Music, MOBO, UEFA.com, CNet and TechCrunch. Finally you can select other 'Categories' - Trending Topics, Business, Design, Entertainment, Environment, Gaming, Lifestyle, Music, Politics, Sports, Technology & Science, Travel and World. In theory there should be plenty of content in there to allow you to 'snack' on content when you have a spare couple of minutes (this is how HTC envisages it being used), but there's no denying it's a disappointment you can't add your own feeds in there. I would love to have BBC News displayed for example and as it stands, that's not possible. You have to wonder if the ability to add your own RSS feeds would be that hard to do.
I really think BlinkFeed content could come into it's own if app developers are able (and want) to plug into it. Being able to 'snack' in this way on my Pocket feed for example would be awesome and were that possible, I think I would be a BlinkFeed convert.
So does that mean i'll be ditching the 'new homescreen experience' and reverting to my old favourite, Nova Launcher? Actually - no... i'm going to try out the different feed providers to see how they fit with my usage and i'm also going to have a root around to see if I can maybe add my own providers in there in some hacky, dubious way. :)
For the majority of One buyers, I think BlinkFeed is pretty great - a nice view of your social content with some other interesting articles pulled in. Now that version 1.0 is out the door i'm very keen to see how HTC can improve it for the next update as the concept is sound, it just needs developing a little.
As I said earlier in the post... give it a try, you might be surprised. :)