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    HTC One: This is not the Sense you love to hate


    When it comes to HTC devices, one of the biggest complaints we hear is that 'Sense is ugly' or 'Sense is awful' or 'HTC should stick with Android'. Are they right? What is Sense 5 like on the HTC One?

    While i've never been a harsh critic of Sense (even though I like stock Android more and more), there's no denying it has sometimes felt a bit 'heavy' visually. While stock Android is extremely flat and simplistic, Sense versions up to 4.5 were really the polar opposite. Lots of bevelled buttons, cartoony images and general graphical embellishments. I don't find Sense as intrusive as TouchWiz personally, but you couldn't really argue that it perhaps went a bit too far.

    HTC's approach with Sense 5 has been to 'flatten' Sense to hit a midpoint between the arguably over-simplistic stock Android (which can sometimes feel too unwieldy to the 'normal' user) and the Sense of old. But have they improved it? Let's have a look by drilling down into individual applications and looking at the general visual concepts.

    For the images I have used a Galaxy Nexus, a One X+ and a One, all running Android 4.1. Note that although the Nexus has been updated to 4.2 which changes some things, i've used the final 4.1 build for the sake of comparison.

    Homescreen

    comparison-home.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One / One

    I'm going to start with the homescreen because it's one of the more obvious facets of Sense. In Sense 5, it's easy to argue that Sense has actually got 'heavier' with the addition of BlinkFeed... but that would really do it a bit of an injustice. Firstly, as discussed in our BlinkFeed article, it can be effectively disabled by setting the default home to the conventional view, but secondly, this is actually a good example of where things have lightened. Compare the clock / weather at the top of the Blinkfeed screen with the Sense 4.5 equivalent - it's much cleaner and the same applies to the icon bar at the bottom. The conventional style homescreen has only a search bar and a single shortcut - minimalist indeed.

    A significant change to the UI styling becomes clearer however when we look at the...

    Launcher

    comparison-homegrid2.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One / One

    Goodbye HTC tab view (replaced by a pivot that we'll see in other apps later). Goodbye button / tab labels! As you can see in the third image, the default launcher view is a 3x4 view with a 'custom' arrangement which includes apps in groups. You know what's great? Operators installing their own apps will be allowed a single group in the launcher and that's all. If you like your layout more conventional (like me) you can select a 4x5 grid and also use alphabetical sorting. I think this is a good looking launcher.

    Lockscreen

    comparison-lockscreen.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    The Sense 5 default lockscreen (other types are also available) largely retains the functionality of 4.5 - the icons that you've chosen for the bottom bar on the homescreen also appear here. The huge lock ring has gone to be replaced by a small icon although, strangely, you can just click anywhere on the screen to unlock (this might be a bug). I'll be interested to see if / how HTC integrates lock screen widgets with the forthcoming 4.2 update.

    Settings Menu

    comparison-settings.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    comparison-settingsbottom.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    I'm going to show you the settings menu next. A strange choice? Maybe, but it's often touted as the example of where Sense is needlessly graphical. Before we talk about the settings menu itself, look at the notification bar at the very top. It retains HTC's long standing style, but it's less 3D, more subtle... the Sense 5 mantra.

    The settings menu itself doesn't look that different, aside from the more subtle iconography. Which do you think looks best? I imagine the arguments will continue - is it needless visual fluff or commendable polish?

    Stopwatch / Timer / Clock / Alarms

    comparison-stopwatchtimer.jpg

    One X+ / One / One X+ / One

    This might seem a strange application to look at next, but it's a good example of how labelled tabs have been replaced by a new pivot (switch screens by sweeping left or right) and how buttons have now lost their labels. You'll see this consistently throughout the device.

    comparison-stopwatchtimer.jpg

    One X+ / One / One X+ / One

    Here's one more shot showing the stock Android clock app (note that this has been significantly upgraded in 4.2). You can see here that the application itself hasn't changed much between Sense 4.5 and Sense 5, but it feels quite different because of the pivot / button changes. One more shot... the alarms screen, which again illustrates this.

    comparison-alarms.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    Copy / Paste

    comparison-copypaste.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    Now here's a screen I love to hate. I think that copying and pasting text on stock Android is STUPID. I know what the buttons at the top do, but I canvassed a number of non-expert Nexus owners and they had no clue. Sense 4.5 was a lot more user friendly and the Sense 5 implementation is a perfect example of a happy medium between stock and Sense.

