Sense 5 App Drawer

If there's one feature of HTC's new Sense 5 that's taken us extra time to get used to, it's the new app drawer. HTC's attempt to simplify things has, in fact, made them more complicated. That's partly due to the new home screen scheme, with BlinkFeed anchored to the far left at all times (even if you never use it). It's also partly due to the app drawer itself. 

That's not to say it's without some interesting new features. But they almost seem forced together in a way that makes sense once you're familiar with them. Good luck explaining all this to a first-time Android user, though.

We'll explain.

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Grid size

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Open the app drawer for the first time, and something looks ... odd. HTC has opted for a 3-by-4 grid of icons by default. Only, it actually looks like 3-by-3 at first, because that weather/clock widget is up top. It'll disappear as you scroll down. There's a thin bar of options just below that widget, and it disappears when you scroll down, too. Hit the overflow menu on the right (that's the three dots button), and you have some new options.

"Hide apps" gives you the option to select any and all apps and get them the heck out of the app drawer. To make them reappear, just uncheck them from the "Hide apps" section.

Manage apps takes you to the applications section of the settings menu. Standard stuff.

And finally, you have the option to change the grid size from 3-by-4 to 4-by-5.

Sorting options

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On the left-hand side of that options bar is a drop-down menu. This is where you can change to an alphabetical sort, or sort by recently used apps. By default, the app drawer is set to "custom" sorting, which lets you arrange the apps however you want, including creating folders within the app drawer itself.

You get a warning if you try to rearrange apps while in alphabetical sort. The warning also refers to "Date sort," which is the same as "Most recent" in that sort drop-down menu. (Grammatical issues aside, it might have been better to have those more closely labeled.)

Pro tip: To get back to the top of the app drawer as you're scrolling through-- which you'll need to do to get back to those options -- tap the notification bar at the very top of the screen.

How to place apps from the app drawer to the Sense 5 home screen

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This is where we come up against one of the bigger changes in functionality. In just about any other version of Android we can think of, you can long-press on an app in the app drawer, which then will switch back to the home screen view, for you to place the app icon on a shortcut. That doesn't work in Sense 5. Instead, you have to drag the app icon up to the top left and have it trigger a shortcut button, which then makes the home screen appear, and you can place the icon wherever you've got room. It's only one extra step, but it kills any fluidity in the action. And if you're coming from another Android phone, it's not all that intuitive. 

An easier way to get apps onto the home screen (though not necessarily any more intuitive) is to do so from the "customize home screen" section. You can get to it from the setting menu (Settings>Personalize>Customize home screen), or by long-pressing on an empty space (as in an empty 1-by-1 space, not just a place where you see wallpaper) on the home screen.

The launcher bar

Launcher Bar

Another source of potential frustration (albeit minor) is the launcher bar -- dock, you might also call it. A dock like that in and of itself hardly is new, and HTC's largely retains the same functionality as in previous versions of Sense. You can stick whatever apps you want in there -- even create folders -- and whatever's in there also shows up as quick links on the lock screen.

What's new is that the launcher bar is persistent. That is, it still shows when you're in the app drawer. That's new. And it's not necessarily the worst idea in the world. But it takes some getting used to, at least for me. Apps that are in that dock do not appear in when in the app drawer view. This might just be me still getting used to things. But when I'm viewing apps in alphabetical view, I expect "Chrome" to be between "Car" and "Clock," as nature intended. My brain knows that's where it's supposed to be, never mind if it's docked anywhere else. 

Is that a small problem? Maybe. Certainly nothing you can't get used to. If you're thinking that a persistent launcher bar/dock seems like a solution in search of a problem, you're probably a bit right. But consider: When you're in the app drawer, the app drawer button changes shape and will return you to the home screen -- and it's easier to reach (being central) than the home button, which is now in the bottom right of the display.

The bottom line

In and of themselves, these are not bad options to have. Our biggest gripe is in the extra step -- mentally and physically -- needed to get apps onto the home screen. Perhaps if you look at it in the context that HTC has some pretty good options for initial setup -- including a web-based "Get Started" tool -- maybe it makes sense. (Though "Get Started" is still pretty limited in the applications that can add up front.) 

Oh, and vertical scrolling needs to go -- particularly the page-by-page, scroll-then-stop thing. We've never liked that, we still don't like it.

The simple fact is that more options doesn't simplify things in the Sense 5 app drawer. The clock/weather widget isn't necessary -- there's still a clock in the notification bar at the top of the phone, visible at all times. The app drawer should contain apps, and only apps. The persistent launcher bar is another complication. Again, it's something you should get used to pretty quickly -- but it's a solution in search of a problem. It doesn't make things any easier.


Reader comments

The HTC Sense 5 app drawer: Making simple complicated


Eeek. More change for the sake of change. None of that will be hard to get used to, but I don't see any of it as positive changes. Plus it really will frustrate some people.

Why would anyone want a 3x4 grid? So they feel like they have more apps installed? It doesn't make the icons bigger or more readable, just tons of empty space. I am all for options, but that is just strange.

That's what I thought too, I tried defending the evo 4g lte when it came out, its sense and other design decisions. Looks like they want to be even harder to defend.

I was just thinking the same thing. HTC seems to love change for the sake of change. I understand the extra step in putting an app on the home screen as HTC seems to never pass up an opportunity to add yet another useless animation to Sense. The sad thing is that HTC probably thinks that people would actually like seeing the extra animation than they would being able to do things as quickly as possible.

Personally, I love icons well spaced out, it helps prevent the fat fingering of wrong apps. Hate that. Not that my fingers are fat, just kinda sloppy.

My old HTC incredible has a 3x4 arrangement in the app drawer, I loved it when I discovered that I could do that with GO launcher.

With my bigger screened Nexus 4, I'm using a 4x4. Which feels plenty spacious to me. But there are people out there who weigh 3x what I do... just saying.

I get what you are saying, but the most common icons i use, and people use, are in shortcut in the home screen, we only accesses the drawer sometimes to get that app we almost never use, so i would not trade a lot more swipes to get to those last apps in the drawer to some king of assurance i would not hit the wrong icon. Also the list should scrow the same way the home screen does, this looks like android 2.3 =/

WTG over complicating an already easy to use stock android experience, sense sucks as well as all skinned os. I wish these makers would just use the added software as apps for a stock edition of the phone so you have a choice to use it or not. And if they left it stock and made the added software into apps for the device they could sell it in the play store for other devices and make extra money off their same ideas. I like the phone and hardware but would buy it if it had stock, too bad. The manufacturers should sell just one stck android device a year to add to their line up, and they'd probably sell more than their own phones with skins.

I feel like a broken record saying this, but it's *never* going to happen. For a couple of reasons:

1) A *lot* of the changes these companies make entail a lot more than just an "app". They are actually changing the underlying Android source code to achieve some of these features.

2) These additional features, like them or not, are how the OEM's try and differentiate their phones from the other Android OEM's. It becomes a matter of brand recognition.

You are, of course, within your right to dislike Sense/TouchWiz/Etc, but the OEM's are never going to stop trying to customize the Android experience in some way because they use to features to try and sell more phones. If you don't like Sense, then an HTC phone is not for you (unless you are confident it will be supported by CyanogenMod or some other ROM). Same goes for TouchWiz/Samsung or whatever.

It's foolish to "hope" that any of these OEM's will suddenly and drastically change how the do things (I know, Sense 5 kinda argues against that point) and the features will never be "optional" because they usually aren't.

It is important to remember that Sense/TouchWiz are much more than just a "launcher" or "skin". The are fundamental changes to the Android OS code itself. Most individual features can be turned on and off through settings, and you can always replace the launcher itself. That's about the closest your going to get to a "Sense Off" button.

While I agree with this, wouldn't that interfere with multitasking somehow? I haven't seen any video or pictures of multitasking, just descriptions, but it sounds like it's tied to the launcher, like DX2-era motoblur.

Someone test this for me/us?

Well, it can contribute to issues if a phone is terminally low on memory. I think that is because even if the stock launcher is not being used, it is still resident. I could be wrong on that...