    Dialler

    comparison-dialer.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    A favourite argument from the stock Android faithful is that 'stock Android is so good the manufacturers don't need to mess with it'. In a lot of cases, this is absolutely true... but one place it certainly doesn't apply is the dialler. The stock dialler is rubbish! Why oh why is there still no ability to smart-dial names? for example?

    The HTC dialler offers this and much more - pivoting gives not only call logs and favourites, but also your full contact list from which you can pivot within HTC's 'people centric' view, from here you can view SMS / email / call interaction with that specific person as well as viewing their social activity. The dialler on the One looks great, with it's 3D buttons the Sense 4.5 version was probably one of the worst offenders for an overly busy style.

    People

    comparison-contacts.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    comparison-contacts.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    A couple of shots from the People app show again where HTC have taken the simple stock app and bolted on genuinely useful features. Would you agree it's again more 'non expert' friendly?

    Keyboard / pop up windows

    comparison-wifiwithkeyboard.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    There's a couple of things I want to highlight in this screenshot. The first is the pop up window itself. While on stock Android it's squared off, on Sense 4.5 it had rounded corners. This has changed to squared off too in Sense 5, which makes the overall UI feel much more like stock. You'd be surprised what a difference this 'squaring off' of elements makes.

    Also shown here is the keyboard. You can see the Sense 5 version is very much an iteration of it's predecessor, even retaining the same broken-predictions bug in Plume. :( That aside though it's an accomplished, good looking keyboard. That said, the stock Android keyboard is pretty great too.

    Task switching done right

    comparison-switcher.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    This is a particular favourite of mine - task switching. I don't need to say which one works best do I. :)

    A few others for your pleasure

    Just a couple of other interesting comparisons for you before we wrap up. :)

    comparison-notifications.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    The previously much maligned notification pull down. Sense 4.5 and 5 are not that different from stock Android 4.1.

    comparison-powermenu.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    The power button press-hold menu. Not that much has changed between Sense 4.5 and 5, but you can see the squared off window corners here again.

    comparison-volumes.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    Volume controls - more control in Sense 5 (similar to Android 4.2).

    comparison-browsertabs.jpg

    Galaxy Nexus / One X+ / One

    The browser tab overview - it's strange to see icons and text here on the Sense 5 device, contradicting elsewhere.

    In conclusion

    I've touched on the major points of Sense 5 in this article, but there are some things i've not shown. The incoming call screen is pretty gorgeous, for example. There seems to be less bloat overall in the new version (for example the FriendStream application is gone, as is the Locations mapping application) and together with the launcher grouping, it feels a lot more manageable when you first get started.

    HTC will continue to take flak for not using stock Android (and I still personally think there's an argument for fully supporting AOSP to give users a pure vanilla build), but there's no question for me personally that HTC are heading in the right direction. I have to give credit to their design team who really seem to be doing great work (in software as well as hardware) and are still adding genuine additional value to the platform.


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    Posted

    Does Sense still fill your Google Contacts "notes" with all that HTC DATA ?

    Used to hate that on my old Desire. :(

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    Posted

    Thanks Paul,

    Comprehensive and useful as always. I think I'm defiantly leaning towards the HTC one and not the S4.

    Your information is defiantly helping! :)

    John

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    Posted

    Does Sense still fill your Google Contacts "notes" with all that HTC DATA ?

    Used to hate that on my old Desire. :(

    Heh, good question, that was annoying! I don't think so though...

    P

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    Posted

    That stretched font is a complete trainwreck, still looks like crap. Both stock android and MIUI V5 makes this look like a bad joke. HTC need a whole new design language, those icons are weak too look like a downloadable generic 'communications' icon set, o character at all. Visually Meizu's Flyme OS also embarrasses this. Both Samsung and HTC have weak aesthetics in terms of custom skins.

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    Posted

    Its a NEW sense i'll love to hate, such progress HTC.

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    Posted

    Am I the only one, who thinks the new font looks seriously squeezed? Sense 4+ font was so much better looking.

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    Posted

    It is Roboto condensed (not system wide, but in a lot of places). It looks great in the flesh IMHO!

    P

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    Posted

    Paul, you talk about a 4x5 grid on the One but on the screenshot there are only 4x4 icons in the launcher. Please elaborate ;-)

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    Posted

    Paul, you talk about a 4x5 grid on the One but on the screenshot there are only 4x4 icons in the launcher. Please elaborate ;-)

    It's actually a 3x4 grid or a 4x5 grid. The clock / weather that slides up out of the way is included, as once it's offscreen you get those sizes. :)

    P

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    Posted

    I added in task switching... what an improvement in Sense 5!

    P

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