You are correct, and on older Android phones using 3rd party launchers on top of OEM skins like Sense or TW would have a noticeable effect on performance, but most of the today's newer phones, and definitely this HTC One, should have plenty of RAM and processing power to support it. I run Nova on my S3 (with Touchwiz), and have never noticed any lag or performance issues.

In my experience with HTC devices specifically, the stock launcher itself is not still resident, but you will usually see an item like "Sense" if you run an app killer to get a list of running applications.

The reason I say that this is not actually the launcher itself (although the launcher code may well exist as a component of this assembly) is that, when switching between launchers on my Evo or Evo3D, there was an obvious "re-initialization" when switching back to the stock launcher. This consisted of a white screen with the green HTC logo in the center for a moment while the launcher loaded its assets.

That said, newer phones with lots of RAM should have less of an issue with this either way.

Unfortunately it wont.. ive seen the multitasking on the HTC One.. and it looks worse than stock. That can only be changed by rooting and ROM:ing.

Seriously. Install Nova (or Apex, I suppose) and enjoy a better home screen/app drawer experience.

Most people just don't know that they can install a new launcher...or are afraid it will mess things up even more.

So..for noobs...INSTALL A LAUNCHER (Nova or Apex)!! It completely replaces your home screen and app drawer with a much better and more customizable solution...and if you want you can easily switch back to Sense or Touchwiz...all your settings will be as you left them.

Trust me, you will never go back to stock launcher.

For those using the HTC One and Nova Launcher, how do you update the shortcuts shown on the lock screen?

Seems to default to the HTC lock screen, not to a Nova screen.

If I decide on the One, the first thing I'd drop on it is Nova Prime and all these points would be moot. So long as the battery gets me through the day, the camera is better than anything from 2012, and call/data signals are solid, then it's a winner.

Phil, if you hide an app in the app drawer and then try to search for it, what happens? does it show up in the search results or does the phone act as if it is not installed?

damn, i figured that is what would happen. So it basically forces you to go back and look for apps to unhide. thanks for the reply!

A more interesting question is "what apps are the user not allowed to disable?" But that does take quite a bit of testing to discover.

Any app that appears in your app drawer you are allowed to hide. I have Sense 5 running on my HTC DNA. I'm actually starting to like Sense 5. The fonts are nice, and it appears HTC was trying to follow Google's HOLO UI design.

Widget seems unnecessary and confusing. I like the idea of both a custom sort and an alphabetical sort. Sometimes I've done a custom sort (like in Go launcher) or put something in a folder but then can't find the app. It should include all the apps though. There's always pluses and minus in any of these and I guess most of it you get used to. It's a matter of if the pluses out weigh the minus for your particular use.

When you are digging around in your app drawer, the absolute LAST thing you need is the time and weather. What's up with that.

As for the app drawer sort, Alpha sort all I ever use, and If I were ever to look for another sort it would be by predominant Icon Color, because I get used to looking for the red thingie or the blue thingie even if a brain freeze makes me forget the name.

Can the clock date weather widget be removed? If you have gotten as far as the app drawer you don't need any information this thing is providing.

Not good for HTC. They needed this phone to be their comeback device. It should have been more user friendly.

I'm rooting for HTC - I can't stand Samsung and have been unimpressed by other manufacturers - but it's sounding more and more like they blew it on this phone.

Good old HTC unnecessary changes which are not needed or warranted to your customers the people who matter most. Classic example of getting to big for your own mind creating unnecessary stuff big turn off. Where is the HTC of yesteryear back in 2010 with the granddaddy of all 4g devices my Htc Evo 4g. That was so lovely sometimes looking into your past helps you to develop you're future only if your really looking that is.

I *loved* my original Evo 4G. The 3D was OK, but still something of a disappointment. I considered getting the Evo LTE but, ultimately, Samsung really seems to be doing a better job with the software and staying on top of updates these days. "Plastic" feel doesn't really bother me, since I always throw my phones in a Seido Surface case. The one for the Note 2 even has a kickstand built in :)

Is it me or HTC always goes out of their way to screw things up with their Sense interface? Hell, the two capacitative buttons completely turned me away from the HTC One (seriously HTC?). I think for the next Sense UI, HTC needs to rebuild it from ground up from AOSP sources and get it right for once.

Phil, if you press and hold a blank area on a panel in Sense 4+, you can add an app/widget to any panel with free space by clicking on the app/widget. The app/widget is then catapulted on the selected panel. Is this still an option with Sense 5?

If they didn't add the shortcut thing to the drawer (the extra step you're referring to), there would be no way to add folders within the app drawer. So that's why its there. Same thing exists on the xperia line, not really an extra step...maybe half of a step

That's actually an excellent point. I was a little irritated when I read that myself, but you're 100% correct. If you want to add the functionality of creating folders in the app drawer, then you have to, HAVE TO, add that extra step. I'm just hoping that they don't take away the option to put folders on your homescreen. I love folders.

Well, that pretty explains it, but you should know that LG Optimus UI for example has a dedicated button on the top of the drawer to enable edit mode where you can rearrange and create folders, do it isn't exactly and excuse for this extra step on adding shortcuts.

It's too bad their need to tweak to endless confusion will kill what could otherwise be a great phone.

HTC, why do you insist your customers need to learn from scratch every year? There are other ways to set you apart, like making great hardware. Android doesn't require all this tweaking any more. Make a great device and it will sell. Your modifications should be complimentary and stay out of users' ways, not wildly over-complicated and unproductive. Why would you force Blinkfeed? Why?

And the point of the app drawer is to list all apps. Only showing what's important is a job for the home screens. Mixing the two is both unnecessary and confusing as hell.

This whole BlinkFeed thing is getting silly. I wish people would just wait to pass judgement until they actually have the phone. Then they can determine how much of a nuisance it will be for them. And as for the app drawer comment, it's your option to hide certain apps. They don't hide them in the beginning. Besides, how are you supposed to hide your porn apps from the wife? For real?

I don't get how people hate on touch wiz yet don't mind how obtrusive sense 5 seems to be (with what we've seen so far) .

I think most people that hate on Touchwiz do it because it is ugly as sin. The thing about Touchwiz is that its launcher and app drawer mimics stock. Touchwiz may be ugly but it's fast, it works, and it's uncluttered. With HTC it seems that they want the star of their phones to be the launcher itself.

Agreed on all counts. An, honestly, I though Sense on my original Evo and Evo3D brought something a little nicer than the stock Android launcher. I liked the look of the "curved" dock at the bottom, but I didn't like the lack of customization it caused.

The real problem with TouchWiz are the icons themselves. They look "cartoony". I think Samsung uses those super-colorful icons just to try and show off their AMOLED tech, but it seems to backfire.

I agree with you regarding Touchwiz. The only problem i have with it is that it is ugly to look at. The thing i like about it is that, minus the ugly icons and the implementation of creating folders, it operates and looks just like an AOSP room with tons of features that you can either choose to use or not use. My only real issue with Sense is that it forces to many things on you.

Sense will be the death of HTC, not the different versions of hardware they release, its the horrible sense. I don't care if a few people like it, they are no the majority.

Wow. You're so anti-HTC it's not even funny. I haven't seen any fanboy stuff here at all. As a matter of fact, it's been pretty much negative, slightly apprehensive at best. Yet here you are, pissing and moaning about HTC and a phone you won't own. For such a Sammy fan, you sure spend a good chunk of time talking about the One.

I don't know about the weather widget or the 3 x 3 app drawer but the dock in the app drawer is always something i've wanted. It makes sense and it's even easier to find chrome in the dock than between "car" and "clock". like you said about the placement of the power button (which I think is great) user error, not the devices fault

If you drag the app to the top of the app drawer there is a shortcut option that places it directly on the home screen.

Edit: Oops, you covered that. Doesn't seem to be a huge deal to me but it's definitely less intuitive than stock Android. Not sure what HTC was thinking. Still liking it on my DNA though.

tennockey made a good point earlier: that extra step has to be there in order to facilitate using folders in the app drawer. I can totally understand that being less intuitive then what we are all used to but like anything with Android, once you're forced to do something differently it's pretty easy to get used to. Case in point: going from the 4 button layout to the 3 button layout.

complicating things ... hm not really IMO, they are just moving away from the concept of having apps on the home screens, instead keeping them where they belong: in the app drawer. At least for me that's what the options to hide / group in folders / or sorting them actually means.
How often have I watched people incidentally moving apps on home screens - I think this might be an easy way of preventing this.

Luckily most of this mess can be fixed with a software update if HTC chooses. Doubtful but one can only hope. I wouldn't expect a near Nexus experience from HTC, but they need to quit trying to hide Android altogether with Sense.

Nothing complicated to me... Seems simple. I like the scroll stoppage. I hate when I scroll and it flies by the app I want. And I have to go back. Also folders in the app drawer are neat. No more searching. And I don't have to group apps on my home screen. It's an app drawer for a reason. It would be complicated if you had to do this stuff every single time. I remember times getting text msgs while in the app drawer and having to click the msgs app or close it out and open. Now I can just pull down the notification bar.

"Oh, and vertical scrolling needs to go -- particularly the page-by-page, scroll-then-stop thing. We've never liked that, we still don't like it."

NOOOOOOOOO this is like almost the best thing from Sense! Seriously, I love this scroll up and down in app drawer, it's easier to perform than sideways, and non-paged drawers that have "endless" scroll aways cut apps' icons in the middle, etc, so the paged solution is much better.

HTC has made some ambitious changes to android, which i think will overall help their fan base grow from the tech savvy user to the everyday user. For example, i think the "homescreen" and "app drawer" are intentionally designed to work independently of each other. When you unlock the phone it doesn't automatically go back to what we consider the "homescreen". if you were in the app drawer it continues there. They are each their own homescreen and the user is supposed to decide whether they want a more robust experience that uses the traditional homescreen along with blinkfeed, or a simplified interface that uses the clock widget along with what most users would call the app drawer. Considering the fact that the dock is persistent even when in the app tray supports this idea. A lot of people looking to switch from iOS devices would favor this "familiar" interface of pages and folders.

As hard as it may be to believe we are not the majority of android users, they dont read these kinds of blogs. A lot of older people and people with bigger hands/fingers might actually like to use a 3x4 grid on their app tray too. And that extra step of having to slide an app to the top left corner and trigger the shortcut button before being able to trigger the shortcut button makes some sense too (no pun intended). I see a lot of new smartphone users push really hard on their screens and hold an icon rather than tap it. With the way android currently works, this would create a shortcut on the homescreen rather than open the app like they intended. And a lot of new android users dont even know they have to click and hold an app to place it on their homescreens. There is literally no hint or set of instructions currently in android that would suggest this to new users. this shortcut button helps facilitate the user experience for a lot of people.

I own a Nexus 4, but cant recommend it to most people mostly because of the confusion it could create for simpler users. In the end i think HTC decided to stop building phones that satisfy only the power users. It seems like theyre aiming for a goldilocks phone that can bridge the gap for new smartphone and new android users & power users alike. This phone looks drop dead gorgeous, packs some serious specs, and cool features. I think most of the issues we (myself included) have with it come down to UI changes that veer from the core android experience.

I really like the app drawer. This weekend was the first time using my new HTC One. I prefer the wider spaced 3x4 default setting. The implementation of the folders in the app draw is particularlly good. You can group apps in quasi invisible folders so that you see the first 4 apps inside each folder without openning it. For me it's perfectly simply and intuitive. What the app drawer does is make me question the the purpose of the traditional home screen. Essentially the app drawer (at least how I have customised mine) has become a de facto home screen. But with this one, I can access all my apps not just a few shortcuts. That's why the app drawer has and needs the clock. I initially populated 3 homescreens, but now I can't see me really using them. This new set up suits me perfectly. I use blinkfeed to display amongst other things, news, tv stuff, sport, twitter, facebook and crucially for me, my calendar. My one niggle is I wish there were more providers, though that will change now there's a SDK for developers.

(Cont. from above)
I've read a few negative comments above re blinkfeed. I don't know if any are from personal experience. But for me blinkfeed makes a lot of sense, far more in fact than the use of a traditional home screen being the first thing you see when you look at your phone. I knew the HTC One hardware was stunning, but before I bought mine I considered rooting it as with my past phones. Not any more. That's the biggest compliment I can give the UI.